12. Luke Bryan – One Margarita
The Brofather is back to sing the praises of a new drink. Beer alone is no good, we need tequila. Actually, we need a rewrite of Tracy Byrd’s “Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo” with a little Kenny Chesney spin on it and… oh, he name checks Chesney in a verse. Well, at least he knows. It’s a song that is technically fine. His band is more than capable. A few extra points for trying to make a party song in the middle of a summer where we could all use a pick me up. But there’s still quite a hole to dig out of here.
11. Jack Harlow ft. Da Baby, Tory Lanez & Lil Wayne – WHATS POPPIN (remix)
What do you get with six songwriters and four producers? A posse cut overflowing with sports references (Gilbert Arenas, Joe Burrow, Sportscenter, John Stockton, the Cleveland Browns, and John Paxon all get shoutouts), not to mention mentions for Jimmy Neutron, Robert di Niro, Ken Jeong and the main antagonist from Kim fucking Possible. I’m not impressed with Jack Harlow’s flow. He sounds like Post Malone trying to enunciate. Da Baby is the standout voice, his flow and intensity are tops again, like most of his guest spots. Tory Lanez is alright and Lil Wayne is his normal slimy self. The beat is actually pretty simple and generic for a track produced by four people. It’s a song of the moment and this moment sucks. It’ll fall out as fast as it came in and then be a song that everyone is like, oh yeah this track, when it comes up on a random playlist.
10. Alec Benjamin – Oh My God
I have no strong feelings either way here. I mean, it sounds like Passenger had an auto-tune phase. It’s what happens when the mythical “white guy with an acoustic guitar”, famously coined by Todd In The Shadows, gets with a pop producer. It’s meh, it’s vanilla, I think it’s about recognizing changes in one’s self but it’s so bland that I can’t be sure. The charts felt the same way, as it cracked the top 40 for one week then dropped like a rock. Sometimes meh is recognized and given it’s proper place.
9. BLACKPINK – How You Like That
Did you think we were done with a dubstep drop in 2020? The pinnacles of female K-pop are bringing it back, and no one even asked them to. I know I’m asking for heat from all the BLACKPINK stans, but this song is not good. It is trying to do way too many things at once. You’ve got dubstep, you’ve got some early 2000’s girl group harmonies, you’ve got pop girl rapping, you’ve got the dramatic pre-chorus, you’ve got an annoying as hell drop. It’s a pop song mishmash and it all comes in on the mediocre side of things.
8. CYN – Drinks
This song is built bass ackwards. The chorus, or what passes for a chorus is a whispery, auto-tuned white girl rap with the verses actually being sung. It’s a different angle on the formula so that alone isn’t bad at all. Her voice isn’t terrible by any stretch, but it feels like there’s something missing from this song yet I can’t put my finger on it. It feels like it wants to be minimalist at points, and you could call the chorus minimal, but the production is relying way too heavily on echo and reverb to create the space of a minimalist song. There’s definitely an idea here but something is holding this track back, even if you can’t quite describe it.
7. Gabby Barrett ft. Charlie Puth – I Hope
It’s “Before He Cheats” without the property destruction! The pop breakthrough from the former American Idol bronze medalist is that, a pop song masquerading as a country single but that’s how that chart goes now. I like the production here, it builds tension and delivers intensity as the chorus becomes vengeful. The remix with Puth is what’s on the pop charts now and I wish it wasn’t. His verse just derails all the momentum she’s building and you can’t tell if they just broke up with each other or are bitching about separate relationships in the same song. Even as they come together in the song’s climax, it’s still not clear. To be fair to Barrett, the version that is just here works much betten. Unfortunately, it’s the remix that’s in the top 40, so….
6. Topic and A7S – Breaking Me
This is unfortunately not a Tonic comeback single, as I had mistakenly read the first time I saw this on the chart. What it actually is a solid house track with an energetic beat over lyrics full of despair, which can be a really good combination. It’s well produced, the hook does a pretty good job of emoting over a deep house track and it ends up being a solid summer jam that would be banging at the clubs if we could go to any.
5. Black Eyed Peas ft. Ozuna and J. Rey Soul – MAMACITA
It’s not always fair as a critic to start with a level of expectations before you even listen to a piece. Mea culpa, I had that here for a new Black Eyed Peas track. As far as I’m concerned, they just have such a reputation for utter garbage to overcome. But they did just that here with a reggaeton cut. It’s upbeat, it’s fun, it’s catchy, the production doesn’t drown out everything else, long story short: it’s a banger.
4. Trevor Daniel ft. Selena Gomez – Past Life
More auto-tuned sadboi! And he’s dragging Selena Gomez down into that territory! Ready for the Russo swerve here? I actually like this song because it’s not what you expect from the first 20 seconds. Surprise! There’s energy, not just in the production but in Daniel’s voice. Dude can actually sing which puts him leaps and bounds ahead of his annoying brethren. Both Daniel and Gomez are able to express overwhelming emotion from a simple set of lyrics, and that emotion is more than just whining. It’s actually an expression of reclaiming your emotions in the process of letting go of a relationship.
3 – Juice WRLD & Marshmello – Come & Go
There’s a lot happening in this track and with one exception, it all works well. Juice WRLD’s lyrics center around trying to improve himself and become a better person for his significant other, despite all of the obstacles in his way. The bridge features a pop punk-ish guitar lick which surprisingly fits perfectly into the downbeat track. Then the drop hits and Marshmellow craps all over the track. Guess what, Marshmallow drops the Marshmellow drop. You know, the same one he’s used on like all of his collaborations. It doesn’t damage the song too badly, but makes you wonder how much better it could have been in the hands of another producer.
2 – Megan Thee Stallion – Girls in the Hood
Once again, Megan is here to punch you in the mouth from the first beat and not let you go until she’s done with you. All of the fury and braggadociousness from “Savage” is here and then some in front of a “Boyz-n-the-Hood” sampled beat accented by some heavy guitar hits. The intensity is off the charts. I think I like “Savage” better, but “Girls in the Hood” is right behind.
1 – Lil Baby – The Bigger Picture
I had a hard time forming sentences for this one because I did not expect such a powerful song to come from Lil Baby. The chorus alone is a rallying cry to continue the protests in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. But the verses show off Lil Baby’s storytelling abilities in relaying his experiences in dealing with and protesting against systemic racism and police brutality. It is a moving track with the tone set perfectly by the beat and a haunting piano sample. Listen to this song, listen to it a few times, think about this man’s words and then think about the best ways you can turn words into actions.