Thursday, August 29, 2013

Naked and Famous: A Stillness

You know how bands are always saying "our new record blurs the lines between jungle and rock and techno and baroque chamber music?". And how it always turns out they've made the exact same album as last time, but with a violin buried deep in the mix of one of the bonus tracks? Well imagine what would happen if they were telling the truth...

Here are The Naked and Famous with the second preview of their new album In Rolling Waves. It's called A Stillness and it genuinely does try to cram as many different genres as possible into its 5-minute running time. Allow me to illustrate.

Amazingly, it all hangs together impeccably. The results of this crazed musical alchemy can be sampled below.

The Naked And Famous - A Stillness

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Paul McCartney hits the nostalgia button

And he hits it pretty hard, right in the smacker. The result: A new song with a Beatle-tastic descending chord progression and a spunky harpsichord. It's good. It's really good. And the a capella coda seals the deal.

Produced by Mark Ronson and lifted from a forthcoming album titled (with unbridled creativity) New, here is his new single, New. It's new. In case you hadn't noticed.


Paul McCartney - New

And if that's not enough Macca for you, here is the man himself teaching you how to cook mashed potatoes. Because: reasons.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The five best lyrics of Eminem's comeback

By calling his new record The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Eminem is setting himself a huge challenge. The original album is the one with Stan and The Real Slim Shady on it - and marked his creative and sales peak, selling 27m worldwide. Eminem's recent releases, however, have lacked that potent brew of snark and fury. So can LP2 recapture the magic?

Well the first single, Bezerk, certainly has a lot going for it. Produced by Rick Rubin (he gets about a bit, doesn't he?) it rips up Billy Squire's hard-rockin' anthem The Stroke and sticks it messily onto an old-school Run DMC beat. "Let's take it back to straight hip-hop and start it from scratch," spits Eminem, who goes on to deliver some of his best lyrics for years.

1) "Been public enemy since you thought PE was gym"
2) "So sick I'm looking pale, well that's my pigment"
3) "I just showed up with a coat fresher than wet paint"
4) "Just like I did with addiction I'm about to kick it"
5) "Make like K-Fed and let yourself go"

OK, the last one suggests his cultural reference points are stuck in a 2004 timewarp, but you could also argue it ratchets up the nostalgia factor. A cautious welcome, then, for the new material...

Eminem - Bezerk (audio)

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'Ello Lolo

Can a singer get away with scrapping everything and starting again? You'd think not - changing your name or your musical style means admitting you weren't being genuine in the first place. But it happens more often than you'd think.

In 2011, winsome singer Lizzie Grant entered her cocoon and emerged, fully formed, as doompop overlord Lana Del Rey; Dear Eskiimo got dumped by their label and came back as The Ting Tings; Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem achieved moderate success after they rechristened themselves Red Hot Chili Peppers (a massive mistake, if you ask me).

So it's not entirely bad news for Lolo - an exciting new urban artist, unless you happen to remember pop crooner Lauren Pritchard, whose 2010 album Wasted In Jackson scored positive press, but failed to leap of the shelves.

As a result, Lauren has started using her nickname (Lolo Pritch), giving her license to pursue a harder, crunchier sound than the watered-down Winehouse of her debut. You might have spotted her recently on Panic! At The Disco's Miss Jackson, but it's her new solo single you should really be listening to.

Year Round Summer Of Love crashes through your speakers like a dumper truck, as a madman pounds out chunky piano chords and Pritchard's voice is fed through a shredded loudspeaker. It sounds tremendous.

It's taken from Lolo's forthcoming debut album. She hasn't given it a name yet, but she says it'll sound like "Fiona Apple & Eminem's love child," - IE "loud, very loud". I'm ready and waiting.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

The MTV awards in gifs, pics, a vine, a soundbite and a video

Justin Timberlake was the big winner at last night's VMAs but nobody watches it for the awards, do they? Here are the best bits in "this video has been removed due to a copyright claim from Viacom Ltd" form.

