Spectrum Pulse is a web review show hosted by Mark Grondin, which started on his blog in 2012 and moved to YouTube a year later. He reviews albums of various genres, as well as the occasional movie review or top ten list, where he is usually accompanied by a plush Voltorb that contributes to the show by adding snarky bottom text to the reviews.
His other series include:
- Billboard Breakdown: A weekly in-depth look at that week in Billboard's Hot 100 by covering the Top 10, the movers and shakers, and reviewing new chart entries. In 2019, he moved it to a separate channel, largely because the show's frequent use of the songs he was covering was getting his main channel numerous copyright strikes from record labels, which was causing his main channel to get deprioritized.
- Special Comment: An infrequent series where Mark makes a video essay about a specific burning topic regarding pop culture.
- The Trailing Edge: A monthly catch-up series giving short reviews to albums that didn't get enough votes on his Patreon schedule, similar to The Needle Drop's YUNO reviews. As of 2020, the series has been replaced with On The Pulse.
- Resonators: A Patreon-voted series where he reviews classic albums that are considered landmarks of a particular genre. As of 2020, the series is on hold.
- On The Pulse: A new series started in 2020, similar to the Trailing Edge but with a wider amount of albums, it is now the primary series on Grondin's main channel, with standard reviews only being made for stunningly good (or stunningly bad) albums, or albums that Mark has more to talk about on than in an On The Pulse segment.
He is also a published author, with his first full-length novel To Kill A Dragon being published in November 2015.
This critic here provides examples of:
- Abandoned Catchphrase: Though he still says it, Mark has toned down his use of "By the Nine Hells" starting in 2021, as he felt that the phrase became significantly less unique and cool after seeing other people use it unironically.
- Alternative Character Interpretation: In-Universe. His review of Taylor Swift's reputation remarks that the shift from country to pop since Red and 1989 has caused Swift to lose control of her artistic image and while trying to be a role model without establishing clearly a core set of ideas, "at best she became representative of a catty, thin-skinned Control Freak of an artist, or at worst like the projection of white female victimhood, or a projection of far-right leaning authoritarianism".
- Anatomically Impossible Sex: The "Imma turn the bed into the ocean" line in "Work From Home":Mark: Fellas, porn is not real, nobody squirts that much!
- The Artifact: The show maintains the "we talk about music, movies, art and culture" tagline at the beginning of each video, even though the vast majority of episodes focus on just music, with videos on other topics being extremely rare, if even that.
- As the Good Book Says...: He got biblical in his review of Kanye West's Jesus Is King, which consisted entirely of him reading passages from the GospelsSpecifically... of Jesus denouncing greed, judgmental attitudes, and people who exploit religion for their own personal gain. The unstated implication was that Kanye's turn towards Christian hip-hop and Gospel Music was a self-serving and hypocritical one from a man who didn't seem to actually be owning up to all his terrible behavior, but was instead continuing to indulge in it and was now Hiding Behind Religion to justify it.
- Author Tract: His "three Ps" for good political art are power, populism, and precision (or nuance), and he finds that, when a work lacks one or especially two of these qualities, it can descend into a bad case of this. He found Megadeth's Dystopia and ANOHNI's Hopelessness to have only power going for them, leading both to take broad, hateful swipes at large swaths of people, while Justin Moore's Off the Beaten Path had only populism, causing it to feel like insincere pandering. By contrast, he cited White Lung's Paradise, with its deconstruction of Riot Grrrl tropes and how women mistreat each other, as an album that hit all three Ps and escaped this.
- Badass Bookworm: Has a degree in Physics, is a published author, goes on long analytical essays on music... and also used to be a track athlete in high school.
- Berserk Button:
- Early Post Malone, so much so when he covered him in an episode of Billboard Breakdown, he put up a trigger warning. However, according to him, Post has improved as an artist and Mark now just considers him average.
- Misogyny, both lyrically and in general, is a pretty big one as Mark considers himself a sex-positive feminist.
- Songs (usually rap songs) that get big thanks to being part of a meme, such as "Harlem Shake" or "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)".
- Badly-executed political statements in music, as explained in his reviews of ANOHNI's Hopelessness and Megadeth's Dystopia.
