Some pretty big profile songs came out within the past couple of weeks, or at least songs with pretty big name artists attached to them. Some came in with high expectations from the general music consuming public, and others maybe came as a surprise. Today, I’m analyzing which of these new songs worked and which ones really didn’t.
“Sign of the Times” – Harry Styles
Verdict: Wait, what the F**K?! Sh*t, that’s good!!
Shocked. Seriously. Let me just say, I was not a 1D fan. Some of their music I really liked, like “18” and admittedly “Night Changes” was a jam for a while. And one of the things I liked about them the most was that as a modern boy band, each one of them could stand on their own vocally as well as they could as a group. The same could not be said in the time of NSYNC and Backstreet Boys, who all worked better as groups (unless you’re Justin Timberlake), than as individual artists. I’m just saying, if Lance Bass tried having a solo career right now, it wouldn’t pan out quite the way it has for Zayn.
With all of that being taken into account, this song is not at all what I expected. It was hyped like hell, which makes sense noting that it’s been a long while since the hiatus from the band was announced (children have been had by two of the members, and Zayn is practically on his second album). But here comes Harry!
He’s been writing on the down low for other artists for some time now, most notably writing “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart” for Ariana Grande’s record, My Everything. And honestly, I thought he had one of the better voices of the band when they were together. But all of that has culminated in “Sign of the Times”. Harry’s voice is set much higher, and he flexes this at the end of the song with that chilling belt. The song is not necessarily negative in attitude towards our current global climate, but also not positive either. Rather, it goes for the obvious point that yes, we’ve been here before, in a time of divisiveness and seeming chaos, where a string of unwarranted disasters continues to occur like a line of dominoes being pushed down by some invisible hand. But it’s almost reassuring, like a pat on the back, by saying that we’ve been here before, and we got out of it. We just have to figure out how to get out of it again.
With Bowie-like production, a swell between the verse and chorus that’s like a Beatles song for the new generation, Harry delivers with a song more mature than anything I would have expected from the member of a former boy band. In a couple of years, when we’ve hopefully gotten a better grip on functioning as a human race, maybe we’ll look back on this song and listen to how true it’s words really are. We have been here before, we can make it out. How you live your life does determine what happens to you after you’re gone. Hell, it determines how things are for people while you’re here AND after you’re gone. And there’s no way to buy or negotiate your way into Heaven…or wherever it is you end up going.
MORE than pleasantly surprised on this song. If anything, I’m excited to hear more!
“No Promises” – Cheat Codes feat. Demi Lovato
Verdict: Alright… it has the potential to be a minor Song of the Summer hit
Demi Lovato has one of the best voices to come out of the young wave of talent stemming from Nickelodeon and Disney Channel that included Miley, Selena, and The Jonas Brothers. Undisputed truth. Unfortunately for her, as I feel has plagued Christina Aguilera in recent years, though her vocals are still top notch, she hasn’t found the song that stacks up to them to really propel her to a #1, full-fledged hit, and that’s no fault of her own. And because I think she’s so gifted, I keep wanting her to find that song that will finally propel her above where others like Selena and Taylor Swift are, who I think are less vocally talented by a long shot. I wouldn’t necessarily say that “No Promises” is it, either, however, unlike others on this list, this one has potential to at least gain some traction as this summer approaches, and many songs released around now spike in popularity as people head to the beach.
Cheat Codes are also new to me, though I haven’t really looked into them all that much. But when I heard this pairing was happening, I had the same thought that maybe this would be Demi’s serious hit. And I’ll tell you, after listening to it about four or five times, it wouldn’t surprise me if it hits the airwaves and picks up from there. The beat is good and gets better with each listen, and is different enough from some of the other EDM tracks out at this very moment that it stands out above them. Whoever is singing on behalf of Cheat Codes does a very good job of holding his own with Demi, with a vocal tone similar to that of Justin Bieber’s. Though there’s not an entirely palpable chemistry there, their voices do blend better than say, “Heatstroke”, also on this list. Something this song could have benefitted a little more from, I think, is having Demi let loose a little more with some high notes or some really hearty belts. Something really diva-esque towards the end. There are a few moments when she lets out some of her signature notes, but I feel like as the song peaks, she could have been allowed to let out more of her voice to really cap it off.
Though this song may not be the one topping the charts by the time Billboard names their annual Song of the Summer, it still has power to make it’s way up there by the time the decision has been made.
“Waterfall” – Stargate feat. P!nk and Sia
Verdict: On a scale of 10? 4.
