Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

The Singles Jukebox End-of-Year Best-Off 2009: Round 1, Group 1

Phil Liggett: Hello, and welcome to the first group match of the 2009 Singles Jukebox Year-End Best-Off. It’s a gorgeous morning here in East Yorkshire — the sun is shining, the rain hasn’t started falling yet, and it’s warm enough that I can even feel some of my toes. Joining me today, as always, is Paul Sherwen, and we’re going to be previewing the action in what looks on paper to be a very closely fought battle between five of the biggest pop songs this year.

Paul Sherwen: That’s right Phil, and as closely fought as the battle between these five big pop songs is likely to be today, there’s one overwhelming favourite in this field — and that’s Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me”. The highest scorer in the regular season by a long way, most of those in the know have picked her to run away with the title, but as we all know, it’s not the size of the marathon in the sprint, it’s the size of the glasses on the face, and glasses don’t get much bigger than hers.

Liggett: That’s right Paul. Now, of course, some have said that her use of said glasses, coupled with her decision to communicate with boys solely through the form of notepads and marker pens, should have been cracked down on by the commission, but they’ve chosen to allow it — would you say that’s the right call there, Paul?

Sherwen: Absolutely the right call, Phil — what you have to understand is that pop has moved on from the days of “Together in Electric Dreams”. Kids today communicate in all kinds of different ways, not just by having their lyrics displayed on the LED display of a nearby launderette.

Liggett: And quite right too. Now, looking at the rest of the field, our next highest-scorer in this group might come as a bit of a surprise — Royksopp’s “This Must Be It”.

Sherwen: That’s right Phil, the big Norwegians made a bit of a late charge to come through the pack and qualify for the main event, but with a 7.44 score and the vocal power of Her Out Of The Knife on vocals, they’ve earned their place here, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned in all our years of doing this, it’s to never rule out men with shitty facial hair, because more often than not, that shitty facial hair is hiding a chin, and if you’ve got a chin, you’ve got a chance.

Liggett: Wise words indeed, there, Paul. Another controversial entry takes the third slot — Miley Cyrus’s “Party In The USA”.

Sherwen: Lot of controversy about this one, Phil, not just because of her aggressive refusal to wear any trousers, but also because she has recently admitted to having never heard a song by Jay-Z, despite the fact that she claims to have done so in the lyrics of this single. To put that into context, back when I was riding the Tour, myself and Sean Kelly would often talk about our love for the music of Sting, but I know that if Big Sean were to discover that, contrary to the lyrics of “Russians”, Sting had not actually read a book by Nabokov, then he and Sting would have had words — at the very least.

Liggett: And quite right too. Jay-Z, of course, or the Jiggaman, as I call him — big hello to you if you’re watching, Jay. Now, the fourth song today is a bit of a surprise, certainly not one I’d have expected to see in the final shake-up, but it’s here, and I for one am glad it’s here: “Blame It” by Jamie Foxx and T-Pain.

Sherwen: Yes, well, he’s come a long way, Phil, certainly, from stand-up comedy to winning an Oscar, all the way to hanging out with Jake Gyllenhaal — not bad for a man who once starred in The Jamie Foxx Show, which, as my good friend Lance Armstrong once pointed out, was the equivalent of washing your eyes with a bowl of hot cat’s piss.

Liggett: Indeed it was, though we should of course point out that’s still far preferable to that god-awful thing Flavor Flav starred in. Whatever the hell that was. Anyway, if you thought that was an outsider, then the final song in this group has practically never heard of the building — it’s Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness is the Move”, which has done incredibly well to even get this far, seeing as how it could only score a measly 5.00 during the regular season.

Sherwen: Yes Phil, it takes a particular kind of courage to come back from being officially rated worse than Aqua on no less than two separate occasions, but if there’s one thing this outfit have shown throughout this year, it’s that there’s no limit to what you can achieve with determination, hard work, and three lisping girls dressed in glorified bedsheets.

