Justin Bieber, ‘Boyfriend’

Justin Bieber

Junior is seven today. And this is her first record – well, the album is. Maybe her record-buying development’s been arrested by Jukebox Junior because you’d expect her to have her own records by now, wouldn’t you? Sure, she has Disney Princess compilations and nursery rhyme CDs, but she doesn’t need to go out and buy (or ask for) One Direction or Rihanna albums because nice people send them to Daddy anyway.

So Justin Bieber’s Believe will be the answer to that first record question in years to come and it’ll all be because Bieber’s UK label thought Junior’s dad would rip it and spray it all over the Internet, so they didn’t give it to him.

This is just streaming. It doesn’t count.

To my ears this is a pale Trousersnake retread, but I just don’t get it, do I? Junior does the patented family shoulder roll and Junior 2 already knows all the words. It’s quite chilling how the Cult of the Belieber has infiltrated my house while I was trying to win the family over with clean edits of Azealia Banks tracks. This is just a taste of my powerlessness to come.

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[13] Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris, ‘We Found Love’

Rihanna

“We’ve got this on our DSes!… ‘We found love on a hooooolidaaaayyy’…”

I barely need to add to that – and it would be faithful to the vague, abused ethos of this place if I didn’t – but these are the things I love about ‘We Found Love’:

Rihanna appears to be trying
Calvin Harris doesn’t sing
The sleeve looks like it was made on a xerox in 1979
I could probably cover it despite having no musical talent whatsoever
That’s not a dig at Calvin
But hey, it could be
It’s a dark harbinger of things to come
Junior loves it

Rolf Harris, ‘Jake The Peg’

Rolf Harris

A renaissance man – painter, singer, writer, comedian, TV presenter, wobble board pioneer – Rolf bestrides post-war culture like a bearded colossus, the Ayers Rock of the art world, the panting Rolfaroo of blocky strokes and sad/absurd songs. See what I did there? I anointed Rolf the antipodean Zelig of modern artistic advance. Always twinkling in the fabric, twitching the curtains of the global stage.

Rolf’s way is to find the poignant in the ridiculous – or vice versa – from Jake’s God-given travails to Miss Given’s usually ignored presence in ‘Stairway To Heaven’. He walks a fine line, but he has Kate Bush’s trust (I can just hear him against a backdrop of falling snowflakes, can’t you?) and can still make a grown man cry with ‘Two Little Boys’, a pair of facts that buys him a pass to mess about all he likes and remain a respected figure even as he emotes over a poorly chinchilla on a vet’s operating table.

His wily reach spans generations, with ‘Jake The Peg’ enjoying a canonical place in our home decades after it was recorded. It’s the first track on Hello Children Everywhere!, a 3-CD compendium of Children’s Hour classics that pulls in moth-eared but magnificent turns from Pinky and Perky, Flanders and Swann, Morecambe and Wise and other non-duo based acts. Such sustained quality, and kids today get Mr Tumble. Or, just as often in my house, Rihanna.

‘Jake The Peg’ prompts enthusiastic singing and dancing – surely another skill Rolf can master – and, from Junior alone, a lot of awkward walking about using a child-sized broom as an extra leg. “Can I touch your leg?” asks Junior 2, in a rather forward manner. Her comic timing’s great but it doesn’t quite match Rolf’s delayed pay-offs, the rhymes you can see a mile off yet they still slay you when they drop. I’m laughing; Junior’s now tap dancing, her peg leg an Astairesque cane.

…2, 3, 4…8, 9, 10…14…19, 20, 21… … to twenty-five!”

The Saturdays, ‘Notorious’

The Saturdays

In the leading pack of life’s crushing disappointments is the discovery that the default hottest girl group in the land’s new single is not a cover of Duran Duran’s brilliantly lumpenly funky quasi-career-killer. Mollie could’ve done a “No-“, then Rochelle could’ve done a “No-“, then Frankie, Una and the other one could’ve joined reedy forces on “NOTORIOUS”, and it could’ve all descended into Chic meets the Sex Pistols meets Red Hot Chili Peppers chaos. Just look at what you could’ve won.

Instead, “My résumé says I’m a bad girl”. It’s no “Who really gives a damn for a flaky bandit?”, is it? Where it pulls it out of the fire though is with the fruity electro pulse and vocals put through the ringer – it’s mechanised. The Saturdays are only bad girls, notorious, because they’ve been programmed to be so. It’s svengali’d by computer, a Space Odyssey Malcolm McLaren. Not a terribly wholesome, erm, whole but a functional thrill.

It’s brought here by mistake, the lucky conjunction of the girls appearing on So You Think You Can Dance? and Junior and I happening to be watching it. While I continued my ongoing study of career trajectories of girl groups, Junior copied every single dance move they made. One beat behind, but accurately. Recent clips from Rihanna and Lady Gaga have got me in a panic about just how knowing young girls can get. They sponge it up. Normally – to the odd sulky “awww” – I’d switch over, but there’s little overtly sexualised about The Saturdays’ robotic choreography. Thin end of the wedge though.

[39] Rihanna featuring Jay-Z, ‘Umbrella’

It’s a Heart song, isn’t it? All power chords and stark emotion and, er, a phoned-in rap from Jay-Z. He and the Wilson sisters were like this. They’d bring the overwrought, he’d spit the rhymes. Then he ditched Nancy for his girl B and it was all just AOR/hip hop history. Rihanna of course conveys feeling with the natural poise of an office block, but ‘Umbrella’ benefits from her robotic delivery, keeping its secrets, peeling layers off slowly.

