Hey guys, welcome back to Monthly Musical Maelstrom!
I'm back, happy, well-rested, and excited to get back into the swing of things!
I've done this a couple of times before, but for the uninitiated, this is my recap post where I go over all the songs that hit the charts while I was gone over the last few weeks. In this edition we're tackling June 2023; we'll go through it week by week, highlight the Best and Worst song of each week, and that's enough of a setup, LET'S GO:
Week 23 (June 9th - 16th)
Title: Sprinter by Dave & Central Cee
Okay... so I understand why this song got big. Dave and Central Cee are 2 of the biggest - if not THE 2 biggest - UK rappers working today, and the 2 of them collaborating for an entire project is genius from a marketing perspective, even if I personally think it'll do nothing but hurt Dave's image. That being said, I'm a little shocked how well it did, debuting at number 1, and redefining our entire Top 10 as a result!
It also doesn't help that the song itself is a bit underwhelming. The skipping guitar-based beat is actually really nice to listen to, where even the sprinkled child noises work surprisingly well, presumably symbolising the kids that these 2 are garnering all this success for. And Dave and Cee both sound really good on this, and both are engaged enough... despite the fact that the content and bars range from tired to VERY questionable. And believe it or not, I actually think Central Cee comes out better here! Sure, he explicitly says he's going to fuck a girl in her uterus, but his point about not having generational wealth hits the message of his hustle to the top home really effectively, and "twisting my words, I think she dyslexic" is legitimately clever. Dave, on the other hand, has the bar "with bae through thick and thin, she already thick, so I'm halfway there", which isn't NEARLY as cringeworthy as "she got a E cup bra, a lot on her chest", a line so bad it genuinely brought me close to a spit-take.
Title: Trojan Horse by Dave & Central Cee
Forget everything I just said about Central Cee, he sucks!
Because while the instrumental here is pretty enough, and the trade-off of bars between our 2 MCs is actually pretty great, the moment Central Cee dropped that bar about trying to fuck his stepsis, I stopped listening and never went back!
I'm sure the rest of the song's dull anyway, but I'll never find out.
Title: UK Rap by Dave & Central Cee
For a song with such a momentous title, this is shockingly dull. I swear this exact same reverb-soaked beat has been used a million times before, the lyrics are easily the most boring and interchangeable ones we've discussed so far - although Dave's line about "she's a 6 but her friend is a 4, a 3-way gonna make that a 10" is another contender for worst line of the year... what, are you implying you're a zero?! - and the content is meandering and unfocused.
This could have been a wonderful checklist of pop culture references from the UK hip hop scene, and instead it's just a complete waste of potential.
Title: Popular by The Weeknd & Madonna (Ft. Playboi Carti)
I didn't watch The Idol when it was the thing everyone was talking about, but by all accounts, the music was the only somewhat redeemable part of that show. And judging by this, an incredibly juvenile song that sounds like it was written by a mildly edgy Glee Club, and sung by 3 performers who could not be suited worse to the subject matter, WOW that show must have been awful if this is considered a redemption!
The awkward cowbell, the cheap-as-Hell synth leads that remind me uncomfortably of Talk by Khalid, and while I expect nothing more from Playboi Carti, Madonna and Abel should have SOME modicum of personality, but there's absolutely none of it here! In other words, when Ariana Grande and MIKA sound like more convincing underdogs than you, you've officially failed!
Title: Am I Dreaming by Metro Boomin, A$AP Rocky & Roisee
My biggest regret in the last month is that I missed seeing Across The Spiderverse. Now in fairness, I was insanely busy, but I'm still bummed I didn't get to see what's being touted as one of the best films of 2023 on the big screen. So just know that when I listened to the soundtrack, I'm JUST talking about it on its own merits... and it's just a bit lacklustre.
Don't get me wrong, Metro Boomin' was the correct choice for this soundtrack, but even though he and the guests are best known within hip hop, the overall sound feels a lot more plastic and 80s, with beats and vocal production that feel pretty ill-fitting for a lot of the performers. And it's not that anyone does a bad job, as Rocky and Roisee both do fine jobs here, but I just don't think the production here compliments either of them, and I certainly can't understand why this debuted higher than:
Title: Annihilate by Metro Boomin', Swae Lee, Lil Wayne & Offset
Yeah, this is a MUCH more clear hit to me, which is why it was pushed as the obvious single. I mean Sunflower was easily the biggest hit from the first film, and this also has Swae Lee. Plus, unlike that song, this one isn't as boring as watching paint dry.