Liggett: And quite right too. Anyhow, we’re about to get underway, so I’ll just remind you of what’s happening today — ten Jukebox writers were randomly drawn to rate these songs, with each writer giving their favourite five points, three points to their second favourite, two points to third, one point for fourth, and no points for the song that comes last. Once all the scores have been totted up, the top two scorers go through to the second round of the competition. Couldn’t be simpler. So without further ado, it’s time to hand over to the man who had his bed specifically built so it’s impossible for him to get out on the right side of it, Mr Al Shipley, to get us underway!

Al Shipley: “Blame It” (5 points) has been my jam of the year since February with its giddy jiggly swing and constant spiraling array of hooks, but I’ll grudgingly hand Swifty well earned runner-up status (3 points) for that irresistible chorus that eventually broke down my resistance. Hadn’t heard Dirty Projectors (2 points) or Royksopp (1 point) before, but they were pleasantly not my thing and unpleasantly not my thing, respectively. It’s not rockist to hate Miley (0 points) for singing a so-so pop song celebrating pop music and then turn around and say she doesn’t like pop music and just needed something to promote her clothing line, it’s common fucking sense.

STANDINGS: Foxx 5, Swift 3, Projectors 2, Royksopp 1, Cyrus 0

Alex Macpherson: It’s a close-run thing between this group’s two best songs. The woozy, boozy, head-nodding haze of “Blame It” was one of 2009’s two great drinking songs, Electrik Red’s “Drink In My Cup” being the other, but while the latter is, like, totally wasted and wild, Foxx and Pain still have a semblance of smoothness. At the other end of the spectrum, “You Belong With Me” was Taylor Swift’s peppiest, clean-cut moment. The immediacy and obviousness of each belied their perfectly judged details; the boys get the top spot (5 points) because, as great as “You Belong With Me” (3 points) is, it’s still only the fifth or sixth best track on its parent album. Next is Miley (2 points) and a song which would have stuck a lot more had it actually been the kind of ubiquitous hit that it was fishing so hard to be; as it was, I caned it for a week and haven’t gone back to it since, apart from when it emerged that the girl had never heard a Jay-Z song in the first place. Karin Dreijer Andersson adds a slight and much-needed edge to “This Must Be It” (1 point), enough to make it a decent enough listen, but not enough to overcome Röyksopp’s extraordinary ability to make absolutely every possible sound and emotion evoke nothing more or less than a car advert. Still, a lot better than yelping Brooklyn bores Dirty Projectors (0 points), who really need to go away right now because I am starting to worry about Solange Knowles.

STANDINGS: Foxx 10, Swift 6, Projectors 2, Royksopp 2, Cyrus 2

Erika Villani: I like pop music. Not ironically, not subversively — I like pop music. I like what it does to people, what it expresses for them, what it makes them feel. My musical ideal, the standard up to which every other song must live, is the night I witnessed a house full of inebriated twentysomethings — some hipsters, some classic rock fans, some with a pure and undying love of DMX — singing at the top of their lungs to Miley Cyrus’s “See You Again.” Which is why Miley’s “Party in the USA”, a pop song about liking pop songs, unquestionably takes number one (5 points), with Taylor Swift (3 points) right behind. Dirty Projectors ride the momentum of Solange’s excellent cover to number three (2 points), and Royskopp feat. Karin Dreijer Andersson get number four (1 point), mostly because that was the only place left for them, what with Jamie Foxx and T-Pain being destined to come in last (0 points).

STANDINGS: Foxx 10, Swift 9, Cyrus 7, Projectors 4, Royksopp 3

Mallory O\’Donnell: Between the manufactured oddness of Dirty Projectors (1 point) and the au naturel Nordic nobbiness of Royksopp (5 points), the choice is obvious: goblins over elves. Both Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift peddle a very middle American notion of individuality, but I’d buy Swift (3 points) as a nerd (as unbelievable as that may be) before I support Cyrus as some kind of legitimate hybrid who really enjoys the work of Jay-Z, rather than the trained pop poodle she so obviously is (0 points). Smack in the middle we have Jamie Foxx (2 points), because that’s where everything ends up when you autotune the living hell out of it.

