Counting Stars vs. Demons

Counting stars vs demons by thebutterfly-d6xkz4p.jpg

Date Aired
December 11, 2013
Running Time
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Todd plays "Counting Stars" on the piano...


...holds chord....


...and plays "Demons"

A pop song(s) review

Todd: Ladies and gentlemen, rock music is not dead. No, no, despite what you may have heard, it is still alive. Long live rock! [pause] Well, "rock."

Clip of The Neighbourhood - "Sweater Weather"

Todd (VO): Okay, I do still cover the Hot 100 here; so yes, when I say, "rock," I don't mean anything more hardcore than [picture of...] the Lumineers. But hey, in this world of manufactured pop stars and droning dance beats, it turns out there's still room in it for a group of musicians playing real instruments and writing their own music.

Todd: I say we count it. I'll take what I can get.

Clip of Avicii - "Wake Me Up"

Todd (VO): Look, I'm a rock guy at heart. I mean, I try not to be too much of a boring traditionalist, but all this EDM stuff really getting to me. No mas, no mas. Just give me the same ol' crap I'm used to, damn it, and let it never change. And didn't there use to be ...

Todd: ...rock bands who were also big name pop stars that everyone knew? W...why don't we have bands like that anymore?

Clip of performance by...

Todd (VO): I guess you could count Maroon 5, but you probably shouldn't because Maroon 5 isn't actually a real band anymore. They're not even real people anymore. Look at that, it's clearly just CGI. Shopped!

Todd: But as far as any other bands having pop success, there are actually a couple still out there, and both of them are in the Top 10 right now. So why don't we look at these two bands keeping real music in the popular consciousness. The first is hot up-and-coming indie act, Imagine Dragons.

Hits button on keyboard, producing kids screaming, "YAY!"

And the other is adult-alternative B-listers and part-time songwriters-for-hire, OneRepublic.

Hit button, producing boos.

Clips of Imagine Dragons - "It's Time" and OneRepublic - "All the Right Moves"

Todd (VO): Now I have discussed both of these bands briefly—Imagine Dragons was on my Best list last year, and OneRepublic were on my Worst list a couple years before that. But in case you missed them, let's compare the two.

Todd: Imagine Dragons and OneRepublic come from different scenes.

Respective clips of "On Top of the World" and "Stop and Stare"

Todd (VO): The former got popular in the fun./Gotye indie boom of last year. OneRepublic, meanwhile, came up a few years earlier in the post-Coldplay, Grey's Anatomy soundtrack, adult-alternative scene that came up around '06 and '07. [Clip of "It's Time"] Now these scenes are honestly not all that different musically, but the more recent crop had much more of a willingness to take risks, to do something unexpected, to not just try [clip of "Radioactive"] the same thing everyone else is doing. I mean, Imagine Dragons' biggest hit so far is about nuclear holocaust. [Album cover of How to Save a Life by...] You're not gonna see The Fray doing that.

Todd: To its credit, OneRepublic did also take pains to stand out.

Clip of "Apologize"

Todd (VO): Uh, the biggest thing was that they were more than happy to borrow a few moves from hip-hop production, most notably by working with Timbaland. To me, though, that made them seem even less distinct. In their efforts to blend all genres, they come across as this thin, watery mush of everything. They're just a...

Todd: ...dull, weak sauce band. Like, even the name is bad. [Respective band logos] It stinks of corporate marketing, with that stupid capital letter in the name of it. Just pisses me off, looking at it. "OneRepublic." That's the name of a bank, goddammit.

Now, Imagine Dragons, there's a band name. Just...imagine. [ Picture of happy dragon] Dragons. Not just a great name for a rock band, also just good advice in general. Having a bad day? [Clip from Dragonheart] Imagine dragons. Dragons are awesome! [ciip of CG-animated Trogdor turning to breathe fire towards the screen]

And you're gonna see how awesome when we compare the two. First up, we've got OneRepublic's probably garbage, boring, secretary-rock, middle-of-the-road, garbage garbage-fest. Let's hear how that sounds.

Video for "Demons"
Dan Reynolds: When the days are cold
And the cards all fold
And the saints we see

Todd: Pssh!

Dan: When you feel my heat
Look into my eyes
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide

Todd (VO): Oh my God, this is even worse than I expected. This sucks.

Todd: Jesus Christ, could you possibly put less effort into a song than this?

Todd (VO): You guys wanted to prove you weren't just Coldplay wannabes, you just failed miserably.

Todd: Imagine Dragons, show them how it's done.

