The Singles Jukebox

Pop, to two decimal places

ED SHEERAN - DON’T
[3.71]


We did.

Hazel Robinson: Ah, Mr Patronising-And-Whorephobic-Classist-Misogyny himself! Or as some shitlords who won’t be named called him, the most important urban artist in Britain. It’s a sad indictment of our nation that this is still happening. And the biggest problem about it is that he’s made an album of fucking incredible *NSync-style boyband songs and I want to punch him in his stupid face just as soon as I have finished dancing like a bastard.
[7]

Juana Giaimo: It’s really easy to identify the potential singles while listening to X. While “Sing” was the obvious hit, “Don’t” should succeed for its details: the omission of “fuck” in the chorus; the casual style of the first verse and how it contrasts with the fast telling of unfortunate events at the end of the second verse; the “knocks” of the beginning of the third verse; how indignant he sounds when he says “but you didn’t need to take him to bed, that’s all”, and so on. On While his rapping is clear and easy to follow his story telling, the chorus loosens the tension of the verses to invite you to just sing along. “Don’t” Ed Sheeran shows that “Sing” wasn’t just an exception.
[8]

Anthony Easton: This isn’t sexy at all — you know, it’s not something to grind to. But it is boisterous and fun. If you can get away from the fame for fame sake, there is a sporting sense of fun here. The problem is the self-loathing and how it slops over to a loathing of her; it stains the whole thing with an ugly misogyny.
[3]

Alfred Soto: I protest, I protest most strongly, against turning Ed Sheeran into another asshole who’d rather play with Adam Levine under the sheets with gin and limes.
[3]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Jamie Cullum… Sorry, Jamiroquai’s new single is some good ol’ bare-bones rhythm tracks, soulful interpretation of dissolution and deep miserable blues. The kind only Jamie Lidell… Oh whoops, sorry, Sam Smith knows how to do for you. It’s funny, there’s so many would-be Rick Astley’s in the world, I’m getting old Paul Young mixed up with the rest of them. My bad! Well, when he actually does something aside from, you know, doing a new version of the same single he’s been doing for the last 4 decades, we’ll be ready!
[3]

Patrick St. Michel: Weird that they bothered to put drums and piano and bass farts in this…”Don’t” is destined to be turned into a better YouTube a cappella.
[3]

Crystal Leww: In “Don’t,” Ed Sheeran plays a vindictive bad boy with confessional tendencies, but uh, really no one needs any more art about dudes who act dickish towards girls. They don’t need any more canonization in pop culture, I promise. At least none who end choruses with some terribly shrill “Ahhhhhllamalaaaaaahmahh” anyway.
[2]

Luisa Lopez: Ed Sheeran always sounds a little out of his element when he tries to get dark: it’s never really believable and his voice tends to be too delicate to convey any kind of venom, which a song like this requires. But he’s clearly trying hard and there is some mounting dread that emerges toward the end in an uncomfortable way, in which he never comes directly out with an insult but instead mumbles I thought you were different, which is somehow worse. It’s a knife-laden song for an ex that never has the courage to get angry, preferring to tread water with a pointed stare instead, and yet there’s still a lingering dirtiness about it, like he mailed a demo to her house with a note written in lipstick she’d left at his place on their first date that only says, I thought you were different. Yikes.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Play Taylor Swift and she’ll write you into a song. Play Ed Sheeran and he’ll just smear falsetto all over “Heartless.”
[3]

Elisabeth Sanders: This is basically just “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” but with, if it’s even possible, even more embarrassingly self-righteous lyrics. It wasn’t a good song when it was about how Ed Sheeran is a Tru Authenticke Artiste who doesn’t need yr help writing songs, and it’s an even worse song when it’s about how he was very hurt when a girl he wasn’t technically dating slept with someone else. The problem here is, I think, he might actually benefit from “another wordsmith to make my tune sell.”
[3]

Will Adams: Years ago, iTunes offered this one Fink song as its free Single of the Week. I downloaded it and, liking its hushed coffeehouse sound, kept it on my iPod. Only earlier this year did I rediscover it after trawling through my library and realize that it’s got some truly horrifying lyrics (opening line: “When she leaves, she’s just asking to be followed”); I deleted it immediately. “Don’t” isn’t as slimy, but it has that same effect, couching its sleaze in more palatable percussive clatters and muted guitar riffs. I can’t shake the association.
[4]

Brad Shoup: The wordless bit jabs at me from my headphones: too loud and too sudden. His cadences imply seduction — at odds with the thrust of the track, but I guess slipping into a BLACKstreet voice means he’s so cool, so over it. Maybe the anger’s supposed to come from that gaseous bass?
[4]

David Lee: Ed Sheeran’s Trapped in the Closet, this fall, on ABC Family!
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: Mr. Sheeran, I know Justin Timberlake, and Mr. Sheeran, you sir are no Justin Timberlake. So stop trying, you goddamn phony.
[2]

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CHARLI XCX - BREAK THE RULES
[5.75]


We’re waiting for the Alice Cooper cover.

Josh Langhoff: A worthy successor to “School’s Out,” which it sort of resembles. It’s got undeniable singalong potential and it’s not oversold by any fancy production — notice how, rather than exploding after the chorus, the “band” or whoever just chugs along. “Boom Clap” delivered the aesthetic pleasure; “Break the Rules” could be an effective rallying cry that outlives us all. But also like “School’s Out,” if it disappeared from the face of the earth I wouldn’t care.
[6]

Dorian Sinclair: I would love this track if it were shorter. If this were two minutes or less, it’d be a beautifully sharp, snappy sneer of a song, an insouciant little ‘fuck you’ to the establishment. Very punky, very fun. As is, it feels overlong and repetitive, and by the time you make it to the end Charli’s declaration of rebelliousness feels more perfunctory than anything, having lost all of the bite it has when you first hear it.
[5]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Oh fantastic, it’s The Great Stefani Robbery. Charli is the eternal playground rebel, and while I understand the value of someone treating those residual Spice Girls sugar highs of years passed as a holy treasure, it’s more ancient relic to me. The production here is beefed out like nobody’s business, as Charli’s clearly intent to stop giving handouts to the many snausages she’s been featured alongside and finally get herself in the key position of SUCCESS!. That breakdown is a massive damning home-run, and come New Year’s, it’s going to be the like the voice of the angel Metatron shrieking at you from every corner of the earth, convincing you that this time you will hit the gym and the tax returns will be enough, so get it in right now. But as someone who could never turn headphones up loud enough to drown out pep rallies across the eastern seaboard, I could do without this cheerleader bleating about.
[5]

Alfred Soto: She wants to break the rules with a hornet swell that could have come from a Calvin Harris record in 2008; besides, these days wanting to stay in school is breaking the rules. Alright, fine. Ear-catching gewgaws abound: the guitar she says she strums, a perfect synth solo to which she of course sings along. But in an environment where Adam Levine and Taylor Swift rummage through discarded odds and ends, Charli’s force can hold it together, for after all she sold those odds and ends once already. Resourceful like Iggy Azalea isn’t.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Taylor Swift announced her love for late-’80s pop just as Charli XCX thoroughly abandoned her immaculate recollection of the form that was True Romance. What she’s abandoned it for, thank goodness, at least in part isn’t bland “Boom Clap” metapop but pop-rock made by badass robots with teased hair-filaments: the stuff of Sky Ferreira’s “Red Lips” and Fefe Dobson’s debut and Garbage at their commercial tackiest on to Republica — and as the one person alive who listened to Christiana Obey, I’m all for that. Charli throws in references at post-Internet hyperspeed: building off that one guitar line everyone uses to signify punk in pop, rhyming “discotheque” with “getting wrecked” because anachronisms are also broken rules. The song builds like EDM, but instead of a drop there’s a low-key variation on the “Shout” riff, and is that a DJ Mustard loop I hear in the background where it’s pointless? Even Charli’s trash is treasure.
[8]

