Monthly Report: January 2018 Singles

1. Bebe Rexha f/ Florida Georgia Line "Meant To Be"
Bebe Rexha is a pop singer who's made hits with EDM producers, rappers, and rock bands (I also only just realized when writing this that she was the singer in Pete Wentz's short-lived Black Cards project). Florida Georgia Line is a country group whos made hits with rappers, EDM producers, and pop singers. They're both basically native creatures of this weird one-size-fits-all median sound that the biggest or most commercially aspirational artists of every genre are congealing into. But "Meant To Be" is still a pretty good use of that sound, feels like a companion to FGL's other good recent pop collaboration, Hailee Steinfeld's "Let Me Go." But what's surprising is how well it's doing on country radio, even if it has more momentum on pop radio. I'm sure Jay-Z didn't coin "if it was meant to be, it'll be," but I like the line because it reminds me of one of my favorite songs, "This Can't Be Life." Also, on the subject of Dolores O'Riordan's passing, Bebe Rexha is probably the only current mainstream act who cites The Cranberries as a major influence, and I can kinda hear it. Here's the 2018 singles Spotify playlist that I'll be updating throughout the year. 

2. Cam "Diane" 
Calling your new single a companion piece to one of your genre's most beloved songs of all time is a ballsy way to get people's attention. But what I like about Cam's "Diane" is that you don't really have to know that it was written as a response to Dolly Parton's "Jolene," it has its own melody and its own energy and its own way of giving you a whole story from one character's perspective with just enough detail for you to fill in between the lines. 

3. Bruno Mars f/ Cardi B - "Finesse (Remix)" 
"Finesse" was one of my immediate favorites off of 24K Magic way back in 2016, and as 2017 came to a close I assumed the album cycle was winding down and it missed its chance to be a single. So I was pretty delighted to hear that Bruno drafted someone good and attention-grabbing for a remix to give the album one last burst of momentum to go into awards season. I like the "we got it goin' on" refrain at the end more with Bruno's vocals on the album version, but Cardi's verse really adds a nice energy to the top of the song. 

4. Derez De'Shon "Hardaway"
London On Da Track has been one of my favorite producers in rap since his work on a lot of the songs that made Young Thug a star in 2014, and in the years since he's kept pretty busy but hasn't really been on Thug's projects as much as I'd like or done a lot of really high profile songs with other artists. So it's been cool to see a couple of his productions, "Hardaway" and Kodak Black's "Roll In Peace, rising up the charts lately. Derez De'Shon reminds me a lot of YFN Lucci on this song but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I feel bad for all these new guys who are signing to Cash Money lately, though, when you have Lil Wayne constantly out there as a reminder that you can be one of the biggest rappers of all time and Birdman will still fuck you over if you let him. 

5. Bastille "World Gone Mad"
Bright may have been one of the most divisive movies in recent memory, but the soundtrack album is a pretty spectacular mess in its own right, a mush of unnecessary collaborations like Migos/Marshmello and DRAM/Neil Young and A$AP Rocky/Tom Morello. But there are two really good songs on the Bright soundtrack that happen when they stop trying to squeeze together different genres: a straight up gangsta rap posse cut with Meek Mill, YG and Snoop, and Bastille's single from the album. "World Gone Mad" is one of those dramatic apocalyptic pop songs we're probably going to have a constant supply of for a while until at least the next election, but it works, and I enjoy Dan Smith saying "you don't wanna fuck with us" in his pretty Prince Valiant voice. 

6. The Lumineers "Angela"
The Lumineers have had several alt-rock radio hits since their debut single "Ho Hey"'s massive crossover success a few years ago, and their more understated other material hasn't had that same kind of pop profile. "Angela" has really hit me way harder than any of their other songs, though, it's really quite beautiful. 

7. Harry Styles - "Kiwi" 
I get that Harry Styles very deliberately leveraged his fame and fanbase to have a hugely successful debut album without having to cater to the singles charts, and I respect that. But it still seems like a loss to me that his label hasn't even worked the record in the radio formats where it could get airplay, and let "Two Ghosts" kind of sap away whatever momentum the album had to spin off a radio hit. "Kiwi" would be a fun song to hear on rock radio hit and you'd probably hear it all over there if anyone else made it, but even the downtempo songs on the album are aesthetically right in the same lane as, say, The Lumineers. 

8. Kendrick Lamar f/ Zacari "Love"
When DAMN. was first released, "Love" and "Loyalty" seemed to stand out as obvious shoe-ins to be the album's big R&B hit, and I initially preferred and rooted for "Love." But now they've both been hits and "Love" actually turned out to be the bigger of the two, but I ultimately thought "Loyalty" sounded better on the radio. Both are pretty good tracks that put Kendrick in an R&B context better than he usually manages, though. And Greg Kurstin gets to add an urban radio hit by one of the biggest rappers in the world to one of the more varied resumes of any producer working today. 

9. Calvin Harris f/ Kehlani and Lil Yachty "Faking It"
This is one of the best things Kehlani has ever done, but even the best tracks from Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 seem to highlight in one way or another how Calvin Harris is out of his element or doesn't fully understand the artists he's working with, because this is just about the worst track he could've put Lil Yachty on, and his faux folksy tangent about putting pepperonis on his girlfriend's face really kind of deflates the vibe. 

10. Taylor Swift "New Year's Day" 
In the weeks after Reputation was released, it was announced that the closing track "New Year's Day" would be Taylor Swift's first single promoted to country radio in nearly 5 years. And given the Nashville establishment's general thirst for attention from the biggest possible stars, and the way they fell over themselves to give Swift awards for writing Little Big Town's "Better Man" last year, I assumed "New Year's Day" would take off. But it's a very quiet, almost threadbare little whisper of a song, and even though it's really grown on me, I'm not surprised that it never really got serious spins. 

Worst Single of the Month: N.E.R.D. f/ Rihanna "Lemon"
I already wrote a weary review of No_One Ever Really Dies, but I remain surprise that even among the album's detractors, there is still enthusiasm for "Lemon" and the song has done pretty well on R&B radio, often in the form of an edit that chops off the first part of the song and skips straight to the Rihanna verse. But even in that edit, you hear Pharrell spit the same verse afterwards, and it's a really really bad Skateboard P verse and Rihanna reciting it is just not the "omg Rihanna's spitting" moment some people have made it out to be. 
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