Lady Gaga glued her eyes open by accident.

But her multi-wigged performance of "Applause" was a triumph.

Even if the dancers looked a little confused at the end of it.

Pharrell cycled to work.

The rest of Daft Punk probably arrived on a spaceship -
but they failed to perform or win any awards :(

In fact, Get Lucky inexplicably lost best song of the summer to One Direction.

Taylor "shut the fuck up" Swift was not amused. And she wasn't the only one...

One Direction were loudly booed as they took their prize.
Which led to Lady Gaga giving them an exceptionally cute pep talk backstage.

Meanwhile, Miley Cyrus did this sort of thing a lot.

And showed how she failed her interview to be a London 2012 Games Maker.

The Smith family were distinctly unimpressed by the hoedown throwdown.

Robin Thicke managed to be an even bigger sleaze than ever.

Rihanna looked thrilled just to be part of it all.

Kanye West performed in the dark.

TLC reunion!!

Justin Timberlake basically got to perform his own concert.

Which included this incredible N*Sync moment.

...As well as this one.

Taylor Swift seemed to enjoy this one.

Katy Perry closed the show by skipping under the Brooklyn Bridge.

It was the most traditional performance of the night...

...But it chose a theme, stuck to it, and didn't fall back on gimmicks or nudity.
Well done, Katy.


So that's the awards "in full". They're on MTV UK later tonight, and pretty much every other night until the end of the month. If you don't have time to sit through it all (there's a performance from Drake, FYI) the best bit is Justin's mind-blowing 15-minute hits medley, which incorporates Led Zeppelin's Kashmir and Rapper's Delight, amongst other thing. It's incredible.

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Songs you may have missed: Bumper edition

Work's been exceptionally busy this week, so I haven't had the chance to blog as much as I'd like... With the result that this week's "Songs You May Have Missed" is a bumper edition. Lots of exciting new tunes and remixes to choose from.

Roll up, roll up...

1) MKS - Flatline (MNEK remix)
Initial-tastic pop acts MKS and MNEK (it's an anagram of KK SEMEN if you squint a bit and imagine an extra 'E') get together for an Ibiza-flavoured remix of truly brilliant pop number Flatline.

The mix doesn't improve on the original - but it does give Mutya Keisha and Siobhan extra opportunities to aimlessly wave their hands around in the air.

2) Nirvana - Heart Shaped Box (Director's Cut)
Santa in a nappy, foetuses in a tree, a young girl in a Ku Klux Klan costume: This video has it all. The director's cut of Nirvana's Heart Shaped Box, previously only available on DVD, was thrust upon the internet this week to celebrate the anniversary of In Utero. It sounds as awesome as it did 20 years ago.

3) Sam Smith - Nirvana
From an angry, growly Nirvana to a happy blissful one. Sam Smith's sensuous new single is cut from the same cloth as Marvin Gaye's Let's Get It On - IE a very sexy silk cloth draped across your naked breasts. This'll steam up your spectacles.

4) The Preatures - Is This How You Feel?
Sydney quintet The Preatures (pronounced "the preachers", I presume) are quite lovely, mixing 50s harmonies and jangly guitars in a slightly Haim-y fashion.

Is This How You Feel, from their forthcoming EP, starts off sounding like The Cure's Close To Me, then swirls off into wistful psychedelia. Yummy.

6) The Saturdays - Disco Love
Can you fault a song with the lyric, "It's never winter when its Donna Summer all year long"?

The answer, it turns out, is a big fat yes.

5) Lady Gaga - Applause (DJ White Shadow Trap Remix)
This pared back remix (for the most part) highlights what a strong tune Applause is. Deliberately choosing obscure chords to counterpoint the melody, it makes the song much more unsettling and interesting than the pop version.

7) John Newman - Cheating
If you've been dumped there are two options: Sobbing and eating cake, or hiring the building opposite your girlfriend's house, erecting a massive billboard spelling out the word "cheater" in lights, and performing a song about her infidelity at full volume while she's still in bed.

