YES YES YES YES YES: Normani ft Cardi B, “Wild Side” - Let’s be frank: Normani’s career trajectory post-Fifth Harmony has been a little confusing. She dropped “Motivation” back in 2019 and it was a smash, but the follow-ups seemed sporadic, and we’re still waiting for an album. But with “Wild Side,” Normani is teaching us that patience is a goddamn virtue. I could go on and on about the video’s killer costume work and set design, but it’s the choreography that really shines, in concert with Normani’s vocals and that sample of Aaliyah’s “One In A Million.” It’s oozing Grown N Sexy R&B Revival™. Normani is putting in that work, just like the R&B and pop girlies of yore, and it shows.
Cardi’s cameo was nothing to call home about, but I loved her line “It’s my dick and I want it now!” because it was so reminiscent of the iconic “It’s my money and I need it now!” commercial. I don’t know if that was intentional or not, but hey, I laughed.
I hope this sets Normani up for a true blue album rollout. So many artists are offering sporadic hit singles and forgettable albums these days, but if there’s anyone who could bring back the art of the R&B album, it’s probably her. —Ashley Reese
I’m not suggesting we boil it, but I’m also not not suggesting that: Caroline Polachek, “Bunny Is a Rider” - Remember when Lorde’s spectacularly baffling flop “Solar Power” debuted, briefly caught the pop-loving internet’s collective attention, and people wondered if the insipid awkwardness of it all were some kind of satire/commentary on contemporary pop? And then Lord did an interview that made it sound like: nope, this was just her attempt at straight summer pop? The new song from Caroline Polachek and her collaborator Danny L Harle—two people whose bodies of work have proven a deep understanding of pop’s workings—feels like a protracted engagement with the kind of ambiguity that Lorde stumbled into and then obliterated, like a sandcastle on the shore. A tired tropical house framework, a nonsensical repetitious verse, some kind of put-on accent from Polachek’s lips? It’s summer, and listening to something so frivolous shouldn’t feel like work. This is some dog days shit right here. —Rich Juzwiak
Y: Syd, “Fast Car” - The gentleness of Syd’s voice is deceptive—what is her ability to make anything worth listening to by just singing over it, if not power? Aside from Syd’s angelic quality, there’s nothing radical about the nu-AC template of “Fast Car”—driving guitars over politely synthesized beats (these in particular are more in line with Prince’s fidgety LINN stylings than most, but hardly a revolution let alone the Revolution). It’s the delivery, the well-shot video (those zooms and dissolves), the humor contained within (including a great moment of bloggus interruptus). Yet again, she delivers a win. —RJ
Give it a spin: Willow, lately I feel EVERYTHING - Willow Smith’s pop-punk album had plenty of build-up: Its first single “Transparent Soul” was fire, she had Blink 182's Travis Barker and Avril Lavigne help her out on some tracks, and the time felt right for the pop-punk revival to have a Black face. So, did it meet those expectations? Mostly. Willow’s energy feels cathartic and reminds me of my teen angst of yesteryear without feeling regressive. I was underwhelmed by her collaboration with Lavigne on the track “Grow,” even though it was the most reminiscent of the early ’00s sound that Willow is trying to capture. And while the 36-second track “F**K You” felt a little put on, I respected it. —AR
The highlights from this album are easy to spot: “Transparent Soul,” “Gaslight,” “Lipstick,” “XTRA” featuring Tierra Whack, and “¡Breakout!” featuring Cherry Glazerr. This isn’t a groundbreaking album in the genre, but it’s fun, and I can tell Willow had fun making it too. —AR
Only for the choreo, baby: Tinashe, “Bouncin’” — Here’s Ms. Tinashe, bouncing her way through a gymnasium, accompanied by a cadre of background dancers—just a regular music video! Like, no frills, no fuss, no muss, a pleasant throwback to music videos of yore. The song itself is fine enough, not terrible and not great, but the choreo calls to mind the nasty against-the-wall section from Ciara’s “Promise” and that will always work for me! Furthermore, the trampoline bit is aspirational. Take that, Lekfit acolytes! This is how a workout of any sort on a trampoline should be done. —Megan Reynolds