As we endeavor to give you the widest reaching coverage of new music that we can here at FA, we realized that there was one section of the market that we weren’t serving: pop. Since I’ve been desensitized to pop thanks to a career in radio, I willingly accepted the short straw to bring you these charts each month. So what I’ll be doing is taking a look at all of the songs that were new to the Top 40 chart this month and giving you an idea of the songs to seek out and the songs to avoid like the plague.
1. Dua Lipa – Break My Heart
When we reviewed this album back in March, it was pretty unanimous that it was among the best released that month. You can read the full review here. This was one of the tracks that I singled out as the best on the record and that was on one listen and mostly on the production alone. This is a modern take on disco in the least annoying way possible. The rising strings in the chorus, the driving dance beat, the muted INXS sample that leads the verses, it’s a very well produced track. Now, I really like pop that features dark lyrics set to an upbeat track. Call me a downer, but it makes the artist more relatable because they can make these pop fantasies but they choose to slide in a little of their insecurities. I can get behind that. I understand unqualified music critics on random websites do that all the time. This isn’t a breakup song, it’s a fear of a break up song. It’s a song that lays out the insecurity that many of us have in relationships. The feeling that this is too good to be true, I’m falling for this person, but how am I going to fuck it up? Maybe I relate to that message too much, but it’s a twist on the pop love song. Plus, that groove is just so tight.
2. BENEE ft. Gus Dapperton – Supalonely
Another upbeat track with a less than upbeat message. First, that production. It’s a simple funk-inspired beat that quickly falls into a groove and you find yourself moving to it, then listening to the lyrics and feeling a little bad about grooving to it. Lyrically, it’s a self deprecating track, so right up my alley. BENEE has said the track came from a place after a breakup where she was sad and frustrated about that fact. That’s what comes through, especially on Dapperton’s verse: why am I not over this yet and I’m am gonna beat myself up until I move on. Again, a less than happy subject all nearly wrapped up in a funky, happy package.
3. The Weeknd – In Your Eyes
Another track that hearkens back to musical trends of the past, “In Your Eyes” feels like it would be right at home on a 1985 edition of Top of The Pops. A tight, synth-driven track with the jangly guitars and sax solo that made a thousand dance pop records in the 80’s, it takes you back to a different time in pop without feeling like it’s begging to be a nostalgic track. The Weeknd sings about the conflicted emotions he sees in his lover’s eyes. Does he know that she doesn’t love him? Are her eyes tipping an infidelity? You can actually apply both possibilities because his reactions to this new knowledge are what drive the verses. It’s a far different subject than “The Hills” or “Earned It” and it doesn’t seem as raw as “Die For You.” It puts the pop smiley face on pain very well.
4. Noah Cyrus – July
This song is why you really can’t follow your preconceived notions in all situations. I expected nothing from Cyrus the Younger, remembering “Stay Together”. What we get on “July” is a simple country-pop track about a toxic relationship and struggling with the decision to leave. Driven by a simple guitar, “July” is a muted cry for wisdom in a difficult situation with the crushing resolution that she’ll probably stay right where she is, despite all the turmoil. It’s a somber, stripped-down track and Cyrus’s alto is perfect to convey the pain and confusion of the song’s subject. Coming in at a little over two and a half minutes, it’s an emotional powerhouse wrapped up in a quiet little package.
5. Chelsea Cutler – Sad Tonight
This is my first encounter with Cutler and immediately, it scores points with me in two areas. First, it’s an upbeat pop song with downer lyrics. I like it when you can make music that expresses negative emotions without being a somber acoustic guitar or piano track to cut your wrists to. Second, I just like the message. You’re gone, that sucks, and as much as my friends want to help, I just want to sit at home and be miserable. Let me work my stuff out for a bit guys. And sometimes you need that. It’s acknowledging that the old “best way to get over someone is to get under someone else” adage doesn’t work for everyone. Cutler said she tried to write an anti-pop song, but what she did was the opposite. A tightly composed beat, straight to the point lyrics and a catchy hook are exactly what she gave us. If I had to knock it down a bit, the chorus loses all punch because there’s no chorus in the production, just a weak ass drop. But since that’s where pop music is in 2020, I’ll deal. Her voice feels a bit too airy for the song, especially on the chorus. Since this is all I’ve heard, I don’t know if that’s just her voice or how she decided to sing on this track but it feels too light given the verses and the subject matter.
6. Surfaces – Sunday Best
How about a upbeat, inspirational song? “Sunday Best” is a reserved tribute to the perfect weekend morning that can help rejuvenate the human spirit and remind us that there are good things in the world and they are worth looking for. You need to hear an upbeat message sometimes, even if your world feels like utter shit. It’s kind of an upbeat song. Like they made a piano-driven power pop song then decided to turn everything down so you don’t have a choice but to listen to it at a reasonable level so that Mrs. Murray upstairs won’t stop on the floor and yell about the noise. It’s an up with life anthem that can go to 11, but we’re just gonna set it at about 4.
