The Week In Pop

Alt-Pop Hit-Makers lovelytheband Are Not That Lovely If We’re Being Honest

Once upon a time what passed for poppy alternative rock was Stephen Malkmus whimpering, “You’re the kind of girl I like/ Because you’re empty, and I’m empty.” Nowadays apparently it’s Mitchy Collins and friends chanting, “I like that you’re broken, broken like me/ Maybe that makes me a fool/ I like that you’re lonely, lonely like me/ I could be lonely with you.”

If those two songs seem similar in concept, they’re worlds apart in execution. The former is “Gold Soundz,” a gorgeously chiming slapdash classic rocker fit for cruising the California coastline, culled from Pavement’s 1994 sophomore effort Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Although scrappy in sound and a bit wacky in ethos, the album qualified as a pop move for one of the leading lights of the underground. It was brighter and cleaner and prettier than their 1992 debut Slanted And Enchanted, and it generated airplay at MTV and radio — which was weird for everyone involved, even several years into the post-Nirvana alt-rock boom.

Compare “Gold Soundz” to the latter tune, “Broken,” by an upstart bunch of Hollywood careerists called lovelytheband. That latter track has been getting more than a little radio burn this year, topping Billboard’s Alternative Songs and Rock Airplay charts and working its way up the Adult Pop Songs (where it’s at #20 and climbing). Unlike Pavement, who briefly stumbled their way into the public eye with a push from their record label, lovelytheband are built expressly to rule the airwaves. They heart radio, you might say. “Broken” is exactly the sort of tune that flourishes at alternative stations these days, which is to say it’s a overt pop song that vaguely shrugs in rock’s direction. And unlike Alice Merton’s harder rocking “No Rules,” which I incorrectly pegged for a crossover back in February, “Broken” is making headway on Adult Top 40 stations and SiriusXM’s Hits 1.

This seems to be the intended destination for a significant percentage of the songs on the alternative dial, those laboratory-concocted lite genre cocktails that stretch the definition of “alternative” to its breaking point in hopes of becoming the next “Pumped Up Kicks” or “Shut Up And Dance” or “Feel It Still.” If an act behind one of these hits plays its cards right, it may even turn that foothold on pop radio into a long-term residence in the mainstream à la Imagine Dragons and Twenty One Pilots. Time will tell whether lovelytheband have legs like that, but in the meantime they’ve sidled up to the mainstream quite effectively with “Broken,” a chirpy tune about the prospect of love between two deeply damaged people. Replete with gang vocals, a rhythm fit for drunken swaying, and a keyboard riff that echoes back to MGMT’s “Kids,” its ascent beyond placement between Cold War Kids and Muse tracks was basically preordained.

From its title on down, “Broken” feels like one of those happy music, sad lyrics situations, but a closer listen reveals it’s actually hopeful to an extent that verges on fantasy. The plot entails a Manic Pixie Dream Girl at a party in “some trust fund baby’s Brooklyn loft” approaching the narrator outside the bathroom, grabbing his face, and telling him she sees in him the same authentic darkness she knows in herself. In the context of the song, she’s the one saying “I like that you’re broken” and speculating about the possibility they could make a romance work. So even if frontman Mitchy Collins is singing in character, his story carries more than a whiff of wish fulfillment. Never mind that Collins’ previous band Oh Honey, a folk-pop duo signed to Fueled By Ramen, was “named after both the ‘Oh Honey’ episode of How I Met Your Mother and the artisan, rooftop honey production movement in Brooklyn” — so he seems like exactly the kind of guy who belongs at the party described in his song.