The beat has this dark, warbling undertone, both Wayne and Offset drop these pretty great and concise verses that stay on theme, and Swae Lee's chorus is easily his best contribution in a while... yes, I did hear Sremm 4 Life and I'm still waiting for my written apology! Even the 80s synths work pretty well here because there's some fucking texture and variety to them!
The only real issue I have is just how short it is, as the song barely clocks in a 2 and a half minutes, but otherwise, this is great!
Title: Calling by Metro Boomin', Swae Lee, NAV & A Boogie wit da Hoodie
And this one's right in the middle; the production is arguably even better, with nice organic piano and strings that give this a grandiose atmosphere that fades to silence really nicely before setting up for the next track, so full marks there. The lyrics are pretty good too, about rushing to save a loved one when they need you... but the 2 elements don't really match all that well. Especially when all our performers sound pretty checked out.
Swae sounds like he's yawn-singing, NAV's trademark badness is neutered even further by his half-assed performance, and if it wasn't for Boogie's pretty great final verse, I probably wouldn't like this nearly as much as I do. So props to him and Metro, this would have been better off with just the 2 of them.
Title: My Barn, My Rules by MCR-T & horsegiirL
Ummmm it's been over a month, and I still don't know how I fully feel about this.
I mean it's a weirdly good song where horsegiirL - an artist from Germany(?) who's never seen without her horse mask - describes all her best horse features in this moaning, cutesy affectation over a pretty sick dance beat courtesy of fellow(?) German DJ Julian McCarthy aka MCR-T, describing how she's a shiny girl who wants to saddle up and ride until sundown... and despite also describing "her toys, her tools", I'm not entirely convinced it's an innuendo, judging by the multiple horse noises thrown in.
It's clearly absurdist in the way only europop can be at its very best, but combined with that fantastically dynamic beat and legitimately good vocal performance... why is this such a genuine bop?
Title: Little Things by Jorja Smith
Speaking of shockingly good dance songs, this might be the grooviest thing Jorja Smith has ever dropped, and it compliments her gorgeous vocals surprisingly well!
Okay, the Crystal Waters sample is doing a good amount of heavy lifting, but in a year where fucking Jazzy has been dominating the Irish charts, hearing a performer this talented break into a similar vein of music is SO welcome, especially when she has little to no scummy affiliations... watch THAT take age like sour milk!
But yeah, I really like the balance Jorja strikes between sultry and easygoing, happy to spend the night with this person whether it brings them a brief moment of pleasure or long-term happiness. And the way the bass slowly floods in as the song progresses before that surprisingly heavy and dark closer, it's potent as fuck! Absolutely a winner, great to see you back on the charts, Jorja!
Title: Mona Lisa by Dominic Fike
So this guy's actually a much bigger name than I ever realised before 2023. A former Soundcloud artist turned multi-talented superstar, he's worked with everyone from BROCKHAMPTON to Paul McCartney, appeared as an actor on Euphoria, and this song almost appeared on the official soundtrack for Across The Spiderverse, only to be removed shortly before release. Instead, it appeared on his very sleepy and rather boring album Sunburn, and while it's one of the better songs on that project, it's not exactly great. My biggest issue is that it feels very derivative of mid-2010s Mac Miller, where he seems intent on winning back this girl who's now decided she's too good for him. He tries to convince her not to listen to all the naysayers, but he also seems convinced that she can't keep him out of her mind, and paired with the grunted ad-libs sprinkled in throughout the track that are clearly trying way too hard and stray a little too close to reggae... I dunno, it sounds fine, it's written fine, but it just turns me off every time it plays.
Maybe I just don't like this guy's voice or vibe? If so, personal taste is a factor, so maybe it'll be for you? But I just don't like this at all.
Title: That Part by Lauren Spencer Smith
So I'm now a married man. I've had this silly love story that was far from conventional and where risks were taken and miraculously paid off. So let me be the first to say this lovedrunk song SUCKS!
