Saturday, May 28, 2016

2016 North American Tour | Haim with Clubhouse

A tee-shirt pinned to the wall at Haim's merchandise stand in the venue lobby on Friday night read "GO HAIM OR GO HOME." Thinking it was funny, I bought it and got in place on the second tier of the standing pit. What I learned in that pit, though, is that the tee-shirt does not lie. In the audience of a Haim show, you can either go Haim or see yourself out.

Haim's Columbus show is solid evidence that a crowd's disposition can make or break a show. Packed inside the Express Live! indoor music hall, fans jumped, clapped, sang, screamed, and raised their hands for nearly 90 minutes without rest. Between each of the 11 songs on the set list, one of the three Haim sisters would emerge from the darkness for some banter -- each of them usually ending her respective chats with "I FUCKING LOVE YOU, COLUMBUS!" They said that exact phrase no less than twice a piece. They fed off our energy as much as we were fueled off theirs; as Este would say, we were all quite lit.

An unannounced opening act, a local band called Clubhouse composed of guys who looked like they had all just crawled out of the common room of a college residence hall, was pulled together, but they were no match for what was to come. These three young women were electric. Danielle may have found herself center stage and carrying most of the lead vocal and sprawling guitar solo work, but all three shined in their own ways. Este and Alana each took vocals on one song each (the former on a Prince cover and the latter on "Running If You Call My Name") and attracted attention as instrumentalists and backing vocalists elsewhere.

This concert failed to deliver its proposed purpose to preview new work (they premiered only two new tracks: "Give Me Just a Little of Your Love" and "Nothing's Wrong"), but if it had fulfilled that vision, I doubt it would have been as successful as it was. While Danielle taught us some of the words to "Give Me Just a Little of Your Love" to sing along with, the magic was really sparked by the crowd's extensive knowledge of the band's debut album; we knew when to scream, when to two-step, and when to stick our hands in the air to clap along until our arms got sore. And even when my arms were tired and wanted no more than to lay at my sides, I couldn't stop myself from offering the vigorous applause these ladies worked so hard to deserve.

Oh, and by the way: you haven't lived life to its fullest until you have watched Alana Haim beat every last ounce of life out of a drum while Danielle and Este shred the hell out of their guitars during the breakdown of "My Song 5." It's everything.

Haim's North American tour runs through June 11 and makes stops at the Boston Calling, Bunbury, Governor's Ball, and Bonnaroo music festivals.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Dangerous Woman | Ariana Grande

Each of Ariana Grande's studio albums opens with a dreamy ballad: her debut album, with fan-favorite "Honeymoon Avenue," and her follow-up, with an 80-second clip of dreamy vocal acrobatics. "Moonlight" brings her third record, Dangerous Woman, to life with grace, blossoming from a music-box chime into a romantic, cotton candy flavored waltz. It's innocent. It's sweet. It sounds as if it were crafted amid the honeymoon stages of a shiny new relationship. But like the introductory track on her last album, it doesn't foreshadow the rest of the material to come; after "Moonlight," she spends 50 minutes proving to listeners why the glistening opener is no longer the album's title track.

The remaining 14 tracks sway between seduction ("Side to Side," "Dangerous Woman"), silky smooth intimacy ("Leave Me Lonely" with Macy Gray, "I Don't Care," "Thinking Bout You"), and unapologetic bombast ("Greedy," "Bad Decisions"), all unifying into one solid representation of its title. The fat has been cut away from the army of producers enlisted to work on Grande's previous albums to facilitate this cohesion, with primary production responsibilities given to Tommy Brown, Swedish power-pop wizard Max Martin, and Martin's nearly identical partner Ilya Salmanzadeh, who, in turn, prove their own versatility. Imagine it: the man who shaped up signature sounds for Britney Spears and the Backstreeet Boys has now helped steer Grande, once a woman wandering somewhat aimlessly through R&B and powerhouse pop, towards her most consistent, most 'Ariana Grande' record yet -- one that is equal parts sultry and ear-catching. My Everything seemed like such an explosive statement in its day -- Yes, I say "in its day" as if 2014 is so many years behind us -- but after she unleashed Dangerous Woman, it's clear she was just getting her feet wet on her sophomore record.

