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 Hazel Cills, Meaghan Garvey, Molly Lambert, David Turner, Jessica Hopper, Hilary Hughes, Charles Aaron, and Simon Vozick-Levinson.
M.I.A., “Bird Song”
Turner: I’m almost too much a fan of M.I.A. to say a bad thing about “Bird Song,” but this is so bad. The concept is too on the nose even for her; at least her recent Skrillex collaboration “Go Off” retained the eclectic range that her music’s always held. “Bird Song” feels like an accidentally leaked demo — one more to toss on the pile of recent M.I.A. misses.
Cills: This doesn’t just sound like a leaked demo, it sounds like a parody of a M.I.A. demo. The bird thing doesn’t land for me — maybe I’m humorless. All of AIM’s singles so far feel incredibly unpolished, and not in the cool, self-aware “XXXO” way.
Aaron: Sadly, I agree. This sounds like a discarded version of “Bird Flu” — no purpose or energy, and a potentially cool sample that ends up squawking like a kazoo stuck up the ass of an ostrich with his head in the sand. “I need more birds!” she shouts, after making every bad bird pun imaginable. Please, no, for the sake of our feathered friends ...
Vozick-Levinson: I'm glad you brought up "Bird Flu," Charles, to remind us that this isn't even the best M.I.A. song with a two-word title that starts with “bird”! Bird, bird, bird — this "Bird" is a turd.
Hopper: I imagine her sullen in a Fredbird mascot suit, her face peeking out from between the beak, strolling listlessly across a festival stage saying “bird bird bird bird wings birds flying air ostrich is also a kind of bird.”
Garvey: This reminds me of a very sad improv comedy show. “Now, I’m gonna need the audience’s help for this one. Can anyone shout out a topic for this next sketch? Anyone? Birds, did I hear a ‘birds’ from you over there on the left?” When a Diplo remix is a vast improvement on the original, something is deeply wrong.
Lambert: Oh, cool, the Hamilton version of The Enchanted Tiki Room from Disneyland.
Green Day, “Bang Bang”
Aaron: Last time we heard from Billie Joe Armstrong, he was recovering from 2012’s “I’m not fucking Justin Bieber” pill-and-alcohol trainwreck that landed him in rehab. (I know, I know, there was that whole ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré! trilogy thing, but let’s just put that aside.) But even though the lyrics to “Bang Bang” may be attributed to a character that Billie’s playing (à la “Jesus of Suburbia”), they sound an awful lot like the pop star might be having a very “fucking Justin Bieber” moment right now, viewing the world through a jaded, vaguely political, celebrity/social media filter and feeling like he has turned into an entertainment automaton who is questioning his very functionality (“Give me death or give me head!” is one unsavory rallying cry). Honestly, everything about Green Day at the moment seems like a band lost in time: Their new album’s title, Revolution Radio, doesn’t exactly namecheck the most effective delivery system for an insurgency; the album’s cover image is a burning retro boombox with prominent radio/cassette capabilities; the lyrics to “Bang Bang” reference Vietnam (as a rhyme for “photo bomb”!?); and the bludgeoning, dynamic-free, loudness-war production is a ’90s relic. Not to sound entitled, but where’s the redemptive singalong at the end of the play where we all get a free digital download?
Vozick-Levinson: A snarling pop-punk anthem about gun violence and toxic masculinity isn’t necessarily a bad idea; lord knows we're long overdue for a national reckoning with both of those American idiocies. But I don't know what “Bang Bang” is trying to say about either subject that Green Day didn’t get across more effectively a decade ago. Yes, those things suck — now what? It's never a good sign when the most obvious reference point for your new protest song is “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”
Cills: What’s so weird about this song at first listen, to me, is how anonymous Armstrong sounds. “Bang Bang” sounds like it’s by a band trying to sound like Green Day, not by the actual Green Day. Has his voice changed this much, or does it seem deliberately lost or clouded in the mix?
Turner: Hazel, you captured my initial reaction to this: Is this even Green Day? It sounds way too placid. But maybe there's more anthemic music to come on the rest of the album. The fact that I’m willing to say “Wait for the deep cuts” says something for Green Day’s musical legacy.
Hopper: As someone who live in Southern California at the dawn of the ’90s, this is pure time-machine pop-punk. Billie Joe’s voice sounds pitched up, which makes him sound young(er) — a boykid singing vaguely political platitudes (“you’re dead, I’m well fed”) and marrying them with what could read as emotional remnants of exurban discord (“mommy’s little soldier”). It feels like replication rather than reinvention. As soon as “Bang Bang” ended, I put on Green Day’s foundational document, Social Distortion’s Mommy’s Little Monster; it just made me hungry for the glorious source.
