Hits And Misses: Empire’s "All Nite," Nick Jonas's Problems, Maxwell, And K-Fed's Comeback

Our critical roundtable disembowels the hits of today and tomorrow

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, Jessica Hopper, Charles Aaron, Carvell Wallace, Alex Pappademas, Sasha Geffen, and Molly Lambert.

Bear Hands, “2AM”

Pappademas: Probably not an East Coast answer to Father John Misty’s more site-specifically disillusioned “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow,” but you never can tell. This is a middling, MGMT party pregame anthem about waiting for the man long enough that you have time to think about whether or not you’re too old to still be waiting for the man; it didn’t do a whole lot for me until the bridge, which brings in a key change and a moment of clarity (“What I thought was possible don’t seem / Possible no more”), both as fleeting as a gulp of nitrous.

Aaron: This makes me wistful for 2007, when sofas full of drug-addled, Brooklyn-by-way-of-Wesleyan party crashers were getting wistful about their post-boho quarter-life crises and making adorable synth-rock mini-anthems about those exact same feelings! So, for me this song seems almost 10 years late, but every micro-generation deserves their own soundtrack to blearily stare into the mirror after waking up from a night of not-so-cheap highs and tawdry sex and ask themselves, “Shit, did I pay the dealer?” For a more 2016-appropriate song I’d recommend PWR BTTM’s “Dairy Queen,” which addresses arrested, aging lifestyles with much more panache. I mean, they drink beer out of a sippy cup and fuck shit up at Disney World. Let’s go out with our cocks out, am I right?

Wallace: This is a legitimate throwback to urban trucker-hat bands like Weezer/Cake/Fountains of Wayne and I can’t figure out if that stuff is back, or if these guys just haven’t bothered to let it go.

Hopper: I can’t not hear this as some pseudo-Cake covering rough draft Courtney Barnett, for lo, her influence is evident with every wordy indie white man currently clutching a Jag-Stang repro. While “2AM” hardly ranks in the Saturn Return reckoning canon, it does a good job of recycling the sentiment of the first verse of Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” into a hardy five-minute song. Also, it has me thinking of Garvey’s coinage from last week, "introvert anthem," as this sits well within the last year's crop of I-hate-this-party songs. That epic bridge in lieu of a chorus kinda sold me.

Geffen: As a newly 27-year-old depressive, I appreciate the specificity of this single, even if it sounds like what The Dandy Warhols were putting out when I was 19. Megan Boyle once wrote something about how age 25 is this turning point; before you’re 25, things seem like they’re going to be OK, and after 25 you’ve lived enough to know that nothing is going to be OK and very few things are actually possible the way you thought they’d be possible. By “nothing is going to be OK,” I mostly mean “everything is much harder than you could ever have imagined as a teen,” and that seems to be the realization that Mr. Bear Hands is wrestling with here. At some point, your chemistry gives in and even the expensive uppers aren’t worth disrupting your circadian rhythms. You’ve got records to make, taxes to do, late capitalism to contend with; time to start getting up with the sunrise and meet your grind.

Lambert: The exact sound of all of the downs and the uppers that keep making love to each other. Why is everything suddenly so nostalgic for the 2000s? I was there and they were TERRIBLE. Also a lot of good movies come on cable TV at 2 a.m. This song sounds like a spilled beer: refreshing, wasted, and a little bit sticky.

Garvey: It’s become clear that the reason these guys are so over parties is that their parties are clearly terrible. Seventy-five percent of the function is covered in neckbeard and you’re making everyone hold up signs when they’re just trying to drink their Miller Lites. It’s not exactly laying the foundation for 2:30 a.m. orgies, Bear Hands.

Empire Cast feat. Yazz, Serayah, Jamila Velazquez, and Yo Gotti, "All Nite" (Yo Gotti Remix)

Madison III: On the one hand, this song slaps. If I heard this at the club I would probably spill my drink by swaying to it. On the other hand, in the context of it being an Empire song, I have no idea why both of these girls are on this song except for the fact that it solves the "beef" that they have in this episode. They put in less vocal work than Michelle Williams on a Destiny's Child song.

