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Each week on the FACT Singles Club, a selection of our writers work their way through the new music of the week gone by.

With the way individual tracks are now consumed, the idea of what constitutes a single has shifted dramatically in the last half a decade, and its for this reason that the songs reviewed across the next pages are a combination of 12″ vinyl releases, mixtape cuts, SoundCloud uploads and more. Up this week: Justin Bieber, Danny L Harle, Adele and more.

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Justin Bieber – ‘Sorry’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: I’m already wishing summer wasn’t a distant memory at this point so we could have one of those unbearable Songs of the Summer conversations about this. A piece of lovingly crafted pop-house that redresses the problems of ‘What Do You Mean?’ by injecting just enough of Bieber’s R&B-hued sexuality into a gentle radio-ready thump. (7)

Son Raw: If you want an example of how musical memes trickle down from the street to pop radio, look no further than the humble dembow riddim which took a two decade trip from Shabba to Daddy Yankee to Dave Nada to Biebs. By now, it’s been chewed up and spit out so many times that it’s utterly harmless and perfect for Bieber’s slimy, over-processed crooning. (3)

April Clare Welsh: This is a (fairly) catchy burst of something fruity but mostly I like how Bieber has taken a step back and let someone else enjoy the spotlight for once. These dancers are amazing, way punchier than the song itself (although I do like those little fanfare bits) but Skrillex always seems to be sniffing around Selena and it’s pretty creepy (or maybe I just need to stop hating on him). (7)

Tayyab Amin: It’s always bless to see America’s Best Dance Crew alumni doing things (in this case ReQuest), even if no-one watched season six. This tops off the triumvirate of singles heralding Bieber’s 2015 glo-up (he also had one in 2013 with Journals), and there’s something marvellous about ‘Sorry’ after he spent some years renowned for being quite horrible. It could be cold and calculated, but that won’t keep me from the dancefloor. (8)

Claire Lobenfeld: Is it moombahton? Disneyland dem bow? Bubblegum-reggaeton? It’s all of these things, but I don’t care, I love it. Bieber’s trajectory seemed so clear: Baby pop penned by The-Dream, climbing the mountain to NSync pantomime with ‘Boyfriend’ and then ethering Timberlake’s own schtick with the truly fantastic Journals. This left turn facilitated by Jack Ü’s ‘Where Are Ü Now’ and the Biebz’s litany of transgressions leading him straight into Diplo’s arms has led to the most interesting, enjoyable music of Bieber’s career, to date. And aligning himself with Skrillex is the smartest thing Justin has ever done. The work Sonny and Blood fka Diamonds have done here is not just going to make Top 40 radio more interesting, it could lead kids to explore real Latin dance music. Plus, this track just fucking jams. If you don’t like it, try to soften your heart just a little bit. Having fun isn’t so bad, I promise you. (9)

Chris Kelly: After ‘Where Are Ü Now’, ‘What Do You Mean?’ and now ‘Sorry’, it’s becoming clear that the all-grown R&B crooner of Journals is not coming back. Still, it’s tough to be mad when Bieber is churning out hits like this, no matter how lightweight. Let that dembow soothe anyone still hating Skrillex (or Bieber, for that matter) in 2015. (7)

6.8

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Adele – ‘Hello’

Chris Kelly: Four years away have let other pop stars grab the spotlight, but Adele is back with a Lana Del Rey chord progression and some help from hit-maker Greg Kurstin. ‘Hello’ is supposed to be her triumphant return, but in all its epic overproduction, the Adele of 19 and even 21 is absent. She’s now a vessel for millions of fans, and this one is particularly hollow. (4)

April Clare Welsh: Can a song even be a bona fide pop hit anymore without an accompanying torrent of memes and gifs? If we were to judge this track on its internet humour-generating ability then it would rank pretty high; at the time of writing, 300,000,000 Lionel Richie memes have surfaced online, including one from the legend himself. On top of that, sales of ‘retro’ flip-phones have gone up by 400% so that all over the world, telecommunications execs are laughing – or crying – into their broken iPhone screens. In fact, the impact of this song is so profound that the music itself has almost become a footnote to its extra-curricular activities, which is good because I don’t really have anything to say about it. (4)

Son Raw: Xavier Dolan and Adele, huh – my mum’s gonna go nuts. Still, this ain’t ‘Rolling in the Deep’ is it? You can belt out that vocal all you want, but there’s not much of a song here. (4)

