Now 25 (U.S.)

So I had a big holiday in America ten years ago, and while I was there I bought Now 25. 10 years on, it might be worth looking back.

They started doing Now That’s What I Call Music compilations in the U.S. in 1998. In the U.K. we were on about Now 40/41 at that point.

The cover for the American Now 25 goes for a beach balls in pool design. Now 67 in the U.K., released at around the same time mid-July 2007 had the same cover design, obviously with a different title.

I don’t know if things have changed since, but on Now 25 the first thing I noticed was that you don’t get as much as what you get in the U.K. version. There are only 20 tracks on one CD, in the U.K. it’s two CDs which tend to have 22 tracks each. Also in the American one the booklet just has the pictures of the album the track is taken from and the writing credits, no mini write-ups like you get in the U.K. version. Though nowadays the U.K. versions don’t give you the writing credits anymore.

The first track on Now 25 is by Fall Out Boy – ‘Thnks Fr Th Mmmrs’, or Thanks For The Memories. They just took the vowels out of the title. It was what txt spk on mobile phones (or should I say “cell phones” considering we’re talking about an American compilation?) was like at the time. As such, now it looks extremely dated. The song itself isn’t bad though. In fact, I think I like it more than I did at the time, when it came out it mostly passed me by. Lyrically it’s a bitter break-up song (“thanks for the memories even though they weren’t so great”), but the instrumental is pretty good, it’s quite dramatic and almost circus-like, not so much as ‘Welcome To The Black Parade’ by My Chemical Romance, but around that same area.

Then we have Avril Lavigne with ‘Girlfriend’, a Billboard Hot 100 number one. It’s a cheerleader type song, and cheerleading is one aspect of American culture that has
always baffled me a bit. Not that it exists per se, but that it appears to be taken so seriously when it’s an incredibly superficial thing. Anyway, you can file  ‘Girlfriend’ with other cheerleader tracks like ‘Mickey’ by Toni Basil, ‘Get Ready For This’ by 2 Unlimited, ‘Hollaback Girl’ by Gwen Stefani or ‘Shake It Off’ by Taylor Swift. ‘Girlfriend’ is probably even more Valley Girl than all of those, as it literally contains lyrics such as “she’s like so whatever”.Then again, ‘Shake It Off’ goes “she’s like Oh My God”, which is probably a bit more irritating.

‘Girlfriend’ has a pretty nasty, spiteful sentiment to it, as it is about stealing someone else’s boyfriend, so I don’t like it much for that reason, but to be honest the main reason I’m not keen on it is it is so ANNOYING! It’s repetitive and you just want it to shut up! Listening to it ten years on though, it is a lot rockier than I remember it. It is still on the pop side of pop-rock, but I remember it being more electronic.

I mentioned Gwen Stefani before, and she is next on track 3 with ‘The Sweet Escape’, which featured Akon. The song comes from Gwen Stefani’s album of the same name,
and there is an argument that it is the best of her solo songs. When making this song, they were trying to make it sound like something her band No Doubt might do, and Gwen Stefani’s best work probably was with No Doubt to be honest. ‘The Sweet Escape’ is quite sassy, the horns are used well. It has a slightly gangster’s moll feel to it. The track seems more remembered than any of Gwen Stefani’s other solo stuff, and certainly more remembered than any of Akon’s songs nowadays.

‘What You Waiting For’, from Gwen Stefani’s first solo album Love. Angel. Music. Baby, is the other main contender for her best solo song, and it is a lot more interesting, but ‘The Sweet Escape’ works better as a pop song. ‘The Sweet Escape’ is her highest charting solo song in the UK, it reached number 2, the same position it got in America.

Pink is next with ‘U + Ur Hand’, another txt spk pop-rock one, and is about just wanting to go out and have a good time, and telling horny loser guys that they won’t be going with her, they’ll have to make do with wanking instead. I loved this song at the time, and I danced to it while I was in America. In the U.S. ‘U + Ur Hand’ becoming a hit revived interest in its album, I Am Not Dead.

