Monday, January 19, 2015

Editorial: Enough Lolis Already!

Japan, we need to talk.

I've been an enthusiast and consumer of your contemporary visual media, by which I mean anime and manga, for a considerable chunk of my lifespan by now.  And as with any other artistic medium, over the years I have become cognisant of the more sultry corners of those industries.  That, taken alone, is not a bad thing.  But within those adult-oriented ghettos, I'm witnessing a disturbing trend.  More and more with each passing year, we get various kinds of products, both from the professional and amateur circles, which employ the fictional depictions of underage characters in sexual situations.  And I'm not alone in noticing this: after several false starts in writing an article on the subject, I caught a documentary on BBC radio which spurred my internal dialogue once again.

An example of "loli" content from Kodomo no Jikan,
which even had to be censored for its TV broadcast (above).
Said documentary investigates and discusses the topic of "lolicon".  The term is short for "Lolita complex", and was named after The Lolita Complex, a psychological hoax of a book written by Russell Trainer, which was in turn named after the novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.  In modern practise, "lolicon" is the use of noticeably underage female characters in some degree of sexual situations and an illustrated context, and the sexual attraction of such held by its fans.  There's also a gender-swapped counterpart named "shotacon", (named after Shotaro Kaneda, the main character of the sixties giant-robot anime Gigantor).  Now, I'm not into any of that stuff, what with western ideals of beauty being geared towards a certain... older age.  But apparently plenty of Japanese anime and manga consumers are, even those who have healthy interpersonal relationships in the real world.  So how bad could it be...?

Please bear in mind the following points as I go on.  1) I am against sexual exploitation of real-world minors in the real world, especially if they are used against their will and consent.  That kind of depravity is bad.  It is wrong.  "Badong", even.  But here's the thing: real-life juniors are not employed, much less harmed, in the creation of these lolicon/shotacon products.  At least I hope not...

2) I am a stalward supporter of freedom of speech and creation, so long as it does not infringe directly upon the personal rights of others.  Come to think of it, this debate reminds me of one we've been having here in America for some time now, about whether or not violent content in video games inspires its consumers to engage in similar acts.  I am strongly against that being the case, and if someone does indeed take such inspiration to perpetrate that kind of crime, that's his problem personally.  Back on point, I suppose I could apply that same line of thinking to the lolicon issue, however my personal disdain for the thing softens my edge somewhat.

Yoko from Gurren Lagann.
Surely she's an adult, right?  ...Right?
And 3) I say this as a huge fan of contemporary Japanese visual media.  I'm not saying any of this to condemn the scene and make it go away; I'm bringing up these issues in an effort that these specific problems may be corrected and make life better for the rest of us.  But seriously, folks, Japan's relationship with age is jacked.  Case in point: This lovely vixen you see to the side of this paragraph is Yoko, one of the main characters from the show Gurren Lagann.  As you can see, she's got a face that makes my heart melt, and a body that makes my... "Sex Pistol" hard.  It helps that Yoko-chan is typically portrayed wearing little more than a bikini and hotpants.  Heck, the swimsuit she wears in the show's "beach episode" covers more of her torso than her default costume does!  Also, she's fourteen.


Yeah, the second half of that show takes place a few years in the future, but this was our first impression of Yoko-chan.  I don't know about you, but when I need to envision a fourteen-year-old, I don't think Yoko-chan.  I think Ellie from The Last of Us.  And this isn't limited to the pornographic sphere; teenage heroes are everywhere in manga and anime.  I remember stuff from the '90s like Sailor Moon, Neon Genesis Evangelion, even Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, where the main characters were fourteen, fifteen years old but whose body types were a bit more on the grown-up side than today's loli fare.  Of course, if these girls were to suddenly take on a corporeal form I'd know better than to do them; I've built a pretty strong mental barrier in that regard.  Again, rape is "badong".  And yet, Nadia-chan in particular is still my "waifu" after all these years, but I am fast approaching the age where it would be creepy to admit that.  Ay, me.  Still, I have my limits; if the girl looks any younger than the examples I listed in this paragraph, you can count me out.

Perhaps this fascination with taking on fantastic adventures in one's youth is just a cultural thing, as parodied by this Scandinavia and the World comic.  Or perhaps it's universal: we will always need main characters whom we can relate to, and the sad truth is that a lot of our stories are geared towards those of us in the midst of growing up.  And the Internet being what it is, there's always someone out there ready to re-interpret these stories to fulfill the sexual fantasies of themselves and others.  You know, "Rule 34" and all that.

Going back to the topic of bringing up social problems for the sake of having them fixed, this Lolita Complex... complex brings with it... complex implications for the future of Japan itself.  According to the resources cited on the Wikipedia page about the demographics of Japan, the country has suffered a shrinking population for a few years running, despite an increasing life expectancy.  You may not notice it by visiting the place these days, but Japan's economy suffered a really bad recession in the early 90s, and depending on whom you talk to, has yet to recover fully.  Thus, we have dating-age women who a generation ago would have been content to live out as housewives for the many well-off suitors available, but these days must be more proactive in picking out a suitable husband.  But the stress of this romantic competition instead drives men away from the real dating scene, and towards the more docile girls of the virtual realms.

This is probably not the only factor in Japan's depopulation, and I do not claim to be an expert on the subject, but that doesn't mean I still don't hold within me wishes to improve the future of one of my favourite nations.  And yet I admit that solving the matter myself is an improbability, not to mention the implications of imposing the culture I happen to follow upon another culture entirely.  Remember, you're reading the words of someone from "World Police" America.  So allow me to just put this suggestion out there that maybe, the Japanese should take the effort themselves to embrace older characters, and maybe the medium would be a more respectable place.

Then again, if I really wanted to instill any real change in Japan, I should have done it in their own language.  D'oh.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Film Review: The Wind Rises

Previously on the SDP, I discussed the Studio Ghibli film The Wind Rises on two occasions.  First, I discussed its ramifications in the context of the Japanese political right, and second, I lamented its lack of exposure and acclaim from my own country.  But between the time I first saw it in theatres and when I got to re-watch it on home video, The Wind Rises became, to me, less of an actual product and more of an icon, an ideal, something I chose to stand for.  But now that it finally came out on home video and I've had a chance to re-watch it, how does it stand against my mind's interpretation of it?

