Drake

The Worst UK No. 1’s of 2016 (posted April 2017)

With Rockabye covered, we’ve finally got to the end of 2016. At last, we can finally chuck the year away and leave it to fester in it’s well deserved pit. But first, time to cross some t’s and dot some i’s with the mandatory Best-Of and Worst-Of lists (posted only a quarter of the way into the year that came after it). First up is the worst list, purely because more people always prefer to read the negative stuff:



Special Mentions

‘Dancing on My Own’ – Calum Scott

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This would’ve been No. 1 on this list had it reached No. 1 in the charts: a detestable track done by an unpleasant stalker pretending to be deep and sensitive. As I’ve already said: this song wants you ‘to deeply sympathise with a potential criminal as he does the stupidest thing he could possibly do in his situation, trying to morph a self-defeating stalker into some form of tragic hero‘. As I’ve also said: ‘Fuck it‘.



The List Itself

#5: ‘Say You Won’t Let Go’ – James Arthur

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This song isn’t bad. In fact, I think it’s fine. It knows what it wants to do and it does it in a way that isn’t actively unpleasant. It is boring though. It takes every trope that every dull male artist used this year and proceeds to do nothing with them. Nothing. And unfortunately for it, there were only 11 UK No 1’s during 2016, meaning that the lower end of this list was always going to feature things I didn’t care for as opposed to things I actively hated. The No. 5 spot eventually became a choice between this song and Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself; Love Yourself does more interesting things so this got the chop. Sometimes ‘fine’ doesn’t cut it.

#4: ‘Pillow Talk’ – ZAYN

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Again, I don’t hate this song. I am disappointed by it though. It was the first single from a departing One Direction member, promising a new direction for Zayn as an icon and a new type of music primed to shake up the charts. It delivered on neither of those promises. The end result is something which wanted ‘to feel like a reinvention of the wheel‘ but was ‘little more than a wheel with the word “WHEEL” written on it‘. The world does not need a post-One-Direction Zayn and it didn’t need this.

#3: ‘One Dance’ – Drake feat. Wizkid & Kyla88
I don’t get Drake and I particularly don’t get this. It’s a miserable, confused, unsatisfying piece which apparently counts as a romantic club hit. I mean seriously, how are people enjoying this? That said, this got it’s position not due to it’s internal qualities but due to its effects on the industry as a whole. Firstly, it was No. 1 for 15 weeks. 15 weeks! Given how dull and contentless this track was, that constituted a complete pausing of the entire record industry for the whole spring. And because it was a massively successful record produced by one of the biggest names in pop, it was immediately followed by a lot of copycats. The result was the second half of 2016: a bloated, unmoving monolith of musicless tracks mumbled by an endless series of uncaring hacks. This song ruined pop music in 2016; culturally, it’s the worst thing Drake has done since “YOLO”.

#2: ‘7 Years’ – Lukas Graham

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My review of this song is a 3,000 word monolith of me trying to figure out if I like it or not. As time has gone on though, I’ve been able to come down on a firm opinion on it: it’s crap. I can appreciate it for it’s scale and grandiosity; what I can’t appreciate is how malformed the syntax is, how messy the lyrics are, and, most fatally, how awfully self-important it is. Even worse than this is Lukas Graham himself whose sense of ego wafts off him like BO from a well-worn gym sock, particularly given that he doesn’t have the writing chops to justify it. This song needs to get over itself, much like Lukas himself.

#1: ‘Stitches’ – Shawn Mendes

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The vapid whining of a nasal hack. Fuck it.


So that’s the shit dealt with, now onto the good stuff. Next time: the top 5 UK No. 1’s of 2016…

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Pop Song Review: “Me Too” by Meghan Trainor

Yeah, I apologise about all these Meghan Trainor posts. Blame Drake: he’s been at No. 1 for way too long now and I need something to talk about. Seriously, One Dance does not deserve to be No. 1 still.


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The problem with most current (Post-Club era) pop music is that it’s being written by hacks who are over-stretching themselves, trying too hard to be respectable, and (as a result) are writing things which they’re not suited to doing. As an inverse of this, Charlie Puth has recently written a good song by not trying to be respectable and by writing something that fits his public persona, while Meghan Trainor has finally written a good song by simplifying her work to the point where she’s actually capable of doing it.

If Meghan Trainor’s No represents a step forwards for her though, then her next single, Me Too, proves that she hasn’t improved as much as she’s progressed. You see, improvement implies that someone was making mistakes they don’t make anymore, while progression implies that they’ve stopped making old mistakes and are now making brand new ones. Meghan’s current works fit the later.

