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. Welcome to Hits and Misses.
Lil Yachty, "Bring It Back"
Meredith Graves: All right, hear me out: Yachty releases the video for “Bring It Back” on Karl Marx’s birthday, right? At first it seems like an innocent throwback to prom scenes in John Hughes movies, or a moving comment on the social-justice-pink cover for Teenage Emotions. Then Yachty’s on a banquet table, stepping on and into cakes like they’ll light up “Billie Jean”–style. And for a while after this, the “Bring It Back” video intersects in many places with shots from Vera Chytilová’s seminal 1966 masterwork, Sedmikrásky (Daisies), inarguably the greatest film of the Czech New Wave. Daisies is all about teenage emotions — specifically those resulting from a life spent under the panopticon of the ailing Soviet state and the ways that constant application of pressure impact the lives of two teenage scammers, both named Marie. The film’s controversial last scene showed the Maries walking in heels across banquet tables, indulging in and destroying plates of food set out for party leaders — the same party leaders who, in real life, used the destruction of food in that scene as justification to ban Chytilová from filmmaking for decades before her death.
The references to the film are unsurprising, given the amount of criticism Yachty has received for being young and enjoying the exploration of youthful (and therefore ostensibly feminine or girlish) themes in his work — nursery rhyme, singsong, and playing dress-up. How strange it must feel to be surveilled, for better or for worse, by the entirety of culture. For Yachty to play with this imagistically — to stomp all over the proverbial fascist birthday cake, to say, “Do your worst, I’m still the prom king” — is to nod to the reality that under our current regime, artists could eventually be blacklisted from producing and releasing work simply because our president doesn’t like what they’re making.
We are, as a nation, up against a walloping bully exhibiting the incredibly teenaged emotions of jealousy or anger over people not following his specific definition of how reality should look. With this video, Yachty has posited himself as an alternative to the stagnant drilling of bureaucracy, conservatism, late-stage capitalism, and all their failings. This little boat is somewhere deep in international waters; he’s aligned with Chytilová and located himself in the nationless timeline of artistic dissent.
Though fundamentally surreal, Daisies still manages to convey an important message: That young people must be unapologetically young, with a fervor that naturally places them in direct opposition to the state (and with the acknowledgment that the feminine inherently exists in opposition to a state). For Yachty to take this on isn’t a reach; it’s natural and joyful in ways that oppressive structures could never be, in ways that stomping on cakes always will be. Stomp out the proliferation of refined sugars and fats that serve cheap, empty calories to an evermore tired working class, stomp out any ends that don’t reveal their means, stomp out pacifiers offered to this generation. There is no cake large enough to be divided equally, or sweet enough to do away with institutional racism, lack of health care, student loan debt, et cetera, ad nauseum. Yachty, acting on our behalf, is asking a hard question of the bourgeoisie: Let them eat what now, exactly?
… or, you know, I’ve completely lost it. Anyway.
Charles Aaron: I agree with whatever Meredith just said.
Darcie Wilder: Charles has a point.
Simon Vozick-Levinson: Onward, comrades.
Perfume Genius, "Die 4 You"
Wilder: I thought we weren't allowed to have beautiful things in 2017, but holy shit was I wrong. There's not one note, not one frame of this song or video that isn't swelling with beauty. From Perfume Genius's choreography — alternatively suspended back in a chair, bike-pedaling, holding a pose — to just a moment later swimming and free; to the stark lighting of an empty theater, performing on a stage for no audience but us; to the soft vocals, quiet enough to hear the nuances of Perfume Genius's tiny breaths, supported by the instruments' soothing swells — it's brimming with tension. The tension reminds me that power is in vulnerability. Lyrics like, "Oh my love, oh my / Love, take your time" — are you kidding, Perfume Genius? It's too much. Let me tap out. This is too potent.
Aaron: If the Pietà had a chilling falsetto and legendary makeup.
Vozick-Levinson: This song floored me the first time I heard it, and the next eight times, too. I'm getting late Scritti Politti, peak Prince, even a little Deerhunter. Maybe the sheerest moment of beauty in the most luxuriously gorgeous album of the year. Sometimes ceasing to exist is the most romantic vibe.