Now, the first reason why is obvious: Lauren has proven time and time again that she's a pretty bad songwriter and a really overdramatic yet weirdly limited performer, and it likely doesn't help that this song's structure and melody sound IDENTICAL to her biggest song Fingers Crossed. But the lyrics here don't work either, because she sets this up as a big risk she wants to take on them, all for the sake of love, only to show her hand by saying she "hated the middle, let's get to the good part", which isn't a valid reason to skip ahead in my opinion. It sounds less like this person is "the one", and more like she wants to skip all the hard work that building a relationship takes.
Plus, the red flags about the picket fence and the 2 kids... look, this might be my own personal biases once again, but that would have made me run for the hills, and I doubt I'm the only one. And it's all sung with that same theatre kid delivery that sounds big and dramatic, but is completely devoid of any real emotion. Maybe I'm being too harsh, but as she admits herself, "this all sounds lame."
Title: HEATED by Beyoncé
I'm aware it probably feels like we're scraping the bottom of the barrel for Beyoncé songs from RENAISSANCE at this point... but hey, the Irish public keeps picking bangers!
Look, of course it's not among the best on the album - WHY isn't COZY getting pushed as a single?! - and the bridge where her distorted voice yells at you to eat it and about "stretchmarks on her tits" is kind of ridiculous... but in the best possible way, and the hook is kind of awesome!
It's not the song that's going to win any awards, but it's got a great groove you can get down to, it's super catchy, and it's about Beyoncé getting so horny at her own hotness that she requires cooling down... what's NOT to love?
So yeah, our first week is a little mixed, but overall I'd say i enjoyed it, to the point where Best of the week was a bit tough... but ultimately, it's Little Things by Jorja Smith, mainly secured by how it ends, SO awesome! As for Worst, I'm going to do something controversial and choose to ignore incest... fuck you Central Cee! But yeah, That Part by Lauren Spencer Smith is too pathetic on too many levels. I could look past the desperate copy-pasting of the melody, or maybe even the selfish framing of the lyrics, but not both.
Week 24 (June 16th - 23rd)
Title: Who Told You by J Hus (Ft. Drake)
So this dropped just a couple of weeks after It's Crazy, and it's mildly more notable in that he roped in Drake for this one. And it just sounds like a bonus track from Views, right down to Drake's fake patois and mentioning "controlaaaa."
And look, 7 years ago, that would have been the worst thing I could imagine. But Drake has released far worse albums since then, and scraped far lower lows than One Dance, a song that has grown on me since then. Instead, I just find this unbelievably forgettable; it's not even a J Hus song anymore, Drake utterly dominates despite only having 1 verse, from the lazy beat to the sing-song-y flow.
J Hus even tries to reintroduce a bit of gruffness to his voice in his second verse, but it's just far too late at that point, especially when the main conceit of the song is "who told you that gangsters don't dance?"... there's just NO way to make that sound badass, especially when your "hard" verse includes lines about premature ejaculation! Fitting, I suppose.
Title: Dial Drunk by Noah Kahan
I heard incredibly mixed reviews for this song, with some people calling it a pathetic acoustic mess and others calling it a vulnerable gem with a great catchy melody. I fall somewhere in the middle, where I'm both impressed by how nakedly pathetic it is, but also acutely reminded of just how many times this premise has been done before, often better. What I think ultimately wins me over though, are the details. He doesn't just dial her while drunk, he drives to her house, crashes along the way, and then has to explain himself to a bemused police officer! And he's clearly aware that he's at fault here, losing sense, charm and any real empathy that would tell him NOT to do this, ultimately dramatically professing that he'd die for her. It's like Hits Different by Taylor Swift, a song showing someone clearly having a meltdown, but not shying away from just how messy people can get in those moments. Now, the other thing this has in common with Hits Different is that the writing is very clunky in spots; where Taylor had "the sand hurts my feelings", he has "I'll give you my blood alcohol", which is either a step too far or not far enough, depending how literal we're being. But with a solid melody and production, as well as a fairly solid Post Malone remix as of writing this, I'd say I like it on the whole.
Title: Daydreaming by Harry Styles
We've well and truly moved past the best songs off of Harry's House hitting the Hot 100... or even the remotely interesting ones.
Everything about this one feels weirdly plastic and cheap. The chanting backing vocals sound imported from a bad a capella group, the guitars are nice enough but are lacking any real groove, and the final hook tries to go hard, yet doesn't do it all that bigger than the previous choruses. And that's all despite Harry clearly giving it is all, screaming his head off. He really is the saving grace of this, where the rest of the mix feels like it's struggling to keep up with his energy.
