The Week In Pop

Stop Enabling These Dweebs, Beyoncé

Can we talk about Eminem’s Revival tracklist for a minute? It is not a promising tracklist. “Foreboding” is a better word for it. Look at these features:

I have not yet heard “Bad Husband” featuring X Ambassadors, but I am certain there is a special room in hell where they play it on loop. What would be worse: a signature Eminem “murder my wife” rage-blackout released into this moment when we as a society are reckoning with our treatment of women to an unprecedented extent, or a mournful logorrheic apology for all those other “murder my wife” rage-blackouts with a hook sung in earnestly hefty howls by that guy who sings that “I’m a little unsteady” song you could have sworn was in Imagine Dragons? That one’s followed immediately by “Tragic Endings” with Skylar Grey, the singer rappers call when they want to make glossy piano ballads to be played over emotional montages at the end of movies — a lucrative subgenre former parental terrorizer Eminem has become weirdly conversant with at this stage of his career.

Most of the tracklist’s other component parts are not so self-evidently treacly, but put them together and you’re liable to retch like a teenager who stayed up all night playing video games while pounding Doritos, Oreos, and Red Bull — which may or may not still represent a significant portion of Eminem’s target demo. Revival also has Pink and Kehlani and Alicia Keys, women who are fully capable of creating great pop music but who are cast in a deeply saccharine light when their names are preceded by “Eminem featuring.” It has Phresher, a burly-voiced and wide-eyed mad man who doesn’t even have his own Wikipedia page yet and looks set to gain himself a few million fans via this act of charity. And, in a magnanimous gesture of Ed Sheeran wish fulfillment, it has Ed Sheeran.

Sheeran and Eminem are two of the most monstrously popular musical acts on the planet, cults of outsized personality with fiercely loyal fan bases and undeniable talent. They happen to wield that talent in shamelessly loud, obnoxious fashion that captivates millions upon millions but may also conjure within your soul a feeling similar to removing a hangnail with sandpaper. One is a gifted singer-songwriter and performer with a questionable nice-guy-you-should-pity disposition and off-putting tryhard tendencies, especially regarding hip-hop. Specifically, he has a tendency to turn rap songs into cute acoustic pop songs like it’s a novel idea that wasn’t played out during the George W. Bush administration, and sometimes he even tries to spit.

Sheeran’s clearest inspiration in those moments is Eminem, arguably the most technically capable rapper in recorded history, whose rapid-fire verbal twists and turns often devolve into the equivalent of an endless guitar solo in search of a song. Despite the relatively woke viewpoints expressed in his headline-grabbing anti-Trump freestyle, it’s reasonable to assume the misanthropic lyrical-miracle tirades on Revival will still contain much of the same problematic talk about women and gays that made 2013’s The Marshall Mathers LP 2 so cringeworthy. Yet MMLP2 was the second best selling album of 2013 in the US, second only to Justin Timberlake (and globally, second only to One Direction). And Sheeran’s ÷ is this year’s second best seller behind his buddy Taylor Swift. He’s also Spotify’s most-streamed artist of 2017.

In other words, these are guys who (1) do not need Beyoncé’s help and who (2) are infinitely less cool than Beyoncé, and yet:

There she is, Queen Bey herself, breathing controlled gospel fire all over a pensive and percussion-less Eminem ballad called “Walk On Water.” Produced by Rick Rubin, it’s designed as a confessional on which Eminem takes himself off the pedestal and encourages his stans to lower their bar for him to a more realistic level — which, when you’re releasing shapeless maudlin muck of this ilk, is an understandable request. “Walk On Water” is the one song we’ve heard from Revival so far, and let’s just say it portends ominous things for the rest of the collaborations if the one with Beyoncé is this unlistenable.

