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Musical Maelstrom (July '23) - Season 3, Week 26-30 (Barbie World, vampire 🧛🏻‍♂, Speak Now & more)

Hey guys, welcome back to Monthly Musical Maelstrom!

We're done with June, now onward to July, covering everything I missed covering the last few weeks, highlighting the Best and Worst song of each week as we go. You know the drill by now, let's get on with it!


Week 26 (June 30th - July 7th)

Title: Barbie World by Nicki Minaj & Ice Spice (w/ Aqua)

Position: #28

Hopefully all of you have now seen my Summer Top 20 RANKED video, so you know my feelings on this. It's about the 4th Ice Spice song in a row to use the same type of production and flow, the Aqua sample is chopped to ribbons and fed through this bass-heavy tube that doesn't let any of the original bubblegum pop shine through, and Ice Spice sounds checked out on it as always, barely registering anything noteworthy in her bored delivery, especially when placed in contrast to Nicki! It's like Princess Diana all over again, where Nicki's unique personality and flow shines SO much more brightly, arguably even more so here because they Ice Spice copies her flow on her own verse and it's so much flatter!

And look, content-wise it's the same as ever; they're awesome and great at sex, all the other girls are try-hard fakes, and they're "bad like the barbie", and it's just so basic. It's not bad, but it's also the most predictable song on the entire soundtrack, you see the 2 artists and the title, and you know what to expect. Take it or leave it, it's fine.

Title: TOXIC TRAIT by Stormzy (Ft. Fredo)

Position: #31

Haha remember when Stormzy claimed to be a changed man, above all that toxic masculinity? Well, now it's the next step to his self-analysis, asking what his toxic trait is when he's clearly so perfect. ... Yeah, his self-awareness journey seemingly hasn't got to the modesty part yet.

Still, I don't mind this. The beat's nice, reminding me more of a early-2000s gangsta rap song than anything, the chorus is pretty funny - not sure if that goat noise was supposed to make me laugh, but I enjoyed it - and Stormzy has some... interesting lines, which i can't decide whether I like or not. I mean I doubt that Greta Thunberg will cut you a break for your large carbon footprint, and I don't know anyone who'll be calling you "the black kate Bush" anytime soon. Better than anything Fredo says though, whose only memorable line might be that they call him Family Guy because he fucked her AND her sister.

Still, his flow is solid, there's a couple of nice alliterated moments, and he's matching Stormzy's energy as best he can. So overall, it's one of the better songs I've heard from either of these 2 in a while, I don't mind this.

Title: Blossom by Dermot Kennedy

Position: #40

I don't think a single month has gone by in the past 3 years Dermot Kennedy hasn't been in the conversation on the Irish charts, so it shouldn't be any surprise that we're still scraping Sonder for hits. Shame it's with such a mid one though.

This reminds me a lot more of Without Feat, his break-out album, especially with his lower register peppering the verses, which has never worked for me personally. It always sounds like he's either straining to hit those low notes or that he's just flat-out half-singing. Still, the songwriting saves this, as it's still Sonder-level poetry. It's another love song, but I appreciate the theme of growing old together, becoming intertwined and grounded by each other, until she passes on, leaving him with only the photo of her other the blossom tree.

Kind of macabre and a bit teenage and angsty, but I appreciate the genuine sentiment behind them. If only the hook or delivery did it justice... shame, really.

Title: Unknown / Nth by Hozier

Position: #55

So at the time of writing this, Hozier's Unreal Unearth is one of my most played albums of the past couple of weeks, a terrific comeback that I would place somewhere between his second and first albums, dripping in iconography and quotes from Dante's Inferno. And while I'd hesitate to call every song on the album as incredible as his self-titled masterpiece, this is certainly one of them!

The gorgeous lonesome guitar's almost playful over the faint organ backdrop and the faint backing vocals add to that loneliness in the brief moments on the hook before those crunchy electric guitars come in for just a moment, brutally emphasising Hozier's grief at being left alone. And the poerty is STUNNING! He willfully ignored all the scarlet flags as he viewed her as an angel, and now that she's gone, more so than the pain of being abandoned, alone, what really hurts is that she clearly never really knew him... because if she really did, she'd never have left. There's no way he can cope.

It's huge and dramatic, but that's always when Hozier's at his best as a performer, going from subtle crooning to an all-out cry. It's a gorgeous song that I personally feel should have closed out the entire album, and one of the best songs of Hozier's career so far. And in any other week, it would be a shoe-in for Best of the Week... however:

Title: Getting Started by Sam Fender

Position: #70

So believe it or not, this is the first time this song is charting. It was also on the shortlist of tracks that just missed my Top 50 Songs of 2021, only slightly behind his big hit Seventeen Going Under! Because this is goddamn excellent, and welcomingly, in a very different way to his biggest hit!

See, while Seventeen Going Under is about his failings as a young teenager, the very next track on the album is all about how he hits 18, and is JUST getting started. Sure, he's struggled, his old dreams failed, and he's thought about giving up so many times. But then the relentlessly upbeat chorus hits, where he refuses to be disheartened and picks himself back up again. It's a relentlessly optimistic song, even in the face of so much adversity! And if you know anything about my music tastes, it should be no surprise I'm a sucker for that message of dogged hope!

