Another month that was surprisingly middling. I don’t feel like anything that reached the top 40 this month will blow your mind, but there were plenty of solid tracks. Here’s everything that made its debut in the top 40 during the last month.
19. Ily (i love you baby) – Surf Mesa ft. Emilee
It’s the chorus of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” with an airy boring electronic beat. The vocals sound like Surf Mesa had Emilee record the six lines of the original song they used, then ran her vocals through the soma filter. This supposedly falls into the “chillwave” genre, but to me it proves we should be putting Soundcloud on ice.
18. Maroon 5 – Nobody’s Love
We have reached the point where Adam Levine no longer sounds like a human singer and instead is a walking vocal sample machine. I don’t think there is a single note on the track where there’s not some level of vocal effects on his voice. There’s so little of a band behind this track, I’m starting to wonder if the guys that stand behind Levine in photos are even real anymore or if they’ve fired the actual humans and just bring in wax figures for shoots. The production is bland enough that if they spent more than 30 minutes on the back track, it’s because the producers were teaching themselves the software for the first ten. Maroon 5, and this song specifically, is the La Croix of the pop charts. There’s so little flavor here that you barely taste anything. Just a slightly stale concoction that still appeals to some people for whatever reason.
17. Jawsh 685 and Jason DeRulo – Savage Love
Interesting beat utterly ruined by DeRulo’s screeching l-l-l-l-l-l-lyrics. It’s very telling when you Google the song and the first two pages of search results are all about how DeRulo didn’t originally bother to credit the original producer or get clearance to use it.
16. Kygo & OneRepublic – Lose Somebody
Pianos and an EDM beat? What an original idea. Seriously, that seems to be the new pop combo of the moment. This is a song that is trying to be so much more than it is. Lyrically, they’re trying for this introspective “if you love someone, set them free” vibe, but there’s a lack of depth for it to build up any meaning. Lack of depth is also a great way to describe this musically. Simple piano chords, basic drum samples, generic EDM samples that sound like the sounds that come with the free trial of your software. You know, the stuff that is just the tease and the actual good samples are unlocked once you buy the program. Also, nice little pitch up on the “lose” in the chorus. You know, just like in the Kings of Leon song with a really similar title…
15. 24kGoldn ft. Iann Dior – Mood
Take one listen to this song and it won’t be any surprise that it’s rise up the charts is being aided by its heavy use on TikTok. Ah TikTok: keeping the dreams of Vine rappers alive. I actually like the summer mood the backing track sets. There’s an airy feeling that reminds me of lazy summer afternoons. However, the vocals seem to slow the tempo of the track during the verses and bridge. I listened to it a few times and it doesn’t, the beat stays constant but the feeling of the track changes dramatically. This is supposed to be a track about all the pitfalls of young love. While my ancient ass may not remember 19 too well, I can say that it doesn’t do the emotions of love at that point in life too much justice. On the plus side, it only runs 2:20 so it’s got that going for it, which is nice.
14. Morgan Wallen – 7 Summers
What would happen if Grease 2 was set in Tennessee? I think it would go something like “7 Summers”. Reminiscing about what happened to his summer love from seven years ago, Wallen sets the appropriate nostalgic tone with a simple, acoustic guitar driven track. He asks if it ever makes this girl from the past sad that it was seven summers since they shared time together. Let’s kill the good feelings here: it doesn’t Morgan. You yourself speculate that she’s probably married with a couple of kids, wondering if she ever thinks about you anymore. She doesn’t. She’s moved on and is living in the real world. Get your shit together and stop reminiscing about 2013. It was a meh year at best. Just like this song; meh at best in its attempts at forced nostalgia.
13. DJ Khalid ft. Drake – GREECE
I think the best way to describe this track is more of the same. Drake does what he does for a radio hit and sings in his higher register. He gets some standard lyrics about charming a woman with money and vacations to exotic locations. DJ Khalid shows up at the beginning of the song to hit his three moves of doom and then it’s all Drake from there on out. It’s a clean track with a decent beat but it feels like nothing new really.
12. AJR – Bang!
My first thought was that this song’s title needed to be changed, as there was nothing Bang! about the track. The chorus is quite catchy and the production unique and expansive but this song wore on me quickly. It feels incomplete at points, like there was more instrumentation originally and someone just forgot to add those tracks into the final mix.
11. Drake ft. Lil Durk – Laugh Now Cry Later
The lead single off of Drake’s upcoming sixth studio album is a vastly different sound than the tracks off the Dark Lane Demo Tapes earlier this year. It’s lighter, it’s airy-er and it’s not what you’d think of as a lead off single from a Drake record. It’s not bad at all, it’s there, although Lil Durk blends into Drake a little too much for a feature that barely differentiates itself from the main artist. The music video has gotten far more attention from reviews and music sites than the song, so take that for what it is. But the song’s alright.
10. Kane Brown ft. Swae Lee and Khalid – Be Like That
Admittedly, I can’t hear this song’s title without Three Doors Down starting in my head. The modern “Be Like That” starts with a simple, clean beat accented by a reggae-feeling acoustic guitar. I like the lyrics’ subject, going through the myriad of emotions that comes in the middle of a relationship. It’s a more pensive song than a lighter pop track has any right to be.
