It was bad enough when ABC unveiled will.i.am and Justin Bieber’s “#thatPOWER” as their official song for the playoffs, complete with a music video featuring the likes of Dwight Howard and Joakim Noah (and on the low end of the awkwardness spectrum, Zach Randolph and Brook Lopez) dancing and fake-balling with the Black Eyed Peas frontman, and followed by an increasingly uncomfortable in-game interview segment with Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen. Like most will.i.am-related songs (and all will.i.am solo singles), the song is mind-numbingly silly and irritating in a way that seems benign on first listen, but becomes distinctly unforgivable the 40th or 50th time around. Still, at least this was only the ABC song. You only hear that on the weekends in the playoffs, at least at first, and it never seems quite as pervasive as the then-yet-to-be-announced TNT song.
Sadly, the TNT song turned out to be nearly as bad. Rihanna’s “Right Now,” unofficial single off the Barbadian singer’s “Unapologetic” album, isn’t quite as stoopid as “#thatPOWER” — there’s no hashtags in the title, at least, and no boasts about “staying in fly attire” or “feeling funky fresh” — but it’s similarly uninspiring, and similarly grating with repeat listens. A collaboration with famed producer/DJ David Guetta, “Right Now” follows the established formula of Guetta vocal productions being inversely proportional in effort and creativity to the celebrity of the performer, so as you might guess, “Right Now” is exceedingly phoned-in and anonymous, with the same pre-Mayan Apoclypse (when recorded, anyway) lyrical fixation on PARTYING NOW NOW QUICK NOW WORLD ENDING as 65 percent of pop songs of the 2010s, and a hook so unimaginative as to be practically non-existent.
Compounding the general unlikability of both songs is that they’re basically unlikeable in the same way, as bottom-of-the-barrel by-products of the EDM moment in recent pop music. will.i.am and David Guetta were two of the guys most responsible for bringing European-styled electronic dance music back to the US pop charts, with their chart-topping (for 14 weeks!) collaboration on the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” helping to open the floodgates, and now both are milking the genre’s mainstream acceptance for all its worth, without exactly doing a ton to push things forward. The fact that both are showing up in promos for the playoffs for a major American sport (though at least Guetta’s creepy, zonked-out mug has been thankfully kept out of the TNT promos) is surely yet another peak in dance music’s all-out takeover of the country’s popular culture.
Like all NBA promo music, you rarely hear the songs in full over the course of games, or even for a verse at a time. More frequently, a single motif from the song is used coming in and out of bumpers and laced through pregame coverage. Since this is dance music in the 2010s we’re talking about, that of course means that all we usually really hear from either song is the break, a couple of bass-heavy, wordless drop sections with little to do with the primary melodies of their respective songs. Hear enough of both of them, and they start to sort of blend together in your head, until you forget which break belongs to which song (or maybe they’re actually secretly identical?). As Shaq would say, it’s a hell of a 1-2 punch.
Now, it could be worse. At least the EDM thing, even in its dumbest and most watered-down forms, is a real trend in contemporary pop, and will.i.am, Rihanna and David Guetta are all (for varying degrees of better or worse) figures of legitimate importance in the sound of modern-day Top 40. Considering that just a couple years ago, an equally annoying song from Lenny Kravitz (about a decade past his last period of true popularity) was the TNT theme of choice, this could be considered some kind of progress.
Still, it’s continually disappointing to me that the NBA doesn’t try harder to be … well, to be a little bit cooler. Not that they have to go with Danny Brown or Joey Bada$$ as the official musical spokesperson of the playoffs. But, like, why not go with something actual NBA players — and by extension, probably, most of their fans — would want to listen to? How hard would it have been to get Drake’s “Started From the Bottom?” Would one of A$AP Rocky’s or Kendrick Lamar’s more accessible songs have been completely beyond the pale? And if you had to go the EDM route, why not use Zedd’s slightly more interesting “Clarity,” as I initially predicted? Wouldn’t Icona Pop’s “I Love It” — a song with a proven track record of promotional success on TV — have been preferable to “Right Now” in every way? I just don’t get it.
I complain about this stuff a lot, just because I think the NBA could and should do better. If baseball, a sport that basically revels in its old-fashionedness, wants to keep alternating between Kid Rock, Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen for their promo music well into the 2030′s, that’s fine by me, but I expect basketball to be at least the slightest bit cutting edge. And that’s not Alicia Keys performing at All-Star halftime for the second time in four years, it’s not will.i.am rubbing shoulders with Blake Griffin in the name of the NBA postseason, and it’s not the sound of David Guetta’s wub-wubby bass lines 40 times a night over the playoffs’ first three rounds. Kurtis Blow must be rolling over in his grave.