The last time Britney Spears aimed for the pop zeitgeist on 2015’s ill-advised Iggy Azalea collaboration Pretty Girls (essentially a poor man’s Fancy), the results were so heavy-handed she inadvertently derailed Azalea’s career.
The song’s lack of success resulted in the pair exchanging barely repressed digs at each other, with Azalea now languishing in pop purgatory, aka the judging panel on The X Factor Australia. So it’s with slight caution that we approach Make Me, the lead single from Spears’ as-yet-unannounced ninth album, just released. Once again it takes aim at a current pop zeitgeist – that of the mood-drenched, slowed down sex jam – but this time walks away a clear victor.
There was a time not so long ago when pop stars were contractually obliged to release lead singles that ramped up the BPM, smacking the listener about the ears with tales of head-spinning nights out in various clubs or simply singing about being indestructible over something David Guetta or Calvin Harris found lurking at the back of their laptops. Pop music seemed to only know one tempo and that was PANIC! Thankfully for everyone’s nerves it feels like those days are over, with Make Me riding the crest of a very patient and mood-laden wave.
In the last 12 months, Selena Gomez – whose previous discography saw its fair share of bass drops – has slowed things down with the tactile Good For You (a US top five hit, and the lead single from her album, Revival). Recovering EDM addict Rihanna followed Work with the mid-paced Needed Me (a current US top 10 hit) and Ariana Grande launched her recent album with the sensual, resting heart rate BPM of Dangerous Woman (yep, you guessed it, another US top 10 hit). Also out now is Katy Perry’s Rise, a spacious, atmospheric mood piece (with an admittedly huge chorus) that categorically avoids creating anything you could ever hope to dance to.
Not bangers, but not ballads either, these mid-paced songs have also dominated US radio, highlighting – in America at least – a trend towards something at least approaching subtle. Make Me is by far the slowest and most restrained Britney lead single – her last one, the frantic Work Bitch, brought together the talents of house overlord Sebastian Ingrosso and subtlety-free zone, will.i.am. Make Me’s brilliance is a slow caress to the face rather than a sweaty slap. Even EDM’s golden child, aka Taylor Swift collaborator Calvin Harris, seems to be calming things down a bit. His two most recent productions – This Is What You Came For (featuring Rihanna) and John Newman’s Olé – both resist the urge to bludgeon the listener into submission one heavily sign-posted drop at a time, favouring something more slow-burn instead.
Obviously no one’s suggesting this is the death of the banger. Or that pop stars are forever going to favour sensual moodiness over a quick aural fumble, but it’s interesting to see the tempo shift steadily bubble up to pop’s top tier. Make Me, however, does come with a superfluous guest rap, this time for cut-rate Drake, G-Eazy, proving that actually some things in pop never change.
This article was written by Michael Cragg, for theguardian.com on Friday 15th July 2016 17.46 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010