We had another eleven songs hit the top 40 this past month, and as I said on the pod, there is some quality out of nowhere. But let’s start with the bottom of the barrel and work our way up.
11. Powfu ft. beabadoobee – Death Bed (Coffee For Your Head)
If you saw “coffee” in the title of the song and were hoping for an upbeat track that gave you the same feeling as the titular drink, then prepare for disappointment. This track was originally released in 2019, but not vary widely because Powfu had yet to get clearance from beabaddoobee for the use of her sample. It was re-released this year when he finally got it. However, when most people think of a sample, they think of a piece of a song used to construct another song. Here the sample feels like it’s the actual song and the sad, white-boy rapping is part of a remix, not the intended original. It’s sadboi low-fi hip hop, which I already have a low tolerance for. The same way part of the FA crew have a visceral reaction against the emo-pop of the early 2000’s. But to make matters worse, there’s no effort to make it feel like his song. It’s all her work, her chorus and he just dropped his Soundcloud verses on it. Just lazy.
10. Marshmello & Halsey – Be Kind
A mid-tempo pop song backed by a watery EDM beat with a synth line that feels like it was a factory preset? Perish the thought. But that’s where we are here. Let me continue to drag the production, because that’s really what’s holding this song back. It’s empty, plain and simple. It’s like Marshmello took his Marshmello dial and turned it down several notches. Now, that should be a positive because he’s not very good as a producer of pop songs but instead it just flattens It’s as if the song’s production is a meal. When done right, it is a symphony of flavor. But in the wrong hands, your dinner has been boiled until all the nutrients are in the water along with anything that could resemble flavor. A “toned-down” Marshmello is British cuisine. If there’s anything positive I could say for it… he at least uses a different drop than he has for like 90 percent of his other collaborations. The lyrics are the only upside here with Halsey tackling the tough subject of being with someone who’s struggling and wanting to help ease their pain. It’s a unique look at relationships packed into a 3 minute pop tune. I can applaud that. But it would have been better off as a spoken word project.
9. 5 Seconds of Summer – Old Me
The fourth single off of 5SOS’s Calm record (which you can read Jeremy’s indifference to here), “Old Me” is… an 5SOS song, if written by Zayn Malik instead of the eight writers that did write it. It’s a mid-tempo coming of age song. It’s basic message is that I had to go through everything I have in the past to get to this point. A laudable subject that every musician ever has a take on, but this track seems a little less sincere in its retrospection. The production is simple, letting percussion attempt to power the drama of the lyrics but it falls short. I’ll borrow from Jeremy’s review a little bit here. If you’ve never heard a singer perform a song about where they came from, this is a song about that. But many, many others have done it better and did it without sounding so generic.
8. Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber – Stuck With U
First and foremost, let’s address the back track. It gives off the feel of a 50s doo-wop song, but it seems so familiar, especially in the first verse. Oh right, that’s Rihanna’s “Love On The Brain”. But instead of matching Rihanna’s powerful and soulful ballad, we get a song of settling and reservation. To draw another 80’s comparison, it’s the 2020s version of Huey Lewis and the News’ “Stuck With You”. Except this feels more like a middle school dance. Vocally, Ariana outshines Bieber by leaps and bounds. She gets all the emotion in the track while he’s left with the simplest of harmonies and a flat, staccato verse. Either way, the pacing to the track really doesn’t convey the emotion that it’s trying to deliver. A mid-tempo doo-wop inspired track would give them both room to emote, but they feel confined by the slow plodding beat.
7. Ellie Goulding ft. blackbear – Worry About Me
So, we have another upbeat track. That’s a good start. Beyond that, it feels like there’s a ton of ideas here, which makes everything feel a bit unfinished. There’s a couple of musical themes at work here, which the feature verse just cuts off at the knees. We get a couple different phases of Ellie’s vocals as well. The backtrack sets a darker mood, but the lyrics are clearly a strong message to an ex to back the hell up. There’s a strong sense of confidence that she has herself together after a break up, she’s fine thank you very much, you need to take care of yourself. I can’t say this is a bad track. I think it’s well done and lyrically well written but the musical setting doesn’t quite match up so after several listens I am still in the same place as where I started: confused.