After splitting with Oh Honey bandmate Danielle Bouchard in 2016, Collins formed lovelytheband with Jordan Greenwald and Sam Prince, mutual acquaintances he met at a bar in West Hollywood. Thanks to “Broken,” their 2017 debut EP everything i could never say… has been a success. Next month they’ll attempt to extend it with full-length debut finding it hard to smile. The project expands the “Broken” ethos into an album’s worth of depression chic, its impudent pop anthems-in-waiting strewn with lyrics such as “You’re invited to my pity party/ You’ll see me smile, but I won’t be happy” and “I don’t have to feel good/ I just wanna feel better” and “I could use a Xanax/ Maybe that would fix this.” The flippancy of his word choice stands in stark contrast to Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos, who has chronicled similar experiences in a similar sonic milieu but consistently finds ways to make listeners feel his struggle. I don’t doubt the sincerity of Collins’ experience with desolation and self-doubt, but when his music resembles some of the most faceless corporate ad-sync music in recent memory, his sentiments end up pitched somewhere between @sosadtoday’s knowing self-parody and Drake’s oblivious self-reflection.

The lovelytheband songbook exists in league with high-fructose festival-core jock jams like Capital Cities’ “Safe And Sound” and Grouplove’s “Tongue Tied.” So it’s unsurprising that finding it hard to smile goes out of its way to pander to that luxuriant yet unsophisticated demographic with a song called “Coachella” (“In my head, it’s Coachella every weekend/ Free spirits and flowers all in your hair”) and another one that could work for an Indio tourism campaign even if its lyrics barely rise above the level of nursery rhyme (“These are my friends, these are my friends/ I love them, I love them”). They exist on the tracklist alongside titles like “Make You Feel Pretty,” a punchy howler that portrays fame and fortune as a mere Band-aid for life’s problems, but one worth pursuing with resignation for lack of a better alternative.

This is dark stuff, rendered with blinding brightness. Although even the most upbeat lovelytheband songs grapple with Collins’ melancholy disposition, the lot of them are bouncy and sparkling as if fresh off the assembly line. Anyone can be obnoxiously saccharine and chipper, but it takes a true professional to do it in a way that moves the masses, so credit Collins at least for knowing how to write a hit. And if he racks up a few more of them, as I suspect he might, marvel at just how far crushing bleakness has worked its way into the musical mainstream.

Partying while sad is a timeless pop topic, but for years now, thanks to the rise of figures such as the aforementioned Drake, his frenemy the Weeknd, and the Weeknd’s duet partner Lana Del Rey — coinciding with a burgeoning mental health crisis — glamorous despair-fueled hedonism has been the wave. Countless recent pop songs have embraced aesthetics such as “bummed at the beach party” and “bummed in the VIP lounge,” some of them toppling into outright nihilism. With lovelytheband we’ve reached the point when even cheery insubstantial alt-pop filler music takes for granted that its audience feels empty inside. If you aren’t already depressed, this band might be enough to get you there.

CHART WATCH

We have a new #1 song — I like it! Also, we have a new #1 song: “I Like It.” Cardi B, Bad Bunny, and J Balvin top the Hot 100 with their Pete Rodriguez-sampling summer jam. It’s Cardi’s second #1 following “Bodak Yellow” and the first for Bad Bunny and J Balvin. Somewhat shockingly, this makes Cardi the first female rapper to score two #1 hits. Per Billboard, she’s also the first artist to record two #1 singles off her debut album since Macklemore & Ryan Lewis with 2012’s The Heist (“Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us”), the first solo artist to do it since Bruno Mars with 2010’s Doo-Wops & Hooligans (“Just The Way You Are” and “Grenade”), and the first female solo artist to do it since Lady Gaga with 2008’s The Fame (“Just Dance” and “Poker Face”).

The late XXXTentacion falls to #2 with “SAD!” while Juice WRLD’s “Lucid Dreams” hits a new #3 peak. Maroon 5 and Cardi’s “Girls Like You” is back up to #4, with Post Malone and Ty Dolla $ign’s “Psycho” down to #5. Drake’s “Nice For What” falls to #6, marking the first time since January that Drake has had no songs in the top five. (Given Scorpion’s record-setting start, he’ll probably be back up there next week.) Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up” is at #7, Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left To Cry” is at #8, Drake’s “God’s Plan” is at #9, and Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line’s “Meant To Be” is at #10.

