The Week In Pop

Taylor Swift, Song Doctor?

Of all the headlines to emerge from Taylor Swift’s much-publicized split from Calvin Harris — and the headlines, like demons possessing pigs, have been legion — by far the most interesting was yesterday’s revelation that Swift secretly wrote the lyrics and vocal melody for Harris and Rihanna’s current #4 hit “This Is What You Came For” under the hilarious pseudonym Nils Sjoberg.

I had been alternately horrified and intrigued at the prospect of Swift and Harris collaborating on music: On the one hand, Swift is known for penning wistful and/or scathing remembrances after a relationship concludes, so the thought of her writing music with her boyfriend while happy and in love was fascinating. On the other hand, Harris’ big-box EDM seemed like a weird fit for her class president persona, even after 1989’s full-on embrace of synthetic pop. Concocting a song behind the scenes is an ideal compromise because it lets her knack for melody and storytelling shine without forcing her to awkwardly pose as the queen of Electric Daisy Carnival. And, at least anecdotally, that knack is undeniable: I haven’t been able to get “This Is What You Came For” out of my head for weeks.

Swift’s experiment with ghostwriting worked out so well that I wonder if this is the first time she’s done it. Industry songwriter types like Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels crank out dozens of singles every year, whereas Swift only releases a new album every two years. Writing to a track like she did for “This Is What You Came For” is really no different than what she did on “Out Of The Woods,” the titanic Jack Antonoff collab. Surely a proven hit-maker as connected as Swift could find a market thirsty for her top-line talent?

Not that she needs the money; projected to rake in $170 million this year, Swift topped Forbes’ list of the highest paid celebrities. But this is a person who is clearly interested in bringing the entire entertainment industry under her umbrella (or in the case of “This Is What You Came For,” her umbrella, ella, ella, eh, eh, eh). Remember when Swift attempted to “welcome to the stage” every 2015 celebrity, effectively turning stars both major and minor into her trusty sidekicks? I could see her getting deep satisfaction out of spreading her tentacles well beyond her already expansive public empire, developing #squad sleeper cells all over the modern music landscape. After all, when Harris confirmed Swift’s involvement with “This Is What You Came For,” he also confirmed her interest in Machiavellian maneuvers.

When yesterday’s news broke, my colleague Tom Breihan facetiously(?) wondered if Swift was also secretly behind the Chainsmokers and Daya’s “Don’t Let Me Down,” the track one notch above “This Is What You Came For” on this week’s Hot 100. “What if she just wrote every summer 2016 EDM anthem?” he mused. “Would we even know?” We would not! She could be working without a credit. And hey, the vocal melody in “Don’t Let Me Down” does sound like the kind of thing Swift might freestyle at karaoke night.

Or consider “Bright,” Echosmith’s less successful but creatively superior follow-up to “Cool Kids.” It’s exactly the kind of starry-eyed acoustic country-pop ballad Swift used to specialize in, but it doesn’t fit within her current musical parameters. Even when Swift inevitably makes a back-to-her-roots acoustic album someday, she’ll probably want it to be a mature, weary affair a la Joni Mitchell’s Blue, so it’s likely she has piles of songs like “Bright” sitting around unused. Plus, Echosmith’s Sydney Sierota happens to be part of Swift’s regiment of celebrity lieutenants; she made multiple guest appearances on the 1989 Tour. V suspicious, T.S.!

If Swift hasn’t already initiated this plan, she should consider it. Her monolithic presence in pop culture has often been compared to Drake, and if Drake has proven anything it’s that the public’s appetite for music from monoliths is basically bottomless. Swift isn’t about to start dropping SoundCloud loosies, so she may as well accumulate hella Nils Sjoberg credits.

CHART WATCH

Blink and you might miss it: Blink-182 have dethroned Drake atop the Billboard 200, though it looks likely that Views will regain the #1 spot next week. In the meantime, though, California is the biggest album in the land, with 186,000 equivalent units and 172,000 in pure sales.

Billboard reports that it’s the third-best sales week this year for a rock album — narrowly bested by David Bowie’s Blackstar (174,000) and Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool (173,000) — giving Blink their second #1 album following 2001’s Take Off Your Pants And Jacket. Their 15-year gap between #1 albums is the longest since Lionel Richie closed a 25-year gap between #1s in 2012.

