With streaming services and digital platforms taking over traditional radio play and records sales are measures of popularity, what it means to have a “hit song” is radically changing. Using the top ten songs from the April 14 Billboard Hot 100, I check in on what pop music is up to right now — and determine whether or not it’s any good.
10. Walk It Talk It – Migos featuring Drake
2018 Redfest headliners Migos pair with Drake in his first of three appearances on the Top Ten. At this point, Migos have fallen into an enjoyable but predictable formula — as confirmed by this Dr. Seuss parody that is at least twice as entertaining as the actual song.
9. Freaky Friday – Lil Dicky featuring Chris Brown
This was my first introduction to comedian and rapper Lil Dicky — and this bizarre, obnoxious song does not exactly make me want to find out more. The confusing conceit is that both rappers trade bodies and perform verses contrasting each other’s personas. As a joke writer, Lil Dicky can’t even approach The Lonely Island or Das Racist — and their social commentary, touching on white privilege, fame and political correctness, is clumsy at best and offensive at worst. The song ends with three truly terrible cameos from Ed Sheeran, DJ Khaled and Kendall Jenner, blessedly solidifying Lil Dicky’s status as a novelty act that we will (hopefully) leave in 2018.
8. Finesse – Bruno Mars and Cardi B
Bruno Mars takes advantage of Cardi B’s enormous charisma in this nostalgic throwback. The production is a slight tweaking of 80’s R&B, and the lyrics are mostly about how fun it is to be rich and famous. This kind of goofy confidence and showmanship is a much more natural fit for Bruno Mars than the romantic crooning or weird sexual come-on’s that have derailed his lesser songs. All of it is borderline corny — but Bruno is always borderline corny, and it helps that both artists seem to be having a genuinely good time.
7. Perfect – Ed Sheeran
A white bread on white bread sandwich you will be doomed to hear at every boring wedding dance for the next ten years. In any tempo, you can expect Ed to bring insipid lyrics and a banal vocal performance, but at least “Shape of You” had the decency to be catchy.
6. The Middle – Zedd, Maren Morris, and Grey
Zedd is the best of the many EDM producers making breezy hits with pop vocalists — he wins a lot of points for pure exuberance. Songs like this tend to live or die based on the strength of the featured artist, and country singer Maren Morris is a surprisingly natural fit for Zedd’s histrionics. I definitely don’t want this to be a permanent change of direction for Morris, but if this encourages more people to check out her excellent debut album “Hero” then it’s a win all around.
5. Look Alive – BlocBoy JB featuring Drake
This kind of trap song was all over rap radio just a couple of years ago, but in the post-Soundcloud landscape it almost sounds like an anomaly. The production here is nothing special, and previous unknown BlocBoy JB wisely moves over to give Drake more room. Sure, Drake is probably phoning it in here, but I would still take a lesser Drake verse over some of the more distasteful poster boys of the new generation.
4. Call Out My Name – The Weeknd
After spending the 2010’s as an outre indie artist, an unlikely pop star and Daft Punk’s muse, The Weeknd responds to his breakup with Selena Gomez with a song that recalls Sam Smith and Adele, lyrically and melodically. That’s not a dig necessarily, and the song is sonically more adventurous, but this is a surprisingly traditional comeback single. This is not as cutting or well constructed as some of the best tabloid drama pop songs: “Cry Me a River,” “Dear John” or “Sorry,” but The Weeknd has only grown as a vocalist, and the melodramatic lyrics will certainly soundtrack a million summer breakups.
3. Psycho – Post Malone featuring Ty Dolla $ign
This feels like a logical collaboration — both rappers share a superficially similar aesthetic and an inflated interest in melody and mood. Both artists’ popularity represents an interesting shift in hip-hop’s mainstream. “Psycho” is subdued, slow and more than a little depressing. Some of Post Malone’s songs have been enjoyable, but so much of the lyrics are more of the same uninspiring riffs on fame and money.
2. Meant to Be – Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line
On paper, this kind of marriage of pop and country is not that different from “The Middle,” but this song lacks any of that track’s charm and craft. Artists like Sam Hunt have found an easy connection between R&B and country sounds, but Hunt has songwriting talent and a point of view that this awkward and contrived track never even approaches. From the grating vocals to the lazy chorus, this is a radio crossover at its most irritating and cynical.
1. God’s Plan – Drake
This song is one of the most popular of Drake’s career — even if it feels a little underwhelming after the release of the far superior “Nice for What” (it will almost certainly be in the Top Ten next week). I definitely don’t hate “God’s Plan” — it is the quintessential Drake song in that some of the lines are great (“I only love my bed and my momma, I’m sorry.”) and some others that are baffling (is “I feel good, sometimes I don’t” really the best he could come up with?) At this point, Drake is one of the few pop artists powerful enough that he can follow his own whims and expect everyone else to follow.