The Week In Pop

Get Used To Hearing Songs Like Powfu’s Simplistic Sadboi Hit “Death Bed”

Have you acclimated to the new normal yet? Have you come to accept it, made peace with it? Oh! No, no, no — not the paralyzing isolation and anxious fatigue that come with social distancing, self-quarantine, and a looming global pandemic. I mean, sure, that too, but I’m referring to the new normal represented by musical artists like Powfu.

Powfu is a babyfaced 20-year-old schlub from the Vancouver area named Isaiah Faber. His song “Death Bed” is rapidly climbing Billboard’s Hot 100 (it’s currently at #33) after blowing up at YouTube and TikTok and Spotify in roughly that order. At some point along the way he signed to Columbia Records. Ostensibly, Powfu is operating in the realm of lo-fi hip-hop, but the fidelity of his songs is not particularly low (especially compared to, say, Earl Sweatshirt), and they suggest that the descriptor “hip-hop” has become so elastic that it will soon be as meaningless as “rock.” Faber tends to sing-rap over slow guitar figures, toggling between amateurish sing-rapping and pinched emo melodies. He favors titles like “Don’t Fall Asleep Yet” and Some Boring Love Stories that are either self-owns or so self-aware I have to give him more credit than I’d prefer. Again, he performs under the name Powfu.

Powfu’s breakout hit “Death Bed” is built around a sample from “Coffee” by beabadoobee, a British-Filipino upstart riding the ’90s-nostalgic line between roughshod indie and gleaming pop favored by the 1975 (with whom she was set to tour this spring before live music was postponed indefinitely). “Don’t stay awake for too long, don’t go to bed,” she tenderly intones. “I’ll make a cup of coffee for your head/ It’ll get you up and going out of bed.” Her pitched-up voice and some basic boom-bap drum programming from producer Otterpop become a canvas for our star to rap drowsily from the perspective of a dying man, lamenting the future domestic bliss he’ll never see. In the second verse he wistfully recalls memories such as, “Taking goofy videos and walking through the park/ You would jump into my arms every time you heard a bark.” It’s some phone-addicted dimwit’s idea of profundity, propelled to omnipresence by an addictive hook and bored kids attempting to go viral.

Welcome to the zoomer edition of simplistic suburban sadboi music. It’s basically the same as the millennial version — melancholy guitar chords, painfully rudimentary lyrics about heartbreak and longing — except now it’s rap. The past half-decade has seen a growing number of distressed young men finding success by blending hip-hop with an alternative rock palate. SoundCloud-rap acts like the trio of late legends Lil Peep, XXXTentacion, and Juice WRLD all played a part in this, plowing a new lane for hip-hop as “the future of emo.” So did Post Malone and Twenty One Pilots, post-genre superstars who crossed over to the pop mainstream from the worlds of rap and rock respectively, and who covered Oasis together long before Yungblud and MGK got around to it. Powfu himself credits wildly popular lo-fi hip-hop YouTube channels like ChilledCow as both an influence and a means of exposure.

The influence of these artists and curators has resulted in a new mutation of the dorm-room balladeer, and the evolution of technology has given such upstarts new pathways to exposure beyond open mic night. Now that the genuine innovators have popularized these sounds, their cultural runoff is beginning to emerge. The vacuous biters of the world have settled into musical languages unique to their generation. Industry hangers-on like “Hot Girl Bummer” hit-maker blackbear are riding this wave to success, copying the prevailing styles while falling short of their influences’ musical and emotional substance. In blackbear’s case that meant switching from half-baked Weeknd worship to a less bleary yet more sophomoric update on Lil Peep, gentrifying the aesthetic until it sounded more like an expensive boutique than a Skid Row flophouse.

With “Death Bed,” we’re now seeing that even a less polished and charismatic (but no less vapid) depression bro can score a hit thanks to TikTok memes and the whims of YouTube’s algorithm. An NME feature points out that Powfu’s song has become the soundtrack for everything from hamster pancakes to a series of reality-TV style dating shorts titled “Quarantine Cutie,” success Powfu is now trying to replicate by rapping about Kool-Aid Jammers on recent single “Mindurmanners.” Kids, this is your brain online.

All of this is becoming old hat. There is going to be so much more garbage like this. At a time when a soft-rock warbler like Post Malone is not just the tattooed face of modern rap but also arguably the biggest pop star in the world, it’s no surprise to see goofuses like Powfu adapting to a new breed of struggle-rap. After an army of adolescent fans turned Billie Eilish’s literal bedroom-pop into a globally dominant force, teens anointing new pop royalty before adult gatekeepers catch up is a given. A year beyond “Old Town Road,” the idea of engineering a song to take off on TikTok is no longer novel. No longer can you seriously describe any of this as a revolution in progress. The revolution is over. This is just the way things are now. Have you made your peace with it?