- Related to the above, so-called "MAGA rappers", a type of right-wing political rapper that arose in the early 2020s. He regards the entire scene as artless junk that does little more than mindlessly parrot reactionary Fox News talking points, and which only charts because of conservatives buying it en masse on iTunes less to support the artists than to make a political statement. Every single time a MAGA rap song has shown up on Billboard Breakdown, it was his Worst of the Week. The fact that, in 2021, the genre became a venue for anti-vaccination conspiracy theories especially grates on him; when he discussed Tom MacDonald's "Brainwashed", he summed it up thusly:Okay, two lines into this song, Tommy boy here goes full anti-vaxxer. I shouldn't have to say more. But really, at this point I've realized there's no reason to cover this with anything beyond mockery and derision.
- The chipmunk voice effect in songs.
- Bro-country, as seen by many of his review targets (e.g. Luke Bryan), and by his inclusion of Brantley Gilbert's "Bottoms Up" as #1 on "Worst Hit Songs of 2014".
- Sam Hunt, as seen in his reviews of "Take Your Time" from the Worst Hit Songs of 2015 list and "Make You Miss Me", "Drinkin' Too Much", and "Body Like a Back Road" from Billboard Breakdown and his review of his album "Southside".
- AJR's "The Click". Only 1 of 2 albums that was given a score of 1/10 as of April 2020 (the other being "Southside" by Sam Hunt).
- "Nu-crunk", his term for a variety of Hip-Hop that got big through social media platforms like Vine and SoundCloud. The proliferation of such songs on the charts starting in the mid-'10s was a bane of his existence.
- Album bombs, when artists (especially in the aforementioned nu-crunk genre) exploit the Billboard Hot 100's rules for streaming to hit the charts with the force of a thousand bricks, displacing other songs and often sapping their momentum so that most if not all of the album's songs, including the filler (even interludes and sketches in some extreme cases), can chart. It doesn't help that he suspects many of these album bombs are driven more by payola with the major streaming services than anything. In 2018, he got fed up and instituted a new rule on Billboard Breakdown for discussing album bombs: if eight or more songs chart off an album in one week, he will only discuss his best and worst of the week from the album and any songs that landed in the top 40. He considered going back on this rule in 2021 and limiting it to just the top ten when every single track off of Drake's Certified Lover Boy landed in the top 40, including becoming the first musical act since The Beatles in 1964 to score a clean sweep of the entire top five, but decided that he was going to review (and torch) the entire album, saying that, since Drake had gamed the Billboard charts fair and square, he was going to play fair with Drake's singles too. In 2022, he announced on Twitter that he's revising the rules again for album bombs as follows: all songs will be covered if five or less songs chart, the original rule is in place if six to eleven songs chart, and only the top 20 and the best and worst will be covered if twelve or more songs chart.
- Rap lyrics about stealing other men's girlfriends, particularly the listener's girlfriend, in order to demonstrate how masculine and virile the rapper is. Not only does he find it icky, he thinks it's become a worn-out cliché in hip-hop.
- He actually uses the exact name of this trope to describe the line "God knows we're worth it" from the Jason Mraz song "I Won't Give Up," which was #2 on his Worst Hit Songs of 2012 list.
- As of 2021, account hackers, thanks to a bad experience with one who hacked both of his channels to hawk an NFT scam, forcing him to appeal directly to YouTube to get his channels back. The experience, combined with those of other YouTubers who'd had their accounts hacked to promote crypto, also badly colored his views towards NFTs and crypto as a whole, causing him to conclude that any industry that is so flagrant about using such underhanded methods to promote itself is probably filled with scams and rotten to the core.
- Graverobbing, or when record labels exploit dead artists by taking incomplete songs and releasing them (sometimes by adding a featured artist) as to profit off of the artist's death.
- Big "NO!": His review of "Flex (Ooh Ooh Ooh)" by Rich Homie Quan on Billboard Breakdown (skip to 10.03).
- Big "WHAT?!": His reaction to a Gucci Mane lyric on another Billboard Breakdown.
- Big "WHY?!": His reaction to Beyoncé's "7/11" in the Worst Hit Songs of 2015 video as well as a Kanye West lyric from Billboard Breakdown.
