British pop and R&B singer Taio Cruz will headline 2012’s Slope Day, the Slope Day Programming Board announced Thursday. American pop rock outfit Neon Trees will open the day’s festivities. The Sun’s Arts and Entertainment editors weigh in on the concert choice.
Year-long suspense — tinged with hope for such acts as Avicii and with dizzying dread for Nickelback rumors — ended with two radio-friendly picks that have been heard, well, everywhere. Taio Cruz and Neon Trees are probably as crowd-pleasing as you can (viably) get.
“We know you’ve been wanting big name headliners; we also did understand a lot of students were getting tired of rap and hip-hop artists,” said Sam Breslin ’12, selections director of SDPB. “A lot of people wanted a pop artist who is on the radio all the time — someone you could sing along to.”
While it is arguable how different Cruz truly is in his musical approach from the Slope Day headliners of recent years, he does command a similar, broad base of fans that guarantees a bustling day on Libe Slope. Cruz narrowly missed the chance to sing on Rihanna’s 2007 hit “Umbrella,” but that snub did not stop him from finding an immediate fanbase upon the release of his self-produced 2008 debut, Departure. He has become nearly omnipresent since his 2010 album Rokstarr.
It’s hard to think of a more appropriate anthem for the last day of classes than Cruz’s number one single, “Dynamite,” which, of course, exhorts everyone to “throw (their) hands up in the air sometimes” and “celebrate and live life.”
Cruz has an expansive catalogue of equally commanding and suitable songs. Leading among those is “Break Your Heart”; repeat “break break your” in your head over and over again if you have trouble remembering it. These songs, as well as other hits such as “Telling the World” (from last year’s animated film Rio), “Higher” and “Hangover,” will slide perfectly into the Slope Day vibe — especially that latter hit. Cruz’s style may not be groundbreaking and his lyrics remain remarkably simplistic, but, for the mass of shambling bodies soon to fill Libe Slope, the man is about perfect as it gets.
Neon Trees is similar in that you have almost certainly heard the band before. “Animal,” the lead single off its debut album Habits, invaded all analog frequencies and lossy file types back in early 2010 and is the best-known of the band’s vociferous dance-rock tunes. This synth-pop band from Utah sure has some killer instinct. Since winning over alternative rock titans The Killers, Neon Trees has gone from opening act (most memorably for the North American leg of The Killers’ 2008 Day and Age tour) to full-fledged new wave revivalists.
Neon Trees sounds like a mix of The Killers, Duran Duran, Jason Mraz and Foster the People, with frequent throwbacks to 60s doo-wop. The band’s sun-drenched vocals, accompanied by fleet-fingered and friendly guitar melodies, would be perfect for a day out on the slope. Its laidback vibe might present a happier, and still danceable, alternative for those who do not quite take to Cruz’s pounding numbers.
After failing to become the darling of hipster critics, Neon Trees has carved its own home on DJ sets and our little sisters’ iPods (an arguably larger and louder contingent). Besides, the Pitchfork loyalists have their own Neon Indian to illuminate them in its plasmaglow.
At any rate, Neon Trees deserves boundless respect for its startling ability to channel the crooners of old whenever the occasion calls for it. In a 2010 Billboard performance, the band rendered fellow label mate Justin Bieber’s smash hit “Baby” unrecognizable, then smoothly segued into Ben E King’s classic “Stand By Me.” Bobby Darin and Buddy Holly would have been proud.
The road to the Slope Day artist announcement bumps into few optimists over its treacherous length, and seemingly none right after. Fans of Weezer, Avicii and Flo Rida — the three artists who were fruitlessly pursued by Slope Day — were disappointed. Both Taio Cruz and Neon Trees lean heavily on past and present influences and may not represent the highest artistic heights of their genre. But they are certainly heard. Think back a recent Collegetown memory. Among the clip-clop of stilettos, clatters of beer bottles, guttural hurls and random ambulance siren, there is that distant echo of “Ayo, baby let’s go.” It seems to loop ad infinitum. And it will return, louder than ever and amplified by your peers, along with the rest of the that aural sampler, on May 4.