Normani is back with ‘Wild Side’

It’s been a while…

“Wild Side (feat. Cardi B”) – Normani; Keep Cool/RCA Records

Two years after what once was thought of as her breakthrough single “Motivation,” R&B princess Normani has returned to claim the throne that has been waiting her since the aforementioned single’s live performance at the 2019 VMAs.

Finally free from the artistic and personal constraints placed on the singer in her time with girl group Fifth Harmony, Normani spent a lot of time honing in on her sound. Collaborating with names across the Pop music landscape from Khalid to Calvin Harris, Sam Smith to Megan thee Stallion, the singer has released soft to smash hits. Sonically, they were all over the map. “Love Lies” adopted collaborator Khalid’s blend of youthful R&B while songs like “Checklist” and “Dancing With a Stranger” with Harris and Smith, respectively, leaned heavily into the EDM space. Where sonics were scattered, the streamline was Normani’s obvious talent.

“Motivation” was a further complication in the direction the singer would ultimately take. A strong debut solo single, the song was more bubblegum than bass. Its throwback qualities were an exciting taste of what would become of the singer, but fans would have to wait years before they heard new music from the rising star.

Now returning more assured, powerful and daring, Normani leaps from the gate with her latest single that showcases an artist who patiently took the time to develop. “Wild Side” presents a more matured, darker R&B trap pop sound, sampling Aaliyah and placing what will become Normani’s undeniable charisma at center stage.

A simple idea, “Wild Side” spotlights Normani as she invites the song’s subject to unleash themselves and show her their best. Its both an invitation to the subject and those listening. Fully in control, Normani invites anyone who dares to match her energy.

The song’s lyricism and sonics reflect where the artist is in her career. She calmly yet powerfully asserts herself. Normani demands for a seat at the contemporary pop table. The results are astounding, with the artist releasing a single so powerful it instantly guts the listener. Don’t expect to escape this song over the course of the next few months.

The single features the latest Rap Queen Cardi B with a solid guest verse. Nothing more than a deft marketing play to get more ears on the single and eyes on Normani’s new persona, the verse comes much later in the track. With this play, the songwriting team allows Normani plenty of room to express herself independently. She doesn’t waste a bar, insisting listeners focus on her and only her.

Cardi B’s verse, while an afterthought, enriches the song with an added level of credibility. It expertly incorporates the unbridled sex appeal Cardi B has spent the past few years of her career cultivating for herself and the women rising the ranks of pop today (“WAP,” “Up”).

To cement Normani’s return even further is the single’s accompanying video. The video is helmed by Ukranian director Tanu Muino who has been responsible for some of the biggest hits in the last year (“Up” and Lil Nas X’s “Montero”).

Featuring a simple treatment, the clip allows Normani to stand front and center in single room, often muted backdrops. Her multifaceted talent as a performer can’t be missed, with choreography that simultaneously pays homage to yesterday’s R&B while forging new ground from an artist only at the tip of the iceberg that her career will become.

Now that “Wild Side” is out into the world, Normani’s artistry has officially been unleashed. An undeniable track, the single is already a pop highlight of the year and will drive conversation for weeks to come.

Sam Smith finds liberation in convention

Love Goes, Capitol

“I wanna be wild and young, and not be afraid to lose,” Sam Smith coos in the opening line of their long reworked third studio album Love Goes. The dance pop record, originally titled To Die For, is essentially a breakup album explored through the theme of rebirth and re-acclamating with oneself.

Like Lorde’s Melodrama and Taylor Swift’s Red before it, the album finds enlightenment in heartbreak. The biggest issue with the project isn’t that its themes are familiar, it’s that Smith’s self actualization comes in the form of their weakest artistry to date. The bulk of the record feels so commonplace it only beckons listeners to reassemble with Smith’s past work. With each wave, it’s pulled in a new sonic direction, none of which stick the landing enough to dazzle.

Opening with “Youth,” Love Goes has a clear narrative of love lost. Smith’s heartbreak is well worn in the intro as they yearn for the next phase of their life. Before they find it, they succumb to memories with bitter hindsight on standout “Diamonds” and “Another One.” Their partner, shallow and quick to move on, has done a number on the pop crooner.

The remaining story of the album is Smith’s crawl back to themself, gluing their soul back together to new sounds. Similar to Lorde’s “Green Light,” they find solace on the dance floor and in the forms of new bodies and friends. If only this profound realization was reflected in a stronger, more unified production.

The majority of the songs on Love Goes play it extremely safe. On “So Serious,” Smith reflects on their lack of freedom, taking things overly personal. It’s set to a backdrop of snaps and claps that, if played at a low volume, may lay listeners to sleep. Instantly forgettable, the track lacks substance. Similar is the often whispered vocal of “Breaking Hearts.” Another song of losing love and the one sided aftermath Smith experiences, it too lacks conviction and singularity.

Perhaps most disappointing is the Labrinth assisted title track. In a year when Labrinth simply never misses (listen to the award winning Euphoria score immediately), the single is exactly that. What is meant to be the cathartic climax of a once in a lifetime love, it leaves listeners with little more than a shrug.

There are moments of sparkle within the album. One of the strongest moments comes in “Dance (‘Til You Love Someone Else).” The track is one of the few actually convincing moments of Smiths newly established sound. Applying the popular UK sound found in house pop like Calvin Harris’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” the song effectively supports its confident lyricism.

Unsurprisingly, Smith shines brightest when they slow down the party with the ballad “For The Lover That I Lost.” It’s a rare glimpse of the artist fans have come to love over the years. Their voice is truly once in a generation, and it couldn’t be more apparent than on this gem of a deep cut.

At 11 tracks, the standard edition of the album closes with “Kids Again.” A Troye Sivan esque track reveals a still hurt, but more matured Smith. Its another glimpse of the sound they were going for in constructing the project.

The biggest flaw of the record is its directionless structure. Where Taylor Swift’s Red lightsped through genres through the lens of the emotional process, Love Goes fails to justify its sonic incoherence. Some of the strongest statements lay in the deluxe tracks released across the last year and a half, namely “Dancing With a Stranger” and “To Die For.”

If nothing more, Love Goes shows an artist willing and committed to evolving. Whatever’s next, Smith has the potential to grow into whatever they want to become next.