The Wind Rises
  • Publisher: Toho (JP), Touchstone Pictures (US)
  • Studio: Studio Ghibli
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release: 20 July 2013 (JP), 21 February 2014 (US)
  • Director: Hayao Miyazaki
  • Producer: Toshio Suzuki
  • Writer: Hayao Miyazaki
The Wind Rises bills itself as a fictionalised biography of a one Jiro Horikoshi (EN: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, JP: Hideaki Anno), a Japanese airplane designer active in the 1920s and '30s.  Sounds like a boring idea for an animated movie, doesn't it?  Well if you thought that, A) you suck, and B) Studio Ghibli has ways to punch it up every once in a while.  At points throughout the movie, the plot is intercut with Jiro's dreams, where he interacts with a mister Giovanni Caproni (EN: Stanley Tucci, JP: Nomura Mansai), a real-life Italian plane designer who inspires him to embark down a similar path in life.  And indeed Jiro does go down that path, studying aviation in high school and eventually landing a job with the Mitsubishi company, all the while accompanied by his friend Kiro Honjo (EN: John Krasinski, JP: Hidetoshi Nishijima).

The character of Honjo stuck out to me, in what few scenes he took part in, because of his commentary on the state of Japan at the time.  This movie takes place, at the latest, half a century after the Meiji Revolution brought Japan back onto the world stage, but even then, the nation's industry and modernisation was a work in progress.  The Japanese of the time might have been able to make airplanes, but they were still using wood-and-canvas frames whereas their peers in Germany, the United States, and what-have-you had advanced to full-metal models.  Perhaps this state of affairs is best encapsulated in an observation Honjo makes, that they still use oxen to transport prototype planes to the takeoff/landing site.  It's as if the whole of Japan is a character in and of itself, having its own character arc and all that.

So as you witness this transition take place over the course of the movie, you'd be forgiven for thinking The Wind Rises is taking a nationalistic standpoint on history.  You may also feel troubled if you know your basic 20th century history, because this development also led to the Japanese Empire thinking it could get away with bringing its neighbours under its fold -- the hard way.  But The Wind Rises is surprisingly apolitical about the whole thing.  If anything, it's against war in general, which for the record is also the point of Miyazaki-sama himself.  There are a few lines in the script when Jiro states disapproval of how his creations were used for such destruction, but at the end of the day he is proud of his contributions to the field of aviation.  As he and Signior Caproni discussed in one of their dreams, he'd still rather live in a world with the dreams of aviation realised.  There's even a moment when Jiro discusses how to cut the weight from one of his models, and he half-jokingly suggests they take out the guns altogether.  But, I ask of Horikoshi-san, if you don't want your planes to be used for war, then what, pray tell, is their purpose?  It's not like these planes can carry a suitable volume of passengers for peaceful air travel!  What did you think would happen when you decided to design fighter planes!?  Oh well, you know what they say -- the road to Heck is paved with frozen door-to-door salesmen -- I mean, good intentions.

The Jiro/Naoko romance scenes are sweet
but have little impact on the plot.
So going through the movie, Jiro's career goes through a few ups and downs, until one particular failure causes him to take a sabbatical at a mountain resort, wherein he meets up with Naoko Satomi (EN: Emily Blunt, JP: Miori Takimoto).  The two spark up a romance in due time, which goes unextinguished even when he learns that she suffers from tuberculosis, thus casting a shadow of impermanance over their relationship.  My problem with this romantic sub-plot is that it doesn't exactly have any say on the main plot of Jiro's career, which especially jarring considering that it doesn't start until about an hour in to the film's runtime.  And, in fact, it never even happened to the real Jiro Horikoshi.  This little diversion comes from a novel also titled "The Wind Rises", written by Tatsuo Hori in 1937.  (Hori-san is, at least, given a dedication slide at the end of the film, along with Horikoshi-san.)  Remember when I said this movie was a "fictionalised biography"?  Yeah, that's why.

It is a perfectly fine romance, don't get me wrong.  I like a good tug at the ol' heartstrings every once in a while, and indeed the Jiro/Naoko sub-plot does this every once in a while, for example when he hears about her lung haemmorhage, or when his boss holds an impromptu wedding for the young couple.  All in all, it still leaves me with a warm and fuzzy feeling, and as my praise for the similarly emotional Kaleido Star indicates, this is a positive quality in my book.  But you could cut out Naoko's scenes and not only would The Wind Rises not suffer for it, but it would bring the film's 127-minute running time down to a more manageable length.

Whilst on the subject of this film's flaws, I thought the English voice cast was a tad hit-or-miss.  Actually, I can think of only one miss, but it's a big one.  Maybe Joseph Gordon-Levitt wasn't the best choice for this role.  Why couldn't this Honjo guy have been the main character?  Or at the very least, why couldn't his actor have portrayed Jiro instead of Mr. JGL?  The same goes for the Japanese track, where the lead character is played by Hideaki Anno, of all people.  (If you don't know, this guy created numerous anime series back in the day, and was even an employee at Studio Ghibli once.)  There are more engaging performances sprinkled among the supporting cast, such as the aforementioned Honjo-san, Jiro's boss Mr. Kurokawa (EN: Martin Short, JP: Masahiko Nishimura), and his sister Kayo (EN: Mae Whitman, JP: Mirai Shida).
Dream sequences and other visualisations demonstrate
the animation prowess of Studio Ghibli.
The Wind Rises a Studio Ghibli production, so I shouldn't have to tell you how good this movie looks.  What few scenes of fast action exist in this movie are animated realistically yet dynamically at the same time.  There are some moments where I wondered if the animators used rotoscoping techniques, and I mean that in a good way.  But the film isn't entirely grounded in reality; some scenes take place in the dreams of Jiro and Caproni, as I previously mentioned, and other scenes apply a layer of similar dreamlike visualizations onto otherwise ordinary moments, illustrating Jiro's thought process and what-not.  For example, in one scene where Jiro is drafting a design for a certain plane component, we see the finished plane flying in a clear sky, and the wind rustling the pages on his desk.  And yet no one seems to notice them...  But anyway. these visualisations serve two purposes: they provide visually creative shots, and they explain technical concepts for the laymen of the audience.  The score is also magnificent, although I'd expect nothing less from composer Joe Hisaishi, who has worked with Ghibli for a long time.  I don't know about you, but I'm a sucker for dramatic scenes where the music is a slow buildup and the sound-effect track is muted entirely.  (See also: the opera shootout in Quantum of Solace.)

So if I'm able to find so many flaws upon re-watching this movie, why am I still willing to stand up for it?  Well, to put it in one word, it's real.  It's not trying to be anything it's not, which is especially notable for an animated feature.  You know how Frozen, for example, had musical numbers, comic relief characters, and a romantic sub-plot entirely separate from the rest of the movie?  Yeah, The Wind Rises ain't having any of that.  Except for that last one... bad example, that.  My point is, this story could have fit very well as a live-action film, but Miyazaki chose to have it animated because A) animation is what he's good at, and B) this movie is the story he wanted to tell.  And to those who say, "Why did it have to be animated?", I say to them, "Why not?"

+ Plenty of emotional moments which left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling.
+ An interesting and well-acted supporting cast.
- The Jiro/Naoko romantic sub-plot could have been left out.
- The lead actor's performance is a tad wooden, both in Japanese and English.

