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, Molly Lambert, Carvell Wallace, Simon Vozick-Levinson, Sasha Geffen, Doreen St. Félix, and David Turner.
MØ, “Final Song”
Turner: I’m #MØHive, so I hope this becomes the biggest song of the year, ‘cause we’ve done far worse as a country.
Cills: I am also #MØHive. I am really such a sucker for all Scandinavian electro pop. "Lean On" definitely changed her musical direction for the better, before she sort of had a darker, drum-shaking, Youth Novels–era Lykke Li thing going on, but "Final Song" and her other, non-stateside (why are you sleeping, USA?) Diplo hit "Kamikaze" show she's elevating her music to a brighter, more bubbly plane.
Lambert: MØ is the luckiest person of all time for inheriting “Lean On” after Rihanna passed on it. I’m with Cills on Scandinavian electro pop — they are objectively the best at fizzy pop music. Sometimes I’m just in the mood for something that sounds like a strawberry milkshake. Team MØ!
Wallace: MØ makes electro pop now, but one of her earliest songs was called "Pussy In Your Face," and that right there is what sets Scandinavia’s pop apart from everyone else’s pop. Even when its teeth are not bared, you can still feel them. There’s something extra wistful for me about the melody, and I’m pretty hyped off that little ‘80s New York freestyle beat that drops for half a bar in the middle of the chorus. It’s really kind of angsty DJ nerd stuff on a pink pop background, and that’s a pretty stellar combination for me.
Garvey: Has “Coachella” officially become its own genre of music yet? It’s long overdue.
Madison III: I've liked MØ since before "Lean On," but this has none of the bite I've known her to have. I'm starting to think that these newer pop stars have no idea how to record an "anthem." This has all the trappings, the lyrics "don't let this be our final song" should sound like Bonnie Tyler chanting "turn around," and yet … if this played on the radio I wouldn't even Shazam it. I feel like this plays in every Uber I've ridden in while I'm scrolling through my phone, absentmindedly staring out the window and wondering why the driver isn't going faster.
Nick Jonas, “Chainsaw”
Hopper: Wasn’t expecting a miracle for the fifth Nick Jonas single, but a Zayn-riffic snooze of a song that is ostensibly about getting divorced (the china, the sale of a jointly owned home, this sofa he is threatening to saw in half as relic of where they used to snuggle) is a little more of a left turn than I was expecting on his path to Leather Daddy Ken maturity.
Wallace: It’s pretty hard to buy Nick Jonas as a musician rather than a famous guy who’s compelled to record and release music as part of his obligation to fame; his songs lack urgency and purpose. The only entertaining part of the whole song is hearing Jonas say “fucking china” because it sounds like when your youth pastor drops a swear word just to show Jesus is cool, too.
Madison III: I don't know if it's general fatigue from Nick Jonas being everywhere last year, but I'm not really feeling any of the songs from this era of his. They all sound like B sides from Nick Jonas, a far superior album that I still listen to. But this goes the sleepy R&B route that Zayn did on his debut, only none of the production is as memorable. This is just a perfectly nice white boy singing a perfectly nice song about nothing.
Terror Jr, “Sugar”
Lambert: I initially listened to this because I was mistakenly promised it was Kylie Jenner singing. So my review is that if this were Kylie Jenner, it would be surprisingly decent, but for actual musicians it’s meh.
Geffen: As far as anonymous electro pop trios with two dudes and one girl go, Terror Jr are pretty toothless. They don’t have the adrenaline of Chvrches or the sumptuousness of Wet or PC Music’s high-gloss irreverence. The vocals sound cramped, the beats are limp, the hooks are nowhere; this is 2011 SoundCloud debris that’s been scrounged up to sell lip gloss.
Turner: On paper, PC Music–lite is perfectly fine to me, but I have to agree this doesn’t quite work. The production isn’t twisted enough, the lyrics not quite winking enough, and, honestly, the song just isn’t sugary enough. Left-field pop needs to almost become a right turn to be unique in 2016.
Cills: It’s as if a dude on a laptop is just fucking around with a vocal track but doing little to mold anything into an actual hook. When I reach for this PC Music–era bubble pop I want it to totally stop me in my tracks, and "Sugar" is just snoozy.
Vozick-Levinson: Counterpoint: I literally vibe to this shit so much. LOL JK, that's a quote from a YouTube comment on this song. I don't like to begrudge other people's pleasures, so I'm glad someone out there is vibing to this shit so much, but I'll take a pass. This sounds like what PC Music's harshest critics said PC Music was, like someone spent long nights in the lab crafting a fake PC Music song based solely on their interpretation of a mean tweet from 2014.
Wallace: Nothing happens in the chorus that isn’t happening in the verse and that’s just, like, failure at the pop 101 level. Given Kanye and Tyga are regulars at the crib, Kylie Terror Jr should probably know better. This is not much more than wallpaper behind a lip gloss ad: pretty and moody without actually having feeling. However, thanks to Simon bringing up PC Music, I just watched the Glosses ad mashed up with Hannah Diamond’s “Hi” as the soundtrack. Woah.