That being said, the content isn't bad - boiling down to a very basic "give me something to get horny about in the middle of the next day" - the attempt at multitracking is decent, and again, Harry's clearly invested in this and turns in a pretty good performance. Does it remind me a little too much for twenty one pilots' Level Of Concern at points? Sure, but that's not a bad thing, and while I doubt this will stick around - it certainly hasn't stuck with me - it's not bad. Just fine.
Title: Don't Forget Me by Dermot Kennedy
I stand by that Sonder is Dermot Kennedy's best album yet, but I have to be honest and say that this is one of the lesser songs from it. The really overcompressed production with the tinny-yet-reverb-heavy backing vocals does nothing for me, and the songwriting is pretty damn pitiful. The basic premise is that he's singing this to an ex who's moving on and forgetting him. But unlike Lewis Capaldi, who knew to make his version of the song fun and self-aware about his own ego, Dermot delivers it in his trademark wounded howl, where he's clearly SO hurt that you would ever settle down with someone other than HIM!!! It's cloying, it's dramatic, and to make matters worse, the bridge reveals that he and this girl only ever had ONE NIGHT together.... for fuck's sake, GET OVER IT!
Yeah, not a good look for Dermot, it plays to all his worst tendencies and none of his strengths, and shows very clearly how Capaldi's Forget Me came close to being awful and miraculously managed to be awesome instead. Because this is very much the former.
Title: The Show by Niall Horan
So Niall's new album was exactly what I expected, a decent-but-not-great album with some amazing stand-outs, but still nowhere close to his best. Thankfully, this is one of the better songs on the album.
The title track is a jaunty-ish piano ballad where Niall muses on how relationships are actually quite complicated and inconsistent, where sometimes it's easy and smooth sailing, but it's a ride of ups and downs, where feelings get hurt and fixing problems takes real effort. It's quite a slow song for him, gradually building up to that final big hook, and while said chorus is a little underpowered in my opinion, Niall's writing and mixed game metaphors do bring a smile to my face. He's clearly a very introspective songwriter, and this is one of the few songs on the project that showcases that, especially in the final line of the hook where he realises they might not be ready for this yet, they still need to work a little.
Look, it's nowhere close to the best songs from that last album, and in terms of title tracks, both Heartbreak Weather and ESPECIALLY Flicker beat this out handily, but this is still a good song. I don't see it sticking around, but I'm glad this got to Irish radio.
Title: 0800 HEAVEN by Nathan Dawe, Joel Corry & Ella Henderson
Okay, this is just a rip-off of Kim Petras' Alone, what the fuck, those synths are near identical! Unlike that song though, this one has been playing in clubs and bars here for the past couple of months, and I am already well and truly sick of it. Ella Henderson fatigue is REAL this year, as between this and REACT, most people I know are ready to bid her adieu forever. Personally, that was already decided by her last Nathan Dawe collaboration 21 Reasons last year, but while this is nowhere near as bad, it's just so fucking pointless. Ed Sheeran dreamed that Heaven might have visiting hours so he could speak to his dead friend, Ella Henderson dreams that Heaven might have a phone line so her ex (who is NOT dead) could call her IF he passed away tomorrow... what the FUCK, no wonder you 2 had "the baddest break-up"!
But even if you ignore the lyrics - which is VERY easy to do - the layered nasal synths and vocals just sound so unpleasant! This appears to be the norm for Joel Corry in 2023 if Dance Around It is any indication, and I think it's a terrible idea! He might have sounded like a gentrified hack before, but at least I could stand listening to him, whereas this sounds just as generic and lacking in teeth, but also pretty awful to boot. Ella sounds okay on this and that is the nicest thing I will say about the song, fuck this noise!
Title: Call Your Mom by Noah Kahan
Off the success of Dial Drunk, we got 2 more Noah Kahan songs this week. And the lyrical content on this first one is pretty good, a song where he spends an entire night on the phone to a friend who's clearly going through shit, encouraging them to stay strong, and even offering to call their mum to help. It's caring, it's pretty dark, and while I wish there was more detail in the songwriting, and the bridge is once again questionable ("save your soul for Jesus", huh?), I appreciate a song like this charting, even if it is just for a week, certainly more ballsy than anything Dermot Kennedy has released lately.
