Features I by I 29.08.17

Singles Club: Look what Taylor Swift made us do

Each week on the FACT Singles Club, a selection of our writers work their way through the new music of the past seven days.

This week, you might have heard that Taylor Swift is back, and ruffling more than a few feathers with her Right Said Fred-borrowing new album lead single ‘Look What You Made Me Do’.

Elsewhere, after a blockbuster week for new releases, there’s a Pharrell-Lil Uzi collab to remember from the latter’s long-awaited Luv Is Rage 2 album, the return of Beck, some surprise new Wu-Tang plus something new from UK star on the rise, Jorja Smith. Here’s what our reviewers made of them.

Taylor Swift – ‘Look What You Made Me Do’

Claire Lobenfeld: Taylor Swift has been a villain in a victim’s shroud since, at least, her post-Joe Jonas Speak Now track ‘Better Than Revenge’ in which she alleges that Joe’s then-new paramour actress Camilla Belle was “better known for the things that she does on the mattress”. Taylor looooves to point out the deficiencies of those who have wronged her and her flirtation with shaking it off has quickly come to an end. I’m not here to speculate whether ‘Look What You Made Me Do’, her Right Said Fred-interpolating, Dresden Dolls lite new single is about Kanye West and Kim Kardashian because I don’t think source material matters here. The thing she was “made” to do is drop the act she’s been carrying on for so long. I would give her one point if the American south, the people who first embraced her, weren’t so utterly fucked right now and in need of her to donate money to Houston for help with Hurricane Harvey and stand with the people of Charlottesville, whose city was overrun by bigots with Tiki torches bearing swastikas and other emblems of hate just weeks ago. The only politics Taylor Swift cares about are her own and right now that stance looks as good on her as her Wet Seal mall goth album art. Woof. (0)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: It’s so hard sometimes to talk about Taylor Swift without the baggage, because the baggage – articles, gossip, memes – is Taylor. As a shot in the pan from an unknown artist, ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ would have gotten a fairer shot, albeit in 2003, where its electroclash tribute and Le Tigre Jr sass could flourish better. As a kickoff to an album campaign from one of the few megastars recording today, it’s a given that the music is secondary, buried under ideas of whether or not she has included herself into the narrative that she once excluded herself from. For some, this is an exciting way to fire off thinkpieces and bury themselves in Easter eggs. For others like me, it’s an opportunity for snarky Tweets and eye-rolling. Either way, she wins. The song doesn’t matter at all. (4)

Carl Anka: It’s taking everything in my power to not just type “trolololol” and be done with it. This is laughably bad. The hook is non-existent, the chorus is terrible, the nod to Right Said Fred witless. Taylor said she wanted to be excluded from the narrative after her Kimye controversy last year and then deeply unwisely inserted herself right back into it. Tears in my eyes. (3)

Tayyab Amin: This is poor through and through and I can barely work out where to begin. The dreadful rollout? The video’s pastiche of Beyoncé, Britney, Gwen, Gaga and, fuck it, Eminem, La Roux and Backstreet Boys? The extremely tacky interlude that ruins all that’s left of this resurrected carcass of a Right Said Fred tune? How about the boneheaded literalness of every ‘subliminal’ shot fired? More than being simply rubbish, it’s sinister and dangerous how Swift plays the victim. She’s always had the capacity for this and all y’all who’ve enabled her nonsense for the past however many years should go ahead and own it too. (0)

Jibril Yassin: Heel turns are to be expected in pop but there’s this unspoken set of expectations that Taylor Swift may have completely ignored in her quest to remain That Person Everybody Is Talking About – notably have a song with a working chorus. Please do Right Said Fred better. Also can anyone seriously consider a slice of Glee pop as ‘dark’? (4)


Wu-Tang Clan – ‘People Say’