My Everything had a bit of, well, everything in its reaches: standard synthpop, horn-laden R&B (the same kind she tried to carry over to this record with "Focus" but axed at the last minute), innocent piano ballads, pounding electronic dance... anything Grande could experiment with, she did, like a kid in an ice cream parlor who wants a sample of every flavor. Nonetheless, the lack of cohesion didn't kill the set; it proved that Grande's pipes could be put to use in just about any sonic environment and that she is capable of experimentation. It also revealed that Ariana Grande was an unapologetic little sex kitten in the making: "Problem" was deemed risque compared to her previous material, and "Hands On Me" and "Love Me Harder" upped the hip-gyrating ante.

The dominatrix latex bunny album cover and the voyeuristic video accompanying the title track alone prove that sexuality is a crucial subject to Grande's craft this time around -- and for a good cause. She has suggested the extra skin and provocative sound are used as tactics to validate women as sexual beings. In a time when male celebrities are praised for their shirtless bodies every day, Grande wants to do as she does here without the shame that is attached to a female's celebration of her own body and desires. All of her contemporaries -- fellow former teen stars Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, and Demi Lovato -- have long been slammed for their racy adult transformations, proving that Grande's underlying message serves a purpose.

But who has time to shame her when we have this album to enjoy? Let's not kid ourselves here: she has fulfilled her mission with precision. This record is hot. The synthesized harmonies in the bridge of "Sometimes," the entirety of "Touch It," that guitar tickle and 6/8 beat of the title track... Get your thermometers because it's sizzling, people. And at times, it's downright dirty -- most blatantly on "Into You" and "Let Me Love You," and in more of a "read between the lines" fashion on the Nicki Minaj-featuring, tropical house-dabbling "Side to Side." (On that last track, just pay close attention to the beginning of Minaj's verse, which seems to have been forced into the track in order to drop the lowest common denominator from the OG "Bang Bang" trio and make another radio hit billing. There's mention of a "dick bicycle" in there. Grande has a sense of humor about it, though.)

Even this record's dance tracks radiate heat, pulsating like neon lights in a warm, sticky club. "Knew Better / Forever Boy," and more importantly, "Be Alright" are the deep dance tracks that I never would have expected from Ariana Grande, but they're the ones that I never realized I couldn't die happy without. Pieced together with keynotes of disco, funk, and uptempo neo-soul, "Greedy" leans into a different kind of groove and drives full-speed ahead with a much-appreciated key change. And on the most crucial note, "Into You" is the banger to end all bangers. Once those jagged synths and double-tracked vocals kick the chorus into high-gear, it becomes apparent why it may just be one of the best pop tracks 2016 has spawned.

She may have entered pop superstardom just two years ago, but Dangerous Woman already proves that she doesn't belong anywhere else. (Really, "Into You" alone tells us that. I know what you're thinking, and no, that's not an exaggeration.) It's a sleek collection that doesn't overpower the talent at hand. Actually, this is the first time Grande is the true focus of her own record (although I will say Macy Gray offers some solid competition on "Leave Me Lonely"). Unlike her previous releases, both overloaded with collaborations and hoards of producers, this record is Ariana Grande at her least formulated, at her most genuine. She was a singer before -- an extremely talented one, at that. But this record has made her an artist. One with a vision, one with a passion, and now more than ever, one with distinction.

Dangerous Woman is available now under Republic Records. Alongside a standard edition, a retailer-exclusive pressing can be found at Target department stores.

Monday, May 16, 2016

At Night, Alone. | Mike Posner

Well, I'll be damned: Mike Posner still exists. And he doesn't just exist; he somehow revived his career six years removed from a one-off hit that now sounds very 2010. Good for him.

Remember the running jokes Kathy Griffin has had about Justin Timberlake pre-The 20/20 Experience and Justin Bieber post-birth and their clear desires to be badass, inner city thugs? Mike Posner was the Dollar General version of whatever those two were doing, spiked with a painfully "college guy" persona. But like Timberlake, Posner holds this mindset no longer; on At Night, Alone., he's a fragile acoustic singer-songwriter with a voice as thin as a piece of cheap filler paper. Well, kind of; he's also an electronic dance remix vocalist? (I didn't say his revival hasn't been a strange one.)

