Best Songs of the Week: Bleachers and Bruce Springsteen, Kali Uchis, Julien Baker and More
When Variety Music wasn’t busy breaking huge Taylor Swift stories this week, we’ve been deep in preparing for our version of the Grammys: our annual Hitmakers issue and event, which honors the top songs of the year and, notably, the people behind them. This year we’re honoring Harry Styles, Lewis Capaldi, The Weeknd, Maren Morris, superproducer Mustard and many others whose songs have been featured in this column — for obvious reasons the event will be held virtually on Dec. 3 but it will be BANGIN’: more details here. And without further ado, this week’s hitmakers…
Bleachers (featuring Bruce Springsteen) “Chinatown” What’s left for Bleachers frontman Jack Antonoff, who in his spare time has crafted hits with Taylor Swift, Lana Del Rey, Lorde, the (formerly Dixie) Chicks, St. Vincent, Fun and so many others? A duet with the patron saint of his home state, the heart-stopping, hard-rocking, booty-shaking, earth-quaking Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen! This was clearly a Rock Fantasy Camp come to life for Antonoff and Bruce certainly can coast on rep these days, but they both stepped up to the plate: Antonoff crafted an anthemic, echo-drenched, Spector-esque soundscape complete with glockenspiel-ish sounds that gently evoke the “Born to Run” album, and Springsteen delivers a vocal that’s more classic Springsteen than many of his own recent songs — and any fan will feel chills when he sings the line “I’ll take you out of the city.” The effect is similar to seeing Bruce dress like his 1970s self for a cover of “Whip My Hair” on Fallon back in 2011.
Kali Uchis (featuring PartyNextDoor) “Fue Mejor” Colombian-American singer Kali Uchis dropped one of the best alt-R&B albums in recent memory with 2018’s “Isolation,” and she brings a similar sumptuous vibe to her new Spanish-language album, “Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios).” Executive produced by Puerto Rican superstar producer Tainy (Cardi B’s “I Like It,” Bad Bunny, Daddy Yankee, Ozuna and just about todos), the entire album is a late-night vibe, but this track is the best intro.
Marina “Man’s World” Some message songs are metaphoric or subtle — and some just come right out with it. The latest from British pop songstress Marina (formerly of Marina and the Diamonds) is definitely in the latter category: “I don’t want to live in a man’s world anymore.” When reports stated that only 2 percent of producers and 3 percent of engineers across popular music are women, Marina made a callout on social media last year for more female collaborators, and she got them: the song is produced by Grammy nominee Jenn Decilveo and engineered by the first-ever female Grammy winner for “Best Engineered Album, Non Classical,” Emily Lazar, as well as an all-female creative team helming the video and photography. With a stirring chorus and an anthemic vibe, the references to witch trials and the Sultan of Brunei in the lyrics can be a little heavy-handed, but hey, when there’s millennia of inequality to overcome, subtle is not the move.
Nicky Jam and Myke Towers “Polvo” This song unites two titans of contemporary Latin music, but what really makes it special is the way the natural-sounding but complex melody sits on top of the chords — and of course these two rare talents sing it beautifully.
For the final Fri 5 slot we’re going to cheat a little and present two. We try to recognize original compositions and ones that aren’t limited to paid platforms, but Julien Baker’s cover of the 1940s Christmas song “A Dreamer’s Holiday” is so beautiful — and shows a torchy side to her singing we haven’t really seen before — that we’re happy to make an exception.
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Finally, Harry Hudson’s “I Feel Amazing” is the kind of irresistible feel-good song that somehow seems to have gotten separated from its Apple ad — and when you learn that the guy is a recent cancer survivor, it makes the song’s optimism and happy vibe even more remarkable. SYNC ALERT!