Friday, May 31, 2013

Catchy Single or Nostalgia Taken Too Far? A Critical Examination of Ariania Grande's "The Way" featuring Mac Miller

There was a song I kept hearing on the radio that at first I thought must be some old Mariah Carey song from the 90's or early 00's. Then I got to thinking about how I didn't recognize the rapper's voice, and instead of sounding quite like a Mariah Carey song, it sounded as if a slightly higher-pitch voice was in fact singing--and that piano riff was way too reminiscent of the classic Big Pun song, "Still Not A Player" for me to ignore. Here's a video of the song in all its 90's-feeling glory:

Therefore, I did a bit of digging and lo and behold I discovered that, "The Way" is the title of the song and it is in fact sung by some young lady named Ariana Grande. Grande is apparently a popular teen-star on Nickelodeon. She's almost 20 so the songs I was reminded of this new jam sounding like would have been on the radio while she was in diapers or quite possibly before she was born--God, I feel old, and I'm just 25.  The rapper is a slightly-older (aged 21) gentleman named Mac Miller and has been rapping since he was a teenager, so kudos to him for having good-if-not-great raps.

So, let's step back and examine what we have here. A young singer with a wide vocal range on a catchy R&B single with a guest rapper providing some rhymes. I can't be the only one getting flashbacks to Mariah Carey's stuff? Seriously, let's just examine the "Fantasy" remix with the ever-incredible and still-missed Ol' Dirty Bastard:

Interesting, wouldn't you say? I'm not the only person to notice how old-school this sounds, and it gets me wondering, is this nostalgia taken too far?

Let's give this thing the benefit of the doubt first. This song maybe isn't just a cash-in on older folk's nostalgia and young kid's love of bubbly pop, perhaps it genuinely is being done as a sort of homage to the old songs it is reminiscent of? It states at the start it is intentionally going "way back," so that must mean something? Plus, Mac Miller actually spits the line, "I'm not a player, I just crush a lot (although the video edits out "crush" for some reason)," as if he wants us to know how he is aware that piano riff sounds straight outta the original joint. Ariana at the end of the track does some high-pitched wailing as Mariah would often engage in at the end of a song, too. Yeah, maybe this a true tribute piece? Eh, its probably just cashing in on my and other folk's love of things from the past, AKA nostalgia.

Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. Anyone of a certain age longs for the things of their youth. Just as I feel the music of the 90's and very early 00's had the best rap and rock, in a few years when kids are my age they will fondly recall the days of LMFAO and Taylor Swift while dismissing the new music as dull noise.* That makes this song interesting, because while it clearly appeals to today's youth it also is something I find myself really liking. I know I should be offended at this faux-90's song, which is basically taking old things I like and repackaging them for a new generation...but isn't that a lot of today's entertainment?
The New Star Treks. Playing to older fans' nostalgia and the eagerness of younger fans to see stuff blow up, but in the end still making something decent.
How many movies are remakes, reboots, or at the very least liberally borrow from past films? How much of the original rap music I so love wasn't just sampling other beats to create something new? Let's think this over, and it becomes apparent we can't be too mad at this song for existing--it merely is continuing the time-honored trend of taking old things, polishing them up, and giving them to us as new. Plus it is just so damn catchy.

"The Way" is most likely not so much a tribute to classic tracks as it is a somewhat soulless cash-in on nostalgia and kid's today not knowing how unoriginal this song is. Even if this is just the cynical use of a teen starlet the youth love to sell as many iTunes singles as possible, I can't deny that the part of me that longs for those old days really likes this song. It may be an imitation of the old good stuff with a slightly weaker singer and decent-enough rapper, but I guess due to nostalgia I'll accept even "substitute" meat instead of the real stuff--with meat in this case being quality music. This may be nostalgia taken to a dangerous extreme, and I may be embarrassed to say it, but I really like this song and how it makes me feel young again. I guess I'll just put this on the list of my guilty pleasures.

*Side Note: This isn't the complete case, as while I do tend to prefer music from when I was a youth, I still quite enjoy some modern acts and really adore a variety of quite old stuff that predates me by decades, e.g. Miles Davis is the bomb. Still, other than some notable enjoyment of much older music and some new music, the majority of my favorite stuff is indeed from when I was a teenager and child.

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