Monthly Report: February 2016 Singles
1. Maren Morris - "My Church"
One thing about country radio being extremely homogeneous and male-dominated in the last few years is that it really helps the more atypical songs from female artists stand out more. I can remember vividly the first time I heard Kacey Musgraves on the radio, or Maddie & Tae, and Maren Morris's "My Church" similarly demanded my attention a few weeks ago. And really, "My Church" is up my alley because it celebrates the car radio, something that my daily life revolves around and also the thing that introduced me to the song itself. Morris's whole EP that came out in November is really good, I like "'80s Mercedes" and "I Wish I Was" about as much as the single. Here's the 2016 singles playlist I add to every month, although only 8 of this month's songs are even on Spotify.
2. Jeremih - "Oui"
One of the odd little side effects of the Late Nights album's incredibly long journey to getting released in December is that it's now spun off significant radio hits in three consecutive calendar years -- "Don't Tell 'Em" and "Planes" were #1 on R&B radio in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and now "Oui" is rising up the top 10. And I love that they're all pretty distinctly different-sounding songs, "Oui" isn't unprecedented in terms of what's been on his previous albums but I didn't really think he'd ever have a single that sounds like this, all sweet and floaty and piano-driven.
3. DNCE - "Cake By The Ocean"
I've always been strongly partisan about Nick being the superior Jonas brother, and I thought the matter had been pretty decisively settled back in 2014 when "Jealous" hit. But Nick's singles since "Jealous" have been pretty underwhelming, and Joe has unexpectedly staged a comeback with a funk band called DNCE and a sleeper hit that's been steadily rising up the charts for months. I still have no idea if "cake by the ocean" is a euphemism for something and I kinda don't wanna know, somehow it just plays into the song's goofy appeal. Maxwell has been teasing a song called "Lake By The Ocean" for years that's supposedly his next single, and I feel like he's gonna really regret waiting to release it after "Cake By The Ocean" was a hit.
4. Thomas Rhett - "Die A Happy Man"
Thomas Rhett has been on a run of chart-topping country radio hits throughout his first and second albums, but "Die A Happy Man" has been the biggest, and actually the longest-running country #1 in like 8 years. It's not as good as "Make Me Wanna" or "Crash And Burn," but it's a pretty sweet little ballad. "Die A Happy Man" is actually on the Hot 100 twice right now, because longtime country dilettante Nelly released a pretty regrettable cover of it, hopefully that won't ever get bigger than the original.
5. Eric Church - "Mr. Misunderstood"
Eric Church is country's only major star these days who's ornery enough to release lead singles that aren't an easy fit for radio and save the hits for later in the album cycle. The title track of The Outsiders peaked at #25 on Country Airplay before a couple of the album's other singles went to #1, and now Mr. Misunderstood's title track has only done a little better at #15. It's not even that odd a song, really catchy even, but a self-mythologizing country song that talks up Elvis Costello and Jeff Tweedy instead of Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash probably counts as a curveball.
6. DJ Luke Nasty - "Might Be"
Now that rappers like Bobby Shmurda, T-Wayne, and even my friend Tate Kobang have launched careers off of mixtape freestyles over other rappers' beats, there's really no rules any more about how that works. But it's still pretty strange and surprising that, as Anderson .Paak's buzz continues to rise after two independent albums and a deal with Aftermath, that a relatively unknown artist is getting huge radio spins for a re-recording of his 2014 song "Might Be." It's got new verses but more or less the exact same beat and hook, and it's a really catchy song in either iteration but I don't really see any logic in why Luke Nasty's one became the hit other than that he chose to push it. But who I really feel bad for is Styles P, whose 2002 hit "Good Times" also revolved around a loop of the word "high," but in more chaste times Styles needed a radio edit that changed it to "by" and Luke Nasty doesn't.
7. Prince - "1000 X's & O's"
The two albums Prince released exclusively on Tidal last year didn't make much of a splash, but one of the better songs from them has become something of a radio hit, lurking around the lower reaches of the R&B charts for a few months now. It's actually a very old song from his vaults, though, initially written for Rosie Gaines way back in 1992 under the title "A 1,000 Hugs And Kisses," played live once in 2007, and then unexpectedly revived with a whole new arrangement in 2015. It's frustrating that his odd mercurial career path in the last couple decades hasn't included more R&B radio hits since it's so clear he has a ton of songs that would sound great on the radio, and this is the first one to make any impact since "Call My Name" and "Black Sweat" a decade ago.
8. Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello - "I Know What You Did Last Summer"
I was pretty content to hate Shawn Mendes, the biggest pop star thus far whose career has been launched through Vine, based on his first hit. But I actually really like his second hit, even though the chorus is ridiculously just reading the title of I Know What You Did Last Summer, a terrible movie released a year before Mendes was born.
9. Taylor Swift - "Out Of The Woods"
Taylor Swift is one of the last pop stars left who can do the endless 18-month album promo cycle. And it's illustrative of just how long the 1989 cycle has dragged on that the video for the 6th single, "Out Of The Woods," features subliminal Harry Styles references in response to One Direction's "Perfect," which was itself a response to 1989's third single "Style." It's a good song, though, I'm glad she's winding down with a good single after the awful "Bad Blood" and "Wildest Dreams." And I really liked that Bleachers record, so I'm glad one of the Jack Antonoff co-writes finally got a single release.
10. One Direction - "History"
Worst Single of the Month: Justin Timberlake - "Drink You Away"
Now that the nightmarish second 20/20 Experience album is 2 and a half years in the rearview, it's been nice to put that lousy chapter in Timberlake's career to bed. But then, Timberlake went on TV and performed a medley with Chris Stapleton that included the awful clunky 'country song' from his last album, and the damn thing wound up on the pop and country charts.