Acting (English): 4 out of 5
Acting (Japanese): 4 out of 5
Writing: 4 out of 5
Design: 5 out of 5
Technical: 5 out of 5
The Call: 90% (A-)

P.S.: After I started work on writing this review, it has come to my attention that Hayao Miyazaki, among two others, had won an Academy Honorary Award in November of 2014.  For those who don't know, these awards are given at judges' discretion separately from the regular Oscars, but involve the same statuettes given to winners at the regular ceremony.  After having been so unfairly snubbed by the Oscars earlier in the year, I suppose hearing about this development has put my soul at ease a bit.  I mean, you could interpret that as him winning the award for all of his films!  All the same, for the sake of my mental health, I'm probably going to ignore the Oscars from here on out, or at least the Best Animated Feature category.  Wouldn't wan't to have my hopes dashed like that again.  I suppose this younger, more worldy generation will make the kinds of changes once we get into positions of power, but until then, I'll leave you with these words:

This is IchigoRyu.

You are the resistance.

1"Harry Belafonte, Hayao Miyazaki, Maureen O’Hara to get honorary Oscars". Entertainment Weekly. 28 August 2014, retrieved 15 January 2015.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Year In Review 2014

It's been a while since I did one of these year-in-review things.  I passed it up last year (referring to 2013) because I had put off my bottom-ten and top-ten song lists to the last minute and was too busy finishing those.  And I shall continue to put it off because this isn't a year-in-review article in the traditional sense, where I categorise the year's current events in some capacity.  Instead, I will focus on my personal developments over the year, or lack thereof.  Narcissistic you may call me, but by doing so I hope to reveal my plans for the SDP going forward, and for other projects of mine.

You may have noticed a sharp lack of SDP output this year, on both the blog and video fronts.  Yeah, somehow 2014 was, if not a bad year for the SDP, then at least a year of decline.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  Most of my articles and scripts are written during the lunch breaks at my job, but during the first quarter of the year I instead got hung up on planning a holiday in Japan.  (Which was way nice, if you were wondering.)  But even afterwards I just couldn't pick up the momentum again, and I am at a loss as to why.

And that's not to say I was lacking in inspiration, per se.  For example, you may recall a certain incident, or so I would have you believe, that happened at the Academy Awards this past year.  I felt like [noun] after first hearing the news, and even worse when I attempted to write a second article about it, sometime just before Thanksgiving.  Well, doing so got me so depressed that I deleted my work on that article entirely, because of how bad writing it made me felt.  Then, I had a talk with my parents, which I took two things from.  One, these sorts of developments are out of my control and I should just accept them.  Which I was hesitant to accept since, as I thought when dealing with the Mega Man Legends 3 crisis a few years ago, I regarded as tantamount to admitting defeat.

But rather than actually admitting defeat, I used the opportunity to renew my interest in re-writing my novel series Sapphire, which I'm thinking of renaming to the Indigo Children series.  In fact, I've made a New Year's resolution to myself of getting at least a finished first draft done.  The reason I bring this up is because it is my end goal to have these stories adapted into video games and movies, specifically anime, or anime-style, traditionally-animated productions.  After all, there's a certain quote, apocryphally attributed to Mohandas Gandhi, which I found really inspiring: "We need to be the change we wish to see in this world."  So if I want my people to take animation seriously, I need to start making the products that will do so.  And this change will not come instantly, but this is something I'm willing to accept.

But the greatest obstacle to this goal seems to be my own willpower.  I had written and published the earlier Sapphire novels online on my deviantART account, but my interest in that faded right around the time I started writing for this very blog.  Thus, looking forward, 2015 will be the year of Indigo Children, or at least a year of transition from the SDP to Indigo Children.  But that's not to say I'm giving up on the SDP entirely.  There are still a few reviews I wish to make before retiring the brand entirely.

Video Games
Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega Genesis, 1991)
James Bond 007: The Duel (Sega Genesis, 1993)
Time Crisis (Arcade et al, 1995)
Power Stone (Arcade et al, 1999)
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (PlayStation 2 et al, 2001)
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (PlayStation 3 et al, 2014)
Shantae and the Pirate's Curse (Nintendo 3DS et al, 2014)

Invisible Touch by Genesis (1986)
The Heist by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (2012)
"Latch" by Disclosure & Sam Smith (2013)

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
The Wind Rises (2013)
The Interview (2014)

TV & Anime
Sailor Moon (1992)
Totally Spies (2001)
Sailor Moon Crystal (2014)

Again, change doesn't happen overnight.  But if you still love the SDP, that also means it won't be going away overnight either.  Just allow me to leave you with these words:

This is IchigoRyu.

You are the resistance.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Film Review: Frozen

Previously on the SDP, I commiserated the Oscar defeat of Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises to the Disney venture Frozen.  Might as well be the bigger man and evaluate it on its own merits.

  • Publisher: Disney
  • Studio: Walt Disney Animation Studios
  • Genre: Fantasy, Musical
  • Release: 27 November 2013
  • Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
  • Producer: Peter del Vecho
  • Writers: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Shane Morris
Arendelle.  A world where ice runs everything, if not in the summer.  A world host to not one, but two princesses: Elsa (Idina Menzel), and her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell).  Elsa, for some reason, is a cryokinetic: she has the power to conjure up ice and snow.  But one time while they were playing together with those powers, one of her ice shots hit Anna in the head.  So, in fear of causing further damage, her family locks her up in the castle, and her powers are hidden from the rest of society.  That is, until her 21st birthday, when she accidentally exposes her abilities during a post-coronation party, and runs away from town.  And things were going so well until then, too.  Anna even found herself a strapping young marriage prospect in the form of Hans (Santino Fontana), a foreign prince.  But good luck with that when you're dealing with an emotionally and magically unstable sister!  Hey, Elsa!  You ever thought of just explaining your powers on your own terms, when you're all cool, calm, and collected (no pun intended on the "cool" part), instead of waiting for some accident to catch you off-guard, thus preventing you from thinking clearly?

Whatever.  So when Elsa's instabilities force Arendelle into a permanent state of winter, Anna takes it upon herself to talk some sense into her.  Along the way she meets up with Kristoff (Johnathan Groff), an down-on-his-luck ice trader, and Olaf (Josh Gad), a short snowman inadvertantly turned animate by Elsa's magic.  Olaf's gimmick is that he has a fondness and/or desire for warm things, blissfully unaware that they would cause him to melt.  I honestly find this a funny schtick, but neither the character nor his gimmick serve any purpose in the plot to speak of.  To me, he just smacks of a comic-relief mascot put into this film for the sake of having a comic-relief mascot.  This is but one manifestation of the film's core problem, but I'll delve into that later on.

