Reviews for Normal People

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Top 20 Songs of the Month (September 2017) — October 10, 2017

Top 20 Songs of the Month (September 2017)

Hey, y’all! Sorry if this article is later than usual; I had a stack of technological absurdities as soon as it came time to write it. I know it’s my M.O. to start off each list talking about what an amazing month it was, but honestly? This was one of the weaker months for music I’ve seen thus far. It felt like this month got the shorter end of the fall single stick, including tepid new tracks from the likes of Zayn, Kelly Clarkson, and Sam Smith. Still, I’ve managed to turn a pretty solid top 20 out of it, and you’re about to look at it! Right now! First, let me clarify as always that this list is for songs released outside of an album. This means that a song that’s been around for years as an album track, but only just now got released as a single, would be considered eligible, but plenty of songs that were released this month still aren’t eligible. The rules are arbitrary, but they make narrowing down a list easier. Now, let’s get down to business.

20) UP ALL NIGHT – Beck

Beck’s 2014 album Morning Phase was good. Certainly not Album of the Year cough cough, but a solid folk album, coming from a listener who’s not always down with that ethereal shit. That being said, I’m glad Beck decided to follow it up with a poppier album, because this shit slaps. “Up All Night” opens with a crunchy guitar reminiscent of the bridge from “Dreams,” the first (by a long shot) single from this same album, but things quickly move in a different direction as the beat flows magically between that ‘90s guitar sound and the wild electronic vocal samples of modern pop. All this sets the stage for a rousing banger that, sure, borrow a couple elements from the likes of The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” and Kesha’s “Die Young,” but I’m certainly not complaining.

19) SPENT THE DAY IN BED – Morrissey

Noted insufferable prick Morrissey returns after a few years of speaking out against whatever-the-fuck to bring us more unfortunately-good tunes. This one’s about how people use the endless corruption of politics/media as an excuse to ignore current events and “sleep on” the problems at hand. It also has a really neat keyboard riff going on, which is cool. Listen, I do like the song, but it feels weird to shower praise on the man whose autobiography has a Penguin Classics edition.

18) SWEET DREAMS – BØRNS

Indie pop artist and fellow Michigander BØRNS has been dropping some heat the past couple months, but this is the first to squeeze its way onto the list. Something about the ethereal chaos of the chorus, perfectly conjuring the blissful, dreamlike state the title implies, plus BØRNS’ silky androgynous pipes give this song a really unique feel that sets it apart from a lot of other music to come out this month. It’s hard to describe a song with such a vibe-based appeal, but trust me when I say you’ll be transported.

17) SOMETHING FOR YOUR M.I.N.D. – Superorganism

Superorganism is one of the most exciting bands on the come-up right now, and just like their previous singles, “Something for Your M.I.N.D.” feels breathtakingly new. It’s unmistakeably psychedelic, but outside of bulbous guitars, it has few of the hallmarks of psychedelia. I’m absolutely in love with the way it keeps rhythm in moments of complete silence, spacing the pause between “for your” and “MIND” just right so as to jar and mesmerize without losing a beat while also making the vocals seem so genuine, they sound like a dazzlingly well-integrated sample. Superorganism is the future, so get used to ‘em now.

16) THE LAST OF THE REAL ONES – Fall Out Boy

Fall Out Boy’s been rolling out their perpetually-forthcoming album M AN IA for a long while, and the first couple singles were uh… not great. “Young and Menace” just might be the worst song they’ve ever made, but to be fair, that’s what I say about every lead single from a Fall Out Boy album. It’s typically not until the second or third single that the band’s true potential shines through (see: “Uma Thurman,” “The Phoenix”). Enter “Last of the Real Ones,” a truly kickass pop rock jam that wins by not trying too hard. It’s fun, energetic as hell, and while the whole llama thing is a shitty gimmick, the video (a loving recreation of Kanye’s “Flashing Lights”) is super enjoyable too. Not everyone’s on board with this “rockstar” phase of Fall Out Boy’s career, but even detractors will admit this one’s a cut above the rest.

15) HOW CAN U SLEEP – Brain feat. Lil Dicky and The Game

Now that I think about it, thematically speaking, this song is upsettingly similar to that Morrissey song from earlier. Anyway, Lil Dicky put out his “I’m Brain” concept EP earlier this month, and it’s really bad. Brain was a character who wasn’t even funny or interesting to begin with, nothing more is really done with him on this project, and Dicky’s move towards being taken seriously has sapped much of the fun out of his music. Still, “How Can U Sleep” is fire. It’s funny, the best is great, the verses are great, it might’ve caught like wildfire if it weren’t a Lil Dicky song in 2017. Dicky’s verses are great, if cluttered with quite a bit of filler, and The Game delivers his best verse in years. I really like how Dicky delivers the “How can you sleep” line, as though he’s disgusted by the very thought of someone sleeping. It’s also really funny when Game says “I just brought six strippers from Vegas home with me” and Dicky responds with a genuinely taken-aback “Six?!” More this, less “Cocaine.”

14) WILLY WONKA – Macklemore feat. Offset

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ hiatus has swiftly and unsurprisingly proven that Lewis was the real heavy-hitter of the two. In the time since they’ve broken up, Macklemore delivered a lukewarm, derivative hip hop album, while Ryan Lewis delivered “Praying” by Kesha, which you already know my thoughts on. And while I wasn’t exactly Gemini’s biggest fan, one thing I must admit about the new Macklemore album is that “Willy Wonka” fucking slaps. Macklemore does some interesting stuff in his verse, revisiting the pitter-patter flow of “Can’t Hold Us,” but like “How Can U Sleep,” the real star of this track is the guest rapper. Offset imbues a weird dubstep-rap experiment with glorious purpose, giving it a much better hook and a really solid verse. One thing though: I’m a little upset about the line “Willy Wonka been had haters.” I mean, I guess people didn’t like him, but it wasn’t a defining character trait of Willy Wonka that he had haters. You could just as easily say “Richard Dreyfuss been had haters.” In fact, Richard Dreyfuss also lives on acres and has a lot of paper. Bottom line: great song, but should really be called “Richard Dreyfuss.”

13) MISTAKES – Tove Styrke

I’ve missed out on a few great songs in the process of making these lists. You can’t always tell what kind of staying power a song will have right off the bat. One such omission was Tove Styrke’s “Say My Name,” whose boisterous hook immediately embedded itself into my permanent memory. I hate to consider this a consolation prize, because “Mistakes” is good enough on its own to make the list, but it does sort of feel that way. I really admire Styrke’s particular breed of pop, which deconstructs elements of the genre without losing fun or functionality in a sea of half-baked downers (not naming names, but Billie Eilish). “Mistakes” has an almost maddeningly-simple hook:

You make me

You make me

You make me wanna make mistakes

Love how bittersweet it tastes

That’s it. But listening to the song, how the beat drops out and the robotic choir kicks in so subtly, it’s sort of divine. Tove Styrke stands alongside Julia Michaels as a breath of fresh air in pop who takes the genre in a new direction without losing its raw enjoyment.

12) THE SCHEME – Primus

This song is essentially a two-and-a-half-minute bass solo, and it’s the craziest shit I’ve ever heard. If you had any doubts about Primus’ place in the rock hall of fame, listen to this and tell me your fave would ever.

11) SHOCKANDAWE – Miguel

“Guess what this song is about?” Miguel deadpans at the start of this frenetic anti-war anthem that stands out for its bold stance against subtlety. Miguel gleefully invites you to marvel at his unfathomably obvious “I rock, I run” double entendre, playing the hits from “Satire for Dummies” over the modified sounds of Tyler the Creator’s “I Ain’t Got Time!” All of this sounds like mockery, but I genuinely love this song. It’s great to see Miguel, one of the most exciting acts in R&B, moving in all these new directions lately.

10) MISBEHAVING – Labrinth

“Misbehaving” and Labrinth made big waves this month after being featured in Apple’s new ad campaign. Since then, the neo-blues track has slowly etched its way into our daily lives, its synthetic moans and sporadic trumpets popping up wherever Apple promotional material can be heard, which is an increasingly wide area. And of course, it is an amazing song. It’s a pitch-perfect blend of old and new, combining ‘20s sensibilities with innovative sampling to create something purely enchanting and pretty damn fun. It’s a song that feels specially-designed to play over an Apple ad, but organic at the same time.

9) SEXY DIRTY LOVE – Demi Lovato

Tell Me You Love Me is Demi Lovato’s best album to date. Since her 2015 clunker Confident, she’s upped her writing game and harnessed her incredible vocals to create a great power pop album. “Sexy Dirty Love” feels like Lovato’s answer to Nick Jonas’ “Levels.” It’s powerful, catchy, it’s got an incredible beat, and it’s even got the same conceit, using literal height as a metaphor for proximity to climax. Fun stuff. It sucks that the pop machine is dead, because I would’ve loved to hear this on the radio.

8) GRĀ- KAMAU feat. Nkō Khelî

KAMAU’s been on my radar for a long while now. He’s one of the more exciting acts on the come-up in hip hop today, combining tribal elements and an a cappella vibe with the nasally sing-rap sensibilities of Anderson .Paak. “GRā,” like KAMAU’s typical fare, is idiosyncratic, exceptionally well-made, and meaningful. It also stands out with the likes of “BooDha” as one of his catchiest, cleverest tracks, opining on oppression and the lasting effects of slavery. It’s a delight.

7) HILLSIDE BOYS – Kim Petras

Kim Petras is quickly becoming one of my favorite pop starlets on the rise. She’s got a great voice and a penchant for delightful ‘80s-infused synth-pop. “Hillside Boys” calls on the spirit of Cyndi Lauper in her prime, and it’s a real treat. I talked about Kim quite a bit last month, but suffice it to say she’s one to watch.

6) POWER – Rapsody feat. Kendrick Lamar and LanceSkiiiwalker

Hey, here’s something new: Kendrick Lamar is on this month’s list. Yes, I’m a creature of habit, but when two of the best rappers alive join forces on a track, how can I not give it a mention? Rapsody delivers truth bombs with the poise of an elder statesman, while Kendrick throws the track for a curve, bouncing off the walls in full DAMN. mode, all over a phenomenal beat by 9th Wonder. What’s not to love?

5) HOMIE – Young Martha (Young Thug & Carnage) feat. Meek Mill

Truth be told, I considered giving this song the #1 spot more than a couple times as I was making the list. I’ve probably listened to it more and gotten more enjoyment out of it than any other song on this list. The beat is amazing. Young Thug’s untamed growl is wonderful. Meek delivers a potent if short verse. The video is purely mind-boggling. It’s an incredible song, but it’s not particularly accessible to those who aren’t already fans of Thug and/or Meek. Still, I absolutely love it, and there’s a good chance you will too.

4) LOS AGELESS – St. Vincent

When we last saw her, St. Vincent took the #1 spot on the list with a deeply affective piano ballad called “New York.” This time, she receives high marks again, but we’re not in New York anymore. Where her previous single was touching, powerful, and organic, this one’s rough, distorted, uncomfortable. They’re both extremely catchy, and there’s some serious underlying emotional depth to the dark electronica of “Los Ageless.” It’s not bad; in fact, it’s phenomenal. But it’s definitely different, both from “New York” and from much of St. Vincent’s back catalogue. There’s a reason she got to make an album with David Byrne.