The problem with Trainor’s first album, quite surprisingly, was that her work was actually ridiculously complicated and thus somewhat out of her reach. Me Too, much like No, fixes this by actually being very simple: it’s a bog-standard brag track, nothing more, nothing less. More than that, it’s a song which requires Trainor to be a sickly egotist, something she does well. Add to this over-the-top egotism an over-the-top club beat (and note how I’ve frequently equated ego and club songs on this blog, making them good matches for each other) and you have a song which fundamentally makes sense as a cohesive piece. It isn’t over-stretching itself, it works entirely on it’s own terms, and it works within a framework in which Meghan Trainor’s personality fits. Unlike anything from her last album, there’s a genuine accusation of competence to be made here.

I really like the music too. It’s highly processed and wobbly: in short, it doesn’t sound like a Meghan Trainor song. This might sound like damning with faint praise but Meghan Trainor is meant to be a subversive figure: as such, her work should be actively trying to subvert expectations. The doo-wop sound doesn’t do that anymore (it’s too closely associated with her, and it’s not exactly like old fashioned music is rare on the radio nowadays) but Me Too does, shocking you because it’s exactly the opposite of what you’re expecting Trainor to sound like. Again, it’s a step forward for her and one that marks a movement away from the “respectable” sound of the innocent 50’s to a more challenging one.

So Me Too is yet another song that doesn’t over-stretch itself, isn’t concerned with using respectable forms and is directly tied to the singer’s personality. To all intents and purposes, it’s good pop music.

Except it’s missing one thing: a point. For art to mean something, it needs a point; if you want to speak to people, you first need something to say. Pop music has historically done even more than that though. Pop music, for most of it’s history, has been positively alchemal.

Pop music largely came around in the 1950’s alongside the invention of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the teenager (this is greatly disputable but let’s slightly bawderise the invention of pop for the purposes of what is fundamentally a blog post) and has historically been the way that youth culture has imposed it’s values and ideas on the world around it. Rock ‘n’ Roll; Glam; Punk; New Wave; Grunge; Rap – all of it is the new generation commenting on and imposing itself upon the world of the old generation. Tellingly, all represented stepping stones to a better world: Glam and New Wave were about transgressing the modern world in order to bring a more utopian one into existence, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Punk were about tearing down the modern world so it could be replaced, and Rap was about creating a media form in which black voices would actually be taken seriously. As such, a fundamental part of pop music is to critique, challenge and (attempt to) supplant the world around it. Through the power of word and sound, new worlds are created, old ones are crushed, and everything is rendered better. It’s magick.

As such, to me, a fundamental part of pop music is alchemal critique: in short, a pop song should identify a problem and then create a solution. No does that – if being hassled by men, tell them to piss off. One Call Away does that – if your girlfriend’s sad, talk to her and help. I Really Like You and Bills did it, as did Black Magic – if you’re feeling done-in, express that feeling; if sexist society is trying to repress you, actively refuse repression.

Which returns us to Drake’s One Dance, the song that doesn’t deserve to be No. 1 still. If pop needs a problem and a solution, then my issue with One Dance is fundamentally that this song lacks both (Drake has no problems because he’s in love, even if he doesn’t sound like it; and if the song does present us with a problem, then it’s the need to close the disconnect between the words and the way they’re presented, something which the song never does). Thus the reason why I’m so set against it: in many ways, I can’t truly define it as pop. It barely counts as a song to me.

To a lesser extent, the same goes for Me Too. This song has no problem because Meghan Trainor, in the context of the lyrics, is so awesome that nothing will ever be able to affect her. If the song does present a problem/solution though, then it’s the same one present in Black Magic – sexist society keeps bringing women down, so Meghan Trainor isn’t going to let it. The only problem is that Black Magic is about womanhood: when Little Mix enter the club, they represent every woman who has ever done so. Me Too has too many references to Trainor’s adoring fans, her work in studios and her general lifestyle to be about anyone but Meghan Trainor though; as such, the song’s solution to institutionalized sexism becomes that you should be a mega-successful, award-winning pop star, something which is highly unlikely to happen and, as a piece of advice, is next to useless. Plus, a large of the song is that most people want to be like Meghan Trainor and will never manage it, meaning that a valid reading of the song’s meaning would be “Society actively tries to repress you; you can’t win; so give up”. So it might provide a solution, but it’s solutions are awful.*

What this song does allow us to do though, alongside One Call Away and No, is finally define what aspects make a song good/worthwhile and what aspects don’t (as least according to the aesthetic standards of this blog). In order to be worthwhile, a song needs to do four things:

  • Use an appropriate form for it’s message, not just what’s popular at the moment
  • Work within the singer’s character and abilities
  • Work within the writer’s character and abilities
  • Identify a problem and propose a valid solution

Conversely, bad music chases the zeitgeist no matter what, overstretches the singer/writer beyond their abilities, and either has no problem to solve or no valid way of solving it. In short, pop music needs to have a purpose for existing and be written well. Is that too much to ask?

