Louis Menand, a staff writer for the New Yorker, postulated “The Iron Law of Stardom,” which states that a star can only coincide with the zeitgeist for three years before the world moves on. Someone needs to frame that article and give it to T-Pain, because his latest album, Oblivion, released last Thursday, Nov. 17, feels like the efforts of a man struggling in vain to swim against a current that’s leaving him behind.
T-Pain, the former chart-topper, now finds himself making lukewarm dancehall pop numbers (“No Rush”) and halfhearted trap anthems. How did it come to this?
The answer is that T-Pain is trying to be two artists at once on Oblivion — he is trying to keep up with what is currently popular while retaining his signature style, but the end result is a work that feels aimless and devoid of artistic meaning. In attempting to be both a trapper and a poppy R&B singer, he stretches himself much too thin, leading to an album that comes off as half-assed and derivative.
I’m making this album sound worse than it really is. It’s actually not half bad; “Your Friend” and “Second Chance (Don’t Back Down),” for example, are both enjoyable if not spectacular. In fact, there is nothing inherently “bad” about most of this album, as many of the songs are energetic, catchy and utterly inoffensive. T-Pain’s vocals are as fun as ever, and there is no denying that he has a knack for catchy melodies. The problem is that Oblivion just doesn’t have the same magic that T-Pain had from ’06 to ’08, when he was perfect for his time and place, and it feels like a hollow imitation as a result.
A few particular low points: “That Comeback” is an attempted pop anthem that lacks any form of charisma and is quite possibly the worst track T-Pain has ever released. Don’t listen to it. “Goal Line” is an attempt at an industrial trap sound that falls flat on its face from the get-go, not helped by an uninspiring feature from Blac Youngsta.
In his article Menand claims two exceptions to his three-year rule: If stars reinvent themselves, as the Beatles and Kanye West have done, they may be able to be at one with the zeitgeist for an additional three years. It is too late for T-Pain to go down this path; he is too far removed from the cutting edge. The other exception is that stars can have a three-year “revival,” where an artist experiences a resurgence borne of mass nostalgia, which may yet happen for Pain, but likely not as a result of this new release.
This wave of nostalgia is the force by which we could conceivably see T-Pain restored to cultural relevancy, a society of millennials wishing to return to the idyllic days of halcyon youth through the crooning king of Auto-Tune. Until then, he would do well to not try to catch up with a cultural milieu that has passed him by, and instead embrace the style that made him so influential in the first place.