3) SEE YOU AGAIN – Tyler, the Creator feat. Kali Uchis

“See You Again” is yet another phenomenal single off Tyler, the Creator’s phenomenal album Flower Boy. Admittedly, it doesn’t do much to distance itself musically from Tyler and Kali’s last collaboration, “Fucking Young/Perfect,” but it’s still a deeply moving, heartfelt track with a Stevie Wonder spirit and inescapable pull quotes like “I wonder if you look both ways when you cross my mind.” The production is amazing, too, fading seamlessly from starry-eyed pianos to crunchy hip hop noise. This is the most perfect version of Tyler’s artistic vision. Flower Boy is a true portrait of the artist’s soul.

2) HOMEMADE DYNAMITE (REMIX) – Lorde feat. Khalid, Post Malone, and SZA

Alright, listen: “Homemade Dynamite” was released as a single in August. How was I supposed to know that such a great remix was coming in September? I know it’ll look ridiculous to have the same song in the top five on two lists in a row, but hindsight is 20/20, and the “Homemade Dynamite” remix is a masterpiece. Lorde is joined by likeminded artist SZA, Post Malone, and Khalid, all of whom draw clear influence from her seminal 2013 album Pure Heroine, to create a vibrant exploration of the original track’s complex themes. It’s a track where each artist pulls their weight, bringing their own point of view and style to the table before joining everyone else for a stunning rendition of the chorus. It’s the best official remix to a pop song I’ve heard in years.

1) LOVE – ILoveMakonnen feat. Rae Sremmurd

“Trap is the new punk” takes are a bit tired at this point, especially given Rae Sremmurd already has their anti-establishment #1 single, but “Love” proves that pop punk is in these guys’ veins. The track is a happy marriage of Fall Out Boy and Soulja Boy, gleefully sloppy but never unenjoyable, and capturing an undeniable spirit that’ll resonate with anyone who’s ever been an angsty teen in the summertime. Makonnen and Rae Sremmurd are among a cabal of young artists touted as the wave of the future, and “Love” proves they’re far more than one-trick ponies. It’s simple, derivative, and not particularly well-made, but I love every second of it.

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Top 20 Songs of the Month (August 2017) — September 12, 2017

Top 20 Songs of the Month (August 2017)

This one’s super late. Starting college, all that. It didn’t help that it wasn’t a particularly easy list to narrow down. The initial shortlist was over five pages, including four songs apiece by Brockhampton, Leikeli47, and Migos, all but one of which were knocked off the list. It seemed like practically everyone released music this month, including notorious recluses like MF Doom and wild cards like Lil Wayne. As a result, even though all the people I’ve mentioned so far have been rappers, this is perhaps the most sonically diverse of these lists I’ve done to date. For those of you who don’t know, this list doesn’t necessarily include the best songs that were released this month, but the ones that were released separate from an album (typically as a single). This means that a song that’s been out for over a year could still be eligible while many songs released during the month would be ineligible. It’s complicated, but it works. Let’s get it underway.

20) RIGHT NOW – PHresher feat. Cardi B

Against all odds, stripper-turned-reality-star-turned-rapper Cardi B is on her way to becoming a megastar. Her single “Bodak Yellow” is the #3 song in the country right now, she’s all over the news, and she’s working with some of the biggest names in hip hop today. Of course, PHresher isn’t one of those people. He’s an off-the-wall, erratic underground MC who had a song with Desiigner in 2014 (it was called “Danny Devito”). But like Cardi B, PHresher is a force of personality, and the two of them coming together on a track creates a menacing romp reminiscent of B.o.B and Nicki Minaj’s “Out of My Mind.”

19) CAROLINE – Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers

If there’s anything that doesn’t need to be said, it’s that Steve Martin is a master wordsmith. We’ve seen him bring his one-of-a-kind wit to the screen, stage, and page, and also to folk music work with the Steep Canyon Rangers. “Caroline” is sort of the folk tune equivalent of a Judd Apatow movie (right down to the casting). It’s goofy, with an askew worldview and sharp sense of humor. It’s a tale of lower-upper-class white people falling in and out of love. And it’s pretty damn emotionally affecting if you let it be.

18) WATER ME – Lizzo

It’s become increasingly apparent that Lizzo is a star in the making. She’s already won over a devoted base of listeners with her empowering ’60s soul-infused hip-pop stylings, and now that she’s signed to Atlantic Records, it seems like she’s not going anywhere. “Water Me” is more of what we’ve come to expect from Lizzo, but it packs a hard EDM punch that makes it stand apart amongst the rest of her discography. You might not hear this one on the radio, but you’ll be hearing from her sooner rather than later.

17) COCAINA – Captain Cuts feat. Rich the Kid and Daniels

Rich the Kid is a trap artist of the new school who’s got a nice energy but doesn’t quite stand out among the crowd. Daniels is another rapper that, as far as my research seems to indicate, only existed for the three minutes it took to record this song. Captain Cuts is the production team behind “Shut Up and Dance.” What do you get when you put them all together? A potential pop hit, believe it or not. I don’t know how comfortable the radio companies will be with a song very explicitly named after cocaine being played on their stations, but the Weeknd made a song about coke that won a Kids’ Choice Award, so who knows? And this song fucking slaps. It’s sort of got that island flair that’s been all the rage this past year and a half, but it’s a bit less dancehall and a little more reggae. The rappers are fun, and the chorus is super catchy, but Captain Cuts are the stars of the show.

16) STROBELITE – Gorillaz feat. Peven Everett

The latest single off Gorillaz’s surprisingly bounteous latest album Humanz was criticized by some for really just being a Peven Everett song. And while that may be true, it’s still an absolute banger. The electro-disco groove is some of the finest, most danceable production work to come out this year. And Everett’s vocals are nothing to sneeze at. He carries a certain passion that drives the surprisingly-complex lyrics home.

15) MY STYLE – Poppy feat. Charlotte

If you’ve been reading this blog, then I don’t need to tell you who Poppy is. That being said, this song carries a whole different energy from most of her other work. Usually, the menace of her music is subdermal, obscured under layers of bubblegum. This one’s lowkey frightening from the get-go. A simplistic, droning beat accompanies equally repetitive lyrics and a creepy, hypnotic video aesthetic. The lyrics mostly seem like nonsense, until the chorus kicks in. “Poppy is an object / Poppy is your best friend / Poppy will break your neck / Poppy will be your pet.” The computerized voice (“Charlotte”) only makes the song more skin-crawling, and seems to point towards Poppy’s narrative going in some bizarre new directions.

14) FLOOD WATCH – Juicy J feat. Offset

Even in his Three 6 Mafia days, I never really thought of Juicy J and friends as anything more than “okay.” That being said, I seem to find myself getting into just about every song he puts out. “Flood Watch” is decadent right from the start. Inspirational, almost cinematic pianos accompany J’s muffled chants of “Get up, bitch, get up.” It approached heavenly levels when the drums subtly kick in. Juicy J and Offset are both pretty average rappers, and their verses on this track are not their best by any means, but it all comes together in a really enjoyable way.

13) LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO – Taylor Swift

Yes, I know. I love joking about how bad this song is as much as the next person. Whose idea was it to turn “I’m Too Sexy” into a Disney villain song? What did we make her do? She doesn’t like my keys? But in the end, I gotta come clean: this song also slaps. Taylor Swift always comes through with great pop music, and when you pair her with Jack Antonoff and a newfound acceptance of her role as the villain, the results are a fun techno-pop track perfect for when you want to feel like that bitch.

12) ACROSS THE MULTIVERSE – Dent May feat. Frankie Cosmos

This one’s so out of my comfort zone that I’m not sure I’ll be able to describe it, but I liked it enough to put it on the list so I guess I’ll hope for the best. I’d describe it as a psychedelic indie pop track with airy sci-fi disco vibes, like “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” with an Angel Olsen twist. The mix of funk guitars, space-age synths, and big band disco horns really does it for me, y’know?

11) BABY SCALE – IDK feat. Yung Gleesh

When we last saw the artist formerly known as Jay IDK, he was treating us to The Empty Bank, one of the finest self-released hip-hop records of 2016. His star quality shines even harder on “Baby Scale,” a jazz-infused track that mixes equal parts introspection and braggadocio to create an intricate piece of work. IDK’s flow has progressed a ton in just the past year, and his lyrical prowess is as high as ever. Yung Gleesh’s part is fine.

10) FRIENDS – Justin Bieber and BLOODPOP®

At the end of the day, is “Friends” just a harder version of “Sorry”? Absolutely. But “Sorry” is great, and that ’80s driving synth is great, so what’s not to like? The Biebs’ transition from punching bag to heavy-hitter seemed to come in a flash, but looking back on it now, it seems like we just got tired of hating him. After a few years of near-constant radio play, some people have changed their tunes once again, but there’s still comfort in knowing you’ll no longer be mocked mercilessly for liking a Justin Bieber song, or forced to pick apart things you hate in something as purely and genuinely good as “Friends.” So that’s nice.

9) PEOPLE SAY – Wu-Tang Clan feat. Redman

Of course I had to make room for the Wu. In their first public outing since their 2014 album “A Better Tomorrow,” the Staten Island MC’s are as sharp as they’ve ever been. The beat by Mathematics is some classic New York shit, and all five rappers featured on the track are spitting, though I think my favorite verse is Inspectah Deck’s. Wu-Tang forever, indeed.

8) THE SEVEN – Primus

Bieber to Wu-Tang to Primus; how’s that for diversity? I’ve always appreciated Primus and their uncanny ability to just do the weirdest shit 24/7. “The Seven” is no exception. I honestly have no idea what this song is getting at, or if there are any layers of meaning to it, but on the surface it seems to be about seven malevolent creatures, representing the colors of the rainbow, that just go around ruining things for everyone. It’s hard to describe it any further, but if you’ve listened to Primus, you know what you’re in for, and if not, let this be your introduction.

7) LIKE A MAN – ONHEL feat. Lil Wayne

I was wary about considering this one for the list, because I first encountered it in an article saying it was a leak from one of the Carter albums. However, everything I can find about it now says that it’s just a brand new single from Lil Wayne (and longtime engineer ONHEL). That’s pretty exciting just on its own, but it also finds Tunechi in rare form, spazzing about sex, drugs, and skateboarding with a craftsman’s precision and an artist’s spirit. He’s got crazy rhyme schemes, bizarre imagery, killer puns, and everything else that once had legions of fans calling him the best rapper alive. It’s hard to call it the second coming of Wayne, especially since he drops a song of this caliber about every two years, but it’s still a rare treat.

6) I DON’T WANT IT AT ALL – Kim Petras

People who know what they’re talking about have called Kim Petras the next Britney Spears. We’ll have to wait and see where her career goes from here, but “I Don’t Want It At All” showcases a star power that’s rare for an artist as new as she is. After first making headlines for transitioning at an unusually young age (Remember when that was enough to make headlines?), she started releasing music and this song, her major label debut, is already blowing up on Spotify. This is another one that might make big waves on the radio this fall, and it’s perhaps the most delightful of any of them. It’s schlocky pop perfection, reveling in vanity and hedonism over sunny synths. It’s an absolute joy from start to finish.

