Hey Violet: When Going Pop Goes Right
If all songs are mirrors, revealing something about each listener depending on their reaction, “Guys My Age” is particularly reflective. Hearing 19-year-old Rena Lovelis dismiss her young male counterparts as immature and inexperienced while asserting her preference for “attention from a grownup” might elicit a radically different response depending on your demographic, but it’s bound to make you feel something. If you’re one of the young men the title refers to, maybe you resent being categorically dismissed (but hey, maybe take a break from Reddit, porn, and video games to develop some social skills). If you’re an older man, perhaps you audibly gulp. If you’re a young woman, you might identify with Lovelis and appreciate her communicating your shared plight. And I wouldn’t be surprised if older women hear the tune and cackle at the suggestion that grown men act any less like little boys.
Whatever you make of “Guys My Age,” it was quite an introduction for Hey Violet, the youthful LA quintet whose debut album From The Outside drops tomorrow. Except the song was more of a reintroduction, and the album is technically their second. See, this band wasn’t always making post-EDM pop-rock, and Lovelis wasn’t always their singer, and they weren’t always called Hey Violet. Upon the project’s founding way back in 2008, when all the members were in middle school, it was a hard-rock band called Cherri Bomb fronted by singer-guitarist Julia Pierce. They did pretty well for themselves, releasing 2012 debut album This Is The End Of Control on Hollywood Records and opening for the likes of Foo Fighters, Bush, and Smashing Pumpkins. But less than a year later, Pierce’s bandmates kicked her out and rebooted the band as a mainstream hit machine in waiting, spurning their destiny as the next Pretty Reckless to plunge further down a path forged by No Doubt, Paramore, and Avril Lavigne.
In 2015 the newly rechristened Hey Violet signed with Hi Or Hey, a Capitol subsidiary founded by 5 Seconds Of Summer, with whom they’ve spent much of the last two years on tour building a new fan base that probably does not overlap much with Cherri Bomb’s. Nor does their new material correspond much with their old sound. Although their benefactors in 5SOS play bubblegum arena rock, half the time Hey Violet’s music barely even qualifies as rock at all. There’s a heavy electronic undercurrent, with programmed beats giving way to dense digital drops beneath Lovelis’ bright vocal melodies. What guitars remain mostly get out of the way and let the synths do the heavy lifting, though they do break out the fuzzboxes for a pair of dissed-and-dismissed anthems called “Fuqboi” and “This Is Me (Breaking Up With You),” and the breakdown on the waltzing “Like Lovers Do” is something like Evanescence covering “Kashmir.”
If not bite, the album has plenty of attitude thanks to Lovelis’ vocal and lyrical presence. When not colorfully rejecting losers, she is often flirting with more appealing partners (“I’m the lock and you’re the key/ So open me, come on, open me/ You can have me any way you like”) or lamenting lost love (on “Hoodie,” she confesses to still wearing an ex’s sweatshirt “and chewing on the strings”). She adopts the posture of a character in a televised teen drama — unattainable to her peers, but more tender than her edgy exterior suggests — an aesthetic fortified by her bandmates’ Freeform-appropriate soundtrack. They deserve props for delivering an album that holds together as a unified statement despite jumping around quite a bit stylistically.
Credit also goes to Julian Bunetta, who co-wrote and produced much of One Direction’s catalog and fulfills a similar role here. The album only directly resembles his former clients’ music at the very beginning, when opener “Break My Heart” bounces along like a remake of bubbly pop-rocker “What Makes You Beautiful” before morphing into a Zedd song on the chorus (a decision that, against all odds, works wonders). But even though Hey Violet don’t often sound like 1D, they share a knack for applying rock gestures to shamelessly centrist pop music, trying on a range of hip sounds from yesterday and today and translating them to songs just commercially ambitious enough to bug listeners who chafe at the sound of a manufactured product.
That impulse manifests in many ways: “Guys My Age” and aspiring Hot Topic national anthem “O.D.D.” take bits and pieces from dubstep, trip-hop, and Lana Del Rey. “Brand New Moves” is brazen disco-rock. Party jam “All We Ever Wanted” shamelessly cribs from Charli XCX and Icona Pop’s “I Love It.” “Unholy” finds fertile ground between Garbage’s maximalism and Lorde’s minimalism. Both “My Consequence” and “Where Have You Been (All My Night)” take a page from Chvrches’ dark-but-brightly-lit synthpop. Some of it is corny; most of it is good; all of it is executed with the utmost professionalism.
Whether any of this adds up to sustainable success remains to be seen. Hey Violet chalked up their split with Pierce to “creative differences,” but you don’t undergo an extreme makeover like this one unless you’re aiming for the big time. “Guys My Age” peaked at #68 on the Hot 100 and #20 at pop radio this winter, and Hey Violet haven’t had another hit nearly as big so far, so if the idea of going pop is to become superstars, they’ve got a long way left to climb. Whether or not they become a household name, they do have a very strong album to show for their efforts — one that, like its provocative lead single, stakes out its territory and demands a reaction. Selling out has rarely sounded so good.