Following Views at #2 is Maxwell’s #3-debuting blackSUMMERS’night, accruing 59,000 units and 57,000 in sales — a pretty steep decline from 2009’s BLACKsummers’night, which sold 316,000 copies in its first week and debuted at #1. The rest of the top 10 is pretty familiar, padded out by titles from Beyoncé, Twenty One Pilots, Rihanna, Adele, and Blake Shelton plus the Hamilton soundtrack and the Epic AF compilation.

Drake may be temporarily removed from the Billboard 200 throne, but his reign on the Hot 100 continues. “One Dance” stays on top for a ninth nonconsecutive week, tying Rihanna’s Drake-featuring “Work” as his longest-running #1 single. Notable top-10 movement: Calvin Harris and Rihanna’s aforementioned “This Is What You Came For” rises to a new peak of #4, followed by Sia and Sean Paul’s “Cheap Thrills” at #5, also a new peak. Twenty One Pilots’ #8-charting “Ride” climbs to a new high as well.

POP FIVE

John Newman – “Olé” (Prod. Calvin Harris)
More Taylor/Calvin drama here in the tracks section: Allegedly “Olé” is Harris’ Swift kiss-off. Note that the first words are “low-key,” a possible reference to new Swift beau Tom Hiddleston’s role as Loki in the Thor and Avengers movies. There are probably a lot of other clues to decode, and frankly the song is a lot more entertainment as a venue for celebrity gossip sleuthing than as music.

Jennifer Lopez & Lin-Manuel Miranda – “Love Make The World Go Round”
This tribute to the Orlando shooting victims has extremely good intentions, but it’s no “Alexander Hamilton,” you know?

Elle King – “Good Girls”
Let’s just say I was thinking about writing a column pegged to the new Ghostbusters soundtrack and am extremely grateful Taylor Swift and Calvin Harris gave me an out.

AWOLNATION – “Run (Beautiful Things)”
These guys have never been one of my favorites among the “alternative rock band that’s actually a pop band” crowd, but “Run” is mighty catchy, isn’t it? No wonder Prophets Of Rage plucked them off that tour with Death From Above 1979.

Betty Who – “I Love You Always Forever” (Donna Lewis Cover)
A monster ’90s one-off hit that has completely faded from memory: “I Love You Always Forever” was prime for a remake, and I ain’t that mad about what Betty Who’s done with it.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Barneys will carry Justin Bieber Purpose merch including a $1,675 leather jacket. It’s the first time the retailer has carried an artist’s tour merch. [NY Times]
  • T.I. has been sued by former employees of his Atlanta restaurant Scales 925, alleging the business withheld final paychecks and threatened to call the police when those payments were requested. [AJC]
  • Selena Gomez and Charlie Puth finally did the first joint performance of their hit “We Don’t Talk Anymore” in Anaheim last weekend. [Twitter]
  • Tori Kelly shared a new song “Blink Of An Eye” in tribute to the late Christina Grimmie. [YouTube]
  • Jason Aldean’s They Don’t Know is out 9/9, and I’m guessing it does not include a Rico Love cover. [Rolling Stone]
  • Snoop Dogg answered a question about weed on Celebrity Family Feud and only did OK. [YouTube]
  • Big Sean, Flo Rida, 2 Chainz, Ludacris, Jason Derulo, Lil Wayne, Nelly, and Dillon Francis will play “Bud Light Party Convention” events this summer. [Billboard]
  • Justin Bieber, Young Thug, Jeremih, Skrillex, and Travis Scott are among the guests on DJ Snake’s debut album Encore out next month. [Twitter]
  • Britney Spears teased a new song and/or fragrance called “Private Show.” [Instagram]
  • Hailee Steinfeld teased her new Zedd collab “Starving.” [Twitter]
  • Miranda Lambert has a new single coming called “Records I Never Heard.” [ATRL]
  • Snakehips and ZAYN drop “Cruel” tomorrow (the same day ZAYN’s Ghostbusters track is out). [Twitter]

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