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 Jessica Hopper, Meaghan Garvey, Hazel Cills, Doreen St. Félix, Charles Aaron, Carvell Wallace, Meredith Graves, Simon Vozick-Levinson, and David Turner.
Rihanna, "Kiss It Better (Kaytranada Remix)"
Vozick-Levinson: I love Kaytranada and I love "Kiss It Better," but I'm not sure this was the right song on Anti for him to remix. So much of the original is about the smoky '80s romance in Nuno Bettencourt's riffs, and I kinda miss that here. I'd way rather hear Kaytra flip a stoned after-hours groove like "James Joint" or even a chill banger like "Work." (Please, someone, tell me I just used the phrase "chill banger" correctly. David? Anyone?)
Graves: When Kaytranada's 99.9% came out, “Glowed Up” actually took the place of “Work” as the song I listen to on repeat when I’m getting ready to leave the house, and it’s stayed in the top position since. So, if Kaytranada happens to be reading this, can I just … put in a request for a “Work” remix anyway? Maybe with Anderson .Paak in place of Drake?
Turner: Simon, this is def a chill banger. Not a complete turn toward the mainstream — instead, Kaytranada brought “Kiss It Better” into his more house-twinged world. The oscillation between the verse’s soaring M83-like '80s keys and the old-school house drop for the chorus is an interested reimagining of the track.
Aaron: A “Work” remix with Anderson .Paak would def be an extremely chill banger. But this might be Kaytranada’s quintessential remix, at least at this stage of his career. He gently yet totally transforms the song, bringing a portfolio of ideas to each section, subtly rearranging the structure, adjusting the flow and repeating points of emphasis, coloring and shading at the margins, easing us into a sublime, peak-hour, house bliss-out. Oh my lord, to hear this on one of those womblike, state-of-the-art sound systems. Ahhh…
Hopper: As someone who loved and lived to Anti but feels like “Kiss It Better” is like being dragged into the gaping maw of early '90s MOR rock, this Kaytranada reimagining that is all summer sunlight and headphones godliness is a blessing to our playlists and dance floors and hearts that seek the salve of Rihanna Rules Everything Around Me.
Wallace: The magnetic force of Kaytranada is stronger than Rihanna's — he drags her into his world, rather than the other way around. His vision is so strong that even someone as singular as she is becomes a piece in his larger game. Comparing this to the original is a fool’s errand. It has to be different because Kaytranada gonna Kaytranada. His whole trade is imbuing club records with uncharacteristically complex chord structures, which explains why he found so much to mine in the original. I love the way he warps it, especially that second pre-chorus, with its competing melodies splashing over one another on a drumless background. The result is an idgaf-ness of Madlib-ian proportions. Kaytranada is good for music.
Pusha T feat. Jay Z, "Drug Dealers Anonymous"
Vozick-Levinson: Yes, Jay Z ends his verse with a "Damn, Daniel" punch line that he delivers like it's some kind of Flex-bomb mic drop, and no, it's not quite as clever as he thinks it is. But it's better by a wide margin than every other "Damn, Daniel" joke I saw retweeted a few months ago, including the original "Damn, Daniel" Vine, because "Damn, Daniel" was never funny! It's a terrible, boring meme! Do better, America! Wait, where was I? The rest of Jay's bars are some of his coldest in years, but Pusha outdoes him with a succinct tragic couplet: "America's nightmare's in Flint / Children of a lesser god when your melanin's got a tint."
Wallace: Yeah, on the one hand, the “Damn, Daniel” line is decent. On the other hand, it’s not worthy of a mic drop and would have been more potent appearing somewhere in the middle of the verse. On the third hand, the middle was busy being taken up with this man rhyming with “foyer” for seven straight bars, so a little respect for Grandpa Jay is probably still in order. Pusha T’s flow really shines at this tempo, and this is the kind of Brooklyn summer, drug tale, mood track that’s beginning to make a comeback. I wonder how long until someone drops a Jadakiss collab.
St. Félix: Jadakiss’s Top 5 Dead or Alive was great and precipitated the revival of the New York Sound we’re hearing now. It’ll always be funny to rag on Jay, but I am sincerely fascinated by how he negotiates his status as rap statesman and patrician, and how Pusha affords him the space to release a statement on that newfound status. It’s a status that wasn’t supposed to be: black male rappers living to approach middle age and then accrue actual wealth wasn’t a relevant boast 20 years ago — the point was that they were endangered. But now we’re here — Jay’s going to be a billionaire and Pusha T is at the White House talking to Obama about My Brother’s Keeper. Jay’s clearly feeling confessional and introspective lately. Hope there are more features and maybe even releases to let us in.
Hopper: This is the first 2016 instance in which Jay’s “what it was like, what happened, and how it is now” retrospection feels like it fits the song. Perhaps that’s owed to Pusha’s peerage, but that’s burying the lede: King Push cannot come and repo our Summer ‘16 soon enough.