Of course, now we’ve defined it like this, there’s almost certainly going to be a large batch of songs which prove me wrong. Either that or there’ll be songs that appear which fulfil all the above criteria but which I still don’t like.** For the moment though, I think it explains a lot of my problems with Post-Club Music, and it represents a new starting point that we can build on later. It might not be an improvement but signifies a progression: it won’t make up for the blog’s mistakes of the past but at least it will allow me to go off and make some brand new ones.


* Please note that it is not enough to make a solution, it has to be a valid one. A valid solution doesn’t have to be an easy-to-achieve one though, nor does it even have to be particularly sane: it just needs to give the listener something to do which they could feasibly manage.

** Hell, I’m not convinced that my review of Stitches hasn’t already disproven me. I suppose it depends on how you define the word “valid”: Shawn Mendes’ problem was that his girlfriend’s dumped him and his solution was to be a whiny self-important prick, something I don’t consider valid.

A No. 1 Review – “One Dance” by Drake feat. WizKid & Kyla

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I don’t get Drake. He’s never seemed that dynamic to me, nor has he ever seemed particularly weighed down by personality. My sisters seem to fancy him, though I don’t know why. I just don’t get him.

A lot of the time, he sounds monotone and uncaring to me. The Motto and Headlines are particularly bad examples of this, with Headlines’ chorus in particular sounding like he’s just mumbling his way through it because he’s got better things to do. Elsewhere you have Started from the Bottom which misses out the majority of it’s plot and feels incomplete as a result, plus songs like Hold On, We’re Going Home which are just unpleasant on a sexual politics level.* I think I’m still to even hear a song of his that sounds finished to me. Why do people like him? I don’t know.

It should thus be no surprise that I like this song infinitely more when Drake isn’t rapping over it. It starts with some really interesting instrumentation, coupled with an ethereal performance by Sample-of-the-Week Kyla – then all this gets thrown away for a single drum beat stuck over Drake tiredly mumbling about something.

This wouldn’t be too bad if the dour tone was somehow justified. The song is basically about how much Drake loves someone and how much strength their relationship (and booze) gives him during his hard, tiring life. This is not an uncommon topic at the least but other attempts at the message have at least tried to sound happy or empowered, working via the idea that a song about something positive should sound positive. Instead, One Dance seems to be actively aping Cheerleader by OMI: both have Afro-Caribbean inspired music; both are implied to be set in clubs; both are about how much strength the narrators derive from their loves; both sound fucking miserable; and neither of them have music which matches their lyrics. Drake’s song is at least more justifiably tired that OMI’s is – a subtext in a lot of Drake’s songs is how tiring existence is, meaning that even the most positive things in his works need to ultimately be read as lesser evils trying to make existence better and failing – but there is just a massive disconnect in regards to what I’m hearing and what I’m supposed to be feeling.

Maybe it is this disconnect which both songs are actually about. I’ve talked quite a few times about Deconstructionist Post-Club Songs: songs designed to deconstruct club music and reveal how hollow and fragile the form is. These songs appear to be the opposite though: in both, love is the hollow lie and the music is the only thing that’s real. We’re frequently told that romance is necessary for a happy, fulfilling life; yet these songs feature characters who are so beaten by life that not even their best romances can manage to lighten them up; as much, romance is deconstructed and shown to be as hollow a lie as club music is. So what is left for us? Where do we go from here?

Alas, if this type of music has a flaw, it’s that it never answers those questions; hence why reconstructionist music is more popular in the charts, people generally preferring flawed answers to complete mysteries. And, though I’m a great supporter of deconstructionist music, this problem does plague this song: ultimately, it just sounds a bit miserable without having much of a point. What are people actually getting out of this song, especially considering how many other tracks at the moment are just like it? I don’t get it.

Am I missing something? I must be. If you know what, please let me know in the comments; I’m genuinely all ears on this one. Otherwise, I’m just stuck in the dark (apparently much like Drake’s work itself).

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* The one exception is Hotline Bling, which I really like. Drake sings it terribly, the music is little more than musak, the lyrics are problematic – yet combine all of these features together and they somehow end up feeding into each other, producing an almost Biz Markie level of wrongness which feels oh so right. The result is a nicely off-putting track that is highly interesting to listen to; I love it.