Now, i do wish the groove was a bit better established, and while the horns and backing vocals are some nice touches, I can't in good faith call this as well-produced or balanced as his biggest hit. But it's still a terrific second place, and yet another reason we should all keep our eyes on Sam Fender going forward.

Title: Doomsday by Lyrical Lemonade, Juice WRLD & Cordae

Position: #83

Okay... this is getting sad now. I know Juice WRLD was taken from us far too soon, and his fans are still thirsty for any miniscule sliver of music that's rattling around his label's vault, but the man is cold and gone, we all need to stop supporting this when it's only making his greedy managers richer! And I expected better of you too, Cordae, have some humanity!

Anyway, the song's fine. The interpolation of Slim Shady's Role Model caught me off-guard, but then Codae's corny intro ruined it by being too self-aware for his own good, especially when he then copies Em's flow. The one thing that I appreciate is that this was clearly written and partially recorded when Juice was still alive, as his flow and cadence are also pretty unmistakably similar to Em's. And sure, the content is rote and pointless, but I do like the way they sound over this admittedly classic beat.

One other issue though, this song is being pushed as the lead-off single of the debut album by Lyrical Lemonade, the blog founded by producer Cole Bennett, who has been intimately intertwined with almost everything Juice WRLD has "released" postmortem. Which tells me that he's probably one of the biggest profiteers from the deceased's career, and is has strategically kept this star-studded collaboration under wraps this whole time until he could use it for his own benefit. And that's just scummy as fuck, no matter which way you look at it. So the song's fine, but HELL NO, I'm not supporting it!

Title: Won't Back Down by NBA Youngboy, Bailey Zimmerman & Dermot Kennedy

Position: #98

Another year, another Fast & Furious soundtrack. And as someone who loves the films and usually hates the soundtracks, this might be even more pathetic than usual. A handful of tepid songs from the B-listers of the industry, thrown together on a bunch of generic, watered-down beats with no rhyme or reason!

Case in point, this song! Who the fuck thought to bring NBA Youngboy together with Bailey Zimmerman, and then thought to add Dermot Kennedy as a secondary singer to basically to the exact same thing. And credit to Dermot, he sounds better than Bailey, likely because this type of wailing is exactly what he always does, but that doesn't mean he fits the Fast & Furious vibe! At least NBA Youngboy sounds like a superstar rapper, the other 2 are just glorified hype men who somehow dominate 2/3 of the track!

It's just so tepid and boring, the lyrics are so sappy they could belong on Eminem's Southpaw soundtrack, and if you swapped out Bailey for Chris Stapleton, MAYBE this could have been a salvageable mess... but as is it's just a plain one.

So unsurprisingly, the Worst of this week goes to Won't Back Down by NBA Youngboy, Bailey Zimmerman, not because I hate it, but because it's just a bad bad song that adds nothing of value. As for Best... look, Sam got close, but it's Unknown / Nth by Hozier that runs away with it for me, one of the best songs he's released in a while in all it's subtle awesomeness.

Week 27 (July 7th - 14th)

Title: Vampire by Olivia Rodrigo

Position: #1

Look, if you've seen my Top 20 Ranked, you already know what I think of this song. It's one of Olivia's best songs to date, and hands-down her best performance, which pretty much blows past most of my critical sensibilities to appeal to the dramatic theatre kid in me. I know some people think it's annoying or over-the-top, I love it to bits, moving on!

Title: Pakistan by D-Block Europe (Ft. Clavish)

Position: #41

Whenever D-Block Europe show up nowadays, i just find myself sighing. With very rare exceptions, they tend to put out incredibly generic and basic music lathered with autotune, half-assed percussion and generally 1 or 2 questionable lyrics. And this is really no exception... but I'll admit it's not their worst.

I think I, like most people, saw the title and immediately felt a cold sweat form cover my entire body wondering what brand of pseudo-racism could follow... but thankfully aside from the chorus, it barely factors into their usual content about being rich and getting a lot of pussy. And that hook, mildly questionable as it is, is VERY catchy. Honestly, the verses are where my real questions start; I've never understood why rappers started bragging to us about women making their dicks hurt, and am I the only one who finds it weird when British rappers mention "the president"?

Still, as forgettable D-Block Europe songs go, this is fine. The production is still cheap and basic, but at least it doesn't distract from the hook, and all 3 rappers turn in incredibly mid performances. It's the definition of mid, take it or leave it.

Title: Speed Drive by Charli XCX

Position: #55

Another song I've already covered, but this one has grown on me a bit since I last spoke on it.

What can I say, Charli XCX is at her best when she's on her game like this, and as easy as it is to compare it to some of her weirder, non-charting material, Instagram has worn me down to really quite liking this song. Consider it bumped up to quite Good.

Title: Flooded The Face by Lil Uzi Vert

Position: #61

Ooooh I can't even begin to express how little I care about this.

I've never been an Uzi fan, I've never even remotely understood their appeal, and each time they chart and make a big splash around it, it just reminds me that some artists are more famous for being famous, than all that innovative or groundbreaking.

That being said, as obvious as the Kid Cudi comparison is in the droning, the low-key production on this is pretty atmospheric, and I appreciate that the bass is present, but doesn't overwhelm the mix here, it's actually really well-balanced. And since Uzi sounds pretty energised and okay over this, even despite their questionable opening lines, I can admit this is all right.

