Musical McCool Season 3, Week 1 (Midnight Rain, Lizzy McAlpine, Bloody Mary and more)
Updated: Jan 13
Hey guys, welcome back to The Social Tune. And get excited, cause it's a brand new Season of Musical McCool!
I don't know if it's entirely accurate to call what happened last year a "season", as I only wrote 1 edition of Musical McCool and 1 of Music Maelstrom. I still kept up with the charts in my own time of course, even releasing my Top 100 Biggest Irish Hits of 2022 at the end of last year. This year though, I wanted to once again commit to making this a weekly series, so I've decided to tweak the format a bit. Long-time readers will still see the segments they've grown used to, but the way I talk about the 'Top 10', 'The Punished & the New', and ESPECIALLY the 'National Treasures' will have changed quite a bit. We'll tackle those differences as we get to each section, but suffice to say it will make each edition of this series a bit more digestible and quite a bit shorter... I say that now, let's see if my rambling tendencies don't just take over.
And with all that clearly established, let's run through our current biggest hits!
The Top 10
This week saw the exodus of ALL our Christmas songs, flushed out in one go to allow the new hits to fill in the gaps. Personally, I think this just makes sense and is something more chart companies should consider doing *ahem*. And so, our Top 10 looks like this: 1. Escapism. - RAYE (Ft. 070 Shake) [LW: #5 / WOC: 7]
2. Anti-Hero - Taylor Swift [LW: #40 / WOC: 11]
3. Kill Bill - SZA [LW: #18 / WOC: 4]
4. Made You Look - Meghan Trainor [LW: #24 / WOC: 11]
5. Miss You - Oliver Tree & Robin Schulz [LW: #63 / WOC: 13]
6. Another Love - Tom Odell [LW: #35 / WOC: 95]
7. Calm Down (Remix) - Rema (Ft. Selena Gomez) [LW: #38 / WOC: 19]
8. Let Go - Central Cee [LW: #31 / WOC: 3]
9. messy in heaven - venbee & goddard. [LW: #37 / WOC: 14]
10. Kiss Me - Dermot Kennedy [LW: #81 / WOC: 17]
Honestly, this is a pretty great and diverse set of songs to start off the year with. Okay, Calm Down was one of the worst hits of 2022 and Let Go has a STRONG chance of being one of the worst of 2023 (I mean way to pick a sample I despise!), but all the other songs here range from personally enjoyable to downright amazing! And yes, I am including Made You Look in that assessment.
If you want more context on some of these songs, check out my Top 10 Best Hits of 2022, but even the ones I didn't mention there have either developed a weird charm for me (I still enjoy Miss You for some ungodly reason), or in the case of Escapism and messy in heaven, fast grown to be some of my early favourite hits of 2023, both with great production, atmosphere and lyrics! And the fact that we're starting the year off on such a relatively high note really gives me hope that this year could be something special.
The Punished and the New
So I think the changes to the 'Top 10' segment are pretty self-explanatory, but this segment is more about shifting focus. Instead of talking about gains and drops, I'm going to highlight any hits that got shoved into ACR (Accelerated Chart Ratio) - so in this case, let's just say ALL the Christmas music - but the primary focus has always been the new entries, of which we had a fair few this week. The main difference being that, from now on, we're covering the FULL Hot 100, not just the Top 50! This means we'll be talking about a much more diverse range of songs, which this batch certainly showcases. Starting off with:
Title: Midnight Rain by Taylor Swift
I was genuinely excited for Midnights when it dropped, but after giving it about half a dozen listens, I was forced to recognise it just wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. Not bad, but with some baffling production choices, weirdly inconsistent writing, and themes that Taylor has frankly explored better in the past. And if there's one song where those odd production choices are on full display, yeah, it's this one.
When I first heard the album, this was the "instant WTF track", with a chorus that reminded me more than a little of some of the more middling-to-mediocre moments on Reputation. Now since then, it's gotten more tolerable. I like the gleaming dramatic synths that are scattered throughout the verses - verses which really save the song to be honest - and the lyrics are fairly potent, focusing on a relationship that she gave up on to pursue something as hollow as fame. There's a wistful air of "what might have been" to this song that Taylor sells pretty well, when the nights are dark and lonely and you're left to ruminate on past failures.
