Turn up the lights in here, baby / extra bright, I want y’all to see this / turn up the lights in here, baby / you know what I need, want you to see everything / want you to see all of the lights – Kanye West, “All of the Lights”
Justin Bieber and Drake, Drake and Justin Bieber… Our neighbors to the North brought a bit of the every-Canadaian to American mainstream this year: Thank Me Later emerged as an emo-rap twist on Jagged Little Pill for the Tumblr generation, while Bieber Fever took stranglehold on a nation of young girls nary seen since the grip of Avril Lavigne’s necktie. Amidst all of Pop’s flashing lights surfaced these two – millions of teenagers’ charming knights, with legendary musical vises in tow as their shield. If the market was a castle, these two boys would be the steady fixture beside every princess’ canopy; this debonair duo amidst the still dark of the room are her pseudo-safety nets, and in reality nary more than her mere nightlights.
Ah yes, Justin Bieber… from the pixie frame, glassy eyes, lucid skin, and soprano voice, he is the spinning image of a miniature lightbulb – transparent and empty, emanating a subdued pure glow. Put him behind the vibrant shields of iconic figures, though – Ludacris, Usher, Kanye, Diddy – and he displays a magnificent display of soft colors and caricatures upon which a sea of princesses can gaze eternally for nights on end. Close your eyes, open your ears and hear his world of hollow harmonies; blink: eyes wide behind 3D spectacles and experience Justin Bieber 2.0 – a white dwarfed black hole pulling the Pop universe into oblivion.
Drake… the young boy trapped in an old man’s body. Physically, his worn face at 24 conveys the gravity-stricken profile of an elder three times his age. Musically, he brings a softened tone to boss beats, crooning over Jay-Z verses, junior jabbing punchlines between Rick Ross and Young Jeezy – his monotone signature timbre runs like a fifth grade “If I had a million dollars” essay, but instead of dollars he has cosigns – like a Make-A-Wish mixtape-maestro-for-a-day behind the blessing of barons. Mr. Carter to Dr. Carter, Kanye to Khaled, Jeezy to Mary J – the list continues… Drake is defined by, and projects the ideals of, his senior shields – but as a green apprentice – they are his cover, but he is the light behind the screen. Drake displays broadly the glory of those hip-hop artists that came before him – but those who never had the veneer to venture into the great crystal castles of complete crossover – yet he alone is blank. His voice pulls listeners through tales of lavish life and lovelorn lamentations of past romances; in one breath he speaks of “doin’ it faster than anyone” overnight success, and in the next he commiserates of how long it took, the endless years of struggles – cursed these gifted legs of mine! those agile wonders which make it easier to be the eternal runaway lover… heartbreak drake. Forever pursuing whatever it is he’s told he should be in pursuit of, at the end of the day even he has his doubts: “Thank Me Later: yeah, I know what I said – but later doesn’t always come – so instead, it’s okay: you could thank me now;” because after all is said and done, later rarely comes for the short-lived lights… while legendary flames blaze forever.
So we were left listening to the sounds of lullaby pop that lulls one into a catatonic slumber before drifting off into a magical land of nothing to something, where hype and hearsay are historic, cosigns are credibility, puffery becomes prophecy, and inflated falsifications (just bent truths – not broken, necessarily) are fundamentals. A place where depending on the case or cover, the display changes, like a counterfeit chameleon shifting veneers beneath veiled vises. How quickly those benign nightlights become iconographic when fallen beneath the focus of the spotlight, when adolescent ambiguity blankets the nation. Here we have boys, as much empty luminescent orbs behind conservator covers, as they are the softening shades easing their mentors’ messages into the the formerly forbidden mainstream.