Title: Aye by Lil Uzi Vert (Ft. Travis Scott)

Position: #68

Ah see, this is Uzi at their worst. The painfully slow and meandering beat, the aggression that feels very misplaced this time, the embarrassing lines about fucking your daughter are just left in this awkward empty vacuum where you can't ignore them.

The entire song just feels like a first draft, and Travis doesn't help that impression at all, he somehow sounds both strained and like he's barely trying. Even that lone string had some potential as a foundation, but with barely anything added to it outside of some generic boom bap percussion, it falls incredibly flat.

So yeah, not good, barely a song by most definitions, and it has absolutely NO business being so long!

Title: Suicide Doors by Lil Uzi Vert

Position: #91

So based on these 3 songs, the tone I'm getting from this Uzi album is very defensive. It seems like each song is designed to challenge you, which would explain the integration of more punk and metalcore elements than ever.

The processed, gummy guitars with the lightest artificial crunch isn't as effective as it could be, but I appreciate the effort, even if I think Uzi themself is trying WAY too hard to be menacing, with all the ad-libs, the empassioned delivery on the hook, and the growling scattered throughout the mix.

Still, if you slapped this over an AMV on YouTube, I could see it working pretty well in that specific vein. And hey, I'm glad Uzi sounds genuinely engaged in what they're saying, they've got that over Gunna at least. So no, I won't call it as good as Flooded The Face, it's patently ridiculous, but at least it's interesting.

Title: Heaven by Cian Ducrot

Position: #100

For our final song this week, we're covering yet another Cian Ducrot song... but you know what, this one's actually a nice change of pace! Okay, my bar is incredibly low if I'm praising Cian for making a late-era Panic! At the Disco rip-off instead of his usual dreck, but I'm praising it nonetheless because we have more than enough wailing-Irish-guys-with-a-paino taking themselves too seriously.

And look, the songwriting still isn't much to write home again. It's directed at his sibling, who's been with him through all their shared hard times, but now seems to be in a place that Cian is really proud of. In fact, their fortune is so good that he wonders if they might be in Heaven! Again, it's corny as Hell, but I like the little details scattered across the lyrics, and the musical theatre style production is SO silly but endearing nonetheless.

It's clumsy, it's exaggerated, and the production gives strong "bull in a music shop" vibes, but compared to his worst, I will absolutely take it!

And that was our really short week, and the Best and Worst couldn't be easier for me: Best goes to vampire by Olivia Rodrigo - shhhhh no arguments - and Worst is Aye by Lil Uzi Vert & Travis Scott, for barely qualifying as a song to begin with! Sorry Uzi fans, I didn't want to do this and they came close to avoiding it, but this song is pure garbage.

Week 28 (June 14th - 21st)

Title: I Can See You (Taylor's Version) (From the Vault) by Taylor Swift

Position: #4

So of the "In The Vault" tracks to not make it big with the album re-release, this is easily the one that surprised me the most. Not because the song is great or anything, but with such a huge debit, I didn't expect it to fall off quite so quickly! Now, once I actually heard the song, it made a lot more sense, because this song does NOT work.

I know that's heresy, but Taylor's fuzzed-out delivery sounds really artificial, trying to go for this sensual, Southern country sweetheart vibe that falls entirely flat! She just doesn't have the type of voice that works in that vein like a CMAT or a Kesha, she'll always sound far too clean, especially with cooing moments that are cribbed straight from Mine. The guitar sounds fine, but it doesn't belong on this song and is really lacking some lower-end support, and while I like the lyrics fine enough, again, Taylor can't sell this brand of theatricality.

Look, it's not a bad track by any means, just very ill-conceived, I understand why it was cut all those years ago. And while I can appreciate the big push for something, by the time we got to the bridge that borrows HEAVILY from You Belong With Me's pre-chorus, I immediately said "oh fuck off" and checked out.

Title: Enchanted (Taylor's Version) by Taylor Swift

Position: #8

So to my genuine shock, this has become a HUGE fan favourite since the album's initial drop, basically THE quintessential Speak Now song. And I'm not going to lie, I don't really get why? I mean to me, Haunted and Back to December are damn near the top of her entire catalog, but somehow this is the big finisher, the song that doesn't really have a distinct chorus and meanders on for over 5 minutes?

Now, to be clear, I LIKE the song! It's very pretty, and the layered multitracking and dreamy guitar mix on this new version are really pretty! I just think the pacing's a bit off, starting out really slow, then really dragging out it's last 2 minutes, and it always feels like it's just on the cusp of bursting forth with an additional string or guitar solo, rather than these half-measures that almost feel bogged down by Taylor's voice.

Still, with the sweet lyrics that mourn a lost opportunity at true love, I can see why it appeals to her fanbase, it's universally relatable. I just think she's written SO many better songs that this one's appeal can't help but feel overblown. Pretty good song, but the 2 songs I mentioned previously, or the title track, or Mean, any of those would make more sense to me.

Title: Mine (Taylor's Version) by Taylor's Version

Position: #9

Oh-oh, oh-oh 🎵

Yeah, it took a few years, but this has grown on me a lot. Taylor's take on the "best I've ever had" trope, which is detailed really well, and honestly sounds FAR better now than it did before.

My issue with the original is that Taylor sounds far too young to be singing about paying bills, and it always used to irk me. But now, with a much sturdier mix that supports the build-up to the bridge way better this time round, and Taylor's more mature vocals work WAY better as an older woman reflecting on a past relationship that probably meant quite a lot.