Danilo Bortoli: We should have seen this coming, given the fact her recent affair with rebellion in a Snuffed by the Yakuza cover is not an isolated incident — anarcopunk has always been in her musical DNA. “Break the Rules” shows these feelings are simplified for this song, almost adapted to her pop sensibility. Sadly, this also means the original nerve of actually breaking the rules of pop music gets lost in translation: “Break the Rules” is no crossover. It’s a tried and tested, often soulless formula.
[5]

Hazel Robinson: It is kind of distressing to say that this chirpily obnoxious playground snot does not suit Charli XCX and sounds, dare I say it, pallidly hollow. :(
[5]

Patrick St. Michel: Honestly, I will never listen to this song after finishing this blurb…beyond the being-a-rebel-handbook lyrics (“I don’t want to go to school/I just want to break the rules” c’mon), it’s just not my speed. But I give Charli XCX points for two things. First, it’s pretty genius of her to rewrite “Song 2” into a vaguely EDM-pop number, because that move makes total sense but I’ve never heard anyone else try it. Second, I’m sure kids will love shouting along to this on the radio, and that’s who this will ultimately sound best to (“I don’t want to go to school” c’mon).
[5]

Iain Mew: Charli’s declamatory staccato and the aggressive bass thrust find a happy midpoint of uneasy hedonism midway between “I Love It” and Marina’s "Oh No". Then there’s the bit where the aggression suddenly disappear in favour of a happy little synth dance. It’s the closest thing to the great non-drop in "Spring of Life" I’ve heard since, and approaches the same levels of joy in the breaking of rules.
[8]

Luisa Lopez: Charli XCX never sounds like she’s singing so much as shouting. It works for whatever persona she’s going for, which seems to be hot belligerent teen (this song confirms it, as much as a song containing the line you catch my eye if you wanna fly can confirm something), but it doesn’t make for music that’s much of anything. Sweet dance break, though.
[2]

Ashley Ellerson: So happy Charli brought back the discotheque, heart thumping beats, and a new dance anthem. She’s breaking the rules by proving that she is more talented than simply being a featurette with other hitmakers. If the rest of Sucker lives up to “Break the Rules” glory, Charli XCX will rule the airwaves.
[9]

Brad Shoup: I guess the world wasn’t ready for “Billy S.”, huh? Where there was rock ‘n’ roll, now there’s kohl-lined grunge: monotonous bass tagging out with a great twiddly dancepop figure. It’s married to some Big Beat drums, too, giving us a sort of time-capsule transitional document that Charli’s gotten Sharpies all over.
[5]

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KATE BOY - SELF CONTROL
[7.20]


It looks like they’re aware of the video, too.

Jessica Doyle: This space was cleared for some lazy you’re-no-Jack-Kennedy jokes — and then it turned out that Kate Boy was not only aware of the beautiful trembling dramatic space that is Laura Branigan’s “Self Control,” but could insert herself into it and even offer a possible rebuke to the original narrator. Passivity is not submission, and abdication of personal responsibility is not a shortcut to passion. And yet somehow Kate Boy pulls off this critique without coming off as cold or stronger-than-thou. Listening makes me wants to rise to her challenge.
[8]

Alfred Soto: Compressed, coiled guitar straight out of an xx song, a vocal spooky-beautiful like Fever Ray’s, and a title stolen from Laura Branigan’s magnificent 1984 DOR hit — it’s high concept that works.
[7]

Hazel Robinson: Oh, I’ve seen this woman live. I know because the recording of this song on YouTube showcases her dubious taste in coats. This is the modern young person’s Goldsmiths-Art-College-discovers-early-Madonna pop that’s fairly big in small venues in London at the minute. Possibly she’ll be the next Charli XCX but this song isn’t gonna be the thing that pushes her above the median of the trend.
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: I’m not sure if Kate Boy are still doing the shadowy outfit routine anymore or not, but either way it doesn’t matter — their music aims to be as in-the-open as possible. “Self Control” bounces forward on rubbery bass and a march-ready beat, all building up to the best chorus they’ve written to date, a shambling hook that’s not worried about hiding its face at all. It wants to be seen as the shout-along single it is.
[9]

Katherine St Asaph: Akhurst’s Jessica Folcker rasp is as compelling as ever, and more ragged in the interim; the choruses still hit like a dry ice blast and sound colder than anything around. The hooks are still half as hooky as they should be.
[6]

Anthony Easton: It is so rare that a song’s message fits so tenderly into the song’s production. There is nothing more controlled than the last coda, but it’s a control that comes from self-informed ecstasy.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: Imagine a Niki & The Dove/Kate Boy collaboration. Yes, it would sound similar to the bulk of their respective “oeuvres,” but that would be the point. Jagged crystals encase Kate Akhurst, and she responds to them in kind — alarmed at the potential for serious injury, and bellowing at the forlorn hope of getting out. They are pretty, though.
[7]

Brad Shoup: Songs that pitchshift the lead vocal into the trebly red are probably its own Scandinavian subgenre at this point. I can’t be bothered to consider that further, though, because the line “it’s an invasion on my patience” reminds me of Lansing-Dreiden, and nothing reminds me of Lansing-Dreiden. Regardless, the song’s crisp and unforgiving, concerned with the text and the ways it can be inserted via a gigantic needle.
[5]

Ashley Ellerson: I can’t tell if this song is about someone with schizophrenia (“there’s polyphonic voices in my head again”) or simple mental distress resulting from others’ negativity (“a negative topic gives them watering”). Regardless of perspective, we humans ruminate on negative thoughts often and need to give our minds a break. This is a liberation song, for dancing away negativity and staying true to ourselves.
[8]

Will Adams: At this point, Kate Boy have more than infused a sense of control into their artistry. Sporadic releases, a familiar sonic bedding of dusky drums and banshee synths, a monochromatic scheme for all of their videos: there is an eroticism in their tightly wound, almost guarded approach to music that is so appealing to me. “Self Control” sounds like their manifesto, with Kate Akhurst creeping low for the verses and exploding into that self-actualizing chorus. And then there’s the post-chorus, where the title tumbles over and over; where the term is usually used in the negative sense, it becomes a positive here.
[8]

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TAYLOR SWIFT - SHAKE IT OFF
[5.42]


It’s Teenpop Friday! We kick things off with the post all you anticipators anticipate-pate-pate-pate-pated…

