February 2, 2009

Today's Party Jams Are T-Painful

Print More

You’ve got to love college parties. Young bodies rubbing up against each other, free-flowing libations, the license to speak and behave in an offensive manner — they’re a hedonist’s dream. Movies from Animal House to Old School have celebrated the rite-of-passage bacchanal, and it seems nobody can get enough of the festivities: even Michael Phelps, the squeaky-clean mama’s boy who dreams in red, white and blue, was caught blazing at a University of South Carolina ripper in November (bystander statement of the century: “He was the gold medal winner of bong hits”).
But for all their self-indulgent glory, there’s a gaping flaw in college party culture — the music. Maybe I’m just not enough of a hipster, or maybe I don’t have enough hipster friends, but every party I go to these days seems to be a paid advertisement for MTV Jams. With songs featuring no discernible elements besides sternum-stirring beats, walking into a party has become like walking into a migraine, and just about as bad.
The recent trend toward simplistic dance music — 4/4 tempo, a few cymbal crashes, dumb lyrics — is probably ascribable to rather democratic urges. In the first place, sexual liberation has allowed previously unheard of levels of contact between butts and crotches, so music that encourages friction between the two is a high priority. Secondly, the desire to include everyone in the fun has meant that the rhythmically challenged need music’s equivalent of large print in order to dance: BEAT HERE. The result can hardly be called music.
But it wasn’t always this way. Party songs, after all, are one of the oldest types of music, with everyone from Chinese harp-pluckers to old Ludwig Van seeking out the catchiest hooks. Something began happening with the advent of electronic music, though, as people realized that sounds could be organized into pleasing combinations without the aid of talent or skill — just put the bass in the right places, and you’re home free. And so we’re left with the likes of Mims and 50 Cent, dancing morons whose only role is to yell at certain climatic moments and look like they’re having a hell of a time.
Clearly, booty jams are not my cup of crunk juice. It’s not that I dislike hip-hop — I mean, where else can you hear a song devoted to punning on the word “ho”? — but there’s rap, and then there’s crap. Needless to say, most of what’s around today is the latter: studio-processed slough that aims only to get the most asses on the floor. I’m no expert, of course — the other day I started digging into “A-kwon” — but I’m pretty sure that, beyond minor variations in tone of voice, there’s no way to tell T.I. from T-Pain or Lil John from Mike Jones. That’s not good.
“But I just want to have fun,” you may be saying to yourself. “Who cares if it’s not good music?”
Well, God, for one. Bad musical taste is one of the seven cardinal sins. What’s more, your children will blame you. Ever notice how every movie ever made about the ’60s features “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield? 30 years from now, those retrospective flicks will be forced to set the mood with “This is Why I’m Hot” or “My Humps.” It’s a shameful legacy, to say the least, and future generations will think we were a bunch of tone-deaf jackasses.
So let’s bring back the quality stuff. As I said, I’m not opposed to hip-hop, and there are certainly enough rappers out there to keep the beat without sacrificing the brain (although the last time I tried to put on Lil Wayne’s “I Feel Like Dyting” at a party I was shut down — weird). Or, we could branch out and give some indie bands a shot, although I have the feeling that too much ironic introspection might kill the mood. But what about swing? Have you ever seen people do the Charleston? And maybe some waltzes — there’s nothing like Strauss to get the blood pumping.
Alas, I don’t think things will change anytime soon. Our poor lower bodies have become accustomed to the old bump and grind, and it’s hard to break a habit. We’ll have to suffer, though not in silence. So don’t tell me to get low, Lil John: I’m already there.