Again, there are better songs on the album, but it's a clear staple of why Speak Now has stood the test of time as one of the high points of Taylor's catalog, and a terrific opener; if only for the line "You made a rebel of a careless man's careful daughter", MAN that has stuck with me!

Title: Asking by Sonny Fodera & MK (Ft. Clementine Douglas)

Position: #69

II thought I recognised you! And you too!

I've covered MK before, back on Rhyme Dust earlier this year, a song I enjoyed and can still remember, but which also didn't really stick around beyond a handful of weeks. But as it happens, Dom Dolla is also the one who introduced me to Clementine Douglas, who lends her incredibly soulful vocals to last year's Miracle Maker, a banger I really loved and appreciated throughout the latter half of 2022. So with all that positive context in mind, how did this new song turn out? Honestly, pretty damn well! I like the bait-and-switch, where it builds and builds like any standard big house song, then switching into this slapping drum-and-bass-like drop where the Clementine's really able to flex her vocal chops, fleshing out the story of the lyrics while the mix towers around her at every pivot. I don't think i like it quite as much as Miracle Maker, but that may be down to that track having more of an immediate appeal, time will tell.

In a subgenre which can often default to a very defined formula here in Ireland, something that switches it up this often is so refreshingly dynamic. Maybe it's the good influence from Sonny Fodera - Australia really has had a HUGE influence on the scene over the past couple of years, maybe Clementine's sheer power keeps bringing me back, or maybe MK really is a producer we need to be paying more attention to, but I like this a lot! -

Title: Super Shy by NewJeans

Position: #98

Speaking of drum-and-bass, here's a blend of it with liquid k-pop, as girl group NewJeans break onto the scene with a very specific sound that just so happens to be pretty huge in 2023.

It's similar to PinkPantheress, a girl-next-door innocence that is naturally cute and appealing, if a teeny bit questionable in an infantilising sort of way. Now, in her case, I tend to think she has enough raw talent to pull this off, and her brand of it feels more calculated than airheaded. Whereas I think this is just a bit too twee, where the 5 girls are just SO shy that they can't even look you in the eye. And ooh they just describe the cutest little date that's just a oh so picturesque, even though ooh you probably don't even know their name, and I'm drifting and losing focus here, sorry.

I mean it's fitting that this charted the same week as Taylor's Enchanted, because it really shows off how layered and well-written that song is, not fulfilling anyone else's fantasy but instead sounding genuinely in love and suffering more because of it. Whereas this just feels like fanservice, plain and simple.

Ultimately though, is it really deserving of getting Worst of the week! No... that's sadly still going to I Can See You by Taylor Swift for just being so massively misguided! As for the Best, I'm giving out a rare tie, because I just can't pick between the new version of Mine by Taylor Swift and Asking by Sunny Fodera, MK & Clementine Douglas, both songs that surprised me by how well they work now.

Week 29 (June 21st - 28th)

Title: What Was I Made For? by Billie Eilish

Position: #5

Billie Eilish simply does not miss. I'm not saying she has a flawless discography, but her lows are still better than most of her competition, and her highs... well, just look at my Best Hits of 2021, my Top 50 songs of 2021 or even my most recent video!

Unlike other songs from that Top 20 Ranked video, I purposefully left out most of my analysis to save it for future content. But here's a sneak peak: Billie's quivering delivery is fragile in the best possible way, singing from the point of view of a broken woman who's questioning her very purpose in life, all over a devastatingly spare piano and whispery multitracking that carries the potent earnestness into every single note.

It's a masterful song that plays on practically all of Billie's natural strengths, for all the same reasons as Your Power and more. Stay tuned for more, but for now, it might just be our best Number 1 hit of the year so far.

Title: Seven by Jung Kook (Ft. Latto)

Position: #7

Another week, another solo BTS member song. And this time it's from Charlie Puth collaborator Jung Kook, delivering, joy of joys, a love song centered around the day of the week!

Look, i don't mean to be facetious, but ever since Nines released Calendar a few months ago, this premise has really worn on me. However, despite my initial trepidation... dare I say, I kind of think this is actually decent? Maybe? Look, it's a song about how he wants to fuck you and treat you right 7 days a week, and the chorus is the worst part lof it, counting down each day of the week in the most basic, modern pop way, and it's gebuinely off=putting whenever Jung kook says "fuck", but the production is decent and the momentum of the song really carries it. Plus, both Jung Kook and Latto sound really good, and while she sounds far more comfortable than he does, that kind of works in a way. It's almost like Jung Kook is the young, inexperienced guy who's way out of his depth, but Latto's wilder, daredevil ways are pushing him to try new things, even clumsy dirty talk.

Okay, this is a narrative that's entirely made up by me to justify the song's existence, but it makes the song WAY better and a genuinely enjoyable listen. I know everyone has dunked on it, but personally, I've found my own way to enjoy it.

Title: Rush by Troye Sivan

Position: #8

Troye SIvan has grown into one of the most interesting pop artists around, all while evolving his sound to match the times remarkably well. Less a trendsetter, but more of a very consistent trend-follower who's manageed to put out a lot of great songs over the years, the 3 obvious ones for me being YOUTH, My My My! and the STILL devastating HEAVEN, still my favourite song of his 8 years later!

