A hodgepodge this week: eleven records with only two of any quality, one by a new artist who’s most likely a oneshot (Dej Loaf), the other a decent throwaway by an artist capable of far better (Eric Church). But most of the others address, directly or indirectly, the question of how one continues a career in pop once you’ve been successful. Taylor Swift leaves her Nashville kingdom and tries to establish another fiefdom in New York; Gwen Stefani takes a break from motherhood and steps onto The Voice, hoping to jumpstart the third phase of her career; Flo Rida tries to create a second phase in his; Meghan Trainor and Iggy Azalea follow-up huge debuts with weak soundalikes; and Calvin Harris and David Guetta try to maintain career continuity in the flash-in-the-pan world of EDM. I’m not saying that business interests trump artistry every time, but on a lot of these records the balance is at least fifty-fifty, and that’s not counting the ego share involved in both. Sometimes you can hear the desperation. Sometimes that’s all you hear.
Gwen Stefani—“Baby Don’t Lie”
Just like Jennifer Lopez, Stefani is a former A-lister trying to revive her career by working as a judge on a singing competition and slightly modernizing—and in Stefani’s case, simplifying—her sound. The surprise is that Stefani is worse at it than Lopez, and has created a record barely worth listening to once. Where’s Pitbull when you need him?
Taylor Swift—“Welcome To New York”
The problem isn’t that it sounds like theme music: all songs about New York sound like theme music, and rightly so. But “Welcome To New York” doesn’t sound like movie music, it sounds like sitcom music, a kind of modernized Mary Tyler Moore theme. Only this Mary has money and success and thinks she knows how the game works. “The lights are so bright but they’ll never blind me,” she sings, and that’s only the first of the lies she tells herself. It could be worse, though: wait until she turns 30 and moves to L.A.
DeJ Loaf—“Try Me”
Words matter in rap, but sometimes voices, and even beats, matter more, and this is distinct and striking on both counts. Dej Loaf might be just another woman worn down by life in the inner city, boasting about how tough she is in order to get by, but then again she might be the equivalent of Snoop on The Wire, worn out but ready to kill you if you get in her way. “I been out my mind since they killed my cousin” she says, and the voice and the music make you believe it in a way no male rapper has in years. Chances are this is a one shot (how could you follow it up?), but it’s the kind that sticks in your mind forever.
Calvin Harris featuring Ellie Goulding—“Outside”
If I had time, I could name any number of other songs that are a worse fit for Ellie Goulding’s voice, but I’m already too far behind, so “Outsiders” will have to do. It uses none of her strengths, highlights all of her weaknesses, and Harris’s bashing away in the background adds nothing and offers Goulding no assistance. They may as well have been making two entirely different records. I have no idea what the lyrics mean, either, but I suspect I would like the song even less if I did.
Flo Rida Featuring Sage The Gemini & Lookas—“G.D.F.R.”
Flo Rida is determined to be taken seriously, but if he keeps flopping like this he’ll just become another kind of joke. Of course, the same thing will happen in a different way if he tries making pop hits again. I hope he’s invested wisely.
Perfect in it’s simplicity, which is a relief after the first batch of singles from The Outsiders, but this is the sort of song Church could write in his sleep. Lovely and heartfelt, and you’ve heard it before.
Iggy Azalea Featuring MØ—“Beg For It”
Soundalike number one: not sure who MØ is, but since Charli XCX gets a writing credit, I’m assuming she’s here to make sure “Beg For It” comes across as a new song instead of a remix of “Fancy”. Charli XCX should get a cut of anything Azalea makes in the future, anyway, because Iggy wouldn’t have a career without her, but this is discount record making at it’s most obvious. Is Azalea that hard-up for material already?
Meghan Trainor—“Lips Are Movin”
Soundalike number two: the formula’s still working, so why mess it up? This is weak stuff, though, and the “bass” references make it sound even more like a quicky cash-in. Trainor will only get away with this once, though, so she better find a new schtick fast.
David Guetta Featuring Sam Martin—“Dangerous”
This is horrible, but I have to admit that faux-classical fits Guetta perfectly. It was only a matter of time before EDM turned into pop prog, and better Guetta than a Styx or Kansas revival, I suppose.
Snootie Wild Featuring K Camp—“Made Me”
Nothing wrong here, but I swear I’ve heard this record every three weeks for the last five years, if not ten. This adds nothing.
RaeLynn—“God Made Girls”
I long to hear more women’s voices on the country charts, but dear God not like this. “God Made Girls” is not just anti-feminist, but anti-woman, suggesting that the world would be just the way the big bro in the sky wants it if the ladies would all stay in their skirts, drive men crazy, and never move beyond the mindset of a fifteen-year-old (RaeLynn is 20, but makes herself sound much younger). Brought to you by Joey Moi, the same guy who produces Florida Georgia Line, which just figures.