It was obvious from the beginning that Hilary Duff signing up for Tinder was a stunt to promote her comeback album. What wasn’t obvious was what an elaborate stunt it would turn out to be — not just a headline-grabbing move to get people talking about Duff again but the premise for a craven music video desperately trying to go viral. The first version of Duff’s visuals for the whistling Tove Lo co-write “Sparks” toggled between two jarringly dissimilar treatments. One scenario, which later was isolated for a “fan-demanded” alternate take, featured glamor shots of Duff dancing in some stylized future-world out of an old Hype Williams video while rocking a searing neon pink and blur color palette that would be a smash hit in the capital of Panem. The other was a reality-TV style vignette about a decidedly down-to-earth Duff’s experience on Tinder, from sheepishly fielding interview questions to browsing potential partners with her gal pals to going on a bowling and go-karts date with a prospective Mr. Right. (She did perform the theme song from Laguna Beach, after all.) As reality programs tend to, the storyline rang so artificial that I began to wonder if even the the idea to do a song called “Sparks” was part of a cross-promotional effort with Tinder.
The song, though, is very good — brisk and infectious and guaranteed to launch Britney Spears into fits of jealousy. Duff does an expertly breathy Spears impression, and I can only bow down to whoever decided to match a thumping house-pop beat with a whistled melody out of every shitty fake indie song circa 2007. Other than the off-putting video, the whole thing works, and along with last year’s even more winsome “All About You” — a song The Week In Pop will always affectionally describe as “a banjo-laden ‘Boom Clap'” and which also might pleasantly remind you of Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby” — it had me intrigued about Duff’s new album Breathe In. Breathe Out. But “All About You” isn’t on the album for some reason. Neither is “Chasing The Sun,” Duff’s flaccid first attempt at a comeback track. Presumably those songs didn’t make the cut because they weren’t hits, but in the case of “All About You,” the omission is extremely disappointing because nothing else on Breathe In. Breathe Out. is that good, not even “Sparks.” That said, if you’re in the market for a state-of-the-art 2015 pop album to put on while you’re working out, cleaning the house, or soundtracking various scenes in the coming-of-age drama that is your life, you could do a lot worse.
If that sounds like faint praise, well, Breathe In. Breathe Out. is the kind of album that’s easy to enjoy but hard to remember. On Twitter yesterday, critic David Greenwald recommended Duff’s new release as “the 2014 Carly Rae Jepsen stopgap album we never got,” which should give you a good sense of the sonic space in which this music operates. You could just as easily substitute Kelly Clarkson or Katy Perry or even Jason Derulo, give or take a horn blurt. Like almost all big-budget pop in the EDM era, this music sparkles, surges, and soars while sprinkling in strategic traces of rock, folk, and hip-hop. The bridge of the otherwise boilerplate rave-pop nugget “Confetti” pleasingly descends into a riff on “Heaven Is A Place On Earth”; the swinging “Tattoo” might just fly on country radio; “My Kind” rides a syncopated, reggae-indebted bounce befitting Rihanna or Selena Gomez. It’s all professional yet ephemeral studio craft that can tip either direction depending on how it’s handled.
Duff injects less personality into these songs than many of her peers would, but the album comes pre-loaded with a storyline thanks to her pending divorce from hockey player Mike Comrie. You can almost see the sassy head-bob when she sings, on the title track, “I made a top-10 list of all the things I miss/ Your lyin’ eyes and lips, they didn’t make it.” The wistfully longing “Arms Around A Memory” presents the other side of the breakup, noting that you cannot, in fact, wrap your arms around a memory. “Stay In Love” laments the difficulty of romance (“Why does everything good always start to bleed?”) while “Tattoo” gags on the aftertaste (“I guess you had to leave a tattoo to remind me”). The remarks are vague and utilitarian enough to be about your breakup, too, and Duff hits her emotional beats like the rom-com actress she is. And like those kinds of movies, cynics will scoff at it while those with a sentimental streak mine it for standard-issue epiphanies.
