When the stars and planets align, MTV’s writers and critics assemble to weigh in on new hotness, chart trash, and glimmers of hope in the pop-music landscape. This week’s roundtable includes Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, Hazel Cills, Charles Aaron, Tirhakah Love, Meaghan Garvey, and Simon Vozick-Levinson.
DJ Khaled, Beyoncé, Jay Z, “Shining”
Aaron: There's a loop — a clipped Beyoncé insistently asking, "Is it…" — hovering above "Shining," a bright and bumptious track that'll sound great in my car long after I stop stewing about Adele turning her George Michael tribute into a death march and caucasianally heisting Beyoncé's Grammy for Album of the Year. Bey's voice dips and slides while Jay flexes effortlessly; they've never sounded so comfortable on record – successful, superstar partners and parents. There's no fuck-the-haters vibe, just a breezy calm. Then, on the outro, the loop resolves, and Bey completes her question – "Is it good enough?" – expressing the struggle we all endure to be happy with ourselves. It's a victory lap without the victory, but here, everyone wins.
Willis-Abdurraqib: It could be the fact that I heard this directly after the Grammys and in a very real time of need, but I really love how bright and exciting this sounds. Jay Z's verse sounds more comfortable than his recent verses have been. It's not a particularly good verse, but it's one where he sounds like he's not trying hard to be who he was, which is maybe the limit for what we can expect out of Jay Z now. I am, however, growing a bit Khaled-weary. I appreciate his work ethic and the rate at which he's producing. I also appreciate that he's really milking his moment. But I would dig a version of this with less Khaled.
Vozick-Levinson: It stung a little to hear Beyoncé say "all of this winning, I've been losing my mind" at the end of a night when she should have done a lot more winning than she did. Then again, Grammys aren't everything. The happiness expressed in every bar of this song feels so bountiful and uncontrived: "All of this good, I don't feel bad for it / When you see me smile, you can't be mad at it," she sings, which is as good a shorthand as any for why she's the most beloved pop star of her generation. I find Jay's verse endearing, too, especially when he talks about sending a hypothetical son to school in his Roc-A-Fella chain. If everyone's going to call him "dad rap" anyway, he might as well embrace it. He sounds like he's having so much fun that I'll even forgive him the extremely dadly 21 Savage pun.
Love: I'm not terribly sure Beyoncé expected to win big at the Grammys this year — there had to be a reason she read her beautiful speech for winning in a secondary category the Grammys conjured to placate black musicians, creating a moment that felt much larger than a W. Maybe in a month it'll be easier to listen to this track; for now, it's a haunting contrast to her tearful face last Sunday as Adele and Faith Hill recruited her into Mammy-ship. But Beyoncé, who, honestly doesn't need a Grammy to legitimize her place in the kulcha, assures us that she's "smilin' for a whole 'notha reason." Between her wildly successful and growing family and her indelible artistry, I'm inclined to believe her.
Jamiroquai, "Cloud 9"
Vozick-Levinson: Am I wrong to love this song? It's so smooth and glossy that it verges on muzak, but there's something soothing about that in these days of constant chaos and virtual insanity. Maybe I'm daydreaming of a wrinkle in time leading back to the 1997 VMAs, or maybe I just miss the Bee Gees. Either way, I'm weirdly unable to resist this chorus.
Cills: I also like this song? But I also unapologetically love disco ... and I guess Jamiroquai, in this moment?! Post-"Get Lucky," this isn't the most original reworking (then again, neither was that song, so, whatever, history repeats itself for eternity). But I appreciate the no-fuss simplicity of "Cloud 9." It somehow sounds like it could have come out in 2001, but also today. And as someone who's had The Only Kylie's album Fever on repeat all week, I welcome this.
