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.
Calvin Harris feat. Future and Khalid, “Rollin”
Meaghan Garvey: Guys, 2017 Future really, really, really wants you to be cognizant of the fact that Gucci is different from Pucci. (Please, if you did not get the message in “Good Dope” or in his first verse here, study the following Venn diagram for awareness: O [Gucci] O [Pucci]. Notice the lack of intersection. Thank you, Future Pythagoras.) Anyway, I am starting to believe beyond reasonable doubt that the Calvster’s Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 — a title that, much like almost everything that has happened in the past couple years, makes me pine for the open-hearted whimsy of the late-’00s blog era — will be not just Album Of The Summer good but Album Of The Year great. My spirit is ready.
Jessica Hopper: “Rollin” cracks the summer open and sprinkles it gloriously upon us, utilizing a heretofore unknown daytime-vibe Future. Like Garvey, I am praying that Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 is the revivified and merciful SoCal cruisin’ soundtrack that we all, truly, need — but, worst case, this gem is right at home between Midnight Star’s “Freak-A-Zoid” and RAMP’s “Come into Knowledge” on my next life-affirming-funk mix.
Charles Aaron: Calvin Harris gives this such a power-lounge, Zapp-synth bounce, and Khalid has such a soothing, by-the-pool voice, and Future sounds so perky, like he popped a frickin’ Adderall by mistake, that I’m gonna go out and get in my car and cruise on “85” just like the song suggests. Look for the blissed-out dude between Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, bobbing his head like he popped a frickin’ Adderall.
Simon Vozick-Levinson: Yes to Calvin's extreme commitment to summer vibes, yes to Khalid's comfortable croon, yes to Future rhyming "some Oscars" with "impostors," and most of all, yes to how peaceful this all sounds for a song where most of the verses are in double-time. When and how did Calvin Harris become the most persuasively relaxing producer in pop?
Selena Gomez, “Bad Liar”
Garvey: Damn you, Alex Pappademas, for putting this insanely apt The Blow comparison into my head, which I will never be able to unhear. (And for what it’s worth, “Parentheses” was a banger.) But does anyone else find it just a little bit hilarious how, thanks to the combined forces of “indie girl voice” and the preponderance of former rock critics turned pop critics, 2017 pop songs kiiiiinda sound a weird amount like cutesy mid-’00s indie? Sick poptimist joke or time-flat-circle: The world may never know. But, uhh, this song is bad. Sorry.
Vozick-Levinson: I'm on the record in past installments of this column as a defender of both Selena Gomez's vocals and Julia Michaels's songwriting, so none of you should be surprised that I ended up liking this song a lot. I found the "Psycho Killer" sample jarring at first, but many great pop songs need to be heard three times before fully unlocking, and sure enough, the trick worked here. The chorus is really catchy! (I'm tryin', I'm tryin', I'm tryin'...) I have no idea what the use of "serpentine" as a verb means, or what the comparison of a crush to "the battle of Troy" is supposed to signify, but I also don't care. Nor do I think this sounds all that much like mid-'00s indie — it's way more focused than that. What it really sounds like is all the other Julia Michaels/Justin Tranter cowrites on the radio in the past couple years ("Sorry," "Issues," "Hands to Myself," "Good for You," etc). Like those songs, it's a precision-crafted pop gem that's only posing as a casual sketch. And that's a good thing!
Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib: I wanted this to be a grade-A banger, but I just can’t find myself in it. I really love the idea of sampling “Psycho Killer,” but maybe not like this? The song never builds toward anything in the way that “Psycho Killer” does, and so it feels like this kind of flat, slow-rolling dirge, briefly ignited by a somewhat catchy chorus. I like where this sits in The Shape Of Pop To Come, as a dialed-down and sparse jam. But it isn’t the season for it, I think. It’s, like, 80 degrees out. Where was this when I was wearing five layers of black sweatshirts and watching the sun set at 4 p.m.?