5) TRUE LIGHTYEARS – KMD feat. Jay Electronica

Hmm, how do you top entries from legendary rappers like Lil Wayne and the Wu-Tang Clan? I know, how about the new song from MF fucking DOOM. If you don’t mind the high-pitched flute sample, you’re treated to an otherworldly lyrical onslaught by two unparalleled MCs. Jay Electronica might have been a rarer treat a couple years ago, but he’s still much appreciated. And Doom’s as marvelous as ever, mixing layered intellectual poetics with unapologetically goofy punchlines to create something beautiful.

4) HOMEMADE DYNAMITE – Lorde

Not to give away any spoilers, but Lorde’s Melodrama is a strong contender for album of the year. It’s just so distinct, so raw, so layered, so enjoyable and thought-provoking and troubling all at once. “Homemade Dynamite” is, in some senses, the cornerstone of the album. It’s certainly the song that feels most radically different, from production to vocals to content. It brings home the album’s themes of, well, melodrama, taking the teen spirit that was idealized on Pure Heroine and showing the darker side of it. It’s a magical moment when a song as weird and sad as this one still works as a pop song, but here we are.

3) HAVANA – Camila Cabello feat. Young Thug

This song is so goddamn good. Camila Cabello’s output since leaving Fifth Harmony has ranged from interesting (“Crying in the Club”) to atrocious (“Bad Things”), but “Havana” is in a whole other boat. I want this to be all over the radio. I want it to shatter records. And here’s the thing: everyone knows I’m a Young Thug stan. I rave about Young Thug all the time. But my appreciation for this song has nothing to do with him. If he wasn’t on the song at all, it’d probably still be right here. What makes this song is some phenomenal production work by Pharrell, an insanely catchy hook, and Camila’s lovelorn vocals painting a picture of regret that’s so enjoyable and relatable and just great. But for what it’s worth, Young Thug’s verse is really good too.

2) THE NO PANTS DANCE – TWRP feat. Ninja Sex Party

“The No Pants Dance” just might be a masterpiece. It features the goofy, hypersexual lyrics of NSP, the killer electro grooves of TWRP, and it’s called “The No Pants Dance,” for god’s sake. If you can’t appreciate a song about dancing with your pants off, I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve always found Danny Sexbang’s vocals to be a bit jarring on some of the songs NSP chooses to make, but it fits so perfectly with the vibe of this one. It just works on so many levels. But it’s not song of the month.

1) TAKE ME – Aly & AJ

Aly and AJ Michalka were true rock stars of the Disney Channel age, winning over a generations of kids and teens with their 2007 classic hit “Potential Breakup Song.” But soon after, they split from Hollywood Records, did some solo acting projects, and took a strange turn towards indie rock under the name 78violet. Now, finally, they’re back as Aly & AJ, and so we enter “Take Me.” The song starts slow, but immediately attention-grabbing, with muffled drums and synths that seem to have been recorded via VHS. Aly materializes, wisping wistfully about the trappings of dating in the modern world. Suddenly, things start building up, and like “In the Air Tonight” for the girl power pop set, drums pummel us into another dimension as AJ cries “When you gonna take me out?” The song is pure bliss, a perfect union of Carly Rae Jepsen and The 1975 that stands out as one of the finest pieces of pop music to be released in 2017. I think we all needed a little more Aly & AJ in our lives.

Review: The Weird Bear Movie — August 18, 2017

Review: The Weird Bear Movie

As promotion for Brigsby Bear started to pop up, what struck me about it, in addition to its star-studded cast and crew, was just how different it was. In an age where so many movies lay it all out for us months and sometimes years before they hit theaters, it was refreshing and intriguing to see a movie that no one could really get a read on. Clearly, the film was writer and star Kyle Mooney’s passion project, but what was it exactly? A sci-fi mind bender? A family drama? A flat-out comedy fitting its producers (the Lonely Island and Lord/Miller)? Either way, it quickly set itself apart as a must-see for me, and now that I’ve seen it, I can tell you it’s everything I hoped for and nothing like I expected.

I don’t want to go too in-depth about everything that goes on in the movie, because I think everyone should see it with fresh eyes. What I will tell you is that it’s not particularly funny. It has plenty of funny moments, sure, and it takes place in a world that’s rife with comedic potential, but it’s actually very grounded and emotional. If you’re expecting a gut-busting romp (which you probably shouldn’t be if you’ve seen the trailers), you’ll be disappointed. If you’re looking for a weird, beautiful, thoughtful movie, you’ve come to the right place.

The gist of the film, in the least spoilery way I can explain it, is that it follows Kyle Mooney’s character, James. He’s a young adult who was kidnapped as a baby and raised in a cultish environment by faux parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) who had him convinced that an apocalyptic event had rendered the outside world unlivable. Growing up, his only interest was Brigsby Bear Adventures, a propaganda series made exclusively by Hamill’s character for James. Obviously, once James is rescued and taken to his real family, he struggles to process his new reality, but becomes closer to reality and his new family as he produces a feature film adaptation of Brigsby Bear. 

All told, the movie is a celebration of creativity and fandom, as well as a thought-provoking commentary on how media shapes our understanding of self and the world around us. As the movie goes on, we start to see James as a conduit for Brigsby, and vice versa. He can’t become a complete individual until Brigsby’s story is complete, so he spends the movie running around putting the different pieces of Brigsby together, like an emotional treasure hunt. And in a very literal sense, each part of Brigsby brings out more humanity in James. A lost eyepiece brings him closer to his sister, tracking down an actress from the show helps him discover love and attraction, and recording the characters’ voices allows him to achieve closure with his kidnappers. The idea of a “spiritual quest” is as hackneyed and meaningless as they come, but the phrase describes this movie to a T.

And technically speaking, everything about the movie works. The sci-fi influenced score is captivating, as are most of the performances. Mooney’s work isn’t too much of a departure from what we’ve seen him do on SNL, but it fits his character perfectly. Mark Hamill is amazing as always. In terms of cast, this movie’s only crime is that it underuses some of its strongest names. Claire Danes is pinned as the perpetrator of James’ kidnapping, but her character is never explored. Beck Bennett gets about five minutes played completely straight. Andy Samberg’s character certainly feels necessary for the movie’s progression, but feels more like Samberg stepping out of the producer’s chair to push the plot forward than an actual character in the same world as everyone else.

Speaking of which, the movie’s world is on a bit of a peculiar wavelength. Like I said, there’s Lonely Island and Good Neighbor-esque comedy to the world, and the characters would easily fit in in a straightforward comedy, but everything’s played completely straight. You sort of need to be a fan of Mooney’s previous work, or at least in tune with it, in order to appreciate Brigsby Bear. If that describes you, make this movie a priority.

Brigsby Bear is a film that surprised and touched me, though it feels like a movie that’ll require some more deep thought before I can truly offer my opinion. It’s not the kind of movie I’d appreciate from most people, but Mooney, the Lonely Island, and Lord/Miller’s unique sensibilities and worldview make it stand out as one of the most mature, thoughtful movies of the year. For that, I give it a 96/100.

Top 20 Songs of the Month (July 2017) — August 9, 2017

Top 20 Songs of the Month (July 2017)

What a month. I know I say something to that effect every month, since there’s more good music being put out than there’s ever been before, and in all honesty, my shortlist this month was actually shorter than usual, but still. We got great new music from the likes of Capital Cities, Kamaiyah, The All-American Rejects, Jennifer Lopez, Nine Inch Nails, Mystery Skulls, Shania Twain, Wyclef Jean, Demi Lovato, The Darkness, BØRNS, Mick Jagger, and those are just the ones that didn’t make the list. This month, we’ve got some triumphant comebacks, some steady mainstays, and a few impressive newcomers. Let’s get things underway. Remember: for the purposes of making these lists easier to make, I generally only include songs that were released in some form outside of an album. That can be in the form of a single, a video, or a few other things, but it generally can’t be something I put or almost put on a previous list. This means that a song could have come out on an album years ago and still make the list if it was just released as a single or video this month. I also try to avoid having more than one song to an artist on each list, but there’s one notable exception to that this time ’round.

20) RUN FOR COVER – The Killers

The Killers are a bit hard to get a read on, in terms of public opinion. Most, I think, became infatuated with them for a glimmering moment in the mid-2000’s and then came to be annoyed by them. Still, they have a rock-solid fanbase, and at least one of the best songs of all time (“Mr. Brightside,” naturally). Last month, they put out a single called “The Man,” the first off their forthcoming fifth album. That song is, uh, not good. It showcases everything that caused the general populace to quickly grow tired with the Killers, a song that’s equal parts generic and trying too hard. “Run for Cover,” I think, does a better job showcasing what many people (myself included) still admire about the band. Brandon Flowers’ Modest Mouse-lite crooning is a bit more subdued, leaving room for a song that’s goofy, but still enjoyable on a base level.

19) RAGE – Vic Mensa

“Rage” is arguably Vic Mensa’s most self-indulgent song to date. There’s nothing wrong with that; self-indulgence is a staple of hip-hop and music in general. But for some, this song could definitely be a bit overwhelming. It opens with Vic singing about planes crashing, at first alone with a bit of reverb, then with a passionate, almost theatrical piano accompaniment. The refrain of the song is “I want you to rage into the night,” and the beat consists of Mike Dean and Om’mas Keith doing their finest Alex da Kid imitation, with the usual rocky drums, important-sounding synths, a barely-noticeable choral backing, a much more noticeable “aaaaaayyy” backing, and ranch on the side. Still, it’s an effective and at times moving ballad with some solid wordplay and an interesting metaphorical conceit.

18) I AIN’T GOT TIME! – Tyler, the Creator

Sure, it’s one of the less resonant cuts on Tyler’s brilliant new album Flower Boy. It’s not nearly as introspective and syrupy as, say, “911” or “Glitter.” But it’s a damn good track. It’s hard to even describe the instrumental, but it’s a noisy Middle Eastern-sounding beat with obvious Pharrell influence that perfectly matches Tyler’s gravelly tones. And of course, nestled between cheesy boasts is the most buzzworthy revelation on an album full of them: the already-famous “I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004” line. Way to go, Tyler.

17) LET’S MAKE A VIDEO – Poppy

I feel like I’ve already said more than enough about Poppy in recent articles, so I’ll keep it brief. Poppy’s great. This song is great. I love the bubbly synths. I love the corny pop lyrics. I adore the hook, especially the non sequitur “I love you when you’re happy, I love you when you’re down.” It’s just great.

16) P.O.P. – Belly

After presenting it at multiple stops on The Weeknd’s Starboy tour, Palestinian-Canadian rapper Belly bookended the month of July by releasing his latest single, “P.O.P.” The title, of course, stands for “power of pussy,” and the song follows various men, Belly himself included, being ensnared by greedy women. It’s sort of like an even more misogynistic version of “Gold Digger,” but like “Gold Digger,” it’s also really funny and well-written, so we’ll give it a tentative pass.

