The Week In Pop

On Songs For You, Tinashe Takes Matters Into Her Own Hands

There was a time when Tinashe’s momentum felt unstoppable. “2 On,” the R&B singer and dancer’s 2014 breakthrough single, was one of those hits so contagious that Drake couldn’t stop himself from dropping an unofficial remix. Aquarius, the major-label debut album that followed, generated rave reviews. Despite the trendy Mustardwave pops and snaps of “2 On,” the former child actress had carved out a different signature sound over the course of three mixtapes in 2012 and 2013, perfecting the R&B equivalent of the cloud-rap that was spreading gaseously through the underground at the time.

So when Tinashe announced plans for a follow-up album called Joyride less than a year after Aquarius dropped, there was no reason to doubt its imminent arrival and every reason to be excited. Within a week, the picture got muddier. Rather than officially release the great Young Thug collab “Party Favors” as Joyride’s lead single, Tinashe leaked it to SoundCloud, apparently to force her label into beginning her rollout. Clearly Tinashe and RCA Records were not on the same page.

A month later, the rollout officially began — with a generic Chris Brown duet called “Player” — and then it began over and over again. Tinashe kept releasing singles, they kept flopping, and her album kept not coming out. Behind the scenes, Rihanna purchased Joyride’s title track for 2016’s ANTI, then discarded it, forcing Tinashe to buy it back. A stopgap project called Nightride gathered up some of the singles that had been intended for Joyride in late 2016, only to be followed by more reboots. It was such a long, arduous process that the album title started to feel like tragedy and comedy all at once.

By the time Joyride finally came out in April 2018, Tinashe told an interviewer that three separate versions of the album existed and she’d recorded 200 songs along the way. So it was disappointing, but not all that surprising, that the final product felt disjointed and underwhelming, as if she’d overcorrected from laboring over the album too long by slapping it together too quickly. Most frustratingly, none of the truly great stuff on the tracklist found an audience, never mind that singles like “No Drama” and “Faded Love” were qualitatively in the same league with “2 On.”

At an impasse, Tinashe chose the right path. Early this year she announced she’d left RCA and gone independent. “We initiated for her to be released,” manager Mike Lazarro said in February. “It was a positive split for her. It’s giving her back creative control.” This must have felt like shearing off a tangled, matted mass of hair, like stepping on solid ground after years of trying to run in the pool. Tinashe had been agitating for sovereignty over her music and career for years, and now she finally had it. What she’s done with it is Songs For You, out today.

Tinashe’s first indie album feels like freedom. Liberated from label meddling, she has assembled a fine reminder of what made her so likable in the first place. Tinashe spends Songs For You’s 15-song tracklist hopping across styles, but unlike Joyride, these excursions never feel like forced attempts at market expansion. So much tension was baked into that album, whereas here the vibe is that of an extremely talented R&B artist getting back to cooking after a deep, cleansing exhale. It’s a major statement with the casual grace of a mixtape.

Opener “Feelings” begins immediately, almost in medias res, as if she’s picking right back up where she left off before her career was swallowed up in a tarpit of drama. Like Kim Petras’ “Clarity,” it’s a brisk trap-pop number that glides its way into a cloud of emotion. “Life’s Too Short” is next, a lushly lurching love ballad that reminds me of the unjustly slept-on slow jams from Mariah Carey’s Caution. “Hopscotch” evokes the West Coast bounce and LA radio parodies of Vince Staples’ FM!, while “Stormy Weather” makes me wonder what might happen if the likes of Thom Yorke and Burial got into producing R&B. And those are just the first four tracks.

From there, Tinashe lets her delicate yet powerful soprano loose amidst low-key house beats, crystalline trap, throbbing proto-dubstep, roller rink disco, dreamy pop balladry, snarling minimalist hip-hop, and more. There’s so much to like about it, so much to explore. There are also plenty of lines that could be interpreted as nods to her music-biz saga. “Ain’t no pressure, ain’t no smoke, I’m just cashed out,” she sings early on. Amidst the bleary guitar comedown of “So Much Better,” she harmonizes with tweaked echoes of her own voice, asking, “Would you fight for what you want?” Perhaps most pointedly, might I remind you that the second song is called “Life’s Too Short”? That one’s about setting aside the games and getting down to business, romantically speaking. For those who’ve been following Tinashe through years of false starts, an album this good, this soon is nearly as thrilling.

