Every time a new song reaches No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, Shut Up And Listen To The Hits will examine that song, filtered through the perspective of admitted not-cool person Chris Morgan, who doesn’t listen to popular new music. Get off his lawn.
When asked what my album of the year is, I will occasionally joke that it’s Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted. The premise here being that, as Slanted and Enchanted remains my favorite album of all-time, and because it still exists, it is, in a sense, the best album of any given year. It’s a mildly amusing riposte to a fairly rote question, but it gets to a larger point that explains why this column that you are currently reading exists.
I am not, by even the loosest of definitions, a pop music listener. I am not “hip” to what “the kids” listen to. Mostly, I listen to the stuff I love, bands such as the aforementioned Pavement, and also Dinosaur Jr. and The Jesus and Mary Chain and Galaxie 500 and on and on. This is not to say that I only listen to music from a bygone era. As a music writer, and music fan, I listen to lots of new stuff. It’s just not the stuff that hits the charts, gets people excited on Twitter, or shows up on the VMAs. I’m not against pop music, or things that are popular. I gave up on yelling “sellout” at musicians when I stopped being 14, although, as a young punk, I yelled it enough times to last a lifetime. It’s just that I’m an adult man, and like most adults, my musical tastes have ossified to some degree. I know what I like, and that’s what I listen to. I’m sure a lot of the folks jamming to Taylor Swift probably don’t have feelings about Diet Cig’s Overeasy, although, if they do, more power to them.
However, as a man who writes about music professionally, the question that arises is can I, in good conscience, keep certain elements of the musical world at arm’s length? I can, but I’m not going to. That is where Shut Up And Listen To The Hits comes in. I will be listening to the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 whenever a new one takes over that spot, and then offering my thoughts on said song as a man who has not listened to popular music all that much in the last, oh, 15 years?
Of course, much as how the title New Girl makes increasingly less sense by the episode, eventually the premise of a pop ignorant man listening to pop music will result in said man no longer being pop ignorant, but that’s a problem for another day. For now, our journey begins with the current song topping the charts, “The Hills” by The Weeknd.
Heading into this process, I had heard exactly zero songs by The Weeknd. I have seen the name around. I had the vague feeling he was an R&B artist of some sorts. His name is an annoyance to those of us in the music writing business, what with its gratuitous disdain for the traditional structure of words. I feel like people don’t like him. I mean, on its face, that is a profoundly inane statement that could apply to literally any musician, but by that previous sentence, I am implicating The Weeknd as a divisive figure in pop music that has a larger, and more vocal, contingent of naysayers. I know this to be true, because I’ve heard some of them, and if I am hearing something related to pop music, I know that it has infiltrated the general consciousness.
I was intrigued when “The Hills” kicked in, because the first few seconds sound pretty dope. Then, I listened to the entire thing, and realized the overarching point that The Weeknd is making with this song is that he’s into f*cking. Oh, that may sound crass, but I’m only speaking in the vernacular of The Weeknd. Also, with that tastefully appointed asterisk in lieu of a vowel, it’s far from crass, certainly less crass than Mr. T. Weeknd. I feel like he’s probably never referred to the act of sexual intercourse in any other language. It would be, in a manner of speaking, “off brand,” because his brand is, it would appear, being a creep.
It really speaks to the modern era of song popularity measuring that “The Hills” can hit No. 1. I can’t imagine it getting much radio play, or, if it did, I can’t imagine it being very popular, because it would be chopped all to hell. I will say this much of the song: It sounds pretty cool. I like the way he sings on the verses. The dude knows how to put a song together. The problem is that essentially everything he says is odious. He just doesn’t know how to make something interesting lyrically, unless you think sordid sexual congress is interesting. And if you do, you’re probably boring. It’s just all sex and drugs and R&B for this guy. The song is basically about him sleeping with some woman in a relationship. Also, he takes a lot of drugs, but, as he says, him being “f*cked up” is the real him. When he is sober, I presume he’s like Clark Kent. He throws on glasses and acts like a bumbling fool so people don’t realize he’s really that world famous creep whose super power seems to be unctuousness. I bet he’d be pretty cool with Mr. Mxyzptlk, though.
The song is very much not cool to women, and that is very much not cool with me. On occasion, I have been known to enjoy a song that may, perhaps, have a whiff of sleaze to it. Sometimes, a song is powerful enough in its quality to overcome that. “The Hills” is not that kind of song, though. There is, theoretically, a The Weeknd song I would enjoy. As previously stated, the music sounds pretty nice a lot of the time, and his voice is good. There is craftsmanship on display. However, if this is the sort of stuff he’s into singing about, I don’t think he and I will ever see eye to eye.
I’m a little weirded out that this is so popular, if I may be frank. Why would people be listening to this? Who would put this on at, like, a party? People should only listen to “The Hills” if they are snorting coke off a mirror, alone, and then looking into that coke-dusted mirror and wondering where it all went wrong.