You Belong on the Radio - 2004 Edition [2004 Week]

What will the top songs of 2004 tell us? Let’s find out!

Mario – Let Me Love You (US #1, UK #2, GER #1)

One of the most successful songs of 2004 gives us both some strange ideas about love and about women. The premise is that the narrator wants to tell a woman that she is with the wrong guy and should be with him instead (hence the title).

You're the type of woman

Deserves good things

Fistful of diamonds

Hand full of rings

Baby, you're a star

I just want to show you, you are

“Deserving good things” means objects of materialism, obviously. The strange thing is that earlier he argues that her current boyfriend cheats on her and he would never do that. Which makes sense in a way, but why is the next argument buying her diamonds and rings? Because that’s all women care about.

Your true beauty's description looks so good that it hurts

You're a dime plus ninety-nine and it's a shame

Don't even know what you're worth

Everywhere you go they stop and stare

'Cause you're bad and it shows

From your head to your toes, out of control, baby you know

Why is that woman so special? Well, because she is pretty. And “bad”, though I’m not sure if that also means pretty or, well, bad.

Oh baby good love and protection

Oh make me your selection show you the way love's supposed to be

Talking about protection and selection is the way love is supposed to be? I really hope not. But that’s how we view love in our culture, in terms of ownership and objectification, where you select your favorite product and protect it from being stolen or damaged.

Usher – Yeah! (US, UK, GER #1)

Again, this song is extremely persistent, since its opening beats can still be heard ten years later in endless movies and movie trailers. If you listen to the lyrics, it tells a fascinating tale about a man going to a club and meeting a woman and… see for yourself.

From the game she was spitting in my ear
You would think that she knew me
I decided to cheat, conversation got heavy
She had me feeling like she's ready to blow
Oh! She's saying "come get me!"

Yes, it’s another classic love story. Too harmless, you think? Well, there’s another great rap verse.

And RAWR! These women all on the prowl
If you hold the head steady, I'm a milk the cow
And forget about game, I'm a spit the truth
I won't stop till I get em in their birthday suits
So gimme the rhythm and it'll be off wit their clothes
Then "bend over to the front! and touch your toes!"
[…] We want a lady in the street, but a freak in the bed that say

Yes, that’s really something. Why shouldn’t a song with such demeaning, sexist and stupid lyrics be one of the most successful songs of this year? That last line really kills me because it’s so… stupid is all I can think of.

Green Day – Boulevard of Broken Dreams (US #2, UK #5, GER #13)

Different kind of music, different kind of song.

I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known
Don't know where it goes
But it's home to me and I walk alone
I walk this empty street
On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Where the city sleeps
and I'm the only one and I walk alone

You could view this as a song about going your own way even if no one agrees, but the title implies something else since why would you follow a path that is full of “broken dreams”? That then would mean that the narrator doesn’t know any other way, even if the one he is following doesn’t make him happy. That sounds more like growing up in our culture, in which we learn to have no hope, to be lonely and to know no other way.

Ciara feat. Petey Pablo – Goodies (US #1, GER #10)

This song is one of those tropes where a man and a woman are “battling” with their verses, usually about their relationship. I find that incredibly boring but this version is odd. He says things like

I got a sick reputation for handling broads
All I need is me a few seconds or more
And it's a wrap

So, the man only thinks of sex and what’s more he does only care about his own satisfaction. Impressive. She counters with:

If you ain't
Sexy, independent
I ain't wit' it so you already know.
I'm not being too dramatic that's the way I gotta have it
You may talk slick
Tryna hit
But I'm not dumb

No, it’s not dumb but still her main interest is that he is sexy and independent, a weird combination somehow. This goes on like this for a while and I really don’t understand it. Why pit two people against each other when there is no connection, no spark, no shared interests? He acts like the stupid male who only wants to fuck and she is the girl who “knows what she wants” and acts all hard-to-get. She comes away better than him, for sure, and I’m being more critical than her part probably deserves. She just asks to be respected for being picky and for not falling for this kind of crap. Maybe it’s weird because she doesn’t explicitly call him out for his sexist talk. The song seems more like two separate monologues than the dialogue it wants to be.

Maroon 5 – This Love (US #5, UK #3, GER #5)

It’s another one of these songs that you can’t get out of your head, that is impenetrable in its annoying endurance, in its power to make you want to sing along, no matter how much you hate it. It’s a break-up song, but an unusual one because it is about man ending a relationship because the woman wants too much sex.

I tried my best to feed her appetite
Keep her coming every night
So hard to keep her satisfied […]

My pressure on your hips, I'm sinking my fingertips into
Every inch of you
Cause I know that's what you want me to do

I don’t know why I find all of this somewhat absurd, but it is. Maybe it’s because it seems hard to believe, maybe because it doesn’t fit to the rest of the lyrics (I'll fix these broken things, repair your broken wings) or maybe just because of the line My pressure on your hips. Not to speak of the fact that for some reason the song centers around this on another weird idea of “love” that seems to depend solely on sex and misery.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, what does it say about our culture that its love songs are rarely about character traits, happiness or real world problems? That ignorance and pretense are clearly two of the pillars we founded a lot of ideas upon.