Aaron: Honestly, what do you guys want out of 2017 pop? I mean, the naked “Psycho Killer” bass line at the start is just a fun nod to people who get it, nothing more, nothing less, and it works beautifully as a sprightly anchor to the song (which sounds nothing like The Blow, except for the chirpy-cutesy vocals, which have been a pop constant since, like, forfuckingever). Also, it doesn’t sound exactly like all the other Julia Michaels/Justin Tranter cowrites — why the backhanded love? Nor do I give two hoots about Selena Gomez lyrics, which are just puffs of sound that are consistently pleasant. And Hanif, how can you say this is a “flat, slow-rolling dirge”?! Once that little bell quickly dings and Selena starts chirping, “Oh, I’m tryin’, I’m tryin’, I’m tryin’ / I’m tryin’, I’m tryin’” (like, say, the queen Betty Boo, can I get a “Doin’ the Do” witness?) we’re off on a lovely, mid-tempo escapade that’s perhaps the most immediate, subtly catchy pop tune on the charts. I love how Julia Michaels, in particular, writes with a less-is-more swoon, and this is her best work yet. So, OK, OK, deep breath, sorry for the rant. I just feel passionately ABOUT THIS SONG!
Hopper: Please let this be the clarion call summer-pop signal that we don’t have to suffer through another summer of the ass-end of trop-house’s overstayed welcome. It’s fun but not cute, efficient, understated, a right turn into something delicate and fine-boned when many of SG’s ostensible peers out there are still trying on Intimate Rihanna Voice™ like we can’t just dial up Anti any ol’ time we like. I am with Charles, y’all can keep that bubbling thermos of haterade topped off and to yourselves.
Bryson Tiller, “Somethin Tells Me"
Garvey: I feel like every music critic is allowed a small “Sitting This One Out” list, and Bryson Tiller has been No. 1 on mine ever since I initially presumed from name alone that he was probably a leading proponent of the bro-country scene (which, as it happens, I am also sitting out). I then picked up the very annoying habit of proudly claiming to not know any Bryson Tiller songs, well past the point of probably/definitely having heard a Bryson Tiller song — which has led me to this current juncture, wherein I have spent a not-insignificant amount of time thinking about how much I don’t know about Bryson Tiller songs, which may or may not be as boring as I have deemed them to be.
Feeling that this broadcasts “I am very old” more than anything else, I decided, last week, to read some #content about Bryson Tiller’s new album, True to Self, a title that struck me as hilarious given how elusive literally any specifics of Tiller’s character have proved to be, for me. What I found was a page of album credits that included not just 17 distinct production credits but a list of 14 “inspiration” credits, which includes Brandy, SWV, Mary J. Blige, and pretty much any other relevant ’90s R&B icon you could name off the top of your head. And while Tiller is a student of the J. Cole School of Going Platinum with No Features, “inspiration” is, naturally, code for “not particularly clever sample.” All of which confirms my initial decision to Sit This One Out, because I literally cannot summon a single interesting thing to say about this deeply average song.
Vozick-Levinson: I'm not going to make an argument for Bryson Tiller's world-changing originality, but I'm also not sure that's even what he's aiming for. His music is pleasant in a generic way, and he seems fine with that. Vagueness is his essential quality as a singer and songwriter. He's not trying to be Frank or Prince or Jeff Buckley or whoever; he's trying to sell records, or get streams, and he is, and that's great for him. I guess now we know that I can't come up with anything interesting to say about this song either. The line where he attempts to explain himself to a suspicious girlfriend who's been looking through his bag ("that was in there before we started dating!") is the only slightly memorable part, suggesting a promising side gig as a late-season sitcom writer if music doesn't work out.
Willis-Abdurraqib: I’m most rooting for Bryson Tiller because he is a product of Kentucky, which is like a very large suburb of Ohio. I also thought Trapsoul had a lot of really delightful moments that did feel unoriginal — but unoriginal in a way that wasn’t jarringly offensive. It felt like a new artist trying to figure himself out as he searched for his own voice. I think I struggle with Tiller 2.0 because it seems like he’s found his voice, and his voice is still his voice trying to fit into 100 other voices. Garvey is right in that he’s never been interesting, but I’ve also never considered him entirely boring either. I found him to be interesting with exciting potential. A sophomore slump did seem inevitable, as it felt like Trapsoul was a bit above his very limited skill set. This song is clumsy in writing and execution, like he’s trying to check off boxes as he’s going along. I’m going to keep rooting for Young Pen Griffey, but he’s stumbling out of the gate here.