Anna and company make their way up to an ice castle Elsa had spontaneously built, now that there's no one around for her to hide her powers from.  Anna tries to inform her sister of the plight their people are in and convince her to do something about it, only to take an ice-bolt to the heart.  Okay, I'm gonna pause the review for a moment to do some nit-picking.  Let's go back to the movie's intro, when the same thing happened to a younger Anna.  Her parents were told that she survived the incident because the shot missed her heart.  If that had been the case, her whole body apparently would have been frozen instantly.  But when it does happen, the fatal freezing doesn't take effect immediately.  You remember Back To The Future, where Marty had that photo of his family which faded away gradually until he set right what had become unstuck?  Don't tell me you saw that and didn't think it strange.  Oh well, I usually accept these sort of things because it lets the protagonists have a fighting chance against the plot, and I do like it when the good guys win.  Who doesn't?  But I do not like it when the movie sets up rules, only to break them later on.

So, anyway.  Out of fear, Elsa chases her company off by conjuring a snow monster.  When you get right down to the matter, it serves no practical purpose in the greater plot, which you may have noticed is becoming a running theme of this review.  Once they reach safety, Anna and Kristoff high-tail it to some rock trolls.  One pointless song later, and she learns that the freezing spell can only be undone by an act of true love.  Meanwhile, Hans (remember him?) has more or less taken over the kingdom in Elsa's absence, has a couple of soldiers come over to Elsa's new digs to capture her, and upon her return, captures Anna as well.  Olaf springs her, and she, Elsa, and Hans confront each other on the frozen sea.  Hans goes to strike down Elsa, but Anna jumps in to block him, just as she freezes solid.  But wait -- that constitutes an act of true love!  So Anna is thawed, Hans is arrested and sent back to whence he came from, and Elsa learns to moderate her powers through the power of love.  You are now free to turn off your TV.

So that was Frozen.  If I had to pick out one specific problem which holds the film back -- and I do, because I have to present you with a decision somehow -- I would say the plot is a little scatterbrained.  If the plot had been solely about the relationship between Anna and Elsa, as was set up in the beginning, then I would have been much more positively pre-disposed towards the film.  Heck, I might even have been more supportive of its Oscar victory!  (Or still not, considering the circumstances.)  But as it stands, Frozen's attention is strained by having too many superfluous elements.  Let me ask you readers a question: Do any of these affect the plot -- and by plot, I am referring specifically to the plot between Anna and Elsa -- in any way?  Not the way I see it.  And it's these distractions which keep Frozen from developing to its full potential.

I will say this in defence of Frozen: its animation, character, and set design are outstanding, and this matters more than you might think.  First of all, the animation works on a technical level, as well, avoiding the spastic style of contemporaries like Dreamworks (especially the Madagascar franchise), and instead treating us with a smooth sense of motion.  But the technical quality of animation is one thing; I can be generally counted on to opine that graphics don't make a good video game, for example, but that aesthetics do.  And that goes doubly for non-interactive animated shows, because it is design which leaves an impression on the viewer.  Think about it -- would Neon Genesis Evangelion, for example, have been as cool if not for the designs of the Angel monsters, the Eva robots, or the NERV base?  I think not.  And Frozen succeeds in this category.  There's some downright beautiful set design to be had, especially in the case of the ice castle Elsa conjures up.  And the characters are pleasing to look at, their faces and what-not stylised enough to steer clear of the Uncanny Valley.  In fact, they even bear resemblance to the hand-drawn characters of Disney's past films.  But that just begs the question: why couldn't Frozen have been a traditionally-animated film to begin with?  I mean, they had to have drawn in that fashion for the concept art, storyboards, and what-not, so why not keep it that way?  And would I have liked it more or less had that been the case?  ...Hard to say.

On the topic of aesthetic elements, the musical numbers didn't really do anything for me.  It could just be me being jaded, but it seems like the types of songs presented therein are all the same styles of songs Disney's used for films past, and they're generally not catchy besides.  The only exception I would make is for "Let It Go", a standout number by Elsa which really accentuates the character arc she goes through at the time.  Then again, the visual aspects of that scene also contributed to the positive feelings it left in me, so you could say it has an unfair advantage.  Oh, and by the way, do you remember when I barred "Let It Go" from the top spot of my 2014 music list, purely as an act of protest?  Well, let me set the record straight: No, "Let It Go" would not have been my number 1 even if I hadn't pulled that stunt.  As I said back then...
However, a good chunk of the lyrics are a little too specific to the song’s scene in the movie, so its utility as a personal anthem for those going through the same struggles as Elsa does in the movie suffers a bit.
At the same time, I wish to assuage your minds at this point and remind you that I still think "Let It Go" is a good song.  It would've ranked in my top five, were the circumstances different.  But even if the circumstances were different, it's still not without its flaws.  ...Which is a fitting metaphor for Frozen itself.

After all I've had to deal with since Frozen's release, all the negativity I've associated with, what do I think of the movie itself?  Eh, could be better, could be worse.  All in all, it's just... rather safe, like a Pierce Brosnan Bond film.  It's about princesses, for one, and we know how many times Disney's dipped into that wishing well.  Granted, it's about two princesses, and they drive the plot themselves, by their own actions, but it's still all-too-familiar territory.  Still, it's not terrible, and it's certainly easy on the eyes, unlike that Shrek garbage.  I still will never forgive the Academy's voters for what they did and why they did it, but I suppose the best course of action would be to love the player, and hate the game.

+ Great potential for a plot.
+ Gorgeous animation and visual design.
- More interesting plot threads from early on are forgotten.
- None of the musical numbers stand out, save possibly for "Let It Go".

Acting: 4 out of 5
Writing: 3 out of 5
Design: 5 out of 5
Technical: 5 out of 5
The Call: 80% (B)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top Ten: Best Hit Songs of 2014

As they say, the night is darkest before the dawn.  And such is the case on this very blog, where I do my bottom-ten list of the year's hit songs before tackling the top-ten.  With the former out of the way, the latter's time is nigh.  And without wishing to spoil, you can expect 2014's top-ten list to be my most personal yet.

10) "Timber"
by Pitbull & Ke$ha
from Meltdown [EP]
Year-end position: #11

Dear Kevin of 2011: You’ll never believe this, but one of Pitbull’s songs has shown up in my best-of lists.  Maybe it’s time, or outside forces, which have softened me.  You remember Pitbull for rapping about nothing but his success and his propensity for partying, and that has not exactly changed, but he’s starting to endear himself to me for just those reasons, since there’s something innocent about it -- at least, innocent compared to other rappers.  He just wants to have fun, and he manages to do so.  Even the beat does so, keeping the momentum up throughout the song’s short-but-sweet 3-minute-24-second runtime, which has been a problem of pop and dance songs as of late, including Pitbull's own works such as "Feel This Moment".  However, it turns out that “Timber” and “Feel This Moment” have entirely different stables of producers and writers (with the exception of Pitbull himself, to whatever degree he contributed), so I won’t exactly label “Timber” as a positive trend in someone perfecting their craft.  But it worked, dangit!