I just wish the production was more fleshed out, because it's really bare bones and boring, lacking the crescendo that makes a song like Tom Odell's Another Love hit. And while Noah Kahan's Adam Levine-esque squawk works as a pathetic drunk dial, it works less as a reassuring shoulder to cry on. Still, I appreciate the effort, it's a decent song.
Title: You're Gonna Go Far by Noah Kahan
The last of our Noah Kahan songs for this week, and it's a more acoustic ballad this time around, just him and a guitar. That is until it builds to this big, drum-lead hook where each chorus feels bigger than the last. And while Noah's voice is still lacking in the grit to fully deliver this, I will say it works far more effectively here, especially with the well-chosen backing vocals and the extended outro.
And lyrically, it's not quite as cut and dry as the other 2, it leaves things open to interpretation a bit more. My own interpretation is that he's a small town boy who's girlfriend is moving away to bigger and better things, and while it isn't clear whether that's due to good fortune or issues in the relationship, it seems fairly good-natured, with him wishing her the best while he and the rest of the town stay in place forever.
There's almost a note of envy in the delivery, where this girl is going out and living her life rather than staying put, and while he'll miss here, he's also a tad jealous that she paid no attention to his drunken quips and actually DID make her dreams come true, without him. It's a layered and complex song with a simplistic but pleasant chorus, and while it's not as catchy as Dial Drunk, I do find myself calling it a better song overall. Good stuff, I kinda wish I'd paid attention to this guy sooner.
Title: Makeba by Jain
So if you've frequented memes on Instagram at all this Summer, you know why this is here. An incredibly catchy earworm from the utter weirdness that was the 2015 europop scene, this song is a fair bit deeper than you might be expecting from just that viral snippet. French singer-songwriter Jain wrote this song about the South African activist Miriam Makeba, a huge local musician in her own right, probably best-known for... well this, and ALSO her strong anti-apartheid views. And it's very clearly about her, a tribute to "Mama Africa", the "real beauty of human rights", where the lyrics make fairly broad but unmistakable references to apartheid. And apparently her work inspires Jain to dance for her... like I said, europop, it's a weird genre.
And yet god-DAMN is it effective! The chopped sample of Hamilton Bohannon's Me And The Gang, the phenomenal; blur of horns, guitars, drums and that "hoo-ee!", all anchored by that phenomenal bass and Jain's kooky vocals, all of it just works so goddamn effectively, I can easily see why this caught on. It also reminded me to get around to watching Barry... no, I still haven't seen it, but this song is fucking great!
Title: Take Two by BTS
It's weird seeing BTS debut in the bottom have of the Hot 100; maybe it's just weird release timing, but it just feels wrong, especially considering what a massive year the individual members have had.
Either way, this is the classic trap that every boyband falls into at some point: writing a song explicitly about 2 people when there are at least 5 members at any one time. It's an obvious critique, mostly just to have something easy to make fun of, but it's not really a dealbreaker for me. And I'll say that this is actually a pretty good tune to return with, a decently-produced bit of pleasant radio fodder with solid multitracking, good individual parts, and while the guitars feel forced and synthetic, the melody is solid enough.
I do think it's a bit anonymous though. I mean the chorus is alright, all about how young you make them feel and how they want to feel this way forever, but I'd be lying if I said this had the staying power of their biggest hits. If anything, the writing's too good for it to stick in the public conciousness, it's all just a bit too polished. Because despite all the nice things I've said, even after multiple listens, I couldn't tell you how this goes. And say what you will about some of their worst songs like Fake Love or Butter, I'm not going to forget them anytime soon.
Title: Angel by PinkPantheress
So I may not have seen Spiderverse, but I HAVE seen Barbie, because culture! And on first listen, this was actually one of my favourites off the soundtrack. Look, PinkPantheress is kind of a cheat code for me, a really sweet voice with pretty and low-key instrumentals that puts me in a soothing mood, sort of like an anime outro.
That being said, there are other factors: the guitar and drum machine put me in the mindset of a late-2000s ballad in the vein of early Taylor Swift, the string arpeggios and multitracking are gorgeous on the start of the hook, the "oh-oh-oh" grunts are weird in the best way, and the fucking Riverdance-esque strings are the perfect cherry on top of this dreamy mix.
