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Speaking of “Party in the U.S.A.” . . .

March 23, 2010

. . . I had this great idea for a post about the song in which I would praise the elegance of its structure, particularly the repeated lines at the ends of the verses, which build up tension ahead of the arrival of the chorus in a manner that recalls for me nothing so much as Jacques Brel’s classic “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (although Brel’s song is even trickier, since the last line of each of ITS verses is also the first line of each chorus, making it ambiguous where one stops and the other starts; Cyndi Lauper exploits this adroitly in her reading of the dodgy but standard Rod McKuen translation; lyrics-wise, Momus’s version is closer to the original) . . . and then I would point out how well-matched the lyrics of “Party in the U.S.A.” are to that structure, with the former consisting of an apologia for and explanation of the latter (hey Miley fans, if you feel uneasy about her move away from Nashville-slash-country to L.A.-slash-power-pop, don’t worry, cuz she’s even more uneasy about it than you are—although such a carefully-constructed script only works to the extent that the leading lady follows it; see sugarhigh! for more details*) . . . and I would FURTHER argue that in its evocation of social difference ameliorated by common cultural references, the song almost succeeds—despite itself, despite the shortcomings sugarhigh! points out, despite a core slickness I can’t help but suspect of cynicism—in both describing and embodying the “luminous devotion to the possibility of domestic kindness and social accord” that in an earlier post I quoted Dave Hickey as advocating . . . and then I would sum up by saying that the most appealing thing about “Party in the U.S.A.” is its implied suggestion that this possibility of kindness and domestic accord can best be accomplished not through consciousness-raising in the Enlightenment tradition, but rather through the kind of ecstatic escape from subjectivity and selfhood that the best pop hooks encourage and enable.

However, I came to realize that the song’s key lyric—which I had been hearing as “I’m not in my head, like: yeah”—is actually “I’m noddin’ my head, like: yeah.”

So, uh, never mind.  Go back to whatever you were doing.

*    I still maintain that I hear a different Nelly being borrowed from in “Party” than jane dark does—c’mon, listen to the background licks Cyrus sings starting at 2:37 and tell me I’m wrong—but sugarhigh! is hardly offbase in its assertions . . .

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Christen Enos permalink
    March 23, 2010 9:53 pm

    Hi Martin! Amazing work. I was going to ask what it would do to your social-difference-amelioration argument to know that Miley Cyrus admitted recently to have never heard a Jay -Z song, although she claims she does in the song, but I see that sugarhigh! has beat me to it.

    However, I would still like to refer you to this equally scholarly examination:, which is full of win, such as when she says she picked the song “because I needed something that would go with my clothing line” AND the unexamined detail of her dressing up as Pocahontas for Halloween.

    In fact, I’m going to use “I needed something to go with my clothing line” as a rationale for every. thing. I. do. for at least the next six months.

  2. March 24, 2010 8:05 am

    Martin, Please do keep writing these popmusical critiques. They make my day.

  3. March 24, 2010 11:58 am

    Oh, how often have I imputed songs with better lyrics than they truly possess.

  4. March 24, 2010 12:06 pm

    My day, too. Please write a book.

  5. March 24, 2010 12:34 pm

    Wow, that sugharhigh! analysis is also great.

    Interesting she should mention Robyn is Here. Her 2008 (in the U.S.) self-titled is my favorite pop record nobody (in the U.S.) has heard.

  6. March 24, 2010 1:15 pm

    Also, I wish more people were aware Cyndi Lauper is a brilliant interpreter.

  7. March 24, 2010 9:47 pm

    @ Christen —

    Hey, thanks for dropping by! Yeah, lots of treasures in that US piece; thanks for the link. Can’t you just picture all of Miley Inc.’s people facepalming? (Something about this reminds me a little of the McCain campaign — and the Kerry campaign, too, for that matter: the sense that the star/candidate isn’t quite able to follow her/his own manufactured narrative.) I have to appreciate the way jane dark has been tracking Cyrus’s career: it was just a matter of time (and money) before she latched onto a good song. (Cf. Taylor Swift, who — for all her shortcomings — does seem to have genuine admiration for contemporary r&b.) Hope the clothing line is coming together . . .

    @ Rebekah —

    Glad you’re enjoying them! I may head back toward film for a spell after this, but I’m sure I won’t stay away from pop for long . . .

    @ EG —

    I think of it as a skill. Who has time to wait for artists to come along and strongly misread other artists? As the audience, that should be OUR job. We are all theoreticians now.

    @ Tim —

    Book! Ha! At some point we should have a tearful conversation about my 700-page novel manuscript. But thank you for the kind words!

    I’m a big sugarhigh! fan, although the site is not nearly as active as it once was . . . due, I suspect, to the fact that jane dark’s alter ego is busy promoting a book and leading protests against higher-education cuts in California . . .

    When Scott Walker is competing in a category it is difficult for me to award the top prize to anybody else, but the Lauper version of the McKuen translation is my favorite. Shirley Bassey does a scenery-chewing rendition, as well. And Alison Moyet does a good version in the original French. This song is a bottomless YouTube hole; proceed with caution . . .


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