I don't really know where it began in earnest. Of course it's been going on for a long time, but I don't know when it really took off, when people started to take notice -- I remember reading about it a few months ago in The New Yorker, and before that in a profile of T-Pain.
Ah, T-Pain. Maybe I don't know exactly what it is I love so much about you, maybe I never will. Yr music conjures drinks and dancefloors and the nighttime-as-the-righttime and excess and indulgence and fun -- little to none of the hazards, and when things go wrong it's funny, like "that'll be sixty bucks" and the one-drink-too-many. I think when I first heard you I must have thought This is so not me and at the same time I love this to death, what the fuck? In some crucial ways it is me because -- how do I say this -- I like being taken out of my element, I want to be bewildered once in a while.*
And "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)" is absolutely bewildering because it never lets up and yes it has hooks but it's more than that, it bleeds you to death before you even hit the bridge (which is AWESOME) and it's like everything I loved about that Basement Jaxx record Kish Kash condensed into one perfect pop song (almost?), a song that if it doesn't get you going it makes you feel helpless because what else could possibly get you going if not this? The first time I heard it was after they made fun of it on Saturday Night Live and all I could focus on was the dancing and how they looked like weird mechanized bird-humans running around in circles and WOW THIS RHYTHM IS HYPED UP and it was all very funny to me but now I hear this song on the radio and it feels like exploding non-stop for three-and-a-half too-short minutes. And when the hooks pile on at the end it's like Beyoncé is telling you this weird secret, unraveling this mystery: It's fabulously easy, you just need to sing all the best notes in the best way.
And then Kanye West comes in and he's melancholic and he's the biggest pop star in the world (right?) but he's a hip-hop star, I thought; and he's making a record about death and break-ups and fame and disappointment but none of that matters so much as the example he's setting as a pop star. And it's a good example: make what you want, what you're feeling. Get away from yr bread-and-butter, pivot toward yr milk-and-honey. West's first three albums are genius and he's always made it look easy, but this is more than just great music, this is his Sgt. Pepper, his Bringing it All Back Home, his middle finger to Nashville, his true colors in other words; and maybe the best part is the irrational distaste so many people are going to have for it and how he knew that and did it anyway. (Unbridled emotion and simplicity don't sit too well with the in-crowd. Or the critics. All the better.) This is what "psychedelic" should mean because it's an out-sized, out-of-body, larger-than-life thing that's going on and forget about wishing that Kanye was more humble or down to earth -- shine on, you crazy diamond.
*Addendum: On second glance that sounds like a shallow appreciation, and the last thing I want to suggest about this music is that it's somehow shallow, or that I think it's shallow. So let me clarify: I think it's GRAND, particularly because it does so completely what all my favorite music does, it transports you into a not-real-until-right-now place, and in T-Pain's case it's the club-circus, the bar-sitcom. Like a dreamy Alice-in-Wonderland vision of the best party ever. That's what it does for me. Down the rabbit hole...
More later this week! Finished with finals today, so I'll have more time.