"Today’s Best Hits" puts one to sleep

107.5 KISS FM was blaring. The futuristic radio sounds juxtaposed with the annoying female overdub chorus singing "TODAY’S BEST HITS….KISS 107 FM!!!" brought me from the pleasant Matt Nathanson song I’d been listening to into the next track up. But this was special. A different set of futuristic radio sounds played as an electronically altered man’s voice said smirkingly, "New on KISS 107. Akon-‘Beautiful.’" I yelped and tried to reach the dial in time, but I was turning a corner and needed both hands on the wheel. And so I was forced to listen to Akon’s latest travesty of a "single." The first thing that struck me, after the cheap, dreamy-sounding synth wall in the background, was the main synth riff. At first, I thought it was just another late-decade sampling of an early-decade, now-faded hit, this one being "Better Off Alone" by Alice Deejay. But wait! Mr. Aliaune "Akon" Thiam appears to be counting on the entire pop music world to have completely forgotten this earlier song, for he simply changed some of the riff’s notes. The rhythms were the exact same. This was no sample. It was simply plagiarism. I felt horrible for the members of Alice Deejay, as, for the first time, I was disgusted by an Akon song before he started singing. I forced myself to continue listening. As expected, the rest of the song was filled with the usual-Auto-Tuned vocals, gang choruses shouting "Ay!" in the background, over-romanticized declarations of eternal love to some chick the protagonist just met in a club, and more vocal overdubs than the number of guns T.I. owns. Here it was, yet another nauseatingly unoriginal pop hit of the late 2000’s. Before we begin, it’s necessary to clarify what type of music I’m referring to here. Pop music has become so diverse that it must be divided into several genres, usually rock/alternative, hip-hop/rap, R&B, country, and "pop" (Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, etc.). The area that has become so bland in particular on the radio is the mainstream combination of hip-hop, R&B, and pop. The "hits" are usually made by either a famous producer such as Polow Da Don (who has used stock GarageBand loops in his productions, and even I don’t do that), or the artist himself, as in the case of Akon’s latest single. To hear this style at its glossiest, listen to the chorus of Flo Rida’s latest hit, "Sugar"-it contains a typical kick-snare pattern, prominent hi-hat, a singer featured in the chorus of an otherwise rap track, and the aforementioned Auto-Tune, vocal overdubs, and cacophony of various cheap synths riffing around, making full, exhaustive use of the modern miracle of panning and stereo sound. The female voice (some "R&B" singer named Wynter) sings the main melody from another early-decade, now-faded hit (although a more recognizable one), "Blue" by Eiffel 65. Honestly, Mr. Rida, originality is not a crime. Today, we have the great propagators of unoriginality in popular music: Flo Rida, Akon, Rihanna, will.i.am., Soulja Boy, T.I., and, of course, Lil Wayne. They dish out hit after hit, feat. T-Pain, Justin Timberlake, Yung Joc, Auto-Tune, and all the rest. It seems as though the old motto of Arts gratia artis (art for the sake of art) has become Arts gratia lucris (art for the sake of profit) in the mainstream rap field. The fast hi-hat patterns that were so interesting in 2006 have faded into just another mundane element, making it simple for anyone with a new way to say either "Let’s have sex immediately," "I enjoy dancing," and/or "I am wealthy" and a computer with a microphone to become a star (most notably Soulja Boy and most recently GS Boys with their "hit" "Stanky Legg"). Even if mid-decade hits were repetitive, at least each sounded different and used interesting instrumentation (think "Yeah!," "Drop It Like It’s Hot," "Gold Digger," etc.). Our current hitmakers don’t even do that, and I constantly find myself hungering over the idea of a new batch of Timbaland tracks to at least break the mold. So where, one asks, does our current Billboard chart-dominating rap/pop/R&B/hip-hop go from here? Eventually, these artists will be forced to get original or get a new line of work. I hope that a new genre or style will take over as the decade changes, as it usually has. Possibly, the genres of rock and rap will give birth to a new form, as projects such as Linkin Park/Jay-Z’s Collision Course, Timbaland’s smash hit remix of OneRepublic’s "Apologize," and Lil Wayne’s upcoming rock album have shown us, or maybe urbanized country-pop could emerge, as evidenced by the accessible hits by Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Rascal Flatts. A sort of anti-hip hop movement has been appearing recently-the hardcore electronica-rap of 3OH!3 and Hollywood Undead and the sarcastic "white boy" artists Asher Roth and arguably The Lonely Island are good examples. Indie rock and alterna-pop, a subgenre traditionally kept just left of the mainstream, is beginning to burst through-in fact, Coldplay’s effervescent yet unique epic "Viva la Vida" was 2008’s Grammy winner for Song of the Year, and the quieter, piano-driven sounds of artists such as The Fray, Sara Bareilles, and the aforementioned Matt Nathanson have a solid stake of today’s airwaves. But I know this: whatever may come in the new decade, it will certainly be one hell of a ride. As long as Akon isn’t a part of it.