Hits & misses: tiffany’s ‘i just wanna dance,’ jay z’s lemonade-verse on ‘all the way up’, wale’s ‘my pyt,’ and ‘snapback’
Every week, MTV’s writers and critics assemble and weigh in on new hotness, chart trash, and glimmers of hope in the pop music landscape. This week’s roundtable includes Meaghan Garvey, Hazel Cills, Jessica Hopper, Doreen St. Félix, Charles Aaron, Simon Vozick-Levinson, David Turner, Sasha Geffen, and Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib.
Tiffany (티파니_), “I Just Wanna Dance”
Garvey: Tiffany is a member of K-pop behemoth Girls Generation, and she’s just put out her first solo “mini-album,” I Just Wanna Dance. The whole thing rules (it’s on Spotify), but the lead single has been doing surprisingly well on the American charts. I’m guessing that’s because it’s part of this recent wave of K-pop that doesn’t sound all that different from American pop, language aside — not to say that one defers to the other, more that we might be approaching a kind of global pop sound? The sparkly, crisp ’80s vibe here sounds right at home with prime Nick Jonas, Derulo, or even dear, sweet Carly Rae Jepsen, and that’s some pretty great company to be among.
Cills: I love this entire EP. I’m also into “What Do I Do,” which comes in both an English and Korean version on the EP and makes me think that maybe it was supposed to be the US hit single because it has kind of an Ariana Grande vibe to it, as opposed to the cooler CRJ pop on “I Just Wanna Dance.” Either way, I’m here for Tiffany. She’s only the second (of the currently eight-member group) Girls Generation artist to break out with a solo career. The first was Taeyeon, whose solo music wasn’t as slick for me as Tiffany’s is here, so it’s going to be interesting to see what other genres the rest of GG’s members are working in if they do plan to go solo.
Turner: This song gave me such intense CRJ vibes I was already on guard to not like it. I don’t hate the song, but I guess I’m sort of tired of such exact ’80s pastiche. It’s 2016; who even remembers remembering the ’80s in the 2000s?
Lambert: When I hear “Tiffany” I’m gonna think ’80s mall-pop, so I was thankful that this Tiffany was so in tune with my dreams. “I Just Wanna Dance” has a lighter-than-air, lemon-lime soda, rollerblading-down-the-boardwalk, freestyle music vibe. I just wanna mix it into “Spring Love.”
Aaron: Girls Generation deserved better from us, America. And even though we may never reach the heights of “I Got a Boy” ever again, here’s another chance to make things right vis-à-vis GG.
Fat Joe & Remy Ma “All The Way Up (Remix ft. Jay Z)”
Vozick-Levinson: Jay’s verse goes harder on paper than in practice, but even so I like the way it temporarily evokes the time when Hov hopping on the remix was guaranteed to yield at least three (3) Oh shit! moments. For the record, “David LaChappelle levels of not giving a f**k” is the nicest line in this song, with that “DWYCK” flip a close second. Let us not speak of “survival of the littest.”
Willis-Abdurraqib: I kind of wish that Jay’s first post-Lemonadeverse didn’t reference Lemonade, even though I suppose it was inevitable. I think I’ve been able to comfortably adjust my bar for Jay Z verses in a way, so I’m comfortable saying that this is a really solid 2016 Jay Z verse. It still feels like Remy Ma is the real star of the show here, though.
Hopper: I am here for this Remy verse of “All The Way” with near exclusivity because she crackles with life. Her absence these last few years has been sorely felt. This collaborative album with her and Fat Joe has a lot of promise — they have such storied Terror Squad history and clearly know each other’s style, tone, and delivery. It sounds like real collaboration and connection rather than someone punching in for a verse. Depending on the day, the headline has been either that this Jay verse is putting Fat Joe back on the map or vice versa, but Remy is the magic here. Fat Joe has made like five middling-as-f**k singles with French Montana, so let’s give credit where it’s due: “All The Way Up” is Remy’s show.
Aaron: Remy ripping open the dankly majestic beat like a hollowpoint has been this song’s magic from day one, no matter how many dudes they throw on the remix. And I’m psyched to hear Jay’s respectful shout to the late Kid: “Prince left his masters where they safe and sound / We never gonna let the elevator take us down.”
Lambert: The last time I was in New York I saw a fire hydrant burst open for the first time in my life, something I had only ever seen onSesame Street, and I looked around like “Somebody do something!” because as a California person I just saw gallons of precious water gushing onto the streets and nobody stopping it. But here there’s not a drought and you can pour as much water as you want on the hot asphalt during a sweltering day and get your ankles wet in it and not have to feel guilty at all. This is a good New York summer rap song.
St. Félix: It’s a great New York summer rap song. And like the best ones, it’s become a BX answer to a riddim, and I have to say that the best verse on a remix of this song didn’t come from a New Yorker (though Remy Ma is my religion) — it came from Meek. Jadakiss and Fabo hold their own on that version too, but Meek highkey snapped: “Views from the projects / Nigga, I’m the prospect.”