9) "Problem"
by Ariana Grande & Iggy Azalea
from My Everything
Year-end position: #9

Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea are both new talents which I want so desperately to include in one of my top-ten lists.  Ariana sings like the re-incarnation of Mariah Carey, vocal gymnastics and all, and Iggy Azalea is one of the most exciting rappers to come out in a long time, white female or otherwise.  But for some reason, none of their songs ever clicked for me; they either had serious problems countering their strengths, or were just “meh”.  So I might as well give props to the one song which combines their forces.  The beat's rather funky, using a saxophone riff which is not only better than the one from "Thrift Shop" (and yet, my only complaint about that song), but is used just enough to stay not annoying.  As a breakup song, it's also kind of forceful, especially the title line, "I've got one less problem without you".  Nothing's more important in this equation than your mental health, so you might as well be upfront in that regard.  And, what’s this?  A rap verse which actually ties into the theme of the song?  Now there’s something you don’t see everyday!

8) "Sing" / "Don't"
by Ed Sheeran
from X
Year-end position: #56 / #52

Somehow I have a greater tolerance than most people for the "white guy with acoustic guitar" sub-genre than certain other critics, so I was mildly intrigued by Ed Sheeran, whose 2012 hit "The A Team" married this mellow sound to some dark lyrics.  But this sort of thing doesn't have a long shelf life, so I'm glad he decided to switch up his style for these two singles.  Both appear to take influence from certain white-male-led, semi-rapped pop songs from 2002 or so, namely the stuff Justin Timberlake or John Mayer was doing at the time.  Although I shouldn't be surprised, given that the songs were produced by Pharell Williams ("Blurred Lines") and Rick Rubin ("Baby Got Back", "99 Problems") respectively.  And it is by fusing all these influences that Ed Sheeran and company create pure audio fun.  Oh yeah, and both songs do that thing again, where they pretend to censor a bad word but there's no uncensored version of the track.  Now, I like my music clean, but what's the point of pulling a stunt like that?

7) "The Man"
by Aloe Blacc
from Lift Your Spirit
Year-end position: #48

Last year, Katy Perry gave us "Roar", a self-esteem anthem which a lot of people liked and I didn't.  And now, Aloe Blacc (the guy who sang on Avicii's "Wake Me Up") has a song with exactly the same message.  In both songs, the main character has been fed up with being so submissive in the past, being taken advantage of by just about everyone, but no longer!  It's time for the singer to live up to his name and face FULL LIFE CONSEQUENCES!  (lol.)  But whereas "Roar" floundered about with cliches and a weak beat, "The Man" just gets it.  The horn and drum tracks provide a soulful swagger, and if you're going to repeat something for the chorus, it might as well be an assertive statement like "Go ahead and tell everybody / I'm the man, I'm the man, I'm the man".  Apart from "Roar", the song this reminds me of most is "The World's Greatest" by R. Kelly, albeit with much more confidence, both in the music and the singer's performance.  If "Eye of the Tiger" just isn't working for you anymore, and by its overuse in popular culture it shouldn't by now, give this a try.

6) "Something Bad"
by Miranda Lambert & Carrie Underwood
from Platinum
Year-end position: #99

What little country music I can claim to have, in the loosest sense of the word, liked, is the frequently-female-led adult-contemporary style of country, courtesy of such artists as Carrie Underwood, the Dixie Chicks, Lady Antebellum, and Taylor Swift, at least before she went full-pop on us.  So for the sake of completion and a willingness to come to terms with the genre, in more or less the eleventh hour I checked out "Something Bad" -- that's the name of the song, not an indicator of its quality -- by Miranda Lambert, and I was pleasantly surprised. "Something Bad" is, in a word, "bada**".  I find it almost cute that Miranda Lambert's idea of breaking the rules is skipping church, but maybe that's just a cultural disconnect.  More serving the topic of the song, the beat's got this deep chug to it that I haven't seen since the heyday of hair-metal.  Perhaps there's more to country music than I've given it credit for, since it's more like traditional rock-and-roll than anything else on the charts these days.  So thank you, "Something Bad", for teaching me to love again.

5) "Habits (Stay High)"
by Tove Lo
from Truth Serum [EP] / Queen of the Clouds
Year-end position: #32

You know what I’ve noticed about today’s music?  No one writes songs about drugs anymore.  Well, that changed this year with “Habits (Stay High)”, by the Swedish singer Ebba “Tove Lo” Nilsson.  In the song, she engages in all manner of self-destructive behaviours, because they let her forget about a messy breakup.  And I have to say, this song speaks to me on a personal level.  You see, I’ve dealt with my fair share of disappointments over the past couple of years.  And being unable to fix these things directly, my options are as follows: either obsess over, or ignore, them.  Following the logic that ignoring the problem will not fix it, I ended up keeping them in my mind ever since.  Which not only does not solve them, but keeps my mood in a depression.  A depression which is for all intents and purposes never-ending, as the factors which initiated my troubles and could, if willing, end them are beyond my control.  So I guess just forgetting about them sounds like the more appealing course of action.  Not that I’m going to resort to such drastic actions as Tove Lo or anything, but I’ll find some way to cope.  I mean, who wants to eat gruel in Zion when one could have steak in the Matrix?

4) "The Monster"
by Eminem & Rihanna
from The Marshall Mathers LP 2
Year-end position: #16

It’s funny.  The last time Eminem and Rihanna teamed up, it was for 2010’s “Love The Way You Lie”, a song about an abusive love-hate relationship.  Not the smartest decision when one of the parties concerned is the victim of a literal, physical assault.  But now they’re back with “The Monster”, and this time, for whatever reason, it works.  If Rihanna has developed any personality over the past couple of years, it's at the darker end of the pop-princess spectrum, so her singing that she's friends with the monster in her head or whatever plays to her strengths.  And then there's Eminem himself, whose rapping is the most intense he's managed in years.  He talks about the stresses of fame and whether or not he's stuck to the same goals he had when he first set out on his career, but despite all the doubt, if he's made a connection with even one listener, it will all have been worth it.  And wouldn't you know it, I've felt the exact same way about my own projects, including the SDP.

3) "Rather Be"
by Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne
from New Eyes
Year-end position: #41

Pop-song production these days tends to fall into one of two unfortunate categories: either lay on so much synth noise so as to render all its musical elements indistinguishable from one another, or the increasingly popular option of stripping it down so much as to come across as unfinished.  But there is a third way: incorporate a fair variety of instruments, but keep them distinct.  Sounds crazy, right?  Well, that's the way dance-pop newcomers Clean Bandit roll.  It may just be a "mushy love song", as one critic put it, but it certainly does make a suitable soundtrack for falling in love.

