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First Impressions: Ariana Grande, FKA twigs, Halsey And More

Written By Sam Murphy on 09/20/2019

First Impressions is our weekly chance to go head-to-head on the new tunes of the week. Each of the contributing writers reviews the track and then slaps a score out of 5 on it. This week Halsey, the new Charlie’s Angels theme and more are up.

Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus & Lana Del Rey – Don’t Call Me Angel

Reece: This is a pop music’s version of Miami Heat landing LeBron, Wade and Bosh in 2010: simply seeing Ariana, Miley and Lana standing together in the clip feels like a fever dream. The front-end of this song is fantastic: Ariana is scaling the beat like it’s an R&B song, Miley is jabbing it like a rock song and it’s all somehow coherent. That momentum doesn’t carry through to Lana del Rey’s part, which feels way out of place. It’s no knock on the 2020 Album of the Year Grammy Award winner, who works well with what she’s given, but a light uptempo pop song just isn’t the right fit. That said, the song is still great – it’s just that calibre assembled could have put out a classic. 4

Sam: A complete and utter mess. It just feels like there was a lot thrown at the wall and not much of it stuck but they released it anyway. I think it would have worked much better as just a Grande song. Miley’s verse is the equivalent of being smacked in the face with a block of wood and Lana’s bit is basically a different song. I love all three of them but they’ve left one hell of a mess for Charlie to clean up. 2

FKA twigs – Holy Terrain (Feat. Future)

Reece: FKA twigs doesn’t need much help producing masterpieces, but why not bring in some friends? And by friends, I mean Future, Jack Antonoff, Skrillex, Poo Bear, Sounwave and Officer Kenny Beats. ‘Holy Terrain’ is so good that it means ‘Cellophane’ feel like a false start. No one else balances the calm and the storm as delicately as FKA twigs. She feels as fragile as glass on one line and powerful enough to topple empires on the next. And Future really brought this best here – this is the brooding enigma we’ve been missing, sounding refreshed and ready to be hurt again. One of the best songs of the year. 5

Sam: ‘Cellophane’ is one of my tracks of the year and sadly I don’t think this is up there for me. It’s definitely not a bad track. It’s whimsical, woozy and powerful all at once but there’s something about the trap production that takes twigs the closest she’s ever been to the middle of the road. I do love sad Future so props for bringing that out. 3.5

Halsey – Graveyard

Reece: I need someone to explain Halsey to me. What does anyone rate about ‘Graveyard’? There’s no line that stands out as particularly clever, the melodies don’t stick in any way and the production is bland. I think Halsey’s done some really cool things for representation outside of her songs, but the actual music she puts out feels lacking in personality. I’m very happy for Halsey’s millions of fans! The YouTube comments seem to love this. Someone, anyone, please help me. I want to understand what you’re all enjoying about this.  1.5

Sam: I really like the direction she was going in with Nightmare and to hear she’s doing a hard pivot away from that is annoying. This song is a real wet cloth. Even my least favourite Halsey songs sound like they’ve got a bit of personality but this one is completely bereft of it. Like Reece, I just cannot understand this. How can you announce an album alongside this? 2

Rex Orange County – 10/10

Reece: I’m officially worried about Rex Orange County. Rex has always had a strange magnetism to his music – a scrappy singer and awkward songwriter who had a knack for writing songs that cut straight to the heart. ‘10/10’ entrenches the stylistic changes we saw in ‘New House’: more expansive, electronic production, some more filtering over Rex’s vocals and a looser, hyper-personal stream-of-conscious songwriting style. It’s not really working for me at this stage, but I appreciate that he’s trying to evolve. 3

Sam: I rarely disagree with Reece but I completely disagree here. Both this and New House are two of his strongest pieces yet. He’s definitely expanding his sonic landscape but it’s only making his music stronger. This feels like a really vulnerable piece and yet it makes it like a warm hug. 4

Charlie Puth – Mother 

Reece: Wow! This song is creepy. I get the premise of the song is basically “I’m polite to your parents but also, I have a raunchy side!” but woah, Charlie, you couldn’t have written this better? If your mate is telling his partner things like “If your mother knew, she’d keep me so far from you”, that’s troubling! Let’s not even talk about the bridge. The whole song has a very sinister overtone that is super distracting – especially taken with the video, which has Charlie going for a ‘sexy young John Cryer’ look and dressing like an 8 Mile extra. Oh, and the song itself sounds like a discount version of 5SOS’ ‘Youngblood’. Not digging this one at all. 1.5 

Sam: This feels a little creepy like he’s attempting to play a teenager. Puth is 27. It’s the same age as I am so I know there are few mothers who are interested in knowing whether or not you snuck out of home. I’m kind of into the subtle production but I just cannot get past the lyrics. 1.5

Julia Michaels – If You Need Me

Reece: Very grateful we weren’t finishing on creepy Charlie Puth! ‘If You Need Me’ is very pleasant. Julia Michaels is a phenomenal songwriter who knows how to really make every word count. I really enjoy the way Julia Michaels builds up to choruses and resists the urge to push it over-the-top by getting overly theatrical. It’s confidence in the words you’ve written and Julia Michaels more than anyone is right to back in her pen. She’s an excellent artist who feels constantly in control of her songs. 4

Sam: She’s a great songwriter and she constantly pulls songs that could be ordinary out of trouble. My issue is I want to hear her make a great song even greater. 3

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