But after a hiatus, he returned with this dancefloor-ready banger, and if anything, the sentiment I get from this is pure joy. It's far more ready to embrace his queer side, while still maintaining a dignified poise in the vein of Perfume Genius. Just like Mike Hadreas though, he also knows how to make it a lot more explicit with subtext rather than text, embracing the rush of their bodies touching and daring this boy to hold on to this moment with him. All filtered through a pretty great multitracked chorus that I could see owning nightclubs if it got the right foothold!

It's just so nice hearing the young man who seemed so timid at first now embracing who he is to this degree, he sounds so comfortable on this. And I imagine that freedom is something he's been searching for for a long time, so glad he could finally attain it. What a rush!

Title: Oh My Johnny (Banks Of The Roses) by Chasing Abbey

Position: #36

Look, it's fine. Tullamore trio Chasing Abbey have been consistently mediocre at worst and okay at best for the longest time, and this doesn't exactly break that streak. But still, in a year where Jazzy has been dominating in terms of Irish artists, I'll take practically anyone else at this point.

And as modern spins on traditional song go, this is okay. Like I said in my video, I do think the song is lacking in momentum or any sort of proper build-up, and the "drop" is almost nonexistent. But I also acknowledge that the point of the song is the build up to the main refrain that many traditionalists already know, and it does a good enough job conveying the original story, albeit without much tonal consistency.

Very mid track, possibly the most mid of mids Ireland has produced since Dermot Kennedy's Better Days, but I can at least tolerate this.

Title: Overdrive by Post Malone

Position: #47

Post Malone's new album wasn't quite what I was hoping for based on the singles. I mean between Chemical and Mourning, I was hoping for another beerbongs & bentleys - still his best album as a whole - but it's still a return to form after his trainwreck from last year, minus an overlong runtime and some real duds in the tracklist.

That being said, this was one of the more decent tracks for me. It's NOT as good as the last 2, but I always think Post sounds good over more country-adjacent production, even if this is clearly Nashville's poppiest beat in the vault, something benny blanco might make! And I like the lyrics, where he admits he lives life a little wild, and that can be a bit much for some partners. But he's willing to change, remove his tattoos, tone down on the drugs, aaaand I don't know how healthy this sounds! I mean sure, you should be willing to compromise in a relationship, but changing everything you are sounds like a one-sided relationship that's bound to fail.

Aside from that though, the hook isn't as good as the production should warrant, and once Post started whistling, I instantly checked out, we've been over this! So not a bad song, but certainly nothing memorable either.

Title: Radio by Lana Del Rey

Position: #61

Arguably Lana's best album until Ocean Boulevard, and I've just never liked it all that much.

Now, it's not the worst, but I always feel like the lyrics are a bit too obtuse, when they're not being embarrassingly kitch. I will never feel comfortable hearing Lana's breathy "sweet like cinnamon", followed immediately by the sudden swearing, and the lkess side about "take me like a vitamin", the better! And that's a shame, because I do like the premise! There's a long tradition of artists rubbing it in people's faces once they make it big, and it's usually a very triumphant culmination of all their hard work. But here, I find it really hard to buy Lana as anything but a privileged kid without much struggle, who now had even MORE success and fame, where's the progression?!

Still, if I put aside my distaste for the odd lyrics and Lana's breathy delivery, the song is decently catchy, and at least it sounds pleasant enough. Oh, and notice I also didn't bat an eye at a 13-year-old song hitting the charts today... it's just that kind of year, and I'm resigned to it.

Title: Blue Razz by Versatile

Position: #64

Ugh, LOOK, knowing this is now Versatile's biggest hit, this puts a bad taste in my mouth by default. These 2 pricks from Ringsend have been the biggest thorns in my side since I started this blog, and I absolutely loathe the industry that gave them this opportunity.

Still, the song is genuinely not bad. The beat is dynamic and flows really well into its separate sections, the energy is undeniable, and despite the usual sexism scattered throughout the mix, i can't pretend it's worse than anything ArrDee has put on the radio, for the very little that statement's worth. And despite the chorus feeling a bit light compared to the verses, it is catchy, and saved by its disparate elements.

Despite all those positives though... again, I fucking hate these 2, and whenever I hear their voices, I tend to just skip to the next song, if only to keep my blood pressure even. Fuck these 2 pricks, the song's decent enough.

Title: Militerian by J Hus (Ft. Naira Marley)

Position: #74

I wasn't expecting J Hus to be one of the stand-out artists of 2023, but we're talking about him yet again, with a couple of songs that charted thanks to his new album. And this is probably the best one we've got so far?

I like the dark atmosphere, giving J and Naira's bars about the women in their lives a bit of a sinister, mob boss, "never ask me about my work" feel. And I do like the instrumental a lot, especially in the last 30 seconds where the horns, flutes and percussive instruments are all competing for space. I do think Naira Marley completely steals the song though, as all the production flatters him and makes J Hus feel increasingly like a poser who wandered into the wrong bar.

Still, this works for me in a moody way. not quite as catchy as Who Told You with Drake, but it's also a lot better. Does that make it more memorable? We're have to see, but for now, I do like this.

Title: Disconnect by Becky Hill, Chase & Status

Position: #47


I knew Becky Hill was striking out to do her own thing this year with the surprisingly decent Side Effects a few months back. However... I wasn't predicting this! Becky lent producers Chase and Status one of her most piercing yet energised vocal performances to date, and dare I say, made one of the most impressive songs of her career!