Aaron: After Watch the Throne, Magna Carta Holy Grail, and assorted duff features, this might be Jay’s most comfortable, effective evocation of his absurd life as an ex-coke boy moving among the landed gentry while minions frolic on the inflatable water slide attached to the yacht floating off Monte Carlo. The world is really yours, Mr. Carter. To me, instead of a bell-tolling moment that finally reveals Jay as permanently washed, "Drug Dealers Anonymous" allows him to sound velvety and regal, reclining into the creaky, haunted-mansion beat. Pusha T is Jay Z’s peer in life experience and as an MC, so he challenges Hov in a way that few others can. The results are majestic.
Jesty Beatz, "No Love in the Club"
Hopper: This song has been my obsession for the last week, mainly for the way it sort of peels out, accelerating into the curves of the song: He’s 42 percent too angry and too fast when he squeals “then why you in here?” like there is another motive for this drunk woman being in the club, before he lays on her the truest truth to ever be spoken in the vicinity of the dance floor: “No 'love' in the club.” It’s a plaintive declaration, and he sounds like someone who was rudely disabused of that notion himself, a hard decade ago. In this song, the club is a viper pit where people are consumers or the consumed, where feeling good feels like earning money. Leave it to a Cleveland-regional phenom to issue such late-stage capitalist realism.
Aaron: The minimal, melancholy edge of the beat reminds me of an early Chicago acid-house track like Adonis’s “No Way Back,” which also feels trapped and hollowed-out and slightly mad, with the spooky synth-bass line stabbing and stabbing and stabbing. I love when dance music like this gets inside your body and mind and freaks your shit out.
Graves: Given that the only "club" I’ve been to in Cleveland is Now That’s Class, I can say with some certainty that Jesty Beatz is speaking truth to power. You won’t find a diamond ring there. Maybe an onion ring.
Wallace: Jesty. Who hurt you, bro??! Jessica is right that this comes off as the broken and grizzled veteran smacking a wide-eyed rookie out of their childish reverie. This “No love” sentiment flips R&B tropes on their heads because it’s not a brag about how heartless he is, but a bitter complaint about how heartless everyone is forced to be. Musically speaking, I love that he doesn’t waste our attention with an intro, because the beat is so spare it would lose impact if we had to listen to four bars before the vocals started.
Cills: I love this. I will say, the beat is definitely a more minimalist version of the beat from Bey's "Partition," but his Auto-Tuned, hurt declarations make the song. There's something about that lack of intro that's so weirdly jarring, like he's slamming the door open on you the minute you press play. Like, oh shit, tell me what's up. The whole song is so chilly, it's great.
Garvey: This makes me imagine what kind of powerful music T-Pain might have made during his “Sadness of T-Pain” era. That part at the end, where he says he wants to live in a town called Stoicville, where “nobody has emotions and everyone minds their own fucking business.” I think Jesty might want to hang out there, too, and it’s fantastic.
Death Grips feat. Les Claypool, "More Than the Fairy"
Geffen: This is more Primus than anything Primus has put out in the past decade and a half, spiritually speaking. Les Claypool on blues bores me. Les Claypool as a texture on noise rap? Sign me up. I’ve missed hearing his unmistakable slap bass on weird and aggressive songs; he’s basically become your favorite hippie uncle in his middle age, which is probably great for him but boring for me. Death Grips are Claypool’s perfect foil in 2016, bringing back the deranged energy that haunted him back in the ‘90s but that he’s since outgrown.
Graves: Ahhhhh. Yes. Please envision for a moment me rubbing my hands together greedily like Mr. Burns. I need a good joke that conflates "I woke up like this" with "I woke up to a new Death Grips song," or maybe just a movie montage where I’m getting made over like Brittany Murphy (R.I.P.) in Clueless except with No Love Deep Web playing in the background. Just when I’ve concluded that "Hot Head" and "Spikes" have proven once and for all that Death Grips is the midway point between Pissed Jeans and Mindless Self Indulgence, they circle back on a peculiarly avuncular pre-existing creative relationship and make me question my assumption that they hold any allegiance to hardcore. Maybe next time they could get Gabby La La to rap instead of pitch-shifting MC Ride.
Aaron: There aren’t many things you can imagine that would make Death Grips sound more maniacal, so respect to Uncle Leslie’s furious slap and tickle. As usual, I feel silly thinking about genres and other bands and the usual critical/contextual song-and-dance when listening to Death Grips — they simply grind it all to dust. Ecstatically.
Ariana Grande, "Into You"
Turner: Ariana “EDM Superstar” Grande is probably my favorite Grande next to Ariana “’90s R&B Diva” Grande. Where many pop stars in the last few years cannot stand up to the overdramatics of pop-EDM, on “Into You” Grande doesn’t sound a bit drowned out by the synths and bass. Long live Grande, long live electronic dance music, long live love.