15) BIG B’S – Chance the Rapper and Young Thug

After apparently saving SoundCloud from the brink of collapse, Chance the Rapper celebrated with a new loosie, joined by Young Thug. Both rappers have sort of become recurring characters on these lists, and on this track, you can see why. Despite representing different cities and different factions of the rap game, both rappers have an unshakeable charisma and off-the-wall energy that makes them irresistible, and an absorbing way with words to sweeten the deal. “B’s” means “business,” by the way.

14) THE PAIN – Rapsody

Having come around at the turn of the decade, Rapsody’s already built a reputation as one of the finest conscious MC’s working today, and one of the great female rappers of all time. Her latest single, “The Pain,” showcases the subdued wisdom and intricate wordsmithing that gave her that reputation. Over Nottz’s urgent production, Rap describes “the pain,” in order, “of watching us kill each other,” “of black men/women disrespected by the world,” “of a man who never knew the man that made him,” “of a daddy’s girl without a daddy,” “of a mother who went half on a baby and got a whole lot to deal with,” and “of a man that wanna raise his child, love his child / Baby mama crazy, she don’t ever let him see his child.” It’s the exact kind of deep, powerful bars we’ve come to expect from the brilliant mind of Rapsody.

13) WEDDING CRASHERS – Aminé feat. Offset

Aminé dropped his debut album Good For You this month, and on a preliminary listen, I thought it was really good. Still, a solid contender for best track is the single he released the week before the album, “Wedding Crashers.” It’s a cheeky ode to old flames centered around weddings that features a goofy Rugrats beat and a solid if forgettable Offset verse. Aminé’s verse is packed with dense wordplay and references, some of which appear to be inside jokes with himself. Still, the highlight of the song is the irresistible hook. It’s fun enough to be enjoyable while still delivering the bite its subject matter deserves.

12) MIDNIGHT – Jessie Ware

English singer/songwriter Jessie Ware’s throaty, soulful pop tunes have led to the respect of some of pop’s heavy-hitters, and a fair amount of being mistaken for Jess Glynne. “Midnight” is one of the best songs I’ve heard from her to date. I love how the beat builds itself around her devastated vocals, taking the tone from mournful to triumphant without skipping a beat. I love it for its bouncy R&B refrain, but the more tender parts of it are still captivating.

11) CATCH ME OUTSIDE – Ski Mask the Slump God

BIG shoutout to Ski Mask the Slump God, an artist I hadn’t even considered considering at the start of this month. After some solid work with XXXTentacion, “Catch Me Outside” is the song that made me realize just how brilliant this guy actually is. Over Timbaland’s classic Missy Elliott “She’s a Bitch” beat, Ski Mask fires off wild wordplay reminiscent of Missy herself. Before the song even begins, he’s bringing out killer wordplay. “Shoutout my mucus, ’cause you know that be my slime,” he announces just as the beat kicks in. From there, it’s a two-and-a-half-minute whirlwind of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it wordplay and references. Congrats, Ski Mask. You have my attention.

10) WOULD YOU MIND – PRETTYMUCH

PRETTYMUCH is Simon Cowell’s latest boy band find. Based off this one single, it’s hard to say if they have any staying power, but they certainly can crank out a great pop tune. “Would You Mind” pays homage to more than one of history’s great boy bands, borrowing the a cappella harmony intro from the Beach Boys, the new jack swing sound of Boyz II Men, the futuristic breakdowns of *NSYNC, and One Direction vocals to create a wholly enjoyable earworm with a little something for every pop listener.

9) MISS ME – Leikeli47

Leikeli47’s been a long time coming for this list. Ever since a surprise endorsement by Skrillex and Diplo back in 2015, the masked MC has been one of the most compelling new rappers on my radar. “Miss Me” is laced with unflappable confidence and a killer beat, again reminiscent of Timbaland’s seminal turn-of-the-century production. It simply oozes swagger.

8) DON’T GET CAPTURED – Run the Jewels

Run the Jewels is another act I’ve already covered extensively on this blog, but I’ll go into it again. El-P’s dystopian electronic production is as strong as ever on the latest single from Run the Jewels 3, “Don’t Get Captured,” which explores racial injustice from two different perspectives. Killer Mike takes a more typical angle, examining class struggle and corruption as someone who came from a poor neighborhood watching gentrification sweep through. El-P takes on the role of a ruthless, crooked cop delighting in his ability to oppress and murder with no repercussions. It’s a message that could’ve been delivered in a simple, straightforward manner and served just fine, but leave it to RTJ to go above and beyond.

7) ONE NIGHT ONLY – The Struts

The Struts are a newer English glam rock band, and like many modern glam acts, it can be hard to tell to what extent they’re being serious and to what extent they’re joking. What I can say, for sure, is that this song is epic. It’s got an overpowering stadium hook, some really solid guitar work, and it’s packed to the gills with flair. My favorite moments include the guitar solo and when he rolls the R in “riding.”

6) BOYS – Charli XCX

One of the biggest surprises in music this month was the release of Charli XCX’s “Boys” video. After her excellent Number 1 Angel mixtape, Charli could’ve easily taken the rest of the year off, but she decided to grace us with a phenomenal pop track and one of the best music videos of 2017. The song and video flip the music industry’s objectification of women on its head, with the help of over 50 male celebrities in varying degrees of undress. It’s also a great pop tune, with a really cool electronic beat and potential to become another sleeper hit for Charli in the coming months.

5) NEW YORK – St. Vincent

This is another song that pop heavyweights like Lorde lost their shit over this month. And with good reason, quite frankly. St. Vincent’s been winning over critics and other listeners for a full decade, and her last album left a huge impression. While “New York” is generally much more straightforward than what we’re used to hearing from Annie Clark, her bitter lyricism is as sharp as ever. The sheer emotional buildup in this song is amazing. It’s St. Vincent’s answer to “Green Light” by Lorde, and that’s a good thing.

4) THE STORY OF O.J. – Jay-Z

One of music’s most major events this month was the release of Jay-Z’s acclaimed 13th album 4:44. The album’s first “single,” if it’s even worth calling it that (they can’t exactly play this one on the radio), is “The Story of O.J.,” one of the album’s crowning artistic achievements. Over a beat that feels refreshing and ancient all at once, Hova implores his community to use their money wisely, if they want to escape the cycle of poverty and failure that white people set them up for. There’s an exhausted quality to Jay’s vocals that gives the track’s devastating truth bombs a sizable punch. One bizarre antisemitic line aside, this could turn out to be one of Jay-Z’s defining tracks.

3) WOMAN – Kesha feat. The Dap-Kings Horns

Here’s this month’s leading music story: Kesha pulled off the most magnificent comeback in recent memory. After a years-long battle for artistic freedom from her abuser, the pop star rose like a phoenix to grace us with three phenomenal pop songs and counting. “Woman” is a goddamn masterpiece. I could make a whole different top ten list of all my favorite moments in this song alone. At one point, she’s laughing too hard to finish the verse, and then it just cuts to the chorus! That’s incredible! This is one of the greatest pop songs I’ve heard in a while, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it places highly on my end-of-the-year list. But for now, there are two songs I thought were better.

2) IT AIN’T FAIR – The Roots feat. Bilal

Bilal is one of the greatest singers alive. Black Thought is one of the best rappers of all time. The Roots is quite possibly the best band in the world. And when you put them all together, you get “It Ain’t Fair.” I’d say the song is this year’s answer to last year’s “This Bitter Land” (Nas & Erykah Badu). It was a relatively quiet release for a soundtrack single that’s political, powerful, and beautiful. It starts very slowly, with about a minute of Bilal singing unaccompanied, followed by some more crooning over a jazzy piano riff. But when it kicks in, by god does it kick in. By the end of the hook, it bursts with glorious color as guitar, drums, bass, brass, keyboards, everything but the kitchen sink comes together beautifully to punctuate Black Thought’s frenetic flows and mature, emotionally-vulnerable bars. This is what world-class talent sounds like.

1) PRAYING – Kesha

Now, this is highly unorthodox for me. I don’t think I’ve ever put two songs by the same lead artist on one of these lists, let alone at numbers 1 and 3. But Kesha isn’t your everyday musical talent, and I truly couldn’t see myself parting with either of the two songs. “Praying” is a thing of beauty. It’s an expertly-crafted pop masterstroke that turned Kesha’s narrative from victim to hero, suddenly becoming one of the most respected figures in music. The lyrics are simple, powerful, and even catchy. The production by Ryan Lewis is phenomenal (proving that Macklemore was actually second banana and Ryan Lewis was the star all along). Kesha’s vocals are jaw-dropping. The sheer freedom encapsulated in this scant four minutes of music is more moving than the fogies who derided Kesha in her heyday could ever hope to be. Dr. Luke may still have a contract, but the world is on Kesha’s side.

Review: Ape Escape — July 17, 2017

Review: Ape Escape

Who would’ve thunk that, in the age of adaptation, the best film reboot franchise of all time would be Planet of the Apes? The classic series has always had a compelling story behind it, and the original 1968 film made waves, but before screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver got their stinkin’ paws on it, the idea never really got the in-depth examination it deserved. Nowadays, the franchise is a critical and commercial juggernaut, consistently offering fascinating commentary, memorable characters, and phenomenal special effects.

The third film in this reboot series, War for the Planet of the Apes, is no exception. This is the first of the three to not be written by Jaffa and Silver, and admittedly, their loss is palpable at certain times, but the movie is just as riveting as the rest of them. The series’ star, Andy Serkis, delivers his finest performance to date, marking himself as a serious contender for the first actor in a CGI role to be nominated for, and perhaps win, an Academy Award. His human foil in the movie, Woody Harrelson, is just as phenomenal; his performance led me to ponder if Harrelson is one of the greatest actors alive. Of course, no one does comic relief better than Steve Zahn, who shows up in the film as an escaped zoo ape who speaks limited English and leads Caesar’s merry apes to Harrelson’s military compound.

The plot of the movie goes something like this: humans raid Caesar’s compound. The apes are victorious, but send the humans back alive as a peace offering. The humans don’t take kindly to this, and launch another raid on the base, killing Caesar’s wife and son. Now Caesar’s out for revenge, taking along three other apes and a mute human girl. After being captured by the humans, he seeks to kill Harrelson, but is haunted by the spirit of Koba and relents, seeking a route that won’t result in the death of his fellow apes. Among the human troops, Harrelson is a sort of god-king, and he believes that the apes will come to rise up and turn the humans into cattle if they aren’t neutralized. We’re entering into spoiler territory up ahead, so skip to the end if you don’t want to know what happens.

At the end of the movie, Caesar’s ape buddies prepare an elaborate escape plan. Harrelson, now suffering from the same ailment that made the girl and the abandoned soldier mute, shoots himself. Just as the apes are leaving, an opposing white-clad human force shows up and destroys the entire camp in a sea of explosions. An avalanche takes out those humans, but the apes survive by taking refuge in tall trees. They make their journey to a desert safe haven, and Caesar dies just outside of it. It’s a really touching and thought-provoking bookend for Caesar’s story, and he’s survived by his son Cornelius, who you may recognize as the lead ape from the 1968 film. How the whole world gets taken over in the lifespan of a single ape, I couldn’t tell you. But it’ll be cool to see where the series goes from here.

