Hello BHS! I hope you have been listening to music to help you stay sane. If you have not heard these songs before (which is almost impossible), I recommend you give them a shot (but not the ones I don’t like).
1) Driver’s License (Olivia Rodrigo) – I really don’t like this song. It’s so basic. Rodrigo doesn’t take any risks with this track. Oh cool, strings! Piano? How original! The choir midway through the song feels out of place — she should have kept it as a refrain and sung it another time. It’s such a boring, melodramatic subject too: “You broke up with me! Oh no!” It feels so utterly basic I feel a craving for Starbucks when I hear it. The one compliment I will throw Rodrigo is the synth glisses in the background in the beginning is really cool and inventive. But that is all.
2) 34+35 (Ariana Grande) – I really don’t understand the Ariana Grande hype at all, to be honest. It feels like she’s trying to strafe two different audiences with her music, and I think it falls short on both counts. She sings in a really “cute” high pitched voice to hark back to her roots, but the subject of the matter completely invalidates any kind of callback. She tries to throw in a hip hop vibe and includes explicit sexual references, but again, her style of singing doesn’t at all fit this subject. Musically, there’s really not much going on. It feels like she’s attempting to occupy a similar musical niche as WAP, but in a very “pretty” way, and I think it falls flat.
3) Positions (Ariana Grande) – While you know already how I feel about Ari, I do really enjoy this song. The nature of the song is still fairly explicit, but there’s more going on in the groove of the song that I can dig. I love the opening pizzicato in the violin, followed by a rich string line which soon blends with the beat of the song. The pizzicato line continues throughout the song, which I think is so cool. I can’t help but think of a Juilliard-trained violinist going into the studio and sitting there, hating himself as he strums Ariana Grande. It’s a really neat touch which I think really improves the quality of the song.
4) Levitating (Dua Lipa ft. DaBaby) – I really like the groove of this song. The drum and synth line is really fresh and reminds me of summer. Anyone who uses a real drum line and not synths also gets points in my book. Dua Lipa’s style of singing complements this song well: it’s so fresh and light. The call and response of the bridge was ingenious; it really feels like they’re trying to hype you up. And DaBaby’s flow over the simple eighth groove is nice: smooth and syncopated. They tried to make this song feel like summer– and it shows.
5) Go Crazy (Chris Brown and Young Thug) – I have an interesting relationship with this song. I love Young Thug so much so that I saw him live in concert 2 years ago. However, Chris Brown is problematic, to say the least, and I feel uncomfortable listening to his music. From a musical standpoint, I really like this song: Brown and Thug flow well over the drum line they established. The synth and hint of piano works really well to make a “warm” soundscape. The hint of crackle can give an old-time feel at times. And I love Thug’s unique method of singing: it’s pleasant, without being aggressive or assaulting. But I cannot, in good faith, recommend this song.
6) Bang! (AJR) – I knew I’d love this song when I heard the opening D-flat minor chord banged out in the base. I love the way AJR mixes string, real bass drums, synth snare, and old-style vocal announcements (like those you hear on the subway, or on a Disney ride). His voice sounds really nice, and regardless of whether it is produced or not, it’s really sweet to listen to. I love the returning motif accompanied with the lyrics “Bang, bang, bang”: it builds tension before the next line. The beat itself is awesome: I love the way it saunters, menacingly, almost like a villain theme from a musical. I really enjoyed this song and was pleasantly surprised listening to it for the first time.
7) Good Days (SZA) – When I listened to this song for the first time, I was confused. I feel like I’m missing the point of the song. The vocals and track feel almost like different songs. The rapid guitar shifts in the instrumental, mixed with the constant tapping effect, makes the instrumental feel high energy — in complete contrast with the more chill vibes of the vocal. In fact, there are several times I feel like the vocals misalign with the instrumental entirely. SZA also never really went anywhere, either. We really dwell on the same chords, with no audible breaks between the refrain and verses. There are no interesting breaks, developments, changes, or destinations. It really just feels like five minutes of the same music, and I feel like I waste my time listening to any more than 30 seconds of it.
8) For the Night (Pop Smoke ft. Lil Baby and DaBaby) – Pop Smoke’s post mortem album is one of the few albums of the type I actually enjoy. I like the smooth opening lines in the instrumentals, though I’m not really a fan of the overlapping moaning coming through. The transition to sharper instrumentals works really well, and gets your head bopping. The sampling is genius; the hint of bells, the flute which shines through occasionally…it’s really pleasant. The bass line is rich, inventive, and all over the place, a touch I admire and appreciate. Not a big fan of the Lil baby verse, as I always struggle to line up the lyrics to the instrumental beat. Pop Smoke and DaBay help return the music to a more strict, in-time format. This song is even stronger knowing that Pop Smoke wasn’t alive to see its release. It’s a fitting send-off to the artist.
9) Therefore, I Am (Billie Eilish) – I really like Billie Eilish, and this song is a prime example why. Her skill as an artist is not shown through her vocal talent, singing or anything: her talent comes with her ability to speak in time and produce true head boppers. Her spoken word style works really well with this song. The bassline is really set in a fantastic groove, taking chords all over the place with unique and distinct chordal structures and changes. The 8-bit sample heard after the bridge is really a cool touch. The growling bass on beat one of every measure is an interesting choice which adds to the overall vibe of the song. Overall, I really like the production on this song, and I think this is where Eilish songs really shine.
10) Lonely (Justin Bieber) – I think Bieber does a really good job with this song here for one reason: it’s clear that what he’s saying comes from his heart. He’s telling the story of his life: a child star raised in an overproduced culture that commodified him, which clearly affected his mental health. This isn’t a half-baked attempt to be “Soulful”; this is real, clear, pain. The instrumental track is pretty simple, as is the vocal line itself– not too much ornamentation, just a simple electric piano and some strings. This is a very good decision, as it gives room for the emotion to flow. This isn’t overproduced. This is plainly, clearly him.