One might be tempted to think that the hashtag in will.i.am’s newest album title is a hollow attempt to call reference to the Twitter-friendly zeitgeist of the time and thereby posture itself as something relevant and connected to our culture while masking a core of general emptiness and mediocrity.
One would be right to do so.
The will.i.am empire has risen as much from his marketing saavy as his musical talent (honestly, probably more so), and #willpower smacks of something crafted in a Madison Avenue boardroom by middle-aged executives hoping to connect to the youth of the world without actually saying anything of importance, all while raking in as much of their disposable income as possible. It’s got starpower(tm)! It’s got inoffensive, vacuous themes that people like (“Be yourself!”, “I’m with all my friends!”, “I can fly!”)! It’s got easy to digest club beats that benefit from speaker distortion and an atmosphere that disuades actually thinking about them! Such broadbased appeal is hard to argue against, and it’s going to sell well and dominate the weekend playlists of every twenty-something and seedy dance clubs from coast to coast. So in that regard, congratulations, will!
But from an artistic standpoint, there’s next to nothing here. Lyrically, it’s a wasteland. Think “I Got a Feeling” levels of emptiness. “Scream & Shout” manages to convey little more than reminding us we are with both will.i.am and Britney Spears (bitch). “Great Times are Coming” celebrates the impeding “good, good night” that always happens when you and your sorority sisters pound a bunch of low-calorie flavored vodka and then go clubbing. It also manages to state that will.i.am has “big dreams like Martin Luther King”, who I’m sure would have loved having his civil activism compared to making millions by pandering to the masses.
The Beiber-anchored “#thatPOWER” (hashtags and wacky capitalization!) strings together fortune cookie sayings about self-empowerment. And “Geekin'” is a laundry list of half-thought-out references to technology thrown into a blender that teeters ever so delicately on the edge of self-parody. They even borrow the Intel jingle and name-drop Google. Brilliance! And my absolute favorite track (#sarcasm), “The World is Crazy”, makes “Where is the Love” seem like seering political insight thanks to its lazy references to current events like school shootings, unemployment, and Bin Laden (“No education for the kids got me so annoyed” is breathtaking in its idiocy).
So without any lyrical substance, we’re left with the beats. And when they’re not
stealing borrowing from other artists without permission (here’s looking at you, “Let’s Go”), they’re mostly functional but uninspiring. Some tracks, like the Miley Cyrus guest starring “Fall Down”, work well inside the dance-pop genre. Others, like the closer “Ghetto Ghetto”, are absolutely aggravating (tinny piano and an off-key toddler singing, hooray!). There’s an over-reliance on shout along hooks repeated to the point of inanity (see “Scream & Shout”, “Hello”, and “Love Bullets”). Every single track somehow manages to out stay its welcome, despite the fact that some never really make an attempt to justify their presence.
But at the end of the day, the songs are (barring a few exceptions) danceable, enough to guarantee a long reign in dance club rotations. For his intended audience, I’m sure #willpower will be a home run. Is it a bad album? Yes! But who cares, I guess, as long as its profitable. You know will.i.am by now, and you know what to expect. If his brand of empty pop-craft is up your alley, you’ll probably enjoy adding half these tracks to your weekend party mix. But if you view will.i.am as all that is wrong with modern pop production, all you’ll find here is some more supporting evidence for your thesis.
So let’s leave it with this rule of thumb: if you don’t have a favorite flavor of Smirnoff or a designated clubbing outfit, you’d best stay far, far away.
Final Grade: D