John Newman goes for the classy option. Sort of. 

And there you have it... See you after the bank holiday for more musinourishment.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Is this the best school ever?

Over the last 24 hours, a video of some US school librarians recreating The Beastie Boys' Sabotage video has gone viral - ending up on Rolling Stone, Huffington Post, The Onion and dozens of other websites.

If you haven't seen it already, you're in for a treat.

What most of the coverage has failed to spot is that this video is part of a series, and they're all excellent.

The school in questions is Francis W. Parker K-12 School in Lincoln Park, Chicago. It's named after a US educational pioneer (note to Michael Gove: He successfully challenged the idea of rote learning in the 19th Century), whose motto was "A school should be a model home, a complete community, an embryonic democracy."

It's with that in mind that these videos get made, every year since 2006, for something called the Mike And Duane Show. Essentially, it's a big comedy sketch show the staff put on for the pupils at the end of term, but the production values are insane.

Here they are recreating Michael Jackson's Bad in the school cafeteria.

This is Taylor Swift's I Knew You Were Trouble, filmed in the style of Vampire Weekend's A-Punk video.

And, of course, there's an obligatory Fresh Prince cover.

I don't know about you, but my school would never have contemplated anything like this. We were lucky if we got to sing Handel's Messiah once a year to an audience of reluctant and borderline suicidal parents. One of FW Parker's teachers wrote a great blog post [read it here] explaining why their approach is better. It's certainly inspirational, and I don't even go to there. I just wonder if all this creativity and exuberance can ever make up for double maths.

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Avril Lavigne unexpectedly makes the best video of the summer

It's not often a music video makes me laugh out loud (intentionally, at least) but the latest from Avril Lavigne is one of most delightfully nutso promos you'll see this year.

Avril launches the video with a blatant (and sarcastic) piece of product placement, then gleefully spends the next four minutes spending the corporate kickback cash on mucking about in the desert on lavish sets with hand-drawn animations and preposterous special effects. It's the most punk thing she's ever done, truth be told.

The song, on the other hand, is about as punk as a yoghurt. It might be called Rock N Roll, but Avril's definition of Rock N Roll seems to be "any music with a guitar on it, especially pop songs that Pitbull would reject as 'too obvious'". I'll let her off for now, though, purely for hiring Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years as her co-star.

Recommendation status: Recommended.

Avril Lavigne - Rock N Roll

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Lady Gaga's Applause video - a cultural and psychological evaluation



I am never sleeping again.

©2013, A pop scholar

Things to love about the new MKS video

Hello Mutya! Hello Keisha! Hello Siobhan! Hello spinny man in white trousers!

Filmed in LA last month and debuted on YouTube late last night, here at long last is the inaugural video by resurrected Sugaband MKS. It's not going to win any awards for innovation - basically it's just three girls pissing about in front of a camera - but there are some moments to cherish. "EG":

:: MKS standing in front of a wall
:: MKS sitting on top of a wall
:: MKS not riding a bicycle
:: MKS stumbling down a sand dune
:: MKS clapping half-heartedly
:: MKS dancing half-heartedly
:: Siobhan's not-a-skirt
:: Mutya's flagrant disregard for car safety
:: A dog on a skateboard
:: Er...
:: That's it.

NB: The song is still gorgeous.

MKS - Flatlines

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Prince's totally epic Danish funk workout

The horrific events in Egypt aside, it's been a particularly slow news week. Jeremy Paxman grew a beard and somehow it ended up in every major newspaper; then Prince sent copy editors into a tizz by joining twitter and taking a photo of a salad. (Incidentally, why did no-one use the headline Why You Wanna Tweet Me So Bad?)

My favourite part of Prince's Twitter debut was when fans started replying "I'd die if you'd tweet me" and he spent 10 minutes tweeting back: "There. RIP".

For those who managed to hold on to their mortal souls, though, he had another treat up his skinny purple sleeves: A flawless, 10-minute version of She's Always In My Hair, filmed live in Denmark last week. Put this on full screen, sit back and drink in the awesome. Absolutely brilliant.

