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Spinning Singles: ZAYN, “BeFoUr”

Zayn Malik is using his post-One Direction life for two important things: creative capitalization and tender, R&B-inspired slow jams. Tossing aside the saccharine sound he shared with Styles & Co., Zayn (needlessly stylized as ZAYN) has embraced his standing as “the mysterious one,” as described by Harriet Gibsone in The Guardian. With this self-directed intrigue comes such heartthrob-y tunes as last week’s “BeFoUr.”
“So say what you wanna say,” Zayn croons. Say what you wanna say about One Direction’s cheesiness, their accessibility or their major label camp. “BeFoUr” reminds us why Simon Cowell assembled 1D in the first place — they’re damn talented. Zayn’s infectious vocals float delicately over the single’s sparse electronic instrumentals, wistful and distant until he takes full tonal control over the bridge.

Spinning Singles: M83, “Solitude”

Listening to M83’s latest single is how I spent the most needlessly melodramatic six minutes of my day. “Solitude” is a slow, woozy ballad layered with heavy, gummy orchestral instrumentation on top of the French duo’s signature echoey vocal chorus. It’s an awkwardly cinematic and self-serious piece of music, like the final scene in a low-budget action movie: just as you can no longer take it seriously, the hero yells “nooo” in slo-motion and pushes the villain into a volcano — except, like, as a piece of ambient pop. Maybe this sounds promising to you, but unfortunately the track seems to be peculiar for the sake of peculiarity, which ends up being predictably boring. After their bopping, Vampire Weekend-ishly charming and buzzy, “Do It, Try It,” “Solitude” is a tedious disappointment.

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Spinning Singles: Lana Del Rey, “Freak”

In the self-directed music video for “Freak,” from her album Honeymoon, Lana Del Rey invites you into her oversaturated, trippy vision of California. Featuring Josh Tillman (Father John Misty), the video is supposedly inspired by his experience dropping acid at a Taylor Swift concert. “Freak” opens with Tillman and Del Rey walking in the desert before she presses a tab of acid on Tillman’s tongue, cuing the hushed chorus “Baby if you wanna leave /Come to California/ Be a freak like me too.”

Sun-drenched and hazy, the rest of the track unfolds lazily like a dream with shots of Tillman surrounded by young women in white and a surreal close-up of Kool Aid gushing down Del Rey’s chin as she drinks. A sequence of the couple slow dancing in a thick fog marks the end of the song “Freak.” The dance continues in silence for a few seconds before switching to an underwater shot and the opening notes of Debussy’s “Claire de lune.” In the rest of the 11-minute track, Del Rey, Tillman, and the young women glide in this glittering underwater place, in a continuation of a scene from her previous video for “Music To Watch Boys To.”

Those who complain about her inauthenticity forget that Lana Del Rey is a purposeful, carefully created persona that produces pop music too weird for the mainstream. Her goal is aesthetic pleasure, and in her self-aware, at times self-mocking art, she achieves it.

Spinning Singles: James Blake, “Modern Soul”

What has remained constant throughout James Blake’s career — from his basically instrumental, sample-heavy, early E.P.s, to the steady turn toward full-scale R&B documented by his two studio albums — is that he has always seemed to be an artist in the process of evolving. For this reason, I was surprised when I turned on “Modern Soul,” a song Blake debuted on BBC1 last week. A possible selection from his forthcoming studio album Radio Silence, the song would have seemed right at home on Blake’s more recent L.P., 2013’s Overgrown. Like so much of Overgrown, “Modern Soul” is piano based and melodic, but also features electronic instrumentation and distortion. All is set to the background by Blake’s soulful baritone, sounding great, but pretty much the same as ever.

Spinning Singles: Hozier, “Cherry Wine”

Two days before Valentine’s Day, Hozier released the music video for his song “Cherry Wine.” The song has a delicate, pretty melody that relies heavily of an acoustic guitar that sets the stage as a couple enjoy a lovely, romantic Valentine’s Day. A woman removing her makeup is the center of the video as it switches between her, looking in the mirror, and her memories with her husband earlier that night. The couple returns to their apartment, casually drinking and playfully kissing each other. It appears that they are deeply in love with each other and have a #goals relationship. When the video returns to the woman by herself removing her makeup, it shows her wiping off her foundation revealing a black eye and that she is a victim of domestic abuse.

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Spinning Singles: Beyoncé, “Formation”

People were shocked when Beyoncé dropped her new music video, “Formation,” the day before The Super Bowl. Since then, I have had so many discussions about this song with so many people. Some say it is entirely overrated, while others gush about how empowering it is. I fall somewhere in between. I love the fact that “Formation” is unapologetically black and makes references to black culture that are entirely missed by non-black audiences.

Spinning Singles: The Chainsmokers, “Don’t Let Me Down”

So far Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall, the duo that comprises the EDM group The Chainsmokers, are the masters of creating yearly hits. In 2014, it was the group’s song “#Selfie” that garnered them recognition. Last year, “Roses” was warbled on dance floors and blasted in cars everywhere. It was a song that bonded people with diverse musical inclinations all through summer ending, the leaves changing and our waiting for the snow that never came. Perhaps “Don’t Let Me Down” is The Chainsmokers’ triumphant 2016 single.

Spinning Singles: Drake, “Summer Sixteen”

Drake is back and “looking for revenge.” “Summer Sixteen,” the leading single off of his upcoming album Views from the 6, premiered on Jan. 30th on his OVO Sound radio show on Apple’s Beats 1Radio. If Drake was looking to ruffle some feathers before the drop of his new album, he certainly did. From insulting President Obama in retaliation for calling Kendrick Lamar the better rapper to his multiple shots at rival rapper Meek Mill, with whom he has a highly publicized feud about ghost writing — Drake is back. As a Drake fan, I wasn’t disappointed.

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Spinning Singles: The Lumineers, “Ophelia”

Last Friday, the world heard “Ophelia,” the first single released from The Lumineers’ new album, Cleopatra. As expected, it is hauntingly beautiful. The song is named after the ingenue of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The lyrics state, “And I don’t feel no remorse/And you can’t see past my blindness,” which is similar to the undying love Ophelia had for Hamlet, who did not regret ending their affair prematurely. The emotional distance between these two characters from the tragedy is evident in the song and, as a Shakespeare fanatic, I can appreciate the lyrics.

Macklemore's personal politics are admirable, but his rapping still leaves something to be desired.

Spinning Singles: Macklemore, “White Privilege II”

Macklemore knows what you think of him. He’s aware that he is viewed as a lightweight YouTube rapper, a privileged thief who unfairly profits from black culture. “White Privilege II” is his response, and it’s pure Macklemore: unabashedly sincere, clearly communicated and blatantly uncool. What rubs many people the wrong way about Macklemore isn’t his whiteness as much as his complete lack of guile. Remember, this is the guy who didn’t get that it would be tone-deaf to publically apologize to Kendrick Lamar after beating him out for a Grammy.