STANDINGS: Foxx 12, Swift 12, Royksopp 8, Cyrus 7, Projectors 5

Rodney J. Greene: Given my usual predilections, I feel odd putting the DPs’ faux-Top 40 R&B (5 points) over Foxx-Pain’s actual Top 40 R&B (3 points), but damn if they didn’t earn it. Their spiky, pristine guitars have an energy lost in the slurry soundscape of “Blame It,” and while they can’t match T-Pain for bugged-out humor, Amber Coffman at least shows more personality than Jamie Foxx. While I don’t have particular use for either, I have no qualms whatsoever about taking Taylor’s earnest Disney country-pop (2 points) over Miley’s more guileful version of same (0 points). Karin’s work outside the Knife has failed to engage me thus far (1 point).

STANDINGS: Foxx 15, Swift 14, Projectors 10, Royksopp 9, Cyrus 7

Chris Boeckmann: Miley: yes, we appreciate honesty. But when the truth is that you’re a lame hack who’s never really heard a Jay-Z song, maybe you should, like, rely on ambiguity. And it’s a shame, too, as the songwriting is incredible and the production is slick! Anyway, sick of looking at you (0 points). I’ve listened to Royksopp multiple times over the past couple of months trying to remember why my fellow Jukeboxers loved them. And I sort of see it — the atmosphere is great! — but it’s just sort of too nice and boring? In any case, I’d rather listen to the Fever Ray album (1 point). Taylor — now we’re finally up to the masterpieces, and I hate to do this (2 points) to you, but, well, JAMIE FOXX HAD ONE OF THE GREATEST PARTY SINGLES EVER (3 points), and that leaves us with the Dirty Projectors, who have crafted what is quite possibly my favorite single of the year. It’s hooky, weird and perfectly executed. That point near the end, you know, where Amber’s vocals escalate to full-on belt? Maybe the only time this year where I’ve genuinely felt chills down my spine (5 points).

STANDINGS: Foxx 18, Swift 16, Projectors 15, Royksopp 10, Cyrus 7

Renato Pagnani: Deciding between “This Must Be It” (off the excellent Junior) and one of Swift’s shiny pop gems for the top spot in this group was settled only by the fact that “You Belong With Me” isn’t my favourite song from Fearless (3 points). That and as much as I love Karin Dreijer Andersson exploring the depths of the warped and the sinister things that lurk in the corners of our minds with her brother Olof, or the warmer (relatively speaking) and more arid tones of her solo work as Fever Ray, there’s just something about the way Röyksopp can get Andersson out of her own head for a few minutes, the way she instinctively knows what to do over their Scandinavian electro-pop, that does it for me (5 points). I actually think I like “Blame It” (1 point) better than “Stillness is the Move” (2 points), and would’ve ranked it higher were it not for the fact the song would’ve been a bajillion times better were it a solo T-Pain song. The less said about Miley Cyrus (0 points) the better. I heard the song she did with Timbaland off the upcoming Shock Value 2: even Timbo can’t work miracles.