Video for "Counting Stars"
Ryan Tedder: I feel something so wrong
By doing the right thing

Todd is getting into it

Lately I been, I been losing sleep
Dreaming about the things that we could be
But baby, I been, I been prayin' hard

Todd starts snapping his fingers

OneRepublic: Take that money
Watch it burn
Sink in the river
The lessons I learned

Todd (VO): That's a song. See, that's how you make music, that gets people excited.

Todd: Not like that awful other thing.

Dan: I wanna hide the truth
I wanna shelter you

Todd (VO): Okay, the one thing I liked about that OneRepublic song is that lead singer Ryan Tedder has finally put some passion into his voice, but that's it. Actually, he kinda sounds like the guy from Imagine Dragons.

Dan: It's dark inside

Todd (VO): Actually, he even kinda looks like the guy from Imagine Dragons.

Todd: Actually, he, uh... wait.

Single cover of "Demons", revealing it is, in fact, Imagine Dragons
Dan: When you feel my heat

Todd (VO): Wait, seriously?

Todd: And the other one...

Single cover of "Counting Stars" by...OneRepublic
OneRepublic: Lately, I've been, I've been losing sleep

Todd:, no, wait, wait. So, so...

Todd (VO): ...the cool one with the interesting music is by OneRepublic, and Imagine Dragons are the ones doing that nothingburger dirge over there? What? What?! No way, no, no, 'cause...

Todd: ...both songs sound exactly, no joke, like what I imagined the other one would. Did [clip from...] some kind of weird Freaky Friday thing happen? It did, didn't it?

[gathering himself] I have to recalibrate here. No, no, you know, actually, now that I think about it, I don't know why I'm surprised, because my opinions of them have been slowly, kind of reversing. And I didn't actually like "Radioactive" that much.

Clip of "Radioactive"
Imagine Dragons: Radioactive, radioactive

Todd (VO): It just...wore out on me pretty quick. It's a little too slow, it's not powerful enough to match what it was trying to do. And meanwhile, [clip of...] "Good Life", which, you know, wasn't anything special, but it kinda grew on me a little with its happy positivity. Yeah. This makes me feel like going to Disneyland, for some reason.

Todd: So, I...I guess I kinda see how we got to...

Videos shown stacked

Todd (VO): ...this point, but I'm still really surprised. So, maybe we should look at the lyrics? Okay, these are gonna be a little difficult to parse out because they're both a little oblique 'cause rock music doesn't feel the need to spoon-feed you what the damn song's about, unlike everything else I cover. Well, we can pick up some themes here.

Ryan: Lately I been, I been losing sleep (hey!)
Dreaming about the things that we could be

Todd (VO): So Ryan Tedder is singing he has dreams.

Ryan; Said no more counting dollars
We'll be counting stars

Todd (VO): Dreams that could launch him into the stars.

Ryan: And I feel something so wrong
By doing the right thing
Everything that kills me makes me feel alive

Todd (VO): And it could be the wrong thing, but it makes him feel alive. No more counting dollars, i.e., no more overly concerned with money, no more doing the safe thing, shoot for your dreams.

Todd: So, OneRepublic write a song about the need to break away from the safe moneymaking thing, and came up with their first good, creative song. Well hey, looks like that risk paid off. Man...

Clip of One Direction - "Best Song Ever"

Todd (VO): ...I'm being awfully pleasantly surprised lately by things I hate that begin with "one." Maybe I should try...

Todd: ...watching One Tree Hill again. No.

Meanwhile, what is Imagine Dragons singing about?

Imagine Dragons: Look into my eyes
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide

Todd (VO): He's showing you where his demons hide.

Dan: Don't wanna let you down
But I am hell bound

Todd (VO): Seems to be an apology for his...demons, his own venial sins, what exactly?

Imagine Dragons: No matter what we breed
We still are made of greed
This is my...

Todd (VO): You mean "greed" as in blatant money-grubbing that leads one to sell out their artistic integrity?

Todd: 'Cause I'm definitely getting that from this song. This is just the blandest thing. It''s just boring, uncreative, lifeless, bog-standard adult-alternative complete with the famous four chords of pop. [Single bar of Nick Long's "Four Chord Song" over opening of Journey - "Don't Stop Believing"] Pop song ch-- AAAAHHHH!!!

Look, the reason I keep bringing up the four chords thing is that it is really overused, and you do notice it even if you don't realize it.

Clip of Blink-182 performance on The Tonight Show

Todd (VO): I was fourteen when I picked up Blink-182's Enema of the State, and I didn't know anything about music theory then.

Todd: I mean, I barely know anything about it now,...

Todd (VO): ...but I could tell that most of the songwriting and composing was painfully amateur. Even if you know nothing about the circle of fifths or whatever, [clips of Florida Georgia Line ft. Nelly - "Cruise" and Miley Cyrus - "Wrecking Ball"] there is still a little receptor in your head somewhere that says, "this doesn't sound very complex or creative to me," even if you don't consciously think about it.

