Hmmmmmmmm......: Ariana Grande, “Positions” - It would seem that Ariana Grande has, since the last time I saw her, re-upped her voluminous ponytail and applied a thick coating of self-tanner down her entire person. Sonically, she has also journeyed back down an excessively well-trodden path. In “Positions,” Grande whispers over a sparse, and familiar, mid-tempo beat. She sing-talks in her signature marble mouthed operatics, about her “babe,” and how she wants to “meet his mama on a Sunday.” It’s fine! I don’t mind any of it.
Really, though, I swear I have heard this song before. Haven’t I heard this song before? —Joan Summers
No: Paris Hilton, “I Blame You” - Who is singing for Paris Hilton these days? I’m glad she “feels good,” as the song’s chorus repeats, but this is certainly unenthusiastic music. I hope it was written solely with the intent of remixing, because as it stands now... it is wholly apathetic. Just revisit 2006's eponymous Paris, or even better, Rich Juzwiak’s look back at her unsavory history. —Maria Sherman
Sure: Bishop Briggs, “HIGHER” - Where most young pop singers have found a shared niche of soft, whispered vocal performance and bleary production, Bishop Briggs aims higher—she aims for polish and leaves the frayed edges for her lyricism. This is clearly a song meant to inspire and embolden, something ripe for licensing on ESPN or PIXAR film, and it’s a bit of a welcomed respite from the understandable dissolution that plagues so much popular music these days. Let her have this victory, let it remind you of your own. —MS
Wake me up when November ends (that means this is a NO): Vanessa Carlton, “Die, Dinosaur” — I understand that this election is very important and that we must do what we can to get the bad man out and another, less bad man in, but what I’d like to say is that we do not need anymore protest anthems or pointed social commentary via pop music. However, no one listens to me, and that is why Vanessa Carlton imploring “dinosaurs”—white men in power?—to die exists. It’s better than Demi Lovato, but it’s still not great! I’ll be cleansing my palate with Country Joe McDonald’s “I-Feel -Like-I’m-Fixin-To-Die Rag” because even though that song is about Vietnam, I also feel like I’m fixin’ to die, and maybe you do, too. —Megan Reynolds
Y: Ale Hop, “Jungle Depredation” - If it weren’t for the lengthy description that partnered my introduction to Peruvian experimentalist Ale Hop, I would’ve misread her composition “Jungle Depredation” as some sort of commentary on climate change, an environment in synthetic and totally reversible turmoil. It is, instead, loosely inspired by one month spent “living with different types of insects in her home studio, which she bought from a local insect dealer in Berlin and built little terrariums to record them for the sound design of a film she was working on.” These sounds are not insect-made, but they are “recomposed through speculated narrative and abstract elements that seek to portray their lives, assembling sounding stories that could be re-constructed in the mind of the active listener,” as the press release reads. To me, it is a full opera in five-minutes, a clamoring, disorienting and entrancing scientific study that challenges noise music’s usual penchant for improvisation. It is meticulous and dizzying, a medicinal tune that will surely take multiple listens to fully grasp. —MS
On repeat: Beverly Kills, “Trophy Hunt” - The final night before my quarantine began, I dragged my hungover body to a dreaded lower Manhattan club to see Gothenburg, Sweden band Beverly Kills for a second time in three days—they were my last live music experience of the year (or so it seems) and my last true obsession, the kind that emerges from one listen and one perfect live set. Naturally, I became engrossed by their records, patiently waiting for new material to feast on. “Trophy Hunt” is their latest, indefatigable multi-hyphenate post-punk indiepop, lyrically analogizing aesthetic killings for a seductive, potentially devious partner. Like all of their material, it is elastic and complete. I am endlessly charmed—I mean, “disco god”? That bass solo? I need more. —MS
Y: Kylie Minogue, “I Love It” - It’s derivative but absolutely yes: In 1998, Kylie Minogue’s debut album Kylie dropped, ushering onto the world stage one of the most prolific pop divas in human history, with classics like “The Loco-Motion” and “I Should Be So Lucky.” So after 32 years of pure pop excellence, you’ll have to excuse her if Kylie Minogue wants to assemble together a “disco album” literally titled Disco, with singles like “I Love It.” Is it derivative? Yes. But as one of the most iconic faces of the pop-disco re-surgence in the early 2000s, I think she’s well within her right to release what is, essentially, a glorified covers album. But beyond it’s familiar composition and signature Kylie lyricism, “I Love It” has me grooving around the apartment and singing in the shower. It’s fun and effervescent, and like all of Kylie’s discography, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Kylie wants us to have fun. Can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ll take her invitation gladly. I love it! —JS