Pitbull Samples Toto's 'Africa' (Yes), and Ariana Grande Slows It Down on 'Imagine'


Sure: Pitbull, “Ocean to Ocean,” feat. Rhea – On paper, the concept of this song is a travesty. Why is Pitbull sampling Toto’s “Africa”? Why is it for the Aquaman soundtrack??? But it is the holidays, and I’m in a giving mood, and this song is actually good. “They tried to get rid of me/But from ocean to ocean, they gon’ have to deal with me,” Pitbull raps, christening himself the “living Great Gatsby.” It’s almost New Year’s Eve, and Pitbull is the king of New Year’s Eve, and can’t you just imagine this blasting into a room as the clock winds down: “Gonna take a lot to drive me away from you!” At least it wasn’t Flo Rida. —Clover Hope

Yes: Nao, Erykah Badu “Bag Lady” cover — We have been blessed with a rendition of one of my favorite Erykah Badu songs, a timeless ballad about resisting emotional baggage, from Nao and her beautiful, delicate rasp, which honors Badu while keeping all the flair that makes Nao one of the most impressive R&B talents of today. —CH

Absolutely not: Azealia Banks, “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” – To answer her question: Anything but this! Banks has managed to make a sad song so sad that it’s unlistenable—and not seemingly on purpose. Hearing Banks try and fail to do some kind of jazz gymnastics with her anemic voice reminds me that without the editing and lighthearted commentary from judges, those overconfident flop contestants on American Idol would just come off as depressing. —Rich Juzwiak

Yes!: Raffey Cassidy, “Hologram (Smoke and Mirrors)” – The best pop song from a flawed movie about pop music, Vox Lux, sounds even better in its completed form, with its actor-singer’s vocals sweetened. This song explicates the prefab magic of pop music in less than four minutes better than its source movie did in about two hours. —RJ

Ugh: Frankie Grande feat. Ariana Grande, “Seasons of Love” – Can someone edit Frankie out of this? This being one of the top 5 best musical songs ever? Just Ariana would be nice. —CH

It’s fine: Avril Lavigne, “Tell Me It’s Over” – Avril Lavigne is in the midst of a rebrand, and it’s been exciting to witness, exclusively because she’s not making a forced attempt at 2018 relevancy. Her comeback single, “Head Above Water,” was a full-on Christian rock ballad, a fitting maturation from her pop-punk-princess days. “Tell Me It’s Over” is more adult in a different way: she’s never sounded so soulful.

Upon its release, Lavigne released the following statement: “I wanted to write something classic and have been inspired by some of the timeless queens I listen to everyday at home, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin and Etta James.” Before hearing the track, I would’ve claimed B.S., but it’s clear she’s been channeling some Dusty Springfield. It’s pretty decent. —Maria Sherman

Please, that’s ok, I’ve had enough: Robin Thicke, “Testify” – I have little to no interest in hearing what Robin Thicke has to say, but alas, here he is, telling someone that he’ll testify, pledge allegiance, etc. Okay, babe. Sure! Great. Tell me about how you’ll testify whilst sounding like mid-2010s Justin Bieber. No fanks. —Megan Reynolds

N: ZAYN, “Back To Life” – So my general feeling about Zayn is that what we once mistook for an attractive sense of mystery and introversion while he was embedded in One Direction, is really just the result of him being insanely boring, which we know now that he’s a solo artist. He’s boring! He has the looks, and he can certainly sing, but he’s a deeply uninspired vocalist, not made better by the fact that his songs are immediately forgettable. His new album Icarus Falls dropped today, with a confusing 27 tracks, and from the sleepy delivery to vocals that sound like they were recorded in GarageBand, I keep wondering: why is Zayn even doing this? Does he like being a musician? From these songs, I’m guessing no. —Hazel Cills

Y: Bad Bunny, “Solo de Mi” – A new breakup anthem for us to scream at the top of our lungs. Where do I start… The art SLAPS (as the pelaitos say), the sonic mashup is the perfect illustration of his range, and the lead-up to the release has been *chefs kiss.* The song takes us through the various emotional stages following a split: sad reminiscing, frustrated mourning, and impassioned rage that pushes you to the most confident you’ve ever been. He quickly goes from an “Amorforda”-esque vibe to a clean reggaeton beat, with a cherry-on-top pivot to full on IDGAF lyrics like “me cago en la madre que te parió” over a trap beat. All in all, the perfect introduction to his work for those who have been living under a rock. “Te Boté,” “Solo de Mi,” OK OK thank u, next? —Ecleen Luzmila Caraballo

Y: Gian Varela, Dalex, and Sech, “Sin Igual” — Is everyone breaking up before the holidays? New Latin music would definitely suggest so. This one is from a few rising artists in the scene—Panamanians Varela (who is the president’s son…), Sech, who is adding some much needed color to a very white tapestry of reggaeton artists, and Puerto Rican trap artist Dalex. The song itself can be, as the video suggests, applied as a soothing balm in different kinds of mourning situations, including the loss of a loved one. —ELC

Ugh: Nicki Minaj, Anuel Aa, and Bantu, “ Familia” – I will be the first in line to watch Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which is centered around an Afro-Latinx family, and so I was unsure on how to feel about this at first, but here we are. Nicki, who has a song with Tekashi 6ix9ine, is now collaborating with his other problematic friend, Anuel Aa. The song itself is centered around a nice theme: “Nobody mess with my familia.” But what if your (chosen) family includes several sex offenders and a man whose relationship (??) with Karol G I, as a protective mother, am highly concerned about? Bantu’s chorus is the best and only good part of this song. —ELC

Yes, I think so: Ariana Grande, “imagine” – Fresh off a very public breakup, Ari has released another song about what it feels like to be in a less-than-perfect relationship. Where “thank u, next” is all about bouncing and moving on from your last ex with the quickest of speeds, “imagine” is more like when you’re tripping over someone who isn’t ready to commit and exclusively hang out with you. It’s sadder than most of what we heard on sweetener, but it also sounds like Ari has doubled down on the whimsical and starry-eyed vibe she created on that album. I’m not sure it’s exactly right—I prefer when her songs a bit tighter, like on sweetener’s “everytime”—but it sounds straight from the heart, just like “thank u, next,” and I’m into that. —Frida Garza

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