Pappademas: The most memorable Empire song of the season so far is “Good People,” the keep-your-head-up ballad Hakeem and Jamal wrote for Andre after Rhonda’s accident and subsequent miscarriage, because it allows us to imagine the deleted scene where Hakeem turns to Jamal and says, “Yo, this track is fire, but do you know what this song about our brother’s dead baby needs, fam? A SEXY SPOKEN-WORD BREAKDOWN, that’s what,” and then jumps in the booth to spit one. The second most memorable song is whatever song Hakeem’s girl group Mirage à Trois were rehearsing in the scene where they’re struggling to nail the choreography for an upcoming appearance on NPR’s "Tiny Desk Concert," because unless you’re going to meet the high standard of fierce hip-hop dancing set by Jeff Tweedy and Ben Folds, you best keep your weak shit away from NPR’s tiny desk. This is another Mirage à Trois song. It’s fine. Have we come to a consensus about whether or not Mirage à Trois are supposed to be good? They totally sound like a girl group half-assedly Svengali’d by a teenage rap mogul preoccupied with Shakespearean familial rivalries and the Oedipal affair he’s having with an older, married lesbian fashion designer, but I’m not sure that’s on purpose.

Aaron: My attention wandered until Yo Gotti comes in talkin’ that shit: “She gon’ back that ass up like a iCloud.” Love that dude. But in the context of the show, I guess this is a strong follow-up to “Drip Drop” for Hakeem. And no, I can’t believe I just wrote “this is a strong follow-up to ‘Drip Drop’ for Hakeem.”

Garvey: “Back that ass up like a iCloud” fits into my theory that Yo Gotti has devoted his late career to the unpacking of digital nihilism. He outlined his acute Instagram addiction and erratic serial following habits on “Down in the DMs”; now he’s in the club but his mind’s drifting to cloud storage. I feel you, man! Anyway, this is the best “Back That Ass Up” interpolation I’ve heard this year, but the other one was on Iggy Azalea’s “Team” so, you know.

Wallace: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing.” The beat slaps, though.

Nick Jonas, "Champagne Problems"

Madison III: I'm not sure what the problems are in this song. Is he calling his love woes "champagne problems," meaning that they're superfluous? Or does he take the phrase "champagne problems" literally and mean that he can only solve his problems with champagne? Confusing phrase usage aside, this song kinda goes in. It at least bangs harder than his song with Tove Lo, and I'm glad Nick's serving us the antidote to Zayn's sleepy album. I wasn't really even expecting new music from Nick this year, so this seems like a welcome treat as the summer is almost upon us.

Pappademas: Sham Jason Derulo for my fake friends.

Wallace: Making Jason Derulo the icon of realness is just downright crazy, and yet not entirely wrong, for these are the days in which we live. Jonas doesn’t reach as far out of his zone as he did on “Close” and that’s good. It was hard to buy deep, art house Nick Jonas. Much easier to take sensitive club bro Nick Jonas. He’s best when he’s precisely as passionate as he is bland and that’s this song: A masterwork of pedestrian electro-pop with an off-the-rack club hook that works just fine.

Garvey: I am willing to die on this lonely hill: Jason Derulo put out a better R&B album than The Weeknd last year. Selling a hook like this requires Derulo’s unique lack of personality — his essential paradox! But as a reprisal of Nick’s “Jealous,” which had a point of view (if kind of a douchey one), this feels a little halfhearted.

Hopper: “Oh, you were drunk, Zayn? And doing it with a model? Well I was blacked out and fuckkkkkkin'. In the club. On champagne. PS: MY NECK.”

Aaron: It’s strange to say, but “Jealous” may have been Nick’s ceiling. His latest stuff makes me think Justin Timberlake is a Stevie Wonder mid-’70s genius, and that’s not something I would ever choose to think on my own. Or maybe I just like Nick’s softer, fake-R&B pop over his harder, hot-bod pop. “Close” was a little closer to the former than the latter and it had Tove Lo, so advantage “Close” for me. Here, he and his lady are breaking up again so they guzzle bubbly and take off their clothes but it still feels wrong and they still keep drinking. Nick’s voice sounds likably pliable but the throw-every-synth-gimmick-at-the-wall, Auto-Tuned chorus is ghost-of-Dr. Luke overkill, and that’s some bad boogie these days. I need a drink.

Kaytranada feat. Anderson .Paak, "GLOWED UP"

Madison III: This is a fucking delight. It has a casual party vibe that almost reminds me of some old school N.E.R.D joint, plus the video! Kaytranada is getting a shape-up while holding a snake. I not only want to hear this all the time, I want to be his best friend.

Pappademas: Did anybody else watch this video — especially the part where Kaytranada is handed and then eats those sandwiches — and expect it to end with an “it was all a crazy Ambien dream” reveal where Kaytranada wakes up having eaten a pile of fresh hotel washcloths? Just me? Cool. Either way, I enjoy this song and Kaytranada’s “Sandwiches? DON’T MIND IF I DO” face very much. Acting is reacting!