Tacked on the end of the base twelve tracks (so, the album he turned into the label) are six remixes (so, the tracks the label commissioned to try to sell the album), including the SeeB remix of "I Took a Pill in Ibiza." Strange? Yes. Necessary? Yes. Without the incentive of those remixes closing out the album, the base tracks would be an even bigger chore to sit through than they already are; not a single one of them strays from an acoustic guitar-bogged blueprint and every one of them is soaked with melodrama, self-pity, and even more melodrama.

Posner has had a rough time between his initial breakthrough and now: the celebrity lifestyle struck him, depression kicked in, and two full albums were scrapped. On At Night, Alone., he gives us a straightforward rundown of the past half-decade of his life; he did some hip drug with Avicii, he wrote some songs for Bieber and Snoop, he passed up an opportunity to sign with Jay-Z's Roc Nation, he slept with some girl on Lydia's couch (no, I'm not sure who Lydia is, either), he wants to be buried next to his father in Detroit, he overestimates his own songwriting talent on more than one occasion... The wallowing is exhausting after a while, even in this abridged format, don't you think? Conversational lyrics, I don't mind. Alessia Cara and Twenty One Pilots have most recently mastered that art on their own respective radio hits. But while Posner's storytelling is conversational, it's static, and that's where we run into problems; what we need is even just one indication of growth. Who cares what happened to him when his stories are void of morals?

Electronic dance music since time immemorial has been the reigning proof, though, that some synthesized shrubbery can cover up the cracks of average lyrical handiwork. On the base tracks, Posner did the opposite thing that he should have; instead of distracting us from the lyrics, he shuns most instrumentation and ensures his words are the only elements on which we can focus. Ah, but the additional six tracks swoop in and save the day at the tail end of the record; "Ibiza" clearly underwent an incredible transformation, as did "Not That Simple" and "Silence." All six remixes, however, feel, well, like remixes -- not meant to constitute one-third of an album, they hold no consistency. And on the remixes, Posner's vocals are nowhere near as pure as they are on the original tracks; they're sped up and fuzzy, making the tracks seem like they were mixed by a teenager with a filtered a cappella track on Audacity. Most importantly, remixes tacked onto the end of an album should never have to be considered the best portion -- well, except here, I suppose.

I promise I even followed Posner's spoken direction at the beginning of the record: I listened to it at night, alone. Still didn't make it any better. There are some promising moments -- "Be As You Are" is one of the few original tracks that doesn't sound like a demo take, and "Not That Simple" (in both original and remixed forms) shares an all-too-familiar sentiment in a fairly decent manner -- but again, remixes shouldn't carry an album as they do here. I get what he tried to do here, and I really do appreciate the effort. It's just a shame that the effort didn't translate into tracks that resonate without some slick radio remix tactics.

At Night, Alone. is out now through Island Records. Standard and Target-exclusive pressings are available.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Thank You | Meghan Trainor

People really do hate Meghan Trainor. There are people out there with a distaste for this woman that burns as intensely as the sun. They hate the whole package: the novelty pop tunes, the strangely accented speaking voice, the newest revival of vintage doo-wop, and most definitely the lyrics. And as somebody who tries to convey himself as an amateur critic with a clue of what's what in the music industry, I'm not supposed to have a soft spot for her. But I do.

The argument used to portray her as a body-shaming, anti-feminist monster, while as tired as the summer day is long, is the typical reasoning. Stemming from "All About That Bass" and "Dear Future Husband," skinny girls feel attacked because larger girls have finally been told that they can be just as confident in their appearance as their thinner peers, and straight guys hate the idea that they, too, can be objectified -- despite the fact that it comes from a much more innocent place than the objectification of women in, say, most critically-acclaimed rap music or the Grand Theft Auto video game series.

Yet through it all, Trainor has stuck around. Why? I would argue it's because she has what it takes to maintain a cross-sectional audience: a bright, lively voice, a knack for a good hook, and a certain level of innocence. Grandpa and grandma like her because she throws them back to their glory days; mom and dad like her because she glazes adult themes with a doe-eyed, safe-for-work coating; and the kiddos like her because she knows how to craft a damn fine tune. The most lyrically mature, she isn't. The most impressive vocalist of our generation, she isn't. But a sufficient pop star who is aware of her place in the popular culture landscape and well-versed in the art of crafting a pop track, she is.