STANDINGS: Foxx 19, Swift 19, Projectors 17, Royksopp 15, Cyrus 7

Dan MacRae: The 1-2 ranking of Miley (5 points) and Taylor (3 points) has nothing to do with the screenplay I plan to write about the pair solving mysteries (Cyrus n’ Swift: Detective Pals), but is instead an assertion of my belief that “Party” and “Belong” are transcendent pop treasures. It’s a special league of pop song where even the hokiest traits become endearing quirks that demand championing (what unilingual American kid uses the term “taximan”?). I sing along, I root for the narrator, I play it again. Miley gets the edge for the steamroller of a chorus, if we’re investigating the podium rankings. “Stillness Is The Move” (2 points) has a serpentine charm that gets run through a Neo Geo machine with pleasant enough results. Amber Coffman’s vocals bear a bit of a resemblance to The Blow in my brain, so I’m probably judging this a bit more softly than I should. On the other hand, I’ve been caught off guard by how dull I find “This Must Be It” (1 point). There’s so much globbed on to this that I feel like I’m listening to one big smudge. The scissor-sounding percussion sounds neat, though. I’d like to hear a song based around that. But now, I have learned that most of the orchestra is having their appendixes removed, so without further ado, I give you the remnants of the Springfield Elementary School Orchestra: on saxophone, Lisa Simpson, on triangle, Martin Prince, and with a Vocoder up his nose, Jamie Foxx (0 points).

STANDINGS: Swift 22, Foxx 19, Projectors 19, Royksopp 16, Cyrus 12

Alex Ostroff: When in doubt, iTunes stats don’t lie. I’ve listened to “You Belong With Me” and “Stillness is the Move” more than most songs released this year – exactly the same number of times, in fact. Dirty Projectors move your brain and your ass, impressing with its strange harmonies and heady guitar trills, while compelling awkward spastic motion with its perfectly placed off-kilter beats. Taylor edges them out, though, by stealing your heart (5 points). Angel Deradoorian might inform us of her longing “in every city…for a bigger city,” but her wanderlust, though beautiful, never feels more than abstract (3 points). Taylor’s world is smaller – never needing to light up more than ‘this whole town’ – but her longing is palpable, willing a relationship into existence with her sheer depth of feeling. Karin Dreijer Andersson’s voice is a remarkable instrument, and while Fever Ray has been one of my favourite albums of the year, I somehow avoided hearing “This Must Be It” until this very moment. It’s a pleasure to hear her voice wrapped around something vaguely celebratory, and the longing conveyed even in the midst of house pianos and rolling electronics suggests that she has a future career in disco. That said, Royskopp’s track simply doesn’t approach the sheer brilliance and oddity and depth of Karin’s production on Fever Ray (2 points). Blame It is a gleeful, stupid, hilarious earworm and if there was any justice, it would have broken the Peas run and snagged a #1 this summer. Even if it doesn’t match up to the depth of thought and feeling presented by the women, the a-a-a-a-alcohol alone would guarantee it the top spot on nearly any other list (1 point). And as for Miley’s second cross-over single? Well, it’s nowhere near as brilliant as “See You Again”, and she’s apparently pretending to have never actually heard a Jay-Z track, in a baffling attempt to either snag country cred or piss me off. There was a week-long period this summer where I would have insisted that this was the best single of the year — a feel-good track about reviving the monoculture! A better version of J-Lo’s Play! But the brain-bludgeoning chorus wears thin on the 40th spin or so, and then you’re stuck at a Party with Miley, drinking alcohol-free punch and doing the Hoedown Throwdown, with no one to Blame It on but yourself (0 points).

STANDINGS: Swift 27, Projectors 22, Foxx 20, Royksopp 18, Cyrus 12

Ian Mathers: I didn’t like “This Must Be It” much when we blurbed it, and it’s a sign of the weakness of this group that it still comes in second, and easily so (3 points). Taylor Swift’s finest four minutes would mop the floor with any of our divisions, but putting her up against indie pabulum, pop idiocy and risible, AutoTuned-to-death R’n’B just isn’t fair (5 points). I have come around to the stiff first two minutes of “Stillness Is the Move” a bit, and if the track ended at about 2:17 it’d be a pleasingly odd little interlude. Instead we get a band striving way too hard for fireworks and coming up with a damp squib. Those first two minutes just barely elevate it (2 points) over Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” (1 point), which at least has a great chorus melody – so great, in fact, that the lyrics would have to be truly dire to sink it, and while I could tolerate them back when we blurbed the song, familiarity has brought increasing amounts of contempt. “Blame It,” meanwhile, has lyrics every bit as bad (and possibly more objectionable) than Cyrus’ song, but no indelible chorus to salvage it (0 points). Against all that, I can overlook how silly Karin Dreijer Andersson sounds on the chorus of “This Must Be It” and just appreciate Royksopp’s finely tooled whoosh, even if it also doesn’t have a hope in hell of beating a song that makes a virtue out of how heartfelt and soaring its cliches are.


1. Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me” – 32 points
2. Dirty Projectors, “Stillness is the Move” – 24 points
3. Royksopp ft. Karin Dreijer Andersson, “This Must Be It” – 21 points
4. Jamie Foxx ft. T-Pain, “Blame It” – 20 points
5. Miley Cyrus, “Party in the USA” – 13 points

And so it’s a win for Taylor Swift, qualifying top of the group, no real surprise there – but a huge shock sees plucky Brooklyn waifs Dirty Projectors making a late charge to snaffle the second qualifying spot from plucky Scandinavian waifs Royksopp and Filthy O’Boozehound. As for Miley Cyrus, well, that’ll teach her for running her mouth about her record collection, which, as a decade of the internet has taught me, just is not the thing to do these days.

Join us later today for all the action from the second of our first-round clashes, which sees a bloodthirsty werewolf taking on Soulja Boy. You know you ain’t wanting to miss that…

30 Responses to “The Singles Jukebox End-of-Year Best-Off 2009: Round 1, Group 1”

  1. I’m appalled that the DPs made it ahead of three good tracks, but really the Taylor Swift is the only one I care about in this group.

  2. For the record, I voted the boringly competent “This Must Be It” ahead of Miley’s abominable “Party in the USA.” It just didn’t make for as handy a comparison with the Taylor Swift record.

  3. Bollocks – knew those scores looked wrong. They’ve all been corrected now, though.

  4. Wait, were we always supposed to write specifically about all of the songs in this go-round? Uh oh….

  5. Miley Cyrus was robbed!

    (OK, Taylor should still be first, but IT’S A PARTY IN THE USA!)

  6. I love that picture of Taylor in her specs going ‘HEIN?’

  7. I can understand that Miley Cyrus isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I really cannot imagine hating her to the point where I would prefer Jamie Foxx featuring T-Pain. I mean, really?

  8. ^Blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol.

  9. Framing is severely losing me here… lol british i guess?

  10. Thank you Erika and Dan for recognizing Party in the USA for what it is: ABSOLUTELY GREAT.

    I am confused as to why Miley admitting to never hearing a Jay-Z song matters. If anyone genuinely believes she listens to anything but that voice in her head that tells her to make bad decisions… well, I will be surprised, to say the least.

  11. HOW MUCH do I love this format? An almost unconscionable amount, believe me.

    I’m just glad the two points I tossed “Stillness Is the Move” didn’t make the difference between it and Royksopp – the idea of having to put up with “isn’t life under the sun just a crazy crazy dream?” for the rest of the fucking tournament because of my own actions makes me want to headbutt a wall.

  12. My teeth are already chattering about a future group and my possible impact on one of its qualifiers. GULP.

  13. Sigh. I was going to rank “Stillness Is the Move” lower, and now I know that I should have.

  14. As someone who watched huge chunks of this summer’s television coverage of the Tour, and concluded that cycling commentators are either preternatually un-self-possessed or on some really good drugs, I am in love with the framing as well as the format.

  15. My votes would’ve gone like this, had I been asked for this bunch: Taylor > Miley > Royksopp > Foxx > Projectors.

  16. I like that we were only picked to review certain groups — makes the final group more interesting and the fight to see who qualifies downright nail-biting, LOVE this format and hope (as I suspect) that Will is editing the sequence of blurbs to heighten tension of movement of total scores through the piece (that was the effect here).

