Singles Club New Year Special! Goodbye 2016, the year of Black Beatles and taking a pill in Ibiza

Welcome to the final Singles Club of 2016.

Thankfully, it’s nearly over. But before we chuck History’s Worst Year into time’s black abyss for good, let’s take a moment to cast an ear over the year’s biggest pop moments. Our Singles Club hivemind may be sharp-witted and brimming with superior taste, but they sure aren’t psychic, and they often get bored of Drake. Shamefully, this means that a handful of 2016’s hits managed to escape our weekly firing line.

So to make sure we’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s of the year in pop, the Singles Club crew have voluntarily exposed their delicate cochleas to the ones that got away – from Drake and Rae Sremmurd to the Chainsmokers and Mike Posner. Hazmat suits on, standing by.


Drake – ‘One Dance’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Look at this picture. From GQ‘s 2009 Men of the Year issue, it shows Wale, Drake and Kid Cudi atop washing machines in that oft-puzzling GQ photo shoot style, while Will Welch describes them as “gangsta slayers”. It’s a condescending and erroneous tone to take, but Welch was onto something with the promise for these three artists as the decade closed. Fast forward to 2016: Wale, once a promising writer, has diluted his music to fit in with whatever overrides his tumultuous public persona, while an artistically stagnant Cudi has bought into his own pretensions. Drake has avoided this by releasing strong music for long enough, but 2016 found him finally hit an artistic snag, opting to strip away his complicated music in lieu of building an empire around the mainstream idea of What Drake Sounds Like. On paper, ‘One Dance’ reads like a music fanatic’s loving combination of funky house, bashment songs and Afrobeats melodies, but this year’s Drake makes it a corporate-style merging of global sounds, maximised to hit any and all potential markets. ‘One Dance’ and Views helped Drake conquer the world, but artistically he joined with his former peers and slayed his former self, the one that exuded all that promise. Which is all to say, with a heavy heart, that I never, ever want to hear ‘One Dance’ again. (2)

Chris Kelly: ‘Do You Mind’ is my favorite UK funky song of all time, and if it took Drake’s fake-ass badman schtick to give it new life (and Kyla a new paycheck), so be it. ‘One Dance’ is the lone bright spot on Drake’s least ambitious, most repetitive wank session yet, and it succeeds despite – not because of – him. He keeps the adopted patois to a minimum and avoids the lazy Redditor misogyny of ‘Hotline Bling’ on the way to his first solo number one. But honestly, who couldn’t make that hook and those chords a hit? (7)

Haley Potiker: ‘One Dance’ was a huge success for Apple Music, the corporate behemoth that broke streaming records by the fistful with its fourth album, Views. But in all seriousness, the song argues for Drake’s post-rap future, where he dabbles in various genres and ties them all together with SNL monologues. Even as he’s become an increasingly divisive, sometimes tiresome figure, songs like ‘One Dance’ are neat and undeniable. (7)

Tayyab Amin: Between the jarring sensation of so many UK people suddenly rebranding as staunch supporters of grime, bassline, dancehall or what have you, and the cultural Galactus that is Drake recklessly co-opting regional hits, the very idea of ‘One Dance’ shook me to my core. I was adamant that the classic needed to be respected. Then someone dropped it when Clarks hosted Hipsters Don’t Dance at HiFi in Leeds and the vibe was so real that it fully spun me 180. It’s so punchy and impossible to resist singing along to, plus it took Kyla to No. 1. The most respectful thing Drake can do for you is turn your tune into a superhit. (9)

6.25


Mike Posner – ‘I Took A Pill In Ibiza’ (Seeb remix)

Haley Potiker: I respect the absurdity of naming an ascendent pop hit ‘I Took A Pill In Ibiza’; the specificity of trying to impress Avicii and feeling like a washed up schmuck is something missing from a lot of pop songwriting. Mike Posner’s song – in all its versions – is breezy and fun, but falls just short of its mandate, which is to find all the human moments tucked between Uber Blacks and bottle service. (7)

Tayyab Amin: Everything about this song screams feds. It sounds like a government campaign against substance abuse. It sounds like the PSHE curriculum. My favourite thing about it is the backstory, where Mike Posner takes a random pill from a total stranger in the crowd at his collaborator Avicii’s show. The songwriting is so stupendously literal and at the same time so exaggerated – his own idiotic actions almost turn into a tragic tale that wallows in its own self-absorbed demands for attention. (3)

