Rectangular grid! Cool. 14×17. Must be a reason. We’re looking for a music genre, and our starred theme entries are:
16-A [* 1974 Jackson 5 hit] = DANCING MACHINE. I thought I knew my J5 but this song I’m unfamiliar with.
21-A [* 1971 Doors hit that was the answer to the third-ever MMMM (in 2012)] = L.A. WOMAN
32-A [* 2006 Kenny Chesney hit with the line “It’s hard lovin’ a man that’s got a gypsy soul”] = YOU SAVE ME. My two wrong letters were here, where I had the incorrect YOU LOVE ME. This turned out to be important; I was probably not going to get the meta without correcting this.
38-A [* 2008 Matisyahu hit] = ONE DAY.
47-A [* 2008 Rihanna hit] = DISTURBIA.
58-A [* 1976 Rose Royce hit that was also a hit for Christina Aguilera and Missy Elliott] = CAR WASH. Very ’70s.
65-A [* 2005 James Blunt hit] = GOODBYE MY LOVER. Ok, I’ll confess that I’ve never heard of James Blunt. But I do know his big hit “You’re Beautiful” now that I look it up, and maybe a few more.
After a few uninteresting dead ends, I decided to see if Pete had accidentally left a side window open. We have seven starred entries, so I thought I’d look for a seven-letter musical genre you can form using one letter from each. I thought I’d gotten lucky when CALYPSO started to take shape from the C in DANCING, the A in LAWOMAN, the L in YOU LOVE ME (it’s an S, not an L, but I didn’t know that at the time), the Y in ONE DAY…this had to be it! And then the P in … DISTURBIA? I seriously looked up to see if the song was for some reason spelled “Disturpia.” I mean, there’s the S in CAR WASH and the O in GOODBYE MY LOVER, so we have CALY?SO. But no. ‘Twas not to be.
Disappointment and came back to the grid. As so often in Pete’s grids, there was so much theme packed in that I didn’t think there could be anything else useful in the fill (plus the theme entries were starred to boot). So it had to be them. I checked out the lyrics to each song, which didn’t yield anything until I looked for Kenny Chesney’s “You Love Me”…and it turns out that song does not exist. Hmmm. It’s YOU SAVE ME. ONYA did look weird, and I hadn’t even looked at the clue for ASIA and ALIA made a thing so I left it alone. Anyway, I corrected those two letters, which seemed unlikely to be crucial at the time. But then…
…upon free-scanning the grid for the sixth or seventh time, I noticed USA hiding in YOU SAVE ME. Hmmm. And then OMAN above it in LA WOMAN. Scanned for other countries, though I came up with nothing. CHIN(A) is almost in DANCING MACHINE, but not quite. Then I saw ADEN hiding backwards in ONE DAY, and mistakenly thought that was in OMAN. Hmmm, no, it’s in YEMEN. And hey, there’s YEM in the last theme entry! Then I told myself to put the bong down (speaking figuratively) since there’s no way this could possibly be the right track.
Deflated, I looked at the title for inspiration. And saw the answer immediately: “Let the Games Begin” is a phrase most closely associated with the Olympics, and USA is the country code for you-know-which country. Aha! Now that “Oman” sighting makes perfect sense, and, against all odds, so does my YEM sighting, previously self-slandered as the crazed Rorschachian ravings of an addled mind! Just because you’re crazy doesn’t mean you didn’t get the meta!
DANCING MACHINE = CHI = Chile
LA WOMAN = OMA = Oman
YOU SAVE ME = USA = USA
ONE DAY = NED = Netherlands (they call it Nederland)
DISTURBIA = TUR = Turkey
CAR WASH = RWA = Rwanda
GOODBYE MY LOVER = YEM = Yemen
Those first letters spell out our fitting music genre, COUNTRY.
Lionel Richie singing at the 1984 Olympics in LA. Hopefully they will bring him back for LA 2028.
I dug this meta quite a bit. A subtle and occasional hidden word theme is like an underhand serve in tennis: the surprise value makes it powerful. 4.30 stars for a nice use of this and a fitting meta answer (and timely, too, since the IOC just recently announced Paris and L.A. as the 2024 and 2028 hosts.