CREDIT: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

CHART WATCH

Luke Combs has landed his first #1 album and the biggest streaming week ever for a country album with What You See Is What You Get. According to Billboard, the album tallied 172,000 equivalent album units — including 109,000 in sales and 58,000 in streaming equivalent units (derived from 74 million on-demand track streams) — to enter atop the Billboard 200. It’s only the second country album this year to hit #1 following Thomas Rhett’s Center Point Road. Combs’ 2017 debut This One’s For You peaked at #4.

The rest of the top 10 comprises the usual suspects: Post Malone, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, Summer Walker, Taylor Swift, Kanye West, DaBaby, Billie Eilish, Young Thug, and — wait, what’s that? Rapper Rod Wave has his first top 10 album with Ghetto Gospel, which rises from #14 to #10 in its second week. Reportedly many of its 27,000 units are a result of people streaming his popular “Heart On Ice” remix with Lil Durk. Ride the wave, Rod Wave!

Over on the Hot 100, Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved” holds on to #1 for a third nonconsecutive week. Per Billboard, this somehow ties the record for the longest-running #1 by a solo male on Capitol Records, a mark that dates back to Kyu Sakamoto’s “Sukiyaki” in 1963. Post Malone’s “Circles” is close behind at #2, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it dethrones “Someone You Loved” next week barring some other party-crasher.

After Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello’s “Señorita” at #3 comes two tracks at a new peak: Lizzo’s “Good As Hell” at #4 and Maroon 5’s “Memories” at #5. It’s Lizzo again at #6 with “Truth Hurts,” then Chris Brown and Drake’s “No Guidance” (#7), Selena Gomez’s “Lose You To Love Me” (#8), Lil Nas X’s “Panini” (#9), and Dan + Shay’s Justin Bieber collab “10,000 Hours” (#10).

POP FIVE

Taylor Swift – “Beautiful Ghosts”
Taylor Swift’s version of a big Broadway ballad: pretty good! A lot less embarrassing than the movie that spawned it looks like it’s going to be.

Harry Styles – “Watermelon Sugar”
Despite all the references to fruit, this one feels a bit whitebread to me. I prefer young Mr. Styles’ retro maneuvers with a touch of artificial sweetener.

Kesha – “My Own Dance”
I have no idea what Kesha means by “Don’t circumcise my circumstance,” but I like this song a lot anyway.

Alicia Keys – “Time Machine”
This funky yet understated throwback is better than I expected an Alicia Keys single to be in 2019, but I’d like it 200 times better if Tierra Whack were actually on the song instead of just in the video gleefully mugging on rollerskates.

Hayley Kiyoko – “L.O.V.E. Me”
Not a 1975 cover, sadly, but Lesbian Jesus has given us something even better: a crisp ’90s-informed pop song with a hip-hop beat that plunges into a gnarly morass of molasses right when the cheerleader chants kick in.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Sam Hunt was arrested on DUI charges in Nashville. [Billboard]
  • Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez both tweeted messages of support for Taylor Swift in her battle against Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta. [USA Today]
  • Carole King will present Swift with the Artist Of The Decade Award at the AMAs on Sunday. [People]
  • Arizona Zervas, the artist behind viral hit “Roxanne,” signed with Columbia. [Billboard]
  • Demi Lovato shared a photo of her pregnant character from an upcoming Will And Grace guest spot. [Instagram]
  • Harry Styles shared his Fine Line tracklist. [Instagram]
  • Lady Gaga was a bridesmaid in her friend and makeup artist’s wedding. [People]
  • Sam Smith is a pink alien on the cover of Out. [Twitter]
  • Alanis Morissette, Nicki Minaj, and Brandi Carlile are among the honorees at Billboard’s 14th annual Women In Music event. [Billboard]
  • Katy Perry sang “Harleys In Hawaii” live for the first time at OnePlus Music Festival in Mumbai. [YouTube]
  • Tones And I’s “Dance Monkey” topped the Australian singles chart for a 16th week, breaking the record for longest stay at #1. [Billboard]
  • Lana Del Rey sang Matt Maeson’s “Hallucinogenics” with him in Oklahoma City. [YouTube]
  • The Kelly Clarkson Show has been renewed for another season. [Variety]
  • Billie Eilish, who is still legally a child, launched a kids clothing line. [Instagram]
  • Pepsi has a new Christmas commercial starring Cardi B. [YouTube]

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