Chris Kelly: Is it just me, or does the original sound like one of those acoustic covers of rap and R&B songs that white kids won’t stop making? At least Seeb recognizes that a song about taking pills to show Avicii you’re cool (I can’t even) should at least be vaguely geared to the dancefloor, and the soulless “tropical house” treatment is just “perfect”: water finds its own level, no matter how shallow. The only pill to take to this is cyanide. (2)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Once upon a time, Posner was a guy with a folky voice who unlocked a great keyboard solo that almost made his hit single great. In 2016, he was a guy with a folky voice who recognised the fleeting nature of the fame game, who somehow rode another EDM wave to possible greatness. It doesn’t do much for me, personally. (Remember Lou Reed’s ‘Satellite of Love’ got that awful remix just over a decade ago? How is this different?) It’s a song that reaches for poignancy, but it’s difficult to be poignant over shots. (4)

4


D.R.A.M. feat Lil Yachty – ‘Broccoli’

Tayyab Amin: The sleeper hit of the summer which no-one saw coming, ‘Broccoli’ taps into a joy that’s both bittersweet and necessary. In a year that’s seen Yachty prove divisive, he begins one of his finest verses with the unforgettable, “Hey lil mama, would you like to be my sunshine? N**** touch my gang, we gon’ turn this shit to Colombine.” “Turnt up in the party getting lit to Yachty!” D.R.A.M. grins, talking about a guy who can’t help but rap with a long face. It’s an anthem of balancing contradictions, overcoming struggles and breaking free. Combining it with chirpy piano, boisterous bass and a recorder that taps into our childhood intuition, D.R.A.M.’s protective, self-affirming mantra guided us through 2016: “Ain’t no tellin’ what I’m finna be on…” (10)

Chris Kelly: Undaunted by having Drake rip off what should have been his first major hit, D.R.A.M. teamed with 2016 rap litmus test Lil Yachty for this blast of sugar-high sunshine. Yachty manages to rap about Columbine (!) and Hulk Hogan (!) while D.R.A.M. lays back, smokes some weed and smiles that big-ass grin all the way to the bank. In 2016, who didn’t want to just be “beyond all that fuck shit” like D.R.A.M.? (9)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Yachty is a star, fuck a mumble rap hater, he’s great, his diamonds are cold like cold sodaaa and 2016 was his stage. D.R.A.M. is a whole other discussion, as he could have easily fallen off the face of the planet after ‘Cha Cha’ got fused into the DNA of ‘Hotline Bling’ and Nintendo made him change the song from the original (and better!) Super Mario-indebted version. He could have just been a scratchy-voiced misnomer on two conglomerates’ history slates, but ‘Broccoli’ became a deranged Technicolor hit and helped properly start the artist’s first act just right. The energy is more infectious than the actual song, which places Zelda flutes atop Schroeder pianos and rides a sense of joy for four minutes before realising it’s gone in circles. ‘Broccoli’ is one song where you actually hear the joy of making music coming through, and perhaps that’s what made it resonate in a bleak year. (6)

Haley Potiker: At his best, D.R.A.M. is joy distilled, a grinning, perpetually blunted everyman who gets ripped off by Drake and blows up anyway. The ‘Broccoli’ video is the Vanessa Carlton fan fiction you didn’t know you needed, and it sounds like skipping your last two classes to play dominoes in space. (9)

8.5


Rae Sremmurd – ‘Black Beatles’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Did you know when they play ‘Black Beatles’ on the pop charts they don’t play Gucci’s verse? It’s not even a really offensive verse – “a broke ho can only point me to a rich ho” is the worst it gets, I suppose – and it’s got plenty of mini-hooks embedded within: “Green hair, a real weirdo!”, “We buyin’ school clothes”, “I eurostep past a hater like Ron-do” and so forth. Despite the song being a genuine hit, thanks to the boost a meme will give you, some people still want to act like Gucci doesn’t exist. You can take the haters out of 2009, but you can’t take the 2009 out of the haters. (7)

Chris Kelly: In 2014, “Migos > Beatles” was a quick-fire meme guaranteed to upset anyone born before the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 2016, Rae Sremmurd got Paul McCartney to do the Mannequin Challenge to this Punk Goes Rap anthem, so not everything sucked this year. Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi proved that they were more than just ’No Flex Zone’ and ‘No Type’, while a finally-free Gucci eurostepped past his haters and proved even two of his best-behaved children still have something to learn. (10)