- Brain Bleach:
Mark: I was going to use the line "the cake is a lie", but then I considered what the sexualization of that metaphor might mean in reference to Portal and I now have to rethink my entire life.
- When discussing DNCE's "Cake by the Ocean" on Billboard Breakdown:
Mark: Big Sean treats his girl with casual disinterest even though she apparently 'respects him like a father figure' - ew.
- Also when discussing Big Sean's "Play No Games" on the July 18th, 2015 episode of Billboard Breakdown:
- Broke the Rating Scale:
- A Refusal to Rate example: Mount Eerie's "A Crow Looked At Me". The reason being that Mark found it such an emotionally raw and personal album, dealing with the death of the artist's wife, that he felt that it stopped being a piece of "art" and couldn't bring himself to give it any kind of rating.
- Exaggerated from 2022 onwards, where Mark decided to overhaul the rating system completely. The justification for this was that trying to characterize an album based on said system only cheapened viewers' interpretation of his work, whereas Mark was in favor of discussing the critical analysis more.
- The Cameo:
- Rodrigo Pasta appears in Episode 5 of On The Pulse for 2021 to help Mark review Selena Gomez's Spanish-language EP Revelación.
- Mark himself appears in Part 2 of The Double Agent's Worst Hit Songs of 2009 video as well as the Weathered, A Thousand Suns, Still Not Getting Any..., Scars and Souvenirs and Trapt episodes of Regretting the Past.
- Canada, Eh?: Mark grew up in Winnipeg and currently lives in Toronto.
- "We talk about music, movies, art and culture."
- "Skip it!"
- "Check it out!"
- "Stick the landing"
- Caustic Critic: Has a tendency to lose his temper when discussing songs or albums that he dislikes. That said, he also says that he doesn't like giving negative reviews, and refuses to do a Worst Albums list.
- Cluster F-Bomb / Flipping the Bird: At the end of his review of AJR's The Click, his first ever 1/10 and what he considers the worst album he's ever reviewed:Fuck this record, fuck everyone at Warner Brothers who bankrolled this, fuck the culture that enabled this and would excuse it, and if you inflict this on anybody, honestly, fuck you too!
- Critical Dissonance: Has discussed this with regards to Country Music. Among other things, he blames this trope on the critics' end for the prevalence of Lowest Common Denominator junk within the genre, arguing that the dismissive attitudes towards country held by many highbrow critics and listeners have caused them to withdraw their voices from the cultural conversation within the genre, allowing the worst sort of Pandering to the Base to flourish and essentially reinforce all of their prejudices.
- Culturally Religious: Attended a Catholic high school, and nowadays still identifies as Catholic but with complicated views on religion. Believes that the Bible is best interpreted metaphorically.
- Deadpan Snarker: His personality was a lot more like this in his early years of reviewing, but now has reached a Caustic Critic level with small amounts of snark.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: In the first season of Billboard Breakdown, Mark would review the returning entries in addition to the new arrivals and consider them for Best/Worst of the Week (which often resulted in a returning entry getting one of the titles). He revised this format for Season 2 onward so that only the new arrivals would be reviewed and considered for Best/Worst of the Week.
- If you read his reviews on his blog pre-YouTube, you can notice how his writing has evolved over the years. He was generally harsher back then, and also swore a whole lot more often, plus he didn't even say his name as Mark when talking about himself.
- Evil Is Burning Hot / Kill It with Fire: If you see an album/single cover art being engulfed in flames on a video thumbnail, expect Mark to rip it to shreds.
- Flowery Insults: The review of AJR's "The Click" is abundant with these. Said record being referred to as "dick-shreddingly gross" is just the tip of the iceberg.
- Seems to be an increasingly common feature in recent years when discussing songs he dislikes, usually involving some form of gross-out Body Horror.
- Forced Meme: Considers Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen to be this.
- Formula-Breaking Episode:
- His review of "We Beefin?" as well as his episode of On The Pulse done entirely in ASMR.