Garvey: But honestly, Terror Jr is what PC Music dreams of being: a pop group born inside a lip gloss commercial. Although, after hearing this and taking a deep dive through their Twitter account, I’m not entirely convinced Terror Jr isn’t a high-concept repackaging of Karmin after picking up a habit and starting to say, “It’s lit.”
Popcaan, “High All Day”
Vozick-Levinson: Is Popcaan getting high all day because he's sad that Drake cut him from "Controlla"? This song is pleasant in a sweet, sleepy, hazy way, which feels appropriate. I hope it's a big summer hit. I hope Drake hears it and feels bad — not, like, "Marvins Room" bad, but a little bit bad.
Lambert: This song is exactly what it sounds like when you have actually been high all day and all night and it’s not even that fun or exciting — you’re mostly just sleepy. The whole problem with Wake and Bake is that you then have to Stay Awake and Bake.
Wallace: Once, my brother and I woke up on this really hot, sticky summer day and we smoked, like, a blunt each. Then we decided to pick up these girls we knew and for some reason go to the Maryland State Fair. So we smoked another, like, three blunts in the car. Then we ran out of weed and we copped from this dude my brother’s girlfriend knew. He had this dog that kept humping my leg and lived in this apartment where everything was covered in leopard print and dog hair, and he was really into Mobb Deep and kept yelling about how Mobb Deep was mad slept on. He was from Belize. And then we smoked a few more times, and I rolled a regular joint at a gas station, and we were laughing at how small regular joints are compared to blunts, and this girl kept saying they're like weed tapas. We finally got to the fair and it was cool, but this kid threw up on the Ferris wheel and they had to stop it for mad long and we couldn’t stop laughing at the top. When we finally dropped this one girl off at her dad’s in Alexandria, Virginia, we got pulled over and locked up for possession. It sucked. It was mad hot. Wait, what was I saying? Oh, yeah. This song doesn't have a hi-hat. A lot of songs don’t have hi-hats anymore. That’s dope.
St. Félix: Oh my god, Carvell. Anyway, more so than some of the other collaborators Drake has shafted, Popcaan will be the most all right. He's been all right — fucking huge in the West Indies and internationally — for a minute now. I'm personally more into his slow wine love songs about pussy adoration, like "Naughty Girl," but, for sure, let's introduce this video into the canon of iconic black stoners.
Play-N-Skillz and Daddy Yankee, "Not a Crime (No Es Illegal)"
Turner: Not quite a BANGER, but certainly still a banger. The music video with all of the models, light, and reflective gear posits this song as a BANGER, but it just doesn’t quite hit the mark. Fun, but not fun enough; good, but not quite good enough. If we gave out letters, it’d be a “b” that really should be “B.”
Lambert: I looooooove Play-N-Skillz and I think this is fully a banger! B for Banger! B for “Beep beep!” That chorus is velcro. This song makes me long for summer, and I usually hate summer, but maybe the 110 degree heat won’t be so bad with a popsicle and this blasting from my car.
Wallace: I agree it’s a medium banger. I feel like in order to achieve full BANGER there has to be a moment where you’re like, “Oh my GOD!” It faithfully does all the lowercased banger stuff you need it to do. Which, now that I think about it, kind of describes Play-N-Skillz's whole catalogue: consistently reliable, never bad. The old sweater of club jam producers.
Garvey: Perhaps this is a lowercased banger, but it reminded me to listen to Kia Shine's “Krispy” — produced by Play-N-Skillz — on this fine afternoon, so I might fondly bump that up to BANGER status.
Vozick-Levinson: This song goes — I'm with Molly — but mostly it reminds me of my longtime dream that Play-N-Skillz someday join forces with Poke & Tone to produce a comeback single for Kid ‘n Play. Pen & Pixel can do the cover art.
Madison III: I've never listened to a song before and been like, "You know what this needs? Pitbull." But this song could use Pitbull. He knows how to take a mediocre banger and turn it into a dance floor anthem. Daddy Yankee has given us "Gasolina" and I'm not sure I've ever wanted more than that. He's certainly not making a case for himself on this song.
Brandy and Jenifer Lewis, “In These Streets”
Lambert: Let’s make this the first song debuted on Instagram to go No. 1 in these streets.
Wallace: Now this is a BANGER.
Madison III: Brandy has been running these streets for a hot minute, but with Jenifer Lewis at the wheel this is straight fire.
St. Félix: Can we take a minute — nay, a day, a holiday — to celebrate Jenifer Lewis? She's undeniably killing the funniest role on television right now, that of Ruby on ABC's Black-ish, and has displayed real versatility in both dramatic and comedic performances for decades. And now this. And the fact that it's a harmonizing session with queen of my teenage heart, Brandy? Man. Like, they hang out? Somebody needs to invite me. Leave it to these legends to bring the thinking face emoji to life. Say it with me — I don't want nobody fucking with me in these streets!