6. Twenty-One Pilots – Level of Concern
I will start out by revealing my bias here. I hate this band. I hated their #FirstWorldProblems anthem “Stressed Out”. I hated “Heathens” the first time I heard it in 2016, so by the 49,000th time I heard it (I worked across the hall from a Top 40 station then) I was ready to spit bile whenever it came on. Just laying that out there ahead of time before listening to this for the first time. “Level of Concern” deals with the anxiety we’ve all been feeling over the last few months while in lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. Let me start with the good: a portion of the song’s profits are being donated to Crew Nation, a charity set up to help touring and venue workers who have been unable to work with all live shows being canceled. Also, I don’t think the lyrics are that bad either. They do a decent job in expressing the uncertainty that we’ve all been facing, with all of the economic and health concerns surrounding the pandemic. But they also don’t blow me away with a message. They’re basic and sound like they could easily have been a chunk of a conversation on any of millions of Zoom meetings. The music however, is extremely meh. Songwriter Tyler Joseph apparently made his first attempt at writing on an electric guitar with this track and what resulted reminds of Daft Punk’s Homework record. Strip some of the filters off of “Around the World” and you’ve got “Level of Concern”. If that’s what inspired him, great that’s a great record to work off of. But at the end of the day it’s a simplified sound alike. So there, this song all things considered was not bad.
5. Bryce Vine ft. Jeremih – Baby Girl
We finally have a dance track this month. It’s about a girl that wants to dance and that’s exactly what it does. It doesn’t feel like a club song, there’s a slow burn before it gets to the actually banger section just past the chorus. But it is upbeat, if not overly simple which is fine. It’s okay that we have 2020’s “All She Wants To Do Is Dance”. The worst part of the track is the feature verse as Jeremih throws everything off with wheezy, autotuned sliding delivery. Once his verse is done, we get back to the jam proper. There’s a version sans feature, but it’s less than two-and-a-half minutes long. It wraps up just as you start getting into the groove.
4. SAINt JHN – Roses
This is actually a remix of a song originally released back in 2016. The remix, done by Kazakh DJ Imanbek (a 19-year old who worked at a train station as his day job), takes the original song, speeds it up with a pleasant Eurodance beat and pitches SAINt JHN waaay up. What comes out is a fun-sounding, danceable track that’s a pretty good single to have out in early summer so it ends up on all the songs of the summer playlist. I actually prefer the original which has a darker, orchestral beat and actually features SAINt JHN’s unique voice. But for what this EDM remix is, it’s very well done.
3. Ali Gatie – What If I Told You That I Love You
Who says there’s something wrong with a simple love song? Not a thing, and that’s what this mid-tempo ballad from emerging Iraqi-Canadian rapper Gatie proves. It’s simple on multiple levels actually. It’s powered by a simple guitar-driven beat and enough production to sound glossy but not overdone. It’s simple in its lyrics, with the subject directly questioning their ex over where they stand on an emotional level. Finally, it’s simple on performance. Gatie plays the delivery straight with pace influenced by Frank Ocean or some of Drake’s more emotive tracks. But he’s not over-emotional with his singing. He has questions, he needs answers and Gatie delivers them like he knows what’s coming and he knows that he’s not going to like the answer, but he just needs to hear it.
2. Sam Smith and Demi Lovato – I’m Ready
This is an interesting one with a pretty dramatic contrast between the verses and chorus and the verses themselves. Both verses tackle the same theme: putting yourself at risk and being open to finding love. But they come at that message from different angles which widens the audience their speaking to. The verses also ride a bassy synth-pop sound that then blends into a big, choral, anthemic chorus. This can ruin a song when done poorly and the transition brings the track to an ass-screeching halt but that’s not the case here. The transition flows smoothly in and out of the chorus’ rises, evoking the feeling of a roller coaster ride which trying to find love can often be likened to. I wasn’t ready for this song to be as good as it is.
1. Megan Thee Stallion – Savage
I feel like I’m so behind because this is my first experience with Megan. Yeah, I completely phased out for 2019’s hot girl summer. So initial reactions as an artist? I love her flow, she is beyond confident in her lyrics and delivery and there’s a fierceness that I am drawn to. She takes a pretty simple beat and turns it into an inferno. Each line hits like a cold, calculated combo; right hook to the body, left cross to the jaw. Like a southpaw coming from the unexpected angle. Plus, all of this power comes with a direct, but not overpowering statement. Another 80s reference? Sure, here you go. “Savage” hits like an Arn Anderson promo. She’s not yelling, she’s not screaming. She goes out and clearly tells you how good she is and you believe every single word.