- His reviews of Drake's Certified Lover Boy and Kanye West's Donda, released at the same time, where both videos are Mark giving the exact same criticisms to both albums and the artists themselves, with a scene of him giving his unique thoughts on each record in between.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus:
- When Mark reviews White Iverson on Billboard Breakdown, the information captions at the top-right of the screen that is displayed after the video clip lists the genre of the song as "hip-hop", including the quote marks.
- Did the same several months later with Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen listed as "comedy". And again with "Earth" by Lil Dicky in 2019, where he not only put "comedy" in quotes again, he listed bowel cancer as one of the genres, and "way too many fucking people who should know better" as the featured artists.
- He does this rather often with country songs that he doesn't consider to be country, such as Sam Hunt songs. (Notably, the genre description for Sam Hunt's sophomore effort "Southside" includes the tags "insult to human decency" and "proof of the failure of capitalism and corporate radio".)
- In his "Top Ten Worst Hit Songs of 2012" video, he list the genre 'Birthday Cake (Remix)' by Rihanna ft. Chris Brown as "electro-pop/migraine".
- In "A Look At The Canadian Hot 100 - 2015", for his (positive) review of "Albatroz" by AronChupa, the listed genres are "EDM", "Vine" and "WTF".
- In the Top 10 Worst Hit Songs of 2020, his #1 pick, "Sunday Best" by Surfaces, is listed as "pop/torture"
- Fun with Subtitles: An interesting take on it with the Voltorb adding additional commentary in videos, usually referring to Mark as "this critic...". For a short time the Voltorb would not be adverse to taking the piss out of Mark either.
- Guilty Pleasures: When asked in the 15,000 Subscriber Q&A episode what Mark's big guilty pleasure album is, he whips out an S Club 7 CD.
- Hormone-Addled Teenager: Mark's explanation for why his 18 year-old self used to like Chris Brown's "Kiss Kiss" in the Worst Hit Songs of 2008 crossover review with The Double Agent.Double Agent: So basically, you liked this song because you wanted to get laid?
Mark: Well, yeah, obviously...
- The Horseshoe Effect: He believes that Megadeth's Dystopia and ANOHNI's Hopelessness failed for the exact same reason, despite their politics sitting on opposite ends of the spectrum (Megadeth on the right, ANOHNI on the left). His "three Ps" of good political art are power, populism, and precision, and he found both albums to have only power going for them, meaning that, while their messages felt sincere, they also felt sincerely hateful in their attacks on various groups of people without any concern for nuance, tact, or the listener's approval.
- I Hate Past Me: Confessed to being somewhat of a Chris Brown fan back in the day in the Worst Hit Songs of 2008 review. It's fair to say that he doesn't hold that same opinion these days:Mark: Here's where my story of shame gets even dumber, because back in 2008 when I was looking for more Chris Brown songs-
Double Agent: Why?!
Mark: I DIDN'T KNOW ANY BETTER!
- I Need a Freaking Drink: The Nine Track Mind crossover review with ARTV sees plenty of swigs from a beer bottle.
- Kubrick Stare: Frequently happens.
- Large Ham
- Leitmotif: "Amnesia" by Chumbawamba as the Billboard Breakdown theme song.
- LOL, 69: On Billboard Breakdown, whenever he mentions that a song is at #69 on the charts, he follows it with a "nice."
- Min-Maxing: He compared the chart strategy for BTS' "Butter" to this as he discussed its run at #1 on the charts, especially with how their label was exploiting every rule they could to propel the song's chart run through sales.
- N-Word Privileges: Considering his rap reviews, has stated on Twitter he won't say the word if he feels it isn't necessary. When songs with the N-word in the title appear on Billboard Breakdown, he says "N-word" in its place.
- No Indoor Voice: When he's especially angry, it's a cross between this and Suddenly Shouting.
- Older and Wiser: When covering Fearless (Taylor's Version), he thought that "Fifteen", a song about getting swept up in love when one is too young to know any better, benefited from Taylor Swift's more grown-up perspective, and that she sold it a lot better than she did originally when she was herself still a teenager and couldn't really convey the kind of wisdom she was going for. On the other hand, he thought that "You Belong With Me", a Not Like Other Girls song that he already didn't really like back when Taylor was 18, sounded even more immature and catty when sung by a 31-year-old woman.