Claire Lobenfeld: If you’re going to get all “I don’t dab, I don’t Nae Nae” about rap, then, as an elder statesman, you have to prove that your way of doing things can still be interesting over two decades later. All due respect to Red and Meth, whose ‘How High’ is still a favorite of mine, but this is so boring. It’s so boring! If there is any truly concrete evidence that you can revitalize yourself after getting lost in the length of your career, it’s Jay-Z’s (frankly, underrated) 4:44 and Wu-Tang could use it as a lesson. But, really, don’t slag off the new school when you are barely breathing new life into the thing you’re claiming to do better. (3)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Wu-Tang is forever, but isn’t that too much? 8 Diagrams was the perfect finale, but then the one-two punch of the Martin Skhreli deal and the dead-in-the-water A Better Tomorrow genuinely did damage to the group’s musical legacy. And now another Wu LP, produced by long-time ace-in-the-hole Mathematics and a song featuring honorary member Redman. Everyone sounds sharp, with Method Man still dropping the type of cranky older folks bars he’s lately known for (he doesn’t dab or nae-nae, kids, watch out), and the darts feel sharper than usual, negating the feeling of this project being sheer nostalgia. Maybe it will be. Maybe it’s best to look at it that way once a legacy’s floundered. (7)

Carl Anka: After the decidedly so-so A Better Tomorrow, this is more like that old school nasty Wu-Tang. You can see why that juror cussed out Martin Shkreli for disrespecting Wu Tang: you don’t fuck with these men. (7)

Tayyab Amin: Wu-Tang know their audience ‘cos the guys I know still actively following the crew only recently discovered the dab and nae nae, and that’s probably the most contemporary reference in this joint. Meth’s verse is strong and I did lean back when Deck said “the flow solitary, just me behind the bars.” If you wanna hear that rappity-rap over a killer soul-sampling instrumental, this checks all the boxes. (6)

Jibril Yassin: It’s always fun hearing the Wu-Tang Clan ride over some soul beats even if nowadays the rhymes can be lacklustre. Thankfully this isn’t the disaster it could have been and Inspectah Deck easily steals the show here. (6)


Beck – ‘Dear Life’

Tayyab Amin: It’s almost impressive how every instrument in this song manages to be so individually clumsy and brash. Together, they’re the sound of walking into a room full of screaming children and you’re Detective John Kimble. (4)

Claire Lobenfeld: I’m more of an Odelay/Midnight Vultures kind of girl, but anything is better than the ‘Up All Night’ dreck he was shoveling us last year. (5)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: The sound of refined depression, oozing through the primary colour Pop Art casing – a sad song that glimmers. In other words: Beck’s still good, mate. (7)

Carl Anka: Mmm, that ‘s some good clean-your-house-on-a-Sunday music. After the melancholy that was Morning Phase, it’s good to hear Beck get back to bouncy piano pop eccentricity. Between this and previous single ‘Dreams’, we can guess new album Colors will be a winner. (8)

Jibril Yassin: If ‘Dreams’ and ‘Wow’ implied Beck was out here crafting an upbeat modern album after the humdrum that was Morning Phase, we have evidence that Beck has not actually left his old man rock phase. ‘Dear Life’ manages to recall both Dreamworks-era Elliott Smith and Paul McCartney with its rollicking piano lines, fuzzy guitar bits and a melancholic chorus built for fall weather, with just enough surreal imagery in Beck’s lyrics to keep this from feeling grounded. (8)


Jorja Smith – ‘On My Mind’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy:  R&G lives! Jorja, one of this year’s real breakout artists thanks to that Drake co-sign and a voice that fluidly reaches across scales with a cool ease, is paired with Preditah, one of the UK’s most underrated producers. You know what you’re getting: candy-sweet melancholy on the keys, skittering programming, the sound of the summer we’re beginning to say goodbye to. (7)

Claire Lobenfeld: Jorja Smith’s voice is butter, but this sounds more like something that was manufactured to soundtrack shopping at an H&M than to advance R&B or UK garage. Then again, songs like ‘Beautiful Little Fools’ and ‘Where Did I Go?’ give evidence that Ms. Smith is angling for a more adult contemporary audience than one of contemporary adults—it’s neither innovative, nor grown and sexy. But I’d rather listen to this than ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ because it is way more harmless. (6)

Carl Anka: Birmingham producer Preditah keeps this effort at a more fidgety pace than previous Jorja singles. The result’s a breezy banger that recalls some of the best of early 2000s UK garage/R&B. (7)