Garvey: Wait, wait: Pen Griffey. That’s it! The interesting thing! Good nickname, Tiller.
Aaron: He’s like the basic porn version of Drake. He's like Drake in a thong fixing your plumbing. Whether that’s something you want in your life is entirely up to you. I mean, he definitely filled a void (sorry) with Trapsoul, at least in terms of unabashed sexy grown-man R&B that's "I wanna love you down” [pause, repeat].
Hopper: I just tried to watch the video wherein he's developing prints he shot on a digital-model Nikon.
Meredith Graves: [laughs] I need a video of him at Walgreens making prints on the Kodak touchscreen.
Hopper: Also, I have to say, in the canon of R&B videos where men develop photos of women — long trope through the 1980s and early ’90s — this video does not rate.
Tirhakah Love: The most amusing thing following the release of Trapsoul, for me, was how often I was mistaken for Tiller after he blew up. We both have the Duke Basketball curly-haired high-top-fade thing going, and I’m pretty sure I mastered randomly squawking the word “Don’t!” during any lulling conversation. Doubling as Tiller may have granted me a second glance or even a free drink last year, but after listening to this unfulfilling tweet-thread music, I’m good on trying to make profiling work for me. Plus, my hair is a lot kinkier now, so the comparison is even weaker.
Aaron: For me, the most memorable Bryson Tiller moment was when people dug up an old deleted tweet in which he claimed he couldn't be nice to a woman's gay friend because, apparently, he objected to anyone with whom she talked about his penis. Or "penus," as he put it.
Graves: Because there's no "us" in penis.
Gucci Mane feat. Offset, “Met Gala”
Graves: I HAVE LISTENED TO THE FIRST FOURTEEN SECONDS OF THIS SONG SIX TIMES NOW. I was ready! I had my fist raised, prepared to headbang the drop that would inevitably follow Metro Boomin’s call sign — as it must, right? — and then, it didn’t! Wow! Apparently, I’ve been neurolinguistically reprogrammed by “Bad and Boujee” to expect a massive drop on any song involving Offset — who is wonderful, and who, perhaps purposefully, pronounces “normal” in a manner reminiscent of Gucci on “Abnormal.”
And Gucci, sweet Gucci, whom I love so very, very much, sounds like he just woke up in some fantastic hotel in a different time zone and called you first thing to tell you all about his plans, with that particular early-morning whisper and rasp. I am so excited for this record! Gucci!
Vozick-Levinson: This is Offset's song; he's still on the streak he's been on for the last 12 to 18 months, and he runs away with "Met Gala," one syllable-stacked bar after another. That said, Sleepy Gucci is a top-five Gucci mode, and his unhurried delivery makes his verse unskippable. The way he says "I feel like I'm fighting an octopus" — like fighting an octopus would be surprising, but not shocking, and ultimately just another day in the life — is a miniature marvel of phrasing.
Graves: Sleepy Gucci sounds like one of those fancy weed strains — “So powerful, you’ll feel like you’re fighting an octopus!”
Aaron: Well, according to Gucci here, he did just wake up in a hotel, actually a “palace,” but he’s about to head off to Paris, where he’ll be treated like one of the Jacksons and he’ll have four women fighting for his affections, like the aforementioned “octopus.” To hear the man laconically murder yet another Metro beat at age 37, a year after his release from a 33-month prison term, is a tribute to his fortitude and dedication to craft and how far ahead of the game he already was when he went inside. But like Simon says, Offset opens and closes this track with an intensely refined rat-a-tat that few but Gucci could coexist with and not sound bodied. The rest of the DropTopWop album is a methodically joyful bop. And, as fellow rap lord Busdriver put it on his equally joyful 2009 track “Do the Wop,” Metro’s hypnotic production plus Gucci’s relentless chat makes my tired ass “wanna do the Roger Rabbit in a bomber jacket to the polyrhythm of the soda pop fizz.”
Hopper: Offset’s flow is like a rubber bouncy ball pinging down a mountain, and then Gucci follows like slowed-up lava. The moment where “Met Gala” downshifts from fifth gear’d bon mots to confident hall-of-famer treacle is grace in motion. A delight.