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Foreign Pop Stars, Bubblegum Karaoke and a Mysterious Celebutot 

Wednesday, Jul 12 2006
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YouTube & the Secret History of the Numa Numa Dance In the halcyon days of punk, “blurring the line between audience and performer” meant Sid Vicious might spit on you. Today, YouTube (www.youtube.com) has put an interesting spin on this phenomenon. If you don’t know about the site already, you probably live in a log cabin, are chained to a radiator somewhere or have a real job. But in brief: The site was launched in February 2005 and has quickly becometheworld’s premier resource for certain types of video — nubile girls gyrating in front of webcams, crappy dubs of David Hasselhoff performing live on German television, shoddy 45-second cell-phone clips of recent indie-rock concerts. It’s also proven a fertile breeding ground for the Numa Numa Dance, the evolution of which critic Douglas Wolk lovingly details in an essay for The Believer’s annual music issue (www.believermag.com). The trend began in 2003 with the song “Dragostea din Tei,” a novelty hit for a Moldovan-Romanian boy band called O-Zone. It spread to the U.S. when a New Jersey teenager, Gary Brolsma, filmed himself lip-syncing the tune while gesticulating wildly. In late 2004 he posted it on the Internet, where it became a viral video smash among bored cubicle workers. The ease of YouTube spawned literally thousands of imitators. The ability of technology to resuscitate punk’s governing concept in the form of bubblegum-pop karaoke proves one thing: DIY will never die.

Nelly Furtado, Loose (Geffen) Pop stars have an annoying habit of not remaining who they’re supposed to be. When Canadian singer Nelly Furtado debuted in 2000, she was a throwback to an era when stars were born somewhere other than MTV’s Total Request Live. Her first single, “I’m Like a Bird,” had a melancholy verse for a crossover hit, and she employed rhythms with ties to her Portuguese heritage. Her Lilith Fair–ready second album tanked, however, and now she’s back as a crossover-ready urban act. Her producer on Loose is the hip-hop futurist Timbaland — typically an unimpeachable accomplice. Unfortunately, the lead single, “Promiscuous,” ludicrously recasts Furtado as a Lil’ Kim–style vamp. The follow-up, “Maneater,” is more convincing with its grinding keyboard riff, quirky bleats and a beat so simple it’s stupid, and I mean that in a good way. Still, Furtado’s not the type of artist who can convince a listener to “move your body around like a nympho.”

Christina Aguilera, “Ain’t No Other Man” (RCA Records) Furtado used to seem like a quality alternative to Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, but times change. Nowadays it seems like Britney is done for — popping gum on national television and dropping babies both figuratively and literally. And somehow, Christina Aguilera has become the quality alternative to Christina Aguilera. We last heard from the former Mouseketeer in 2002, when she did the impossible, recording a Linda Perry tune that didn’t induce clinical insanity after a half dozen spins. (Perry, the songwriter behind 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up?” and Pink’s “Get the Party Started,” is a true craftsman, but her hits have a shorter shelf life than tropical fruit.) The song was called “Beautiful,” and even committed avant-gardists had to admit it was a classic pop ballad — sincere, patient and universal. Aguilera’s new single is its perfect flipside. Produced by hip-hop auteur DJ Premiere, “Ain’t No Other Man” is jazzy and concise, clocking in at a speedy 130 beats per minute. Best of all, it marks a full retreat from the melisma war she and Mariah Carey waged for almost a decade. Aguilera sounds as soulful as her idol Aretha Frankin, as “real” as her contemporary Mary J. Blige. I’m ready to proclaim her the first artist to come out of fin-de-siècle teen pop with a viable career. Aguilera’s new album, Back to Basics, will be released in August.

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Radiohead Get the Blues Today’s most consistent arena-rock band debuted a generous helping of new songs during their June tour, and the eight MP3 bootlegs I’ve heard evince a newfound interest in primitive, blues-based music. Viz. handclaps, calls yearning for a response and songs propelled by syncopation, not skittering noise. Their choice of openers (Deerhoof, the Black Keys, Willie Mason) proves this thesis — each indulges in off-kilter roots music. The real proof, though, is in new songs like “Bodysnatchers,” “House of Cards” and especially “15 Steps,” which manages to sound futuristic and ol’-timey at the same time. The rhythm and vocal hook remind me of the hits off Moby’s Play album, even if Thom Yorke’s voice will never be confused for the roar of an Alan Lomax session. (Obligatory mention of Yorke’s solo debut, The Eraser: It’s slight but appealing, a quiet album informed by his taste for soaring ballads and electronic glitches.)

Manu Chao in America The rest of the world recognizes Manu Chao as an artistically and politically significant force à la Bob Marley. America never got the memo. His multilingual songs do well on our Latin and world-music charts, but that’s nothing for a party music touched by three continents (Western rock, Latin salsa, Jamaican ska, Algerian rai), injected with the gravitas of French chanson and cut up with hip-hop and dub production flourishes. The last time Chao bothered to tour here was 2001, and much of the audience for his current jaunt will probably consist of the kind of immigrant populations America targets with xenophobia. A shame. Manu Chao plays August 1 at L.A.’s Shrine Expo Hall.

Reach the writer at alecbemis@brassland.org

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