Love: It's not as catchy as "Get Lucky" or even Drake's "Hold on, We’re Going Home," but the song is decent! Jay Kay's voice is smooth in the cut and doesn't waver into pretension or aimlessness like the aforementioned tracks did at times. Though I usually dig my funk-inflected dance vibes to be a bit dirtier — more aligned with P-Funk than Earth, Wind & Fire — his relatively clean vocal presence here isn't overt enough to distract from the synth bop.
Garvey: Oddly enough, I think I like this more than "Get Lucky." Daft Punk inspires a different reverence for me, so their pivot toward explicit wedding-party grooves had me a little wary. Being a little less familiar with Jamiroquai's catalog, it's easier to appreciate this for what it is — deeply uncool, illogically joyful disco, presented with zero irony. I can't hate on that!
Aaron: This is exactly the sort of inoffensively upbeat dance-pop sung by an aging white R&B Lothario that would be a wise sidestep/comeback for Robin Thicke — so I was like, sure, let Jamiroquai return from wherever they've been for the past two decades to be this year's stand-in. But not long after, I started to get a sinking feeling, and I Googled "Jamiroquai" and, of course, up came stories from 2010 about Jay Kay's obnoxious behavior on X-Factor, where, unprompted, he crassly insulted Kylie Minogue's younger sister, Dannii, and fellow panelist Cheryl Cole. FTW.
Yumi Zouma, “She’s Electric”
Aaron: There's plenty to like about Yumi Zouma's wistful indie disco-pop, and I'm totally onboard for their wistful indie disco-pop version of Oasis's entire What's the Story (Morning Glory)? album (due out in April). But this only goes halfway there, deleting the "disco-pop" part of the equation. Hopefully, for the rest of the record, they take off the metaphorical parkas and shades and get a bit more frisky.
Vozick-Levinson: "She's Electric" has one of my favorite Noel Gallagher hooks (even if he did nick it from The White Album), and I love what these sleepy Kiwis have done with it. Their cover sounds something like if Slowdive ran into Oasis at the Creation Records holiday party and they both got trapped in a Rip Van Winkle-style hibernation cave (but, like, a really chill cave with lots of distortion pedals). It has almost nothing to do with right now, but as I've already made clear, I'm more than happy with songs that sound like '90s Britannia this week.
Cills: Yumi Zouma has been an underrated, favorite group of mine for awhile. They do what I've come to personally call "ASMR pop" — whispery, low-key synth-pop alongside acts like Tei Shi and Wet. Anyway, the point is, this is certainly a departure for a band I'd never associate with "noise." But it works! And what a funny idea, too, to cover an entire Oasis record.
Willis-Abdurraqib: I think we're maybe at the point where folks have cooled on Desiigner enough to get a fairer assessment of his skill set and his limitations. For a moment, it felt like "'Panda' is a good song" was shifting into "Desiigner is a great artist," and that's not entirely true. He has a lot of infectious, frantic energy, but really nowhere to consistently place it. That leads to tracks like this more often than it does tracks like "Panda." This song is fun enough, catchy enough in the hook, and definitely more enjoyable than anything since his breakout hit, but it's also a lot of noise in a small area. It's claustrophobic and a bit of a racket. But I imagine it'll sound good coming out of car speakers. That's about the most I think we can expect out of Desiigner for the immediate future.
Garvey: Yeah, this song gives me the same low-grade anxiety as a cluttered desktop. It just seems so disorganized, like three song ideas spliced into one. Mostly this reminds me of Roscoe Dash and Soulja Boy's “All the Way Turnt Up," if it got jaded and started dabbling in prescription pills. I wish the best for the guy, but my gut tells me Desiigner's moment may not be carrying over into 2017.
Aaron: Desiigner slayed me on both "Panda" and "Timmy Turner," where his manic, barely decipherable growls and blurts and slurries of syllables arranged themselves into songs that felt simultaneously epic and absurd. He was a slippery, enigmatic kook who also produced an all-time madcap performance at the BET Awards. But I agree with Meaghan, this song’s like a handful of half-baked ideas strung together randomly with only the championship-fight synth-blare holding it together ... until it doesn’t.