CREDIT: Prince Williams/Wireimage

CHART WATCH

As was prophesied, Drake’s “Toosie Slide” has debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart. Per Billboard, it’s his seventh #1 song, though they’re not counting Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode” because Scott didn’t give Drake a feature credit. It’s also the 37th song in chart history to debut at #1. Drake now has three of those — 2018’s “God’s Plan” and “Nice For What” also entered on top — which makes him the first male to debut three songs at #1 and ties him with Mariah Carey for most #1 debuts. Drake also ties Boyz II Men for fourth most weeks at #1 all-time at 50, behind the Beatles (59), Rihanna (60), and Mariah Carey (82).

The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” falls to #2, followed by Roddy Ricch’s “The Box,” Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now,” and Future and Drake’s “Life Is Good.” Post Malone’s “Circles” falls to #6 but is a week away from tying Posty’s own record for most weeks in the top 10. (His Swae Lee duet “Sunflower” matched that 33-week mark after it was first set by Ed Sheeran’s “Shape Of You” and Maroon 5 and Cardi B’s “Girls Like You.”) The rest of the top 10 includes Harry Styles’ “Adore You,” Doja Cat’s “Say So,” Justin Bieber and Quavo’s “Intentions,” and Billie Eilish’s “everything i wanted.”

Over on the Billboard 200 albums chart, the Weeknd’s After Hours rules for a third straight week. Per Billboard, it boasts 90,000 equivalent album units, a very healthy total for an album’s third week on the market. Actual sales constitute 23,000 of those units. The Weeknd’s continued dominance relegates rising sing-rapper Rod Wave’s Pray 4 Love to a #2 debut — still a career-best figure, as is its 72,000 units. His previous album, Ghetto Gospel — released just five months ago — peaked at #10.

After mainstays from Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Baby comes a #5 debut for Sam Hunt’s Southside with 46,000 units. Its 28,000 streaming equivalent units amount to 36.8 million on-demand track streams, the third-best streaming week ever for a country album behind the debut week of Luke Combs’ What You See Is What You Get last November and a holiday-powered week for Gene Autry’s Christmas collection Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer And Other Christmas Classics. The rest of the top 10 comprises Bad Bunny, Roddy Ricch, Dua Lipa, Post Malone, and Jhené Aiko.

POP FIVE

Charli XCX – “Forever”
Girl is about to hole up for a month and drop another masterpiece on us, isn’t she?

Twenty One Pilots – “Level Of Concern”
Once again I invite you to consider how many critics would be salivating over this song if it was by the 1975, and whether you yourself would also be vibing with it. Or maybe you don’t have any bias against Twenty One Pilots to let go of. I, their fellow Columbus native, am very much here for it! I wish everyone’s corny quarantine song was this fully realized.

Alec Benjamin – “Six Feet Apart”
Speaking of fully realized quarantine songs: This one’s a lot cornier, but I can’t deny its corniness is thoughtfully executed.

Bryson Tiller – “Slept On You”
Get ready to hear this song on hip-hop radio every hour for the next two years. Our fate could be worse.

Selena Gomez – “Boyfriend,” “She,” & “Souvenir”
The Rare bonus tracks are here! They are definitely Selena Gomez songs! Both “Boyfriend” and “She” remind me Maya Jane Coles’ production for Nicki Minaj’s “Truffle Butter” transposed into a sad-Instagram-girl template, which is a sound I can get behind. On the breathier “Souvenir” she sings, “It’s better than pills how you put me to sleep,” which is I guess supposed to be a compliment?

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Drake talked to Architectural Digest about his Toronto mansion, as seen in the “Toosie Slide” video. [AD]
  • Billie Eilish discussed the backlash she received when she posted a photo of herself in a bathing suit earlier this year, and the unfair expectations placed on her because of her unique style: “If I wore a dress to something, I would be hated for it. People would be like, ‘You’ve changed, how dare you do what you’ve always rebelled against?'” [Dazed]
  • On Friday Sam Smith and Demi Lovato will release a collaborative song and video, “I’m Ready.” [Twitter]
  • Future’s new album will be titled Life Is Good. He offers this insight into its themes: “It’s about life and being good and just enjoying life.” [XXL]
  • MGM has acquired Ridley Scott’s true crime drama about Maurizio Gucci, with Lady Gaga set to star. [THR]
  • Post Malone and Frank Dukes are being sued by a guy who claims he co-wrote “Circles.” [TMZ]
  • The Weeknd released a video for “Until I Bleed Out” featuring a lot of confetti. [Youtube]
  • Justin Timberlake and Anderson .Paak released a video for “Don’t Slack” from Trolls World Tour. [YouTube]
  • Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes entertained hospitalized children via livestream. [Instagram]
  • Charlie Puth made a song in quarantine. [YouTube]
  • Lauv also shared a new quarantine song, “Miss Me.” [SoundCloud]
  • Katy Perry hinted at an upcoming Vegas residency. [Twitter]
  • Selena Gomez bought Tom Petty’s former mansion. [Ultimate Classic Rock]
  • Cardi B is teaming with Fashion Nova to give away thousands of dollars to people in need. She sings a little “Lean On Me” in the announcement video. [Instagram]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME