Friday, July 31, 2009

Summer Jam 2009 Candidate #3 - Medina - Kun For Mig

One of the things I can do at my job that looks like work but isn't actually is keeping careful and obsessive track of the ,iTunes charts. I don't know how familiar you are with the way they do it, but basically you can see, on any day, the top ten songs divided by country. The US charts are rarely all that interesting, but ability to see them against the international charts is a truly fascinating study. You can see the Black Eyed Peas at #1 at almost every country, followed by #2s that are as diverse as the countries actually ought to be. Usually the #1s are somehow identifiable, either as successful songs from internationally appealing artists, or as quickly overturning local hits. Denmark though, had an especially resilient local #1 for a few months this summer - "Kun For Mig" by Medina. I was intrigued, and, after encouragement from the Singles Jukebox, I checked it out.

There's the back story. Now, let's talk about what a great song "Kun For Mig" is, and forget for a minute about Summer Jam status and what have you.

It's a Danish dance track that builds to a chorus but never totally explodes. It runs on a deep, unsyncopated bass and bass drum pattern, synths that wouldn't be out of place anywhere, and some strings. It's clinical and chilly, while being intensely easy on the ears and rewarding on repeated listening, not unlike minimal house with a hook.

It's the second coming of Everything But the Girl's "Missing" as far as I'm concerned. [If "Missing" has already come a second time and I missed it - this is entirely possible, by the way. I'm entirely confident that someone in Italy or Britain has put together a track in the past 15 years that blends understated romantic melancholy with cool, vaguely disaffected yet emotive vocals and subtle, effective house music in a similar way to Everything But the Girl's classic, but I haven't heard it. Anyway, let me know where I can find it if it exists. Otherwise I'll just keep listening to "Kun For Mig".]

Like "Missing", it has a relatively slight and reproducible track, but the vocal saves the track from the banality into which these sort of songs all too easily slip. "Missing" feels like a club track that becomes a pop song just because it's so fucking good - you could take that groove and run it for 10 minutes, building it up and breaking it down into the vocal a few times, segueing it back into something else, bringing it back, and I'm sure there's a remix out there that does this very well. "Kun For Mig" seems to be the opposite, though. Listening to it, you do feel like you want it to go on longer, but it's structure is so entrenched in the ABABCB pop/rock structure that you're loath to concede more time to it. It's a pop song the evokes the feeling of a club, I guess similar to the way that trip hop was a genre built around being club songs you couldn't play in a club. Again, no doubt a remix has already fixed this and it's tearing up European discos as we speak.

Which brings us to the fact that, yeah, she's singing in Danish. Well, let's not deny that there's an exoticism going on here that makes "Kun For Mig" especially attractive to a non-Danish speaker. But this couldn't be farther from "Dragostea Din Tei".

"Dragostea Din Tei" was a joke - an entirely different sort of European dance music vacationism. You could sense that even though the lyrics were in Bulgarian (right?) they wouldn't be important even if you could understand them. The few intelligible parts of the song hinted at a vacuity that was hidden only be the inability to comprehend the rest of the lyrics - "Hallo. Salut." Plus there's no way "myahee myahoo myaho myaha-ha" means anything in any language.

There's nothing to hang your hat on in "Kun For Mig", unless you count the similarity of the Danish word "for" with the English word "for". It may as well be instrumental, if it wasn't for the clarity and purpose you can feel behind the vocal performance. Restrained, sure, but there's a sense of meaning that comes through without lyrics screwing the whole thing up. Where O-Zone (I almost called them O-Town LOL) works in the universal language of empty lyricism, Medina shows that it doesn't have to be like that, even in a pop song.

So yeah, you can get the same voyeuristic, "aren't I cool for liking this obscure foreign song" thrill while singing along to "Kun For Mig", while also identifying with something beyond a catchy keyboard lick.

But how is "Kun For Mig" a Summer Jam?

Fucked if I know. It lacks cathartic power, any reference to summer, any appeal in the realm of "too stupid to think about", and the sound of it certainly doesn't conjure anything particularly sunny. As such, it seems more suited to the Autumn Jam discussion. But it has been the coolest summer on record here in New York, so I chalk its appeal up to that. A cop out? Sure, but this song is totally worth copping out for.

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