Jessica Doyle: The second verse is the problem. The first verse is fine; the first verse — specifically, the giggle to herself that follows “I go on too many dates” — is the awaited postcard from Swiftworld. But there is no way that “I make the moves up as I go / and that’s what they don’t know” applies to circa-2014 Taylor Swift. She doesn’t make the moves up as she goes; she carefully focus-tests them, and we know it, but it’s one thing to openly focus-test and another to put out a carefully focused-tested song. If “all the most embarrassing things about Taylor Swift are the best things" — a statement I agree with, though perhaps that sentiment belongs in the hallway and not the classroom — then Taylor Swift should be putting out songs about Taylor Swift, yes even 2014 Wildly Successful Focus-Testing Taylor Swift, not generic be-yourself anthems. Taylor Swift should not be releasing songs that feel a year behind the curve (or a few weeks behind the curve, depending on your feelings about the sonic resemblance between this and “All About That Bass”). And Taylor Swift should not be the least interesting person in her own video.
[4]

Josh Love: I wouldn’t mind the extreme self-awareness of the first verse if there had been a second verse that was more inclusive of the listener and thereby gave everyone more of a reason to identify when she concludes, “Haters gonna hate,” sort of how Drake’s relatable recollections of arguing with his mom, borrowing his uncle’s car and getting stuck in traffic help you feel included in the boasts of “Started From the Bottom.” Instead we get a little goofy spoken-word aside and a cheerleader chant that, yeah, Avril beat her to by seven years, both of which suck you entirely out of the momentum of the admittedly giddy chorus. Meaning there’s only about 2:18 worth of song here, and even that includes Taylor giggling to herself at the end of a line, which I think she’s done in a song at least twice before even though it’s really not a gimmick that works more than once.
[5]

Dorian Sinclair: Pretend I’m a mega-rich music exec. Pitch me Max Martin working with TSwift on a track about how she can’t dance but doesn’t care, and I’m sold. That idea is amazing, in theory. In practice, unfortunately, it became “Shake It Off”, which is dated (“haters gonna hate,” Taylor? Really?), racist (the twerk-tunnel, Taylor? Really???), and just kind of embarrassing all around (the JLo drag, Taylor? Really?????). It’s catchy, I suppose. I like the horns underscoring the whole thing. That’s about what I can muster as far as praise.
[4]

Anthony Easton: I was anticipating with some amount of pleasure the new Swift, and was even hoping against a full immersion into generic pop. But this is what the world sounds like now, and she is pretty brilliant at noting where her audience is at, and there is a point where the music isn’t for me, and I move along. I never thought Swift would bore me.
[5]

Alfred Soto: I’m in the minority regarding Red: Shellback and Max Martin’s insistent electrohooks pounded Swift’s lyrics into meat sauce. Of course it was her decision — these were her songs. But if she wanted to record her First Pop Album, then she needed collaborators who know how to record horns and write horn lines that didn’t sound like rhythm guitar jabs. A “Happy” knockoff — great! The world needs another joyless ode performed by human resources administrators. Compressed, obvious, even desperate, “Shake It Off” is unworthy of the Mariah Carey song of the same name, of the added Jonas Bros cheer “Pom Pom.” Not unworthy of Swift — like I said, she wanted to record this shit, and she has Red in her discography. Worthy of Genesis though.
[2]

Luisa Lopez: With the weight of everything that came before it was impossible for this song to perform what we wanted, which is why T Swift has beaten us all to the judgment and named her tuneful rebirth “Shake It Off”. Reveling in those Hey Mickey claps and frothing with fizzy Avril posturing, it seems, initially, like a letdown. This is a song performed more for Taylor than any audience it will come across, a kind of self-affirmation that is sometimes hard to translate into worldwide celebration. In a few moments, her attempts at dirty edge come across as almost mean-spirited. So here we are, meeting a new Taylor Swift for the first time and looking among the beats for traces of who she was before. They’re there, snuck in between those brassy bouts of bravura: the mm, mms from “Hey Stephen”, the spoken interlude from “We Are Never”, a beat dripping with more destiny than “I Knew You Were Trouble”. And the men! Now, for the first time, nameless, sedimentary, not only ripe for mocking but actively mocked, turned into pleasurable comforts, not lingered on but, at last, thrown away. It is distinctly wonderful to hear Taylor Swift growl, won’t you come on over baby we could shake, shake, shake. After all, the last person who would have accepted a moon-eyed single about men from Taylor Swift is Taylor Swift herself. Given over instead to reinvention, her music becomes something it never was before: self-aware. So if longing is country, then triumph is pop. And here she is.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: I feel like I’ve pissed off the world’s most insular wizard, who has doomed me to be the contrarian on every Taylor Swift song. Single after single of supposed singular girlfire left me grumpy and unmoved, and now her new one is a tiny, sour-sweet raspberry hard candy piece and it’s great. A backlash was due — Red's singles cycle petered out, Swift's image took some tabloid hits. In times of adversity businesses batten the hatches, which in pop means Max Martin and Shellback on everything and less personality, and the grumbling associated with that. then came the video: so close to being OK, then enter that scene, like twerking clockwork. At first I thought the team was just going for a lazy Evolution of Dance, Except I’m Taylor Swift And I’m Totes Awk! theme, and all they took away from Miley2K3 was that people called her slutty — but no, it’s Mark fucking Romanek, who directed “Scream,” “Closer,” “Criminal,” and "99 Problems." He knows how controversy works; more pertinently, he hasn’t done any videos this decade except “Picasso Baby,” U2 and this, so this clip is probably just a deliberately cynical way to funnel your clicks into his kid’s tuition jar. The song, however, is great, mostly because it stands alone. Taylor isn’t rapping, she’s doing cheer chants or perhaps Leighton Meestering; every spoken-word interlude in music is not rap. The rest is concerned solely with caramelizing Robyn, Miley, Christina, “Problem,” “Happy,” Bella Thorne and the tabloid bullshit (“I go on too many dates, but I can’t make them stay”) into limitless hook sugar. It is inessential and indelible. Like “Get Lucky” and “Call Me Maybe,” it’s got an endlessly snowclonable chorus; meme aggregators gonna gate-gate-gate-gate-gate. It is also a massive earworm.
[7]

David Moore: In my parallel universe where the Spinto Band’s "Shake It Off" became an OK Go-level indie smash thanks to the viral video they never actually made, Taylor Swift might never have had the inspiration to provide this mildly corrective vanilla-scented air freshener for the overripe saccharine funk that’s hung in the air at least since…how long has it been? Back when Allison Iraheta failed to break through with the then-latest Cheerleader Barbie iteration of Martin/Luke, there was, I thought, more than a whiff of desperation to the whole sound, but I didn’t realize that what I’d assumed was just the last gasp of Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” was in fact mere prelude to our unfortunate few summers of mandatory fun. So even though I’m officially old and cranky enough to prefer the Spintos’ sleeper to Taylor Swift’s effervescence with telltale beads of sweat on the brow (to say nothing about Mariah, let’s not bring her into this), this squeaks through on an embarrassing curve. (Dear god is it possible that the best trying-too-hard clap-clap-pop salvo of recent years was really by the Jonas Brothers?)
[7]

Kat Stevens: A non-controversial fact about T-Swift: at 5’10” she is a good six inches taller than Svetlana Khorkina, one of the tallest Olympic gymnastics gold medallists in the last 30 years or so (and definitely the only one to win a medal doing a floor routine to Demis Roussous). HOWEVER rhythmic gymnasts tend to be a bit taller on average than their artistic counterparts, so that’s at least one sensible decision made by Swift in this video. Khorkina was originally told she would only ever make it as a rhythmic gymnast, but she decided to invent a number of skills on vault and bars that would suit her taller frame and turn her ‘disadvantage’ into something spectacular. Swift does not have any initial disadvantage as far as I can see, and this song is about as inventive and spectacular as me doing a forward roll.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Words are not able to suit me in describing my disdain for this young lady’s discography. I am going to quote the words of occasional TSJ subject and modern poet Jeffrey Williams AKA Thugger Thugger on this subject:"PLEASE GET THE FUCK OUT MY FACE"
[0]

