We’re About To Find Out If 24kGoldn Can Keep That “Mood” Momentum Going
“Mood” was a moment. Even before 24kGoldn and Iann Dior’s collaboration spent eight weeks atop Billboard‘s Hot 100 singles chart between October and January, it was a significant milestone in pop music’s ongoing metamorphosis. These guys are ostensibly rappers, and their sing-song stylings make sense within the context of the modern hip-hop mainstream. But thanks to an influx of SoundCloud-rap infiltrators who’ve taken a lot from pop-punk, emo, and nu-metal, the modern hip-hop mainstream has quite a bit of rock in it, hence the snappy chord-based guitar riff that was as much of a hook as anything these guys sang. On that note, like hits from forebears like Juice WRLD, Post Malone, and Lil Uzi Vert, “Mood” was self-evidently a pop song, infectiously catchy and irresistibly propulsive. In a historic feat, it topped Billboard‘s Hot Alternative Songs, Hot Rap Songs, and Hot 100 charts all at once.
According to a recent New York Times feature, “Mood” had been a last-ditch effort after a few years of attempts to launch 24kGoldn’s career into the stratosphere. Born Golden Landis Von Jones, he’d signed to the Sony/Columbia imprint Records as a 17-year-old finance student at USC in the midst of a SoundCloud-rap gold rush. You can practically picture his label head’s eyes turning to dollar signs while comparing his charismatic, multitalented signee to “a young Will Smith.” It’s true that Goldn has a certain magnetism that, matched with his knack for hooks, renders questions about his rap skills irrelevant. (He is OK, but somewhat reliant on played-out tropes.) Goldn seems like a born star. Yet by summer 2020, he was at a career impasse. He hadn’t scored a hit since “Valentino,” a high-energy melodic rap song from his Dropped Outta College EP, had gone viral on TikTok and grazed the bottom rungs of the Hot 100 in early 2019. He’d been confusing his label with increasingly rock-oriented tracks, explaining to them that Gen Z doesn’t adhere to such strict genre boundaries. Although “Mood” seemed to conflict with the vibe of a pandemic-addled world, they decided to release it because it was the best song they had. The rest was history.
Now Goldn’s challenge is avoiding one-hit wonder status. Although collaborations with the likes of Dvbbs, Clean Bandit, and Zhu have made some headway on the dance charts, none of his singles since “Mood” have cracked the Hot 100. “Mood” remains in the top 10 more than eight months after its release, but the buzz around the song has long since dissipated. Last Friday, Goldn’s debut album El Dorado dropped without the kind of deafening public clamor you’d expect for a young rising star with a zeitgeist-crystalizing hit. His career is far from in crisis; with a loosely autobiographical TV show in the works billed as Fresh Prince meets Entourage, Goldn is likely to become exponentially more famous as an actor than a musical artist. And anyhow, rap and pop albums from established names tend to spawn new hits organically in the streaming era, so any of the dozen songs besides “Mood” could pop off, even the ones that have already flopped.
El Dorado is no masterpiece, but it’s not hard to imagine the album spinning off another hit. In one sense it’s an extremely safe project; most of its songs are produced by the “Mood” braintrust of KBeaZy, Omer Fedi, and Blake Slatkin, with a few contributions from the Internet Money collective, in particular Nick Mira of “Lucid Dreams” and “Ransom” fame. Also in the mix are in-demand Post Malone collaborator Louis Bell, pop mainstay Ilya, and Jasper Harris, who has produced for a bevy of young rap stars and scored Lil Dicky’s TV show Dave. Together they’ve built a tracklist that functions like a survey of the past decade of mainstream hip-hop, tracking the trajectory leading up to 24kGoldn. Yet very little on the album leaps out of the speakers with the immediacy of “Mood.”
