Every week, MTV’s writers and critics assemble and weigh in on new hotness, chart trash, and glimmers of hope in the pop music landscape. This week’s roundtable includes Ira Madison III, Meaghan Garvey, Hazel Cills, Jessica Hopper, Doreen St. Félix, Charles Aaron, Molly Beauchemin, Carvell Wallace, Alex Pappademas, Simon Vozick-Levinson, David Turner, Sasha Geffen, and Adam Fleischer.
Babeo Baggins feat. Drake, "Things I Forgot to Do"
Cills: This song makes me think Drake has painted, like, a dozen Richie Tenenbaum–style paintings of RihRih. Also the pitch-perfect style of his vocals is kind of weird? He sounds too smooth, too synthetic. I feel like this is maybe a lost Glee number or something.
Geffen: I’m seeing Drake stepping off that Green Line bus in a fur coat while Luke Wilson looks at him longingly for, like, 45 seconds of slow-mo.
Hopper: Chillwave Belle & Sebastian. Not what I expected from Babeo or anyone Barf Troop–adjacent, yet totally what I expect from Drake. This is Drake™.
Vozick-Levinson: Yes. "These Days" is all about world-weary ennui as a performative pose, which makes it the perfect song for Drake to assist in covering. Listen to the sad snowman singing a passive-aggressive folk song for his exes and shed a single icy tear. He's not doing too much schemin' on the low these days, just getting deep into Nico and thinking about what might have been. Sounds about right. I can't believe he skipped the last two lines of the song, though – is "Don't confront me with my failures / I had not forgotten them" too Drake for even Drake himself? I hope he does "I'll Be Your Mirror" next.
Hopper: That he refuses to acknowledge or even to introduce the prospect that anything he has done has been a failure doesn’t surprise me at all, even if it’s someone else’s sentiment. Ultimate emo Drake move is a vulnerability play that is anything but. This is also the song you start covering when you go solo after your years in a modestly successful emo hardcore band. Maybe he’s prepping us for the tender abyss of Views.
Geffen: Actually, now I’m seeing Drake stepping off the Green Line bus in a fur coat while Drake looks at himself longingly for like 45 seconds of slow-mo. Just mentally recasting The Royal Tenenbaums with Drake as every character.
Cills: I seriously just remembered that Drake was on Degrassi and now my Glee comment isn’t even a dis.
Geffen: Poor Jimmy. Seriously though, the Auto-Tune on this is freaking me out, like it’s a 21st century way of re-creating Nico’s all-natural vocal imperfections that lend her rendition of the song so much warmth. Half of why the track works so well is its tone, which Drake obliterates here. I’m getting Uuncanny-valley vertigo listening to his take.
Wallace: This song only works if there’s an edge to it. Otherwise it’s too maudlin, too precious. Nico sang those clompy flat notes in her thick accent which gave her the perpetual vulnerability of a kindergartener. Jackson Browne – who wrote it when he was 16, FFS – had that husky, salt-of-the-earth grit to his voice, cutting against the poetry of the lyrics and rendering them all the more potent. Drake’s got nothing to cut against the poetry. Also, his replacement for the lyric "Don't confront me with my failures / I had not forgotten them" is “I sit inside a chauffeured car with windows down and count the stars” … I’m afraid I can’t help you, bro.
Aaron: Jackson Browne as a 16-year-old wrote like a 30-year-old and Drake as a 29-year-old acts like he’s 16, so I suppose there’s a maturity symmetry to the whole thing. I just wish he’d disrespected the song more, made it more shamefully full of shit. More Drake. As is, it’s twee Netflix and chill.
Pappademas: Glad somebody finally mentioned Jackson Browne and his preternatural teenage world-weariness. This Drake version is a weird punchlineless joke if you read it through the prism of Nico, but it makes total sense if you think of it as a once-removed Jackson Browne cover, because Drake basically is our Jackson Browne, a super-handsome guy singing about what it’s like to be a super-handsome guy with lots of feelings. That said, in terms of non-Nico renditions of this song, the one on Gregg Allman’s first solo record still owns.
Madison III: I love literally everything Aubrey does, but this song is just sort of there. I don't know why it exists. I don't want him to be our Jackson Browne, I want him to be Andy Gibb. When Drake gets saccharine like this, I want him to at least have fun. I want there to be some bells and whistles with the slightest hint of melancholy. This is a vanilla ice cream cone on a mildly warm autumn afternoon.