- Persona Non Grata: After learning about the controversy regarding Sia's film Music, Mark tweeted that he will no longer cover anything related to her music on the channel again, due to being utterly disgusted with what he learned. He reclarified this when covering "Unstoppable" on Billboard Breakdown in 2022, deciding to play clips of his old This is Acting review rather than write and record a new review.
- Precision F-Strike: He usually avoids swearing in his videos unless it's in the name of the song itself (like "Fuck You" by Cee-Lo Green) but sometimes he loses his cool.Mark: I can't believe I'm the one who has to say this, as a guy who used to be a fan of yours, but here it is: read between the lines and grow the FUCK up.
Mark: FUCK YOU!
- His reaction to Ty Dollar $ign's line in "Blaze" where he compares himself to Nate Dogg on Billboard Breakdown?
Mark: And then we have the final song where he's going to acknowledge he needs to aim higher and aim for a bigger cause outside himself because he made that choice for him to live in the moment and be there... which is a cute Objectivist point of view that kind of flies in the face of the fact you brought on the Flint Chozen Choir and that no matter what people decide in that community the water is still poisoned and you don't even have the fucking spine to mention anything beyond yourself!
- Also his review of Sam Hunt's "Drinking Too Much" has him calling the song "fucking disgusting".
- During his review of Big Sean's I Decided, he says this about the closing track "Bigger Than Me."
Mark: DO I EVEN HAVE TO FUCKING DIGNIFY THIS?!Mark: Congratulations, Zac Brown, I'm now stuck defending the fucking Kardashians because for as trashy as they can be, they've never had real expectations of quality - unlike you, who somehow delivered a project more worthless than their recorded output.
- After a rant about Drake not giving full credit to a lot of the guest acts featured on the More Life "playlist" on Billboard Breakdown, Mark decides to be as polite as a fellow Canadian living in Toronto would: he flips the bird at the camera and gives Drake a big fat "fuck you!".
- At the start of his review of "Gummo" by 6ix9ine, an artist who has pled guilty to 3 counts of the use of a child in a sexual performance:
- Proud to Be a GeekMark: I'm the kind of nerd who has hundreds of fantasy and sci-fi novels, can quote Monty Python and Star Wars verbatim, used to be a Dungeon Master when playing Dungeons & Dragons, occasionally still goes to Magic: The Gathering tournaments, has a physics degree, and has Aragorn's longsword Andúril from The Lord of the Rings mounted on his wall.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
And the worst part, will.i.am, is that you're better than this. That's probably the most infuriating thing about #willpower, in that there are tiny shreds of a good idea here. There are snippets that have real beauty and real potential, and you clearly have the money and industry clout to make the album you want - and you made this trash. It is bar none the worst album you've ever made, and I sincerely hope that if you consider this the height of your talents, that this album flops and your long-overdue fifteen minutes comes to a screeching end.
- From the pre-YouTube days, he delivered one at the end of his written review of #willpower:
This isnt just mediocre or forgettable, its an album that is actively enabled to suck, but will sell just enough with the full force of promotion and catering to the worst of cultural biases that itll push back on people who call it out. In that way, even though Sam Hunt has expressed no political affiliation publicly, its emblematic of this time and what guys like him have been actively enabled to get away with - and regardless of where you fall, thats hypocritical and disgusting.
- His review of AJR's 'The Click' is essentially one big, 21-minute long one of these.
- The end of his review of Southside by Sam Hunt features a rather lengthy one, in which he argues that his success while Kacey Musgraves faced constant roadblocks demonstrates that Nashville's supposed meritocracy is all a lie.
Now some of you will say, well, thats just the industry, thats not fair to hold the art that only exists because of that industry to that standard, separate the art from the conditions where it was made even though it drips through and shades every element of it and while that conclusion is the height of intellectual dishonesty, I can consider Southside outside of that: when its not boring its infuriating, it wants to push the sound but doesnt grasp how any component part works, the content is so emotionally incoherent in its framing I thought the dissonance had to be part of the point until you realize there was nothing close to that level of sophistication or effort, and it features some of the worst sequencing on any album Ive ever reviewed.