Moreover, she's pretty versatile for your run-of-the-mill pop girl. Doo-wop was Trainor's genre of choice, but the signs were there to indicate that she wouldn't stay in that category exclusively for long. So when she unleashed "No," a track that channeled the early '00s pop scene with the same caliber of expertise Carly Rae Jepsen exhibited in reference to the '80s on her latest album, it wasn't as surprising as probably expected. Also unsurprisingly, she has come under fire for the destruction to the fragile male ego, which had finally gone into recovery when big bad Meghanzilla fell silent for vocal chord surgery and this album's recording. Here, her message is straightforward: the power that lies in the word "no" should be respected. Additionally, she argues that women shouldn't give up their fun in fear of persistent harassment from a man in the club.

"No fair!" the men have cried. "She is teaching girls to be jerks!"

Yes, you read that correctly. This song has been conveyed as a prompt for women to reject men and then tease them with their bodies. A woman declined your persistent requests and continued to dance with her friends in her cute outfit, did she? She wrote a cute little pop song about it, did she? She must be a real bitch. That's really the only explanation, isn't it? Ah, yes. Because just as Meghan Trainor, destroyer of all natural order through the medium of pop music, transferred every shred of confidence from thin girls to thicker ones, she also ruined any chance of club-going guys getting laid until kingdom come. What a bitch. (She's almost as sinister as Beyoncé, whose newest single promotes police brutality, don't you think?)

But get used to it: if her sophomore album, Thank You, proves anything, it's that, for better or for worse, Meghan Trainor isn't going anywhere.

The album is a meeting room for a plethora of genres. Doo-wop, the genre she revived in popular culture without anybody asking her to do so, has become heavy inspiration instead of the album-wide crutch that it was on Title. Although it does re-appear in full-force on "Dance Like Yo Daddy" and in lesser capacity on "I Love Me" with the tickle of an upright bass, the genre is much less important this time around -- and thankfully so. The doo-wop domination was cute the first time around, but the novelty of the schtick died off quickly. (Need proof? Check the reviews of Charlie Puth's Nine Track Mind, essentially the faceless male counterpart to Trainor's Title.) So in its place, an aughts dance sensibility takes precedence, spiced with the extra flavors of vintage R&B, tropical house, and light trap -- and honestly, she flaunts it all very well. In fact, the best aspects of this album are the instrumentation and melody lines.

Lyrically, she still conveys love and a positive self-image through a causal, usually grammatically-incorrect tongue. Despite the hint of vulnerability in her love-tinged tracks (such as "I Won't Let You Down" and top-notch power ballad "Kindly Calm Me Down"), Trainor is nothing if not confident; even if you are a victim of low self-esteem or drought in sexual activity due to her vile music, you have to acknowledge that, at the very least. While our Meghan does tip-toe the line of confidence and arrogance in the first half of this record and crosses the line of immaturity more often than not, she conveys herself as should be expected: as a young woman whose dream of living the glamorous pop star life has just come true.

She tells her listeners, "If I was you, I would want to be me, too" over a beat not unlike that of and Britney Spears' "Scream and Shout" on "Me Too." (Because all roads lead back to Beyoncé, I must note that "Me Too" contains the most inflated lyrics of the album -- lyrics that, if sang by someone like the Queen B, would be deemed "fierce" and plastered on Twitter biographies and tee shirts worldwide. But because she's the MTrain, the lyrics equate to shallow egocentrism in the court of public opinion. Weird how these things work, eh?) Oh, and don't forget that ditty titled "I Love Me." No, it's not a witty double entendre à la Hailee Steinfeld's "Love Myself." She just loves herself. A bit self-centered? Maybe. But aren't we all?

