Shawn Mendes’ fourth album, Wonder, is a wall of sound with a heart matching the scale, as the singer-songwriter uses sky-scraping production and enormous chant-alongs to try and capture the feeling of bliss that romance has inspired. On Wonder, Mendes wants you to know that he’s in love, and also that you should turn the volume all the way up. Fortunately, Mendes writes about different aspects of his relationship to help the album achieve some thematic balance. The starry-eyed, danceable “Higher” and sexually charged “Teach Me How To Love” are followed by a flummoxing period of separation on “Call My Friends” and “Dream.” Some of Mendes’ lofty musical ambitions on Wonder don’t quite work out, and that’s fine — this is a mountainous, risk-taking project, and its imperfections are still worth the effort.
The Remix That Breathes New Life Into a No. 1 Smash:
The Weeknd feat. Rosalía, “Blinding Lights” remix
Having recently set the record for most weeks in the top 10 of the Hot 100 chart, The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” will be looked back on as one of the songs that defined 2020 — and before the year comes to a close, the pop superstar has offered a new vision of the single in which his voice is not the first that the listener hears. Instead, Rosalía grabs the mic, shakes up the song’s molecules and settles in before The Weeknd joins her in harmony. Following his appearance on the remix of Maluma’s “Hawái,” The Weeknd is clearly nodding toward the creativity bursting out of the Latin pop world, and this unexpected team-up with one of the world’s most inventive voices will hopefully foreshadow more bilingual work to come.
The Song That Completes Your Holiday Wish List:
Mariah Carey feat. Ariana Grande & Jennifer Hudson, “Oh Santa!”
Looking to unwrap some unreal vocal runs a few weeks before Christmas? Mariah Carey, Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson are here to keep you merry and bright with “Oh Santa!,” an indulgent holiday team-up that naturally features some breathtaking singing. The track does an impressive job of balancing three larger-than-life personalities in a little over three minutes, giving each ample time in the spotlight in between harmonies (and before some rafter-rattling melismas at the finale). Carey is, of course, the queen of the season thanks to “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” and combined with Grande (whose own “Santa Tell Me” has become a holiday staple) and Hudson, she has given fans yet another shiny trinket to savor.
The Songs That Serve as a Victory Lap After an All-Star Year:
Lil Baby, “Errbody” & “On Me”
A slow build-up culminated in full-blown superstardom in 2020 for Lil Baby, who joined hip-hop’s elite with a best-selling album, My Turn, and one of the defining singles of the Black Lives Matter protests this year in “The Bigger Picture.” To commemorate his birthday, the Atlanta MC has dropped a pair of new tracks that remind us why we should never take our eyes off of him: “Errbody” and “On Me” are both urgent reflections on his recent wins, with the former track boasting some of his most breathless rapping of a busy year. As one of the biggest new artists of the streaming age, Lil Baby has given his fans two surprise shots of instant gratification as a thank-you for their support on a stellar run.
The Album With Major Rock-Star Ambitions:
Thanks to his work with artists like Halsey, Bring Me The Horizon, Denzel Curry and Travis Barker, Dominic Harrison, the 23-year-old artist known as YUNGBLUD, has aimed his chaotic glam-rock aesthetic in multiple directions with increasingly fascinating results. New album Weird! represents an apotheosis after months of building momentum, and while one of his frequent collaborators shows up (Machine Gun Kelly, on the supremely catchy “Acting Like That”), YUNGBLUD takes the moment for his own and throttles it. Weird! is a progressive look at sex, gender, isolation and self-acceptance in the 2020s, from an artist who’s become a more confident songwriter while remaining unafraid to have a song come crashing down upon his head. With YUNGBLUD, the eclecticism is the point, and Weird! earns its title’s exclamation point.
The Song That Will Put You In Another Good ‘Mood’:
24kGoldn feat. DaBaby, “Coco”
24kGoldn has unwittingly become one of the faces of a new, genre-melded music industry — after all, his single “Mood” with Iann Dior hit No. 1 on the Hot 100 thanks in part to a multi-format embrace, winning fans at pop, hip-hop and alt-rock radio and earning millions of streams in the meantime. “Coco,” his new single with DaBaby, similarly toes a number of lines, leaning a little harder toward traditional rap (especially with guest star DaBaby unfurling a bullet-time verse), but also sporting a punk-rock attitude and a hook ready for top 40. Time will tell if “Coco” can replicate the success of its predecessor, but 24kGoldn has stumbled upon a formula that will continue to appeal to multiple types of listeners.
The Song That Was Finally, Thankfully Unveiled To The World:
Juice WRLD & Benny Blanco, “Real S–t”
“It was the first time I saw his magic,” super-producer Benny Blanco wrote in an Instagram caption introducing “Real S–t,” an unreleased track with Juice WRLD that was unveiled on what would have been the late rapper’s 22nd birthday. The song is the first that Blanco worked on with Juice WRLD, and showcases his dynamic approach to hip-hop hook construction as well as the joy he brought into the studio — hearing Juice declare, “Life’s good, life’s GREAT!” on the track makes for a bittersweet highlight. As Juice WRLD’s posthumous album Legends Never Die has become one of the biggest releases of 2020, “Real S–t” offers more insight into why his music has resonated, and will continue to resonate, beyond his life.