Junior says: “Ella-ella-ey-ey-ey” rather a lot. In fact, she says it pretty much every time she’s confronted by an umbrella of any hue, musical or rainworthy. It’s entered the lexicon.

Best bit: The thumping great beat in Rihanna’s first line.

[9] Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys, ‘Empire State Of Mind’

New York reminds me of Christmas anyway, possibly through seeing When Harry Met Sally a dozen too many times, so it feels right to eulogise this love letter right now. But is it a no-holds-barred tribute? Alicia Keys’ commanding, spine-tingling holler sounds like a throaty homage, but The Hov swings between wallowing in the neighbourhood and caution-poem acknowledgement of those who have fallen by the wayside. It adds bite – “Mommy took a bus trip/Now she got her bust out” – and intrigue – “Good girls gone bad/The city’s filled with them” – to a big, ballsy anthem.

As I cue ‘Empire…’ up, Junior asks, “Will it make my shoulders go funky?” Built around samples from The Moments and Isaac Hayes, I should say so. She bounds about, dangerously overexcited, and seems to know every word of Keys’ contribution – until she starts singing her Nativity song over the top, sampling anew. Anyway, this one couldn’t fail to move her; it’s a tune as massive as Alicia’s champion asset.

Don’t bite the apple, Eve:

[13] Steve Winwood, ‘While You See A Chance’

steve-winwood

I’m sure I used to be a hip young thing, hardly the sort to slap a Steve Winwood song in the Top 20 of one of new-pop’s formative years, but we all have to face facts when school was half a lifetime ago. On the other hand, who can deny ‘While You See A Chance’’s squirty keyboards and warm melancholy? It tells you to grasp the opportunity while it’s still, erm, hot, so maybe that’s the whole point here. It’s not too late! Is it?

The parping keys of the intro tell you this is going to be special, although it never quite lives up to that promise. Not quite. Still, it’s the warmth that does it for me. Junior’s drawn to the speakers for that overture, then spends the rest of the song pogoing to the sproingy synthness of Winwood’s hymn to the light at the end of the tunnel. She’s a dab hand now, pointing out drums and piano before assuring me that the track “QIs like Rihanna”. Heaven knows what yoof code this is, but I have to smile and nod. Anything else would betray my thirtysomethingness.

[15] Ne-Yo, ‘Closer’

Ne-Yo

Hats in pop. It’s not fashion; these stars are bald as a cue ball. Pete Doherty, Captain Sensible, Linda Perry from 4 Non Blondes, Noddy Holder – all 100% cooters. In the comforting warmth of the studio, while penning and producing songs for the likes of Britney Spears, Paula Abdul, Rihanna and Beyoncé (the peerless ‘Irreplaceable’), Ne-Yo can let his chrome dome run free. But get him up on stage, and those spotlights aren’t going to stand for it.

Sorry, the song: the first real heavyweight of the countdown, a shining example of black American music’s bold ambition, ‘Closer’ is an r’n’b tune in pumping dancefloor clothing. It oozes confidence even as Ne-Yo bemoans his powerlessness.

This was one for the iPod on the bus, as Junior sat and listened carefully. I tapped her on the shoulder a minute or so in and asked if she knew what the song was: “Closer,” was the matter-of-fact reply – and I don’t think I’ve ever played it to her before. She announced it was “dancey”, which I suppose would please the lad.

The Ting Tings, ‘That’s Not My Name’

As the 1969 Top 20 hobbles to a thrilling conclusion, we’re hop-skip-jumping all the way to the present and a record that Junior went loopy for when it appeared on one of those new-fangled MTV channels last week. We’re even a bit slow off the mark here, as it’s been toppled from an unlikely chart summit by hit machine Rihanna, but it’s still the breakthrough smash of the year – a grand departure from its achingly hip, limited 2007 run.

You’ve heard the comparisons – Blondie (yes, the cool-eyed Katie White is indeed blonde and, in a slightly darkened room, stunning), ‘Mickey’ (the star-jumping rhythm and lairy rap-song straight off Toni Basil’s much mis-(or not)-construed 1982 chartbuster), The Knack’s ‘My Sharona’ (that rhythm again, really, also massaged for Girls Aloud’s ‘No Good Advice’) – but, like the best pop puffery, ‘That’s Not My Name’ blends influences to form a monster that stomps, jerks, twitters and rocks in its own nation-enslaving way.

We’re mad for it right now, pure victims of hype if you see things through those spectacles. Sometimes there’s no hype without fire. As the record builds to its multi-layered, full-rocking coda, Junior’s reaction is a spinning, leaping, head-shaking frug from dining room to living room – pop star in infancy.

And while we’re sojourning in 2008, here are some of her other recent pop moments:

– “She’s got hair like me” to Diana Ross gamely keeping it all together in the ‘Chain Reaction’ video
– “Black and gold, black and gold, black and gold – that’s your favourite, Daddy” (not sure who’s feeding her these lies)
– Sticking her hand in the washing machine for the nth time one day, she’s told to leave it alone before defiantly reaching in again and pulling out the new Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan album

For Junior, music is everywhere.