Add onto that some really sweet and heartfelt lyrics, which start really wholesome and in love, before things immediately start to fall apart as he leaves her, it's short and too the point, but it adds to her innocent vocals so well. It's a kind of sweet magic that few performers can sell convincingly, but PinkPantheress does it every time. Love this sweet little tune... but on the other hand:
Title: VULGAR by Sam Smith & Madonna
So I'm definitely in the camp of "Unholy blows absolute chunks", and considering my friend circle, that's pretty rough, that song has a VERY dedicated following! Well, let's compromise: VULGAR, a song Smith initially performed alongside Kim Petras in February, then fully realised alongside Madonna in late May, is EASILY the best thing I've heard from either of them in years!
See, I never bought Unholy, it felt put on and fake, trying to elicit a reaction with some incredibly bad production and half-baked lyrics. This, on the other hand, sounds like a goddamn Neptunes classic, with stuttering synths, low tremolo bass and a propulsive groove that hits in time with their voices, emphasising each and every syllable, as the strings and choral vocals rise up in the background. In fact, the entire song just builds and builds, up until the beat cuts out for a robotic voice to tell you "say our fucking names", before the entire plethora of instrumentals comes back for one more bang and it's glorious!
Because this is very much the evolution of Unholy in terms of lyrics too, where both performers sound undeniably confident and powerful, daring you to call them vulgar and accepting the word with pride. It's so goddamn over-the-top, where even the camp and ridiculous lines work because THEY SELL IT. There's no way Kim Petras could threaten to "split my banana" and have me do anything but laugh, but when Madonna says it, I pay attention. Once again, it's a song that few artists could sell convincingly, but both performers brought their A-game and BOY, did they deliver!
Title: How Does It Feel by Tom Grennan
We've come a long way since I named Tom Grennan the worst male singer of 2021, but the roll-out for his third album has left me with decidedly mixed feelings. I don't think he's released a song as good as Little Bit Of Love since then, but between his 2 big hits last year, neither was as awful as By Your Side. Then this year we had the pretty abysmal Here, the entirely forgettable Lionheart - neither of which became hits here by the way - and now a genuinely decent song in How Does It Feel.
Let's get this out of the way: the melody is a pretty blatant rip-off of STAY by The Kid LAROI, this sort of 80s synth-based pop song has been ubiquitous since that song's massive success. By those standards though, it's pretty bouncy and catchy, and while I'd call it anonymous, Grennan's... unique vocals make him pretty unmistakable, I'll rarely call him that. And it's lyrically a song where he fucked up his relationship, and now he wants to make up for it and start again. He acknowledges that it'll take some work, but he's willing to accept the blame and do better.
My only slight issue is that he never actually says he's sorry... maybe it's implied, but it sounds more like he wants to do this INSTEAD of saying sorry. Maybe I'm just cynical... but the other issue is that the lyrics don't really hold my attention; it took me about 8 listens before I could focus enough to get the general message. Which I guess is a testament to the chorus doing it's job a bit too well, so take that critique with a grain of salt. It's got problems, but I do like this.
So yeah, this was actually a great week, even if the very top was tainted by the bad entries. Lucky for J Hus, I don't hate his song as much as 0800 HEAVEN by Nathan Dawe, Joel Corry and Ella Hendeerson, easily the Worst of the week! As for Best, it's a LOT tougher: Noah Kahan surprised me with how much I liked all his songs, my third favorite song from the Barbie soundtrack charted, and Makeba might be the best TikTok song to go viral in a while! But the biggest surprise for me was easily VULGAR by Sam Smith & Madonna, a WILD improvement that I ultimately have to recognise! It's close though, basically a toss-up between those last 3.
Week 25 (June 23th - 30th)
Title: (It Goes Like) Nanana by Peggy Gou
Peggy Gou sounds fascinating, I want to be friends with her! Born in Korea, but having spent a good part of her education in London, she's got a bunch of achievements under her belt as a producer, DJ and a fashionista! Frankly, between founding the Korean brand KIRIN, along with multiple big music tours, it's a shock I haven't heard from her sooner. And yet as for her big break-out hit, it's still not what I would have expected from her!