Todd: You know, like in Fight Club.

Clip from Fight Club: the movie theatre scene. "Four Chord Bar" briefly appears.
Narrator (Edward Norton): Nobody knows they saw it, but they did.
Little girl cries

Todd (VO): Not that every four-chord song is bad, but you gotta do something to liven it up, and Imagine Dragons has utterly refused to. The music is boring, and it's not like the words are redeeming either. The lyric structure is actually really corny.

Dan: When the days are cold
And the cards all fold
And the saints we see
Are all made of gold
When your dreams...
Clip from Daria - "Is It Fall Yet?" The song is Mystik Spiral - "Freakin' Friends"
Trent: When the whip comes down
When they nuke the town
When dead clowns can't clown
Mystik Spiral: We'll still be freakin' friends

Todd: Now OneRepublic, meanwhile, actually seem to be trying.

Todd (VO): It's a song about risk and excitement, and it sounds like it. They went out on a limb and did something entirely different.

Todd: [beat] Okay, maybe I'm overselling it a little.

Todd (VO): This isn't some avant-garde, retro-thrash, Latin jazz or anything.

Ryan: Take that money, watch it burn.

Todd (VO): Yeah, no, I get the feeling Ryan Tedder didn't record this song risking his personal fortune and future. There wasn't a crowd of concerned people going...

Todd: ..."you're a fool, Tedder! A madman!"

OneRepublic: Take that money, watch it burn

Todd (VO): "Take that money, watch it burn." That is something that could only be written by someone who has already made a lot of money.

Clip of "Good Life"
OneRepublic: This is gonna be a good life

Todd (VO): "Good Life" too. Unless he's going full MC Hammer, I think Ryan Tedder won't ever have to worry about paying the rent.

Todd: Listen, that's not a knock on the song, by the way; I like the song. OneRepublic are getting better the richer and more successful they get. That never happens. They're like [then-and-now pics of...] Metallica in reverse.

Todd (VO): And where "Counting Stars" actually does shoot for the stars, "Demons" absolutely does not live up to its name, musically or lyrically. [Clip of...] Like, you look at "Radioactive", that was a song about the end of the world coming about an explosion of toxic chemicals and radiation and garbage, and that's exactly what it sounded like. "Demons" is a song about being dragged down from heaven by all your flaws and failings, explicitly your demons, and it sounds like nothing. The sound of your song should evoke something, but there's no imagery like that in "Demons".

Todd: Listening to this does not make me imagine any [pictures of] demons, and it certainly doesn't make me imagine any [picture of Deathwing from World of Warcraft] dragons. Let me try. [Brief images of Hefty trash bags, Clippy, and Taylor Lautner] Nothing.

So let me recap here.

Todd (VO): OneRepublic make a song about the need to boldly step away from the safe things that make you money, and they actually make a creative and good song for once; whereas Imagine Dragons write a song about living in a world where everyone, including them, will disappoint you with their corruption and greed, and they write an incredibly disappointing sellout song. Wow, it's like a self-fulfilling prophecy, jeez.

Todd: Maybe if I stop constantly making jokes about how broke and alone I am, I'll stop being broke and alone. [Sighs]

Todd (VO): Look, I don't wanna hype up "Counting Stars" too much. It's not great, but it's good, and it's certainly better than most of what I get from pop music or from OneRepublic. I mean, I respect taking risks, so OneRepublic gets off the shit list. Congratulations. You guys are no longer the poor man's Snow Patrol.

Todd: You are now [picture of family] the middle-income earner's Snow Patrol! And as for you, Imagine Dragons.

Todd (VO): I feel betrayed by this. Christ, I mean, I stood up for you! I put you on my Top 10 list last year, and I stand by it, but... man, what a disappointment these guys turned out to be.

Todd: I can't believe I wasted a draft pick on them. I'm getting killed in my fantasy good music league.

Todd (VO): Look, maybe it was a fluke. Maybe Imagine Dragons will realize how bad this is, maybe they'll decide they have to work harder, be more creative, and make it up to the people like me who were disappointed in them and try to apologize.

Todd: But you know what? As my new favorite band, OneRepublic, once said.

Clip of "Apologize"
Ryan: It's too late to apologize

Todd: So there. Pfft! "Demons". What demons? Demons sucking? Christ.

Gets up and leaves

OneRepublic: Take that money
Watch it burn
Sink in the river
The lessons I learned
"Demons" ends

Closing tag song: Jodie Foster & Barbara Harris - "I'd Like to Be You for a Day"

"Counting Stars" is owned by Mosely/Interscope Records
"Demons" is owned by KIDinaKORNER/Interscope Records
This video is owned by me

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