Occasionally El Dorado leans more heavily on the side of radio rap, particularly on the first half of the album. On “Butterflies,” Golden explodes into high-pitched Young Thug melodies over minimal chords and snaps. He finds a grittier mode on the hard-nosed “Company” alongside Future, an important link in the evolutionary chain that got us here. (I’m old enough to remember when Future, who now seems Paleolithic compared to these Gen Z rappers, was the game-changing innovator of the moment.) If not for the occasional Trippie Redd-like outburst from Goldn, opener “The Top” could almost be a Big Sean or J. Cole song from that early 2010s moment when “the old Kanye” was still a pervasive influence. Speaking of that moment, Goldn channels Drake and a whole legion of his emo descendants on that one, traveling from “I’m the happiest that I’ve ever been” to “Right now it’s time for the demons” over the course of one verse.
Much of the back half of the record inhabits that depressive yet poppy Juice WRLD/Post Malone zone. “Yellow Lights,” “Cut It Off,” and the Swae Lee team-up “Empty” are all minor-key romantic laments steeped in loud, accessible production. “Don’t Sleep” steers that same aesthetic into ballad territory with acoustic guitars and less pervasive drum programming. Each of these tracks is engaging in the moment, but they seem to evaporate from my memory afterwards. Still, that’s better than the songs that attempt to directly incorporate pop-rock influences, most of which descend into the kind of unlistenable cheese “Mood” gracefully avoided. The bass-driven “Love Or Lust” and the reggae-tinged “Breath Away” are like Gym Class Heroes trying to write Police songs; upon exposure you pray they don’t end up stuck in your head. Those are works of genius compared to “Coco,” a DaBaby collab built from zesty acoustic strums, Flo Rida-esque whistling, and Goldn repeatedly blurting out, “Coco! Chanel!” It’s one of the most craven and off-putting songs I’ve ever heard, an Applebee’s commercial waiting to happen. Order your jalapeño poppers with 24kGoldn sauce and a bottomless Lyrical Lemonade!
The songs that seem like more direct attempts to tap back into that “Mood” vibe fare much better. “Outta Pocket” matches its piercing guitar chords with a rubbery high-end melody and booming bass, a fine canvas for Goldn’s tuneful flexing about his own celebratory behavior. And “3, 2, 1” stomps along like “Mood” on steroids, particularly when the chorus initiates with thunderous distorted power chords and Goldn intones, “Three sides to the story/ Yours and mine and goddang truth, girl.” More than any 24kGoldn song since that signature hit, it both commands and rewards your attention. So it’s surprising the song didn’t take off last month when Goldn released it as El Dorado‘s third single. It’s a rock song, a pop song, a rap song, a 24kGoldn song. It’s a big mood. And whether or not it ends up climbing the charts, it suggests this guy isn’t going away any time soon.
At long last, Morgan Wallen has been dethroned on the Billboard 200. Justin Bieber’s Justice debuts at #1, ending a 10-week run atop the chart for Wallen’s Dangerous: The Double Album. According to Billboard, Justice tallied 154,000 equivalent album units, including about 30,000 in sales, becoming Bieber’s eighth #1 album. At 27 years old, he’s the youngest solo artist to reach that milestone, surpassing Elvis Presley’s previous record of 29 years and 11 months.
If not for Bieber, Wallen would have been dethroned by Lana Del Rey, whose Chemtrails Over The Country Club enters at #2. Chemtrails tallied 75,000 units including 58,000 in sales, making it the bestselling album of the week. It’s her seventh top-10 album, though not her highest-charting; Lust For Life and Ultraviolence both debuted at #1. With Bieber and Del Rey both making big debuts, it’s the first time since December that both #1 and #2 are new entries. Wallen’s album is down to #3 this week, followed by Pop Smoke, Dua Lipa, Pooh Shiesty, the Weeknd, Lil Baby, Lil Durk, and Luke Combs.