2) "Pompeii"
by Bastille
from Bad Blood
Year-end position: #12

Before I begin, I’d like to tell you the tale of another indie band’s single which started out interesting but just got killed by overexposure.  Back in 2011, there was Of Monsters and Men, this folky band from Iceland, whose song “Little Talks” got big on my local alt-rock radio station.  And it was, in a good way, quirky.  It’s a little hard to describe, but let’s just say adding the sound effect of creaking wood, as on a ship, really set a unique tone for the song.  So anyway, I listened to this station -- a lot -- as they played this song -- a lot -- and I grew bored of it really quickly.  Such was my lack of regard for “Little Talks” that by the time it had a chance to bubble up to the mainstream level and make it on Billboard’s year-end chart of 2013, I completely forgot about it when compiling my top-ten list for that year.

I will not make that same mistake again.  "Pompeii" may have grown boring over the course of its many spins on the radio, but this time around, I have the good impression it left on me the first time around fresh in my mind.  Musically, it has an epic production style suitable for its namesake, with echoing chants in the background and one of the greatest drum fills since "In The Air Tonight" -- an honour I do not bestow lightly.  And lyrically, it seems to juxtapose a personal disaster against the context of something more literal, namely the eruption of Mount Vesuvius over two thousand years ago.  The metaphor does flail around a bit, so it's hard to have a grasp on how literal to take this song.  But hey -- I like a song that’s open to interpretation.

1) "Let It Go"
by Idina Menzel
from Frozen [OST]
Year-end position: #21

Well, this is awkward.  A song from a Disney musical got some real chart success.  I’ve got to say, this isn’t exactly within my comfort zone, but there is honestly a lot working in favour of “Let It Go”.  Now, I’ve sat through a lot of self-esteem anthems over the past couple of years, and I approve of most of them -- it’s not exactly the worst subject to write a song about.  But does “Let It Go” stand apart from the rest of them?  Well... yes.  For some reason, the version that got more popular was not the “pop” version by Demi Lovato, but the original recording by the actress who sang it in the movie itself.  And the difference is clear -- miss Idina Menzel’s performance sells this song.  On a lyrical level, this song has a clear point -- the protagonist has kept some aspect of herself hidden from others thus far in her life, but is now willing to throw her self-imposed restraints to the wind.  This setup, certainly, could apply to many real-life scenarios for many people.  Heck, it could even apply to me, with all the emotional baggage I've admitted to a few paragraphs ago.  However, a good chunk of the lyrics are a little too specific to the song’s scene in the movie, so its utility as a personal anthem for those going through the same struggles as Elsa does in the movie suffers a bit.

So with all that said, could I still find it in my heart to award my top honours of the year to a Disney song, specifically, this one?

Well… no.

I’m still bitter about Frozen eating all the money in the world and snubbing The Wind Rises back at the Oscars.  It’s been my primary source of depression pretty much throughout the whole year.  But every so often, when my head is clear enough, I remind myself: it’s not Frozen’s fault for what happened.  It’s society’s fault for focusing its attention on one thing instead of another.  It’s like if one were to blame the Jews for World War II.  The problem wasn’t that they existed, but that somebody reacted poorly to their presence.  But touchy metaphors aside, as a sign of protest, I have decided to ban “Let It Go” from my top-ten list for 2014.  See that “1)” in front of its title?  That is a lie.  Instead, it shall occupy the Wildcard slot in this countdown.  Again, this has nothing to do with the movie in and of itself.  Sorry Frozen, it’s not you, it’s the Academy.

And now for my real #1 song of 2014:

1) "Am I Wrong"
by Nico & Vinz
from Black Star Elephant
Year-end position: #14

Congratulations to Nico & Vinz for being the first act from Norway to have an international hit since a-Ha in the ‘80s.  (In case you think I’ve forgotten Ylvis of “The Fox” fame, I haven’t; I’ve mentally quarantined my memories of that song to halt the risk of infection.  Also, thanks a lot, you enabling klutz.)  Their breakthrough hit, “Am I Wrong”, reminds me of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know”, which I gave high honours back in 2012.  There are many distinct musical elements going on here.  Unlike the stripped-down Gotye song, “Am I Wrong” ventures closer to EDM territory, giving it some more pop appeal, but stays just far enough away to be different from everything else on the radio.  And given the duo's African ethnicity, they also laid on some tribal drums and chanting which are kind of subdued.  It's probably not enough for the listener to make the connection that this is "world music", but again, it's not like anyone else in the top 40 did this sort of thing.  Am I wrong for giving my top spot to this song instead of "Let It Go"?  Well tough.  That's just how I feel.

I shall close out this article by listing a bunch of songs I discovered this year which didn't make the Billboard list, but I nonetheless still liked and/or thought were good.

Arctic Monkeys -- "Do I Wanna Know?"
Capital Cities -- "Stayin' Alive"
Childish Gambino -- "3005"
CHVRCHES -- "The Mother We Share"
Coldplay -- "Magic"
Disclosure -- "White Noise"
Foo Fighters -- "Something From Nothing"
Foster the People -- "Coming of Age"
Hozier -- "Take Me to Church"
Kate Boy -- "The Way We Are"
Kiesza -- "Hideaway"
Lorde -- "Tennis Court"
Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars -- "Uptown Funk"
MisterWives -- "Reflections"
Mr. Probz -- "Waves"
Naughty Boy & Sam Smith -- "La La La"
Neon Trees -- "Sleeping With a Friend"
Steve Aoki & Kid Ink -- "Delirious (Boneless)"
U2 -- "The Miracle of Joey Ramone"
Vance Joy -- "Riptide"
Walk the Moon -- "Shut Up and Dance"
"Weird Al" Yankovic -- "Word Crimes"
The 1975 -- "Chocolate"

I'd have done the same for my bottom-ten list, but it would've all been DJ Mustard productions, so it would have been otherwise pointless.  So, thank you all and have a happy 2015!!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Top Ten: Worst Hit Songs of 2014

I’ve had a lot on my mind this past year, namely in the area of anime and its perceived lack of penetration into American pop culture. Specifically the Academy Awards. But enough about that. With my mind being clouded up so much, I’ve actually been looking forward to doing my traditional top-ten and bottom-ten lists of the year’s hit music. The bottom-ten because these songs are easy and fun to make fun of, and the top-ten because I get to promote the kinds of songs I like. You know the rules by now: only songs that placed in Billboard’s Year-End Hot 100 chart are eligible for either of my lists, songs that already made the chart in years before are disqualified, and multiple songs by the same artist may occupy the same spot. So, ladies and gentlemen, let the mental rehabilitation begin!

