Jessie J, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj—“Bang Bang”
Jessie J’s voice doesn’t just grate, it stabs deep into your brain, making your extremities twitch and probably causing impotence. Arianna Grande, though she has plenty of defenders and the effect is much less harmful, isn’t much of an improvement (she doesn’t do Christina Aguilera any better than she does Mariah Carey). That leaves Nicki Minaj to hold “Bang Bang” together, which, amazingly enough, she does. When she’s on even the overblown arrangement makes sense. The best line comes when Minaj warns Jessie J. and Grande to stand back and watch themselves. She’s just being polite, though. If it were me I’d tell them to go away completely.
Maroon 5—“It Was Always You”
A couple of years ago, when Maroon 5 sampled Amadou and Mariam’s “Sabali” on “Wipe Your Eyes”, I shrugged it off as a fluke. The track was co-produced by J.R. Rotem, who is notorious for building songs around the most obvious and catchiest of samples, making them seem more like remixes than original songs. Now, though, since “It Was Always You” is so obviously an attempt to recreate Amadou and Mariam’s sound in an American pop context, I’m wondering if it wasn’t a statement of intent. It isn’t just that Levine’s vocals are patterned after Mariam’s (it goes a long way toward explaining how his singing has changed over the last couple of years), but that the rhythm track carries a distinctive Malian influence as well. Being the lunkheads they are, Maroon 5 don’t come close to the grace or rhythmic complexity of the originals (not to mention Amadou’s guitar), and the lyrics are as dumb as always, but I give them credit for trying. Now maybe Levine could perform a greater service and get Amadou and Mariam a guest spot on The Voice and let America hear what real singing sounds like.
Maddie & Tae—“Girl In A Country Song”
I love the idea behind it, but I wish “Girl In A Country Song” was a little more angry and a little less hokey. The spoken introduction cheapens their message before they even get started, their little stabs at comedy are dumb, and the giggle at the end makes it sound as if they’re merely exchanging one stereotype for another. That shot at “Redneck Crazy” is long overdue, though, and it’s almost impossible to dislike this. But I doubt we’ll ever hear from them again.
Hilary Duff—“Chasing the Sun”
Didn’t Paris Hilton already do this? And better?
Katy Perry—“This Is How We Do”
Even before Perry’s attempt at stand-up comedy “This is How We Do” was easily her worst single: a celebration of hedonism so exhausted and mindless that it sounds like it was recorded at the beginning of a three day binge. The comedy bits, however, take it into an entirely deeper realm of badness, the fourth or fifth level of pop hell, though not the very bottom of the pit. The bottom is reached when she asks to bring the beat back as if she were requesting an extra towel from the pool boy just because she can, not because she plans on swimming.
Bobby Shmurda—“Hot Nigga”
Really? Then how come I’m not feeling any heat?
Rae Sremmurd—“No Flex Zone!!”
Tilt the the rhythm far enough off-center and just about any phrase can become a hook; the more irritating the sound the deeper it bites. That doesn’t mean you have anything worthwhile to say, just that you have a minor gift for a catchy turn of phrase. At least this time.
Rita Ora—“I Will Never Let You Down”
The arrangement isn’t bad—it has a slinky quality, and at least it doesn’t beat you relentlessly over the head—but Rita Ora is such a non-presence it barely matters. “I Will Never Let You Down” does everything it’s supposed to do but make an impression.