Aaron: By the time the pedal steel solo comes in on Gregg’s version, it’s over. I always imagined that he was actually singing about his brother (who’d passed away recently). I imagine Drake singing it to his business manager.
Beauchemin: The syrupy-softness to his voice is just so on-the-nose. It’s too much. It’s too Aubrey, too High School Musical. Mostly because you can just tell that this is really close to the chest. He’s singing in the shower and all of us are watching.
Garvey: Begrudging moment of sincerity here: I hope Babeo Baggins, whose Love Songs Ffor Tough Guys project was the intended home for this leak, gets her dues, hokeyness aside. She’s a lot cooler than a hobbit-themed name or tenuous Drake connection might suggest.
Lil Kim, “Summer Sixteen Remix”
Vozick-Levinson: Drake covers "These Days," Lil Kim covers "Summer Sixteen" — please tell me this means Jackson Browne has to cover "Big Momma Thang" next.
Wallace: Lil Kim sounds like she’s been rhyming alone in a cave at the top of a snow-capped mountain wearing a hooded robe and sleeping on a straw mat every day since La Bella Mafia. She sounds at home in the verse, which is not something most rappers from the ’90s could say right now. For new fans she’s just good, but for old fans it’s nice to hear her close to the mic and natural.
Hopper: Sounds like someone woke her up from an eternal rest to do this, Kim Van Winkle style. She sounds so casual.
Beauchemin: The fact that she says her haters are “not trill enough” is alone enough to demonstrate that she has no idea what year it is.
Pappademas: Surprisingly fire, although I wish she’d taken the opportunity to claim she has a bigger pool than Foxy Brown.
St. Félix: Kimmy Blanco doesn’t need to know what year it is, though. It’s always her year, in her head. Self-assigning the crown of rap’s elder stateswoman has meant for her some imperviousness to trend – ”Summer Sixteen” was so trendy, it was forgotten, like, two days after it dropped – but the result is, thankfully, not nostalgia? I like the aloofness. Who else can so slickly rattle off Usher, Toni Braxton, and Nino Brown a whole generation after their relevance?
Aaron: She kills this. I don’t know how many takes it took and I don’t care. She’ll never have a hit again, but she can still flow like the “female Don Dada” on a good day. Respect.
Madison III: She did kill it. I love her flow; she'll never lose that. I just wish anything she ever rapped had a sense of urgency to it. Like it matters beyond trying to top her own record on the PayPal charts. What does Lil Kim have to say right now about being an aging rap diva? She'll always be the soundtrack to my sexual awakening, but now she raps like she wants to soundtrack the nights I sit at home and flip between porn and Hulu.
Turner: I’m not sure why people keep insisting that Desiigner sounds like Biggie on this song, but I’ve really grown to like this track the past couple of months. A couple weeks ago, I got off a train and teens were blasting the song off a phone. Shortly after that I passed a few dudes freestyling over it a few blocks from home. Once a song is inspiring that much joy in people it must be doing something right.
Vozick-Levinson: David, I'm going to get you a Troll of the Month trophy for your heroic ongoing efforts to deny Desiigner's desiigns on sounding exactly like a certain friendly fire marshall. But who cares? Jay Z used to rap like the Fu-Schnickens, and look at where he ended up. I'm not saying Desiigner has a Blueprint or even a Dynasty in him, but "Panda" is better than "Hawaiian Sophie" for sure. Writing a hook as catchy as the one on this song is an impressive enough flex for me. I trust the good doctors of G.O.O.D. Music to help him figure out the rest.
Garvey: I felt close to nothing about this song until it sent Cool NYC Rap Twitter Bros into the most frantic hot-take tailspin since the “Wolves CDQ” caper of Q1 ’16. Now my troll side has awakened, so I will be joining David in #DesiignerHiive. Get Desiigner on the fast track to the designated “industry plant” slot on the next XXL Freshmen cover and let’s call it a day. Meanwhile, there’s a Young Thug doppelganger called Kyng running around who just dropped a tape literally called Slime Season 3. Let Desiigner live!
