All I can say about this one is ‘Ouch’! For those who don’t know, this song was penned by none other than the legendary Taylor Swift herself, and I don’t know which of her recent ex-boyfriends this was directed at, but I imagine he’s still feeling the burn. For this song, Swift returns to her Pop-Country roots like she had never been away, but that ends up taking a backseat to the absolutely brutal lyric. I don’t think Swift has ever written something this scathing about an ex-lover…even “Dear John”, which previously held the benchmark for venom in the Swift catalog, isn’t as blatantly insulting as this. It’s not the subtlest thing she ever wrote by a long shot, but there is a definite brutal bite to its blunt-spoken anger, and I imagine we’ve all felt this way after a breakup at some point…like we’re still irrationally in love with the person who broke our heart even though intellectually we’ve recognized that they were genuinely unworthy of our devotion. Karen Fairchild is, to be completely honest, actually a more interesting vocalist than Swift, and she does an excellent job of delivering this song, but Swift’s writing is so memorable and distinctive that she ultimately comes off as the real star of this track. Of course, the really good news is that, between this, her contribution to the soundtrack of that 50 Shades of Grey sequel, and even that disappointing ghost-written collaboration with Calvin Harris, Taylor Swift is writing again, which means we seem very likely to get another album out of her sometime in the coming year.
Alessia Cara is the singer who gave us one of last year’s best hit songs (not too shabby a feat given the quality of Pop music in 2015) in the anti-party anthem “Here”. Now, from her long-awaited first studio album, we get her long-awaited second hit. This is another fine and striking song that makes effective use of Cara’s cold performing style, and it serves as almost an anti-matter counterpart to Daya’s “Sit Still, Look Pretty”…both are trying to be the followup to Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts”, but while Daya’s song misses the point of that song entirely, “Scars For Your Beautiful” perfectly captures the necessary anguish and sorrow. The only thing that makes this song fall short of her previous hit is the subject matter. Before “Here”, we didn’t really have a song about the human experience of being the sober misanthrope in a roomful of drunken partiers. But even before Beyonce recorded “Pretty Hurts”, we had plenty of songs about the pain under the mask of the beauty queen, and while this is a worthy entry in that catalog, it can’t quite equal the unique impact of her first hit.
This song is, at least in theory, interesting because of its (initially uncredited) co-author, Pop sensation Taylor Swift. But really, for all that this has inspired hordes of people to talk about this song, there’s virtually nothing interesting about the experience of actually listening to it. Unlike his last single “How Deep Is Your Love”, it was wise enough not to stray too far from Harris’ comfort zone, but one could argue it takes that strategy to the opposite extreme. It’s a formulaic, lifeless retread of one of Harris’ past glories with the same singer, “We Found Love”, and the saddest part is that it isn’t even the first time he’s tried this…his second single with Rihanna, “Where Have You Been”, was much the same. Now, Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris’ personal relationship is none of my business, but it is worth noting that they do not make especially felicitous collaborators…their genre influences and the values their songwriting styles emphasize are too different for them to blend well. They ultimately wind up watering down each other’s contributions, delivering some of the weakest work either of them have ever done. Still, because Swift does have a recognizable style even when she’s completely phoning it in, the lyrics at least have a tiny bit more personality than most Dance tracks on this quality level, though they’re still not interesting enough to begin to save the track. In spite of the public’s current fascination with celebrity gossip related to these two artists, I still can’t really see what all the fuss is about…it’s not like this song offers any hints or implications about the nature of their relationship, no matter how closely you try to analyze it.
The first three singles from the Zac Brown Band’s Jekyll + Hyde album consisted a traditional Classic Country tune, a Grunge-influenced Hard Rock song, and a disco-flavored retro-R&B single, so it was already more than living up to the schizophrenia suggested by its title. This, the fourth single, is another bizarre turn into left field, an anthemic club banger in the vein of acts like Calvin Harris. Like the other three singles, it’s a fine song in and of itself, doing its chosen style better than many of the people who specialize in it, but I can only imagine how disjointed and generally insane that album must be.
This song isn’t as interesting or memorable as its most immediate predecessor, Pharell’s “Happy”, and it certainly doesn’t approach the depth and complexity we usually see in the material on actual Justin Timberlake albums, but given the probable quality of the children’s movie it’s connected with, it’s actually better than one would expect. It has a suitably infectious beat and makes for a fun listen, and in a year when half the charts have been dominated by Drake’s Views album, that probably means more now than it would at any other time.