Did Duff need something like the Tinder caper to sell this album? Probably. She’s been laying low raising her family for the past few years, she hasn’t had a real hit in almost a decade (if ever), and even the songs people might remember (“So Yesterday,” Laguna Beach’s “Come Clean”) don’t necessarily mark her as pop royalty returning to vie for the crown again. Rather, her crystalline B-minus pop album is competing for space with lots of other crystalline B-minus pop albums, so she has to play every card in her hand, even one as gauche as very publicly signing up for a booty-call app and tying it into your single. The ploy might not even work — “Sparks” has yet to crack the Hot 100, even with 15 million views across two YouTube videos — but it underscores the reality that pop singers are far more likely to land a hit these days if they’re tabloid celebrities first, performers second. In the clickbait climate, you’ve got to get people talking before you can get people listening.
Big month for larger-than-life British rock music! Last week Florence + The Machine debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and this week it’s Muse scoring their first US #1. Drones didn’t do humongous numbers — 84,000 equivalent units and 79,000 in pure sales is paltry for a #1 album, even these days — but it was enough to beat out Taylor Swift’s perennial sales machine 1989, spending yet another week at #2 with 64,000. It’s crazy to think that in its 33rd week on sale 1989 is still selling enough copies to compete for #1. Also crazy: Billboard reports that Florence and Muse’s big opening bows mark the first time British artists have ever landed back-to-back #1 debuts on the American album chart. Like, ever.
Entering at #3 is Of Monsters And Men’s sophomore album Beneath The Skin with 61,000, then it’s Florence’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful at #4 with 37,000. The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers reissue re-enters the former #1 album at #5 with 36,000, followed by Ed Sheeran’s x at #6 with 34,000. Sam Hunt’s Montevallo rides CMT Awards buzz back to #7, his best ranking since debuting at #3 last November, on the strength of 31,000 equivalent units. Then it’s A$AP Rocky’s At.Long.Last.A$AP (#8, just over 29,000), Maroon 5’s V (#9, 29,000), and Meghan Trainor’s Title (#10, 27,000).
Years & Years – “Shine (Toyboy & Robin Remix)”
Quality single “Shine” is helping UK pop upstarts Years & Years break in the US, and this new remix by deep house duo Toyboy & Robin turns it into even more of a jam. It’s meeting that need that the new Disclosure songs left wanting.
Zayn Malik – “No Type”
Along with those demos he made with Naughty Boy, Malik’s soulful Rae Sremmurd rework has me extra-excited about his solo career. Special thanks to whoever made the Zayn-only edit; the rap verse by Mic Righteous was a real buzzkill.
Tove Lo – “Timebomb”
Tove Lo’s Queen Of The Clouds was the best pop album of 2014, and the frantic, euphoric “Timebomb” might be its best song. Listen up if you’ve never heard it before, and listen again if you have.
Meghan Trainor – “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” (Feat. John Legend)
The sound of a camp-free, less explicitly retro Trainor is surprisingly refreshing. Not gonna be putting this on my next mix CD for the car, but it’s the first Trainor single in a while that didn’t make me feel sheepish about praising “All About That Bass.”
The Chainsmokers – “Roses” (Feat. Rozes)
It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the hackneyed “#SELFIE” was just a way for these guys to get their foot in the door. “Roses” is the futuristic synthpop of my dreams.
Vanessa Carlton – “Blue Pool”
There’s that piano! Carlton’s indie-folk reinvention continues, this time incorporating her signature instrument to positive effect.
W. Darling – “Nights Like This”
Darling is yet another industry songwriter trying to make a go of it as a performer herself, but unlike most of her kind, she might actually have a shot at it.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- 30 Seconds To Mars are selling tickets to a weekend camping trip with the band. [Rolling Stone]
- Dixie Chicks are getting back together for a European tour. [Rolling Stone]
- Kesha’s lawsuit against Dr. Luke hit some legal snags. [Billboard]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
WATCH MIKEY I HOPE HES OKAY I LOVE YOU SO MUCH AND IT WAS AN AMAZING SHOW pic.twitter.com/rGdlCudGGk
— ? PLEASE RENA&CASEY (@ImIn5SOSLand) June 13, 2015
What the fucks up. sorry I couldnt finish the encore, but at least I look like two face. thanks for worrying every1 x pic.twitter.com/wXh9eYUsbV
— Michael Clifford (@Michael5SOS) June 13, 2015