War is a thought-provoking movie in a lot of ways, but first and foremost, it’s an Exodus story, the humans being the Egyptians and the apes being the Israelites. The apes are enslaved by the humans and their god-king. The apes’ leader, Caesar (Moses), who is well-known among the humans and can speak their language, leads them out of captivity and to a “promised land,” but dies before he can enter the land himself and is succeeded by a close friend and confidante. Of course, there’s plenty more to think about here. Harrelson’s warlord is a textbook fascist who forces the apes to build a wall (on the California/Oregon border) to keep out his enemies. Caesar, Bad Ape, and the mute human girl bring up a lot of interesting ideas about communication and how people from different cultures understand each other. Practically every decision Caesar makes in this movie, or any of these movies, has a tremendous weight to it. He’s a pragmatic and elegant leader, but still a deeply flawed character.

I give War for the Planet of the Apes a 93%. Despite some minor narrative shortcomings, it’s just as profound and entertaining as Rise and Dawn, and immediately stands out as one of the best movies of the summer.

Hoo Boy: Despicable Me and Marxism — July 10, 2017

Hoo Boy: Despicable Me and Marxism

A couple weeks ago, Despicable M3 came out, and it introduced children to Trey Parker, killer ’80s music, and fundamental flaws in the Rotten Tomatoes rating system. For the rest of us, the movie didn’t offer much. After the monumental success of the last two-and-a-half movies, it got some prime movie real estate and has already made upwards of $450 million on a global scale, but saw a swift drop in revenue as soon as Spider-Man hit theaters. It also suuuuucks. It lacks the humor, compassion, and focus of the other two movies, replacing 95% of its actual humor with clever-isa ’80s references and the crude slapshtick that went over so well in the Minions movie. It also opened my eyes to the troubling politics of this franchise, which seems perfectly content to bait Marxist theorists, but only offers up contemptuous takes that people all over the aisle can be upset with.

Before we get into it, we should first examine other “villain movies” of Despicable Me‘s time. I’m not necessarily referring to movies from the bad guy’s perspective, but specifically films that take a classic villain or archetypal villain and play with our perceptions of good and evil through portraying them on a more personal level, Grendel-style. This seems oddly specific, but it was practically a bona fide trend in the early ’10s. Most notably, there’s the big three: Despicable Me, Megamind, and Wreck-It Ralph, all of which also happened to be animated kids’ movies (it never ceases to baffle me how out of these three, Despicable Me was the most successful by a long shot).

Now, the message of Megamind is a little hard to pin down, because it’s a surprisingly-nuanced film. The general theme is that archetypes of “good” and “evil” can’t exist unless they’re in constant opposition to each other. If you take this to represent the two-party system or class struggle, you’ve got a handy-dandy interpretation right there. There’s certainly ample evidence of the “villainous” Megamind representing the lower class and his foil Metro Man representing the upper. Each born on a dying planet, Metro Man gets a cushy upper-class upbringing, his solid-gold escape pod landing under a wealthy family’s Christmas tree and his powers being celebrated by his peers from a young age. From birth, Megamind is less privileged, given a smaller, shoddier spacecraft and being forced to share it with his friend and confidante, Minion. His craft lands at the Prison for the Criminally Gifted (subtle), raised by criminals, and becomes an outcast for his “dangerous” intellect. Oh shit, is that a critique of the prison-industrial complex as a tool of oppression in goddamn Megamind? Told you this movie was juicy. Later on in the movie, Megamind attempts to create a new hero, the hero becomes a villain, and he becomes a hero, i.e. the very thing that he fought against his entire life. Now that’s Marxist.

The theory behind Wreck-It Ralph is a bit simpler. In attempting to research it, I was delighted by monarchists decrying Vanellope’s throwaway line about democracy as an unnecessary, single instance of political commentary in an otherwise… pure movie? I mean, sure, it was unexpected (which is sort of the idea behind, y’know, jokes), but it’s not like it’s uncharacteristic for Vanellope and Ralph to embody democratic principles. Ralph is a marginalized minority who teams up with a disabled young woman to take down a tyrannical king and save the video game world from King Candy’s imperialism. It’s a pretty clear-cut liberal message that one ought to expect from Disney.

Looking at Despicable Me, if we want to consider villains a marginalized group as they are in the other two, it seems to fall left of Ralph, but not as far into Marxist territory as Megamind. Gru and his fellow villains are shown to exercise a sort of direct action, snatching goods and symbols of power from the upper class in an attempt to break down the corrupt society that keeps them in the shadows. Gru joins the Anti-Villain League in Despicable? Me Too!, ratting out his fellow villains and working on behalf of the status quo, but after being unjustly dropped by the organization at the start of D3spicabl3 M3, he and his upper-class wife become free agents pursuing justice regardless of who it favors. It doesn’t perfectly add up, but it seems like an okay answer, right?

Well, there’s one hole in this interpretation: the Minions. You can’t look a foot into the Despicable Me franchise without recognizing the Minions as a hateful, mocking portrayal of the working class. Where Megamind’s Minion is portrayed as the protagonist’s equal, the Minions are Gru’s fat, lazy, dependent, thoroughly incompetent and morally bankrupt underlings. Once you look at it from this angle, it becomes clear that the villains aren’t minorities; they’re governments. They exploit their disposable workforce for the purpose of petty one-upmanship and showy displays of strength, they borrow money and advice from Lehman Brothers to put their unpaid populace to work destroying the planet and building weapons of ever-increasing scale, and they do all this with reckless abandon right under the noses of watchdogs and civilians with no repercussions. And Gru’s not just the protagonist, he’s the hero. We’re constantly reminded that he’s a good guy and he’s a softie at his core and he helps get rid of the villains that are even worse than him so we should unequivocally support him. Meanwhile, the Minions are shown to be a primitive, lesser species, constantly seeking out a new master to oppress and exploit them, and speak an exaggerated pidgin language mixing elements of Spanish and English. Oh, in the third movie they do stage a strike… and it takes all of 20 minutes in a correctional facility for them to all realize they’re dependent on Gru and run back to him, perfectly content to work for no pay doing the exact opposite of what they were striking for.

It becomes clear that the message of these films isn’t anti-communist. It isn’t just right-wing. It seems like the Despicable Me franchise is specifically anti-poor people, which seems like a position we can all agree is pretty fucked up, right? It’s as baffling as it is unavoidable. The Minions are even the villains in their own movie, and Illumination Entertainment brings this message into reality by perpetually exploiting them for profit. They speak a wacky language, they all look the same, they defy gender norms, and make no mistake; you’re supposed to hate them. Sure, kids are supposed to giggle at their goofy antics, but adults are meant to find them detestable, vile, hard to even look at, let alone tolerate. And it worked, didn’t it? Of course, the likely truth is that Chris Meledandri, the multi-millionaire producer behind this franchise, only intended to be funny little yellow dudes the kids could appreciate while adults enjoyed the more mature humor littered throughout the film. He may have worked out some anti-working-class aggression in how he built the characters, which is still something that ought to be criticized regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, but it’d be unfair to go as far as to call the movies a deliberate piece of anti-Marxist propaganda. At best, they’re an accidental one.

Who Killed the Mainstream Comedy? — July 4, 2017

Who Killed the Mainstream Comedy?

This summer’s latest critical and commercial shitfest was The House, a promising broad comedy starring heavyweights Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell. What went wrong? Well, for one thing, the general consensus seems to be that it blows. Critics say it lacks momentum, wastes its cast, and seems to rely way too heavily on improv, leading to paper-thin characters and general meandering. I’ll get to that eventually, but I think it’s about time to address a more systematic issue: Hollywood has a serious comedy problem.

How can we be sure? Well, let’s just look at the facts. So far in 2017, there have been around 7 or 8 major live-action comedies. Not one of them has been a commercial success, and very few of them have been a critical one. The most successful comedy so far has been Baywatch, which holds a 20% on Rotten Tomatoes and made just $150 million globally on a 60-million-dollar production budget. Most of the others didn’t break even. In 2016, the only mainstream comedy films to be both critically and commercially successful were Neighbors 2, which you forgot about until just now; Sausage Party, which was made on a shoestring budget; Bad Moms, one of the year’s biggest anomalies, and Ghostbusters, which holds dubious claim to either honor. For comparison’s sake, Ghostbusters made $230 million at the global box office. The most successful comedy of 2012, Ted, made $556 million.

And The House isn’t the only recent flick to besmirch the names of immensely-talented comedians. Fist Fight somehow fumbled the brilliant pairing of Charlie Day and Ice Cube, Zoolander 2 had everything the first movie had going for it and still flopped, and Zach Galifianakis struck out twice last fall with two movies you don’t even remember. Even really solid comedies like Keanu, Sisters, and Popstar got shafted at the box office last year. The mainstream comedy was bigger than ever a scant five or six years ago, so what happened? Let’s look at the suspects.

It’s always easy to look at any tidal change in Hollywood this past decade and say “Duh, it’s Marvel’s fault.” But in this case, there may be some truth to that. You see, everyone in Hollywood is trying to cash in on Marvel’s titanic Cinematic Universe strategy, which means copy every single thing Marvel is doing, from style to casting to set-up. Thus, Marvel has led to an interesting trend in blockbusters: they’re all expected to be parodies of themselves. Iron Man couldn’t just be a hero, he also had to be a snarky, arrogant drunk. The dialogue has to be 80% quips. Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and the forthcoming Thor: Ragnarok all seem to be straight-up comedies. This is a fine choice to make on Marvel’s end, but it means the market is saturated with gut-busting romps like Kong: Skull Island and Deadpool. Why see a flat-out comedy when you can see something that’s funny and so much more?

But there’s more to it than that. Because Sony looked at Marvel and said, “Why don’t we just make a comedy cinematic universe?” Enter Ghostbusters: the most polarizing comedy of all time. Even if it has its fair share of fans, it barely broke even at the box office, and Sony called it quits. But before that, the e-mail hack revealed another cinematic universe in the pipeline: Jump Street/Men In Black. I actually called this one more than a year before it was revealed, seeing it as a logical extension for the two franchises, but the crossover was pronounced dead by Jonah Hill back in August. Could this tendency to jump on trends have pushed public perception out of the mainstream comedy’s favor? Maybe, but that’s not all.

Another Marvel trick that everyone and their grandmother has adapted is the habit of taking promising young filmmakers and giving them big-budget action movies. This means that promising new comedy filmmakers are getting swept up left and right, and with the Apatow diaspora fading away, the comedy industry needs them more than ever. Shane Black went from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang to Iron Man 3. The Russo Brothers got to make Captain America and Avengers movies because of their work on Community. Kiwi comedy mastermind Taika Waititi is helming Thor: Ragnarok. Ant-Man snatched Edgar Wright, spit him out, and then took Peyton Reed instead.