Prince & 3rd Eye Girl - She's Always In My Hair (live)

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Friday, August 16, 2013

New Two Door Cinema Club: Changing Of The Seasons

Above-average indie band and sandwich enthusiasts Two Door Cinema Club have just announced their biggest ever concert at the O2 Arena in London. And, to celebrate, they're releasing an EP with boy genius dance wizard Madeon. According to the BBC, they bribed him to do it with a hot dog (Produce the EP, that is. Less of your filth).

The title track is called Changing of the Seasons and it was Huw Stephen's Hottest Record In The World last night. Apparently, the song is so fresh the record label don't have a copy, so they've had to put a radio rip on the band's official Soundcloud page.

If you can endure Alex's tremulous falsetto in the first verse, the song really takes off around the 45 second mark.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Plastiscines are jolly good, c'est ca!

High Five! Or, to be precise, Tape M'en Cinq!!

That's the Plastiscines, a self-confessed "French band from Paris". You may remember them from the song Bitch, a minor hit in 2010, which got picked up by advertisers and shonky ITV2 programmes like Gossip Girl.

The gallic girl-punks fared fairly well in the UK, briefly charting with their album, About Love, and playing a series of explosive live shows. I once saw lead singer Katty Besnard stop the band in mid-flight to berate a punter who wasn't paying attention. It was quite the thing.

But it's been a quiet three years since that night, and I'd assumed the band had split until they popped up on Twitter the other night. It seems they've become a trio, swapped their guitars for a scuzzy synth-pop sound, and started dressing as Charlie's Angels.

Needless to say, I approve.

Their latest single is called Comment Faire. It snuck out in the UK in June, but I'm only just catching up now. It comes with a campy grindhouse video that updates The Beastie Boys' iconic Sabotage promo. It's so good, I don't mind being two months behind the curve.

The Plastiscines - Comment Faire

Good, huh? But there's more... The title track of their forthcoming album Coming To Get You is the sort of song Katy Perry would kill for. Smart, sharp and so seductive it purrs.

Although not literally. That would be weird.

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Here is a lyric video for Lady Gaga's Applause

Now you can see exactly what she's singing, and remain just as confused as before.

I stand by what I said on Monday, though. Applause is a grower.

Lady Gaga - Applause

PS: There's a great piece on Billboard about the muted response to this single (and Katy Perry's Roar), which says the pre-release hype has ultimately proved self-defeating.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

VV Brown: How do you like them apples?

Here's a sentence I never thought I'd write again: The new VV Brown single is astonishingly good.

To be honest, I hadn't even realised she was still recording. To all intents and purposes, it seemed like she'd resigned herself to a career in modelling after her first, rockabilly-tinged record failed to take flight.

But no! VV has ditched the roll-top hairdo (technically called a pouf, apparently), set up her own label and gone for a darker, bolder sound. You can visualise the difference in the promo pictures above, which look like a before-and-after shot for lithium.

The album, out next month, is a concept record based around biblical hairdresser disaster story Samson and Delilah; and it'll come with its own black-and-white film. The whole enterprise has been produced, exquisitely, by Dave Okumu of Jessie Ware's Devotion "fame".

Which brings us to that astonishing single. The Apple channels the voice of Grace Jones and the melodrama of a Homeland season finale, as VV intones: "Don't testify me, don't bring me down. Don't hold me captive... The apple of my eye".


VV Brown - The Apple

NB: This song also comes in French.

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Album cover of the year

Janelle Monae's double album The Electric Lady is out on 10 September and for that we should all be very grateful.

After revealing the track-listing on Monday (it has Prince and Solange on it), the artwork appeared on Twitter last night, via artist Sam Spratt (he does the Angry Birds adverts, fact fans).

Spratt says he spent "month" painstakingly painting the covers, of which there are two. They are quite simply out of this world.

