The Middle/Meant to Be
May 26, 2018
Todd plays "The Middle" and then "Meant to Be" on the piano.
ZEDD, MAREN MORRIS & GREY - THE MIDDLE
BEBE REXHA ft. FLORIDA GEORGIA LINE - MEANT TO BE
A pop song(s) review
Todd: So... I've had people tell me, you know...
Screenshot of tweet asking...
Todd (VO): "Hey, Todd, how come you don't do the pop song reviews as much anymore?" [Todd laughs angrily and types "Hey motherfucker why don't you shut your stupid fucking ass I'm so goddamn sick of p" before backspacing.] Okay, yes...
Todd: ...fine. That is true, I'll admit they're coming out a little slower these days. And the reason is... I just don't have as much material as I used to. And I'm not saying I don't have as much to say about modern pop music, I mean there is just not as much pop music to say things about.
Video for Selena Gomez & Marshmello - "Wolves"
Todd (VO): Pop music isn't just less big these days, it's just... less. There's less and less of it. Especially this year. I mean, I try to keep up to date, but traditional outlets like the radio are still my primary entry point into new music.
Todd: But to be played on the top 40 stations, you need to be both one, pop music, and two, popular.
Video for Charlie Puth ft. Kehlani - "Done for Me"
Todd (VO): And since pop is such a vague, almost meaningless term, you'd think it wouldn't be too hard to meet both those criteria...but it's just not happening.
Video for Halsey - "Bad at Love"
Top 40 stations have been gradually transforming into oldie stations as they increasingly rely on music from [brief clips of "Despacito"...] a year ago, or [..."Work"...] two years ago, or [..."Royals"...] five, or [...and "Bleeding Love"] ten, or more! That...
Todd: ...all-'90s flashback weekend is [shot of On Air Playlist with Ace of Base - "The Sign", which also plays in the background] starting to take over more and more of the week it seems like. Why? Well, the hot shit right now is...
Video for Rich The Kid ft. Kendrick Lamar - "New Freezer"
Todd (VO): ...trap music. And whoever makes these decisions have apparently concluded that...there's no crossover appeal. This is the polar opposite [image of Pitbull] of the hip-hop that pop stations like. [clip of Post Malone - "Psycho"] They're already straining themselves by including Drake or Post Malone; they're not gonna give a shot to Kodak Black.
Todd: And there's nothing with those big pop choruses catching on that they can play instead. In the past twelve months, we've seen big flop albums from [recent album covers of...] Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Eminem, Katy Perry. And instead, the charts are being dominated by mumbling 14-year olds on SoundCloud named [image of SoundCloud profile of...] LilXX4ukk, who you'll never find on radio or TV ever.
Montage commercials for Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, Pandora
Todd (VO): People have been predicting this since I was a kid, but...it feels like it's finally come true. The internet has made everything too niche to have big sellers like we did in the past. The world has changed and left pop music behind.
Todd: But you know what never changes?
Live Grand Ole Opry performance of Easton Corbin - "A Girl Like You"
Easton: Got lots of bars around this town
Todd (VO): Well, not never changes, but changes very slowly at least. And of course, I'm talking about good old country music.
Todd: Like, yeah they do change.
Clip of Jerrod Niemann - "Drink to That All Night (Remix)"
Todd (VO): They added some hip-hop tropes to it; only took 'em twenty-five years to get OK with rap.
Todd: And that's just how country music rolls.
Video for Midland - "Drinkin' Problem"
Todd (VO): It likes tradition. It respects the past. So, SoundCloud rap is gonna have to be around for a few decades before you see [image from "Drink to That All Night" video of LilXX4ukk pasted over Pitbull's head] LilXX4ukk on a country record.
Todd: And sure maybe it's a corny genre...
Live performance of Chris Young with Cassadee Pope - "Think of You"
Todd (VO): ...but they still sing instead of rap, they still like traditional structures and melodies. So for Top 40 stations, it's either [clip of live performance of 21 Savage - "Bank Account"] try to make middle America love 21 Savage...
Todd: ...or start leaning towards Nashville. Borrow their singers, borrow their songs. Whatever works.
Montage clips of "The Middle" and "Meant to Be"
Todd (VO): So let's look at two of the few actual hit pop songs right now. We've got country singer Maren Morris being the guest vocalist for producer Zedd. That one's called, "The Middle." And we've got country dumbasses Florida Georgia Line doing a guest duet with pop singer Bebe Rexha; that one's called "Meant to Be." Welcome back to the show, boys. You both still suck.
Todd: Well, I've already explained what they're doing here, but how are the songs themselves? Well, let's start with the obviously better one, "The Middle."
Clip of "The Middle"
Maren Morris: Take a seat right over there, sat on...
Todd (VO): Wait, better one you said, Todd? When you say better, do you mean good? Does that mean you actually like the song? Well, let me put it like this.