And that’s not all. Look at every promising comedy filmmaker of the past few years: Kings of Summer director Jordan Vogt-Roberts directed the latest Kong flick and is now working on a Metal Gear Solid movie. Colin Trevorrow did the charming indie sci-fi rom-com Safety Not Guaranteed and was soon after put in charge of both Jurassic World and Star Wars: Episode IX. The X-Men franchise got in early and scooped up Kick-Ass’ Matthew Vaughn back in 2011, but they’ve also got Fault in Our Stars director Josh Boone in their wheelhouse. Since everything needs to be a travesty, the forthcoming Hanna-Barbera cinematic universe will kick off in 2020 with a Scooby-Doo reboot directed by Dax Shepard. Hell, DC’s Flash movie has already blown through three promising comedic talents (Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Jump Street), Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), and Rick Famuyiwa (Dope)), and they haven’t even started yet. What a goddamn mess. If they’re all making summer blockbusters, who’s supposed to be keeping comedy afloat? A bunch of no-name slackers who think they can just let the talent riff and they’ll shit out a good movie.

That’s another item of note: over-reliance on improv. You see, some of the great comedies of all time, like the original Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, and Anchorman, were mostly improvised. Comedy heavyweights like Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen, Christopher Guest, and Sacha Baron Cohen leaned heavily on improvisational humor in all their movies, and in their heyday, the results were brilliant. Unfortunately, this has led a generation of impressionable young comedic filmmakers to think they can just write a shell of a script, get some talented actors, and not have to put any effort into making their movie good. Of course, this strategy only works if you have an extremely competent director (Paul Feig, Lord & Miller, Harold Ramis) and an extremely talented, cohesive cast (Anchorman, Ghostbusters, This Is the End). A film like The House or Fist Fight flounders using the same formula because they pair a novice director with studio intervention, a weak script, and actors who are clearly only in it for the paycheck. When Lord & Miller tried to make an improv-heavy movie with a studio watching over them, they got themselves fired, and now we’re gonna get a lame Han Solo movie because of it. But every Cohen, Keen, and Roach in Hollywood thinks they can just remake 21 Jump Street/Anchorman/Bridesmaids and audiences will eat it up.

But to some extent, Hollywood’s comedy problem can be blamed on the talent themselves. As I previously mentioned, mainstream comedy was experiencing a serious boom not too long ago, and this can be attributed to a phenomenon colloquially known as the “Apatow diaspora.” This term refers to an intricate network of comedic actors, writer, directors, and producers, all of whom can be traced back to Freaks and Geeks creator Judd Apatow. After F&G’s untimely cancellation, he made it a personal mission to enact revenge on NBC by turning everyone involved in the show into a global megastar. He became one of the most-sought-after producers in Hollywood, and some of the stars whose film success can be directly linked to him include Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, Steve Carrell, Lena Dunham, Leslie Mann, John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera, Bill Hader, Russell Brand, Mila Kunis, Melissa McCarthy, Paul Feig, Nicholas Stoller, and Amy Schumer. Basically, every major player in mainstream comedy’s wonder years of ~2004-2013. But while the actors have mostly either defected to Marvel or found themselves stuck in a spiral of failure, look what’s happened to the filmmakers. Apatow himself has taken a turn for the melancholy: his last two directorial efforts were the bittersweet This Is 40 and Trainwreck, and he’s veering even further with his next flick, a documentary on the Avett Brothers. Ferrell and McKay have broadened their horizons to include over-the-top action reboots like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, depressing character studies like Welcome to Me, and subtle Japanese thrillers like Oh Lucy!, not to mention McKay’s last directorial effort, a biopic about the subprime mortgage crisis (The Big Short). Paul Feig is dipping his toe into animation, Lord and Miller are spearheading Warner Bros. Animation, and Seth Rogen is inevitably veering towards art films as his projects grow increasingly gonzo. The heavy-hitters in comedy have moved on from comedy. What’s left to do?

Well, there is a glimmer of hope. Where comedy is a genre built to last, cinematic universes and superhero movies are on a thin bubble, and that whole industry could crash at any minute, leaving an opening for fresh films to swoop in. We’re still seeing plenty of good comedy being churned out in forms like TV, internet content, and animation. Apatow’s still opening doors for promising newcomers like Kumail Nanjiani and Pete Holmes. Other newcomers like Ilana Glazer, Jillian Bell, and Kate McKinnon have also seen their stars rising. Jordan Peele is suddenly the most-sought-after director in Hollywood after his smash hit horror comedy Get Out. It’s looking like the mainstream comedy is going to lie dormant for a couple years. But it’s not going anywhere.

The 25 Best Songs of 2017 (So Far) — June 23, 2017

The 25 Best Songs of 2017 (So Far)

I mainly made this list because I saw that a lot of other music reviewers were doing it and I didn’t have much else going on. I’m not sure if 2017’s been an especially good year for music or if this is just how music is now. Anyway, there’s tons of good stuff to get through, so I won’t waste much time. This list is primarily based on personal preference, though in some cases I account for other factors like impact. I tried to limit it to one song per artist, but there are a few minor infractions. Let’s kick it.

25) COMPUTER BOY – Poppy

Poppy’s been bubbling up for a couple of years now, and she’s developed somewhat of a cult following, for lack of a better term. Her brand of bubblegum pop with a sinister twist has attracted many and led to countless conspiracy theories and Reddit threads breaking down her extensive lore. I’ve enjoyed her music and all this… other stuff she’s doing for quite some time, but “Computer Boy” might be her best song yet. Commenting on a recent trend towards technology fetishism, the song is about Poppy falling in love with her laptop. It’s got an amazing hook and really solid production. In an age where a lot of Top 40 music has gone flaccid, it’s nice to hear some pop that packs a punch.

24) PASSIONFRUIT – Drake

Drake’s latest not-album finds him comfortably within his zone, taking elements from all over the world to create the truest reflection of himself that we’ve heard to date. Nowhere is this more evident than on the “playlist”‘s biggest single, “Passionfruit,” one of the few songs on the album that lists Drake as the only writer (other than its producer, Nana Rogues). Drake’s wrote a lot of mopey breakup songs, but none as complete as “Passionfruit.” The soft, tropical riddim perfectly complements Drake’s mature, resigned voice. It’s also extremely well-written. Genius did an article about how the emphasized words in the chorus (“passionate,” “passive,” and “passing”) as well as the titular passionfruit, all come from the same Old French and Latin roots referring to the suffering of Christ. The passion fruit, and passion flower, are particularly common in tropical regions, and missionaries in Brazil called them “the flower of five wounds” in reference to Jesus’ crucifixion. So that’s pretty cool, huh?

23) DOVES IN THE WIND – SZA feat. Kendrick Lamar

This song is about pussy. That’s not an oversimplification: the word “pussy” is said no less than 23 times throughout the song. SZA’s new album Ctrl immediately took the music world by storm. Fans and critics swooned over her nimble pipes, warped beats, and sheer differentness. To me, “Doves in the Wind” is the best representation of what SZA has to offer. It’s a moody, noir outlet for her and TDE labelmate Kendrick Lamar to wax philosophical about vaginas for four-and-a-half minutes. Not every artist could’ve pulled this off, but these two ran with it and stuck the landing.

22) DESPACITO (REMIX) – Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee feat. Justin Bieber

This song basically came out of nowhere and is quickly becoming inescapable. After spending six weeks on top of the Hot 100, the radio finally caught wind, and just this Saturday (June 17) alone, the song was played over 10 million times on iHeartRadio stations. The video for the original racked up over 2 billion YouTube views and is now the eighth-most-watched video of all time, but I’m a filthy American and I like the Bieber version better. I just really love how Justin Bieber has the clout to take some random-ass Latin pop hit and get Americans to bump it. Bieber’s contributions to the song are much appreciated, but of course Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee deserve some recognition, too. It’s just a really solid pop song. I’m sure it’ll be overplayed in a matter of days, but I can appreciate it for now.

21) GALWAY GIRL – Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran put out his third studio album, ÷, this year, and reception was… mixed. It’s an okay album, but I can’t say I remember much from it. But there was this one song. You see, Sheeran’s been moving in two wildly disparate directions, and the clash between them is what made this album fall flat. He’s brought in more folk influences and more hip-hop flair, creating a jarring, dissatisfying listening experience. But then there’s “Galway Girl,” the perfect hybrid of Irish folk and mid-’00s hip hop. it’s catchy, sweet, simple, and fun without being too full of itself. One of Sheeran’s biggest weaknesses is over-writing songs meant to be heartfelt. “Galway Girl” is sloppy. It’s off-beat. It’s goofy. And that’s who Ed Sheeran really is. That’s why the song works so well.

20) ME ENAMORÉ – Shakira

Where’s the love for Shakira? Eleven albums and 27 years into her career, she’s still pulling in solid numbers and making one great pop album after another, but living in the US, a lot of people wouldn’t know that. One of her most recent singles, “Me Enamoré,” features elements of her typical Latin singer-songwriter sound, reggaeton, and EDM pop. On it, the 40-year-old Shakira flips the conventional fetishization of young girls by older singers in Latin pop and music in general, telling the love story between her and a man noticeably younger than her (Gerard Piqué, the Spanish footballer ten years Shakira’s junior who she’s been dating since 2010). It’s fun, absurdly catchy, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. What more could you ask for?

19) DREAMER – Charli XCX feat. Starrah and Raye

After going from rising pop superstar to cult icon with a single four-song EP last year, Charli XCX returned this year with Number 1 Angel, a mixtape full of the same menacing, devil-may-care electro-pop that we know and love. “Dreamer” is pop with a hip hop attitude, and it features the rap game’s most-sought-after songwriter, Starrah, who delivers a sung rap verse that could equally pass as a hook. Honestly, genres don’t even mean anything anymore. It’s just an empowering song.

18) UP IN HUDSON – Dirty Projectors

This nearly-8-minute track off Dirty Projectors’ self-titled seventh album finds the band’s lead singer (and only current member) Dave Longstreth in full Phil Collins swag. Jazzy brass and tribal drums punctuate breezy, lovelorn melodies, making for the shortest eight minutes of my life. This song isn’t great in concept, but the extent to which it works amazes me. It’s downtrodden and hopeful, juxtaposed against some of the gloomier tracks on this album. It’s just really nice to listen to, in a way that Dirty Projectors, even at their best, rarely is.

17) DENT JUSAY – Matt Martians feat. Syd and Steve Lacy

This song’s just an absolute pleasure to listen to. There’s really not that much to say about it. It’s just three members of alternative R&B band The Internet coming together for a scientifically-perfect feel-good bop. That’s enough for me.

16) FRAGMENTS – Blondie

This song, on the other hand, is devastating. It’s the final track on Blondie’s underrated eleventh album Pollinator, and a cover of a 2011 song by alt-rock project and YouTube film reviewer An Unkindness, a.k.a. YourMovieSucks, a.k.a. Adam Johnston. It starts out depressing and slow, but when it picks up, it fucking picks up. It’s actually a really unique choice for Blondie and it’s neat to see that even 50+ years into her music career, Debbie Harry’s still genre-hopping as effortlessly as ever.

15) HARD TIMES – Paramore

From one generation’s genre-defying blonde pop rock queen to another. Hayley Williams and Paramore are back and better than ever with a disco-infused electro-pop record hearkening back to the likes of Blondie, No Doubt, and even Talking Heads. And that’s just on this one song. The catchy tropical riff and goofy “Weird Science” backup vocals mask some pretty depressing lyrical content. It’s a really fun and infectious song on the surface, but it can be appreciated on just about every level. It’s a solidly great song.