Since they went online last night, I've been struggling to remember what the second cover remind me of. It's an album from the 70s, definitely. Probably a disco record. And it also had a painted cover.

These porn-tastic Donna Summer covers could definitely have been an inspiration.

And the hand-painted style owes something to the, ahem, "unique" visuals favoured by multi-legged funk beast Earth, Wind And Fire.

But Janelle never quite matches the majesty of Harvey Scales: Undisputed king of 70s disco iconography.

And we can only dream of her equalling this masterpiece.

So I'm stuck... Can anyone work out the album I'm thinking of? Answers on a pumpkin to the usual address.

In the meantime, here's the video for Dance Apocalyptic again, because it's awesome.

Janelle Monae - Dance Apocalyptic

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Music video trends pt 245: Grumpystrolling

It's a good week for putting on a leather jacket and walking moodily towards a camera that's framing you to the right of shot.

Spookily, those are shots from three separate videos, all uploaded to YouTube yesterday. Why they've all adopted this trope, popularised in Bittersweet Symphony, is a mystery. Nearly as big a mystery as why leather jackets are a thing again.

But as well as grumpystrolling, the videos have one more unifying feature: A terrific song. In order, they are.

Arctic Monkeys - Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?
Following up Do I Wanna Know, and sticking in the same vein, the Arctic Monkeys unveil this gnarly slab of rock sleaze. The video, in which a "refreshed" Alex Turner stumbles down the street sexting his lady friend, is largely NSFW.

Foxes - Youth
Foxes has had two top 20 hits this year as a featured artist (most notably on Zedd's barnstorming Clarity). Now it's time to ramp up the solo campaign with a re-release of her best song to date, Youth. If you fixate on women with Disney princess eyes, this video is for you.

Haim - The Wire
Haim take an unanticipated detour into comedy for their new video. We see Alana, Este and Alanis Morisette Danielle dumping their feckless boyfriends... with hilarious (emasculating) consequences.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Applause: Gaga for gaga? Or one hand clapping?

Lady Gaga doesn't want bloggers to review her new music. Apparently we're not qualified to comment on her genius, which is a task best left to her "true fans". You know, the rabid basket cases who would push another human under a truck for suggesting Born This Way was somewhat patchy. Those people.

Anyway, I don't take no orders from no pop stars, so lets have a listen to Gaga's new single, Applause, then weigh up its pros and cons.

:: At a brisk 3'33" Applause is nowhere near as scrappy or indulgent as anything off her last album.
:: Gaga doing silly "woooh, holy ghost" voice.
:: Catchy. Like bird flu catchy.
:: And it's a grower, to boot.
:: Hilarious art/vagina pun in verse two.
:: Crowd noise - guaranteed by The KLF to make any track 110% more exciting.
:: Um, I suppose the whole "I live for the applause" thing might be tongue-in-cheek?

:: I hate to say it - but if Born This Way = Express Yourself, then Applause = Girl Gone Wild.
:: Lyrics equate nostalgia with reading (?!)
:: "Art's in pop culture in me". Gaga is suffocating on her own self-mythology here.
:: What's with all the "art + pop" thing anyway? Great pop IS art, don't you know?
:: There have already been a dozen better pop songs this year. (Yes, I can name them. No, I'm not going to).

On balance, it's a good - if not great, pop single. The best Gaga has released in a while, in fact. And she's putting it up on iTunes tonight, gawd bless her.

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Katy Perry's Roar - the best bits

"Looks like there's a tiger on the loose!!!" tweeted Katy Perry on Friday night, just after office hours ended at Discopop towers. So here, two days late, are our first impressions of her new single, Roar.

