It’s “Girls” season, according to a sunny new collaboration between Rita Ora, Cardi B, Bebe Rexha and Charli XCX. Plus, singer Kiiara explores the grey area; Years & Years have a light take on breaking up; Norwegian electronic group Lemaitre taps Betty Who to sing in their latest summer jam; and Ssion, a talented pop-punk artist, drops a new album filled with cool-kid collaborations — like “1980-99” featuring Hole’s Patty Schemel and Sky Ferreira.
"Girls," Rita Ora feat. Cardi B, Bebe Rexha and Charli XCX
Rita Ora assembled one serious girl squad for “Girls,” her new single following the club-pop track “Anywhere” released earlier this year. There’s Cardi B, of course, rapper of the moment and force of nature; Bebe Rexha, top-of-her-class vocalist finding her own chart success with a savvy country crossover; and Charli XCX, the queen of girl-pop collaborations. (She put out an entire 2017 mixtape marked by its incorporation of a diverse set of voices.) Lean and sparkling, Ora’s “Girls” borrows elements from each of the other artists’ styles, combining into an undeniable bop with standout moments for each. While some parts tread lyrically in the territory of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” Ora says that the song’s embrace of bi-curiosity is meant to be empowering. “I ain’t one-sided, I’m open-minded,” she insists in the first verse. “I’m fifty-fifty and I’m never gonna hide it.” There’s space in pop for all kinds of love — and all kinds of earworm songs, rather like this one.
"1980-99," Ssion feat. Patty Schemel and Sky Ferreira
New York City-based artist Ssion, real name Cody Critcheloe, has been an underground favorite for his punk-inflected take on pop for years. But a surprise new album, O, sees him tapping talents like Roisin Murphy and Devendra Banhart for a project that may snag him plenty of warranted attention. “1980-99” features duo of singers Patty Schemel (of Hole) and Sky Ferreira, the latter of whom has been mostly absent from music for years — but is perfectly suited to Ssion’s grunge tendencies. The track is both retro-familiar and fresh, a glittering but dark slice of music that cannily mixes the three voices over a driving rock beat. “Give me peace, love, and cigarettes,” they scream, a bit of tortured fun. And then there’s the bright poppy chorus: “Girls just wanna be mean.” It’s a bitter twist on a classic, but it has a pleasant kind of bite.
Correction: The original version of this story misstated the name of Patty Schemel’s band. It is Hole, not Holes.
Singer Kiiara is best known for her feathery, floating featured vocals on songs like the popular Linkin Park collaboration “Heavy” and her 2016 breakout single “Gold,” which went on to become, well, platinum. But after taking some time to reconsider her direction, Kiiara is now jumping back in with “Messy.” Minimal and intimate, “Messy” is definition relatable. “When I woke up I saw your toothbrush on your sink / it kinda scared me I’ll admit,” she reflects off the top about a relationship that might be getting to be a bit too much too fast, sing-telling the story over a spare synth, warm and wary. “Last stop before it gets messy,” she warns her lover in the chorus. But hey, some things move at their own pace, like that catchy beat.
"Rocket Girl," Lemaitre feat. Betty Who
A little bit Daft Punk, a little bit Justice, and a little bit party pop, Norwegian electronic duo Lemaitre teamed up with fun-loving Aussie-American singer Betty Who for “Rocket Girl,” an upbeat and instantly infectious summer bop. (Plus an electronic interlude that, yes, scales up to musical liftoff of its own kind.) “It’s T minus one,” Who sings, “watch me fly across the universe.” Sounds like a good way to kick off a playlist just as summer begins to come into full view.
"If You're Over Me," Years & Years
After reintroducing themselves with the haunting teaser track “Sanctify,” the British trio of Years & Years lighten things up with “If You’re Over Me,” the official first single off their upcoming project Palo Santo, out in July. Singer Olly Alexander leads things off with nimble vocals over a peppy synth-pop beat. “One minute you say we’re a team, then you’re telling me you can’t breathe,” he complains — although no complaint has ever sounded quite so sweet and dance-ready. “Well, you should set me free, baby, if you’re over me,” he resolves. If this is a breakup song, then Alexander and crew have certainly found the chord that signifies the joy in letting go.