14) WHITE MAN – Macy Gray

I’ve always been a little bit baffled by Macy Gray’s lack of broad appeal. She’s got a really unique voice, she’s been consistently dropping great music since the ’90s, she’s a good writer, good singer, she can do R&B, she can do soul, she can do pop, what’s missing? Her latest single, “White Man,” is an EDM pop track infused with tribal drums and chants addressing the racial climate in the world today and calling for forward motion and unity. It’s a quality banger with insightful commentary and a really cool video. I don’t know what more you people want.

13) BAMBI – Jidenna

Jidenna dropped one of the most breathtakingly unique albums of 2017, and “Bambi” is the standout track. It captures such a particular sense of wistfulness, it’s catchy and enjoyable yet still devastating. There’s no other song like it. Jidenna addresses the woman he’s singing to as “Bambi” not only as a “dear/deer” pun, but to illustrate the feeling of protectiveness he has for her, and the feeling that he’s left her alone in a harsh world, a victim of cruel circumstance. He’s become a womanizer because society compels him to be one, but only realizes in retrospect that he lost his true love in the process (“Bambi”), who is now getting married and leaving him in a web of unfulfilling, problematic relationships. As the doo-wop/nursery rhyme beat fades into the abyss, Jidenna’s defeated voice quiets to a whine as he sings “I just wanna see my baby, that’s my Bambi, that’s my dear.” Is Bambi true love or an obsession? We’ll never know, and neither will he.

12) MOMENTZ – Gorillaz feat. De La Soul

Here’s a hot take for you: “Momentz” is the best song on Humanz. Granted, it’s not an easy decision to make. Gorillaz’s fifth album took the music world by storm, and remains one of the more talked-about albums this year. I first heard “Momentz” in my friend’s car, a day or two before I listened to the rest of the album. The way I see it, every great Gorillaz song has three things: a killer hook, something about the apocalypse, and weird shit. This song packs all of that in spades. I love the “moments” clip. The beat is fantastic. The verses are great. The hook might be the best on the whole album. It’s a phenomenal, breakneck party track that sounds like the Black Eyed Peas on more coke than usual.

11) CUT TO THE FEELING – Carly Rae Jepsen

Yes, I’m one of those music critics. CRJ could release a track of herself having a sneezing fit over a Lil Jon beat from 2002 and I’d probably give it an honorable mention. That being said, “Cut to the Feeling” is actually a great song. The beat is quintessential power pop, aided by Carly Rae’s starry-eyed vocals and rising “ahhh”s leading up to the euphoric chorus. But when you look at the themes of the song, it’s pretty funny, too. Carly’s going steady with this guy and he’s trying to be all romantic and she’s being like “Yeah yeah, let’s get on with it already.” She wants to live out only the transcendent experiences, the fairy tale romance. That’s kind of what this song feels like. It doesn’t waste time with soulful melodies and slow builds. It cuts right to the feeling.

10) HONOR – DJ Cassidy feat. Grace and Lil Yachty

I feel like this song should have been a lot bigger than it was. It works as a dance track, it’s extremely catchy, and it’s got Lil Yachty, who can give any schmuck a Top 10 hit these days. This is actually the best Yachty verse I’ve ever heard. Usually, he sounds like an emotional teen, figuring things out, still not quite sure how the ins and outs of music work but just happy to be there. Here, he gives off an air of wisdom, someone who’s been through the wringer a few times and can look back on it all now, offering advice and warning with a resigned chuckle. The rumbling electronic beat provides the perfect accompaniment for his verse, as well as Grace’s nasally vintage pipes on the sneakily enticing hook.

9) FAMILY DON’T MATTER – Young Thug feat. Millie Go Lightly

Young Thug is the future. “Family Don’t Matter,” the first song off his critically-acclaimed debut studio album Beautiful Thugger Girls, opens with Thug in a space we’ve rarely seen him in before. Over the course of his already-storied career, he’s found a chaotic, unique voice and transitioned from straightforward trap into something completely new. As the song begins, we get Thug’s lone voice, accompanied only by an echo and the jangling of his chains. Then in a flash, the song goes from nothing to everything. Tranquil, country-inspired acoustic guitar, then the soothing tones of British songstress Millie Go Lightly, then a sweeping, cinematic backdrop for Thug’s erratic bars and melodies. Then he says “Yeehaw.” Perfection.

8) CHANEL – Frank Ocean

“Chanel” took the world by storm when Frank Ocean first premiered it on his Beats 1 show “blonded RADIO.” The song’s opening lines, “My guy pretty like a girl / And he got fight stories to tell / I see both sides like Chanel, C on both sides like Chanel” quickly became a queer rallying cry, and the song stays pretty consistently brilliant from there. Ocean effortlessly swims in the song’s moody piano beat, going from high to low, singing to rapping, heady to mundane, and all without breaking a sweat. There’s also a version with a phenomenal A$AP Rocky verse at the end, but good luck finding it.

7) DUCKWORTH. – Kendrick Lamar

Another scalding hot take: “DUCKWORTH.” is the best song on DAMN. The last (or first) track on Kendrick Lamar’s latest instant classic features incredible production, rapid-fire flows and lyrical dexterity, along with one of the best twists in music history. It’s not as radio-ready as other album favorites like “DNA.,” “LOYALTY.,” and “HUMBLE.,” but it’s a stark and compelling hood cautionary tale telling the incredible true story of Kendrick’s mentor and his father. I’d argue it’s one of the best songs on the album from a lyrical standpoint, and it definitely boasts one of the record’s best beats, courtesy of the legendary 9th Wonder.

6) CHASE ME – Danger Mouse feat. Big Boi and Run the Jewels

“Chase Me” is the lead single off the soundtrack to one of the most acclaimed movies of 2017, Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. RTJ and Big Boi both put out albums this year (or in RTJ’s case, last year, depending on who you ask), and even worked together a few times, but their standout collaboration, at least in my opinion, is “Chase Me.” It’s undeniably cool, fun, and fast-paced, presenting a happy marriage of all three rappers’ styles and immaculate production by Danger Mouse. It’s the kind of song that feels like an event, even if it’s not. It feels like something that only comes once in a blue moon.

5) PERFECT PLACES – Lorde

In an era where every pop starlet has a little bit of Lorde in them, some wondered if the OG Lorde would feel as fresh as she did in 2011. Those fears were put to rest as the New Zealand wunderkind dropped one remarkable single after another, culminating in “Perfect Places,” the final song on her fantastic new album Melodrama. It sprinkles elements of “Royals” and “Team,” her two huge hits, but it showcases an older, reflective Lorde. It’s a commentary on the unhealthy and dangerous underpinnings of euphoric escapism. Where Pure Herione Lorde was enveloped in the celebration of her generation and their idle victories, Melodrama Lorde perceives it all as evasion, and ponders the consequences of running away from life’s woes. It also absolutely slaps. 

4) AUTOMATON – Jamiroquai

FACT magazine broke the news: “Jamiroquai is back, and they sound like TRON now!” Of course, when their first album in seven years finally did drop, it was actually not all that different from the classic Jamiroquai (not that I’m complaining). Still, I find myself most drawn to “Automaton,” the cacophonous sci-fi funk track that ponders what humans will do with the power of unlimited automation. Everything from the random clicks and whirrs to the expertly-maneuvered vocal effects to the Grandmaster Flash rap breakdown is absolutely divine. Some Jamiroquai fans were upset by how different this song sounded, but I wish more people had given it a chance, because it’s honestly incredible.

3) SIGN OF THE TIMES – Harry Styles

Mark 2017 on your calendar as the year Harry Styles suddenly became his generation’s greatest rock star. Decide for yourself if that image is built to last, but in the moment you first heard this song, it was true. But what’s it about? It’s interesting how few people have really asked this question. Styles said it’s from the perspective of a pregnant woman to her unborn child, after being told that the child would survive but she wouldn’t. In that same interview, he also said that the song has a political meaning, specifically about the cyclical nature of political strife and dire situations. People have also interpreted the song as a tribute to David Bowie, or to Harry’s close friend Matt Irwin. No matter how you slice it, it’s a transcendent experience.

2) QUICK – Tank and the Bangas

Tank and the Bangas got their first whiff of fame earlier this year after winning a contest to appear on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. The New Orleans funk-soul group has a sound unlike any other, an unparalleled style exemplified by the very song that got them on NPR, “Quick.” It’s a space-age neo-jazz soap opera that’s supremely enjoyable on every level. At seven minutes long, it effortlessly bounces between four or five different genres, spinning a vivid and complete tale of high adventure. What could be better?

1) SLIDE – Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean and Migos

Do you slide on all your nights like this? Yes, “Slide” is the best song of 2017, just like how “Uptown Funk!” was the best song of 2014 and “Get Lucky” was the best song of 2013. Am I just funk-biased? Perhaps, but all three of those songs are brilliant in their own way. “Slide,” for instance, finds two of the most-buzzed-about acts in hip-hop, brought together by a notorious EDM hit-machine, for a song that’s outside any of their comfort zones. It’s futuristic, yet timeless. Brilliant, yet effortless. Breezy, yet captivating. There’s not a wasted second on the song’s four minutes of funk, from the immediately-recognizable piano opener to the offbeat-yet-catchy hook, from Frank’s masterfully-written ramblings to Quavo’s melodic pop rap to Offset’s smooth, rapid-fire flow. It’s the perfect summer jam.

So, those are the best songs of 2017 so far. Of course, these are all just based on my fickle opinion, so I can’t promise that the end-of-the-year list won’t look totally different. I’ll try and post a few more lists like these in the coming days, since we’re halfway through the year. Let me know some of your favorite songs this year in the comments.

Top 20 Songs of the Month (May 2017) — June 10, 2017

Top 20 Songs of the Month (May 2017)

May’s a big month for a lot of reasons. Coming right at the start of the summer season, any act who wants a fighting chance at the Song of the Summer crown is gonna drop something this month. As a result, a lot of pop tends to drop in May, but it’s also a month where weirder, more niche artists come out of the woodwork. Critic-pleasing releases tend towards the later end of the year, but May is the ideal month to release a single. This time around, it was also a pretty big month for Migos. They’ve been riding that “Bad and Boujee” mainstream wave for quite some time now, and no less than 12 songs on my shortlist for this month featured at least one member of the trap trio. Still, I managed to narrow it down to 20 singles, ranked for your listening convenience. The lower half of this month’s list is pretty hip-hop-heavy, but it gets more varied as it goes on.

20) BIG FISH – Vince Staples

Kicking off this month’s list, we’ve got critically acclaimed rapper Vince Staples. “Big Fish” is the first release off his forthcoming album Big Fish Theory, and it has all the philosophical flexing, nasal Long Beach twang, and fun-yet-unsettling vibes we’ve come to expect from him. Frankly, the beat’s pretty stale, but Vince’s lyrical chops are as prime as ever and Juicy J lends a welcoming club chorus. A lesser Vince Staples track is still worthy of a mention.