I’m the biggest P!nk fan I know, you guys, so this is like a knife to my side. Just look at the ingredients here! P!nk! Sia! Stargate, producers that have made pop hit after pop hit! The question left for me here is “Really?”. I was so excited when I heard P!nk and Sia were getting together and writing for P!nk’s next record, because they’re both incredibly gifted. Then, I heard that vocally, they’d be teaming up for this song with Stargate and I got REALLY amped. But upon it’s release, I was disappointed. First off, P!nk and Sia are both vocal powerhouses in their own rights. With that being said, in every way, this song is so vocally subdued, it’s a crime. No, if you’re a powerhouse, not every song has to be blow-out-your-speakers worthy, but COME ON. The melody line for the verses is great, but the chorus is underwhelming and I’m confused truly about the song’s message. That being said as well, the production put on the vocals, particularly P!nk’s is questionable. Yes, I know in pop music that incredibly tight compression is desired, but her vocals are so compressed in comparison to the minimally compressed they are on my favorite offering of her’s, Funhouse, that it almost pains me to hear it. They sound so bright and thin that it ruins the natural rasp and strength she has in her voice. And Sia’s voice feels the same here as well, though her voice is a completely different tone than P!nk’s. Hearing the way this was produced makes you appreciate whoever produces their solo music much more because they know how to pinpoint the frequencies that enhance the individual stylings of their respective voices. If you were to listen to this, and then listen to any P!nk song from her own music, you’d hear the stark contrast, and I’m not saying that you have to compress a certain artist’s voice a certain way every time, but you should NEVER compress it to the point of killing it.
That all being said, it’s not a terrible song, and I’ve gotten a little more used to it the more I’ve heard it. It’s got a retro feel with the synths in the chorus, and you can get it into it at times. But it’s not too much of a surprise that despite having a lot of star power on this track that it fell under the radar for a lot of people when it came out because it wasn’t up to the par it could have been with the people that were attached to it.
For now, I’ll just keep waiting on the team up of these two women on P!nk’s next album.
“Heatstroke” – Calvin Harris feat. Young Thug, Pharrell Williams and Ariana Grande
Verdict: Really? Young Thug?
Once again, we have another victim of having the star power, but not the goods in which for those to stars to properly deliver. When I first played this song, my immediate question that I voiced out loud to my friend Kiana was, “Why Young Thug?” Ariana’s part sounds teasingly good, and you wish you had more of it. That being said, hearing Young Thug’s part and remaining unsure of the decision to place him on the song from the beginning till the end, and every second afterwards until another song came on, you see HOW much you really wish Ari had more of a part in this song. Calvin Harris has the capacity to make some really great songs, and has done so with huge stars like Rihanna. With this team, something really great could have gone down, but sadly, it missed the mark.
The song has it’s redeemable moments. Ari’s part is great, I can’t deny that, and the groove feels vaguely Daft Punk-esque. Hell, I can’t even discredit Pharrell’s part! But handing the reins over to Young Thug and hoping he can carry on this track as the lead was a risky decision that didn’t pay off in any way shape or form like I think Calvin hoped it would. Had they gotten someone else, would this song have worked? Possibly. Not entirely sure. But Young Thug was not the right choice, so whether or not it would have worked with someone else is irrelevant. This doesn’t work. At all. It’s very clear that all of the featured artists’ parts were recorded separately and stitched together in post. There’s no chemistry or connection between Young Thug and Ari, or Ari and Pharrell, which adds to the hollow nature of the song in my opinion.
Hit and a miss for this one.
“Now or Never” – Halsey
Verdict: Kinda like it, don’t like how much it resembles “Needed Me” by Rihanna
Without seeing a single review of this song before listening to it, I got “Needed Me” vibes. The beat is practically the same tempo. The production on the vocals, all glitchy and intentionally auto-tuned particularly during the chorus of the song, are a page out of Rih’s book (the Grammy nominated book, I might add, since “Needed Me” was a contender at this past year’s award show). And speaking of that chorus, that auto-tuned run, where she goes “I want you to love me nooooooooooooow” (yes, exactly like that haha!) sounds startlingly identical to the part of “Needed Me” where Rih sings “Yooou nee-ee-eee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-eed me”. Damning evidence when the songs are played over top of each other.
So, *cracks knuckles* now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…the song isn’t necessarily bad. It’s catchy, in a “I think I’ve heard this before kind of way”, and more so than with Badlands do I think she’ll have some crossover success with this one (also helped by the name recognition associated with her work on “Closer” this past year with the Chainsmokers). I like it enough that I don’t hate it, if that makes sense, and it carries enough of Halsey’s middle-finger-flipping brash attitude that it’s still uniquely her. However, because “Needed Me” was such a hit, I feel like some people won’t be able to see past the similarities with these two songs to really let it stick the way she would want it to. She’s a very original artist. Her visuals, including the one above, are always quite an event, which I embrace since so many artists opt to do music videos that are so simplistic, it bores the sh*t out of me. I mean, seriously, where are the Michael Jackson’s of this generation? Lady Gaga and Beyoncé to me are carrying the torch right now in that lane, but I appreciate that Halsey tells a story with her videos too. I need the rest of her album to be as original as the concepts for her videos are. Because though I don’t hate this song and might even grow to really like it in a couple of weeks, we were all warned that “Rih was a savage”, and since Ed Sheeran had to concede to similarities between “Shape of You” and “Waterfalls” by TLC, don’t be surprised if something comes up in the news about writing credits being added somewhere.