The Second Coming, A Proud Slut and YouTube Stars: This Week's New Music Summarizes the Whole Year

This week, the music industry looks something like Christmas. It's not that the new music releases are gifts, per se (quite the contrary), but there are so damn many high-profile albums after a relatively dormant summer. This kind of flurry is usually reserved for the holidays. And what's more, together they give as full of a picture of the state of label-based pop music in 2012 as any recent concurrent set of albums. Really, all this week is missing is a neo-boy band. Let's explore:

Various Artists - G.O.O.D. Music: Cruel Summer

What it represents: Pathological arrogance

G.O.O.D. label founder Kanye West is obsessed with god these days – in virtually all of his verses on this album of guest spots (which is another thing that makes it so now), he mentions a higher power, always in reference to himself. "R. Kelly and the god of rap / Shitting on you, holy crap," he says during the epic opener "To the World." "I been talking to God for so long / And if you look at my life, I guess he's talking back / Fucking with my clique," he says in "Clique." And then, in the most hilariously over-the-top boast in a career of hilariously over-the-top boasting, in "The One," Ye reveals, "I'm the one, baby / Yeah, I'm the one, baby / Since God gave his only begotten son, baby."

Invoking Jesus isn't new to West's music ("Jesus Walks") or public persona (he posed in a crown of thorns on a 2006 cover of Rolling Stone), and so his current fixation and eventual self-coronation as the second coming aren't surprising. In fact, they're pretty dull. His playing God is more clever when it is subtle: His hand guides Cruel Summer (he has production credits on most of the tracks and executive produced the whole thing) and he pops up occasionally, Old Testament-Gold style.

The album is far from divine, though it at least sounds great, popping and ticking with 3D textures and rolling around in unexpectedly poignant atmospherics. It's not as artful as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but it's not as thoughtful, either. A bunch of great people like Jay-Z, Pusha T and The-Dream have assembled to rap and sing reflexive hymns about how great they are. OK. Whatever.

The album closes with a G.O.O.D. remix of Chief Keef's irritatingly tenacious "I Don't Like," in which Kanye delivers his final God metaphor: "The media crucify me like they did Christ / They want to find me not breathing like they found Mike." He complained like this on Watch the Throne, and it is exactly why he'll never be the great leader he wants to convince you he is: When you take the stands and jump up on the platforms that West has, you must prepare and accept the existence of the resulting criticism. He'll never turn the other cheek. All that God talk is ultimately a sign of deep mortality.

P!nk – The Truth About Love

What it represents: Unrepentant sluttiness

Pop divas used to hold grand ceremonies to announce their musical sexual awakenings. Think Madonna's "Justify My Love," Janet Jackson's janet. album, Mariah Carey diving into a pool and singing about semen, Christina Aguilera's chaps-clad ass wiggling in a boxing ring, Britney Spears' brandishing of a python on the VMAs stage. Perhaps this created an increased comfort and ease with the public discussion of women's sexuality, so that by the time Rihanna decided to sing about her taste in S&M, she slipped it onto an album of innocuous songs that mostly declared nothing otherwise. Ke$ha showed up on the scene looking like she got lost on a walk of shame, and then in her second single, "Blah Blah Blah," confirmed that, yep, she loves cock: "I don't really care where you live at / Just turn around boy and let me hit that / Don't be a little bitch with your chit chat / Just show me where your dick's at."

And so, on P!nk's sixth album, The Truth About Love, sandwiched between a glammy "So What"-reminiscent plea ("How Come You're Not Here?") and a 60's-sounding meditation on modern relationships ("The Truth About Love"), there is a song in which she announces to a one-night-stand, "I'm a slut like you!" She shrugs off men's expectations ("They think we fall in love, but that's not it / Just wanna get some, ain't that some shit?") and talks like Tarzan ("You, man, come now / You, caveman, sit down"). She blossoms just a bit further a few tracks later on "Walk of Shame", but that song is as breezyt as the rest of this overflowing collection of brash pop.

I've never heard any female singer with P!nk's audience refer to herself as a "slut," even though that kind of joyful embrace of sexuality is implicit in much pop music these days. P!nk is a degree of rebellion ahead of the curve. She's a rocker like Barbie and the Rockers were rockers, and she's as nonconformist as a punk who shops at Hot Topic. Her approach to self-esteem, though, in songs like "Stupid Girl," "U + UR Hand" and "Fuckin' Perfect," is accessible and pointed enough to be part of a nuanced revision of the Spice Girls' Girl Power. The progress is slight, but palpable.