I wasn’t a fan of Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie‘s mostly awful solo career, but I did really like the song on this compilation, ‘Glamorous’, which features Ludacris. I suppose I found it strangely moving. It’s about coming a long way, now having a lot of money living a glamorous lifestyle but how it hasn’t changed her and she still has her feet on the ground. ‘Glamorous’ was a U.S. number one.

Superstar collaborations usually end up as a disappointment, but ‘Beautiful Liar’ by Beyonce & Shakira was one of the better ones. It has been semi-forgotten now, which is odd because it has aged better than a lot of the songs on this CD! Like a few female pop duets, it’s about two women talking about the same man. Sometimes in those songs they are fighting over him, but this is one where they realise that he’s been cheating on both of them and decide to both dump him and remain friends with each other. The video is memorable as it showed how much Beyonce and Shakira look a lot like each other! In the U.K., this reached number 1, as it did in several countries, but in the U.S. it made number 3.

‘Summer Love’ by Justin Timberlake was a song I’d never heard before, and I’ve never heard since. It was a reasonably big hit in the U.S, reaching number 6. For whatever reason, it was never released as a single in the U.K. I’m quite grateful for that though, as it’s a bit rubbish!

Ne-Yo is next with ‘Because Of You’, not to be confused with the Kelly Clarkson song of the same name. Despite the identical titles, the two tracks are very different. Obviously, Ne-Yo and Kelly Clarkson are two very different artists to begin with, Ne-Yo is a black male R&B singer while Kelly Clarkson is a white female pop-rock singer. The Kelly Clarkson ‘Because Of You’ is about how the breakdown of her parents relationship affected her , while Ne-Yo’s ‘Because Of You’ is about falling in love. The Ne-Yo track is a nice enough mid-tempo R&B love song, he has a nice voice, and it’s overall very nice. It reached number 2 in the U.S., number 4 in the U.K.

There is then a run of hip hop tracks, and while urban and hip hop is quite popular in the is MUCH more popular in the U.S. In the 2000s in general, urban music was HUGE, I think it has somewhat gone down in popularity in the current decade. ‘Buy You A Drank (Shawty Snappin’)’ by T-Pain feat. Yung Joc is the third and final U.S. number one on Now 25, and I’m not sure it would be a hit today. I’m not saying it’s bad as such, I did like it at the time.

I had completely forgotten about ‘Get It Shawty’ by Lloyd, but listening to it again now I like it more than ‘Buy You A Drank (Shawty Snappin’)’, mainly due to  the production. Apparently the producer of ‘Get It Shawty’ was Usher’s younger brother!

I remember ‘Pop, Lock & Drop It’ by Huey, even though it never charted in the U.K. Crunk was a big new genre around 2006/2007. ‘Pop Lock + Drop It’ has great production, and still sounds pretty good today. Huey was a one hit wonder in the U.S., and his name is his actual surname, which is similar to the next act, MIMS.

MIMS is another rapper and his name is his actual surname, but in his case he also used it to make an acronym for his album Music Is My Saviour. I very much remember MIMS’ track ‘This Is Why I’m Hot’, a U.S. number one which made number 18 in the U.K. That track isn’t included on Now 25, it’s a song called ‘Like This’. That song does reference ‘This Is Why I’m Hot’ though, and that it was “top ten number one download ringtones”. ‘Like This’ is pretty generic, boring and forgettable to be honest, and it only made number 32 in the U.S., and 82 in the U.K. Perhaps it was asking for trouble by referencing ‘This Is Why I’m Hot’ so heavily, like that’s the big hit song people will know, this song is just the follow-up single. ‘Like This’ is even overshadowed by ‘This Is Why I’m Hot’ with its own lyrics!

‘I Tried’ by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony feat. Akon was Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s first U.S. top ten hit in ten years, and to date it is their last one. I thought ‘I Tried’ sampled an old song, but apparently it doesn’t. I’ve only heard this track on this CD, but I love it! It talks of how struggling to get through life when it doesn’t seem to be getting any better, feeling like he is taking “five steps forward, ten steps back”. I like the “sleet, hail, snow” line too.

‘Outta My System’ by Bow Wow feat. T-Pain & Johnta Austin is… OK. It’s another track that’s a bit on the forgettable side.

‘Never Again’ by Kelly Clarkson was from her My December album, and was a bit like Pink’s Try This album in that it moved into more of a rocky direction. It’s  interesting just how similar Kelly Clarkson and Pink’s careers have been actually. First album was a very poppy R&B album which ended up half-forgotten (Can’t Take Me Home for Pink, Thankful for Kelly Clarkson). Second album was more pop-rock and was a massive hit (Missundaztood for Pink, Breakaway for Kelly Clarkson). Third album was more rocky, but ended up with lower sales (Try This for Pink, My December for Kelly Clarkson). From then on, both pretty much stuck with a lighter, mainstream pop-rock sound and went on to have more Billboard Hot 100 number ones, and release Greatest Hits albums which implied they would release another Best Of one day. Pink’s was called Greatest Hits…So Far!!! and Kelly Clarkson’s was called Greatest Hits – Chapter One.

I heard ‘Never Again’ on the radio not so long ago, and my friend thought it was by Pink! I found ‘Never Again’ a bit tuneless in 2007, but I like it more now!

‘The Great Escape’ by Boys Like Girls is another song I first heard on this CD, and it’s one I’ve listened to a fair bit since! It’s in a bit of an awkward somewhere-between-pop-rock-and-alternative-rock lane, but ‘The Great Escape’ is a happy song. It’s very much a “start of the holidays” anthem, specifically graduating from high school and starting the next chapter in your life. ‘The Great Escape’ still brings a smile to my face, and it is my favourite song on Now 25.

Keith Urban has ‘I Told You So’. Despite the name Urban, he is a country artist. Country music is even more of a genre which is huge in the U.S. but not as popular in
the U.K. than urban is! ‘I Told You So’ is a rekindling romance song rather than a break-up song or a falling in love song, so that’s a bit different I suppose. If you think I’m struggling to think of things to say about this track, you’d be right. Erm…. if you like country music, you might like it I suppose.

‘Before He Cheats’ by Carrie Underwood is another country-pop song, and I quite like it! It’s sort of a guilty pleasure. It was criticised at the time for being incredibly vindictive – the protagonist drags her key across her cheating boyfriend’s car to punish him, and she’s pretty bitchy towards the woman he might be with, when this woman doesn’t sound like she knows he’s cheating on someone. All of those criticisms are fair, but I still can’t help but enjoy this song. I suppose it’s the “don’t mess with me” thing it has going on.

The ballad ‘Wait For You’ by Elliot Yamin is the sort of track that sounds like it was made to play at the end credits of a ’90s movie. It also sounds like something Westlife might record.

Speaking of Westlife, they famously recorded an enfeebled cover of ‘What About Now’ by U.S. rock band Daughtry. Seriously, the original is much better. Daughtry have the
last track on Now 25, ‘Home’. ‘Home’ is such a generic title, particularly for rock bands, so you can probably imagine what it sounds like. Like ‘Wait For You’, ‘Home’  also sounds like it would be played on the end credits to a movie. It’s a decent song, but I feel like I’ve heard it millions of times, even though I’m sure I haven’t. ‘Home’ wasn’t covered by Westlife, but it WAS covered by member Kian Egan for his solo album.

Daughtry’s version of ‘Home’ was actually a bigger hit in the U.S. than ‘What About Now’, the former got to number 5, the latter got to number 18. Oddly enough, Daughty’s version of ‘What About Now’ outpeaked it’s U.S. chart placing, charting at number 11 in the U.K.

The U.K. Now albums usually try to bunch similar tracks together, and the U.S. version is even more structured from this CD. It starts with pop-rock(ish), then goes into pop-R&B, then hip hop, then rock, then country.

On the whole, Now 25 is a good selection of songs. The pop world has moved on in ten years obviously, but they still sound pretty good, and it is interesting to look back at what was popular a decade ago. Personally the three songs I enjoyed listening to the most this time were songs which I only heard from buying this CD and which weren’t big hits in the U.K. (‘I Tried’, ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘Before He Cheats’), while with a lot of the songs that were big hits in both countries, my interest has diminished a little over time from hearing them played so much, so I am pleased I bought this complialtion as I heard songs I liked I might not have heard otherwise.

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