Pop Goes The Migos
“Bad And Boujee” was a culmination of sorts, but it was only the beginning. When the song became a viral sensation and then Migos’ first #1 hit at the beginning of this year, it seemed like both a remarkable comeback story and the reward for years of hard work — the moment in the movie when the credits roll and the heroes go home happy, in this case presumably to a rewarding life of smokin’ on cookie in the hotbox, cooking up dope in the crockpot, and related activities. Except the movie is still going, and although “Bad And Boujee” remains their crowning achievement, Migos are using its momentum to burrow further into the pop mainstream with each passing week.
The Atlanta trio had already gone through a handful of hype cycles by the time “Bad And Boujee” emerged inauspiciously last fall: first when they set the internet on fire with the frenetic mantras “Versace” and “Hannah Montana” in 2013, and then again when “Fight Night” and “Handsome And Wealthy” became rap radio staples in 2014, and yet again in 2015 when they helped popularize the dab, a dance move/gesture/Cam Newton touchdown celebration now ubiquitous among elementary school kids everywhere.
Yet this time last year they weren’t even rap A-listers, much less pop chart-toppers. Their official debut album Yung Rich Nation had flopped in 2015, debuting at #17 and failing to produce a hit. One-third of the trio, Offset, spent most of 2015 behind bars. They parted ways with their label, Lyor Cohen’s 300 Entertainment, and attempted to reboot with their Back To The Bando mixtape, which yielded the dab anthem “Look At My Dab.” But with most of their songs failing to catch on and only a novelty dance craze keeping them relevant, the Migos > Beatles meme was starting to seem preposterous (or more preposterous, depending on where you stand).
Viewed from another angle, though, all those ups and downs were just Migos staying on their grind, not giving up up until they took over the world. They never stopped releasing music, playing the part of the prolific Atlanta trap artist to perfection, churning out so many tracks it was hard to keep track of their output even if you were trying. They kept refining the unique internal chemistry that made them so appealing in the first place: the triplet flows, the use of repetition not as a crutch but an art form, the teamwork so intuitive they seem to share one consciousness. Just as the dab wave was cresting (side note: please no one start a subgenre called dab wave), Offset got out of prison and brought Migos back to full strength. De facto frontman Quavo’s burgeoning solo career, which might have gone on to overshadow the group had Offset remained incarcerated, merely served to expand the unit’s cultural imprint. Migos stayed the course, and when they finally scored another big rap radio hit by essentially rendering YFN Lucci a footnote on his own “Key To The Streets,” they were in prime position to wage another promo offensive.
We all know what happened next: “Bad And Boujee” blew up, Migos’ sophomore album Culture debuted at #1, and the hits kept coming. Even Quavo’s dumb comments about some fellow artists’ homosexuality couldn’t derail their momentum. This all made sense within the context that produced Migos, a gangster rap scene that has spent the past decade mostly cordoned off from the pop mainstream. But “Bad And Boujee” reached way outside that world, and rather than letting it become their fleeting moment in the pop spotlight, Migos are using it to put down roots there. Rap is having a pop moment right now, and nobody is enjoying it more than these guys.
Last Friday, Migos guested on no less than three major new singles. Headlining the bunch was “Bon Appétit,” Katy Perry’s latest attempt at a comeback single after “Chained To The Rhythm” failed to achieve anthem status. “Bon Appétit” is hookless and built upon awkward boldfaced sexual metaphors, but don’t let the song’s terribleness or Perry’s desperation obscure what a status symbol this feature is for Migos. They performed “Bon Appétit” with Perry at the Met Gala earlier this week, and they’ll almost certainly join her on SNL later this month, too. The track will probably land them back in the top 10 and might even finally get them over pop radio’s notorious race barrier — and if not that one, maybe it will be “Body,” their new collab with re-ascendent dancehall star Sean Paul.” One Migo might make it all the way back to #1 next week with “I’m The One,” DJ Khaled’s new pop-minded posse cut, on which Quavo features alongside Justin Bieber, Chance The Rapper, and Lil Wayne. (All three Migos appear in the song’s luxuriant video; even though Quavo’s solo ventures continue to ramp up, Migos’ strength is in the collective.)
