No introduction today!
5. Taylor Swift – “Style” & Tove Lo – “Talking Body”
I debated for a while on how to place these two before finally putting them together because I like them about the same.
That, and they both cover similar territory as warm-blooded songs about saying “fuck it” to consequences and going with a fling. “Style” remains one of 1989‘s best songs, driven by a throbbing synth and tight guitar, and the song still feels cohesive whenever it adds any extra backing vocals or additional keyboards. The song’s “reflecting that moment” lyrics are Swift’s bread and butter, and she knocks “Style” out of the park in terms of performance, too, giving it just the right amount of smolder to pick up where the lyrics leave off. But, she also imbues the song with a tinge of regret; she knows this is only temporary, giving “Style” some consequences. 1989 left a mixed impression overall, but I was glad to see “Style” was a single.
Tove Lo’s “Talking Body” hits the same beats, but in a different way. Last year, I called Tove Lo’s Queen of the Clouds “1989 on HBO”, and nowhere is that more apparent than “Style” and “Talking Body”: instead of Swift’s “Tight little skirt”, we’ve got “If you love me right, we fuck for life”, and instead of sunset synthpop, “Talking Body” is built on chilly clubpop. It builds tension with a nice loud/soft dynamic, and its killer chorus is less about constant propulsion than a gyrating rhythm. After last year, I got nervous that Tove Lo was going to be one of those artists who gets a fluke sleeper hit and disappears, so I’m happy “Talking Body” made it. Now, go listen to “Moments”.
4. The Weeknd – “Can’t Feel My Face”
Who would have thought a sellout move would give us one of the year’s best singles? “Can’t Feel My Face” is the most clear-eyed The Weeknd has ever sounded (and it’s still about being strung out!), and Max Martin’s disco production is ridiculously tight. The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) makes great use of his lower register for the chorus, and his strut is only improved by that snaking bassline; so long as people look past the lyrics, you could even play it at a wedding. Beauty Behind the Madness isn’t made of “Can’t Feel My Face”s, but I’d argue that makes this song and it’s success a better thing. The Weeknd still wants to be The Weeknd, but he’s not afraid to write a pop song while he’s at it. We all win.
3. Jidenna ft. Roman GianArthur – “Classic Man”
Would it surprise you know that Jidenna is part of Janelle Monae‘s Wondaland collective? Like Monae, he’s a charismatic, genre blending, past-meets-present-makes-future artist with a defined look he near refuses to step out of (for Monae it’s black and white, for Jidenna, that “Jamie Foxx at the end of Django Unchained” look isn’t limited to “Classic Man”, that’s just how he dresses). And, like Monae, his material wouldn’t work in lesser hands; “Classic Man”‘s dirty secret is that it’s a “stunting on everything” rap banger with barely any rapping on it. The beat lifts from Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”, but the energy from the performer and the production justify it (plus the lift gave Monae the chance for an outright sick burn on Azalea); Jidenna makes the whole thing work through sheer force of personality. Gotta give a shoutout to the Kendrick remix, too.
2. Selena Gomez – “The Heart Wants What It Wants”
One of the common knocks against Selena Gomez is that she comes off as nondescript and doesn’t bring a lot of personality to a song. That’s a criticism I’d lob at something like “Come and Get It”, but it holds no weight against “The Heart Wants What It Wants”, a painfully genuine electro R&B ballad that’s her best song to date. It’s about staying with someone when everything you know and feel is screaming this is a terrible idea, but you can’t pull away because your heart says no. The song’s structure does an excellent job selling this: the verses and prechorus run through describing ways someone’s hurting, and surmises “There’s a million reasons/Why I should give you up”, and the chorus flatly states “But the heart wants what it wa-a-a-a-a-ants” (Gomez’s heart has a bit of a stutter). On one level, it’s a slick little chorus, but it’s also incredibly effective as a rebuff to all the reasons why she should leave this asshole who makes disappointing albums. The heart doesn’t need to justify itself. “The Heart Wants What It Wants” is an honest, affecting song with a great mood and great performance from Gomez. It’s the sort song she only needs to do once, but it’s important, nonetheless.
On a lighter note, congrats to Selena for being the second artist to pull a Ranting About Music Worst/Best double in the same year (T.Swift did it in 2013)!
1. Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk!”
Sometimes, you just hear a song and think “That’s it. That’s gonna be the one”. “Uptown Funk!” came out last November, and when I didn’t see it make 2014’s year-end, I hoped it would maybe hang around for a few weeks in January or February so I could include it for this year.
Some fourteen goddamn weeks in a row at number one later, that hope seems like hoping The Force Awakens is a modest commercial success. “Uptown Funk!” ran away with the charts this year, and for good reason. It’s immaculately produced, Bruno Mars owns the shit out of it (Mars has always been a Michael Jackson wanna-be; his percussive, through the teeth delivery on “Cuz Uptown funk goin’ give it to ya!” is him nailing it), and those horns are impossible to resist. A lot of “Funk!”‘s greatness comes from Ronson’s ability to build to a moment: while the song’s is thrilling throughout, those last thirty seconds are sheer joy, and you can practically hear fireworks going off when the song cuts off. “Uptown Funk!” was number one on the charts, and it’s number one with me, too.
Listmas 2015 Schedule
December 16th: Favorite Albums
December 17th: Worst Hits (10-6)
December 18th: Worst Hits (5-1)
December 19th: Best Hits (10-6)
December 20th: Best Hits (5-1)
December 21st: Favorite Songs
December 22nd: Year in Rant: Odds and Ends