Tayyab Amin: I can’t tell you how excited I get when I hear that Preditah producer tag – everything he touches is gold, as long as it’s not house. This one’s a silky, bubbling cruiser with an irresistible groove and a champion vocalist in Jorja Smith. The verses are especially captivating and you can find me in the club moving to this one as if I actually had relationship drama in my life. (8)

Jibril Yassin: If 2017 gave us anything great amidst the trash, it’s Jorja Smith singing UK garage. (8)


Alessandro Cortini – ‘Perdonare’

Carl Anka: Now that’s how you build an ominous sense of dread. Old NIN collaborator Cortini has apparently based his entire new album on one synth and left in all the mistakes and glitches to give tracks an earthy, film-like feel. This is nice and cinematic, all gross realization and sadness. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Shout out to Alessandro Cortini for making something I will listen to a hundred times and never remember anything about. Sound art! (6)

Tayyab Amin: I really like the synth – it’s so full and rich and has such a presence to gravitate towards. Even separating the track from its childhood home video visuals, there’s plenty of emotional weight Cortini is clearly ruminating on. The continuous climb becomes an all-enveloping ordeal and the view from the top is breathtaking each time. (7)

Jibril Yassin: Quite the dense blast of music here – Cortini wisely keeps it brisk while adding layers and layers of foreboding synth to make this the Unnerving Home Movie Soundtrack I never thought I’d needed. (8)


Lil Uzi Vert feat Pharrell Williams – ‘Neon Guts’

Claire Lobenfeld: A year ago, just a few weeks before I moved to Los Angeles, my friend Maud and I went to have our auras photographed at a crystal shop in Chinatown in New York. My aura, that day, was mostly pink which means I am loving and giving, sensitive, psychic; that I hate injustice and have extremely high standards. I planned, then, that I would like to see how it would look a year later and recently had it done again at a pin shop in LA. This time, my aura is multi-colored: yellow in places, blue elsewhere, crystal clear above my head, still pink in places. I can tell you I’ve changed a lot in the year that I’ve lived away from New York (for the first time in over 30 years!), but that my more colorful aura is probably not the product of newly neon guts – but I am different now, in a lot of ways, than I was before. How I haven’t changed? I am still not at all interested in almost any music by Lil Uzi Vert (I do get the whole ‘XO Tour Lif3’ thing, so please don’t @ me) because he sounds too much like he would maybe rather be in Sum 41. And that’s fine! But it’s not for me. (6)

Carl Anka: SOOOOOO many good albums dropped on the 25th and this track just one of the many blessings. You can tell Pharrell is enjoying working with the peacocking Lil Uzi. They’re both strutting, styling and profiling here and it’s great. (7)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: One of the kindest revitalisations of this year has been Pharrell’s need to rap, between French Montana’s ‘Bring Dem Things’ and ‘Neon Guts’, where P trades verses with Uzi over a beat he would have sold to Lupe in 2007. The big surprise is hearing how well they bounce off one another, with Uzi’s enthusaiastic melodicism matching up nicely with Pharrell’s space-cadet philosophising. I’m not asking for a whole mixtape of this stuff – I’ve been burnt too bad by never getting that CRS project – but another slice of these amiable goofballs messing around would be neat. (8)

Tayyab Amin: Skateboard P with the instrumental direct from heaven’s own martini bar! They present their wealth in such a feathery and lightweight way that it becomes infectious. This kind of magic makes you just richer with each play, like getting a tax rebate with each repeat. (7)

Jibril Yassin: Take in how Pharrell adopts a rapid flow that complements Uzi’s, almost as if his presence compelled Skateboard P to get weirder. Even the production abandons a lot of the tropes commonly found in his recent work and aims to sound like some Stereolab B-side, armed with a lot of 808s and some serious autotuned backing vocals. It’s thrilling hearing Uzi meet that challenge head-on with his wild delivery. (9)


Final scores:
Lil Uzi Vert feat Pharrell Williams – ‘Neon Guts’ (7.4)
Alessandro Cortini – ‘Perdonare’ (7.25)
Jorja Smith – ‘On My Mind’ (7.2)
Beck – ‘Dear Life’ (6.4)
Wu-Tang Clan – ‘People Say’ (5.2)
Taylor Swift – ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ (2.2)



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