Aaron: Grande EDM Arianaccino, please! Thanks to Max Martin’s Swedish House Mafia, our pop princess writhes and poses and emotes while synths growl, bass throbs, and America’s Next Top Male Model touches her perfect body with his mind. Of course, the fetid world outside soon may be devoured by bloodthirsty, reptilian hybrids, but Ariana’s career path is aglow. Follow her into the light, children. Follow her into the light.
Wallace: Ariana is possessed of such outsize talent that she works well in many genres, but Summer Park Dance Jam may be my favorite.
St. Félix: The Pop Star Who Can’t Dance used to be a rarer creature. Unless you were M*riah C*rey, you were hitting those pops and locks, so as to not look like a seal in front of the dancer phalanx performing with you. Not so with a huge swath of today’s class (with the impressive exception of Tinashe and, obviously, Beyoncé). I fully appreciate Ariana Grande moving away from the forced choreography into the realm of slightly saccharine narratives, like she does in the video for “Into You.” This is what Meghan Trainor should be doing. The “Into You” visual, a hair-whipped tale of forbidden love, is The Bodyguard lite styled by an emphatic mall rat. A pop star is nothing without her visuals, and ironically enough, the example of Carey should be of future use to Grande. You can put out all the pure dance tracks you want and not dance so long as you kill a vocal and vamp ... with your hair down.
Garvey: This is my favorite song on Dangerous Woman, and I’m 99 percent sure I saw her video costar vaping the last time I was in L.A.
Ruth B, “Lost Boy”
Turner: I kept waiting for the drop. A bit misguided, as the video just features Ruth B alone at a piano — still, where is the drop?! Well, without a drop, this is a fine puts-one-to-sleep-while-driving-alone-on-the-highway kind of ballad that is about Peter Pan ... ?! But won’t someone make this into a deep house track? Please hit me on Twitter dot com @ _davidturner_ when such a track exists.
Cills: I also kept waiting for the drop! Just anything to elevate this dreary, stuck-on-the-piano song. So apparently Ruth B is yet another singer who began her career making songs on Vine and "Lost Boy" is based on a very successful short Vine song of hers. I have to say, the seven-second clip is way more promising than the full-length end result. At least the original has a little quicker pace to it; her voice is doing something more interesting.
Wallace: This is literally what would happen if Pinterest became sentient and released a single. But then millions of people are made happy by their Pinterest accounts, so who am I to judge?
St. Félix: Somebody should send this to John Green. Our culture’s great anthropologist of suspended childhoods would love it. Hell, make a new Peter Pan movie and make this the feature song.
Aaron: All is lost.
Angel Olsen, "Intern" (trailer)
Cills: Angel Olsen's trembling, biting folk rock has always reminded me of outsider artists like Vashti Bunyan and Sibylle Baier, like Olsen is a mountain-dwelling artist from the '70s whose recording we're only now just hearing through reissues. On her last album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness, her heartbreak and her rage felt like it had reached a new level of intensity, backed for the first time by a full band. Angel Olsen had finally become a full-blown rock star. Which is also to say that this new song is a new direction for her. The metallic wig certainly makes it clear, too. The minute those twinkling synthesizers hit, I realized, Oh my gosh, there's no guitar on this, and the whole song has a light dream pop sound to it that reminds me of Julee Cruise (or even Lana del Rey!) Everything about this jaded little track packs what feels like a lifetime of harsh living, like Olsen's a lounge singer living out in L.A. doling out hard truths to newcomers looking to make it big in the industry. "I don't care what the papers say, it's just another intern with a résumé," she sings to that young reporter. Whatever Olsen's next moves are, if it sounds like this I'm totally onboard.
Hopper: Oooh, this. “Still gotta wake up and be someone” — I am imagining this as anthem for Khloe Kardashian, someone who is saddled with a too-public narrative of seemingly seeking love. (Someone please kut some #KUWTK footage of her in extreme slo-mo to this track for maximum effect/art school admission.) If this is the nu-Angel direction, this could be on my top 10 for 2016. It really maximizes all she can do as a vocalist and a writer; it feels very right now even for its '80s references.
Vozick-Levinson: The thing I remember best about the Angel Olsen show I saw in 2014 is the silence — spaces between words and notes when she held the whole club in suspense, waiting for the next emotional blow to land. This feels just like one of those moments of eerily powerful quiet, only there's music playing. When she went up to a higher vocal register at the end of the last verse, I felt chills.
Aaron: Regardless of whether she’s surrounded by acoustic country-folk warmth or electrified punk force or digital synth frost (like here), she seems to stop hearts and time and everything else with the delicately terrifying honesty in her voice. And Hazel, she’s a huge Twin Peaks fan, so you may be on to something with Julee Cruise. And Simon, the last time I saw her, she did the same thing to a full theater. The quiet was lethal. I can see her singing one of the crushing lines from this — “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do / Something in the world will make a fool of you” — and the whole place being stunned into silence.