To premiere three such high-profile features on the same day is remarkable, and more are on the way, including a song with One Direction alum Liam Payne. Quavo is also the only rapper featured on Halsey’s upcoming album. The mainstream pop machine is betting hard on Migos right now. Which begs the question: Should they be? The group’s popularity is undeniable, and their star power is real (just watch their turn as woodsy drug dealers on Donald Glover’s Atlanta or any of their recent music videos), but they got to where they are by innovating and thriving inside a rap context, by getting so big within that lane that they became pop by sheer force of consensus (i.e. not by cravenly pandering to the lowest common denominator). Less than two years ago, our own Tom Breihan and Quavo himself expressed skepticism about the wisdom of Migos gunning for pop crossovers. Does it make any more sense now?
“Slide” suggests it does. Not to keep beating a dead horse, having already expressed my profound affection for the Calvin Harris x Frank Ocean x Migos summit last week, but that damn song has taken over my brain this year. More to the point, its flawless execution proves that Migos (or at least Quavo and Offset, with all due apologies to perennial outcast Takeoff) can beautifully adapt their talents to smooth, bright, summery pop sounds miles away from the ominous trap music they made their name on. Quavo in particular has melodic instincts that have proven extremely adaptable to a pop context, and his co-direction on videos like the magnificent “T-Shirt” reveal a mind for the visual and conceptual elements that amplify great pop stars into larger-than-life figures. It makes me optimistic about what else they could do in this arena.
And from a purely financial standpoint, now is absolutely the time to strike. In our highly mediated culture, fame begets fame. A shrewd Stereogum commenter recently pointed out that Migos are in position to follow Lil Wayne in ’07 and ’08 or Drake in ’11 and ’12 by jumping on every song available and saturating the market, ultimately transcending the rap world altogether. A window opened with “Bad And Boujee,” which means this year is probably Migos’ one and only chance to make that leap out of rap into a wider celebrity realm that extends beyond music itself.
Migos understand that. They appear to be absolutely seizing their moment. Even Quavo dating Chris Brown’s ex Karrueche Tran could be cynically viewed as a way to cross over from music into the even more lucrative world of celebrity gossip. Tabloid behaviors aside, the musical component of that equation is teaming up with people like Katy Perry and Liam Payne even as you continue to keep one foot in the world you came from. Drake continues to benefit from that cross-genre ubiquity, and although Wayne fell off years ago, even at this late date he maintains enough cache to hop on tracks by almost anybody he wants to. He has staying power that doesn’t even depend on quality.
Quality Control, though, is the name of Migos’ label, and I hope they take that name seriously going forward. They’re riding not just the hottest commercial streak of their career but also their most inspired creative period. Culture is a special album. It would be a shame if their next one betrayed everything that made them great in pursuit of the lowest common denominator. Going full B.o.B like that is a believable endgame, as is a retreat to their fertile comfort zone. In the ideal scenario, though, entry into this new world would only result in an expanded array of sounds filtering into the group’s firm foundation. Imagine a Migos that kept experimenting and adapting until their sound encompassed a wealth of styles without losing that initial spark that set them apart — you know, like the Beatles.
Kendrick Lamar’s reign atop the Hot 100 lasted only one frame. After becoming K-Dot’s first #1 single as a lead artist last week, “HUMBLE.” slides to #3 this week as Bruno Mars claims his seventh career chart-topper with “That’s What I Like.” Billboard reports all sorts of other stats about Mars’ achievement, such as: His seven #1s this decade give him the lead among males in the 2010s, though he trails Katy Perry (8) and Rihanna (9). He’s the first male to score #1 singles off three albums in a row since Eminem and the first artist to generate #1s from his first three albums since Katy Perry.
Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” remains at #2. Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s Justin Bieber-featuring “Despacito” remix jumps to #4, followed by Future staying strong with “Mask Off” at #5. The Chainsmokers and Coldplay’s “Something Just Like This” rises back to #6, and its continued presence in the top 10 gives the Chainsmokers a top-10 hit in each of the last 52 weeks, giving them sole possession of second place all-time behind Perry’s 69-week run. Kendrick’s “DNA.” drops to #7, while Kyle and Lil Yachty’s “iSpy” declines to #8 and Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO TOUR Llif3″ climbs one spot to #9. Rounding out the top 10 is Kygo and Selena Gomez’s “It Ain’t Me,” which rises to #10 to become Kygo’s first top-10 hit and Gomez’s seventh.