Wallace: This beat is entirely unoriginal and still very hard, which is precisely what makes you want to freestyle over it. Desiigner’s voice sounds cool as shit over this beat – but so would a lot of other people’s. This is a song just simple enough to get people hyped to death, and that’s good enough for me. It’s spring.
Fleischer: This dude's energy cannot be contained, and it comes through here. It's also something that's been evident whenever he's performed this song — which is impressive, since that’s a ton by now. He does it every time like it's his first time, like he's got a ton to prove (which, granted, he does). I have to go back to a word David used — "joy" — because it really is an apt description not just for how people feel when this comes on, but how Desiigner seems to view his current moment, and I think those play off of each other. Only time will tell if President Pusha can help him ride this momentum toward consistency, but if there's a music video with lots of dancing pandas, I think that'll help.
Aaron: I agree with Carvell. The beat is a familiar, straightforward, very hard and clear version of stuff we’ve heard a thousand times before – but that’s often what constitutes a mega-smash, especially when you add a young MC with such a free-flowing, eager-to-please voice, even though the lyrics are like trap-inspired flash cards. On a basic level, too, the image of a black-and-white sports car being called a “Panda” is just way fucking cool.
Madison III: I kept expecting to hear Kanye rapping on this track, which is when I realized I've never actually listened to this besides the sample on The Life of Pablo. I don't know that Desiiiiiiiigner is destined to run the rap game, but maybe this will always live on in party playlists like J-Kwon's "Tipsy." And honestly, J-Kwon must be hella paid right now, so do your thing, man.
Maren Morris, "My Church"
Aaron: I really wish the video didn’t start out with the multi-ethnic, garmento-fantasy, TV-commercial choir clapping on the church steps while the rebellious Southern white youth stubs out her cig and breaks free from repression. Can I get a “FUCK YOU!” Of course, we can always count on Country Music Inc. to reify every retrograde racist, regional, cultural cliché in the Good-Meaning-Bad Book. Otherwise, as radio-redemption songs go, this is an 18-wheeler of pseudo–holy rollin’ down the highway, with the windows open and her $600 haircut flapping in the breeze. Hallelujah, pop-country that namechecks Hank Williams and Johnny Cash! Maren, for her part, has charisma to burn and you can detect a trace of uniqueness in her maxi-tracked vocals. The guy who co-wrote this with her – some dork named “busbee” – also cooked up hits for Katy Perry, Pink, and Kelly Clarkson, so a truckload of grains of salt are required to take this one home.
Madison III: I'm not really that religious, so she can have the church if she wants it so badly. I'm more interested in this busbee character, who's written latter-career songs for so many of my favorite artists (Toni Braxton, Shakira, Pink, Christina Aguilera, Backstreet Boys). But they're the forgettable songs you'll never listen to when you think of your favorites. This sounds like one of those songs – but it's Maren's debut. Oy.
Magic! featuring Sean Paul, "Lay You Down Easy"
St. Félix: Hmmm. At least Sean Paul got a check for this.
Madison III: Sia gave him a check last month for her "Cheap Thrills" remix. Is a Sean Paul renaissance upon us? If this is what it takes for that to happen, then, uh, I guess.
Aaron: This is gonna be a hit. There have been songs like this in every decade I’ve been alive, and I’m an old. Dude should be wearing a captain’s hat drinking a piña colada down at the marina because it’s straight-up Yacht Rock. Jon Caramanica had a great line in a review of a Magic! show back when they were touring behind “Rude” (which was a No. 1 or 2 single at the time): “Are there five more worrisome words in the world than ‘You guys like reggae music?’” The Magic! guy actually said that, which no reggae group would ever say, unless they were wearing captain’s hats and drinking pina coladas down at the marina.
Hopper: This is def this generation’s “Thunder Island,” and the singer of this band def looks like Fievel the mouse.
Turner: I'm not saying that mediocre music is cosmic karma for all America's transgressions, but what else explains this song?
Wallace: There are no winners here.
Cills: There are tears welling in my eyes at what Charles wrote because now I know, for the rest of my life, I will never be able to escape white bros making shitty poolside-resort-band reggae music.
