Ariana Grande releases the song and video for “7 rings,” bringing The Sound of Music into relevance in the 21st century. James Blake and Maggie Rogers put out new albums, each of them singular and deliciously complex collections of an artist’s vision. Maren Morris preaches to the girls on “GIRL,” a kind and uplifting anthem of self-love and support. And fresh rock trio half•alive experiment with rock and funk on “arrow.”
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"7 rings," Ariana Grande
Ariana Grande shows off in great style on “7 rings,” an already-record-breaking new single (and accompanying music video, drenched in glowing purples and pinks and sparkling with tableaus featuring champagne towers and oversized furs). We may not have been expecting that a R&B-meets-trap remix of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music was what 2019 had in store, but we are all pawns in Grande’s great game of pop domination. As for the song itself? “I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it” is already one of Grande’s — and the year’s — most referenced lines, making waves on social media and delivered with her signature feathery-light touch. According to Ariana, capitalism is hot again.
"The Knife," Maggie Rogers
Maggie Rogers may bring to mind a kind of nouveau-hippie sensibility, but on her major-label debut album Heard It in a Past Life — and particularly “The Knife” — the pop-rock singer-songwriter puts herself at the unexpected intersection of dance and pop. There are metallic crackles, industrial echoes, rolling, bouncy beats. And over it all, Rogers letting her flexible, expressive voice carry a bright melody with a cutting message: “Oh, the knife of insight brought me to my knees / Broke me down and taught me how to see,” she sings with world-weary restraint. The song lifts her back up.
"Mile High," James Blake feat. Metro Boomin and Travis Scott
No one does atmosphere quite like experimentalist James Blake. While his new album Assume Form is full of unexpected twists, the song likely to find the most attention is “Mile High,” which features producer Metro Boomin and rapper Travis Scott. Scott and Blake’s voices float, AutoTuned and resonant, over a murky beat. You can sense its contours, but the edges and details remain just out of sight, layers of production leading you into a sense of security. “Mile High” is a love song, yes, but also a flex — not just in terms of lyrical content, but also in terms of just how understated Blake can be.
"GIRL," Maren Morris
Maren Morris looks like she’s on top of the world — she’s a Grammy-winning country star with a pop crossover hit on her hands and a career on the way up. But in her new single “GIRL,” Morris lets us in on a secret: even hit-making artists need to rally themselves sometimes. “GIRL” is an empowering anthem meant as a reminder that this, too, shall pass. “I don’t like myself right now, gotta find a way out,” she admits, before insisting that “Everything’s gonna be okay.” Sometimes we just need someone like Morris to give us a pep talk in the form of a slow-burning country jam.
With a light touch and a beat with bounce, Long-Beach-based rock trio half•alive stay sharp on “Arrow,” a tune that’s a little bit funk, a little bit pop, and lots of sharp production. Vocalist Josh Taylor’s voice floats delicately above the instrumentation of the track. “My plan’s always changing, always rearranging,” he says, which makes sense; the song is filled with small surprises, like mini drum breaks and a groovy synth sequence that break it up into an unexpected composition that pulses with fresh energy.