But I'm sorry, that weird vocal production on the chorus still throws me off, it's such an ODD choice! Hell, in the middle of the song, the vocal effects are stripped away and Taylor sounds so much better for a moment, before the effects come flooding back in for no good reason. That and the "peppermint candy" line always just rubbed me the wrong way.
Ultimately, it's not a bad song, certainly nowhere near her worst, but just frustratingly middle-of-the-road when it could have been a real highlight.
Title: ceilings by Lizzy McAlpine
Lizzy McAlpine came onto my radar last year when her album five seconds flat dropped into my lap. A very pretty folk album which suffered from slight overproduction and was just a couple of steps shy of Phoebe Bridgers. Now I made that comparison well before discovering how much Lizzy clearly idolises Phoebe;, she had a pretty lucrative TikTok career before bursting onto the scene last year, and has in fact covered several of Mrs Bridgers' songs, including HUGE favourites of mine like Kyoto and Motion Sickness. And they're good covers too, check them out!
Regardless, this song has now picked up enough groundswell that it's actually charting in Ireland, and has personally always been a favourite deep cut of mine. On your first couple of listens, it just sounds like a well-produced folk love song, with some nice details about her staring at the peeling ceiling alongside the love of her life. But as the final verse hits, it's revealed this person she's fantasising about doesn't even exist. In fact, she can't remember the last time she was kissed, as that loneliness hits her all at once, sitting slumped in her car. It's a gut-punch twist that I always love hearing in these kinds of songs, and Lizzy conveys the tangle of emotions really convincingly. Now, it's not quite as powerful as it could have been. The twist comes a little late and the instrumental building around it is just a tad underwhelming. Like with Midnight Rain, it had the potential to be something really special, but it just can't QUITE stick the landing. It doesn't botch it up nearly as badly though, so I do think ceilings is definitely the better song. And hell, who says a song has to be perfect for me to like it anyway? I do like this, and I hope it's just the beginning for Miss McAlpine. Bring on the hits, we could use more of her on the charts!
Title: Here With Me by d4vd
Oh goodie, the Romantic Homicide guy has a new song that's gaining traction. And for some reason, it sounds like the opening to Better Call Saul... random.
That being said, this might be some of the lushest guitar production I've heard on a modern hit in recent memory. Seriously, it's kind of gorgeous, with a decent amount of echoing reverb and multitracking that sound pretty great. It's a weird brand of neo-phychedelia that I wasn't expecting to hear in 2023 and certainly never from THIS artist!
I suppose some context about d4vd would help; apparently this 17-year-old used to be best-known for making Fortnite compilations - yes, really - and started making his own music to avoid copyright strikes. Which makes him smarter than me, at the very least, and may explain why his music still feels a bit slap-dash and in-house... because it is. Hell, maybe the success of Romantic Homicide drove him to start making "real" music, because this is clumsy, a bit overblown, and lyrically generic... but it is kinda charming, certainly more so than anything he's done so far.
Again, the song is definitely coasting on the production, and at over 4 minutes, it feels a bit too sprawling and empty to stick with me in the long run. But again, it's the most potential I've seen this kid display yet. Maybe there are some good ideas in that head of his, it doesn't always have to be about fantasising about killing your girlfriend. Progress!
Title: Sure Thing by Miguel
Miguel has always been a singularly frustrating performer to me. A beautiful voice, usually some pretty good production, great individual songs... but when it comes to the albums, the hooks and lyrical content rarely stand out to me. He's the kind of artist where your favourite tracks of his are likely the same as mine, he doesn't tend to have any songs which one might consider polarising. Now, my favourite tracks by him are generally from his last 2 albums Wildheart & War & Leisure, both decent albums with strong high points, while most people claim his 2012 album Kaleidoscope Dream as his best work. My point being... who even remembers his 2010 debut?
That brings us to this song, the opening tack to that poorly marketed album. It's here because of TikTok, where both this and (of course) a sped-up remix started doing the rounds in late December. And this is one of those rare cases where TikTok is a force for good, because I think this song is pretty great. It was still early days for Miguel, as you can tell he was still trying to find his unique style and sound, but he's got a ton of charisma. Plus his promises to not only respect you in the relationship (a neat detail that's sadly all too rare), but also give them each their distinct role to play, complimenting each other, it's really well done and sounds really good.