Hazel Robinson: This is a fucking great song of such terrific, summery magnitude that I would play all day every day if I could get through it without bashing my head onto my desk again and again and again in a desperate and futile protest against white female popstars seemingly thinking the best response to haters is to make a repellent, racist video. Why, my fellow white people, why?
[6]

Josh Winters: That bleating horn gets a bit grating when you really focus on it, and the corny-as-hell bridge nearly kills the whole thing. And yet somehow, despite all of that…
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: It’s ironic that a song about ignoring everything has opened the thinkpiece floodgates. It’s the video, though, that’s really getting the attention, which is warranted but something I don’t really want to focus on (because there’s dozens of other articles about that). “Shake It Off” the song is incredibly simple on purpose - Taylor Swift has made the sonic equivalent of a “Dance Like Nobody Is Watching” poster, a fitting introduction for what she’s calling her first official pop album. It guns for this fall’s slumber parties and awkward dorm mixers, scalpelling out anything that could be read as too personal (well, almost anything…if “media industry people” had a better ring than “haters,” the “too many dates line” would make a lot more sense). It boasts an awkward-on-purpose breakdown that attempts to bring “hella” back into the lexicon. Like “Happy” before it, it abuses repetition to maximum effect. It has been out one day and it’s already the top foreign song on the Japanese iTunes charts, and will only rise higher worldwide. “Shake It Off” isn’t remotely complex, but complexity doesn’t turn you into a global smash.
[7]

Jonathan Bradley: Taylor Swift launched her career with a song about a covert backroad hook-up and a few singles later, she was coming on like a junior Miranda Lambert, spreading nasty rumors and starting fires. Yet the world discovered her and fixed her in place as a fairytale naif — a persona she hardly disavowed, but one she never embraced entirely either. Now nearing her 25th birthday — she’s been of voting for most of her career — she’s evincing an ever more powerful desire to abandon the youthful earnestness that never fully defined her anyway. “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “22” were both big pop moves, but they were also an embrace of adulthood as an opportunity for new immaturity. In this mold, “Shake It Off” is gleefully vapid, with Swift boasting in the opening lines that she goes “on too many dates” and has “nothing in [her] brain” like an honors student urging everyone to join her in doing shots. The (sick) beat, augmented by a joyously tacky dollar store Swizz Beatz horn line, is matched only by the void of a second verse as a declaration that, for Taylor, growing up means trading hang-ups for hook-ups. She ends the tune hitting on a random hottie, which makes sense after a chorus warning that “players gonna play” and “heartbreakers gonna break.” Once upon a time those sobriquets might have referred to lovers callous and careless, but this Swift seems happy to adopt them for herself, no matter which haters hate-hate-hate-hate.
[9]

Juana Giaimo: The three main singles from Red showed how self-conscious Taylor Swift is of her position in the music scene — just remember “with some Indie record that’s much cooler than mine”— and of what the audience like about her too — the drama. Of course that self-consciusness also showed how aware she is of the people who criticize her. But the message of “Shake It Off” is clear: the pressure (either coming from the outside or even from herself) has gone away and she just feels free to do whatever she wants. This can’t only be seen in the lyrics, but also in the casual style of the music. While it was perfectionism what caracterized Red, this time she looks for a (safe) change. Some have already mentioned that the brass is rather shallow and that the bridge is an old trick that doesn’t fit into the song, but that is exactly what Taylor may be looking for; to get away from the Taylor Swift structure and just experiment with the sounds. Being catchy and memorable is a attribute that people look in singles, but “Shake It Off” maybe aims for something different: the present, that is, to sing along and dance while listening to it to make you feel empowered and encouraged to leave your old self aside — at least for three and a half minutes, because we still have to see what the rest of 1989 has to offer us.
[8]

Mark Sinker: is this the mpla
[5]

Josh Langhoff: For a song about the innate spring of music that transforms Taylor into a reckless fountain of Terpsichore, “Shake It Off” could have been called “Try Too Hard.” It’s not just the sentiment, whose paradoxical depths — recording a big budget pop song about how little one cares — have been plumbed better by Taylor herself, not to mention Fred Durst and others. The music’s exhausting too. All those repeated word hooks sound as forced as the “wre-eh-eck” in “Wrecking Ball,” the “following-following-following” in “Maps,” or the cheer of camp counselors performing some wretched skit. Any points go to Taylor’s expert vocal harmonies, the only things luring me out from under the covers during the next few months of “Shake It Off” ubiquity.
[4]

Sabina Tang: This is what bothers me about Taylor in her twenties: the self-image she communicates hasn’t kept up with her growing privilege and reach. Taylor tended to present as the awkward, uncool, normal-ish kid — not popular or bullied but sidelined — even though she was objectively blonde/thin/gorgeous and a multi-platinum selling songwriting prodigy. At one point it seemed like she would knowingly complexify this stance (eg. the “You Belong With Me” video), but now it’s like… “I dance badly like a normal white girl! Indie boys will never think I’m hip! I am so surprised I won another award!” I know this is projection, by the way. Celebrity h8 is embarrassingly revealing about the h8er and says little about the celebrity. Here’s what I hope this gut reaction says about me: I’m wary of people who position themselves as the underdog, the more so if it’s unconscious. The world is a riot of ladders, and one can be at top and bottom simultaneously — one can stand on the next-to-top rung and still look up. The worst shit in the world happens because people believe they’re still punching up when they’re punching down or sideways. Taylor Swift is not the worst, but in retrospect it’s easy to be wise and big-picture and only a little bit acid when you’re 16 and life hasn’t really happened. Eventually, things have to go wrong not only because h8rs like me say this or that, or indie boys are objectively terrible, but because you fucked up. If you can shake it off, you can afford to be generous, or at least to model generosity in a pop ditty. No such relaxation yet, though; she still cares too much about not caring that she’s uncool. God, 24 is a ungracious age, isn’t it? I’ll check back again in two years.
[7]

Sonia Yang: Previous album’s Martin & Shellback track, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” was a clever piece of irony in which Swift gave her critics exactly what they wanted and expected, a silly ‘stereotypical Taylor Swift song’ about boys. This time, she addresses her detractors more directly and flippantly, quoting the tired lines tabloids spew about her and brushing them off. With its infectious beat, “Shake It Off” not only sweetly gives haters the finger, but is the go-to jam for those days when you just can’t get started because too many things are dragging you down. It’s also the first song to successfully combine a meme phrase and a horn section.
[7]

Will Adams: Straight out of the “Roar” School For Comeback Singles, “Shake It Off” delivers a reedy haters-gonna-hate anthem that couldn’t be any less relatable (in that it’s pretty easy for someone of Swift’s overwhelming success to shake off the critics) or compelling (in that at every turn, the song recalls other, better works, from 3LW to Avril). For all of their faults, at least the Red singles retained some semblance of Swift’s aesthetic, but she couldn’t be more anonymous here.
[2]

