Monthly Report: February 2015 Singles

1. Taylor Swift - "Style"
I feel like this so clearly the great and likely most enduring song of 1989, and maybe of Taylor Swift's career, that someday it will seem kind of weird that it was the third single, released after it had already moved most of its units. Just an amazing record, great groove, and unlike a lot of her better songs, she doesn't fuck it up with a subpar bridge but actually delivers one that elevates the rest of the song. Obviously this song isn't on my Spotify playlist of favorite 2015 singles, but the other songs here are.

2. D'Angelo and the Vanguard - "Really Love"
One of the most interesting aspects of "surprise album release" era to me is how it's allowing established artists to release a record to their existing fanbase without the pressure of having to release a giant hit single first to prime the public. And I've been watching and observing whether these albums end up having any kind of shelf life on radio without advance singles -- unsurprisingly, Magna Carta Holy Grail and Beyonce ended up with lots of radio hits, but Yeezus had none at all. Currently, the single from the J. Cole surprise album is doing much better than the one from the D'Angelo album that also dropped from the sky in December. But really, even Voodoo was far enough removed from 2000 R&B radio that he was lucky "Untitled" did as well as it did. And when you factor in the passage of 15 years, no video, and a lovely but less immediate ballad that features a string intro and lots of Spanish guitar, it's pretty miraculous and refreshing to hear "Really Love" on the radio at all. I still wish I heard it more, though (it topped out at #28 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart).

3. Thomas Rhett - "Make Me Wanna"
"Make Me Wanna" is the 5th single from Thomas Rhett's debut album released back in 2013, and the first 4 gave me no reason to take any interest in the guy. But sometimes those long singles campaigns give you a little surprise at the end, and "Make Me Wanna" is a great one. In the context of mainstream country lyrics, this is really just more songs about making out in truck cabs. But musically, it's really a breath of fresh air, this lilting soulful little thing that Rhett himself called "kind of like if the Bee Gees were to put out a single today." He doesn't sing in a falsetto or anything, but the groove is perfect.

4. Ella Henderson - "Ghost"
Ryan Tedder, a Top 40 hack among hacks, made an embarrassing number of singles I enjoyed last year. And one of them that kinda flew under the radar was Colbie Caillat's "Hold On," which now feels like a dry run for "Ghost." Ella Henderson won "The X-Factor" in the UK and this song already hit #1 over there last year, but it's just starting to pick up steam here. Tedder also did Leona Lewis's "Bleeding Love," so clearly the "X-Factor" people were shrewd to get him involved in Henderson's project, and the results are nearly as good. I am pretty annoyed by the dance beat remix that my local pop station has been playing of this, though -- it's already an uptempo record, isn't not like "All Of Me" or "Take Me To Church" where the dance remixes are used to cram slow songs into a format that rarely accepts slow songs.

5. Fetty Wap - "Trap Queen"
I like this song, it's really catchy. But I think I'm also equally entertained by the guy in the video who's doing his best offbrand DJ Khaled mogul shit talking for 30 whole seconds at the end of the video, and the guy next to him in the car emphatically pointing at him the whole time. Also, my realization that Chris Parnell basically wrote "Trap Queen" with the hook of the song from this old SNL sketch has ensured I'll never heard it the same way again.

6. Royal Blood - "Figure It Out"
Initially I didn't like this nearly as much as Royal Blood's first single, "Out of the Black," but this one's pretty catchy too. They pack a nice neo-Zep wallop for two guys on bass and drums, overdubs or not, this song even has a "Heartbreaker" knockoff riff at the end of the chorus.

7. Charli XCX f/ Rita Ora - "Doing It (Remix)"
It's a shame that Sucker has had such a mishandled album campaign -- they could've released it back when "Boom Clap" was a big hit, but instead let a follow-up with zero radio potential, "Break The Rules," drain the project's momentum before the LP dropped. And now one of the album's best songs, an awesome '80s Madonna-style jam, is a single, but they had to go and make it an unnecessary remix with Rita Ora, who's barely a bigger draw than Charli's ever been, or maybe was a couple years ago. She doesn't detract from the song at all, but she doesn't really add anything to justify her presence. They've already replaced the solo version with the remix on the album on Spotify and everything. I was really impressed that Ariel Rechtshaid produced this, I thought a lot of the stuff he did previously for Haim or Sky Ferreira was kind of timid scarequotes "pop," but this song just bangs.

8. AWOLNATION - "Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)"
"Sail" is one of my favorite singles of the decade, and I felt pretty vindicated when it became this multi-platinum sleeper hit that kept popping up on the Hot 100 on and off over the course of 3 years. But the song and AWOLNATION's first album are 4 years old now, and I was wondering when they'd ever come back with something new. In that context, "Hollow Moon" felt initially anticlimactic, but it also feels like a very strange and appropriate song for the band to return with, particularly with lyrics like "Motherfucker I'll be back from the dead soon" and "I run away for a couple years just to prove I've never been free." The album they're releasing next month, Run, is very good, and has more accessible songs, but I admire this choice for a lead single.

9. Catfish And The Bottlemen - "Kathleen"
Mainstream alt rock band names really have become terrible across the board, haven't they AWOLNATION is a pretty bad name, but Catfish And The Bottlemen, shit, that's practically Hootie And The Blowfish. This song has a pretty great chorus, though.

10. Nicki Minaj f/ Beyonce - "Feeling Myself"
After The Pinkprint's horror show trio of advance singles, it's nice to now be able to turn on the radio and hear actual good songs from the album like "Truffle Butter" and this. This song only exists as part of the bargain to get Nicki on the "Flawless" remix, but I think it's so much better than that was. I loved that even Just Blaze bowed down to how good the production is on this.

Worst Single of the Month: Ed Sheeran - "Thinking Out Loud"
It's weird to think that the worst single from x isn't one of the songs where he raps, but this song has really grown from benignly lame to actively awful as it's become inescapable. He always seems to make awkward anatomical references when he's talking about kissing or whatever, but this song tips all the way into a weird body horror vibe with lines like "Will your mouth still remember the taste of my love/ Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks?" It's especially lame because the album's opening track, "One," is a pretty lovely acoustic track.

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