Claire Lobenfeld: 2015: The year that Justin Bieber and Adele both release breakup apologia — within hours of each other! — and Bieber’s is more measured and mature. But people really love them some heartache porn, huh? Enough, it seems, to brush under the rug that ‘Hello’ is truly about being an asshole. If you’ve hurt someone, it’s your damn job to leave them the hell alone if that’s what he or she wants. I don’t care if you’re miles apart and years from the offending incident, just straight up fuck off. “At least I can say I tried / To tell you I’m sorry / For breaking your heart / But it don’t matter / It clearly doesn’t tear you apart”? So, this song is about relentlessly calling someone to try and rectify whatever hurtful garbage you have rotting inside of you — with someone who will not corroborate either way, mind you — and you upset they’re over it? Maybe you should get over it, too! Since this wasn’t about being wounded, I posed concern on Twitter for people’s hunger for Adele as cry-feed and the resounding response I got was that she gives people a safe space to mourn…

…Ya’ll had to wait four years to find that? Really???

Fuck this adult-contempo emotions facsimile and go out there and say how you feel and what you mean. Otherwise, you are just a walking trashcan fire of your unheard emotions. I’m not telling you to get over it, I’m telling you to go actually do some work. Blech. (2, but only cos Adele can sing better than literally almost anyone.)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Everyone that’s watched the video to ‘Hello’ better go and watch all the Xavier Dolan movies – especially Les Amours imaginaires, a luscious paean to young love and lust that is gained acquired and severely lost. Dolan should be able to direct a fascinating video for ‘Hello’ in his sleep, yet he seeps the color and romance out of his filmmaking, aiming for dull sepia-toned respectability instead. This is a metaphor, people. (4)

Tayyab Amin: There’s not much in here that I’m into. Its dramatic flair and loudness are all unremarkable, they soar straight to a plateau up top with no room for subtlety. I do appreciate how her hushed verses directly launch into fully belting out the chorus though, 0-100 real quick. Adele’s music has never really been my thing and this song’s not trying to win anyone over – she’s reconnecting with her fanbase here and it sounds effective enough. (4)

3.7

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Danny L Harle – ‘Forever’

Tayyab Amin: ‘Forever’ starts off sounding like ‘Better Off Alone’, heads towards GLaDOS-at-the-end-of-Portal territory before finishing with some Tetris theme tune. Unlike all three, it’s totally bland. (2)

Son Raw: I can’t imagine someone creating this and thinking they’re making the world a better place in the process – what’s the end game when your tune will annoy the vast majority of the people who hear it, and the rest dress like assholes on acid? (2)

April Clare Welsh: I’m not sure if this is the “new, highly advanced pop weapon” PC Music promised us but it’s sweet enough to give me a toothache. Actually, I can feel my teeth rotting already. (7)

Chris Kelly: This hits all the same notes that PC Music was hitting at the beginning of their buzz-hype-backlash cycle. Harle is responsible for their most memorable singles, and this is the best thing they’ve released all year. (8)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Full discretion: I’m listening to this while watching Brock Lesnar and Undertaker headline Hell in a Cell and the juxtaposition with Harle’s glitch-sensed optimism is only sort of hilarious. Surely it feels like these two 90s behemoths are going to fake punch bleed bleed profusely over one another until the end of time, doesn’t it? We’re going to do this forever, aren’t we? (I hope not, but can we soundtrack some PC Music over WWE footage?) (6)

Claire Lobenfeld: Not the most obnoxious thing from PC Music last week—that award goes to Charli XCX and SOPHIE for ‘Vroom Vroom’—but still cloying as hell. For how long can they do the Alice Deejay (Chipmunk Edit) thing before people start to revolt? (1)

4.3

Rome Fortune – ‘Dance’

April Claire Welsh: I had to hit pause as soon as I heard the word “Uber”, sorry. (4)

Son Raw: Those chords! Rome Fortune and Kaytranada’s omnivorous approaches to music pay off here – this is just different enough to keep you on your toes but it also takes about 15 years of black pop and puts it in a blender. RIYL cruising down the block in your astral Cadillac with your chakras set to lit. (8)

Tayyab Amin: So you’re saying that isn’t will.i.am on the hook? I’m not mad at this for not trying to do too much, even if it is a little forgettable. Rome Fortune’s explanatory flow is fantastic, QVC raps selling the song itself in some meta way. (7)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: We’re a far way away from the tinted sexual griminess that made 2013’s Beautiful Pimp something you couldn’t turn away from. What kept you engaged among the hints of queasiness that poked through was Rome’s sense of humour, something evident alongside the charming disco-ball sounds of ‘Dance’. At the same time, we’re far away from Childish Major, DunDeal, C4 – the vanguard of Atlanta hip-hop producers. Kaytranada’s instrumental is nice enough, but a downgrade for Fortune’s adventurous ear. (6)