This is the most powerful woman in music — someone who’s given us a treasure trove of impeccable LPs, classic singles, and iconic videos, who legitimized and mastered the art of the visual album, whose live shows are stunning displays of power and finesse that rake in unbelievable amounts of money, whose elusive magnetism renders her one of the few remaining celebrities to evoke that time when celebrities were mythical, whose commercial and critical stock has arguably never been higher. Less than two years ago she released Lemonade; she doesn’t need this. Not that she stands to gain nothing from guesting on a late-career Eminem song. There’s a good chance the massive audiences Em and Bey maintain do not overlap that much anymore, so this could be viewed as an exercise in empire expansion, like when two gigantic corporations partner in some mutually beneficial brand alignment. But whereas jumping on J Balvin and Willy William’s charity “Mi Gente” remix earlier this year was both savvy and benevolent, associating herself with this garbage just seems greedy.

Ditto her appearance on “Perfect Duet,” a reworking of Sheeran’s smash prom slow-dance that has been working its way to the top of the singles chart. Granted, prom slow-dance Ed Sheeran is probably the most appealing Ed Sheeran iteration (see also: “Thinking Out Loud,” “How Would You Feel”). It’s where he drops any pretense of suaveness or street cred and embraces his gifts for melody and sentimentality. “Perfect” is not exactly #flawless, but it’s a pretty nice love song that I can imagine making lots of people happy. Plus, given that it worked its way to #3 without Beyoncé, she’s basically guaranteeing herself a #1 single by guesting on it. So there’s upside.

Still, and let me direct this personally to Beyoncé: Hi. You’re Beyoncé. You’re better than this. I hesitate to question your judgment on such matters, but come on. You made “Countdown” and “Single Ladies” and “Formation” and all those Destiny’s Child monster jams. You are responsible for both “Drunk In Love” and “Crazy In Love.” Just last year you unveiled one of the most spectacular audio-visual achievements in pop-culture history, and you haven’t lost a step since then. Even your pregnancy announcements are works of art — and the audience who worships you laps them up as such. These superstar geekoids were doing fine without you. Why use your power to legitimize them?

CHART WATCH

Taylor Swift’s Reputation is #1 for a third straight week on the Billboard 200. Per Billboard, the album tallied 147,000 equivalent units in its third week, 131,000 in traditional album sales. The rest are from individual track sales and YouTube streams, but since Swift released Reputation to streaming services last Friday, expect streaming equivalent units to represent a much larger portion of her haul next week. Only three other albums have spent three or more weeks at #1 this year: Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN., Drake’s More Life, and the Weeknd’s Starboy — so, three of Swift’s hip-hop/R&B contemporaries!

Back up to #2 with 70,000 units is A Pentatonix Christmas thanks to the a cappella group’s recent holiday special and the way they’ve become inextricably linked to this season for the rest of our lives. At 3-8 are familiar titles from Sam Smith, Garth Brooks, Ed Sheeran, Post Malone, Pink, and Lil Uzi Vert. Michael Bublé, who also became inextricably linked with Christmas somewhere along the line, is back up to #9 with 34,000 units and 17,000 in sales for Christmas. And the Jadakiss/Fabolous collaborative album Friday On Elm Street ekes out a top-10 debut with 33,000 units and 18,000 in sales.

It’s an eighth straight week at #1 for Post Malone and 21 Savage’s “Rockstar,” which is frankly a lot longer than that song deserved to be at #1, and I say that as a “Rockstar” appreciator. But there it is, #1 again! And for a fifth straight week, Camila Cabello and Young Thug’s “Havana” is right behind it at #2. Ed Sheeran’s aforementioned “Perfect” rises to a new #3 peak and will probably go higher next week thanks to the new “Perfect Duet” with Beyoncé. For now it nudges Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” down to #4. Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder” is at #5, Sam Smith’s “Too Good At Goodbyes” is at #6, and Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” is at #7.

Cardi is also at #8 alongside A$AP Rocky on G-Eazy’s newly peaking “No Limit.” Billboard tells us it’s the second top-10 hit for both G-Eazy and Cardi and the third for Rocky. Rounding out the top 10 are Maroon 5 and SZA’s “What Lovers Do” and Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still.”