Thomas Inskeep: I compare this move to Gwen Stefani’s first solo album: she’s been inching in this direction for a while, but rather than a toe-dip this is a head-first dive into the pop pool. And as it goes, it’s not half-bad. T-Swift’s spoken-word “rap” is embarassing, but no moreso than you’d expect, and this sounds exactly like you’d expect an upbeat, pure pop song from a 24-year-old superstar to sound (especially factoring in the contributions of Max Martin and Shellback). This will, for better or worse, be the unavoidable single of the back half of 2014.
[5]

Brad Shoup: The pump-up drumwork and horns — not peppy, more coronary — place the whole song in a cheerleading context, not just the sprechstimme. Of course, she’s cheering herself. Despite its callous attitude towards hating — one of our prime and vital industries — I found “Mean” quite affecting, and the same is happening here. Swift’s imperfect voice straining its range helps; that it’s in service to a fine melody wielded bluntly helps even more. She tries to grind us all to dust with that repetition, both in the refrain and in the final minute, and the effort’s affecting. So we have a sturdy affirmation anthem with a vulnerable vanilla center. No wonder that this fluff sounds so serious.
[10]

Danilo Bortoli: This is the point wherein Taylor Swift finally develops her very own kind of a Avril Lavigne syndrome (both sonically and ideologically), a case in which artists’ songs keep portraying a vision of youth as fullfield as artificial. Strangely, this is exactly what makes Swift’s sound so perfect in terms of execution (this one is no exception): everything is where it’s supposed to be, but “Shake It Off” is vague about what it wants to do, a problem that comes out as the “Who are ‘they’?” question. Of course, “they” are her critics, people who come prepared to pin down on every word she writes. But there are others, like me, who understand her weaknesses, but prefer to rationalize it in order to enjoy the fun of it (I know this is beyond uncritical, but nevermind, I prefer Hermeneutics). This was a small price to pay until now. Naturally, all this temporary solution crumbles down when her response to the critics is ridiculous poetic license present in lines like “haters gonna hate” and “fakers gonna fake”. Still, this is considered to be perfection. But, still, a really boring kind of overachievement.
[4]

Edward Okulicz: If Taylor wanted a sick beat for her can’t-get-me-down banger, she should have stolen the one from Tove Styrke’s “Even If I’m Loud, It Doesn’t Mean I’m Talking To You,” of which this feels like a less interesting sibling. The spoken word bit is Stump meets Stefani. The farting horns straddle “hook” and “atrocity” like a tightrope walker. I’m sure the chorus’s melody is just as pillaged as the words and I know it’s just as tired. The song is pretty good for a Jessie J song, but in the end that’s really all it is; it feels like a nondescript melange of a bunch of fun stuff that Swift does competently but other people do better.
[4]

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LIGHTS - UP WE GO
[5.20]


What if that Ellie Goulding song came to life and decided to make music? You… actually wouldn’t be that far off from this…

Patrick St. Michel: Yet the blanket like quality of the music and lyrics pin me down.
[4]

Dorian Sinclair: I know very little about Lights. I know everyone I’ve ever met from rural Ontario loves her. I know she’s tricky to Google. And after listening this song, I now know she likes really big, spacious synth chords, optimism in the face of adversity, and clever wordplay (“Nothing gives easy/Easy gives nothing” and the preposition shift of “on we go” changing to “up we go” in the chorus). As it happens, I also like all of these things! Wow, does her voice ever sound strained on the high notes, though. I’m worried you’ll hurt yourself, friend. Shift it down a key or two.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Begging for a Charli XCX hook.
[4]

Dan MacRae: “Up We Go” has this slo-mo futuristic (but not that futuristic) water slide feel to it that I’m positively smitten with. Tastefully deployed guitar touches make the electro-pop glaze all the sweeter.
[8]

Brad Shoup: The synth intro is some transposed Fall Out Boy shit: good work. Actually, the whole thing’s on some synthpop-punk deal, but like one of the ballads. She’s pushing red vocally the whole way. It’s kind of exhausting, especially when the chorus just plods along, oblivious to the jump Lights is trying to take.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Sia/Kurstin for people who hate dynamic range.
[3]

Juana Giaimo: Now that there are so many synth pop artists, and they all aim for a catchy and upbeat melody with a encouraging message, I’m starting to get slightly bored unless they try to surprise me. And this is not the case. Still, enjoyable I guess.
[6]

Mallory O’Donnell: It’s not a bad idea — self-actualization lyrics as heard on I Heart Radio draped over an old New Order b-side. Sadly, the usual sense of false heroism and unnecessary backbeat overwhelms.
[4]

Maxwell Cavaseno: I can appreciate that Lights is trying to weave in the older influences of “See! I did the New Order chime guitar” and point out that “Hey, I totally could’ve been Ellie Goulding if I was good enough 5 years ago!”. But I’m not having a bar of this anthemic synth stomp stupidity. This shrieking isn’t encouraging me to climb out the ditch, it’s making me pray for a cave in, because maybe that’ll muffle her infernal parrot screech.
[3]

Hazel Robinson: Lights has never quite grabbed me — I’ve always thought she seemed like a broadly good thing in principle, but the songs have just never elicited a reaction stronger than “hmm, pop” from me. Which this was on a course to continuing until nothing gives easy/and easy gives nothing,and I suddenly found myself getting really caught up in the sort of pixie sadness of the whole thing.
[7]

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TROYE SIVAN - HAPPY LITTLE PILL
[5.20]


Instead of making us better, you keep making us ill…

Katherine St Asaph: “Anhedonia is notoriously hard to portray without slipping back into hedonism; one misstep and you’re The Wolf of Wall Street pretending it doesn’t dig the idea of doing blow off a woman’s crack.” I wrote that about “Novacane” about two weeks ago, and here we are again, staring down another guy staring down an even bigger pile of good fortune. I want to resent “Happy Little Pill” on principle because I resent the A&R machines of the world promoting at talent and vibrancy’s expense every YouTube and/or Wolverine-starring white boy with a Boy Scout look and a vague R&B and/or acoustic bent, preferably both. (See also: Shawn Mendes. I know it’s what the public wants.) But damn if this emotive yuppie synthpop doesn’t work as well as it has for three decades; the problem is Sivan. Terse summary lyrics like “tight skin, bodyguards, cocaine, dollar bills” don’t read as quick-cuts or world-weary so much as unfamiliar abstractions, downplayed for the censors. And if you are singing about feeling exhausted or numb, you should sound exhausted or numb, or barring that manic. You should not sound like you’re singing scales for Jens Lekman’s vocal coach.
[5]

Scott Mildenhall: Bearing that midrange Bublétone that many a conventionally attractive X Factor hopeful has before being siphoned off into a boyband, Sivan is assured of and in the role of sentient droid. His whole EP is redolent of what Aiden Grimshaw was doing a couple of years ago, only with those seeming vocal limitations that both account and make up for the chorus’ inconspicuousness.
[6]

Anthony Easton: Lorde without the moral ambiguity — actually, one of the least ironic depictions of why drugs work, why he likes the drugs and the drugs like him, a swoony ode to the pleasures of easy capital, easy sex, and the right pharmaceuticals, with a perfect voice filled to the brim with helium light loucheness.
[9]