- A double-barrel one: on the July 3, 2021 episode of Billboard Breakdown, he delivered one to Columbia Records for gaming the charts and the way sales are measured in order to propel BTS' "Butter" to #1, in a process that he compared to Min-Maxing. The following week, after the ARMY hit him with one of the worst Internet Counterattacks he'd ever experienced, he delivered an even bigger nine-minute missive against Columbia, the ARMY, and the entire K-pop industry, arguing that both chart manipulation and awful fan behavior were doing lasting damage to K-pop's reputation in the US.
- Running Gag:
- "The Canadian charts are always better!" That said, by 2018 he'd begun retiring this bit, partly because streaming had homogenized the world's pop charts, and partly because of the rise of Drake, a Canadian musician who, as the decade wore on, he increasingly viewed as emblematic of everything wrong with pop music in the 2010s.
- "So, did you know that [insert artist here] released a new record? Better question: did you care?!"
- Expect any country song he dislikes to have its genre listed in the subtitles as 'Pop "country"'.
- Scare Quotes: Expect any country song he dislikes to have its genre listed in the subtitles as 'Pop "country"'.
- Scenery Porn: Pretty much all of the vacation episodes (which were filmed in Portugal and Spain) and the January 14th episode of Billboard Breakdown which was filmed in the Dominican Republic.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: The opening of the Cole Swindell review, where he abruptly got off his couch claiming he had better things to do, which caused Voltorb to argue with Mark to stop whining and finish the review. He reluctantly sat back down and demolished the album.
- Shout-Out: Gives one to The Wonky Angle during his review of Against All Logic's 2012-2017. Which is particularly awesome, due to Tommy being an enthusiastic fan of Mark before he created the channel.
- Shown Their Work: Always makes the effort to do research on an artist's discography or musical genre when doing an album review.
- Signing Off Catchphrase: "I'm Mark, you're watching Spectrum Pulse, and I'll see you next time."
- Top Ten List: Every year there's two top ten lists for the best and worst hits of the year, a top 50 for the best songs (not just hits) of the year, and a top 25 for best albums of the year.
- Unreliable Narrator: In the 10,000 Subscriber Q&A episode, Mark claims to be a secret Pokémon trainer that found a wild Voltorb in a power plant and adopted him. Voltorb then explains the REAL story: Mark simply bought him from a friend of an ex-girlfriend who made and sold plush Pokémon on Etsy.
- Unusual Euphemism: Has a habit of using the phrase "by/in the Nine Hells" to express exasperation. It kind of makes sense considering that he's Catholic...
- Vacation Series: In August 2016, Mark did a series of short 30 second reviews while he was on vacation in Europe, as he didn't want to put the channel on hold while he was gone. He did it again a year later, this time doing joint four-album reviews in place of his typical one per episode.
- Values Dissonance: His dishonorable mentions for the Worst Songs of 2011 included "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People, in no small part for this reason: it's "a jaunty song intentionally written from the perspective of a school shooter." He disliked it back then for other reasons, but nowadays, its portrayal of school shootings looks especially misguided.
- Very Special Episode:
- His reviews of David Bowie's Blackstar and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' Skeleton Tree, both having an uncharacteristically downtrodden and mournful tone; Mark himself has gone on the record as saying he nearly teared up in the process of filming both reviews. The former was shot mere days after the death of David Bowie, and the latter was the second and to date one of only four albums he's awarded a perfect 10/10 score.
- Could also be considered for his review of Mount Eerie's "A Crow Looked At Me", the very first album which he gave no rating.
- His "review" of Jesus is King, where he doesn't even discuss the album's content. Instead, Mark decides to get his point across by reading a few verses from the New Testament (specifically Matthew 21:12-13, Luke 18:18-30 and John 8:2-11) which boils down to calling Kanye a massive immoral hypocrite who is trying to profit out of preaching the Christian faith in his music.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Mark and Voltorb, mainly Voltorb, who seems to think of Mark as somewhat of an idiot.
- Wolverine Publicity: Believes this is the case with Drake in the last couple of years, to the point where as of late 2016, Mark is at the stage where he can't wait for Drake to finally go away.
- Younger than They Look: Mark was born in 1990 but has often been mistaken for being in his 30s. The receding hairline doesn't really help.