9. Kelsey Ballerini ft. Halsey – the other girl
I’ve been under the impression that Ballerini was a country star, but there’s nothing country about this at all. I don’t think there’s any actual instruments here, just samples and drum beats. Ballerini’s voice blends well with Halsey and this a clean, smooth track that tries to fill itself out with a heavy subject but misses that mark. It is pure pop.
8. Young T & Bugsey ft. DaBaby – Don’t Rush
This track is 2/3rd of the way there for me. There’s a great beat, Bugsey’s chorus is solid, Young T’s verse has great flow, but then there’s the first verse from DaBaby. It flows just fine but feels like it is in direct opposition to the rest of the song. It’s the graphic sex scene in the middle of an otherwise regular romcom and he kind of takes the attention away from the original artists. The original version is better but it’s the mix with DaBaby that’s climbed its way into the top 40.
7. Juice WRLD and The Weeknd – Smile
Another solid collaboration from the Legends Never Die deluxe edition. It’s the tale of two men admitting that they’re flawed human beings but still want to make their significant others happy, even if that means them leaving. It has the emo feelings that we expect from both of these artists but with enough of a twist that it feels like a new perspective. The production is perfect for putting the emphasis on Juice and The Weeknd’s vocals as the high hats and heavy bass seem to de-emphasize themselves to allow them to shine. I still prefer “Come & Go” but this is a solid track.
6. Taylor Swift – the 1
“I’m doing good, I’m on some new shit” is the best way to open Swift’s new record. It’s the announcement that the folklore album will be different and that’s a very good thing. Musically, it has the feeling of the perfect track to listen to while the rain pours down outside. Lyrically, it kind of fits that, recalling a scene in a romantic movie where the protagonist relives a recent relationship while looking through a storm raging outside. Swift doesn’t sound to be broken by this relationship’s end, just wishing there really had been something more there. It’s a solid primer for the album to come.
5. Billie Eilish – my future
Who knew the return of lo-fi is what we needed in 2020? “my future” delivers a positive message that we all need to hear in the middle of the worst year in recent history. The soulful, jazzy track starts out almost acapella before the upbeat, light drum line comes in, shining some auditory light on the track. Eilish sings of walking away from a past relationship and looking forward to her future, something many of us are ready to take to heart after the cluster that this year has been and will continue to be. It’s a track that feels so light until you really get into the lyrics and then it turns uplifting.
4. Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion – WAP
I’d really just like to give you the transcripts of the hissy fits that Ben Shapiro and Tucker Carlson threw over this track, but I was told I needed to actually write about the song. This song is driven exclusively by the power, intensity and flow of Cardi and Megan. The beat is very simple, kind of muted and an afterthought in the mix. Which is fine because it doesn’t need to be a feature or a compliment to the vocals. I’ve praised Megan in the past for her flow and intensity and she deserves more of that praise here and Cardi can meet her step for step. I guess we can’t avoid the reason that the internet had an aneurysm over this song: the lyrical content. The real question is: why are sexually explicit lyrics from women such a big deal? Sure, they are explicit. But how is that any different than the thousands of songs that have been released by male artists over the years who are considered true artists and icons of the game? So if it’s not sexually explicit material alone that really gets the masses up in arms (most of them, people like Shapiro, Carlson and evangelicals have been clutching their pearls at the sound of hip hop since… probably since Kurtis Blow is not earlier.), why has this song ruffled so many feathers? Could it possibly be that too many people don’t know how to handle a strong woman who is very secure in her sexuality and has no problem expressing that? That’s for you to decide. It’s for the song reviewer to tell you that this track slaps, period.
3. Miley Cyrus – Midnight Sky
Apparently, 2020 will be the summer of disco pop hits as this track is pounding the charts after Dua Lipa’s “Break My Heart” has spent several months dominating radio. It is a classic “I’m back” track, announcing the re-emergence of Miley following her divorce. It’s an upbeat, retro dance track that is clearly inspired by Stevie Nicks and even has a line running through it that is very close to the opening of Fleetwood Mac’s “Little Lies”, which really thematically works well here. Dua Lipa still did it better, but there is a lot of good in this track which will likely compete fiercely for the title of song of the summer
2. Taylor Swift – cardigan
What a pleasant sonic turn this is from what is expected of a Taylor Swift single. There’s a dark brooding in the layers of piano and synth lines. That would normally cast a pall over a pop track but Swift’s lyrics and vocals pull it back into familiar territory for her. Yes, the song covers the many facets of a relationship. However, the writing feels more mature than ever, like a retrospective of emotions where her biggest hits always seem to deal with the emotions of the now.
1 . Taylor Swift ft. Bon Iver – exile
At first listen, this sounds more like a Bon Iver song featuring Swift than the other way around. It is indie-folk to the core, driven by dual tracked pianos and accented with gospel-inspired backing vocals. Swift has said that the song is about the miscommunication between lovers and how two people can be talking to each other while having two different conversations. Justin Vernon’s strong baritone is the perfect compliment to Swift’s breathty alto. The back half of the song hammers home the miscommunication angle with Swift and Vernon singing over each other, showing a lack of listening even after these lovers have seperated. Of the three tracks off folklore that hit the top 40, this is my favorite.