*NSYNC — “Pop”
EVE (featuring Gwen Stefani) — “Let Me Blow Ya Mind”
R. KELLY — “Fiesta Remix (featuring Jay-Z)”

‘Besides, who’s really looking for a scorching indictment of the world in pop music these days, anyway?’

Well, Mr. Battaglia, no one that I know of — how about a lukewarm pisstake on pop culture instead? Maybe *NSYNC confused ‘pop’ with ‘smack’, given all the junk they talk — ‘We’re just doing what we like; can we say the same for you?’ I thought it was all about respect; that’s just plain rude, though.

Maura’s right – it is odd to hear Justin check ‘the ice around my neck’, especially in a song that mixes a two-step backing with played-out patois about the hard-knock life of being a pop star. That’s so hip-hop. It all comes back to what Robert Christgau said about the Next Big Thing in a recent Salon interview:

‘I never prophesy. I’ve been saying hip-hop, hip-hop, hip-hop, hip-hop for a long time, and now I’ll say hip-hop, hip-hop, hip-hop, hip-hop.’

Gift of melody notwithstanding, the one thing that keeps me from totally tuning out ‘Pop’ is its hip-hop elements — the boasting, the scratching, the ‘dirty pop’ element. (And isn’t ‘dirty pop’ a great catchphrase for the current strand of uber-produced hip-hop that’s infiltrated the charts? Insidious, crystal clean production backing up the balling & brawling of ‘that unsavory element’ your parents always told you to avoid’) As far as ‘Pop’ goes – the music’s great. The words, they ain’t. If only Justin & Co. tired of singing earlier in the song’ (You’d probably rather read what Tom had to say about this song, wouldn’t you? I know I would. Click here for the truth!)

But, you know, given that hip-hop already has a stranglehold on the charts, shifts millions of records a week, and is firmly entrenched in many critical circles as well, isn’t he just pointing out that the sun is blue? Or something? Especially now that hip-hop has acquired the gift of melody, thereby softening the harsh reality of the thug life. In her latest single, Eve’s pushing the chorus, in conjunction with Gwen Stefani, an unlikely partner-in-crime. (And Gwen’s been featured prominently in TWO singles — who cares if she doesn’t actually have “the voice”? She certainly has the “star quality”.) And the ladies know whereof they speak — ‘Don’t fight that good shit in your ear; now let me blow ya mind.’ That melodic nugget dropped in the middle of those laid-back Dre bleeps is sweeter than strawberry syrup; the verse where Eve starts singing as the oh!s float around her voice makes my teeth hurt. These sirens beckon my ship towards the rocks, and even tying me to the mast can’t keep me from running aground.

And then there’s R. Kelly, a man/island that could sing ‘Lady Godiva’s Operation’ with accompanyment by Einsturzende Neubauten and still shift units. Throw him in a Santana song, add a preamble by Jay-Z for the remix — it’s not rocket science. Ever since he ditched the movie soundtracks & the it’s-a-wonderful-world sentiment, R. can do no wrong. He sings the word ‘nizzight’ like a blissed-out Nate Dogg. He drops in the Chi-Lites reference that Hammer besmirched many moons ago without regret or remorse. He cusses as much as Eddie Murphy used to (when he was, you know, Richard Pryor funny). And my, my, my, my, when you put it all together, it’s a lilting tango that doesn’t make you think twice about what you & your honey are swaying to. See, Justin? It’s not what you’re saying; it’s how you say it. Like this – hip-hop, hip-hop, hip-hop, hip-hop.