Although Kendrick loses his grip on the singles crown, DAMN. holds on as the nation’s #1 album for a second straight week. Per Billboard, DAMN.‘s 239,000 equivalent units add up to the fourth best week by an album all year, bested only by its 2017-leading 603,000 debut frame last week and the opening volleys by Drake’s More Life and Ed Sheeran’s ÷. Only 89,000 of DAMN.’s units are due to album sales, although that alone would have been enough to rule this week’s chart.
Speaking of Drake and Ed Sheeran, those albums are at #2 and #3, followed by the week’s highest debut, Incubus’ 8. The album, the band’s seventh top-10 release, starts at #4 with 52,000 units and 49,000 in sales. Bruno Mars, the Chainsmokers, and Moana are at 5-6-7. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: Awesome Mix Vol. 2 enters at #8 with 34,000 units, almost all through sales, but expect it to climb the chart after the movie debuts this weekend. Future’s self-titled and the Weeknd’s Starboy close out the top 10.
Ed Sheeran – “Galway Girl”
Sheeran’s Irish-inflected pop anthem is going to be his next #1. It’s basically preordained. Notably, this is the video in which actress Saoirse Ronan accidentally tattooed Sheeran with “Galway Grill” instead of “Galway Girl.”
Kygo & Ellie Goulding – “First Time”
Goulding is never better than when applying her LCD-screen vocals to production by leading electronic producers, and Kygo is never better than when teaming up with pop’s leading ladies. Still, the vanilla “First Time” is neither’s best work.
Cashmere Cat – “Quit” (Feat. Ariana Grande)
I love the high drama here. I love that “Quit” gets to a humongous place without ever really getting humongous. It’s just an exceptional post-EDM power ballad. Cashmere Cat and Ariana showing Kygo and Goulding how it’s done!
Hailee Steinfeld – “Most Girls”
I was pretty suspicious of Steinfeld’s decision to go all-in on her music career when she’s a better actor than singer, but her selection of material so far has been mostly spot-on. Although “Most Girls” isn’t my favorite track of hers, it sounds like a summer smash.
Niall Horan – “Slow Hands”
Not an Interpol cover, unfortunately.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Evil Dr. Oz says patients recovering from plastic surgery should listen to Ed Sheeran. [Billboard]
- In his previously reported Game Of Thrones cameo, Sheeran will apparently play a singer who performs for Arya. [Vulture]
- Musical.ly announced an integration with Apple Music that enables subscribers to stream full length songs within the app. [Recode]
- Harry Styles announced a world tour. [E!]
- Apple Music reportedly wants to launch R. Kelly’s Trapped In The Closet sequel. [Bloomberg]
- Halsey shared her Hopeless Fountain Kingdom tracklist feat. Quavo, Cashmere Cat, and Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jauregui. [NME]
- Halsey also announced a North American headline tour with openers PARTYNEXTDOOR and Charly XCX. [Halsey]
- Katy Perry promoted her new single “Bon Appétit” by handing out cherry pies in NYC’s Times Square. [ET]
- Perry also baked a cherry pie herself in one of those Buzzfeed Tasty tutorials. [YouTube]
- And at the Met Gala, Perry might have wore her album title on her face? [Spin]
- Iggy Azalea on Snapchat: “Switch will not be released on May 12th.” Phew! [Imgur]
- Performers at the newly rebranded MTV Movie & TV Awards include Big Sean, Noah Cyrus, and J Balvin and Pitbull with Camila Cabello. [E!]
- Jay Z’s being sued for trademark infringement for using the Roc Nation logo on Major League Baseball apparel. [TMZ]
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have been sued by NOLA jazz musician Paul Batiste who claims their “Thrift Shop” borrows from two of his songs. (It doesn’t. -Ed) [TMZ]
- The musical Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812, which features Josh Groban in his Broadway debut, led this year’s Tony nominations with 12. [NYT]
- The New York Times hung out with Future while he was getting ready for the Met Gala: “He’s particularly into Gucci socks right now, too, though he thinks the brand is might be becoming ‘“too trendy’ for him.” [NYT]
- The Rhode Island Supreme Court upheld a ruling that Taylor Swift could fence out the public on her beachfront property. [AP]
- CMT Crossroads will move outdoors for the first time with a show featuring Earth, Wind & Fire joined by country stars like Lady Antebellum. It’ll take place 6/23 in downtown Nashville. [Deadline]
- Justin Bieber is reportedly dating Hailee Steinfeld. They met through their pastor. [TMZ]