Wow, yes: BTS, “Dynamite” - The Bangtan boys have clearly studied up on their Western boy band tradition. “Dynamite” is BTS’s first track recorded fully in English, released more as fan service than any attempt at crossing over. They’ve proven time and time again that progressive, curious U.S. audiences don’t require songs recorded in English to become certifiable bangers, and for that reason, there’s something delightfully transgressive about their decision to release the song now, in the midst of a global pandemic that’s keeping most of us as home.
At any rate, the song is heavily Jungkook-focused, the group’s maknae (or youngest member, think of him as embodying the Western “cute one” trope a la One Direction’s Niall Horan), a clever decision considering his popularity stateside. The song, too, is disco-pop along the lines of Lizzo’s “Juice,” a wholesome pastel wonderland that’s sure to land on U.S. radio. Please spare me one more ham-fisted 1D comparison, but it feels spiritually similar to the U.K. boy band’s earliest days: endearing pop hits meant to elicit a feeling of total joy, a warmth expressed in the purest way—through the embarrassment-free, callow charms of the biggest boy band on the planet. —Maria Sherman
Yes, but only because of quarantine: Taylor Swift, “the lakes” - Despite my undying allegiance to Taylor Swift and everything she does, her latest album folklore is lacking in a lot of ways. This track is lyrically good, although melodically boring, only because it captures the current moment of how desperate people are to be outside. As a city bitch who recently discovered that lakes are where it’s at, I understand and can vibe to Swift’s longing to just be at a lake and scream into the watery void. I think if the world were not clamoring for the great outdoors in this moment, this would just be another boring cottagecore track. —Shannon Melero
Yes: Moor Mother, “Forever Industries A” - At the risk of taking the easy way out of this blurb: Moor Mother’s punk Afrofuturism defies categorization, and fittingly, her “Forever Industries” singles series defies time—the poet-activist-musician Camae Ayewa’s A-side marries spoken word, rap, meditative ambient synth, skittering drums loud in the mix and what I imagine to be archival recordings into an expansive three minutes. It requires multiple listens. —MS
Yeah: Tomberlin, “Wasted” (music video) - I don’t always connect with Tomberlin’s somber songwriting—there’s something about her acoustic phrasing and soft meditations that have yet to resonate, and that’s on me—but I’m ready to embrace “Wasted” with open arms. Maybe it’s those drums? The wistful, Busy Philips-directed music video? Who knows. Either way, I’m all in. —MS
You better believe it: Cabaret Voltaire, “Vasto” - Was anyone expecting a new Cabaret Voltaire song in 2020? “Vasto” is avant-garde goth Richard H. Kirk’s first CV track in 26 years, it’s nearly eight minutes of dark techno weirdness, and I’ve never felt the closing of clubs due to covid-19 more than in this moment. It’s timeless. —MS
Oh, I’m sorry, no: Katy Perry, “What Makes a Woman” - Katy Perry peaked with “Dark Horse” and has been on a slow but steady downslide ever since. Her latest, “What Makes a Woman” is a brief, plaintive exploration of, yes, you guessed it, what makes a woman, and sounds like the kind of empowerment pap that might play over a sad montage on The Bold Type. That’s not an insult, because that show is great, but that doesn’t mean this music is good, either! “Is it the way I talk sweet?” she asks. “The way my skin is soft?/Or how I can be a bitch?” Ma’am, it’s none of these things, but thank you just the same. —Megan Reynolds
That’s the ticket: Amber Mark, “Thong Song” - I love Amber Mark’s smoky, smooth voice, and the covers she’s been putting out in quarantine are lovely re-imaginings of beloved classics. This cover of Sisqo’s finest isn’t quite a torch song and while it lacks the pep of the original, it’s still very, very good. After you listen, stick around and enjoy the rest. Nice thing for a Friday spent mucking around in the dregs of summer. —MR
A retro moment of FINE whatever: Mariah Carey, “Save the Day” - Carey offers the first taste of her upcoming album of unreleased vintage tracks, The Rarities, with a song that was reportedly set to appear on her perennially postponed 14th studio album, 2014's Me. I Am Mariah... The Elusive Chanteuse. In 2011, her then-publicist Cindi Berger announced Carey would be donating proceeds from “Save the Day” to human-rights issues as a mea culpa for performing for family members of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2008. And... then the song never materialized. But here it is!
The back story is a bit more interesting than the sleepy, vaguely prosocial boom-bap that liberally samples Lauryn Hill’s melismatic breakdown vocals from the Fugees’ cover of “Killing Me Softly,” but overall it’s a nice track. Here’s hoping Carey uses Rarities to dip into her vault and bust out that original “Loverboy” with the Yellow Magic Orchestra “Firecracker” sample that started Carey’s feud with Jennifer Lopez. Talk about a story behind a song! —Rich Juzwiak
Sim: Bebel Gilberto, “Teletransportador” - This, the last track on bossa nova royalty Bebel Gilberto’s heavily electronic new album Agora, is simply and thoroughly heavenly. —RJ
Yeah: Mulatto, Queen of Da Souf - Women are dominating hip hop right now, especially women from the south, and Mulatto’s debut album Queen of Da Souf is a welcome continuation of this trend. Let me be frank, this album is a fun medley of turn up tracks that you’ll bump when you’re getting ready for a night out... when we can have those again. Some of my favorite tracks include “Muwop,” “In n Out,” “On God,” “Look Back At It,” and (of course) “Bitch From Da Souf,” but, again, the whole album is solid. Gucci Mane, 21 Savage, City Girls, Trina, and Saweetie are all featured, but Mulatto holds her own easily. The only thing that takes me out of the music sometimes is the fact that her cadence kind of sort of sounds like Iggy Azealia... with more talent. But that’s probably because Iggy tries to sound like she’s from Atlanta instead of Australia, her actual homeland. It ain’t Mulatto’s fault! —Ashley Reese