Not only does Bieber debut atop the album chart, he lands another #1 debut on the Hot 100. “Peaches,” his collaboration with Daniel Caesar and Giveon, enters at #1. It’s Bieber’s seventh chart-topper and the first for the other guys. Caesar’s prior chart peak was #75 with the H.E.R. collab “Best Part,” while Giveon had made it up to #14 with his feature on Drake’s “Chicago Freestyle.” “Peaches” is the 50th song to debut at #1 on the Hot 100 in the chart’s 63-year history but the 15th in the past year. Four of those 50 #1 debuts belong to Bieber, tying Drake for the most #1 debuts among male artists. Bieber’s pal Ariana Grande holds the overall record with five, including last year’s quarantine-themed Bieber duet “Stuck With U.”
“Peaches” bumps last week’s chart champ, Cardi B’s “Up,” down to #2. Silk Sonic’s “Leave The Door Open” is at #3, and Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” is at #4. The Weeknd’s “Save Your Tears” and “Blinding Lights” are at #5 and #6 respectively. The rest of the top 10: Dua Lipa and DaBaby’s “Levitating,” Drake’s “What’s Next,” Pop Smoke’s “What You Know Bout Love,” and 24kGoldn and Iann Dior’s “Mood.”
Taylor Swift – “You All Over Me” (Feat. Maren Morris)
Previously unreleased peak country era Taylor Swift re-recorded with Maren Morris and Aaron Dessner? This is a gift.
Justin Bieber – “There She Go” (Feat. Lil Uzi Vert)
Justice is one of those cases where you can tell the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition were left off because they didn’t fit with the project’s overall vibe. This one is pretty fun, though — a reminder of how far Uzi is willing to lean into pop cheese when it suits him.
Lil Nas X – “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”
There’s so much going on in the video that it’s hard to assess this on a purely musical level. I miss the giddy, childish “Old Town Road” vibes, but the part when Nas’ voice breaks through with “I wanna sell what you’re buyin’!” and the violin near the end warmed me up to grownup Montero.
Julia Michaels – “All Your Exes”
Wow, the rock guitars are really coming back, huh? As for the lyrical content, I appreciate how real and raw Julia Michaels continues to be.
Benny Blanco & Gracie Abrams – “Unlearn”
I guess I’d call this a bedroom-pop power ballad. I enjoy it greatly, especially the recurring bit here where Gracie Abrams preemptively apologizes for cussing.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Lil Nas X responded to criticism of his “Montero” video: “there is a mass shooting every week that our government does nothing to stop. me sliding down a cgi pole isn’t what’s destroying society.” [Yahoo]
- Lil Nas X partnered with stunt marketing brand MSCHF on custom Nike Air Max ’97s that will be limited to 666 pairs, cost $1,018, and contain a drop of human blood. [Twitter]
- Britney Spears has reportedly filed a request to make her temporary conservator Jodi Montgomery the full-time conservator of her person. Britney’s father Jamie would still be co-conservator of the pop star’s estate. [TMZ]
- Taylor Swift and Evermore Park have dropped their copyright infringement lawsuits against each other. [Salt Lake Tribune]
- In other Swift news, she donated $50k to a mother of five whose husband died of COVID-19. [ABC]
- One more Swift thing: She released Elvira Anderfjärd’s remix of her rerecorded “Love Story.” [YouTube]
- Justin Bieber listed his top 5 MCs, which includes Kanye West and Drake. [YouTube]
- Demi Lovato’s Dancing With The Devil… The Art Of Starting Over will include appearances by Ariana Grande, Saweetie, and Noah Cyrus. [KIIS]
- Bad Bunny will wrestle the Miz at WrestleMania next month. [WWE]
- Halsey explained why she changed her Instagram bio to include the pronouns she/they. [Twitter]
- Jason Derulo is expecting his first child with girlfriend Jena Frumes. [ET]
- Ed Sheeran debuted new song “Visiting Hours” at the memorial service for the Australian music exec Michael Gudinski. [YouTube]
- Addison Rae made her late night performance debut performing “Obsessed” on Fallon. [YouTube]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME