Forgotten Gems: Feel Good Now EP Is The Most Underrated Pop Project of the 2010s
Release Date: 2011
Best Track: Back to Back
Imagine you’re me in 2011. Ouch. Ouch ouch. Wait fuck. That hurts. Is that the nascent depression or the repressed sexuality?
Okay, don’t imagine you’re me in 2011. Instead, picture a young, swoopy haired tween sitting at the desk under their bunk bed and churning out some homework for Mrs. Parker’s seventh period English. A young Jacob is listening to their favorite Pandora station: “Fall For You” radio, based off the one-hit wonder power ballad by Secondhand Serenade. Suddenly, the mire of dad rock and pop punk is cut through by a warbly synthetic lead and bandpassed vocals before breaking down into an R&B-inspired pop verse. I liked the song almost immediately. It was “Notions” by The Ready Set.
Like most radio-obsessed kids at the time, I had a vague familiarity with Jordan Witzigreuter’s one-man band, The Ready Set thanks to his 2010 radio single “Love Like Woe.” This simultaneously fun and cringey song milked a clever pun for all it was worth, while producer J.R. Rotem (known for his collaborations with Jason Derulo and Sean Kingston) applied his trademark wide claps and autotune drench. Rotem would never work with Witzigreuter again and, perhaps relatedly, The Ready Set would never chart again. But we didn’t know that in 2011.
Meanwhile, The Ready Set had tapped Ian Kirkpatrick to write and produce all the tracks on his upcoming EP. At the time, Kirkpatrick was mainly known as the driver for a few Plain White T’s hits (“1234,” “Rhythm of Love”) but had also begun to integrate himself in the nascent electro-pop punk movement, writing and producing for groups like Artist vs. Poet, Breathe Carolina, and The Summer Set. Kirkpatrick hit it off with Witzigreuter and the two would go on to be the only two contributors to the new EP, titled “Feel Good Now.”
The first single off the album, the jangly “Hollywood Dream” came with an infectious hook, an adorkably sketched video and awful font choice. Late Myspace-era aesthetic aside, this shit slapped. The trilly guitar of the intro explodes into a hyperactive drum and synth riff after a beautifully simple tom fill unlocks the chorus. The subject matter is typical — a “Midwest boy” longs for the “Hollywood dream” and chases her accordingly — but elevated by a silly charm that comes off as earnest. Whereas some contemporaries take the emo-pop sound to be overly saccharine (Owl City), disturbingly possessive (Breathe Carolina) or just downright cringey (Nickasaur!), The Ready Set seems to find a healthy middle in the vein of bands like Never Shout Never and Hellogoodbye. Jordan Witzigreuter is aware that his tracks are full of cheese. He just doesn’t care.
The rest of the short but sweet EP utilizes the same production tropes as the lead single (heavy drums, processed vocals and a flurry of synths) but each track puts its own spin on the genre. “Killer” — which has stumbled its way into minor hit status over the past three or four years — opens with the flamboyant piano riffs one would expect of early Panic! at the Disco and rhythmic clock ticks (prior to Zedd ruining this entire sound effect). The lyrics depart from Witzigreuter’s typical nice guy schtick into a portrait of a heartbreaker, but he sells it, and catchy melodies and a hard knocking chorus follow directly after.
“Killer” is directly followed by album standout “Back to Back,” an ode to unrequited romantic dedication that takes sawtooth synths and claps to the hardest they could be. The result is a catchy, danceable track that almost borders on EDM. However, “Back to Back” demonstrates one of the key strengths of the EP: dynamic changes. Kirkpatrick shows his comfort with alternation between quiet and loud sections, playing with dynamics as a way of injecting energy into songs. It pays off tremendously in tracks like “Back to Back,” which features a piano and vocal solo going straight into vicious synth stabs. Dynamic changes are the secret weapon of this album, just as they are for other iconic pop projects of the 2010s (Taylor Swift’s “1989” is a masterclass in dynamics), taking the listener on a head-bopping journey.
I listened to this project exhaustively for this review, searching for a “least favorite moment.” Thing is, I don’t have one. Even the cheesiest and cringiest moments, from underthought lyrics (“Be the Hills to my Beverly”) to video game risers, are in the pursuit of pure pop fun. There are no intentions or delusions of grandeur here and that makes this project refreshing, especially in our current era of pop music where every artist seems obsessed with emphasizing how s e r i o u s they are.
Despite being in my personal top five of pop projects of the 2010s, the “Feel Good Now” EP holds no place whatsoever in the overall pop canon. Personally, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. While this album is great, it didn’t necessarily push pop music forward — in fact, it dawdled in the dying laptop emo genre. That said, one massive development for pop did come out of the “Feel Good Now” EP: Ian Kirkpatrick.
While The Ready Set found a groove releasing mediocre pop music with a few gems here and there, Kirkpatrick began growing his personal repertoire, rapidly adding projects after 2011. In 2015, Kirkpatrick broke through, writing tracks for Justin Bieber, Halsey, Nick Jonas and Jason Derulo. Since then, Kirkpatrick has only sped up with era-defining smashes like “New Rules,” “Don’t Start Now,” and “Back to You.” His pop sensibilities are on full display in this project, pathing the way for Kirkpatrick’s ascendance.
But what do we do with this forgotten gem, other than listen to it? Well, as radio-friendly and inoffensive The Ready Set’s music feels at times, it was never necessarily meant for mass consumption. This is a project to listen to when you want to dance around your own room, not a club. Listen to the project, hum along and once you’ve listened enough, you’ll be singing memorable lyrics in public. I don’t know if 11-year-old me could ask for anything more.
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