The problem is that I don't quite know if I like it... I mean yes, it's the most personality and energy I have EVER heard Becky Hill give to a song, but once the shock value wore off, I had to acknowledge this song is a LOT! The drum-and-bass elements are work really well, but I don't know how much I like the tone of those synths on the drop. Plus, the lyrics feel a bit too on-the-nose, with cliches about losing yourself and switching off your brain to the music, the tell-tale signs that even when Becky Hill doesn't sound generic, what she's saying still very much is!

That being said, despite my gripes with the song, I'm still a little impressed by this. I would never have thought shock was an emotion I'd associate with anything from Becky Hill, but this genuinely caught me off-guard. Great energy, decent execution, just not the best of bones.

Title: Masculine by J Hus (Ft. Burna Boy)

Position: #77

The obvious collaboration (not the first time these 2 have done so either), and honestly, I like this too. The chill instrumental, J Hus and Burna Boy have some good chemistry, the liquid electric guitar in the back of the mix is REALLY nice, and while I wouldn't call it the most memorable song in the world, it's certainly better than their last song together!

I don't have much to say about it, but it's the kind of thing I could stick on in the background and be perfectly happy with. Not much of a strong hook, it's a bit too vibey to stand out, but it's very relaxing to listen to.

Title: What It Is by Doechii

Position: #95

Sooo I checked, and both versions have seen a lot of success in Ireland, so fuck it, I'm ignoring the Kodak Black version because I don't hate myself!

Instead, we're left with the rare reimagining that is FAAAAAR better than the original. The song this interpolates is Some Cut by Trillville, also known as that mid-2000s rap song that mad eit big for having obnoxious bed springs in the instrumental. Now, I don't hate that song as much as some do, but it still earned an easy spot in the dishonourable mentions of my Worst Hit Songs of 2005!

Doechii made the correct decision by only grabbing the lyrics from the hook, ignoring the instrumental, and giving this a modern spin that honestly results in an incredibly catchy song, no wonder it blew up on TikTok and Instagram! I've heard a handful of tracks from her since her XXL Freshman debut, but this is far and away the best song that could have been pushed as a hit, if only for the mix of nostalgia, great energy, flawless mix of singing and rapping, and memorable lines.

So yeah, ending on a positive note, I really like this song. Not the most lyrically unique and groundbreaking song, but in a year where rap music has lacked a lot of identity in the mainstream, this is a welcome breath of fresh air which I hope more people take their cues from.

That being said, it's not winning Best of the week, which handily belongs to What Was I Made For by Billie Eilish, while the Worst of the week... ugh, much as I hate Versatile, I think it has to go to Overdrive by Post Malone! I don't hate it, but of the songs here, it's the one I'd be quickest to skip if it came on, it's just too slow and meandering with too weak of a hook.

Week 30 (June 28th - Aug 4th)

Title: I'm Just Ken by Ryan Gosling

Position: #25

ARGH so much potential! If only they'd invited Ryan Gosling back to re-record his performance, I genuinely might have seen this top my Top 20 Ranked! ... What, getting tied of me plugging that video? ... Sorry, I.. I just put a lot of work into it, and you know, sometimes I wonder whether all the extra editing work I do is really worth the effort and as proud as I am of my work, maybe I require a bit of validation, I dunno, is that really so much to ask???

Title: K-POP by Travis Scott, Bad Bunny & The Weeknd

Position: #30

... Again, sorry. It's been a long month, I've been sick and coughing for a number of weeks. I hope you don't take it personally, I just really want more people to watch that video because of how much passion I poured into it, any creative can relate to that, right?

Oh wait, yeah, K--POP... it's certainly a song! We'll cover the full impact of UTOPIA in our , but I suppose Travis Scott's star has faded over the years. Kind of a shame, because while I don't find his new album any more interesting than the overrated ASTROWORLD, that's certainly not to say it's bad. In fact I think this song is pretty decent.

Look, similar to SICKO MODE, I do think this feels a bit slap-dash, where the disparate elements don't have much cohesion, and individually, they're all a bit bare-bones. But throw these 3 performers together and you can't help but get something of mild quality. Bad Bunny's energy saves this in a big way, he's easily the stand-out performer, but Travis redeems his middling verse with a pretty solid chorus, and Abel is at least trying harder here than on Popular, even if the line "we gon' fuck till we seasick" is just icky.

Still, there's just enough quality here to hoist this up to a passable listening experience. I don't see myself seeking it out, but if it came on, I'd let it ride out.

Title: Feel It by Jazzy

Position: #33

I'm in 2 minds on this song. On the one hand, this is arguably the most animated performance Jazzy has given on a club hit to date, I didn't even recognise her the first few times I heard this. On the other hand, this song is a big pile of absolutely nothing. Man, doesn't that just say everything about her output.

Kind of a shame, to be honest. I mean my main point of contention with Jazzy as a technical performer is just how checked-out she always sounds, and the first time she actually tries to express an emotion, she just sounds terrible. And at least she provokes some type of reaction, while producer Hannah Laing really let me down here by doing absolutely nothing! I'm not going to pretend that Good Love is a groundbreaking masterpiece, but it's a song that knows her strengths and plays to them really well, only elevating its singer. Meanwhile she just gives Jazzy the most basic beat imaginable, which does nothing to distract from her bad performance. I mean it's saying something when I can't say you gave her any more than Belters Only would have!

