Monthly Report: November 2014 Singles

1. Ariana Grande f/ The Weeknd - "Love Me Harder"
Despite all her '90s samples and Mariah influences, I think one of the strengths of Ariana Grande's career has been that she has the taste of someone her age and has gotten a chance to curate her collaborations to suit those tastes. Most major label pop starlets would just get handed collaborations with, like, Pitbull or Jason DeRulo or whoever, but instead she's doing songs with people like Mac Miller and Childish Gambino and The Weeknd and bringing them into the pop realm. I don't really like any of those artists, maybe because I'm not 21, but I respect what she's doing. And this song is really just kind of fantastic, makes great use of The Weeknd's voice without him saying any of the creepy stuff he usually says. And I'm glad that Ariana's fourth top 10 song of the year is finally one that I like. Most of these songs are in my Spotify playlist of favorite 2014 singles.

2. alt-J - "Left Hand Free"
alt-J are one of those U.K. bands that's big at home and has a lower profile in America, but they never had even the "OK, maybe we should take them seriously?" critical cachet of, say, Arctic Monkeys. But they just scored their biggest American rock radio hit to date, and I kinda love it, mostly because I have no idea what to make of these guys. I never expected a British band to remind me of Southern Culture On The Skids.

3. Migos - "Handsome And Wealthy"
The whole thing with Migos these days, with people doing smirky hyperbole about how they're "better than the Beatles" and "no really they can actually rap" is basically the worst thing about discussing or writing about southern rap lately. But whatever, they have some fun singles, and this is the one that really just cracked me up so much the first time I heard it. I'm glad that it finally got some chart action after "Fight Night" ended up stealing its thunder a few months ago.

4. Usher f/ Juicy J - "I Don't Mind"
Other than that lame Pharrell attempt at a new "Blurred Lines," Usher's new songs have been really good. Even the song that was released via Honey Nut Cheerios the other day was really good. "I Don't Mind" is just now slowly starting to get some legs on the radio and I hope it takes off. It seems like everyone's got a stripper song out these days, most of them featuring Juicy J (Ne-Yo's is also good), but this one is interesting for basically being about non-judgmental about someone who does sex work and being in a relationship with them, pretty progressive stuff really. The guys from Rock City/Planet VI doing fake Migos ad libs on the verses is kind of annoying but unobtrusive. I also like how the beat is clubby but strangely restrained, there's no kick drum for like more than half the song.

5. Bleachers - "Rollercoaster"
"I Wanna Get Better" is still one of my favorite things to happen on alt-rock radio this year, and I'm pleased with the choice of follow-up single. "Rollercoaster" is one of the album's more on-the-nose '80s homages, in the vein of the stuff Jack Antonoff worked on for the Taylor Swift album,. but if you're gonna do '80s pop, you might as well evoke something as great as "Melt With You."

6. T-Pain - "Drankin' Patna"
For years I've thought that T-Pain's fall from pop prominence was kind of a shame and that he deserved a chance at a resurgence, whether that meant get a second wind as a hitmaker like Pharrell has, or just getting treated with more critical respect. And it felt like the latter started to happen recently with his Tiny Desk Concert, where a lot of people heard him sing without AutoTune for the first time and really enjoyed it.  What I really liked about it was that he did one old hit everybody knows but also did his two underrated recent singles. "Drankin' Patna" has been out for a minute and hasn't made a lot of noise but that performance had be going back to it, kinda fits in the lineage of T-Pain songs that conflate romance with drinking/clubbing in a way that makes the guy seem like he has a really unhealthy lifestyle but also makes for great songs.

7. DJ Drama f/ Jeezy, Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan - "Right Back"
Obviously there's a ton of great Young Thug songs out there right now, more that deserve to be hits than there will be. I really like this one, kind of a different beat to get him on. Drama is always refreshing the stable of artists that appear on his records, while Khaled just puts the same guys in the mix for years and years.

8. Fat Joe f/ Jennifer Lopez - "Stressin'"
Joey and Jen are both pretty far from their commercial high points. But the album J.Lo dropped earlier this year was surprisingly solid, and this song bangs too.

9. Colbie Caillat - "Try"
The last time I grudgingly repped for a B.o.B single was also the last time I grudgingly repped for a Colbie Caillat single, and here we are again. But weirdly I didn't even hear this song until the recent viral video of Erykah Badu singing it with her daughters, which was a really poignant way to hear the song's lyric. The original is good, too, though, produced by Babyface in that pop/rock crossover mode that he's really good and underrated at.

10. Bear Hands - "Agora"
These guys have a pretty generic '90s post-punk sound but I've really enjoyed both of the singles they've gotten on the radio, hoping this one gets as big as "Giants" did earlier this year.

Worst Single of the Month: Nicki Minaj f/ Chris Brown, Drake and Lil Wayne - "Only"
"Pills N Potions" was banal in the same fashion as the first couple Pink Friday singles, and "Anaconda" was such an aggressively awkward song that even the huge amount of attention around the video could never get it to fly on pop radio or rap radio. But "Only" really takes the cake as the most monumentally bad song in The Pink Print's whole troubled campaign. The theme of it in general is pretty weird, and Drake in particular takes it to a really creepy and unpleasant place, but Nicki's punchlines are just scraping the barrel now, the "duct tape" thing and the "cutlet" line are just bad rap lyric hall of fame material. Maybe the worst rap single with the most starpower since "Swagga Like Us."
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