00:00 Sounds like Hard Knock Life.
00:10 No longer sounds Hard Knock Life.
00:29 Paging the tabloids: "You held me down, but I got up".
"I got the eye of a tiger".
"I am a champion".
"You're going to hear me roar".
1:15 Indelible post-chorus earworm. Roar-oh-ah-ah-ah-ah-oh.
1:30 "I went from zero to my own hero". Oh dear. Second verses are hard, aren't they?
1:55 The chorus gets better every time it repeats.
2:41 Instrumental break, leading to a...
2:48 Slow-building crescendo, pre-empting the...
2:57 Climactic chorus, now with strings and tambourine, prompting several...
3:10 OTT ad-libs, heralding a...
3:30 Descending guitar riff, signifying the end.
3:38 The end.

All in all, it's a solid pop effort, which is nearly as audacious as the cover art. I'm only disappointed that, in deference to her new "mature" image, Katy failed to include the sound of an actual lion roaring in the song. I've put some playable samples below, so you can create your own on-the-fly remix.

7/10 (8/10 with the lion roars)

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Electra Heart is DEAD!

Marina and the Diamonds has bumped off her Electra Heart "character" after approximately 20 months of struggling to explain what the whole thing was about (summary: love, fame, femininity and dressing up).

The singer said goodbye to her creation in an emotional tweet late last night.

And then her profile picture changed from a promo shot of Electra, to a photo of Marina wearing regular Marina clothes.

Whatever you think of the concept (and Marina eventually conceded it boiled down to "being in love with someone who doesn't love you"), Electra Heart was a fucking great pop record. The sucker-punch opening salvo of Bubblegum Bitch, Primadonna and Lies was the best start to a pop album since Tangled Up.

Ever thoughtful, Marina has left us with a parting gift - a new song, appropriately called Electra Heart, with a video mashing up footage from all 11 (!) of the promos she shot for the project. It ends with the singer smudging the heart-shaped birthmark off her cheek, which is terribly significant and symbolic if you're into that sort of thing.

Thanks, then, Electra. We had no idea what you were on about half the time, but you made some ball-busting pop songs along the way.

Marina and the Diamonds - Electra Heart

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Basment Jaxx shake their pants

Basement Jaxx must be kicking themselves that they didn't plan their comeback to launch before the Daft Punk universal robot takeover disco party. But it's nice to have them back, even if no-one's really paying that much attention.

Their new single, What A Difference Your Love Makes, has more uplift than a Wonderbra, and the sun-scorched video is a joy to watch.

Filmed in Alexandra, Johannesburg, it contains some stunning pantsula dancing, originally an anti-apartheid style in which "each person performs a solo turn within a circle of dancers doing a repetitive, shuffling step" (or so says the Oxford Dictionary). It's better than that makes it sound.

Watch below. The single is out on 30 September.

Basement Jaxx - What A Difference Your Love Makes

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Oh Land - Renaissance Girls is the best video you will see this week

Oh Land is not, it turns out, a small principality off the coast of Poland. No, it's the stage name of Danish-born New York girl Nina Øland Fabricius.

She's about to put out her third album, Wish Bone, produced by credible pop kingpin Dave Sitek. And the first single is a sinewy electro gem.

Renaissance Girls is Beyonce's Run The World, told from the point of view of a regular girl next door, instead of an Amazonian Wolf Woman. "I'm a real independent, doing the laundry," she sings, while dancing around a cement truck and doing some knitting.

I love this video.
I love this song.

Oh Land - Renaissance Girls

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What does YouTube have against Jessie J?

I've just watched the new Jessie J video (it's my job, ok?) and here's the advert Google's crack team of analysts felt would be most appropriate to accompany the experience.


Mind you, if you find J-J-J-Jessie J irritating, this song is going to feel like a massive prickly outbreak of hives all over your privates. It's addressed to "the haters" (oh, Jesus) and contains such lyrical treats as "You think I tweet too much. I don’t care".

The overall gist seems to be "if you dislike me so much, why not ignore me instead of spending your time writing rude messages?" To which the response is surely, "if you really don't care about other people's criticisms, why are you writing an entire song about them?"

But the most annoying thing about It's My Party is that, if you can ignore the lyrics, it's actually really catchy.

Damn you, Jessie J. Damn you to hell.

Jessie J - It's My Party

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