Haim, "Want You Back"
Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib: Undeniable jam. The thing I’m really digging in the two new Haim songs is how they make use of silence and space. The drums that arrive in the quiet moments are really warm and interesting. In their return, the members of the band seem to have nailed down a sound template that feels more natural to their range of skills. The harmonies resting underneath harmonies sound sharp. Their hooks, which were always infectious, have somehow become even more so. This is really going to be a fun album to listen to.
Aaron: Agree with Hanif that these new songs seem more organically like the type of music the Haim sisters really want to make and play — less busy and eager to please — though the lack of love-me-or-I’ll-never-leave-you-alone, Swedish-engineered hooks seems to bother some doubters. Face it, Haim are just not going to be the millennial Wilson Phillips (and I love Wilson Phillips). Their hooks are not instantaneous synth-soaked waterslide bops. They like quirky, sideways production and cozy, time-lapse drama. The verses actually remind me of an ’80s pop-country song like Rosanne Cash’s “Runaway Train,” though virtually all songs pale in comparison to Rosanne Cash’s “Runaway Train.” But then the chorus lite-funks brightly, with those ghostly harmonies fluttering around your brain, and I’m gone.
Paramore, "Told You So"
Wilder: I'm exhausted! At first I was lukewarm on this song, then I fell in love, then I fell out of love, then I asked who I thought I was to be asking so much from this song, ultimately landing at the conclusion that this song rules. It's not the Paramore I fell in love with: the immediacy of their ecstatic, adrenaline-pumping earlier stuff as blasted through earbuds, choruses that sounded drunk-tweeted in caps lock. But Hayley Williams has been in this band since she was a teenager, and songs like "crushcrushcrush" are probably less cute to write as a married 28-year-old. At its worst, this song feels like going through the motions, as though the band is swapping out variables without messing with the recipe for success. At its best, it feels like maturity — like Williams knows what she wants to do, and that's allowing Paramore to divorce themselves from the scene they rose from. Not in a dramatic way, but in a way similar to when you wake up and realize you can't remember the last time you bought a jar of Manic Panic or wore a band tee. I wouldn't blast this on my way back home from the house party, but I'd put it on during, IDK, a sensible post-college dinner party. This is Paramore doing Paramore, but without the ties to the ~scene~, and I'm here for it.
Aaron: As Darcie describes so well, this is an entirely new Paramore, and it’s not just Hayley Williams moving on from the emo-punk world that shaped the band and that the band has now transcended. Their steamy basement with tatty posters has transformed into a splashily colorful bungalow with bougainvillea out front. The guitar hook on the chorus is a twitchy bubblegum-prog surprise that sounds like the kind of thing an ace session dude would doodle in his spare time, and that’s no insult at all. The vibraphone blips are rad too.
Grizzly Bear, "Three Rings"
Aaron: An exquisitely lush and well-appointed soundtrack for singer-guitarist Ed Droste’s exquisitely lush and well-appointed Instagram account, which is the height of welcoming, come-go-with-me, global sophistication. Sigh.
Vozick-Levinson: I really missed this band. That lushness in their arrangements — always just enough to amaze, somehow never too much — is something few of their peers ever quite matched, and it's here, in the interplay of Droste's voice (a top five millennial rock voice!), the bright, tumbling guitars, and drummer Chris Bear's understated, jazzy fills. Not many bands were making music like this in 2009, when Grizzly Bear released their modern psych classic Veckatimest, and just about no one is in 2017, which makes it the perfect time for them to return from a five-year voyage. The soft echoes of the best song on In Rainbows are icing on a sumptuous dessert.
LCD Soundsystem, "Call the Police"
Aaron: I prefer spunky, sarcastically preening, indie-dance LCD over construction-of-meaning, alt-Bowie LCD and this is ostentatiously the latter. Does the title hint that bandleader James Murphy now bemoans the fact that he’s more the type of person who calls the police on his neighbor’s party than the type of person who has the police called on his party? “We all know this is nowhere,” Murphy croons, and I feel like I’ve been here before with him. And sneaked out the back to go visit someone who wasn’t so fucking bummed.
Vozick-Levinson: Part of the deal with even the best LCD songs is the way that James Murphy always sounds like he's a little tired of singing them. The band itself is a long-term concept project about getting older and easing into disillusionment, which makes them remarkably impervious to critical carping. He told us he was losing his edge 15 years ago — what are we going to do, call him on it? Anyway, I hear more New Order than Bowie here, and while the full seven minutes is a bit much, I wouldn't walk out of a Sofia Coppola movie with a shorter edit of this in the soundtrack.