First Impressions: Ariana Grande, James Blake, Sigrid And More

Written By Sam Murphy on 01/23/2019

First Impressions is our chance to have it out over the songs from the past week and slap a score out of five on them. This week, we’re putting James Blake, Ariana Grande and more under the microscope.

Ariana Grande - 7 Rings

Sam: There’s merit to the accusations that have gone around in the past week. I don’t think it necessarily sounds like Princess Nokia’s Mine but from a motif standpoint, Nokia’s got a point. Soulja Boy also has a point with the flow but if we’re going to get into jacked flows then Drake would be up on multiple charges. I have to admit, without considering the previous two points, I loved this on first listen. Grande has never really explored decadence as a theme, apart from on Successful, and 7 Rings is a celebratory flex. The criticism of it being shallow is ridiculous and is one that would never be thrown at her male peers for an anthem about wealth. There’s not enough controversy surrounding this to drag it down or Grande’s stunning moment in the sun. 3.5

Abby Butler: Upon first spin, 7 rings signals a fresh sound for Ari, with braggadocios raps about flexin’ her wealth and spoiling her girl gang. The problem is, this sound isn’t new at all. With a flow practically mirroring Soulja Boy’s (w/o reference), parallel themes to Princess Nokia’s Mine and lyrics littered with AAVE, it’s a typical example of a white artist lazily adopting black culture for leverage. Problematic at best. Blatant appropriation at worst. 2

Reece Hooker: Is the stumble or the slide? After an untouchable 2018, Ariana’s first foot in 2019 is a wildly problematic miss. Abby already pointed out the litany of issues with ‘7 Rings’, which would be bad enough on its own but becomes outright horrifying given how finely Ariana has tread the line of cultural appropriation before. I think the benefit of the doubt has well and truly been lost here. 2

Ti Butler: With all of the above said and acknowledged, I’m sorry, but I still really like it. 3.5

G Flip - Drink Too Much

Sam: I have to admit I had no idea who Steph Claire Smith was before I listened to this but I think the opening line is absolutely brilliant. G Flip bleeds personality with every single song and even though we’re only a handful of songs in, I feel like I know exactly who she is and where she’s going as an artist. The thing that strikes me the most on Drink Too Much is how damn good her voice is. It’s rich, textured and slippery particularly when the beat drops out. 4

Abby: Not only can G Flip multi-task like a pro (drumming whilst belting Proud Mary anyone?), but she can also write a bloody good pop song. With references to crushing on fitness influencers and real thumpin’ bass throughout, there’s no Beroccas needed for this boozy banger. 3.5

Reece: G Flip is three from three with phenomenal singles and now each new release is reaching ‘stop what you’re doing and listen’ territory. Not only is ‘Drink Too Much’ a fun listen, but it’s also wildly different to what we’ve heard before. It’s poppier, leaning on the piano key skeleton and the songwriting balances cheeky wit with invested storytelling. Big year coming for Australia’s hottest new talent. 4

Ti: If you’re looking to champion Australian music in 2019, this is where you start. If Australia can send Dean Lewis’ Be Alright to #1, can we at least get this top ten? Is that too much to ask? 4.5

Sigrid - Don’t Feel Like Crying

Sam: I was waiting for Sigrid’s unapologetic pop moment and it’s finally arrived on a bed of Viva La Vida strings. This plays all the right cards. It’s got an epic chorus, a euphoric tone and a spoken word portion. There are no real tricks here, it’s just a straight-forward bop that’s surely going to bring her some success. 4

Abby: From the very first note, the criminally underrated Sigrid proves once again that she is one of the strongest names in pop today. It’s the type of anthem that could just as easily fill a packed out arena as it could your living room-turned-dancefloor. 4

Reece: This is one of Sigrid’s stronger releases in a minute. Even if it’s not as ambitious as her earliest work, ‘Don’t Feel Like Crying’ is a heap of fun that soars and swings at all the right points. It’s a strong vocal performance and the song untacks itself from some of the cliches that sometimes threaten to undermine Sigrid’s extraordinary charisma. 3.5