So yeah, the more I listen to it, the more it annoys me. The individual elements that make up the beat sound worse with every listen, the lyrics are even more worthless than usual, and Jazzy somehow reaches new lows in her vocal performance. I don't know if I dislike it nearly as much as Giving Me just yet, but I'd also rather this didn't stick around for me to find out!

Title: Mom & Dad by Darren Kiely

Position: #36

Remember Time To Leave? It was Darren's last minor hit, which I praised multiple times across this blog and even a couple of YouTube videos. So with very little but still positive context, i went into this optimistically. And... huh, I'm very mixed on this. The highlight is the songwriting, a tribute to his parents, reassuring them they did a good job raising him, no matter how worthless they may have felt. Okay, it's a little blunt, to the point of almost being comical, but it's a sweet enough sentiment. I just don't like anything else about this. The production sounds like a Mumford & Sons rip-off, the pick-ups on the instrumentals all feel weirdly off, and Darren's voice just doesn't sound good, as if he's spent the last few months straining his voice... and unfortunately that's probably the case.

Yeah, this had potential, and maybe in the hands of other people, it could have been really potent. But everything about the execution feels a bit too rushed and lacking in real power, making for a song with a build-up that feels pretty unearned by the time the final chorus hits. I still think this guy has potential, but maybe take a breather buddy.

Title: THE WEEKEND by Stormzy & RAYE

Position: #48

I wasn't sure what to make of this. I mean at first glance, this felt like a backslide for RAYE, an attempt at a pop crossover that she honestly doesn't need at this point. Gotta say though, I like a lot more of this than I was expecting.

RAYE's more sultry delivery with the artful multitracking works fantastically well over an excellent beat that feels slinky and unique enough to really stand out on the radio, especially with the touches of backing vocals. I don't know if there's much in the way of chemistry though... at least not from Stormzy, who approaches this slinky sex jam with the subtlety of a raging bull. It doesn't help that a couple of lines make me groan a bit... "the way I beat that pussy up is like you started it" is close to unforgivable. Still, not all his bars are that bad, and the variety in RAYE's performance more than makes up for it. And paired with great production and enough passable moments from her co-star, I do like this more than I don't. Which is particularly impressive considering it's yet ANOTHER pop song about the goddamn weekend.

Title: Pink by Lizzo

Position: #53

The first time I heard this, I thought it was the most watered-down, poorly produced drivel that Lizzo had ever put out. But after seeing the film, it's somewhat more forgiveable. The thing is reminds me the most of is Robin Sparkles' Let's Go To The Mall, from the hit show How I Met Your Mother, meaning it's gleaming and silly, but that's also the point, where the lower budget is clear and part of the charm. But when you consider this next to the rest of the soundtrack, and the fact that it kind of forgets to be funny... I mean I wouldn't say I dislike it, but it gives me zero reason to ever play it.

It's just confusing to me that they gave something this empty to Lizzo, of all people. I can only imagine the song she submitted herself was too filthy for their sensibilities. Either way, nah, not a fan of this.

Title: Here We Go Again by Ev Wilde, Shanice & David Ryan

Position: #54

More Irish talent hearing the charts, MAN this is a productive year for local artists! And this is one of those increasingly rare cases where I'm actually reasonably happy to see some success from the home team, without caveats!

Dublin DJs Ev Wilde and David Ryan team up with local singer Shanice (no, not the R&B artist from the 90s) to deliver a late-night club sleeper that really takes its time as a low-key house song, which has a build and drop, but where the structure is clearly more designed for the vibes. It reflects on a girl that Shanice keeps falling in with called Simona, as they encounter each other every Saturday night at the club. And it's not quite a love song... if anything, Simona seems like she's having issues, steadily getting older and unable to grow up, while Shanice sticks with her though it all. it's wistful and pretty beautiful, and while some of the warbling synths at the back of the mix can feel a tad off-key at times, you could argue that just adds to the ennui of the track.

It's a track unlike many deep house songs I've heard this year, creating this yearning atmosphere that only highlights Shanice's forlorn yet determined performance. Barring a scandal where this turns out to be stolen, call me a fan of this, I like it more with each listen.

Title: Love Like This by ZAYN

Position: #57

It still shocks me that this guy's still around making music, let alone charting songs! I always found Zayn Malik to be one of the weaker members of One Direction, and compared to Niall and Harry's careers since the band split up, he's not had the best track record of success or quality.

That being said, I remember liking his 2021 song Vibez a lot more than I expected, and thankfully, I think this song's pretty decent too. A bit generic, and the skittering production is a bit trend-hopping, and while I like the light multitracking, the vocal effects are a bit ugly in spots. Still, Zayn's performance is filled with emotion, and the hook is quite solid. Okay, it stinks of a Sam Smith rip-off, but the lyrics begging for a lover not to leave him because he can't cope without them, that's potent, and he sells it.

I don't like this as much as Vibez, but as far as music from this guy, I'd still put it in the upper tier of his output. Not saying much, and the less I compare him to his former bandmates, the better, but this is alright.

Title: Man I Am by Sam Smith

Position: #68

Eyy speak of the devil! I think Sam has had a pretty good year, between a decent album, that awesome Madonna collab, and the most recent Calvin Harris collab Desire, which we'll cover in the next edition of Music Maelstrom. But with all that positivity in mind, this is a bit underwhelming.