Haley Potiker: ‘Black Beatles’ is the most perfect piece of pop music 2016 had to offer. Swae Lee is a fearless writer; he switches syntax seamlessly and dares his audience to buy in again and again. (The flitting from geezer to abject memery is so fluid, it’s mesmerizing.) Gucci Mane imagines his return to the club from house arrest; Slim Jxmmi positively cannot get people to stop hating on him. For decades to come, those two falsetto words–know me!–are going to be like “stop using your motor functions” or whatever on Westworld, throwing teens into states of suspended animation. (10)

Tayyab Amin: One of the best moments this year for me was closing out a fully fuego DIY clubnight I co-run with a residents’ set, dropping this at God-Knows-What A.M. and shouting Gucci Mane with my chest: “Club close when I say so!” Thank you Black Beatles for releasing one of the most powerful, empowering and emotionally turnt club bangers the world has ever seen. The meme was good too. [100 emoji]

9.25


Clean Bandit feat. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie – ‘Rockabye’

Tayyab Amin: You know it’s gonna be trash when the joint opens with random ad-libs that end in “-ation”. And no, the heartbreaking narrative will not halt my hateration. Listen, my mum deserves so much better than being sung to as if she’s five. This track sounds like it has the well-wishing sincerity of an exploitative documentary. Plus the strings outro is so extra! (3)

Haley Potiker: The ‘Rockabye’ video has a lot going on – strippers spinning magically on floating poles over the ocean, three-piece bands dragged to the edges of cliffs – but by far the best part is the bar full of old men singing Sean Paul’s vocals, only for Sean Paul to be leaning against the bar, waiting for a rum and Coke or something. I like it because it’s a window into my future. (6)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Here’s the thing about big sentiments: they’re so big and obvious that they’re eventually going to work or wear you down in the process. ‘Rockabye’ is a gloopy song from Clean Bandit, who sound like a dance group engineered to soundtrack building society adverts alongside Jess Glynne, but with just enough semi-current trop-pop flavour to make it feel current. With added Sean Paul – who’ll happily take cheques like this while also calling out A-listers for watering down Jamaican sounds – it’s less a song than a guided missile. I don’t like it and found the attempts at pathologizing motherhood beyond clumsy, but the chorus is stuck in my head, so it will gradually wreak the damage it’s been programmed to do. (4)

Chris Kelly: The pop machine has eaten itself. Don’t forget: the last 20-odd years of Scandinavian-scored (Max Martin et al) pop music kicked off with Ace of Base’s broken Casio dancehall, and even if this one also includes musicians from the UK, US and Jamaica, it sounds like the logical conclusion to years of Sia-core. And honestly, what is the last single mom – not just single lady – anthem? As long as music like this out-funs the Posners and Chainsmokers of the world, we’re gonna be okay. (6)

7.5


Chainsmokers feat. Halsey – ‘Closer’

Chris Kelly: One day you’re making Every Dumb Millennial parody tracks like ‘#SELFIE’ and the next you’re scoring a global number one with a stripped-down, painfully earnest take on the genre you parodied. Life comes at you fast! I had somehow managed to avoid this song until now, and it’s ultimately so offensively inoffensive that I can’t even be mad about it. (3)

Haley Potiker: The Chainsmokers are like protest music if you’re protesting Ralph Lauren for stocking too few pastels in your size. ‘Closer’ approximates real human emotion the way Chicken Run approximates the American farming industry. (0)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: I avoided this song all year because of the thinkpieces and it turns out it’s not that bad. Good, even! *Shrugs* We need to calm it on the thinkpieces next year, guys. (7)

Tayyab Amin: Look, as much as this song makes me want to log off and take one of those Elon Musks directly to Mars, I can totally see why teens would be into this. Who doesn’t love a good back-and-forth duet? It’s stale romance and vanilla hijinks (“That mattress that you stole from your roommate back in Boulder”?) for people who’ve never known more struggle than what to cop from Hollister. And yet the closing moments really make you believe in the song’s infinite climax. (5)

3.75


Final scores:

Rae Sremmurd – ‘Black Beatles’ (9.25)
D.R.A.M. feat Lil Yachty – ‘Broccoli’ (8.5)
Clean Bandit feat. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie (7.5)
Drake – ‘One Dance’ (6.25)
Mike Posner – ‘I Took A Pill In Ibiza’ (Seeb Remix) (4)
Chainsmokers feat. Halsey – ‘Closer’ (3.75)