19) PAPER OVA HERE – Quavo

In an interesting change of pace, all three members of Migos each released a solo single this past month. Quavo’s is the weirdest, most memorable, and probably best of the three, but the exercise allowed all three of them to showcase what they all bring to the table as artists, lending a little more appreciation to their combined efforts. “Paper Ova Here” shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. It’s only two minutes long, sounds like a Napster track from 2006, and it sounds like Quavo and producer OG Parker are fumbling over each other to get the song to function. But somehow, it all comes together. This song probably got stuck in my head more than any other song on this list. I contemplated replacing it with Migos’ “To Hotty,” but there’s something about that hook that just works better than it has any right to.

18) F.B.G.M. – T-Pain feat. Young M.A

The King of Autotune returns with another romantic banger that feels like 2008 all over again. T-Pain sings the praises of an open relationship with an hustling, independent, bisexual woman, The classic “fuck bitches, get money” credo feels as fresh as it ever has, and lesbian gangsta rapper of the hour Young M.A stops by for a really solid guest verse. There’s something about that acoustically-minded ’00s R&B beat that always hooks me.

17) MASK ON – Joyner Lucas

This one’s lower on the list because it’s actually a freestyle over Future’s “Mask Off” and not necessarily a single in its own right, but Joyner fucking snaps as always. Hip hop’s got a lot of different facets and new directions it’s headed in, but I think Joyner’s the next super talented rapper that pretentious white dudes want you to listen to. He’s got an incredible ear for flow, able to spit at a speed that only a handful of rappers can achieve and still maintain unbelievable rhythm. Is it at the expense of content? One could argue that. He definitely does have more to say on his slower tracks. One moment that sticks out on this song, even though he alleges he isn’t calling out anyone with it, is the part where he very clearly and explicitly calls out Logic, another speedy biracial MC that boring white people like. Apparently, Logic took about six months to submit his verse for Tech N9ne’s track “Sriracha” and the verse he did send in was trash. Aside from that chestnut, the song’s mainly notable for technical reasons, but no one handles that better than Joyner.

16) CRYING IN THE CLUB – Camila Cabello

After that whole Machine Gun Kelly fiasco, I sort of tuned out Camila Cabello for a while. I like Fifth Harmony, and she’s partly responsible for arguably the best Shawn Mendes song, but I didn’t see much potential in her as a solo artist. “Crying in the Club” convinced me otherwise. Of course, it later turned out that the first half of the video is actually “Questions,” a totally different and probably better song that she hasn’t released yet, but still. It’s good. Maybe I just really like the title and the image it conjures, but it also feels like a really good song to cry in the club to (you can thank cowriter Sia for that). I am definitely more invested in Camila Cabello’s music than I ever have been before (that new song she did with Major Lazer is good too).

15) RAF – A$AP Mob feat. A$AP Rocky, Quavo, Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert, and Frank Ocean

From the start, this song has a fair amount going for it. An interesting blend of artists from different realms of hip hop, a mesmerizing, sparse trap beat, a funny enough concept. But as one could probably expect, it’s Frank Ocean’s verse that really pushes it over the edge. We start with Rocky, who’s actually been on fire lately. I really hope he has a project on the way, because all his most recent verses have been great. This one’s no exception, as he pitter-patters about fashion while Playboi Carti delivers ad-libs. Rocky’s verse flows nicely into our old friend Quavo’s. His verse is really solid; Uzi’s is not. Maybe some people would appreciate it, but for me, his appeal doesn’t extend any further than 16 bars. It’s Frank’s disjointed, layered bars that bring the track to new heights. Bars like “Sterling silver lasers / Rubies red, my skin too black to blush / This bitch too rare to bust / Seen her in the iPhone pages” feel like they require a whole dissertation to unspool. All in all, the song comes together really well, even though it hits a lull somewhere around the third verse.

14) GOLD – Brockhampton

Brockhampton is a goofy, grimy hip-hop collective from California, sort of like a more versatile Odd Future. They put out a lot of singles this month, and they’re all really good, but when it came down to it, I went with “Gold” for this list. A big part of that has to do with the infectious chorus: “Keep a gold chain on my neck / Fly as a jet / Boy better treat me with respect.” Everyone brings something unique to the table and it’s a really fun time.

13) WANT YOU BACK – Haim

Pop rock band Haim came back in a major way this month with “Want You Back,” a shimmering, regretful track off their forthcoming album Something to Tell You. What I like about this song is that there’s a novelty to it but it still feels distinctly timeless. It seems like the kind of song I’ll be hearing in movies for years to come. They released a slower acoustic track called “Right Now” back at the end of April and I was kind of disappointed, but this is definitely a song I can get behind.

12) YOUTH IN REVOLT – Brady Watt feat. Michael Christmas

If you’re a fan of “B.O.B.” by OutKast (i.e. a human being), check out “Youth in Revolt.” Brady Watt’s a producer and bass player who’s worked with the likes of Talib Kweli, Curren$y, Jean Grae, and Joey Bada$$, and he definitely brings that frenetic, immersive sound to the table. Boston backpack rapper Michael Christmas is more than happy to take on the lyrical challenge, showing out with his typical dextrous flows and referential, earnestly boastful lyrics. It doesn’t have a strong hook, per se, but it’s an impressive track that gets the blood pumping right from the start.

11) SWISH SWISH – Katy Perry feat. Nicki Minaj

Katy Perry’s been drawing a lot of attention lately, for better or for worse. People have definitely remarked at her onstage antics and bizarre musical direction, and many feel she’s stealing aspects of marginalized cultures without properly crediting/regarding their originators (known in the pop community as a “Madonna move”). But here’s the thing: her music is better than it’s ever been before. She hasn’t had as strong a string of singles as “Chained to the Rhythm,” “Bon Appetit,” and “Swish Swish” in over half a decade. Of all the people I expected to be in the minority rooting for, I was not expecting Katy Perry. Anyway, “Swish Swish” is a fantastic song. It’s a savage diss track that refashions club tropes into an anthem of self-empowerment. Nicki’s verse is great. “Swish swish, bish / Another one in the basket” is a great hook.

10) HEEBIEJEEBIES – Aminé feat. Kehlani

What can I say? I’m a sucker for earnestly corny choruses. Like “Swish Swish,” “Heebiejeebies” is goofy to the core, as is typical for Portland rapper Aminé. On the chorus, he and Kehlani croon “I’ve never seen your type of species / Give me heebie-jeebies.” I like this song because the phrase “heebie-jeebies” hits me in a way that’s really similar to how I process Aminé. It’s always fascinated me, just how honest about its own cheesiness is. It’s sort of mesmerizing. Aminé’s no master wordsmith, but the inclusion of Kehlani’s nasal pipes and that “heebie-jeebies” refrain make this song feel more sincere and heartfelt.

9) STRANGERS – Halsey feat. Lauren Jauregui

If you’re looking for a powerful, emotional banger for Pride Month, I highly recommend “Strangers.” The two rising pop stars, both bisexual women, sing from the perspective of two lovers (er, strangers), each unsure about where their relationship stands, each craving something deeper and not knowing if their significant other feels the same way. I’m not a huge Halsey fan, and the song sort of takes on a pretentious tone when you put it into the context of the album’s grand Romeo and Juliet metaphor, but on its own, that wistful ’80s-inspired beat and those hopeless-romantic lyrics really hit you.

8) WHAT THE HELL IS IT THIS TIME? – Sparks

Sparks is an art rock duo started in 1968 that’s been trafficking in weird shit™ pretty consistently ever since. I’m surprised I didn’t get into these guys before; apparently, they’ve been cited as an influence by the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Kurt Cobain, Morrissey, Arcade Fire, Depeche Mode, ABBA, and Paul McCartney. Their latest single is “What the Hell Is It This Time?” It lives up to its title. It’s anthemic, timeless, musically- and lyrically-dense, and just absolutely bonkers. I’m gonna have to listen to more of these guys.

7) COMPUTER BOY – Poppy

Is it disrespectful to put an intentionally-vapid bubblegum pop song right ahead of two guys who’ve been on their grind for half a century? Perhaps. But also, “Computer Boy” might be the best song Poppy’s ever made. It’s unbelievably catchy, viscerally enjoyable while also being just creepy enough to drive the point home. This is a song about falling in love with a laptop and you won’t even care. It has all the makings of a pop classic, which makes that menacing film of technology fetishism and demonic undertones all the more tantalizing. It tells so much of a story while leaving so much to the imagination, and I know I’ve said this already but it’s so goddamn catchy.

6) STOP ME – Andreas Moss

This is possibly the most memorable song I’ve heard this month. It has a really unique, sparse electronic beat, and Swedish singer Andreas Moss blends a lot of different genres to breathe a unique life into the song. I’ve heard it described as nu-R&B, and Moss definitely has a voice for nu metal, but there are also elements of pop, electronica, and soul in there. The lyrics are reference-heavy and blunt, and the part where he randomly starts singing in Swedish is delightfully pretentious. Maybe not catchy, per se, but it will definitely stick in your head.

5) FAKE MAGIC – Peking Duk and AlunaGeorge

One group that I don’t feel has gotten the attention they deserve, both on these lists and in the public eye, is AlunaGeorge. Sure, they’re decently big in the UK, and they had that one song with DJ Snake, but they’re so good. Aluna Francis has a really nice voice, they do great production work, and they’re really good songwriters. On “Fake Magic,” they team up with Australian house duo Peking Duk (they’re big in Australia) for an infectious funk track that sort of snuck up on me. I put it on the list when I first heard it, but it took a few days for it to creep into heavy rotation. It’s not the best song on the surface, but it’s the kind of song you never get tired of. And every once in a while, you need a song like that.

4) PHANTOM OF ALEPPOVILLE – Benjamin Clementine

Hey, what the fuck?

3) CHASE ME – Danger Mouse feat. Run the Jewels and Big Boi

I was already excited for Baby Driver, the next film by one of my favorite directors, Edgar Wright, but “Chase Me” may have pushed me over the edge. The song teams up Danger Mouse, one of the greatest producers alive, with the most acclaimed duo in hip-hop today (Run the Jewels) and a Southern rap icon (Big Boi). The result is quite possibly the coolest song of 2017. The beat is an instant classic, and all three rappers throw down insane verses. What’s not to love?

2) CUT TO THE FEELING – Carly Rae Jepsen

The rightful queen of pop, Carly Rae Jepsen, returns with another pitch-perfect power ballad, one of over 200 outtakes from her 2015 critical darling E•MO•TION. It’s hard to even break into a piece of pop as immaculate as “Cut to the Feeling.” First of all, that titular refrain: “I wanna cut to the feeling.” It’s a sentiment that’s certainly been expressed in pop before, even by Jepsen herself, but the breathless holler with which she delivers it is unforgettable. It’s inspiring, empowering, and downright delightful.

1) QUICK – Tank and the Bangas

I saw Tank and the Bangas’ performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series and instantly fell in love. The New Orleans funk-soul collective is unpredictable, brimming with creativity, and endlessly energetic. They’ve performed “Quick” in a number of settings before, but only released it as an official single this month, and I’m so glad. The frenetic, off-the-wall soap opera of a song is absolutely irresistible. Tank and the Bangas is on the fast track to becoming one of my favorite bands if all their songs are as much boundless, mind-bending fun as this one is.