Carly Rae Jepsen – Kiss and Kreayshawn – There's Something About Kreay

What they represent: YouTube celebrity

Carly Rae Jepsen and Kreayshawn are at opposite viral poles. In Jepsen's case, she conformed hard enough to create a pop smash that sounded immediately comfortable on the ears. Kiss further adheres to the "Call Me Maybe" template, with hooks that swoop so hard you feel them in your stomach and an endless deluge of house beats that rarely pound hard enough to pop Jepsen's bubblegum. Kiss is a disco album that falls somewhere between Kylie Minogue and Katy Perry with some EDM drops sprinkled throughout. Squeaky clean and endlessly peppy, this is Stepford house that exists to serve. It can be nonsensical ("I you cut a piece of guitar string, I would wear it like it's a wedding ring / Wrapped around my finger, you know what I mean: you make my heart sing"), shamelessly derivative ("What makes you so beautiful is you don't know how beautiful you are to me," she sings echoing One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful") and annoying in its repetitive enthusiasm, but there are a handful of tracks here that sound poised to make sure that "Carly Rae Jepsen" and "one-hit wonder" are never mentioned in the same sentence again — especially "Turn Me Up."

Kreayshawn, meanwhile, has a WTF-aesthetic that plays well online, inviting derision and then joyful derision and then just joy, as many found with her "Gucci Gucci." Her breakout "hit" (referring to it as such depends on your barometer – it peaked outside of the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100) worked in spite of her inadequacy as an MC.

But there aren't enough dubstep-inflected vibrations in the galaxy to cover up her album-long ineptness. There's Something About Kreay is the most awkward album I've heard all year, as its star can only manage to gnaw at words, at best – generally she just nags with a dead-eyed flow that gasps for life, lifting pitifully at the end of virtually every line. Her singing is worse and her lyrics are the worst, whether she's rhyming "money" with "money" or speaking directly to a season ("Hey summertime, I really think I'm feeling you / Especially when you shine those beams like you do"). She foolishly compares herself to Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes and Slick Rick: "So much gold around my neck, they callin' me Slick Rick the ruler." No they aren't, but if they were it would indeed be for reasons that have nothing to do with her rapping.

In all, a bunch of nice, ass-dropping beats that salute West Coast electro are wasted on Kreayshawn's apathetic delivery. There's something about this record that seems tailored to contrarian rock critics, but the rest of the world will forget it like most of the shit that makes them go, "Hmmm," and provokes no further thought.

The Killers – Battle Born and Nelly Furtado – Spirit Indestructible

What they represent: Old standbys in a new world

Barring some commercial or soundtrack placement, the new releases from yesteryear's no-brainers the Killers and Nelly Furtado won't likely win new fans. The Killers have brought on an army of producers, including Stuart Price, who helmed the Day & Age smash "Human," but Battle Born only gets about as dancey as Coldplay. This band is a group of veterans at this point, and nothing about this album sounds desperate – take them or leave them.

Furtado is more pop in nature and there are some overt attempts at hits here, including the flop first single "Big Hoops (The Bigger the Better)." As a vague purveyor of world music in pop, Furtado has been lapped and then some by the more adventurous M.I.A. at this point. She's too bland to be the weirdo that pop wants and too invested in sonics to approach the pasture of full-time adult contemporary. Risks, like the percussion-crash-based, sparse "Most Beautiful Thing," pay off but there aren't enough of them. Her voice, weirdly, sounds as vulnerable as her career. It's a nice parallel, but not exactly an enjoyable listen.

Vaguely honorable mention: David Guetta – Nothing But the Beat 2.0

What it represents: Dance music, which represents pop music in 2012

This rerelease came out last week, but it sums up the present state of pop music entirely too well to ignore in this piece. The album from French producer/DJ Guetta is a line of confections resulting from a cookie cutter that works so well right now: Find a star to sing over your slowly building dance song whose beat will cut out and then slingshot back harder then before. Repeat a few times and you have a song. Often times this will be a remarkably successful one: five songs here have gone Top 20 in the U.S. (four of them Top 10).

This is an album in the same way that Cruel Summer is an album, which is to say that it is not an album but a collection of singles maximized for commercial potential via their star power. However, Guetta's tendency to grind his synths loudly into your ears for a few bars after a song's hook lets you know who's really boss.

This album is not just responsible for era-defining hits like the Usher collaboration "Without You" and the true classic of the drop era, "Titanium" with Sia. Those songs are good pop songs, but there are plenty here that are not. The Nicki Minaj collaboration "Turn Me On" is one of the least pleasant listening experiences to enter the Top 5 in recent memory. It's a nonstop deluge of shrillness, from her wretched singing voice to Guetta's screaming synths. Even worse is "Where Them Girls At," on which Minaj also appears and starts her rapped verse this way: "Peebee, Peebee / Who's Peabo Bryson? Two years ago I renewed my license / Anyway why'd I start my verse like that?" She goes on to flirt with homophobia: "You can suck a dick, or you can suck on a ballsack / No, no I don't endorse that, pause that, abort that" (note that "pause" is a more delicate way of saying "no homo"). It exposes Minaj's performance and ideological inconsistencies and how greed has utterly demolished the concept of quality control in one talented person's career.

It also goes to show that Guetta can pummel you with drops all he wants, but his songs are only as strong as the star that's singing them. Nothing but the beat, my ass.

Note: One more mention goes to Grizzy Bear's album Shields, which came out this week and manages a delicate balance of accessibility and unpredictability. It's wild and beautiful and belongs to no particular time.

[Images via Getty]