Patrick St. Michel: He almost gets a good one in when he (I think) uses Gucci as a verb, but it’s not enough to make up for the raspberry of a theme here. If you embrace the blunted, skittery slo-mo sort of music, you better have something remotely interesting to say (or at least something that sounds good). This is boring “wake up sheeple” blather.
[3]

Will Adams: The pill is Valium, apparently.
[4]

Brad Shoup: For a second, I thought we were in composed downtempo mode à la “Center of the Sun,” but nah, it’s some awful Frank Ocean attempt with seagull chirps and a haha-no-really anti-drug message. I don’t even drug and I’m offended.
[3]

Hazel Robinson: I am fascinated with the success of this and “Habits” in the UK chart — there was a point where there were about five songs in the top 20 that were about self-medicating yourself into insensibility to deal with life. Which feels like a fair assessment of the micro- and macro-emotional battery of 2014. And this is languid and sad, inelegant and naff and exhausted — it’s so self-consciously brattish about its need for anaesthetic it seems like the sort of juvenile effort that wouldn’t necessarily gain traction in a cynical nation. But then that glorious, obviously-this-is-why-it’s-done-so-well-in-the-UK “bollocks, bollocks, bollocks" dirge of a refrain. Cocaine and dollar bills are all very well, but if you want to hit the universal "there’s-something-in-my-eye" diaphragm-punch for this shitty little island you best believe there’s few things more effective than that.
[8]

Iain Mew: I can’t get over how much his voice reminds me of Gary Lightbody from Snow Patrol. That doesn’t help me to buy any of the excess. Gary has been out of his mind on drink on drugs in song too, though, so maybe it’s more that the song sounds so thoroughly sterile and numbed there’s not enough room for any other sensation.
[4]

Juana Giaimo: Troye Sivan is updated on the latest hipster electropop music and that weird noise after the chorus as well as the distortion of his voice can clearly show it. He could make of it a melancholic song, with minimalistic lyrics about a lonely life of excess. Maybe if you forget that this is made by a 19 year old Youtube star, you can actually empathize with him.
[7]

Crystal Leww: Troye Sivan sounds like he’s trying to imitate his favorite R&B singers, but this has absolutely no bite. Awwww, this is maybe the most pleasant lil song about drugs I’ve ever heard.
[3]

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SBTRKT FT. EZRA KOENIG - NEW DORP. NEW YORK.
[5.50]


Amazingly, our first use of the word “cronut”…

Maxwell Cavaseno: SBTRKT is an interesting figure when you consider he was instrumental in the passing of the UK scene from the murk and mire of dubstep’s battle with funky’s brash hip-flash of life into the yawn-inducing sagas of future garage to the current weird amorpho-house that London is churning out. Do I blame him entirely? No, because despite his ease in acquiring celebrity guests to bolster his tunes, there was always a playful razor’s edge to some of his work. Listen to him turn the toy grime of Tinie Tempah’s “Pass Out" into a track that’s equally bouncy and road as all hell. You can’t get that from the bland nerd faces of Disclosure, I’m sorry. So to hear him recruit Ezra of Vampire Weekend, for a mission where they re-envision David Essex’s "Rock On" getting dissected and reassembled by Liquid Liquid, providing the first song by NY hipsters about New York that sounds less like coke parties in Williamsburg on a Friday night than the pneumatic senses of a homeless man’s ragged days beneath those infernal lights that never stop? Yeah, I’ll take it, and then some.
[9]

Anthony Easton: A hot asphalt late summer ode, dumb and cryptic, but with pretty much perfect vocals.
[8]

Josh Love: Really tests my theory that I’d happily listen to Koenig sing the phone book, or at least a Cheever short story. This is practically Ezra Koenig Mad Libs, with its unilluminating references to Israelites and Manhattan and allusions to the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, like something Koenig scribbled down on the back of a napkin in between bites of his cronut. That said, I’d still be willing to buy in if the music wasn’t even more lacking in purpose or direction. Rostam Batmanglij, you’re officially forgiven for Discovery.
[5]

Iain Mew: If you made a song like Vampire Weekend’s most cryptic, most punk songs, and slowed it down and took out all the melody and energy, you would… why would you ever do that??
[3]

Will Adams: Like my own prequel to "Vermillion," when the city throbbed enticingly with near-surreal images of gargling gargoyles while drums clattered and oil bubbled up from underneath; a city that loomed ominously but from which I couldn’t quite look away.
[8]

Hazel Robinson: Do they have gargoyles in New York? I ask because I can’t really imagine them. But this is awesome, muttered, chaotic nonsense, the hubbub of a party full of in-jokes that you’re just in on enough to be laughing at.
[8]

Josh Winters: A hallucinogenic romp through the urban jungle, with Ezra spitting out his usual gobbledygook as a cast of nightcrawlers accompany him on his walkabout.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: New Jersey, dull blursy. New Haven, unshaven. New Paltz, such putz.
[1]

David Sheffieck: I appreciate Koenig’s willingness to do features, some of which — like 2009’s “Warm Heart of Africa" — are both genuinely great and the equivalent of signal-boosting a lesser-known artist. Neither quality is apparent here: Koenig begins the song in strong form, but as soon as the reverb drops and he starts chanting he sounds out of his depth. He never recovers, and while SBTRKT’s production has some interesting touches that suggest found sound, they’re not enough to propel the song beyond its non-starter of a singer.
[5]

Alfred Soto: The rattling and rolling beats, big fat bass, and FX are the stars, and Koenig obliges with a “fun” vocal that verges on the cloying, notably when his voice cracks.
[6]

Patrick St. Michel: Almost saved by the way Ezra Koenig’s voice gets warped and the generally skittery beat…but geez, this is just an incredibly corny David Byrne impersonation.
[3]

Scott Mildenhall: No idea what you’re on about Ezra (though the actual title of “Diane Young” took about 100 plays, so that might not be your fault). The habitually shaky pots-and-pans percussion is nice, but rubs against everything else awkwardly. The disjointedness isn’t all that enjoyable; "Carby" and the Basement Jaxx mix of “White Sky” are much more fun.
[5]

Brad Shoup: Koenig’s definitely the dude who’s studying Evernote on the car ride to Hot 97, but he can definitely #getit here, even if he’s talking Lower East Side gallery nonsense. SBTRKT conjures alleys and Latin parades, all percussive echo and shadowy bass.
[7]

Rebecca A. Gowns: This is what the stream-of-consciousness of a total dork sounds like. New Dork? No, nothing here is new.
[1]

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RICH GANG FT. YOUNG THUG & RICH HOMIE QUAN - LIFESTYLE
[7.00]


Set of blurbs, or commentary on who feels old?