When examining Halsey’s new album Hopeless Fountain Kingdom two weeks ago, I noted her belief that her music should be classified as alternative, not pop. Although her case is specious, one argument in its favor is that she is proving to be more of an albums artist than a singles artist. Although her non-Chainsmokers singles have never come anywhere close to the top 10, both of her LPs have enjoyed big debuts. Her 2015 debut Badlands entered the Billboard 200 at #2 with numbers strong enough for #1 if she hadn’t been up against the Weeknd. And now Hopeless Fountain Kingdom has achieved that #1 status, debuting on top with 106,000 equivalent units and 76,000 in pure album sales. Per Billboard, those numbers actually represent a slight downturn from Badlands’ 115,000 units and 97,000 in sales. Shockingly, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom is the first #1 album by a woman in 2017; the last woman to top the album chart was Lady Gaga last November. (Trump’s America!!! Am I right, Redditors, or am I right?)
After Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., the latest Epic AF compilation, and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper reissue at 2-3-4, country singer Luke Combs drops in at #5 with 43,000 units/35,000 sales for his debut album This One’s For You. Then comes Drake, Ed Sheeran, and the Summer Latin Hits 2017 at 6-7-8. Pop-punks All Time Low debut at #9 with Last Young Renegade on the strength of 33,000 units/30,000 sales, and Bruno Mars rounds out the top 10 with 24K Magic.
Over on the Hot 100 singles chart, Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee, and Justin Bieber’s “Despacito” reigns for a fifth straight week, followed once again by Bruno Mars’ “That’s What I Like” at #2 and DJ Khaled’s “I’m The One” featuring Bieber, Quavo, Chance The Rapper, and Lil Wayne at #3. Then comes Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” at #4, Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” at #5, and Future’s “Mask Off” at #6. Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO TOUR Llif3″ reaches a new #7 peak, followed by the Chainsmokers and Coldplay’s “Something Just Like This” at #8 (giving the Chainsmokers a hit in the top 10 for the 58th straight week, second only to Katy Perry’s 69-week record). Rounding out the top 10 are Zedd and Alessia Cara’s “Stay” at #9 and Post Malone and Quavo’s “Congratulations” at #10.
David Guetta – “2U” (Feat. Justin Bieber)
It doesn’t matter how we feel about this song. Its ascendance is preordained. It is more valuable as sport than art: Can Bieber replace the Bieber-featuring “Despacito” at #1 after “Despacito” replaced the Bieber-featuring “I’m The One”? We’ll soon find out!
Shania Twain – “It’s About To Get Good”
I can’t be the only one wishing Twain came back with a bit more pizzazz. The great “You’re Still The One” is her biggest single ever, but over-the-top anthems like “Any Man Of Mine,” “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under,” and “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” are what her legend is built on.
Kyle – “Nothing 2 Lose”
This is way less cloying than “iSpy,” the Lil Yachty collab that put Kyle on most people’s radars. Does that mean it will make less of an impact? Maybe, but its smooth summertime vibes could also click with those of us who found Kyle’s breakthrough hit completely insufferable. In any case, “If you don’t fuck with me, it’s not a problem/ ‘Cause I only need approval from my niggas and my mama.”
Andy Grammer – “Give Love” (Feat. LunchMoney Lewis)
Grammer’s big hit “Honey, I’m Good.” was obnoxious, but there was no mistaking it. Here, he’s traded his unique country-tinged pop sound for something more in keeping with today’s trends, which makes him much easier to ignore.
Ed Sheeran – “…Baby One More Time” (Britney Spears Cover)
Sheeran thinks it’s cute when he covers rap songs on his acoustic guitar, so he probably thinks this is cute, too. It’s not!
NEWS IN BRIEF
- In a historic convergence of awful things, Charlie Puth covered Katy Perry’s “Bon Appétit.” [YouTube]
- Taylor Swift hit a major RIAA milestone by officially moving 100 million song units, but is still in second place behind Rihanna. [Billboard]
- Darius Rucker, Jason Aldean, and Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley performed a tribute to the late Gregg Allman at the CMT Music Awards, and Derek Trucks joined them on “Midnight Rider.” [LA Times]
- 2 Chainz’s Pretty Girls Like Trap Music listening party was shut down by NYPD last week and the NY Post is blaming the city’s “infamous hip-hop cops,” “a small unit of officers that monitors events to curtail violence in the hip-hop world.” [Page Six]
- In a sort of Truth Or Dare segment with James Corden during her 72-hour Witness livestream, Katy Perry ranked her famous exes from best to worst in bed. (Her answer: John Mayer, Orlando Bloom, Diplo. #SavedYouAClick) [Billboard]
- The Chainsmokers are the new brand ambassadors for Tommy Hilfiger. [Instagram]
- Foster The People announced a new album Sacred Hearts Club. [YouTube]
- Avicii helped Nile Rodgers produce Chic’s upcoming album. [Billboard]
- A Manchester city council proposal has been made to give Ariana Grande honorary citizenship. [BBC]
- Niall Horan and Jimmy Fallon improvised songs based on absurd titles submitted by fans. [Rolling Stone]
- Fallon and Miley Cyrus also busked in disguise in the NYC subway. [YouTube]
- G-Eazy announced his fifth studio album The Beautiful & Damned. [Twitter]
- Did you catch the Taylor Swift easter egg in Selena Gomez’s “Bad Liar” video? [Refinery29]
- Karrueche Tran was granted a five year restraining order against Chris Brown today. [TMZ]
- Travis Scott and Kylie Jenner got matching tattoos. [Complex]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
— Lorde (@lorde) June 11, 2017
— CHARLI XCX (@charli_xcx) June 11, 2017