I think Sam does a fine job here, their overdone delivery is fitting, the lyrics are fine, and I genuinely really enjoy the hook, it's kind of anthemic. Unfortunately the instrumental does nothing for me, sounding like it was made on a really cheap-sounding electronic keyboard with little to no post-production. In other words, it's like the issues I have with Ryan Gosling's song, except with even less of an excuse.

Again, the song's genuinely quite good, and it's grown on me since my first couple of listens, but it should be a lot better,

Title: Talibans by Byron Messia

Position: #74

So I know this song caused a bit of an uproar when it dropped, and it actually had nothing to do with the... colourful title. See, as a Jamaican artist, certain critics took issue with him co-opting Afrobeats. But since he has now specified it's actually "Dancehall" and got the Burna Boy sign-off for the remix, I guess we're all good now. Never mind that the beat might have been stolen too!

Anyway, that aside, I find the song itself kind of plain. Byron isn't that amazing of a singer, the singing style feels very derivative to me, no matter what anyone else says, and the song is just too slow and meandering, feeling longer than it is. Plus, I really don't think the vibe of the song matches the bloody lyrics, talking about killing people while laughing, and comparing his gang friends to the taliban... I'm sorry, that's never a good look.

Look, regardless on where you fall on the genre, the song itself is problematic enough as is. I can see certain fans of... well, Afrobeats quite enjoying this if they ignore the lyrics, but pay the littlest bit of attention, or even read the title, and the illusion falls apart pretty quickly.

Title: Everyone Who Falls In Love (Has Someone Else They're Thinking Of) by Cian Ducrot

Position: #78

Oh... no. Just... just no.

Look, I've been patient with Cian Ducrot, shockingly so! Considering the atrocious All For You last year, I could and likely should have been a lot harsher on him throughout 2023, but he hadn't quite made anything quite as reprehensible since... until now! In fact, this might be worse. I don't know when to start! The minor piano key gives the song this dour tone, the guitars and backing vocals sound ugly as Hell, and the lyrics are so fucking toxic! It's a song about how when you're in a new relationship, you're constantly consumed by thoughts of your ex, and that every new first is actually just a lie, since you already had that first with someone else! I don't normally have a problem with graphic detail, but Cian wailing about "sex in your car" while more focused on her guilt that he might not be the first guy she's doing this with, is somehow one of the most ugly pieces of imagery that I've heard all year!

More so than the skewed morality, or the guilt-tripping, or the undercutting of any romance that might be between him and his current partner, what I really hate is the universality of his statements! He says all this like it's a universal truth, right down to the title, where he wants to believe that everyone is as emotionally unhealthy as he is! Hell, the final lines are him convinced that she's thinking about someone else when she kisses him, and begging her not to. And in return he''ll do the same and stop thinking about his own ex... IT'S YOU! HI! YOU'RE THE PROBLEM, IT'S YOU!!! This is the worst song I've heard in months, what the actual fuck?!

Title: Choose Your Fighter by Ava Max

Position: #91

Whew, after all that rage, I'm glad we can unwind with some bubblegum goodness. Because while I've been a little harsh on most of the Barbie soundtrack, this is one of the songs I actually like a lot more than I initially expected.

Okay, the production is plastic and weirdly identical to her hit Kings & Queens - Hell, even the melody on the chorus is practically identical - but it's lyrically colourful and Ava Max does her thing, such as it is. I've never been hugely impressed by her as a singer, but she's a solid D-lister with little personality but some vocal talent. And by those low standards, this actually works out pretty well.

Look, I wouldn't put it among my favourites from the album, but I also don't expect much from Ava and for what I was anticipating, this ain't bad.

Title: De Selby (Part 2) by Hozier

Position: #95

But let's be real, there's a big difference between a middling performer satisfying my low expectations, and one of my favourite artists knocking it out of the park yet again! And add on a music video that was co-created by a friend of mine, and you'd better believe this has been one of my most played songs of the past month, and an easy highlight from Unreal Unearth!

The sharp bass pick-up is awesome, the percussion is WILD on that hook, the pre-chorus and its autotuned backing vocals sound fantastic, Hozier sounds phenomenal on both the verses and chorus, and said hook is awesome! It's a song about running away from reality, likely together with the woman who drives the narrative of the album, using alcohol, drugs and whatever else it takes to fade away from this cruel world. It's super dramatic, and could easily be ridiculous or cartoonish in the hands of a lesser artist. But Hozier is just that good, giving the song the weight and gravitas that few artists can bring to this.

So without question, Da Selby (Part 2) by Hozier wins Best of this week, it's not even close! Not that I had to agonise much over Worst either, because if I could somehow make sure I never heard Everyone Who Falls In Love (Has Someone Else They're Thinking Of) by Cian Ducrot ever again, I could die happy, UGH!!!

National Treasures

As for my video series National Treasures over on Instagram... i mean go follow me there @thesocialtune, but that series might be out of my reach by now, at least for 2023. Win some, lose some.

And THAT was July, WHEW! Next up is August, and maybe I'll handle September in bulk as well, by the looks of it. Still, making progress, wooh! As always, let me know in the Comments what you thought of the songs covered this week, and leave a Like if you enjoyed! Please make sure to follow me everywhere so you don't miss a thing, and Subscribe to the blog to keep up with my weekly chart reflections. Stay safe and happy everyone and until the next time, I'm Fionn and this is The Social Tune signing off!


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