Stevie Wonder feat. Ariana Grande – Faith

“That is a heck of a combination.”

Tom: Yep, you’re reading that right. That is a heck of a combination. And if you’re wondering why: it’s for an animated movie — but given that similar circumstances gave us Pharrell’s Happy and Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop The Feeling… don’t rule it out based on that.

Tim: Hell no – we’ve also got Let It Go and How Far I’ll Go, so I’ll never judge a song on that.

Tom: I’ve said for a long while, Tim, that there are three tests I use for a good pop song: do I find myself moving along to it, even just tapping my feet, on the first listen? Can I sing at least of some of the chorus after one listen? And do I immediately want to hit replay?

This passed all three tests. Only just on the chorus one, but it did.

Tim: Those are fair tests, and yet I have to say: not really, slightly maybe, no. That’s unduly harsh just outright like that, but still, not a fan here.

Tom: I guess I can understand that — because if I try and me a bit more objective, I don’t think it’s a really great bit of songwriting. But I thought that about Happy too, and about Can’t Stop The Feeling, and I’m still not bored of either of them. And listen to that production! The vocals are (of course) spectacular, the production is spot on, and it doesn’t outstay its welcome: this is an under-three-minute song that lasts under three minutes, just like it should.

Tim: Hmm – technically you’re right with all that, and yet annoyingly, I don’t feel it. Just doesn’t excite me at all.

Tom: Well, for me at least: this is good.

Ariana Grande – Focus

“It’s plainly awful.”

Tom: This’d be a good song if it actually had a chorus.

Tim: Ah, another Dark Horse, is it?

Tim: Oh, sorry, can we take a sec – just want to order myself a new Samsung Galaxy S6. Back in a sec.

Tom: Let’s get one thing out of the way first: that’s a video that makes me feel a bit creepy watching it. It’s not just your standard ‘pop star dancing’: it’s like the director — who’s a woman, by the way — said “right, let’s make this look as sexualised as possible”.

Tim: Yeah…you’re making it sound like this is a new thing, though.

Tom: Oh, it’s not new at all, it just seems really noticable here, far beyond what you’d normally expect. I realise that fits the theme of the song really well, it’s just… it’s a bit much, is what I’m saying. Full marks for actually giving her stars in her eyes by changing the shape of the ring light, though.

Anyway. The music.

Tim: Or, indeed, the lack of it, because that’s the problem.

Tom: It’s rare that the build to a chorus promises so much, only to get shot down by what then appears. Maybe it didn’t sound so strange on a second listen — but when you’ve got a voice like that, why switch entirely to samples for the chorus?

Tim: I don’t know, it’s plainly awful. To be honest, I’m not sure I agree with your opening sentence, on two counts: first, it does have a chorus, except it’s a bloody awful chorus and I suspect part of you knows that but wants to dismiss it as a post-chorus.

Tom: Ugh, you’re right. It is, technically, a chorus.

Tim: Second: it wouldn’t be good. Well, obviously good is entirely subjective, but nope. Not here, mate.

Tom: I mean, it’ll do well, it’ll get enormous amounts of airplay in the US so people will buy it. But it just doesn’t seem like all that much of a song.

Ariana Grande – One Last Time

“Pretty clear that this is the fifth single from the same album.”

Tim: Queen of mid-2010s R&B, Ariana recently brought us this, with its chorus straight out of a 2003 Ministry of Sound compilation.

Tom: Okay, I’ll be honest: I saw this, and then didn’t sent it to you because it seemed REALLY DULL. And you’ve nailed the reason: it’s from ten years ago.

Tim: Thoughts about the video, in chronological order: well that’s some interesting science; “Look, can you get that camera out of my face? Or at least point it at that Fiat logo for a second or two? THANK YOU”; I really want that hoodie; and that’s a LOT of effort to go through just for a quickie under a pretty sky.

Tom: They’ve spent a heck of a lot of money on that video, that’s for sure. Nice job panning to the sky every time they needed to hide a cut, mind.

Tim: But anyway, the music, though to be honest (and in possible alignment with you DULL comment) I have less to say about it. Admittedly the verses are standard stuff (still enjoyable, mind), but the chorus is wonderful and could easily have been found on Cascada’s debut and still brilliant album Everytime We Touch.

Tom: But it’d be an album track. It’ll do well, of course, but it’s pretty clear that this is the fifth single from the same album.

Tim: Perhaps true, but regardless I am confidently stating: great track (though I’m disappointed the studio version doesn’t also end with the sound of a comet hitting the planet).

Tom: And I’m confidently stating: MEDIOCRE.

Ariana Grande feat. Zedd – Break Free

“What a final chorus: that’s everything a pop song should be”

Tom: I reckon the credits on this should be the other way round.

Tim: I agree.

Tom: Not to talk down Ariana Grande, of course, although I still think she should have changed her name to Ariana Venti when she turned 20.

Tim: A missed trick if ever there was one.

Tom: She has a heck of a voice. Not many people can pull off casually dropping a whistle register into their singing. But this could be any vocalist: the power of this track comes overwhelmingly from Zedd’s backing.

Tim: It really does (and that’s a lot of power in there), but I guess it’s just a question of who composed the tune really, and who they felt took priority. I’m with you, though.

Tom: And what a final chorus: that’s everything a pop song should be, with some pleasingly 90s and 00s tones in there.

I find the bit after that final chorus very odd, though. There should never be anything after a final chorus. And yet, it just turns into Generic Beats — and given the video, that’s in at least two senses of the word — for a few seconds. Bizarre.

Tim: Hmm. I assumed that was just the bit that’s stuck on the end to mix out with, which yes, I suppose is weird in the video. Nice video, though, even it wasn’t quite enough to make me soil myself.

Tom: I skipped over that text intro, which means this really confused me until I worked it out. I thought you regularly soiled yourself at music videos.

Tim: No. No, no.

Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj – Bang Bang

“Basically a Little Mix album track.”

Tom: There’s not a “feat.” to be seen in that artist credit: it’s all three of them working together. Surely this can’t be anything but brilliant?

Tim: Well, certainly not if you’re a fan of at least two of them.

Tom: Ah, damn. That’s basically a Little Mix album track, isn’t it?

Tim: Hmm. I always really want to like Ariana Grande tracks, though that’s mostly just because she has a name that sounds like a font. Music-wise, I’ve never found a song that fits with me.

Tom: Don’t get me wrong: the voices can’t be faulted. They’re all brilliant performers at the top of their game. And while all the ingredients are there: big-band instruments, vocal harmonies, a middle eight from one of the few rappers who can pull off a decent middle eight… it’s just a fairly dull song.

Tim: Possibly – not sure, this is really not a genre I’m a fan of. It’s certainly true that technically I can’t fault it, but also that there’s nothing there to get me going.

Tom: The production’s great. The vocals are great. But the actual song itself just ain’t up to it.