Garvey: Official corporate memo: Reinstate Cribs strictly to tour the lead singer’s climate-controlled beanie cellar. This little number is one of his more laid-back, “chillin’ with Sean Paul” beanies, but then there’s his formal beanie collection, like the special occasion beanie he wore to his wedding in the “Rude” video. You’ve got to give it up for Magic! for having maintained this thread of consistency since their big break in ’14 with their dedication to passive-aggression: from “Why can’t I have your daughter for the remainder of her days, bro?” to “Let’s fuck, with minimal effort!”
Vozick-Levinson: I just want to draw everyone's attention for a quick sec to the line where the guy from Magic! says "I feel like Robert Marley." Sorry – Robert? WTF? Is this dude a time traveler or a cop or something?
Garvey: He just sang “Let’s smoke some vapor” so I’m going to go with cop.
Wallace: Retraction: “Let’s smoke some vapor” is when I turned it off. Maybe there is one winner here and it’s me.
Fleischer: This is definitely "poolside-resort-band reggae music," Hazel, which would be completely fine, if I were sitting at a pool right now. Alas, I'm sitting in a moderately comfortable office chair and, based on the past five minutes, this song might be stuck in my head until I make my way to a tropical location in who knows how long.
St. Félix: I will say that a welcome outgrowth of lobotomized North American reggae music like this is the amusing slate of remixes it’ll inspire in the Caribbean. On that note, do yourself a favor and search through soca remixes of “Sorry” for an example.
Madison III: At least now we have a song for white people to cover on YouTube that sounds like it wants to be "Work," but definitely is not anything at all like "Work."
Nick Jonas featuring Tove Lo, "Close"
Aaron: Tove Lo’s thing is that she’s got this intensely felt sexuality that she really controls (unlike, say, Britney or whomever). She’s dominant, she objectifies the man, like in that “we fuck for life” song “Talking Body.” And Nick Jonas ain’t exactly a heavyweight, so she kind of hijacks the song because her voice is more distinctive and communicates something besides, “Hi, I’m Nick Jonas, please try my product.” In the video, they rip off each other’s clothes and roll around on the floor like some sort of combat yoga verging on MMA; and it does seem like she’s rougher and tougher. She flails more. She’d gouge an eye, if necessary.
Turner: I’d have liked a bit more of that intensity you’re envisioning in the song, because right now it feels so light. If it were 2011, then the drops would be a bit deeper, but in 2016, they’re cushioned. I sort of wish the song just went full trop house beyond the few synths that hint at that in the background. Where is Kygo? This track needs Kygo.
Cills: I agree with David here. This track kind of trudges along for me; I keep waiting for it to go somewhere higher and bigger than where it takes us. That clicky pitter-patter synth beat in the background makes their voices do all the heavy lifting, and, like you said, Charles, Tove Lo is definitely doing more lifting here than Jonas. All that said, “space is a just a word made up by someone who’s afraid to get close” is a great, albeit slightly creepy, line.
Garvey: This sounds like some board room decided they needed a sexy version of that boring Alessia Cara song about not liking parties. What happened to the Blogwave 2.0 vibes of “Jealous”? But if this is Nick Jonas’s underdog bid for upheaving Zayn as 2016’s reigning Hot Pop Dude, I’m with it. You could be doing a lot worse than “possibly hotter than Zayn” — big up, Nick.
Wallace: Tove Lo is an infinitely more interesting performer than Nick Jonas, but this track brings her down a bit, even as it most likely bolsters her career pretty seriously. It lands like a deep thought about love when you’re, like, 13. But even though all its edges are compressed into a kind of Target playlist/Hot Topic version of emotional intensity, the music rattled in my head long after the first listen. I hope she continues to make affecting and cinematic music like "Stay High" and "Moments," but maybe this means she’ll just hang out in L.A. trying to Katy Perry her way to the Super Bowl. As for Brother Jonas, he looks good in a t-shirt, so he’s got that going for him.
Madison III: I preferred the R&B of Nick's solo debut last year. This dips into that synth-pop that sounds like it could be sung about Jesus if you would just change a couple of the pronouns. This is SoulCycle music. It's destined to be on a playlist sandwiched between "Ex's and Oh's" and "Lean On." I liked the direction Bieber took on Purpose. I want my male pop stars to follow. Nick and Zayn are both trying to put me to sleep, and unless they're in the bed next to me, I'll pass.