Aaron: I love how Kaytranada patiently lures us into the spare, off-kilter beat and then bathes us in sunny synths while Anderson .Paak lyrically blisses out all over the place. The chorus is all joy and the twinkly singsong outro is all love. Cool like a backyard sprinkler.

Wallace: I’m really glad I watched this video and heard this song. I have much more faith in music than I did five minutes and five seconds ago.

Hopper: The last few months have offered a buffet of .Paak cameos and features and I keep wondering: When do we get the one that ramps him into ubiquity? This lovely song brings us closer to the brink.

Maxwell, "Lake by the Ocean"

Aaron: Maxwell’s so far gone in romantic rapture that he’s crooning in tongues about geographically bizarre scenarios: “lake by the ocean,” “beach of a forest.” And that falsetto sends shivers. “Everything is lust,” he whispers matter-of-factly, which almost sounds vulgar considering the delicate care he takes with every element of this song. Nothing is overblown, no begging or moaning or issuing lascivious commands — just the classiest, most unhurried cleansing waves of lust you’ve ever experienced.

Lambert: “Lake by the Ocean” > “Cake by the Ocean,” but I mean, duh.

Wallace: This is an apocalyptic slow jam, abstracted, slightly frayed, and very single-minded of purpose. All the neo-soul elements are intact, but there’s this amazing thing with the way the drums are programmed where the crash cymbal doesn’t ring out but stops unnaturally short, giving the subconscious impression that this whole thing is beyond human and that Maxwell’s love is so powerful that it has transformed him into some kind of R&B cyborg whose prime directive is to love you down. I love how long he keeps us suspended from the bridge, and I love the kaleidoscopic looping of the final choruses. This song is amazing and it will be super useful in helping us repopulate the world when we are living among the trees after The Third Cataclysm.

Madison III: I mean, you listen to Nick Jonas and his Playskool R&B and then you listen to this. Maxwell is never here to play with you hos. This sounds like a slowed down Chic song, and those '70s chords were already enough to get you off. Maxwell is taking his time here. This is the Kama Sutra of music.

Hopper: This album cannot arrive soon enough. I like that this sounds like it could be from the sessions for the last album, for I am not interested in an evolution of Maxwell, just simply summer 2016 soundtracked by breath-on-your-neck grade R&B.

Kevin Federline feat. Crichy Crich, "Hollywood"

Pappademas: All Press Is Good Press Dept.: Paper Magazine wrote a tweet about this song calling K-Fed a “sentient Von Dutch hat” and he retweeted it.

Wallace: I guess he took “sentient” as a compliment? Maybe he thought it was a derivative of “sensual”? (Also, Sensual Von Dutch is now our new DJ collective.) You know what’s odd, though, is that he complains about Hollywood when he is clearly the only one keeping himself here. This is a man who, as of this writing, has a mere 4,000 Twitter followers to show for a nearly 15-year celebrity run. He’s almost a savant of being disliked.

Pappademas: “Been killin’ shit for like 10 years” [citation needed].

Hopper: K-Fed clearly took “No More Parties in L.A.” personally. I am loathe to cop to this, but in my commitment to editorial diligence I wound up watching an interview with K-Fed about this song and the video, and y'all will be heartened to know that after stepping away from music, this marks his return. To music.

Garvey: And yet, upon a quick Twitter audit of Crichy Crich, a stunning 74 percent of his 128K followers are real! The first thing that comes up when I google him is a Bro Bible exposition on the time Crichy got Tara Reid’s name tattooed on him after getting wasted with her on a flight back from Ultra. (That time, mind you, was not 2002, but last year.) O' brave new world!

Aaron: For some reason, when I watched this for a second time, I was reminded of Shifty Shellshock from Crazy Town on Sober House Season 2 and got sad. But then I read Carvell’s and Alex’s entries and started laughing uncontrollably.

Madison III: I thought Kevin Federline was in an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? if we're being completely honest. The fact that he is real and recording "music" in 2016 is honestly a larger sign that nostalgia can be a truly dangerous thing. You missed Aaron Carter? Well, he's a Trump supporter. You found the dude who recorded "PopoZão" mildly amusing? Well here he is. And he makes Iggy sound like she could slay every MC on "Get Money."

Lambert: Yeah, shout out to this video for destroying any residual nostalgia I had for the Britney and Kevin: Chaotic years. The past belongs in the past, perhaps.