Shame the distorted refrain isn't better integrated, as it's the one point of the song that feels a bit cheap, like the producer cut corners. Not bad, but it gets repetitive and doesn't match the sharp percussion or liquid guitars on the rest of the song. Still, I do like this, and between this and Frank Ocean's Lost, maybe this marks a trend in getting more veteran R&B artists to chart more frequently thanks to TikTok. It's not Adorn or NWA or Waves or The Valley and it sure as FUCK isn't Coffee-- BUT I digress, it's still a good song!
Title: snowfall by øneheart & reidenshi
Speaking of TikTok, this is an odd one. A very low-key, almost ambient instrumental track from a Russian duo on Soundcloud that is now charting. It's so random I had to look further into it, and it turns out this is being used as that "crying on the inside while smiling on the outside" trend of videos that are seemingly all the rage... CHRIST I feel old! Look, the song is fine. It's comprised of a very melodic piano line, very light bass which only compliments the mix, and some very nice synth work. It's subtle, it's short at only 2 minutes (which is longer than Central Cee's Doja, I'll remind you), and it's undeniably quite pretty in a sombre sort of way. The issue is that it's also very forgettable and indistinct. Unlike the last few songs we discussed, it doesn't have any major flaws, but it's also arguably the most forgettable one of the bunch.
So yeah, not sure what to add to this one. I doubt it would have even got on anyone's radar if it weren't for the title, and even as TikTok songs go, I don't expect it to last beyond this week. We'll see, I've been wrong before, but I just don't see much substance here.
Title: Bloody Mary by Lady Gaga
Ooh, I knew this one was coming! Like many of you, I saw Wednesday about a month or so ago and enjoyed it a fair bit. Okay, it's not my favourite show Netflix has ever put out, but as a classic Addams Family fan who has always appreciated Jenna Ortega's acting chops, I had fun! I didn't predict how viral the Wednesday Dance would be though, with a ton of people on the internet mimicking the dance scene to the same song Jenna did: a deep cut from Lady Gaga's 2011 album Born This Way.
Now, I'm in 2 minds about that album. Critically speaking, it's a mess, with a ton of weird experiments, even for Gaga. As a fan though, it contains some of her best ever songs, not to mention being a queer staple all the way to the bank! It's the camp album that defined a generation right when club music was hitting its peak, and who can fault it for that? That being said, Bloody Mary always stuck out to me as the black sheep on that album... so fitting that Wednesday Addams should be associated with it now.
The kooky plucked strings almost feel cheeky as they open up the song, before swiftly getting replaced with a throbbing drum machine at a leaden pace that Gaga nevertheless rides as naturally as anything. It's not my favourite on the album because it always struck me as awkward and disjointed, where the religious imagery and chanting just feel like a less outrageous Judas. I like it as part of the Wednesday soundtrack, but honestly, it might be one of the few times the sped-up TikTok remix might genuinely be better. It has energy and the chipmunk effect on the vocals maintains the kooky energy throughout the full running time. Not that I particularly care if either version sticks around... even if I appreciate some representation for those of us who are ONLY able to dance with our hands. I'll give her that.
Title: Too Many Nights by Metro Boomin (Ft. Future & Don Toliver)
Metro Boomin has got a lot of praise over the years for his beatwork across many projects, both mainstream and slightly underground, but producer albums always strike me as a risky experiment. Sure, producers should be allowed to take the spotlight, show off their production skills for multiple artists, but not only do you have to deal with the usual stress of being a producer, now you also have the pressure on you as the "lead artist" when your guests suck!
Having given the album a couple of listens, I do appreciate that it has a loose concept to it, even if I do think there's too much Future and some of the guests are miscast *cough*Chris Brown*cough* but overall, it's not super memorable. And this song falls right in the realm of "forgettably bland" for me. The production is decent, with the ominous buzzing synths having a surprising amount of energy, forming a really good backdrop for Don Toliver. I still struggle with understanding him a lot of the time, but after consulting the lyrics, it's a lot of general debauchery, hooking up with a series of random girls. What stands out a bit though, is the hook, where he acknowledges how empty and boringly repetitive his own hedonism is. Okay, I'm certainly putting it more eloquently than he does, but hey, C- for effort.
Oh yeah, and Future shows up for a handful of rambling mumbles at the end, that are worthy of ME they're so incoherent. I guess it bookends the song well enough, but it also made me realise how forgettable the track is. I had to hear it a lot in prep for this post, and yet even as I'm writing this sentence, the song has come to an end and I've already forgotten it. Instead I'm just humming that 220 Kid x JC Stewart song from 2020... that's not a great sign.