10) "Dark Horse"
by Katy Perry & Juicy J
from PRISM
Year-end position: #2

“Dark Horse” is like one of those “beware the lady”-type songs of old, except from the point of view of the lady herself. An admirable concept, I must admit, but even that long-range pass gets fumbled at the hands of clumsy lyrics. For example, of the many metaphors one could use to describe a woman capable of both great loving and great wrath, “dark horse” should not be one of them. I get that you’re trying to conjure an image of power with those words, but last I checked, “dark horse” is supposed to mean an ignored entity capable of a come-from-behind victory. Also, there’s a guest rap verse by a mister Juicy J, whose only defining feature is that he is a former member of Three 6 Mafia. I’ll give him this: his part at least tries to tie into the central theme of the song, which is more than I expect from most rappers of his ilk.  But Juicy J is so generic as a rapper that you could replace his part with, for example, the first verse from Jay-Z's "Holy Grail" and no one would notice.

9) "Chandelier"
by Sia
from 1000 Forms of Fear
Year-end position: #25

Maybe it’s just my hair-trigger cynicism talking, but I gather, the universe hates me right now. I thought we had finally ridden ourselves of Rihanna, the mistress of mediocrity in music, only for the Rihanna knockoffs to crawl out of the woodwork in 2014. Specifically I am referring to former indie darling Sia, of all people, for her work on the single “Chandelier”. She -- pretty much literally -- mumbles her way through most of the song, except for the choruses. At least those parts are belted out well, but the morose music -- which I can best describe as a sort of hip-hop version of “Adagio for Strings” -- is at an unfortunate loggerhead against the lyrics about tearin’ the place up and having a good time as if you wouldn’t have tomorrow to do so. I appreciate these wannabe party anthems having an emotion of some kind, but that emotion should not be sadness or desolation.

8) "23"
by Miley Cyrus, Wiz Khalifa, & Juicy J
non-album single
Year-end position: #90

Technically, producer Mike Will Made-It took top billing for "23", but screw that, I say.  You may remember him from some of last year's duds like Miley's "We Can't Stop" and Lil' Wayne's "Love Me" (no), and while he wasn't the deciding factor that made me hate those songs, his slow, dingy beats did not improve their standing.  "23" is no exception.  This song is named after Michael Jordan, presumably because of a line from the chorus which goes "J's on my feet", which I assume refers to Air Jordan shoes.  Oh great, product placement right off the bat.  And it only gets worse from there.  I'd like to say I'm through with being shocked by Miley Cyrus, but in this song, she raps.  And not well, either.  Both she and Juicy J (Wiz Khalifa gets a pass, at least) suffer from a stuttering delivery which got annoying real fast.

7) "This is How We Roll"
by Florida Georgia Line & Luke Bryan
from Here's to the Good Times
Year-end position: #49

Huh, I've never put any country songs on one of my bottom-ten lists before.  I guess it's just ignorance on my part.  I don't really listen to the genre, but at the very least I've treated it with a live-and-let-live attitude.  But these days... hoo boy.  These days, country music has been cross-breeding with mainstream rap.  Pretty much like most glam-rap these days, albeit filtered through the lens of a different sub-culture.  Although I have a poor track record of predicting popular trends, I'd like to think we've reached critical mass in this regard.  How do I know?  It's not just the frequent references to alcohol, girls, and Hank Williams and Drake sharing space on one's playlist, because that's become the new normal.  No, the red flag for me was that on "This Is How We Roll", one of the guys raps.  Yeah, the two men who call themselves Florida Georgia Line are already un-dignified enough, but as if the drawling lustfulness of their last hit "Cruise" did not make that evidently clear, they had to pull a stunt like that on us.  It almost makes me thankful for Luke Bryan's guest verse later on.  I have no idea who this guy is, but I appreciate any change in the texture of this song.  Also, there's a remix version which replaces Luke Bryan with Jason Derulo, of all people.  That version didn't make the Billboard year-end list and thus doesn't qualify for my own, but don't worry, I'll get to him later.

6) "Animals"
by Martin Garrix
from Gold Skies [EP]
Year-end position: #71

As longtime readers of this blog, specifically my previous year-end music lists, may recall, I have a thing for electronic dance music (EDM).  But now that it's gone mainstream, there seem to be an awful lot of people contributing (to use that word sarcastically) to the genre who just don't get it.  For example, Martin Garrix, a newcomer Dutch DJ who had a minor hit this year with "Animals".  To give my honest opinion, it starts out alright enough; it's dark and tense enough for an instrumental techno song.  That is, for the first minute and a half, for after then, the repetition starts to set in.  See, this song's got three movements -- a soft part, a buildup, and a hard part -- which do not change throughout the song.  And considering that the full version runs over five minutes long, that's a heck of a lot of repetition.  Even "Turn Down For What", despite making a maddeningly worse first impression, gets this right.  It has the decency to switch up its beats for each "verse", and even within the "verses" themselves.  "Animals", not so much.

5) "Drunk In Love"
by Beyonce & Jay-Z
from Beyonce
Year-end position: #35

What a fitting title we have on our hands -- "Drunk In Love" is the perfect musical interpretation of an inebriated state.  The momentum is all over the place.  There are so many repeated lines and awkward pauses that every moment, every line in this song, feels like the singer’s stalling for time.  I'm getting mental whiplash here, is what I'm trying to say.  There is a consensus, if not evidence, that indicates that much of the song was ad-libbed by both Beyonce and Jay-Z, which would explain my previous arguments and other bizarre moments such as when Beyonce abruptly stops her verse at the word "surfboard", and repeats it a bit, thus bringing awkward attention to the word, a word not typically encountered in pop music lyrics.  And yet the sad part is, it's pretty much the only interesting thing about this song.

4) "Show Me"
by Kid Ink & Chris Brown
from My Own Lane
Year-end position: #43

I would be remiss in discussing 2014’s stinkier musical moments without mention of DJ Mustard, or as he goes by in his audio watermark, “Motha’ on that E!”. (NB: I have been informed that he is, in fact saying “Mustard on that beat”. But seriously, you try digging through his thick, slurry ebonics to get to those words.) Hoo boy, Heaven help ya if you ever turned on an urban-format radio station this past year, because his works were everywhere. All his works sound the same: the same tempo, the same gang-vocals half-heartedly shouting “hey!” in the background from time to time, he’s really annoyed me, I tell you what.

This entry, in spirit, represents all of DJ Mustard's production works, but because of its lyrical qualities, “Show Me” is in a different class of bad.  You know you're in for a trip when the first line in the song, sung by Chris Brown, no less, is "Let me put your panties to the side".  May I ask you, reader, does this sound like a smooth gentleman who will treat the ladies with respect?  If so, then you may need to be quarantined in the off-chance that stupidity is contagious.  And then the hook of the song is as follows:
You remind me of something
I don't know what it is
You remind me of something
Girl, you gotta show me
Making up a sleazy pick-up line is one thing, but you can't even manage to finish your own comparison?  Now that's an epic fail right there.  Not that Kid Ink, the lead artist of this song, manages to save it either.  Let me sum it up for you: "Blah-blah-blah, I'm gonna get you drunk at a party, blah-blah-blah, let's start a three way.  Also watch out for my other girlfriend."  ...Boy, that escalated quickly.