Her brand of feminism, blatantly flaunted on only one track, is one less boasted. No, it's not the "fierce force of nature" kind that Yoncé boasts, and no, it's not the "unshaven armpits" kind that most uneducated folks envision when they encounter self-proclaimed feminists. Instead, she simply revels in the ideal image of a girly girl: the make-up, the hair, the clothes, the emotions. In a time when make-up and fancy hairstyles are considered superficial (or even worse: "false advertising"), Trainor touts it all. Crafted with a hook harking back to the verses of Ashlee Simpson's "L.O.V.E.," "Woman Up" celebrates the red lipstick and the high heels for all of the independent ladies out there.

"Champagne Problems," a dense dance track like none other in her discography, closes this album on a very fitting afterthought, reaffirming the lightheartedness of Trainor's craft. In the immortal words of Kourtney Kardashian, "there's people that are dying," and the closing tracks proves that Trainor knows this album doesn't address concerns of that magnitude. By no means has she reinvented the wheel (I mean, the woman ever so proudly rhymes fake word "besteses" with the even more fake word "breasteses" without the bat of an eye), but she does boast a catchy sophomore album and a large dose of personality. And that's all she signed up to do.

If you're a straight male and/or over the age of, say, 15 years and don't get the hype that has helped Trainor sell over one million records here in the States alone, don't worry. Much like how that new Beyoncé album isn't tailor-made for Piers Morgan (I promise this is the last Bey reference, mainly because this is the last paragraph; I told you that all roads lead to her), Meghan Trainor's doesn't target you. There's a good chance you already set up your tent in Camp Anti-Trainor a long while ago, anyway. The album is cutesy. It's immature. It's lighthearted. It's everything you don't want, so pay it no mind. Those of us who enjoy puppies and rainbows, however, will find a little carefree enjoyment in it.

Thank You will be released on May 13, 2015 under Epic Records. Standard, deluxe, and Target-exclusive versions will be available.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Delirium World Tour | Ellie Goulding with Years & Years and Bebe Rexha

Just prior to the release of her latest album, Ellie Goulding was all but promised that the world would soon bow at her feet as it does for Rihanna or Katy Perry. "Love Me Like You Do" sucker-punched the globe, and Delirium lead single "On My Mind" was a considerable success; word lingered of a longstanding crossover, from Britain's favorite little secret (and America's well-loved but inconspicuous electronic dance featured artist) to worldwide superstardom of unbelievable rank. Ultimately, where she stalled is at a strange corner that allows her to boast moderate mainstream success while continuing to headline music festivals around the world -- at Coachella's Friday night festivities this year, she was second-row billing.

Her music, in turn, was tickled by the thought of it all. Delirium found our Ellie, once just a girl with her acoustic guitar and a helping hand in production from Starsmith, clad in the shiniest Max Martin armor, geared up and ready to dominate. With all of this in mind, it was only natural for Goulding to dream big for this tour -- her first headlining arena tour in the States. She has thrown out most of the old material in favor of the new, sprinkled in some choreography and costume changes, and plastered her backdrop with wall-to-wall LCD screens, utilized for flashy video interludes of Ellie looking more badass than ever before. It's a show fit for a true queen.

And in the middle of it all stands our musical shero, Ellie Goulding. She's a changed woman from her earliest shows. In live renditions of her older material that has been cut from this tour's set (probably in part from performer's fatigue, after she had been touring her first two albums' material for what seemed like an eternity), she seemed restrained -- a bit timid, if you will -- but never unhappy or ungrateful. She played theaters and festivals in one outfit, without dancers or any pop show production pizzazz. She was just Ellie, playing some tunes and having a good time doing so.

In translation, not much has changed. In natural arena show form, it ran on a strict blueprint and left little time for personable chit-chat, minus some small talk about the temperature when the good ol' Lake Erie breeze started to blow through the venue. But she's still Ellie, still playing some tunes and still having a good time doing so, this time in a bit of a varied format; the show weaved between choreographed dance explosions, video interludes, and stripped-back acoustic bits. While her ultra-muscular back-up dancers bore the brunt of the choreographed workload, I'm glad to report that random spurs of energy (the bounces, the leaps, the twirls, the jumps -- everything we're used to from her) are still in her wheelhouse; they were the physical promises that she's still having a good time on stage, despite performing high-energy, upbeat songs inspired by Dougie Poynter, now her ex-boyfriend.