7. Demi Lovato – I Love Me
I’m all for a self-affirmation song so I can’t hit the lyrics too hard. I do enjoy the pop princess swearing liberally throughout, like we still don’t believe she’s an adult, so she’s got to make sure to work a few fucks into new songs to make sure we knew. Feels like they’re going for an anthem with the lyrics, but the production is driven by a Casio keyboard preset and echo effects. It’s as if Fight Song were a lot less generic, and produced to be a rainy day mirror rant instead of a booming affirmation.
8. Future ft. Drake – Life is Good
This is a tale of two songs, as Drake takes the first half and Future takes the rest of the track. So let’s go with the good stuff first. The production works very well here. There’s enough of a contrast between the two halves that its clear that we’ve switched artists and moods but there are enough links between the two that you don’t get auditory whiplash when Future comes in. But if you were expecting something new or innovative from the frequent collaborators then expect disappointment. There’s not much here. Drake does a little complaining. Future tells us how many women he’s fucked. Aside from the production choices, it’s pretty standard.
9. Drake – Toosie Slide
Drake continues to confuse me. I like a good chunk of Drake’s output. I especially like it when he breaks down and turns more soulful. But then he still has to put out what is expected from hip hop in 2020. But I would swear that he’s way above putting out a TikTok track. That’s what the Soundcloud rappers are for, but here we are. This is supposed to be a dance track. The hook tells you how to do the dance, but the beat is just slow and boring. The standard high hat is there with the droning synths that are supposed to back the main character’s moment of ennui in a college film, not be a driver to getting up and dancing. This is especially disappointing after hearing the first two tracks off the “Dark Lane Demo Tapes” that Jeremy reviewed this week. There is plenty of good material in Drake, but this ain’t it.
10. Meghan Trainor ft. Nicki Minaj – Nice To Meet Ya
Enter “Me Too” part two. It’s not as annoying but just as self-aggrandizing. Meghan’s verses pound out the message that we don’t know what she’s gone through but just know that she likes her for her and it turns out being Meghan Trainor is pretty great. Another self-affirmation song, but not in the vein of Demi Lovato’s track this month. Demi sings about being better despite everything she’s been through and you can believe it because we know about the struggles she’s had. Meghan has to tell us with a vague, throwaway line that she’s seen some shit, trust her. It doesn’t help that these verses are delivered with the help of autotune harmonies that sound like someone found the “just got dropkicked in the throat” setting and cranked it all the way up. Then after hearing that Meghan feels blessed and is free to just be who she is, here comes Nicki Minaj to tell us about all the cool shit she can buy. It doesn’t matter how much smack you talk about her, she’s got a mansion and a Rolls Royce and fuck the haters because I’m pretty. The beat is pretty plain and mid-tempo, and with a verse so generic Nicki can’t bring her fiery intensity to bear so it just falls flat. Like I said, the beat is okay. The production isn’t anything special which is perfect for the song. Nothing special, just another iteration of the Meghan Trainor track we’re used to hearing.
And for this month’s wooden spoon:
11. Lauv – Modern Loneliness
Hey, Lauv is back and guess what? He’s sad again. Now admittedly, my first experience with Lauv was not the most positive. I hate “I Like Me Better” on all levels. So I’ll give the production its due here. Unlike that song, this track isn’t built around a sample that sounds like someone sodomizing a viola with a rusty fishing knife. Here, the production is fine. A simple piano pop verse with a standard pop beat coming in later. It’s fine, it works, no complaints here. But then we get to the lyrics themselves. The first verse sounds like someone is heimliching the lyrics out of him on the first verse, not a good start and it doesn’t get much better from there. But what about the words themselves? Before the single was released, Lauv tweeted that it was “the most important song of my career” (good to get that out in one album and three EP’s worth of material) and that ”LISTEN TO THE LYRICS” because “i cry every time i sing it.” And I can get with that sentiment at the start. He opens the song talking about his father and what he learned from him. But it quickly slides away from that into an attempt to talk about feeling depressed while making sure to get in every cliche about feeling depressed and alone in the modern world. Empty soul? Check. Dark heart? Check. Love my friends but they’ll never know how bad I feel? Check. Desire to get rid of my demons? Check. Lots of use of the word down? Fucking check. It’s a mental health paint by numbers, and while I know this will come off as cold to rip apart what could be a very emotional soul-bearing track, it does not come off as that. It comes off as trying to write a Billie Eilish track months after it was done so much better. Also, did I mention that I really don’t like his voice?
Interested in catching up on the month in new pop? Check out this Spotify playlist with all the contenders, including those not covered above.