Monthly Report: March 2015 Singles
1. Jason Derulo - "Want To Want Me"
Jason Derulo has always had kind of an anonymous quality -- no matter how many hits he has, he still feels more like a male Rihanna stand-in, or some kind of weird halfway point between Jeremih and Bruno Mars, or Chris Brown and Nick Jonas, or something. The first couple times I heard this song, I couldn't quite place who it was, and there were a couple moments were he sounds just like Trey Songz but it sounded a little too pop to be him. Unfortunately, I missed the intro -- the first verse starts less than 2 seconds into the song, but he still squeezes a whispered "Derulo" in beforehand. So I finally figured out what it is the other day, because a couple of my friends were also freaking out about it. An unusually perceptive YouTube comment described the sound of this song as "the current direction of pop music, funky, euphoric, slow electropop," and compared it to recent songs like Ariana Grande's "Love Me Harder" and Taylor Swift's "Style." And I like all those songs and this one as well, so that trend's alright with me. Here's my running favorite 2015 singles playlist, by the way.
2. K. Michelle - "Love 'Em All"
I already said a lot about the album a couple months ago and this song kind of puts the whole thing in a perfect little nutshell, an anthemic but vulnerable response to slut-shaming. The production almost has this '80s pop rock Pat Benatar vibe that might've been a little too much of a left turn, really wish R&B had embraced this song more than it did.
3. Nicki Minaj f/ Drake and Lil Wayne - "Truffle Butter"
I remember people kinda freaking out over the song when The Pinkprint came out, but I didn't hear it at first because I wasn't listening to a version with the bonus tracks, and it was a little underwhelming once I did hear it. But it's really grown on me, and I understand why this song sounds like a breath of fresh air in the context of that album, and especially in relation to the other Nicki/Drake/Wayne single released right before it, the dreaded "Only." Sampling some bleepy minimal house song and putting drums that sound like "The Motto" over it is really kind of inspired as a way to subtly advance the calcified Young Money sound. Also Wayne's career hasn't gone as well as Nicki's and Drake's over the last few years but he's still such a better rapper than they've ever been, and his verse is better than theirs on this and "Only" and almost every collaboration he's done with either of them (save for, well, "The Motto").
4. Flo Rida f/ Sage The Gemini & Lookas - "G.D.F.R."
Flo Rida has always been on the cutting edge of weird watered down Top 40 versions of subcultures. And this song is kind of an interesting dance rap fusion in the same way "Truffle Butter" is, except it's co-produced by bay area rap producer P-Lo (the less famous progenitor of what we think of as the DJ Mustard sound) and a 'trap' electronic producer, Lookas. It's also got one of those obnoxious horn loops that have been so popular since "Thrift Shop," maybe my favorite to date (correction -- the song's Wikipedia entry hilarious clarifies "Despite many people's beliefs, this song was not played with an oboe. Instead, the song was made with an electric violin sound on a keyboard"). After years of him being commercially resilient beyond all logic, Flo Rida now finally has a song that is kind of this sneaky little sleeper hit that is still slowly drifting towards the top 10 after being out for five months, and I'm weirdly kinda rooting for it.
5. Ne-Yo f/ Juicy J - "She Knows"
Another horn loop song that's been out forever and is just now peaking on the charts. This whole wave of Dr. Luke/Juicy J strip club songs with this and Usher's "I Don't Mind" has been dope, I wouldn't mind if every R&B star took turns doing their own for the next year or two.
6. Young Dolph - "Preach"
Almost a decade ago, one of the best beats in southern rap was Shawty Lo's "I'm Da Man" -- it was produced by K-Rab of "Laffy Taffy" fame and appeared on the same D4L album, but it was the first song that really distinguished Shawty Lo from the rest of the group as being more trap music than snap music and launched his solo career. It was never a huge crossover hit but had a long shelf life thanks in part to one of Lil Wayne's best mixtape tracks and maybe the best thing Yung Joc ever did. Now, after laying dormant for 9 years or so, the distinctive "I'm Da Man" drums have resurfaced in Young Dolph's first big national radio hit. "Preach" was produced by Zaytoven, who was already on the scene working Gucci Mane back when "I'm Da Man" hit, and to be honest I'm a little bothered by the flagrant beat bite, but it's also nice to hear those drums again.
7. Little Big Town - "Girl Crush"
Pain Killer was a really good album (#44 on my year-end list) and this song was a really arresting, gorgeous standout track. It might've been too bold for a single choice, though, hasn't really taken off at radio. I love how they just go all out on the languid noir torch song vibe, though, this song could've easily been done uptempo and be a little cheesy with the innuendo of the lyrical conceit instead of the compelling, dramatic way they executed it.
8. Zac Brown Band - "Homegrown"
In the past I've kinda held up "Keep Me In Mind" as the one really irresistibly hooky Zac Brown Band song I like. But this one really snuck up on me, one day recently I was feeling this really beautiful zen moment of total contentment, and this was the song that popped into my head and summed up how I felt in a cheesy dadrock way. Their other single that was just sent to hard rock radio featuring Chris Cornell is pretty good, too. It's amusing that this is currently on the country airplay chart right next to Darius Rucker's "Homegrown Honey."
9. Avery*Sunshine - "Call My Name"
A while back I wrote about another song on the R&B charts called "Call My Name," Morgan James's cover of the Prince song. This one is an original, but it actually has a weird uncanny valley thing going on with the Prince song where it's practically the same song but about a breakup instead of a relationship. Avery*Sunshine has the most annoyingly stylized neo soul singer's name since India.Arie, but this song is pretty dope.
10. Priory - "Weekend"
Over the years, a lot of songs have crossed over from alt-rock radio to pop radio. But it feels like this kinda flunked out of the former and is now being given a second chance on the latter. It spent a few months bouncing around Billboard's Alternative Songs chart last year as a moderate hit, before dropping off in November. Then, 3 months later, it showed up on the Pop Songs chart. It's a nice cheesy synth rock anthem, might make more sense as a Top 40 record really.
Worst Single of the Month: Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney - "FourFiveSeconds"
I really chewed on this song for a while and tried not to reject it outright, especially because I actually like Rihanna's vocal on it. But sometimes I don't know if I love or hate a song until it gets stuck in my head, and once this started bouncing around my brain it just felt like torture. This wave of songs Kanye is doing with no drums is interesting but the tunes are never strong enough to pull off that choice. "Groanly Grunt" oops I mean "Only One" at least had a seed of a nice song in there that hadn't been nurtured past the demo stage, but "FourFiveSeconds" is just aggravating, a trio of hugely successful pop stars' instincts totally failing them. I can't even figure out what's going on in the song. It's Tuesday and they're getting back from somewhere by Monday? Who's talking trash and making Kanye spaz and wild out, Rihanna? Why is he going to jail? I hate bringing this up but it almost sounds like some creepy allusion to the whole Chris Brown thing.