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That's what you call music? Really?


Various Artists, "Now That's What I Call Music" 61 (Sony/Universal).

In the newest "state of pop music" recording in the "NTWICM" in the series, the state of pop music is not especially interesting. We need to know, I suppose, just how much Bruno Mars sounds like a plausible version of Michael Jackson would sound if he had made it into our current decade. But then we also need to know how much Kendrick Lamar, next door, owes to Jackson too.

That's what these anthologies are , among other things, so that's why you see them on sale next to the checkout counter at the grocery store (and most other places where Americans consume.) They're Grammy shows in a jewel box. I would love to know what Alessia Cara's voice would sound like without autotune. I also would love to know what Patti LaBelle makes of Fifth Harmony's "That's My Girl" -- if she makes anything at all.

Guest stars are commonplace these days. Why? It's one way producers can reaffirm they're in charge. So there's Nicki Minaj with Ariana Grande; Justin Bieber with DJ Snake; Daft Punk with The Weeknd; Gucci Mane with Rae Sremmurd etc. These's a fair amount of mildy listenable speaker-fodder for a post-hip-hop era here but almost nothing actually good besides Fifth Harmony. Those here include D.R.A.M featuring Lil Yachty (their song is called, yes, "Broccoli"), Jon Bellion, Hey Violet, Shawn Mendes and including newbies Citizen Four, Maggie Rogers, Urban Cone and others.

A good portrait of pop performers so over-produced and over-determined that they're in virtual stasis.

2 1/2 stars (out of four)


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