Maxwell Cavaseno: “QUAN VOICE!” Jeffrey The Giraffe, aka Thugger Thugger, comes through over a breezy instrumental in full-fledged futuristic kid on summer vacation mode, courtesy of Birdman Sr’s vanity singles label. Young Thug hasn’t established any concrete success yet, but he’s earned the respect of his hero’s daddy, so he’s in full-fledged leap into the air and click your heels together heaven. Meanwhile, his fellow sparring partner Rich Homie Baby provides a slurry sea of rap that anyone who knows Quan from his turn-up anthems and key-shattered hooks would be sorely deprived of. Supposedly the duo’s EP might actually still happen, so here’s hoping this and Quan’s “Get TF Out My Face" are the harbingers of some true greatness from such lovable misfits. Oh, and yeah… "QUAN VOICE!"
[9]

Alfred Soto: A quiet competition to see which rapper can pitch his voice the highest (it’s as if this is the point of the “lifestyle”) or repeat clusters of words.
[4]

Jessica Doyle: This isn’t the best introduction to Young Thug, is it? It’s like someone told him to bring the voice but none of the loopy free-association to go with it. Y’all tell me what part of the back catalog to listen to; meanwhile I’ll stick around just long enough to appreciate that, in the midst of an also-not-his-best verse, Rich Homie Quan gives the late Willie B a shoutout.
[4]

Megan Harrington: I gather that Rich Homie Quan is not a beloved quantity. On the occasions I’ve admitted to being a fan, I’m met with derision. Partnering with Young Thug exponentially increases the chance that no one will understand what he’s saying or listen closely, but in his own strangely metered way, Quan finds a lane on “Lifestyle” that doesn’t demand flaunting and bragging. He shouts out Clipse and Lupe Fiasco before ending his verse “Hey, I’m on the top like toupee/ Hey, I’m in her mouth like toothpaste.” They’re charming lines, testaments to Quan’s humility and sense of metaphor.
[9]

Crystal Leww: Minya Oh’s book Bling Bling: Hip Hop’s Crown Jewels is my favorite coffee table book because it makes me look smart and interesting while still being a book full of pictures of rappers. Miss Info just has a way of asking the questions that make hip hop’s greats reveal great truths about their histories and motivations. She never outright says it, but interview after interview, it’s clear to me that when hip hop artists talk about jewels, there is something aspirational about their materialism and showing openly that they are taking care of the people around them. Masked by a turn-up chorus and asides about women and weed, “Lifestyle” is at its core all about how Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan do what they do for their moms, their dads, their kids, their siblings. This is a brag anthem about taking care of the people around you that are important. The black bro love that shines through between Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan is also invaluable to how this song reads. I can’t help but feel deeply emotional when I listen to “Lifestyle.”
[8]

Rebecca A. Gowns: I appreciate Young Thug’s dedication to his family and friends. His voice is mesmerizing; I am a deer in the headlights.
[6]

Hazel Robinson: Y’know, I like this. It’s got some rambling vocal touches that are so endlessly indulgent I’m kind of incredibly angry I live in London and the reason my transport rides real slow is cus it’s a bus, rather than Miami with a Cadillac. But at the same time it never actually gets a hook in that would elevate it anywhere above a momentary, immersive pleasure.
[7]

Andy Hutchins: Thugger is barely even finishing some syllables, much less bars, here, but that isn’t the part of “Lifestyle” that makes me feel old: Quan, who is several months older than I am, saying “I’m skatin’, like that nigga Lupe” — “Kick, Push” is eight years old now — is the best reason to be acutely aware of my own seasoning, and Birdman shouting Miss Gladys to remind me of 2005’s "Get Your Shine On" is runner-up. Still, Thug plus (insert anyone) is dynamic where so much is inert.
[6]

Anthony Easton: The echoing finger snaps are a really fantastic sound, his voice is smooth as hot butter on toast, and the whole thing is sad in a self conscious way, I like how smartly this is constructed.
[9]

Brad Shoup: Those snaps hurt, or I’m old. Thugger’s gift for pictures is tarnished a bit, but he might be the only person who could sing this hook like it’s an inspirational poster. This song’s actually pitched somewhere between comeup and game maintenance, despite the presence of Birdman, the most genial vampire in music.
[7]

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Never mind Birdman verses, but Birdman song-ending adlibs are the Rap Game Tanooki Suit: upgrading something that already flies high and slamming down hard. Also, Birdman has the emotional range of a statue, so it’s fitting. Young Thug is the opposite, a quivering shaky post-digital AutoTuned noise that exists for capital-E Emotion. He went through a lot for the lifestyle he now leads, and even if you can’t decipher eighty-five percent of his gurgles, you can hear that gratification loud and clear. His savvy mispronunciation of “college” is a trick adapted from mixtape-era Lil Wayne, lending “Lifestyle” an odd sense of coronation before its Birdman hand-rub outro commences. To use wrestling terminology for a moment, this is the head of the company putting over the next champ, the guy who’s meant to lead us by the hand into the future of the YMCMB promotion. Thugga is Evolution-era Batista, a freakishly athletic force the company’s happy to be behind; Birdman is Ric Flair, aging disgracefully and wonderfully as the Nature Boy did; Rich Homie Quan is Randy Orton, an underrated workhorse with glimmers of dextrous ability.
[8]

Josh Love: My absolute favorite part of this song (second place: everything Young Thug does in general) is on the hook when Thug goes “This is only the beginning,” and I don’t know what exactly he was aiming for with his delivery since it’s always gloriously ridiculous, but right there he sounds like nothing so much as a petulant Brit-rocker, like Thom Yorke circa 1993. I’m glad that bit gets repeated several times in this song because it makes me giddy every time.
[7]

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SCHOOLBOY Q FT. BJ THE CHICAGO KID - STUDIO
[4.38]


They can’t all be score record-breakers…

Alfred Soto: Swif D’s spare, welcome production evokes “West Savannah” as much as “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”: a not-quite nether world from which the rapper reaches to the first piece of ass in sight. Cruel or kind — Schoolboy couldn’t be bothered. Even “put my tongue in different places” he wipes clean of erotic threat. It fascinates me how this guy also came up with the indefatigable “Man of the Year,” and it’s THIS song that’s crossed over.
[6]

Maxwell Cavaseno: Rap by numbers by a guy who can do much better and has on his last album. TDE World is a funny thing. Quincy provides a generic music industry rap album with no significance beyond hitting all bases to be “alternative.” Meanwhile, Ab-Soul — a rapper who I would prefer shipped into the San Andreas fault on a bullet train to hell for being so tedious and awful — released a record that refused to compromise, and got no rewards. For a label so dedicated to showcasing talent, I’m beginning to wonder if these boys are content to return to the land of the generic 2DopeBoyz filler they used to churn out back before their come-up.
[4]

Patrick St. Michel: “No metaphors, nothing like that/I’m keeping it straight to the point with you,” Schoolboy Q says, and thank goodness for that. I was afraid this was going to be some cheesy “I’m trying to reach you from the studio, the audience” thing. Nope — dude just really wants to fuck, and he is not hiding that fact even if he gets clumsy about it (not sure he’s ever actually played Operation). A little on the plodding side, though.
[6]

Thomas Inskeep: “All night layin’ verses, though I’d rather lay with you baby”: it’s kind of amazing that it’s taken this long for someone to re-write KISS’s “Beth” as a hip-hop track. It’d be nice if Schoolboy Q and BJ thought that women were more than pussy, but based on this song, they don’t. So fuck them, or more accurately, don’t.
[1]

Katherine St Asaph: After chorus two of twentyumptybillion I was ready to complain that Q should probably stop noodling in the studio with the water-level opulence and do something, then that something turned out to be talking about sex. Which would be fine! Until “put my tongue in different places, play a game of Operation,” which is just Weeping Cock levels of bad sex (you mean… you can’t mean… yanking stuff out with tweezers? Just kind of hovering there and never touching anything?) and doesn’t improve with clarification. No metaphors, please.
[3]