Title: The Way I Am by The Tumbling Paddies
My oh my, this was unexpected. The Tumbling Paddies had a few songs in rotation last year, but this is their first time breaking onto the mainstream charts, to my knowledge. And from that name, you can probably already guess what type of music to expect from this group; very traditional, heavily accented, upbeat trad music with a joie de vivre that is almost a stereotype with Irish pubs.
And there is a lot to like about this. The jovial accordeon, the tambourine, the driving guitars, all strum out a traditional jig that is definitely familiar, but still so enjoyable. Galway Girl this is not, this is the real deal, a bunch of Fermanagh lads who spend their weekends overdrinking too much, and their Mondays overthinking their various life decisions, but ultimately refusing to apologise for their basic rhymes and clichés. After all, it's just the way they are, and who are you or I to judge them. It's easily charming and an easy sell to most people who like their Irish music a bit more old school.
Sure, it's corny, but despite me wishing we could give CMAT a real hit instead, it really is good to hear a song like this cross over to the mainstream charts, it's way more rare than you might think! Even this low down on the chart, we normally just expect a bunch of legacy hits that were popular 10-20 or more years ago... and on that note:
Title: I Wanna Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston
Yes, the one and only! Call it TikTok's grace, call it a gap in the airwaves that we're desperate to fill with anything, but we got authentic 80s Whitney to chart in the first week of 2023! If that isn't a good omen, I don't know what is!
Now, some of you may remember me being less than kind to Whitney's music in the past. And you'd be right, I don't like the majority her 90s material at all, even to this day (no disrespect, rest in power). Her 80s material, on the other hand? Yeah, take everything I said about Lady Gaga and crank it up to 12! 80s' Whitney was arguably THE ultimate diva, with terrific pipes, an emotive voice that launched 100 power anthems, and a presence and starpower that very few have come close to matching since the 80s. And I Wanna Dance With Somebody is easily one of her best EVER songs!
The triumphant synths that soar to the heavens, the bouncy percussion snare that opens up the song before blending seamlessly into the rest of the mix, the explosive chorus that can't help but make you smile...despite the lyrics actually being kind of lonely and sad! But that's what makes that joyful chorus have such an impact, it's dancing in spite of sadness, wishing for that human connection on the dancefloor, desperate to find something that will actually last! Whitney Houston's powerhouse vocal performance on this KILLS me every time, effortlessly flitting between the uncertain breathiness of the verses and the raw power of the hook, driving one of the best dancefloor jams to ever exist!
So yeah, if it wasn't obvious, I adore this song! People forget it's LONG too, over 5 minutes, but you're having so much fun while it's playing that you're easily forgiven for not noticing. A classic by every definition, and I don't care how long it's here, because it'll never truly go away.
And with that, let's skip ahead to picking our Best and our Worst songs of the week. That's right, we're going to just be pitting new songs on this Hot 100 chart against each other, the 'National Treasures' are separate! And so... well, yeah, of course the Best has to go to I Wanna Dance With Somebody by Whitney Houston, by a mile, how could it not? As for the Worst though, it's trickier, I genuinely didn't hate anything else that dropped this week. So I guess I'll go for the one I've already forgotten again, Too Many Nights by Metro Boomin (Ft. Future & Don Toliver). Nothing personal, I just don't give a shit about it.
And last but not least, the National Treasures are now getting their own special treatment. To find out my thoughts on the current Top 20 Homegrown Hits, simply head over to my Instagram @thesocialtune, where I will be reviewing EVERY SONG that hits the Homegrown Top 20 over the course of 2023... wish me luck!
As for the current Top 20... well, most of them are 2022 songs first and foremost, so I'm going to endeavour to cover anything that was released over the past 2 months, songs that might still have a chance to make an impact in 2023.
If you want to know my thoughts on the current number 1, I'll Be Waiting by Cian Ducrot, head over to my Instagram now: https://www.instagram.com/p/CnMsRHBJ3TF/
But as for the new arrival:
Title: Love The Way by Lee James & Menrva
Head over to Instagram to hear my thoughts, looking forward to seeing you there!
As always, please let me know in the Comments what you thought of the songs covered this week, and leave a Like if you enjoyed! This year is going to be a cross-platform dump of content on the blog, Instagram and hopefully even YouTube occasionally, so if you're interested, make sure to follow me everywhere. Here's to an interesting year everyone, and until next week, I'm Fionn and this is The Social Tune signing off.