Over on the Billboard 200 albums chart, Panic! At The Disco debut at #1 with 180,000 equivalent album units and 151,000 in sales for Pray For The Wicked. It’s the band’s second #1 following 2016’s Death Of A Bachelor. XXXTentacion’s ? is #2, with Post Malone at #3 and the Carters at #4, and then XXXTentaction again at #5 with 17. Country duo Dan + Shay debut at #6 with 44,000 units/24,000 sales for their self-titled set. The rest of the top 10 comprises Juice WRLD, Cardi B, The Greatest Showman, and 5 Seconds Of Summer.

POP FIVE

Drake – “Don’t Matter To Me” (Feat. Michael Jackson)
I am extremely sympathetic to Drake despite his flaws, so despite Scorpion’s annoying bloat I am finding elements to appreciate about it. “Don’t Matter To Me” is one of those elements. Not many acts can clear an unreleased Michael Jackson sample, and even fewer can do justice to it. Pitchfork’s Jayson Greene nailed this: “It is bittersweet to hear the King of Pop reduced to a color in Drake and 40’s palette, just another ghostly voice painted around the rapper to make him look more serious, more soulful, less callow. But it works, the way a really beautifully designed piece of clothing works.”

Justin Timberlake – “SoulMate”
Since that whole Man Of The Woods thing didn’t really work out, hits-wise, Timberlake rebrands himself here as a Man Of The Beach, embracing the dazed and sweltering sounds that have been prevalent in pop for several years now. Specifically he’s aping Drake, whose longtime collaborator Nineteen85 produced this track. I don’t love it and am disturbed by its flagrant misuse of the term “soulmate,” but it sounds like it will be more successful at radio than the rest of his output this year.

Charli XCX – “Focus” & “No Angel”
Charli’s “Focus” is way better than Ariana Grande’s “Focus.” Charli’s “No Angel” is not in the same league as Beyoncé’s “No Angel,” but it goes nonetheless. Both are stylish synthetic wonders that have me wondering when the hell she’s going to have another hit as big as “Boom Clap.”

J Balvin, Zion, & Lennox – “No Es Justo”
J Balvin has the #1 song in the country right now! That’s wild. It makes two straight years when America’s #1 song on July 4 was largely sung in Spanish, which is even wilder. I am not sure “No Es Justo,” one of the highlights off Balvin’s Vibras, has the juice to get to #1 as well, but I love the idea that we’re closer to a world where an all-Spanish reggaeton bop like this might slide into heavy rotation.

Jonas Blue & Joe Jonas – “I See Love”
This disco-house glider is much better and more dynamic than I expected a tune from the Hotel Transylvania 3 soundtrack to be.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Ariana Grande reportedly got a tattoo honoring fiancé Pete Davidson‘s dad who died in 9/11. [People]
  • Carly Rae Jepsen and Jack Antonoff are back in the studio together. [Instagram]
  • Noted Atlanta United supporter 2 Chainz will headline a free MLS All-Star Game concert in Atlanta. [Billboard]
  • “Juju On That Beat” rapper Zay Hilfigerrr has been hit by a restraining order from an ex-girlfriend who claims he physically abused her multiple times. [TMZ]
  • The 1975’s second of two new albums will feature frontman Matty Healy’s father, actor Tim Healy. [Twitter]
  • Liam Payne and Cheryl Cole broke up. [Twitter]
  • Halsey and G-Eazy broke up. [Page Six]
  • “Uptown Funk!” co-writer Mark Ronson settled a lawsuit with the rights-holders to Zapp & Roger’s “More Bounce To The Ounce.” [TMZ]
  • Tiësto, Dzeko, Preme, and Post Malone released a video for “Jackie Chan.” [YouTube]
  • Lil Pump previewed his “Drug Addict” video featuring Charlie Sheen. [Twitter]
  • Niall Horan has a new song called “Finally Free” from the Small Foot soundtrack out tomorrow. [Idolator]
  • Ed Sheeran’s plans for a private chapel at his estate in Suffolk has been rejected by the village council. [BBC]

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