See, having signed to XL Recordings, she could have dived into the German DJ scene and released something truly left-field... but instead she went for the 90s nostalgia bait, complete with drum machine, keening guitar, shimmering synths and dreamy vocals. And look, it's a formula that we've been seeing time and time again this year, to varying degrees of success, but I have to praise Peggy here for doing it this well!
The song is actually done very tastefully, where each element feels polished and calculated, and while Peggy herself might be the worst part of her own song, as her vocals don't convey much in the way of emotion, they do exactly what they're supposed to and do it well. The song's SUPER catchy, the melody and instrumental never feel too repetitive, and while the lyrics are very basic, they're not the focus. For what this is, it's pretty damn good!
Title: Attention by Doja Cat
I mean look, if you've seen my midyear video, you already know how I feel about this song. Not only is it an utterly badass, in-your-face middle finger, as well as a perfect display of her skills as a multi-talented rapper and singer, with a dreamy, slinky chorus that feels like it's hypnotising you, all resulting in a song that you HAVE To pay attention to, but it's kind of a lyrical masterpiece!
it reminds me of when Taylor wrote Look What You Made Me Do, only well-written, well-produced, and much more aggressive and direct, deconstructing her fanbase in a way that, sure, feels very selfish, but also very honest. I know a lot of people were shocked to see her round on her fans last month, but judging by this song, I sure wasn't... and I can't say I fully blame her either, even if I do think she painted her strokes a bit too broadly. It can be exhausting to have a fanbase so invested in you as a person beyond the art, and I kind of understand her wanting to establish some clear boundaries, even at the risk of some general popularity.
And look, this is clearly a woman who's done the work on herself, has gained a whole new confidence, and is now calling out anyone who ever made her feel small. Controversial as it may be, I'm damn impressed by that, and I have to commend her for making that into such a well-written and phenomenal song, all while doubling down on that allure. It's a terrific song that gets better with every listen, genuinely one of the best songs I've heard all year.
Title: Don't Say Love by Leigh-Anne
Welp, looks like we're officially getting more solo cuts from the former members of Little Mix, the girl group who is definitely not broken up, you guys, what?! ...
Anyway, I always liked Leigh-Anne Pinnock's richer voice in the Mix of the Little variety, so it's interesting hearing her take on all the roles here, even the ones she normally wouldn't. If anything, it's really impressive because she manages to sounds identical to her former girl group all on her own! And that's a mixed blessing: a lot of fans will likely be delighted, but it does also beg the question whether she'll ever escape their shadow. It's also not quite a perfect illusion; it's missing the trademark harmonies, the dynamic of one vocalist throwing to the next one, and writing-wise, it's a little middling, somewhere between Heartbreak Anthem and Confetti in my opinion. So not bad, but as a solo debut, it's just lacking some unique weight. Sign of The Times, this is not... speaking of which:
Title: Little Freak by Harry Styles
This appears to be the silent killer from the album, the deep cut a lot of fans and critics agree is secretly the best song on the album. I disagree, personally I think the singles from this album were picked quite well, but I do have to say I see the appeal of this.
The hazey, shoegazey production and multitracking gives Harry's vocals a really psychedelic gleam, as he muses on a girl whom he treats kind of shitty, dismisses a few times, but secretly has feelings for, as he curses himself for his own veiled cowardice while she goes home with somebody else. It's a very complex song emotionally, where it's clearly supposed to make you question how much you like the protagonist, but ultimately, you find him either sympathetic, or simply pathetic (haha, wordplay).
Personally, I fall into the latter category, and while I think the song is pretty, I think the vocal production creates some distance for Harry that feels like a bit of a cop-out to me. I think it would have been way edgier to be right up at the front of the mix saying this stuff, THAT would challenge his audience! Still, while it's no Matilda, it's obvious why it's a bit of a critical darling for some. Just not really to me.
Title: Step It Out by Fahri mac & The High Kings
It's genuinely pretty cool to see The High Kings slowly becoming mainstream staples, one song at a time. I really enjoyed Chasing Rainbows, and their new album The Road Not Taken was surprisingly good too! And while this newest move is undeniably calculated, taking one of their old songs from 10 years ago and giving it a modern spin with producer Fahri Mac, it still works way better than it should!