Some critics from big-name papers have slammed Goulding with not having the overbearing presence to command such an elaborate show. Maybe they have a point, but I'd argue it's because nothing about the Ellie we all have come to know and love has changed; she has yet to comprehend the magnitude of her success. Though she never formally addressed it, she was clearly taken back by an entire crowd that knew every word to deep album cuts like "Codes" and "Aftertaste" in addition to the radio hits (including "Lights," of course, which has been transferred to an acoustic ballad style for this concert run. "You guys here in the States know a song -- you know it quite well, actually -- that... if I played it back home, nobody would know it. That's what makes you guys awesome," she said before rolling into the song.)

So with all of this success talk, was this a sold-out tour run? Not quite. In fact, for my date of the tour in Cleveland, the show was quietly downgraded from Cleveland State University's Wolstein Center to the open-air Jacobs Pavilion amphitheater a few months before the show. But having such a large show compacted for a more intimate crowd was no problem; the stage lost only its large Ellie-laden curtains and all but one LCD screen. But I think I quite preferred it that way. In a bigger crowd, we fans would have been stuck in a crowd of people who only know the songs they've played on the radio and refer to her as "E-lee Gewlding." As the great Cher Horowitz once said, "as if!"

Even on the smaller stage, though, Goulding treated the show as if she were in an arena. She galloped from end to end to address every angle of that theater, cued some blasts of smoke at climaxes of her heaviest electronic collaborations, and disappeared at the close of the show in clouds of confetti. It was an affair meant to outdo, not merely match, the heights of Delirium as an album. All the while, her voice was not once compromised (after all, it was those angelic pipes that we really came to hear), proving that she really is the full package. For if a recording artist isn't built on a solid foundation -- the lyrics, the voice, the good intentions -- every other element of her artistry is dull, meaningless. But Ellie Goulding has a foundation -- a sturdy one, at that -- so the additional bombastic of this show did nothing but sparkle.

The Delirium World Tour runs through October 12. Tour stops will be made at Radio 1's Big Weekend, Lollapalooza, Glastonbury, and other music festivals.

Side note: Along for the ride was Bebe Rexha, who came prepared for the crowd she was given; she broke out a few old tracks (you know, prior to the recent Rita Ora 2.0 physical and sonic makeover), but won the crowd over twerking to a set packed with the hits she has written or been featured on. Additional supporting act Years & Years, well aware that they haven't broken through here like they have back home ("You guys probably don't know any of these songs, but you've been such a great crowd," Olly Alexander said towards the end of their set.), still pulled out all of the stops; Alexander had the pipes and the stage appeal to carry the act to success. Even those around me who initially referred to Rexha as "queen" and Years & Years as "who?" were, at the very least, toe-tapping by the end of the trio's upbeat set.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Obligatory Informal Chat About Some 2016 Singles

I know, I've been unintentionally mute over the handful of singles to have come out this year. My mess of a personal life used and abused me since the turn of the year. Now it's May and I have some free time, so I have no other excuses to delay this little kiki. Let's catch up on some pop music without the formalities of a full album review, shall we?

"I'm in Control" by AlunaGeorge: Body Music was pretty good in its own little way, but this single proves that AlunaGeorge's next album is going to be next level. ("I Remember" and "My Blood" are fire, too, so check those out.)

"Team" by Iggy Azalea: Don't turn on me two songs into this list, but I'm an Iggy Azalea apologist through and through. This song is a jam, especially that little ditty of a bridge that comes out of nowhere. I regret nothing.

"The Big Big Beat" by Azealia Banks: Azealia's Slay-Z mixtape is okay, but we all know she can do much better, don't we? Even my girl Iggy's single is better than this, and we all know who the superior female rapper is supposed to be in the eyes of critics.

"Reminds Me" by Noonie Bao: Now, this woman knows how to make a pop song, yet nobody seems to have taken notice. It's time to notice, people.

"Formation" by Beyoncé: Um, it's Beyoncé and it's politically-charged. So it slays. It slays hard. Just like she does. NOW LET'S GET IN FORMATION.

"Work from Home" by Fifth Harmony feat. Ty Dolla $ign: Part Rugrats theme song, part bondafide bop.