3) "Summer"
by Calvin Harris
from Motion
Year-end position: #33

Again, although I consider myself an EDM aficionado, the more mainstream stuff like David Guetta and our current subject, Calvin Harris, just doesn’t do it for me. While his stuff has clicked every once in a while, “Summer” is no such exception to the rule. It’s got one riff for the verses, and one for the instrumental chorus, both of them hardly ever changing, making for a repetitive listening experience. Also, unlike many other songs of its kind, the DJ du jour sings the song himself instead of hiring a random guest. I appreciate Calvin Harris trying to earn his featuring credit for once, but in the end it wasn’t worth the effort. He is just too dull of a singer to save this track. The same was true of his last self-fronted single, 2012’s “Feel So Close”, which apparently was so bland that I forgot about it when the time came to write that year’s bottom-ten list, so I might as well rectify that matter in spirit.

2) "Talk Dirty" and "Wiggle"
by Jason Derulo & 2Chainz / Jason Derulo & Snoop Dogg
from Tattoos [EP] / Talk Dirty
Year-end position: #6 / #40

So, we meet again, Jason Derulo. Somehow you’ve managed to ruin every year of the Obama administration -- if only in terms of music -- and with 2014 you’ve presented your worst batch of singles since your unforgivable debut “Whatcha Say”. First off is “Talk Dirty”. One of the things that first hit me about “Talk Dirty” was its horn-led bridge. ...That was, until I discovered it was, in fact, a sample. This part comes from a song called “Hermetica” by the eclectic Israeli-American band Balkan Beat Box, and for “Talk Dirty” was remade by its producer Ricky Reed. So, over time, “Talk Dirty” managed to grow on me a little, and perhaps knowing about where that sample came from had something to do with it.

But as I tolerated the song’s musical qualities, I started paying more attention to its lyrics -- which only made me even more disgusted. See, at its core, this song is about how Mr. Derulo gets love from girls all over the world. And I’m like, if you want to make a song about that, then do it! I’ve got no problem with that concept in and of itself. But whomever wrote this song did it all wrong. He does name-check the odd destination once in a blue moon, but he doesn’t spend any breath on what he likes about those places, much less the foreign honey to be found within. Such lyrical space is instead wasted on his own ego, in lines like:
Our conversations ain’t long
But you know what is
And then there’s the refrain, at least, the part that precedes that unholy sax riff:
Been around the world, don’t speak the language
But your booty don’t need explaining
All I really need to understand is
When you talk dirty to me
So, we can add “knowledge of foreign languages” to the long, long list of skills which Jason Derulo does not possess. And hold on -- he can’t understand what the girl du jour is saying, but he’s apparently turned on by naughty pillow-talk? How does he know she isn’t just talking smack about his sex technique or something? Man, I can barely imagine the quantity of egg to be delivered to his face. Oh yeah, and 2Chainz is on this track as well. Might as well not be.  His part's nothing offensive, unless this new wave of glam rappers offends you by their mere presence.  Which does to me.

And then, there’s “Wiggle”.  Yet another stuffy old song about the buttocks, and egging girls on to shake theirs.  And he can't even do that with any grounding in reality or common sense.  I mean, when he says "your booty [is] like two planets", one would get the impression that he means it literally.  Furthermore, despite the beat not having been produced by DJ Mustard, it may be worse than his output, crazy as that may sound, because the standard barely-there drum track is accented by naught but some lame whistling.  Snoop Dogg’s guest verse is, at least, my favourite part of "Wiggle", much in the way that Luke Bryan was my favourite part of "This Is How We Roll". It doesn’t rescue the song, by any means, but I’d be willing to replace the Jason Derulo in my musical diet with anything, at any chance I get.

1) "Loyal"
by Chris Brown, Lil’ Wayne, and Tyga
from X
Year-end position: #30

And yet somehow, the combined force of not one, but two songs by Jason Fricking Derulo was not enough to clinch the top spot.  For that, we have to return to some repeat offenders: Chris Brown and Lil' Wayne.  Okay, so maybe Lil' Wayne does have a couple of clever lines in his verse...
But she ain't got her ringer nor her ring on last night
Why give a [noun] an inch when she'd rather have nine?
...and his degree of misogyny isn't worse than his usual fare, unlike what I had to deal with last year.  So "Loyal"'s pole position is due to, once again, Chris Brown.  "Loyal" happens to be a song about women who unfaithful in relationships, if only in theory.  A strong concept, I must say; in fact, some of my favourite songs deal with the subject.  But "Loyal" just doesn't work for me.  First, the message of the song is, in practise, all over the place.
Come on, come on, now why you fronting?
Baby show me something
You just spent your bread on her
And it's all for nothing
Second, Chris Brown and company, I would be more inclined to trust your character if you didn't constantly refer to men and women as n****s and b****es respectively.  Third, I would also be more inclined to trust your character if if you at least acknowledge the presence of women who aren't just in it to take the money and run.  And finally, I would be more inclined to trust your character if you didn't strike your real-life girlfriend all the way to the hospital YOU STUPID DOUCHEBAG SON OF A--

...Sorry, that got weird on me.  It's been almost six years after the Rihanna assault, so you think I should've forgotten it by now.  Oh well, some people just never learn, both him and me.  I guess the best thing to do now would be to end on a so-bad-it's-good note, and that's where the Wildcard slot comes in.  For your lol-ing and trolling pleasure, I have picked out some prime cheese that didn't Billboard year-end list and therefore didn't qualify for mine.  Ladies and gentlemen... "Selfie."

Wildcard) "#SELFIE"
by The Chainsmokers
non-album single

Oh wait, I meant "hashtag-selfie", because how better to annoy me personally than with an arbitrary hashtag?  Well, by making an annoying song, that's how.  This is bad even among the lower-class EDM acts, especially since its bass drop (apparently, there's now a technical term for what I used to call a "dirty bit" moment) seems like a weak clone of the one from "Gentleman" (PSY's failed follow-up to "Gangnam Style").  But "hashtag-selfie" sets itself apart by having this young lady club-goer blabbing over the "verses".  She's narcissistic, judgmental, stupid in several places, and not someone I, personally, would wish to associate myself with.  Then again, I suppose she could be of worse character *coughchrisbrowncough*, because crimes of annoyance are victimless in the long run.  No, I guess the real reason this landed on my hate-list is because what fame it managed to garner was not truly viral in nature.  It was promoted by celebrities behind the scenes thanks to a marketing company called theAudience.  "Harlem Shake", I forgive you.  For all your weirdness, at least your rise to fame was natural.