Hello, and welcome to Radio Rants. Time to assemble, y’all.
Well, this was basically pre-ordained. Whoever rules the summer, good or bad, is basically guaranteed a walk-off hit on their next single (see: Robin Thicke), and for Iggy
Australia Azalea, that means “Black Widow”. Fun bit of trivia before we get to the song: “Black Widow” is actually the fifth single off The New Classic, and now Azalea’s doing a Super Deluxe Reissue in November with a few new tracks to get a little more life out of the album cycle. I don’t know if I should scoff at the blatant cash-in attempt, or admire the work ethic. Suppose it’ll just come down to how good the new stuff is. It’s going to have to be better than “Black Widow”, that’s for damn sure.
“Black Widow” has nestled as part of an all-female top 5 in the Billboard Hot 100 for the last month, and it’s the slightest of the bunch. “Shake It Off” and “All About That Bass” ace it in terms of catchiness, “Bang, Bang” is at least reasonably cozy all star pop, and “Habits” is flat out great. You don’t get much of that with “Black Widow”: the beat isn’t super catchy, nor the hook especially memorable, and I couldn’t tell you anything Azalea says in either of her verses. You could at least make a case for “Fancy” having some staying power (and nudging Charli XCX into the mainstream), but it’s hard to imagine anyone aside from, like, three diehard Rita Ora fans reaching for “Black Widow” in six months.
So, let’s look at Azalea first. “Black Widow” is an anti-love song; Azalea’s lover has done her wrong, she’s not gonna take it, and–hold up, this is the exact same shit she rapped about in that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it verse she had on “Problem”. It’d be easier to ignore the subject matter if there was any fire at all, but like “Problem”, Azalea’s first verse here is a forgettable bunch of bars with no particular flow or zingers in the bunch. The second verse is a little better with some more substantial lines and, more importantly, a varied flow and a kinda-clever chopped vocal break. But, like every verse Iggy’s had in the spotlight, it doesn’t make a case for why she should be there in the first place.
But, all things equal, Azalea makes a better case for her fame than hook-girl Rita Ora. Ora’s kind of like Jessie J with the talent:crossover desperation ratio flipped; they’re both competent British artists with middling careers at home that can’t take America due to lack of personality. Her song “R.I.P.” was half of a hit, but she’s never escaped her label as store-brand Rihanna. After what happened with Charli XCX post-“Fancy”, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if she had a “Boom Clap” waiting in the wings, but I don’t know how well “Black Widow” sells it. It’s a decent hook (more in a second), but Ora can’t help but sound like Rihanna the way Riri mimicked Sia on “Diamond”. The hook doesn’t have the same immediately catchiness that “Fancy” had, it’s nice but disposable.
The only place where “Black Widow” lands is the beat. The verses have the same pop-trap foundation as “Dark Horse” (Taylor Swift missed an opportunity for a bass-heavy single named “Shadow Cat” or something), but slightly faster and with a better riff over the bass. But what really makes the song work is the vamping under Ora’s hook: handclaps and a snare push louder and louder over building synths on loan from Calvin Harris. Ora matches the music as it swells, and it’s kind of hard to not be at least mildly impressed as the whole thing peaks with, “I’m gonna love ya/like a black widow, baby”
I swear that it sounds better out loud.
Actually, what’s “love ya like a black widow” mean? As much fun as it is to pretend it was inspired by some really weird Avengers fanfiction, I doubt Ora and Azalea were inspired by BlackEye. Turns out it’s about the black widow spider, who, tradition has it, devours the male in the afterglow. I kind of get where Ora’s lyrics are coming from on that front (Nothing says “I’m gonna show ya what’s really crazy” like cannibalism!), but I’m not sure Azalea got the same lesson. Instead, Azalea seems just maybe a little upset you’ve been shitty about texting her back outside hook up texts, and might come at you like a dark horse eventually, but definitely won’t eat you. Getting some mixed signals.
Yeah, this song can bite me. Azalea still hasn’t turned in a solid performance on a hit single, and her Designated Brit Hook Girl impresses less this time, too. The beat’s kinda nice, but I can’t say this is anything I can see people coming back to once its time on the charts is over. Hopefully, no pleading cash-ins take its place once that happens.