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Pop CultureFebruary 27, 2017

Best Songs Ever: New singles reviewed, featuring Calvin Harris, MAALA, Julia Michaels & more…


‘Best Songs Ever’ features various contributors to The Spinoff Music assessing recent songs and singles.


Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean & Migos – ‘Slide’

This is everything internet-buzz pop music is right now, rolled into a more radio-friendly format. Sure, you may love Blonde and Culture, but you’re not going to be able to play even the most catchy trap or the sweetest alt-R&B at your wedding when your now-mother-in-law wants to get up and dance with your uncle. Lucky Calvin Harris made ‘Slide’ to make it all okay, by putting his Euro-disco sheen over everything. I know this sounds snarky as fuck, but I actually like this song. Like, really like it. Like, can’t stop listening to it. – Henry Oliver


The Chainsmokers & Coldplay – ‘Something Just Like This’

‘Something Just Like This’ is a very bad song. A song where each artist’s contribution brings out the absolute worst in the other. Chris Martin proved on A Head Full Of Dreams he could do fun, upbeat and cool, but the down-tempo nature of The Chainsmokers leaves him sounding washed out and flat. The euphoric final chorus that makes Coldplay’s big dance tracks so great is nowhere to be found here. He’s vocally restrained, as if physically trapped inside this awful song.

As for The Chainsmokers, the absence of a strong female vocalist and lack of an opportunity for Martin to go full noise make the simplicity of their music blaringly obvious, embarrassingly so. It seems the world’s least favourite dudebros had their heads so far up their own arses they couldn’t comprehend that after five of the biggest songs of 2016, the formulaic nature of their songs might be starting to wear a little thin. One of the first groups to latch onto and rise alongside the pop-drop, this song says they’ll also be the last ones desperately clinging on at its inevitable demise.

I’ve stood by The Chainsmokers through it all; the Twitter fights, the dumb behaviour, and the shocking VMA performance, but ‘Something Like This’ has tested my brand loyalty in a way I’m not sure they can come back from. Release something, anything, original and I’ll be back on board, but for now I’m calling time. #FreeChrisMartin – Kate Robertson

MAALA – ‘In My Head’

As I write this, I’ve been listening to ‘In My Head’ on repeat for three hours. Three whole hours and I still have no idea what to write. All I’ve achieved is wondering whether MAALA (who we interviewed last week) could ever release a less-than-great song, and if so, what would that song look like? Blame the writers block on the fact ‘In My Head’ is a perfectly well-rounded song. I’ve got nothing to work with! The music doesn’t outshine the lyrics, and the verses run smoothly into the pre-chorus then chorus. Any trace of a 2016 pop hangover is nowhere to be found, and it’s far from being a carbon copy of the electronic pop a number of Kiwi and Aussie artists have gotten so deep in that one person’s sound becomes indistinguishable from the next. The brooding nature of the songs that earned him the love of the nation has been ever so subtly pushed aside, instead making way for something lighter, more upbeat, and fun. I may be struggling to articulate in a critical manner why this song is good, but it is. Listen for yourself and you might just understand why. – Kate Robertson

Julia Michaels – ‘Issues’

Kylie Jenner featured this song in her Snapchat story last week, so it’s about to be everywhere – let’s call it 2017’s answer to ‘Gold’ by Kiiara. ‘Issues’ is the debut single by Julia Michaels, who at 23 has written songs for Demi Lovato and Fifth Harmony and performed at the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics with Kygo. ‘Issues’ was the first song she’d written that she couldn’t imagine being done by any other artist, apparently. And good call! Produced by Benny Blanco and Stargate, it’s a deceptively simple little song that does more in under three minutes than most pop songs do in twice the time: it doesn’t overplay the chorus, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, it develops its ideas, and it ends confidently. If this sounds like an NCEA Level 3 Music assessment, I give it Excellence. – Elle Hunt

Remy Ma – ‘shETHER’

In which Remy Ma calls Nicki Minaj for seven straight minutes, calling her out for (apparently) using a ghostwriter, having a fake butt, being a sellout and supporting her brother (which I’ll leave for you to Google yourself). Personally, I don’t care how fake Nicki Minaj may or may not be, but ‘shETHER’ is a fun, old style diss song regardless of whether or not other people write Nicky’s raps. Meek Mill should take note for next time he wants to take someone on. – HO

Beauchamp – ‘Something Stupid’

First up: this is not a cover of the father-daughter Sinatra duet, though both are calling the same three-word phrase stupid. This is the latest single by New Zealand singer-songwriter Alicia Beauchamp, who records as Beauchamp. It’s quite different to her 2015 release ‘Roses’, which is what I imagine Lorde’s ‘Royals’ would sound like if it was rewritten by Lily Allen late in her career and for an adult-contemporary audience – and to compare it to ‘Something Stupid’ is an interesting reflection of how trends in music have changed in the past two years. Even the artwork promoting ‘Something Stupid’ on Soundcloud looks like it could be out of Superette’s latest calendar: a glossy fern on Beauchamp’s face, just as there’s a fern on just about every soft furnishing. The track paints the same spacious, reverb-heavy soundscape as Broods or Banks but there’s none of the roughage that characterises the latter especially. The production, especially around the chorus, is a bit TOO clean, making it sound, to my ears, a bit dated – listen to this around 1 minute 11 seconds and then ‘White Flag’ by Dido (no shade, it’s a big tune) and you might hear what I mean. But Beauchamp clearly has a versatile voice and an ear for a big chorus, and the bridge around the two-minute-mark is a particularly promising indication of what she’s got to offer – I’d like to hear more from her. – EH

수빈(Subin) – ‘동그라미의 꿈(Circle’s Dream)’

While K-pop’s image in the West is often of a pop-industrial complex basking in late nineties pre-crash boy band and girl-group dynasties – and the concomitant sonic’n’visual maximalism – there are quieter pleasures to be had as well. ‘Circle’s Dream’, the new single from Subin of girl group Dal★Shabet, is built around layered vocal loops alternating between coos and onomatopoeic dum-diddy-dum-diddy’s – pop minimalism that shows Korean producers have fully internalised the likes of Adele’s ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’ and Lorde’s ‘Royals’, or, closer to home, Lim Kim’s ‘Awoo’. Where ‘Circle’s Dream’ differs from those precursors, though, is in its breezy, jazzy affect, rather than the portentousness that wordless vocals more often connote these days. – Stevie Kaye

Maroon 5 (feat. Future) – ‘Cold’

Fifteen (15!) years on from their debut album Songs About Jane, Maroon 5 are now sort of unremarkably ubiquitous. You can depend on them for a radio-friendly, ultimately forgettable pop song, but you can’t imagine hanging on their every release – probably because you’ll end up hearing it ad nauseam anyway. Their latest single, a Valentine’s Day drop, sees them collaborating with Future and cribbing from Zayn Malik – there’s the same kind of glacial, spacious production that characterises Zayn’s dEbuT aLbUm and his recent 50 Shades Darker collab with Taylor Swift, but Adam Levine’s voice has none of the smoke of Zayn’s and the song suffers for it. It’ll be a boost for Future’s profile, but as a song it falls squarely in the middle of Maroon 5’s offerings: not as good as ‘Sugar’, better than ‘Won’t Go Home Without You’. Like just about everything else they’ve put out over 1.5 decades. – EH

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