Chart for Charts’ Sake: The Hot 100

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Sometime this summer, the climactic leap in a So You Think You Can Dance contemporary routine will begin just as Ellie Goulding desperately pants “What are you waiting for?” and conclude when the chorus of “Love Me Like You Do” thunders back with the brute force of a thousand hearts being totally eclipsed at once, and there is nothing you, I, or Ellie herself can do except hope that the telecast doesn’t coincide with the Fifty Shades DVD release and the costumers don’t bind the dancers in too much kitsch ‘n’ kink.

I like how Goulding sings, but as with many current pop voices, it’s hard to say what I mean by that. Her pleasing crinkle doesn’t express a personality so much as attractively notate personality traits we’ve happily encountered elsewhere; she’s like a charming yet needy emoticon who longs to become a real girl. (Calvin Harris is her best shot at a Blue Fairy, Ryan Tedder the coachman who’ll ship her to Pleasure Island, Max Martin the whale who swallows her whole.) Her voice is breathy but not physical, lacks depth but isn’t flat, refracts her surroundings like an imperfectly re-smoothed ball of tin foil. The digital age needs a metaphor less corporeal than Barthes’ grain of the voice, but what? The sheen of the voice? The shimmer?

Maybe no pop star has capitalized on this sort of stylized affect as smashingly as RIhanna, whose serrated presence thrills or numbs, dependent on her setting. But when wounded rage strikes, she transforms from vehicle to agent; on “FourFiveSeconds” she belts in full-bodied, open-ended, percussive pulses, the trajectory of each seemingly left to chance. WIth its acoustic guitar as novelty instrument and oddly singsong fury, the song is a genuinely peculiar exercise in catharsis as tuneful distraction. Will the new folk trio of Kanye, Paul & RiRii put the charts in a stranglehold? Or will pop fans wonder will what’s all the fuss (2 Bad Jokes Only ‘80s Teens Will Wince At.)

The third single to enter the Top Ten since I last ran it down hints at the Adam Levine I first fell in not-loathing with back in the days of “This Love.” Levine is Daryl Hall as limited liability company, offshoring his rock ‘n’ soul to Swedes whose big bam boom h2omogenizes its senuality. As Levine hatches little baby falsettoes out of each other like a Russian nesting doll, it’s clearly not her kiss that’s on his lips, but that crimped lite-funk is just warm enough to dissolve “Sugar” but just too cool to generate any steam. I’m just glad Dr. Luke’s crew has got its hooks in Levine and not a retro magician like Mark Ronson. At the thought of an Adam Levine “Uptown Funk!” I’m almost willing to fully retract all last month’s Mars attacks.

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