POP FIVE

Camila Cabello – “Real Friends” & “Never Be The Same”
Who else is excited for #CAMILAoutJanuary12? I’m old enough to remember when Cabello’s debut album was going to be called The Hurting, The Healing, The Loving and its lead single was “Crying In The Club.” Seems like that song and the Quavo-featuring “OMG,” both of which are rad, have been relegated to bonus track status at best. What remains is extremely promising. You’ve got “Havana,” the Cuban-inflected jam that has been #2 in the country for five weeks straight, stymied only by Post Malone for the top spot. And then you’ve got these new tracks, both of which are also winners. “Real Friends” is a chill, guitar-driven wisp of a song that I could easily imagine Selena Gomez recording, while the floaty “Never Be The Same” goes big with swelling, surging synths and hard-hitting echo-chamber drums, like the 21st-century equivalent of an old girl-group hit. (Girl groups much older than Fifth Harmony, I mean.)

G-Eazy & Halsey – “He & I”
G-Eazy has his second top-10 hit with “No Limit” this week, and his album is dropping next Friday, the same day as Eminem. He’s not going to match Em’s sales, but don’t be surprised if he debuts as a very strong #2. Also don’t be surprised if this Halsey duet becomes his third top-10 single; it’s ridiculously catchy, and the video is charming, even if it requires you to cope with Gerald’s post-Macklemorean vocal stylings.

Louis Tomlinson – “Miss You”
Electric guitars! Punchy pop-punk drums! Arena-rock gang vocals! Give or take a violin, this One Direction alum released a 5 Seconds Of Summer song, and I am here for it.

Echosmith – “Happy XMas (War is Over)” (Feat. Hunter Hayes)
In which a young pop-rock family band and an also-young pop-country heartthrob turn John and Yoko’s holiday protest song into peppy, glossy new wave, thereby robbing it of its gravitas.

PRETTYMUCH – “No More” (Feat. French Montana)
I see PRETTYMUCH have entered the “Feat. French Montana” phase of their promotional strategy! Nice to hear them making a song that sounds like it belongs in 2017 rather than aping *NSYNC. I think it’s safe to say the boy-band arms race is on.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • A Comic Relief video starring Ed Sheeran in Liberia has been branded “poverty porn” by an aid watchdog and accused of perpetuating white savior tropes. [The Guardian]
  • More Sheeran: He was named a member of the Most Excellent Order Of The British Empire. [Instagram]
  • Even more Ed Sheeran: He confirmed there will be a video for his Taylor Swift and Future collab “End Game.” [Twitter]
  • Speaking of Taylor Swift, Reputation is getting a vinyl release. [Taylor Swift]
  • And her first magazine cover for Reputation (British Vogue) comes with a poem, not an interview. [Vogue]
  • Kesha wrote a Time article about self-care and mental health during the holiday season. [Time]
  • The Barbados street Rihanna grew up on is being renamed Rihanna Drive. [TMZ]
  • In explaining why she hasn’t cast any trans models in her Fenty Beauty campaign, Rihanna shared a message about tokenism on Twitter: “I don’t think it’s fair that a trans woman, or man, be used as a convenient marketing tool…” [The Glow Up]
  • Big Sean announced Double Or Nothing, a joint album with Metro Boomin coming soon. [Miss Info]
  • It’s Demi Lovato’s wedding day in her new “Tell Me You Love Me” video featuring Jesse Williams. [YouTube]
  • Ellie Goulding has been named a UN Environment Global Goodwill Ambassador. [Instagram]
  • Lady Gaga will be credited as Stefani Germanotta in A Star Is Born. [People]
  • Fifth Harmony covered Calvin Harris’ “Feels” in a Spotify Session. [Spotify]
  • In a new interview Fergie gave some details about her pre-Black Eyed Peas meth addiction, saying she was “hallucinating on a daily basis.” [Billboard]
  • Lil Uzi Vert was sentenced to community service for fleeing cops on a dirt bike and other violations in Atlanta last year. [TMZ]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME: DANCING IN THE STREETS EDITION