YG feat. Drake and Kamaiyah, “Why You Always Hatin’?”
Aaron: It makes me happy when any drib or drab of hyphy gets some shine, even if Kamaiyah’s the only Bay Area representative and DJ Mustard (who produced this) calls it “jerk” or whatever whatever. I just wish Kamaiyah got a verse, though, instead of only the (awesomely breezy) hook, to make everybody else look personality deficient.
St. Félix: This was prepackaged to slap in the club. I’ll go further and say this could have just been a YG/Kamaiyah affair, or the three could have been a lot more integrated rather than phoned-in, say à la DJ Mustard’s construction w/ “Post to Be.” TBH, I was sleeping through most of Drake’s verse, though my ears perked up with the Moesha reference. *Cues “Moesha writing in her diary” music*
Hopper: They shoulda donated that Drake billboard space to Kamaiyah; she sells this hook because she sounds like she’s deeply incurious why anyone is hatin’ — why should she? She’s dropped the best mixtape of the year.
Bibi Bourelly “What if”
Turner: This is R&B that wants to be alt rock and country song at the same time. I don’t know which direction it wants to head, but that awkward guitar reverb and the muted chords are so distracting to me that I wish it’d choose.
Aaron: It’s just kinda boring and meanders nowhere slowly and is in severe need of direction or sonic ambition or emotional depth or freakiness or drama, i.e. Rihanna. Bibi can do a little bit of everything (and does it with an appealing hangover ache), which is great for her songwriting collabos, but may end up cursing her solo career.
Hopper: I can now only hear Rihanna’s faithful renditions of Bourelly’s songs underneath them. That rasping, voice-cracking vulnerability that punctuates Bourelly slurring “4 a.m.” four and a half syllables as the threads all disconnect and float away — it feels like a ghost of Anti, not the other way around. It’s hard to remove that frame of reference and hear Bibi qua Bibi. The skeletal demo quality of this track is its charm, but it also makes me think these wound up here because they didn’t make sense on someone else’s album.
Cills: I really just want to like Bibi Bourelly’s solo work more than I actually do. I’ve loved her songs for Rihanna, of course, and I really like her voice. But something about her music just feels half-formed, like it’s skimming the sound or the expression of something a lot deeper. Maybe that’s what you mean when you say this song isn’t picking a side, David. For example, I really liked her song “Riot,” but it felt like it could have been a much bigger song beyond the acoustic guitar attached to it. I think the sparse, demo-feeling of her music, especially as an artist trying to make a name for herself as being more than just a songwriter, might be doing a disservice to her work. “What If” also makes me think that if she wanted to, Bourelly could be making music like Adia Victoria and Torres, who are penning this sort of dark, country-leaning rock. She could be a rock star if she wanted to. Like, wouldn’t you love to hear Bibi release a song like Bey’s “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” which is totally her wheelhouse on a bigger scale? I would!
Lambert: I actually like that kind of half-formed quality. It sounds like she’s following a train of thought in real time. And I like Bibi’s lo-fi purple haze, even though I too can’t unhear Rihanna in it now.
Lance Skiiiwalker, “Speed”
Garvey: Ohmygod, snare anxiiiety. The only thing I’m left thinking about after this little wisp of a song is how it’s really soothing to obsessively click a clicky ballpoint pen yourself, but f**king infuriating when anyone else does it. What am I missing here…
Lambert: Nothing I love more than the magic moment a spidery paranoid freakout turns into a chilled-out sunset jet ride over the clouds.
Graves: Damn, this is many fire emojis. The only conceivable reference point I have for this is maybe Young Fathers at their most commercial, largely because the rhythm section is a healthy mix of drums and vocal percussion. The hi-hat samples sound like they were cut from a drum corps instructional cassette — I’d believe in them just as much if I heard them on a Death Grips track with live drumming underneath. You will definitely hear this out despite the lack of a defined, memorable vocal hook (thanks so much for making that a thing, Drake and/or Future). Skiiiwalker’s gifted us a hit without needing to wrap a bow around it at the end, instead opting to fade on the beat, like he made this for DJs to beat-match it into the next song in their set. I wasn’t sure they could top “Vice City” (’cause, like … who could?) but apparently TDE continues to dominate.
Hopper: My conspiracy theory is that Lance Skiiiwalker is actually Dalek, or at least Dalek’s producer Oktopus in a new disguise. Because the Soundcloud comments are all like “OI KRAZY YEEZUS BEAT AAAHHH,” but I connect this to a particular era of skuzzy, up-close, blown-out samples production in early-aughts NY hip-hop.
Aaron: This doesn’t strike me as that odd, really. The beat is jittery and staticky and all, but it ain’t like early-2000s abstract-noise rap. If people think this is esoteric or that TDE has gone off the experimental deep end — harrumph. To me, it fits pretty comfortably between Chance and Anderson .Paak and anybody else making the post-Drake world a welcome reality. Whoever Mr. Skiiiwalker actually is, he’s a multitalented, likable presence.