Claire Lobenfeld: ‘Friends Maybe’ was the last song Rome Fortune released that I enjoyed and it was straight up because Makonnen is so delightful on it. This stinks of “lost the thread.” Something fellow FACT contributor Walker Chambliss said to me in conversation about this track was this is like “if Wale doing a JUSTICE remix was a genre” and I almost think that’s generous. Does Rome really sing, “Do you wanna French kiss?” on the pre-chorus? Ugh. (1)

Chris Kelly: “Rome Fortune on Fool’s Gold” is the kind of fantasy booking that never happens because it almost makes too much sense. On his first track for the label, Rome embraces Kaytranada-sculpted dance music, and — unlike some of his previous genre-smashing collaborations — both artists are on the same page. With all that said, I’d rather hear him rap, but Rome: do you. (6)

5.3

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Gwen Stefani – ‘Used to Love You’

Chris Kelly: After the Rihanna-lite ‘Baby Don’t Lie’, Gwen is ready for her breakup album. This doesn’t really play to her strengths though: only the buoyant “I used to love you” in the post-chorus sound especially Stefanish. The video is heartbreaking, though. (5)

Claire Lobenfeld: First things, first: There is nowhere to go but up after ‘Start the Fire’. But good god, we know, we know Gwen has a mastery of the breakup song and this ain’t it. Still, purge, girl. Purge! Do what all of these chumps who have to lean on Adele every album release seemingly refuse to. But, man, this is not great. (3)

Son Raw: Full disclosure: I told the editors that they barely gave me anything to hate on last week, so I think this lineup is payback. I can’t tell this beat apart from Bieber’s and that goes for their faces and haircuts too, now that you mention it. Is pop radio really this bad now? (3)

Tayyab Amin: This video is exceptional and totally helps the song thrive – Stefani’s showing a full range from exaggerated exasperation to striking moments of genuine rumination, all in one shot. Next time life gets a little too much there’s no doubt I’ll be looking at myself in the mirror channelling my inner Gwen. The song itself is nice, I’m really into those pre-chorus synths especially. (7)

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: Pop’s Dorian Grey (seriously, how has she not aged since Tragic Kingdom?!) comes back with a ballad-of-sorts that will surely allow tabloid interest into the end of her marriage. It’s understandable: everyone needs a hook, something this song doesn’t have. (4)

April Clare Welsh: ​​If I was a brilliant singer – which I can assure you I’m not – I imagine that there is no better tonic to heartbreak and no better ‘fuck you’ to a lying, cheating scumbag ex (whose band only ever really had two good songs anyway) than releasing a pop tune that is so hooky, it doesn’t even need a proper video. This has a slick, gut-wrenching kind of kick to it and the moments of sonic reflection give it realness without being schmaltzy. But please sort your hair out Gwen. (8)

5

Junior Boys – ‘Big Black Coat’

Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: It’s all relative: this doesn’t work for me as I sit at my laptop, busy working and reviewing, but will undoubtedly hit peak performance in a club at 4AM. Until then: (4)

Son Raw: You can count the millennial electro pop acts that ended the last decade intact on one hand, but if anyone deserves a second look – it’s Junior Boys. For one, they never reveled in the gauche irony and retromania of their peers, genuinely attempting to go beyond 80s pastiches into new territory, and never cutting corners on the song writing. There’s not too many contemporary pop songs that’ll work on the dance floor sans-edit today, but this is one of them. (8)

April Clare Welsh: I’m glad they’ve swapped the multi-coloured joyous vibes for something a lot darker/starker. And the Big Black Coat is enjoying a sartorial renaissance right now, especially amongst the art students of Camberwell and the surrounding areas, so the boys have certainly got their finger on the pulse here. All style and stutter-pop here. (7)

Tayyab Amin: Each listen this starts out as a slog I sort of sleep along to, until it ups the ante around the midpoint. That crunchy half-clap half-snare is a real wake up call, though I’m the type to sleep through my alarm clocks and I’m definitely still groggy. It’s such a stretched out, sprawling track with no payoff nor wormhole to pull you into, feeling more like a workout remix of another song. Lush textures, poor form. (5)

Claire Lobenfeld: The darker plinky synths toward the beginning are kind of cool, but this is mostly pretty forgettable. Welcome back! (5)

5.8

Final scores:

Justin Bieber – ‘Sorry’ (6.8)
Junior Boys – ‘Big Black Coat’ (5.8)
Rome Fortune – ‘Dance’ (5.3)
Gwen Stefani – ‘Used to Love You’ (5)
Danny L Harle – ‘Forever’ (4.3)
Adele – ‘Hello’ (3.7)

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