“I’m the One” is not a good song. The proof of its mediocrity is excavated rather thoroughly by Slate’s Chris Molanphy, who describes the single as “the summer-music equivalent of an Adam Sandler summer aging-buddies flick like Grown Ups 2.” It is also “the big pop chart’s first-ever No. 1 posse cut,” a title that in this case is more a reprimand for the state of pop than a win for the posse cut. And true. There’s the boilerplate 808-guided beat, nearly non-existent vocals (Bieber), and identical flows with unimaginative verses from Quavo (“'Cause I promise when we step out you'll be famous/Yeah, modern day Bonnie and Clyde what they named us), Chance (“She beat her face out with that new Chanel/She like the price, she see the ice, it make her coochie melt”), and Wayne (“And when she on the molly she a zombie/She think we Clyde and Bonnie but it's more like Whitney Bobby”). Combine these things and we have a song for the and maybe of the summer, but not much longer.
The posse cut has a long and storied history in rap music. Within an already hypercompetitive (but also ultra-collaborative) genre, posse cuts amplify the stakes for everybody involved. Just as nobody wants to be blown away by their own feature, nobody wants to be the verse people forget or worse, clowned into infinity. As listeners it's a special treat to hear numerous rappers we admire arrange themselves on a single track, though the artists themselves often sound like serious business. They don’t come to play.
By contrast, the pop posse cut takes frivolous to the max. Instead of lifted out of their respective comfort zones, voices are relegated to the roles that do them the most justice. Assembled like a bar trivia team, pop collaborators stick to what they do at least moderately well and coast off the cachet accumulated from all the names involved. Classic cover “Lady Marmalade,” notwithstanding they don’t make for great songs. But they can be really fun.
Nobody knows this better than Calvin Harris. Harris is nothing if not a virtuoso when it comes to gathering a collection of featured voices to lay over a dance beat, but his upcoming Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 (due out June 30th) looks to up the ante. Last Friday he released a new song, “Feels,” the latest in a series of strategic single drops. Featuring Pharrell, Katy Perry, and Big Sean the single, like “Heatstroke” and “Rollin,” fails to live up to the inaugural “Slide” (for… obvious reasons). But it’s delightful in its own way. Much as a part of me cringes to hear millennial vernacular lifted so seamlessly—in the mouth of Katy Perry, of all people—its self-aware beach vibes displays Perry at her best and makes for a summer contender.
Four singles in and Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 already makes for a dizzying list of features: Frank Ocean and Migos (“Slide”); Young Thug, Pharrell, and Ariana Grande (“Heatstroke”); Future and Khalid (“Rollin”). And the juggernauts don’t stop there. As Harris teased in a tweet early last month, the rest of the album will include Travis Scott, Kehlani, John Legend, Schoolboy Q, D.R.A.M., Nicki Minaj, Lil Yachty, Jessie Reyez, Partynextdoor, and Snoop Dogg.
Hard for anyone to not find a fave amongst that bunch but crammed together like that the whole thing seems almost obscene. Pop music is no stranger to long credits, but there’s a difference between a stable of writers, producers, and samples hidden beneath a master pop persona and a veritable who’s who of twenty-tens rap and pop. This type of posse looks unnecessarily indulgent compared to other genres like rock and rap, where collaboration is vital yet auteurism still earns bragging rights. But then again, pop music has always brazenly embraced attributes that causes other genres shame.
Meanwhile, the only thing more shameless than collecting a troupe of buzzworthy names for a track is inviting that same group to shoot a video. Roughly two years after Taylor Swift put her posse on display in the music video remix for “Bad Blood” featuring Kendrick Lamar (starring Lena Dunham, Ellie Goulding, Zendaya, Gigi Hadid, Karlie Kloss, Cindy Crawford and many others), DJ Khaled’s drops the video for “I’m the One” starring everybody involved, including executive producer and adorable child, Asahd. Fellow Migos Offset and Takeoff also make an appearance, along with model Iryna Ivanova and other unnamed beautiful women.
Directed by Eif Rivera, the video is opulent and whimsical, as Khaled’s videos tend to be, with lush shots of its stars
pop music has always brazenly embraced attributes that causes other genres shame.
amongst bright, manicured hedges, palatial steps, and what appears to be two separate swimming pools. But the most eye-catching and aspirational moments have little to do with the mansion setting or copious liquor or bevy of beauties. The video exudes joy and play and watching these chart-toppers act a fool together feels like a gift, specially hand-delivered from Khaled to us. Justin Bieber may be a grown punk, but there’s something innocent and endearing about his antics here, hi-fiving Khaled, jogging back and forth with Chance, and decorating his lip syncs with silly pantomimes. Lil Wayne wanders among the hedges with an unmarked plastic cup, Chance cracks up laughing, Migos play hide and seek (what it looks like to me anyway), Quavo bares his teeth and everybody mouths each other’s lyrics. All the while Khaled echoes his audio role as the group hypeman, gassing up his co-stars in between a victorious game of croquet. The song may be about holding the number 1 spot in a girl’s life, but on the video they are five, letting go and enjoying each other. It may all be a fiction, but then, what music video isn’t?
So while we might dub this and other similar productions gratuitous and chart-hungry, it’s worth keeping in mind that not every song is made to last. Some artists seek not to make good music but to make us feel good. And isn’t that what the summer is all about?