"Here's To Us" by Ellie Goulding: Ellie is the gift that just keeps giving. Even after releasing a 400 track album, she still has another track to contribute to a soundtrack. And it's pretty great.

"Dangerous Woman" by Ariana Grande: This is a new direction for Ariana Grande in so many ways: the sultry guitar solo, the sexy midtempo rate, the lack of ponytail. Oh, and for the second time ever, there isn't a featured artist or unaccredited shouting black man on an Ariana Grande single. It's quite a treat. (And go get your life from "Be Alright," too. It's possibly one of the best things that Ariana has gifted us with.)

"This is What You Came For" by Calvin Harris feat. Rihanna: Capital Y-A-S. This is the Rihanna we all expected on Anti but definitely did not get. So yes, this is exactly what I came for.

"Boy Problems" by Carly Rae Jepsen: She's flawless and we just have to accept it. Also, go read my open letter to global sax-repopularizing singer of song Carly Rae Jepsen and buy "Run Away with Me" on iTunes. Thanks in advance.

"Close" by Nick Jonas feat. Tove Lo: Holy mother of YES. I smell some record label pressure to get Tove on this track to spark a new interest in both artists with just one music video budget, so it's a good thing she meshes perfectly with our Nick Jonas here. (P.S. - "Champagne Problems" is also catchy as hell.)

"Gold" by Kiiara: Her full EP is kind of disappointing, but this song goes hard. She's effortlessly badass and this track reeks of swagger. I love it.

"Be the One" by Dua Lipa: Possibly the best single to come from this year thus far. (I know it didn't technically come out this year, but it has found its livelihood in the past few months. Just shush and let me flaunt third-tier queen of pop Dua Lipa for all she's worth.)

"Last Dance" by Dua Lipa: Okay, also super amazing. (I know there's a Dua Lipa single right above this. I did it on purpose. Don't sleep on this girl, y'all.)

"Rewear It" by M.I.A.: Leave it to M.I.A. to make a track for an clothing advert and end up conjuring straight fire.

"Just Like Fire" by P!nk: I feel like every time P!nk comes back with a new single, it's like discovering her for the first time all over again. She's so low profile in between album cycles that it's hard to remember she exists. This song's alright but forgettable -- which is not in P!nk's usual nature. It's a soundtrack song, though, so I guess it's a forgivable offense.

"I Took a Pill in Ibiza (Seeb Remix)" by Mike Posner: I'm not really sure how Mike Posner, creator of forgettable late 2000s Top 40 anthem "Cooler Than Me," regained relevance or when he became an acoustic singer-songwriter, but he has. Normally, only uneducated trash prefer radio mixes over original versions of songs. But I suppose this one can be an exception, because it's really damn good. I apologize for being uneducated trash.

"No Broken Hearts" by Bebe Rexha feat. Nicki Minaj: What happened to Bebe Rexha and who replaced her with a carbon copy of Rita Ora? In comparison to last year's I Don't Wanna Grow Up extended play, this track from Bebe Ora is just dreadful.

"Work" by Rihanna feat. Drake: It took me six weeks to nail down what Rihanna is uttering in the chorus. After that, the song and I have had a much more positive relationship than when I could only mumble the melody. After all, what good is a Rihanna song if you can't sing along? ("Kiss It Better" makes me want to do naughty things, by the way. Don't ignore that one, either.)

"Rock Bottom" by Hailee Steinfeld feat. DNCE: Look at that, faceless little songbird Hailee Steinfeld got herself another moderate hit. This was the second-best cut from her debut extended play, so God bless her record label for pushing this one.

"Boyfriend" by Tegan and Sara: Tegan and Sara are very much pop now, but they haven't lost the passive-aggressiveness that allowed them to thrive in that Avril Lavigne-y pop-punk space that they dwelled in for so long. That's what makes this such a great tune.

"No" by Meghan Trainor: Okay, this bad boy channels the early '00s pop scene, like, really well? She's saying "no," but I'm giving the track a solid "YAS."

"True Colors" by Zedd feat. Kesha: This track is incredibly important because WE GOT OUR KESHA BACK (kind of). Oh, and it's remarkably better than the version included on Zedd's album of the same name last year.