Lambert: I wanted to find something nice to say about this but then I realized that’s because it sounds like “Territorial Pissings” so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Aaron: This is absolutely nothing resembling the Pixies since Kim Deal’s not in the band. Don’t @ me! And “Um Chagga Lagga,” the previous song released from this band’s new album, was way more charmingly delirious and noisy — i.e., Pixies-ish. This sounds like Frank Black alone in the studio inhaling oxygen from a tank and exhaling a B-side.
Hopper: The ghost of Jack Palance would like to be removed from this narrative.
Vozick-Levinson: “What a waste of talent,” Frank Black sighs, like even he knows this song isn’t very good. How did the Pixies get so normal? I miss Kim Deal too, but let’s be real — she couldn’t have saved this one, either.
Aaron: Agreed, she couldn’t have saved it. But she would’ve told him it sucked.
Lambert: What is this, “Ruin the ’90s” week?
Porter Robinson and Madeon, “Shelter”
Turner: Even ignoring my personal regional bias — North Carolina stand up! — Porter Robinson’s Worlds remains one of the best EDM albums of the decade. His weightless video-game music hit upon a potent twinge of ’80s and ’90s nostalgia. French producer Madeon similarly put out a great album of exuberantly cheerful EDM tunes last year. That the two partnered up for “Shelter” makes too much sense, and so does their upcoming joint tour. EDM is heading toward a more chill house style right now, but “Shelter” is a welcome bit of unencumbered joy for late fall nights.
Lambert: I will enjoy hearing this song in Forever 21, using Shazam to identify it, and then remembering where I heard it before. That’s not an insult — I like my daytime EDM to be beautiful wallpaper that tastes like cucumber water, and this fully fits the bill.
Cills: I feel like this sort of EDM is the next tier above indie electronic acts like Tennyson and Skylar Spence (who, like Robinson and Madeon here, appreciates a good ’70s disco guitar lick). I dig it.
Aaron: Porter Robinson’s been underrated during the five years since he appeared as a 19-year-old prodigy on Skrillex’s label, and as David says, he represents EDM’s tasteful bro wing — where the exceedingly groomed DJs don’t throw lunchmeat beats at catatonic models — with a floatier, more nuanced approach that doesn’t sacrifice fun or impact. This is perhaps his most immediately pleasurable singles, serving up a delectable Parisian filter-disco cocktail with an actual French mixologist. Santé, y’all!
Garvey: On first listen, this all-filtered-everything confection struck me as cloying and a little bland, like the soundtrack to the part of a coming-of-age romance where a precocious couple skip school and eat fro-yo. But the more I focus on the lyrics, I’m actually kind of ... moved? These understated, poignant lines like “I left behind the home that you made me, but I will carry it along” make this seemingly innocuous lite-EDM ditty into a heartfelt ode to the way love keeps dead things alive. I think I’ve got a fleck of dust in my eye or something.
Hopper: The sensual wooshing of this is like being buried alive in candy sprinkles, and yet I would not be surprised to find out that this is a tribute to someone’s recently deceased grandma. Heaven is just a day rave on another plane.
Janelle Monáe, “Hum Along & Dance (Gotta Get Down)”
Hughes: I like that Monáe makes a point to time-travel with her contribution to The Get Down’s soundtrack. It’s a thoughtful homage, which borrows the title and groove from the Jackson 5’s 1973 floor burner, and an appropriate one given the ’70s anchor of Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming Netflix series, which is set just before punk, disco, and hip-hop explode in NYC. The metallic and electronic flourishes update the Motown bones of the tune in a way that feels very 2016, and while this definitely sounds like a song that belongs on a Luhrmann soundtrack — which is a good and bad thing — it’s so, so good to hear new stuff from Monáe, as we’re long overdue for a follow-up to The Electric Lady. She’s busy making movies these days, I get it. I’m just glad to hear her belting the ever-living shit of something and invoking the spirit of Michael while she does it.
Cills: I love this. It has that updated funk feel, as Hilary said — I hear a little anachronistic S.O.S. Band in there — but it also fits right into our post–“Uptown Funk” age. And that intense “this might be our last time tonight” energy takes it to another, almost rock and roll level.
Aaron: This is like Janelle Monáe channeling what Baz Luhrmann thinks a Janelle Monáe tribute to Michael Jackson should sound like. And in that sense, she nails it.