Ti: I’m a bit torn on this one, because I love Sigrid, love Don’t Kill My Vibe, love Strangers, love Plot Twist, love Sucker Punch… but this has none of the bits that make Sigrid so unique as a performer, and it ends up feeling like an undercooked Jess Glynne song. I’m sure it’ll go on to be her biggest hit. 3

James Blake - Mile High (Feat. Travis Scott & Metro Boomin)

Sam: Hearing James Blake and Travis Scott on a love song is not something I thought I’d ever hear but here we are and it’s glorious. Scott’s verses are some of the most soulful and careful he’s ever delivered while Metro Boomin shows he’s got restraint and the tools to venture into other genres. Meanwhile, Blake’s falsetto is haunting and a stunning accompaniment to Scott’s auto-tuned waves. 4.5

Abby: I am officially dubbing 2018 the Year Of The Half-Arsed Collaboration. This offering from James Blake gives me hope that 2019 has granted us a fresh start in that department. Scott’s brazen lyricism carefully cut through Blake’s hypnotic production to create a seriously dreamy RnB track. 4

Reece: James Blake sort of rapping was not a sound I expected to hear this year, despite his cosy relationship with hip-hop. Blake’s thoughtful songwriting and Travis Scott’s understated melodies aside, the real MVP of ‘Mile High’ is the moody atmospheric production. It feels sleek, ponderous and dark, an interesting arrangement that also never overshadows the vocalists. This album is one of my favourites in recent memory, and ‘Mile HIgh’ is a clear standout. 4.5

Ti: Boring zero-energy Spotify-rap that makes for not much more than mildly pleasant background music, for me. 2

Maren Morris - GIRL

Sam: I’ll say it right now, Maren Morris is going to be one of the biggest performers on the planet by the end of the year. She’s got that Swift ability to pivot from pop to country and GIRL is the start of a movement that’s surely going to see her move further towards pop. For now, she’s giving it her all over a country guitar with songwriting from pop mastermind Sarah Aarons (who wrote The Middle). Morris’ voice is spectacular and while I think her biggest hit this year is yet to come, this is a really exciting start. 3.5

Abby: Co-written by Aussie wunderkind Sarah Aarons, Maren Morris delivers a surprisingly soulful commentary of women’s treatment in the music industry. With lyrics like “I don’t wanna wear your crown, there’s enough to go around”, Morris straddles the pop/country genres with ease as she criticises the pitting of female artists against one another. 3

Reece: Maren Morris was sublime on ‘The Middle’ and it’s great seeing her team with Sarah Aarons again. In a post-Kacey Musgraves and ‘Nothing Breaks Like a Heart’ world, I’m all in on country-pop fusions and while the verses here felt a little limp, the chorus is a belter. 3.5

Ti: Do you suppose, with the country-pop crossover we’re experiencing at the moment, that this could be The One Country Song that crosses over to pop radio in Australia for a few months? The only problem is that it’d have to replace Dan + Shay’s When I Taste Tequila, which was only just added the other week. 3

Mabel - Don’t Call Me Up

Sam: The best song Mabel has ever release. She’s finally nailed a bridge and chorus which isn’t hard to believe given that Steve Mac’s on board for this one. That’s not taking away from Mabel. She positions herself as a charismatic, steely-tongued popstar who could cross the waters from the UK this year. 4

Abby: This song best proves its power when 24 hours later it’s still stuck on repeat in your brain. Not because of a lazily repetitive hook or annoyingly catchy chorus, but because of its killer combo of swelling vocals backed by Clean Bandit-esque tropical beats. Pop bop done right. 3.5

Reece: Is it finally Mabel’s time? Arriving on the scene at just 19 with the weight of her lineage behind her, we’ve gotten to watch her grow as an artist and this feels like a landmark release. It’s easily the most confident she’s looked and sounded, and the quality of the song backs it up. The UK is such a hotbed for exciting young pop talent and Mabel might be the brightest spark in the pack. 4

Ti: If you’re listening to this for the first time, you need to stick with it.. You’ll get through the verse and wonder, “is this going anywhere?”, but I’m telling you, stick with it. You’ll feel the energy go back down again and you’ll go “right, I’m done here, let’s have another song”, and then all of a sudden CRASH BANG WALLOP WHAT A CHORUS. 3.5

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