Graves: Hopper, there is a prevalent internet conspiracy that Skiiiwalker is actually Jay Rock’s alterego. Combining that with your Dalek theory, this particular round of H&M has furthered my belief in the multiverse. Bill Nye out.
Wale, “My PYT”
Willis-Abdurraqib: OK, so the truth is that this song has two things that draw me to it: I like a good Michael Jackson sample, and I’m always truly rooting for Wale. Do I necessarily WANT to hear him singing MJ’s “PYT” on this song? No. Certainly not. But I think it’s somewhat endearing that it seems like he knows he’s not a great singer, and he’s singing the way that many of us would if we were just alone in the shower. I’m going to slide all of my chips to the center of the table and call this a hit. This is the hit Wale deserves. People are going to play this in the club, if only because people won’t be able to resist the nostalgia of the sample. Good job on this incredible hit, Wale.
Aaron: Well, it’s been almost ten years since Kanye/T-Pain sampled MJ for “Good Life,” so I suppose it COULD work again. I just wish Wale had gotten somebody else to help him sing the chorus (since it sounds so sad and wan) — but this is his cornball show, so be it. I do think it would be heartening if a modestly catchy song about singing the praises of a lady who was “badder than a muthaf**ka” somehow made it onto rap radio (minus any wounded-ego passive-aggression). I don’t know if Wale deserves a hit or not — he seems to work harder at his footwear collection than at being a super-successful artist — but I agree with Hanif that this is his best shot yet. In fact, I’m gonna start singing “She my M-Y-P-Y-T” to my wife just to show my vaguely enthusiastic support. Good-ass job on this tolerable hit, Wale.
Hopper: This sort of “you’re mine, sweetheart” song is not what I was thinking we’d be getting from Wale in summer 2016, but it is for sure tolerable — hell, it’s cute in this kinda “21 Questions” way. But yeah, he could have used a smooth Nate Dogg–like presence to carry this hook. I like the dual interpolations here: Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and “PYT” but — wait, is that Diceman “Whoa!” sample from EMF’s “Unbelievable”? If so, that’s a hell of a trifecta.
Old Dominion, “Snapback”
Geffen: Here’s an interesting study in genre. I feel like the only things that make this country as opposed to pop-rock are the vocal accent and the slide solo. There are synths all over this thing; the jangly electric guitar could fit in anywhere from a Meghan Trainor tune to a 1D single, and the lyrics run adjacent to 5SOS’s “She Looks So Perfect” in terms of shouting out a love interest for her singular fashion choices. I’m fascinated whenever genre becomes less of a structural or even textural way of grouping music and more of a dialect, a cultural vernacular. “Snapback” is country because it was made for people who listen to country.
Cills: Agreed Sasha, but hasn’t country-adjacent music always sort of been that way? We’re now living in a Gwelton (Blake and Gwen, respectively) world. Thinking about Shania Twain or even Swift’s progression (hey, even the stuff Keith Urban is doing right now), country-pop is its own animal at this point, and it’s cool to see it rise on the genre’s charts. But what was different for those artists is they came from country; Old Dominion is just on their debut. But throw a nasal-y pop-boy vocal in here and it might as well be a light pop-punk track. Even the whole Los Angeles skater boy thing working here seems like aggressive, un-country packaging. For any Girls fans, this song kind of reminds me of Charlie’s bland rock song “In Those Keds” from Season 1 of the show. Anyone? Anyone???
Turner: “We got the beat let’s drop it” — I love this line. The rest of the song, less so. I’m always a bit amused how I’ll accept other music genre cliches well before I can accept the bland come-ons from country music bros. My favorite thing about this song is the video, which just makes me think of “Sk8er Boi,” except if the entire cast was aged up fifteen years. Slightly weird, but I guess.
Hopper: This song’s corny hybridity makes me imagine it as the fictional end-product of a MAGIC!/Luke Bryan cowriting session.
Lambert: These guys look more like a ’90s indie-rock band than a country act, which tells you a lot about the state of modern country-pop in a Swiftless country world. You would never know these guys were country if they weren’t named Old Dominion, which is up there with Lady Antebellum for band names that sound a little too openly nostalgic for the pre–Civil War era South. This is the dumbest song and it always gets stuck in my head after hearing it on the radio, but just the “in your snapback” part. Looking forward to the inevitable response song “Fitted Cap.”
Aaron: This is like sped-up Jack Johnson pu pu or the worst party anybody ever had on Venice Beach. Do any of these people even know each other, or did they meet via Nashville LinkedIn? The fact that they already had a No. 1 hit (and another video with a skateboard in it) is deeply depressing, though “Break Up With Him” did have a sparkling-zirconium melody. Also, every time I see the title of these guys’ album — Meat and Candy — it reminds me of that song from the ’90s about a lonely skeeve who claimed he smelled “sex and candy” and being all like “Yeah mama,” which always made me nauseated and embarrassed for humanity. I like to imagine what if this were called “Snapchat” and there were all new lyrics about what people do on Snapchat, which I don’t quite understand. David? Hazel? Guys…?