    That said, I also can’t avoid airing my opinions on EVERYTHING. So mine goes Foxx > Taylor > Royksopp(!!!) > Miley > Projectors (didn’t rate the Royksopp song at all, but I reached my high point with “Party in the USA” a while back (it peaked at a slight-grin “7”) and it’s settled back down to a 5. Biggie mashup is better!

  17. Yeah, love for the format here too, including my total bafflement at the framing. I like that part of the tension is wondering WHO WILL GET TO REVIEW WHAT – plus getting people to engage with stuff they’d usually pass over is always good.

  18. I can’t decide what it says about me, if anything, that my rankings were identical with the final average/total ranking of this Group.

  19. Mathematically, I think it means that I had no bearing on the results whatsoever, correct?

  20. Would’ve gone Foxx>Taylor>Miley>Projectors>Royskopp

  21. I like that other than her two #1 votes, Miley only got 3 points.

  22. Taylor > Royskopp > Miley > Dirty Projectors > Foxx

  23. it’s bad enough that miley cyrus has never heard a jay-z song but you guys they just found out (following a review of obscure biographical documents released by his son dmitri) that vladimir nabokov never actually fucked a little girl

    furthermore, in a maritime shocker, turns out herman melville was never actually on a ship that went down with all hands following its captain’s suicidal attack on a whale he resented

    also they just checked on bob dylan and apparently not only is he not stuck inside of mobile with the memphis blues he never actually was.

    i for one plan to spend the rest of the week doing some pretty heavy thinking about my preconceptions. i doubt my innocence will ever recover.

  24. We get yr point Theon but just so you know, Herman Melville totally did a couple of years’ stretch on a whaling ship so you might want to pick a different example before you reconsider any preconceptions just in case they are RIGHT :)

  25. Who cares if she never heard Jay-Z, that song is straight up hokey pokey.

  26. I’m less bothered by the fact that Miley has never heard a Jay-Z song as I am that she so casually distanced herself from own work. I don’t need to believe every line of the song, but on some level I do need (or at least want) to believe the emotions and/or the overall sentiment, and when Miley says “Honestly, I just needed a song to promote my clothing line. I didn’t expect it to be popular,” then it does sort of color the way I hear it, for better or for worse.

    I still think it’s a great pop song, mind you, but I just can’t get behind it unreservedly.

  27. I know Melville was on a whaler but presumably Miley’s heard music (maybe even rap music) and they can both extrapolate.

    Of course it’s fine to not like the song (I think it’s good enough – I was a bigger fan of “7 Things” and “See You Again”); I was just surprised to find people conceding that it had “incredible” songwriting and then having to mark it down based on disapproval of the artist. Especially if Miley is as much of an assembly-line puppet as everyone assumes: regardless of your feelings on The Work vs. The Artist, wouldn’t her characteristics then be particularly irrelevant?

  28. I think the Jay-Z quote is kinda funny, if only because there’s just no possible way she could be serious. I’ve never had any sense of a distribution strategy, and as far as I can tell her successes are completely random — it makes sense that she sees her own work this way, because she’s RIGHT — there is no particular reason for this song to exist right now (not that it’s a bad thing that it does), but it’s an unusually free-floating song.

    (But plenty of her songs feel a little like this: “See You Again” had radio success without an accompanying Disney radio blitz; as far as I can tell, “Party in the USA” is unconnected to any album, re-release, even a bullshit iTunes EP or something; most of her Hannah Montana albums were delayed for months and months to make sure that her audience was either sick of or already otherwise owned her tracks before they actually released it, etc., etc. She has the worst-handled music distribution career this side of Mariah Carey!)

  29. [i]as far as I can tell, “Party in the USA” is unconnected to any album, re-release, even a bullshit iTunes EP or something;[/i]

    wikipedia reveals its part of some wal-mart exclusive EP

  30. Blast! Wal-Mart! (It’s always Wal-Mart.)