Who could have predicted that summer 2007 would mark the grand return of the novelty song? (Not to toot our own horn, but scene, last October). With trap music on the wane, post-emo (the Fueled by Ramen roster notwithstanding) losing its hold on pop fans, and the Internet actually affecting the pop charts, pop went more gimmicky than anytime since maybe the 1950s this summer.
Any doubters can turn on any Top 40 station and within an hour hear Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girls,” a reworking of “Stand by Me” with Adam Lazzara-esque lyrics, pitch-modulated beyond recognition (not that the American public knows what Mr. Kingston’s natural voice sounds like anyway). Or “A Bay Bay,” the Hurricane Chris hit that’s half DJ shoutout and half drunken-tomfoolery-as-macho-posturing — from an 18-year-old. The former is bland, the latter hilarious, yet both, like most novelty songs, are ultimately irritating.
This Tay Zonday age, as it may as well be called (and anyone who doesn’t think “Chocolate Rain” would have made the charts if it were released as a single is lying to himself), is not all bad, of course. If not for the success of her gimmicky (and unbelievably catchy) single “Lip Gloss,” Lil Mama would not have achieved the acclaim and exposure that she deserves. With only a deceptively simple drum-and-clap beat, Lil Mama proves herself one of the most talented female emcees in the game right now.
Lil Mama’s talent scored her prime spots on two key remixes this summer: Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend,” which sat at the top of the charts as the summer began, and the unstoppable “Umbrella” by Rihanna, by far the best of the handful of songs that clogged the top of the charts this summer. Rihanna’s robot-love delivery matches the power-synth backing track perfectly, and Lil Mama’s emotional verses reflect the youthful desperation of the song’s lyrics while complementing the rest of the song, proving a far better addition to the song than Jay-Z’s lazy original verse, slapdash bragging belied by the obvious fact that his contribution was a ploy for more urban radio airplay.
The No. 2 song under “Umbrella” for six straight weeks this summer was another (admittedly hilarious) novelty, Shop Boyz’ “Party Like a Rockstar.” If a bunch of Lil Jon protégés mocking hard rock and singing “T-t-totally dude!!” isn’t enough to convince you, check the remix verse from a guest more ubiquitous this summer than even Konvict crooners Akon and T-Pain — Lil Wayne, who after impressing hip-hop heads with his spring mixtape “Da Drought 3” has popped up like a Whack-a-Mole all over this summer’s remixes. Unsurprisingly he’s the highlight of this remix, calling himself an alien, quoting Omarion and spitting surprisingly nuanced gun-and-sex metaphors. Lil Wayne also shines on the remix of Swizz Beatz’s “It’s Me Bitches,” adopting a mock Jamaican accent and distinguishing himself against the fantastic yet naturally overcrowded Swizz beat (not to disparage Jadakiss or R. Kelly, who also perform admirably on this remix). Mr. Kelly, incidentally, seems prescient in this novelty age, having turned a chitlin circuit soap opera into a hit song two summers ago (and continuing the story this August). Much of his recent album “Double Up,” especially his hit duet with Usher, “Same Girl,” follows this humorous storytelling pattern to stunning R&B success.
Yet as summer comes to a close, the biggest and best new single is perhaps the most predictable — Kanye West’s “Stronger.” After his first single “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” (with hilarious alternate video from Zach Galifianakis and Will Oldham), West returns at the peak of the Daft Punk zeitgeist (thanks to the French duo’s blockbuster tour and Ed Banger copycats) with this booming track sampling their 2001 hit “Harder Better Faster Stronger,” firing on all cylinders. Powerful synths support West’s stunning lyrical version of what’s ultimately the best club pick-up song of the summer. The Akira-meets-Misshapes music video doesn’t hurt either.