Originally a traditional Irish ballad supposedly written by Sean McCarthy at some point in the mid-20th century, Step it Out Mary is about a wealthy man who proposes to golden-haired Mary with a generous dowry of silver and gold. And despite her protests that she's in love with a soldier, her father dismisses her sharply and commands her to show her legs to the countryman! Look, yes, it's a bit of a product of its time, but in fairness, it very much seems to be sympathising with Mary here.
And here, with the updated dance beat that blends oddly well with the folk instruments, even if the house elements towards the very end get a bit overbearing, it ultimately works way better than I was expecting. Maybe I'm just going easy on these local lads, but I'm actually happy to see this get some traction, if only to keep the old traditional ballads alive in some form!
Title: fukumean by Gunna
So I know I haven't been the kindest critic to Gunna over the past few years. That might be because I think he's a completely talentless guy who brings nothing new to the table at all, but he didn't ask to be this successful, and he seems alright as a person, so I tend to ignore him a lot of the time. If I didn't get it with Pushin P, maybe I never will. ... And then I heard this.
Okay look, this is basic as ever, with the same hypnotic, cyclical pattern that all his hits have, with questionable writing and which lives or dies by its hook. And yet after unintentionally listening to this about 8 times on loop, I'm inclined to say I like this a fair bit.
Maybe it's the simple trap beat with that haunting flute and piano combo, maybe it's the basic "fukumean" hook that's so easy to shout along to, maybe it's the fact that even the awful lines like "fuck her like a perv" and "shit on all you little turds" are so bad they become kind of enjoyable, but yeah, this is the first Gunna song since Lemonade that I've genuinely enjoyed, for many of the same reasons.
Title: So Much In Love by D.O.D.
One of the biggest surprises for me last year was the D.O.D. song Still Sleepless, a house sleeper hit that had all the hallmarks of a song I would normally either hate or at least complain about once and then ignore. But something unique and magical brought me back to that song time and time again, very nearly landing it in the Great tier of my Hot 100 Ranked video for 2022. But lightning wasn't about to strike twice, right?
Well... goddamn, maybe Dan O'Donnell is on to something. Because not only do I really like this too, I'd argue it's trying a lot harder and is far more interesting as a result! That's not to say I prefer it to Still Sleepless, which had this wistful underdog quality that this can't capture in the same way, but as soon as those organs came in, I was paying attention! And from there, that uncredited vocalist comes in with this soulful, yearning voice that matches the nostalgic lyrics so well, building up to that dance drop incredibly well, and note that it has an ACTUAL DROP! But my favourite part is the last minute of the Extended Mix, where the mix chops and loops and skips, and it's SO dynamic and refreshing, it's like I'm hearing a DJ perform and freestyle live!
So um, yeah, I like this way more than I was expecting, and I'd love if this stuck around. PLEASE let this get big, it's in the Top 40 right now, let's keep it around!
Title: Hurts Me by SANTEA2
I can only assume "SANTEA2" is some sort of error on the IRMA page, because even if you search for it on Spotify, this is what comes out. Hell, knowing the cowardly Tory Lanez, I wouldn't be surprised if this was a cheap marketing ploy to avoid getting called out further. And boy do the lyrics back that assumption up.
Look, Trippie Redd's caterwauling works fine on this, and I'll even say that as 80s synthwave instrumentals in 2023 go, this one is pretty damn solid, especially when they blast out on the hook; it's a retro pastiche, but done well. But Tory Lanez is easily the worst part of his own song, with terrible yelping delivery that makes him sound like he's being crushed underfoot - which he'd deserve - and the lyrics really aren't helping!
Because with the demanding "do you realise that it hurts me" clearly directed at an ex who's moved on from him, this would be beyond pathetic for anyone. but when you realise that this might be directed towards a woman he shot, who then went on to continue to outsell him MASSIVELY, this reaches all new levels of low. Fuck you for this Tory, and for so many other reasons!
And unsurprisingly, Worst of the week is going to Hurts Me by Tory Lanez & Trippie Redd! It's got redeeming qualities, but it's still the only song from this week I actively got angry with. Because this was another GREAT week, which would normally make Best of the week a toss-up... except I'm firmly decided on Attention by Doja Cat, I REALLY love that song you guys, it might be my new favourite Doja song, in spite of the controversy.
As for my video series National Treasures over on Instagram, go follow me there @thesocialtune, I'm so far behind...
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!