Brad Shoup: Sticking all that crooning up top is a bold move — and a nice gift to BJ, who’s been puttering around for a while now — but it’s death for the song as a whole. But if you’ve got the kind of sex rhymes Q’s working with, a little stalling’s not a bad idea. The ghost of a chipmunk vocal inhabits the mix; maybe he’ll play around with it next time.
[4]

Andy Hutchins: What “Studio” has going for it isn’t insignificant. The vocal sample distorted to the point of keening sets apart what would otherwise be a tempo-boosted version of the underwater drum-based production 40 was making for Drake three years ago, and underdog of the decade BJ is capable and honest on the hook. This sounds like nothing else on the rap radio station I listen to right now, and it deserves compliments for being complementary. This does not, alas, afford it so much leeway that I will forget Q barely trying on the dismount of the second verse (“No metaphors, nuttin’ like that, I’m keepin’ it straight to the point wit’ you / (So) I’ma put this dick up all inside of you”) and ruining the mood.
[6]

Crystal Leww: I don’t think I spend enough time driving on highways late at night anymore to love this song as much as I could. It’s very chill, very good vibes, but also very one-note.
[5]

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TKAY MAIDZA - U-HUH
[8.14]


Not All Australian Rappers…

Kat Stevens: My mother has just bought her mid-life crisis Mazda MX5, approximately 25 years after said crisis was resolved but better late than never. I expect I will shortly be press-ganged into sitting in the passenger seat avec headscarf/sunglasses and pretending to “drive into the Grand Canyon” (two laps round Ruislip Lido). I will loudly complain about how embarrassing it all is but of course enjoy myself immensely. But what to blast on the speakers as we bump the suspension up and down the B436? Mother Dearest is very hardcore \m/ but would still probably give me a Hard Stare and write me out of the will if I put “212” on the car stereo. Maybe this less filthy alternative will suffice for pimping her new ride. It’s definitely better than Glenn Frey, and if we yell “chitty bang bang” enough times maybe we’ll end up FLYING to the Lido?
[7]

Hazel Robinson: As soon as I hit play I did a mental “FUUUUCK” — this is huge and pumped full of Prince’s strut and the just-out-of-braces snot of the kind of young female rapper who wants to both make you dance and make white boys throw embarrassing shapes. Fucking revelatory.
[10]

Luisa Lopez: I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t this: these beautiful deep rattling drops layered beneath the swooping birdlike entrance and exit of her voice, turning this into some blossoming boombox anthem, a mess of noises clamoring together to produce a loud, explosive reckoning ready to lead us into autumn. When I was a teenager (a brief Googling shows that Tkay Maidza is 19, which you can hear when she drops her voice into that disaffected drawl of flavooooor) I grew up in a suburbia as pale as it was terrifying, and I used to get a great rush from, of all things, walking the dog. I liked collecting the sounds that would come out of nowhere — a neighbor yelling, a cat scratching the driveway, two boys playing basketball, a group of matches sparking by the highway — and turning them into music. I like to think the same thing happened here.
[8]

Will Adams: Over a track that sounds like “Galang” spray painted electric blue, Tkay Maidza finds the vocal midpoint between M.I.A.’s insouciance, Gwen Stefani’s dorkiness and Santigold’s élan.
[6]

Rebecca A. Gowns: Given the timing of this release, joking comparisons have been made to Iggy Azalea, but even if it’s to highlight that Tkay can display more talent in one song than Iggy has shown us in a series of singles, it’s apples to oranges. Tkay’s words flow like a witty conversation, friendly and full of natural pops and drawls. The track underneath is also jovial, packed full of noise — each noise like a member of a party, all engaged in earnest conversation with one another — reminding me of M.I.A. and Rye Rye. Sometimes “U-Huh” rings with a sound that reminds me of a few summers ago, but Tkay’s rapping keeps the whole thing current and relevant. Like eating your morning slice of toast and marmalade and discovering a rich cheese has replaced your usual butter.
[9]

Andy Hutchins: Betwixt and between az(e)al(e/i)as, this blast of fun exists, but the easiest comparisons don’t work so well: Tkay leans into her punches a little like Rye Rye, is buried in her party-ready mix like Le1f so often is, and mush-mouths her third verse like a grime vet. A full handle of personality poured into a ketchup cup.
[7]

Patrick St. Michel: That sounds a lot like Godzilla roaring down in the buzzy beat, and what a fantastic detail. This is a confrontational song, one where the music sounds like it’s ready to drive a shoulder into someone, yet Tkay Maidza zips through the monster sounds and cloistering beat like it’s all fun to her. She even lets her voice get high on helium — she’s loving this.
[9]

Crystal Leww: One of my favorite things about rap music is how rappers often use their regional dialects to bend, stretch, shorten and mold words into the right shapes and rhyme schemes. Tkay Maidza is assisted by that grounding synth and a hook that just falls out of her mouth, but the driver is how Maidza’s personality jumps out of the verses. Notice how lazily those rhyme scenes in verses one and two — “favour”/”behaviour”/”table”/”hater”/”paper”/”radar” — end, with the final part dragged out so that it all fits. It’s an absurd gimmick that would sound like it were masking something if it weren’t for the third verse. That verse is a showcase, clear by how practically all in the beat drops out except for a winding airhorn. It’s all rapidfire, and yet she can still drag the end of those words so that “genie” and “meaning” fit right next to each other, and she still has time to wink “Don’t think that you are achieving / my trust can be so deceiving.” I’m about to pass out from swooning so hard.
[8]

Anthony Easton: Most of these points are for how she just pushes all meaning out of the syllables in “behavior.” The rest of them are for how accurate and fast her flow is.
[7]

Danilo Bortoli: “The only thing which consoles us for our miseries is diversion,” a famous writer said before his definition of diversion became a cliché all by itself. I quote this because when I listen to “U-Huh” all I can think about is Maidza’s own vision of pure enjoyment. The unsuspecting listener could interpret Maidza’s cheerfulness as simple hedonism (the kind of gullibility that ruins great pop songs). But in “U-Huh”, her misery is represented by everything that is keeping her from happiness, the bass-heavy background giving both the song and Tkay credibility. You can’t, or at least shouldn’t, blame her for simply going after her consolation when she’s got a hook like this.
[8]

Katherine St Asaph: Three minutes of sticking your head beneath a technicolor monster wave; virtuosity and force pummel you into dance and awe. I can’t wait until the industry fails to make her a massive ginormous star.
[9]

David Sheffieck: Ridiculously fun and infectious, this is the sort of song that demonstrates how the ongoing collision of EDM, rap, and pop can lead to more than just homogeneity. Maidza demonstrates enough personality that I find myself believing in a future where we can talk about Aussie pop stars without the need for thinkpieces.
[9]

Jonathan Bradley: Big neon blocks of sound ram their way through “U-Huh,” but Maidza, in both personality and presence, shines bigger and brighter. She bounds over a pinging and clicking beat, thumbing her nose at the hatuuuuuuhs and concocting a “chitty-bang-bang” chant playful enough to suit the magical car. It’s great to see American writers criticise Iggy Azalea for her cultural insensitivities; it would be even greater to see them give that attention to an Australian rapper with twice her talent and none of her bullshit.
[8]

Brad Shoup: Double-time flow, Project Pat line endings and an arena rock chorus that’s mostly wordless. Now is always the best time for music.
[9]

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