Ariana Grande featuring Zedd—“Break Free”
If Grande wants to be the second coming of Mariah Carey (or third, since the second was Mariah herself), I’d prefer she take her business elsewhere. But if she decides to become an EDM diva instead, I’m all for it. It would be an ambition more in line with her talents, for one thing; and it would match her up with people like Zedd, who really outdoes himself here. It would also, one hopes, keep her away from the icy grip of people like Ryan Tedder. The only flaw in “Break Free” is that just as it gets really crazy it comes to a sudden halt, and instead of a false ending followed by a jump back into the chorus it’s the end of the record. Here’s hoping for an extended mix that rights this mistake.
5 Seconds of Summer—“Amnesia”
Always figured their power ballad was just around the corner, but “Amnesia” is nowhere near as horrible as I feared, at least in terms of what it could have been. It’s still fairly horrible, though. The main problem is the same one that afflicts all their records: throwing everything they can at the songs at as high a volume as possible. In terms of arrangement and production they never shut up, and they never stop shouting. So why do I keep giving them the benefit of the doubt? Because every once in a while they hit on something real—a hook, a bit of melody, a decent line or two—and there’s a moment like that in almost every record. Maybe I’m just fooling myself, but I’d swear that somebody involved has actual talent.
“Foreign” is essentially Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty” with all the hooks and fun removed. Where Derulo is stupid and offensive in a fun way, Trey Songz is just offensive. “Foreign” is like a one-man argument against immigration reform: if we let foreign ladies in, Songz will force them to twerk to his boring beats and fulfill his cliche sexual fantasies. Better for everybody if they just stay home.
Chris Brown featuring Usher & Rick Ross—“New Flame”
Another good beat from, or discovered by, Brown, and it sounds especially great when Usher is singing over it. “New Flame” even makes Rick Ross sound good. But Brown himself makes no real vocal impression and basically disappears from his own record. If the courts really want to get some community service out of Brown, they should sentence him to finding beats and songs and producing new singers who are better than he is. That would be of far more value than picking up trash or whatever else they’ve been trying to make him do.
Busta Rhymes featuring Eminem—“Calm Down”
Two oldsters proving they not only still have the flow but the energy to propel it. If anybody else comes up with anything near as technically, gobsmackingly accomplished this year he or she will be the rap god Eminem claims to be. Proficiency aside, however, these guys are still lost in the nineties. Rhymes actually uses the word fahrvergnügen, while Eminem quotes “Jump Around”. The closest thing to a contemporary reference is Eminem calling out Clive Davis over Davis’s memoir. Why pick a fight with a guy forty years older than he is? Because Eminem knows damn well that nobody younger than him is paying any attention.
Iggy Azalea featuring Rita Ora—“Black Widow”
Rita Ora’s hook is decent, though nowhere near as good as Charli XCX’s on “Fancy”, and Azalea’s vocals are less irritating than her previous records, and that’s about all there is to say. Except that my feelings about Azalea’s records echo almost exactly my feelings about Lady Gaga’s first couple of singles, so I feel as if I should hedge my bets a bit on Azalea’s ultimate worth. Whether or not Azalea has a “Bad Romance” or even a “Paparazzi” in her is open to question. I do know this much, though: no matter how flamboyant her costumes or her music, Gaga always sings like herself, where Azalea’s voice is nothing but imitation. It’s as if she can’t tell the difference between herself and her outfits. Gaga would never make that mistake.
Afrojack featuring Wrabel—“Ten Feet Tall”
Zedd with Ariana Grande is EDM with intent, and even if you don’t like those intentions it’s worth something. Afrojack with Wrabel (who?) is EDM as product, and even if people pay for it it’s worthless.