Todd: Now when I first heard the song...
Target commercial ft. "The Middle"
Todd (VO): ...it was in a goddamn Target commercial, which to me is as...
Todd: ...good of a reason as any to ignore it.
Clip of infamous Target commrcial ft. Lil Yachty & Carly Rae Jepsen, "It Takes Two"
Todd (VO): Target puts a lot of money into music videos that are never good. [back to "The Middle"] But this one, I listened to it, and I was like...you know, OK fine. This is perfectly fine. But then I heard it over and over and over again...and after a few dozen plays, I realized...
Maren: Oh baby
Todd: ...Zedd may be the best producer alive.
Maren: Why don't you just meet me in the middle?
Todd (VO): Like every time I hear this song now, I am just in awe. The production on this song is immaculate. Every single thing he does in this song is goddamn amazing. That little ticking clock that signifies the crushingly slow pace of time when you're having a fight. Or the way it drops out to the multi-track a cappella chorus.
Maren: So why don't you just meet me in the middle?
And then it kicks back in.
Snippet of clock during bass drop
Todd (VO): Or that bridge.
Maren: Looking at you, I can't lie
Oh, the bridge is absolutely fantastic. [video for Liam Payne and Zedd - "Get Low"] And, you know, after I realized that, I went back to all of Zedd's hits...
Todd: And there have been way more of those than I realized.
Todd (VO): And he's been good this entire time, and I just never realized it. [clip of Ariana Grande ft. Zedd - "Break Free"] I have completely overlooked how good Zedd is at this shit.
Clip of "The Middle"
And "The Middle," I mean that might be close to his best. So..
Todd: ...do I like it? [throws hands up] Not only do I like it, I...no, not really.
Video for "Meant to Be"
Todd (VO): We'll go back to that I guess, but I can tell you that I do like it a whole lot more than "Meant to Be," which is fucking garbage. And the really funny thing is that this song is apparently huge on country radio.
Todd: In fact, it's the #1 country song in America and it has been since [image of Billboard Country chart from December 16, 2017] last fucking year!
Todd (VO): That's six straight months at the #1 spot. For a song that's the equivalent of a sorority girl in a pink cowboy hat.
Todd: OK, to be fair that's probably because Spotify is skewing the stats of what counts as [air quote] "country." But...
Todd (VO): ...this also hit #1 just on the country radio stations, too. Even though Bebe Rexha's only attempts to seem country are...a plaid flannel bustier, and a diner waitress outfit that makes her look like she's also wearing it to the bachelor party she's working afterward.
Todd: Now this is fascinating to me because country music used to have a very narrow and specific meaning.
Video for Darius Rucker - "Wagon Wheel"
Todd (VO): And over time, I've watched it broaden to mean...any kind of rootsy Americana...[clip of Luke Bryan - "That's My Kind of Night"] and then eventually just...any music that still used instruments.
Todd: And now, it means...
Video for Jason Aldean - "Burnin' It Down"
Jason Aldean: You slip your finger...
Todd (VO): I don't know, anything sung with a twang I guess. [back to "Meant to Be"] I mean, Christ there's not even a guitar on this one. It's a piano and a stuttering drum machine.
Bebe & FGL: If it's meant to be, it'll be, it'll be
Todd: Skrillex could come on here and [picture of Skrillex in concert with "Cinema" playing in the background] drop some wubs and dubs and it wouldn't be any less country.
Bebe & FGL: C'mon, ride with me, ride with me
Todd (VO): Like the only thing that makes this song country is the drawling melody of the chorus and-and that's it.
Todd: Like it was always gonna have to be at least a little country because...
Todd (VO): ...whatever the production is just too slow and lethargic to be a straight pop song. But Bebe Rexha doesn't have enough personality to pull off a country ballad, so she had to pull in a couple guys with some actual dirt and grit in their voices to add the depth that it needs.
FGL: Oh hold up, girl, don't you know you're beautiful?
Todd: Think about how sad that is.
Clip of Florida Georgia Line - "Cruise (Remix)"
Tyler Hubbard: Yeah, when I first saw that bikini top on her
Todd (VO): To add depth, she had to pull in Florida Georgia Line...
Todd: ...both of whom have a stack of [image of...] old Maxims where their brains should be. 'Cause look, Bebe Rexha...she just doesn't have it.
Clip of "Me, Myself & I"
Todd (VO): The industry really wants her to be big. She's had guest spots on other people's hits, but she's never established herself as a solo artist, or even a personality. ["Meant to Be"] And even though she's listed as the main artist, this isn't really her song either.
FGL: Baby, lay on back and relax
Todd (VO): She doesn't even show up til the second verse. I mean, how long is it before she shows up?
Todd fast forwards the video until 56 seconds in
Bebe: I don't mean to be...
Todd (VO): Christ, that's almost a minute before she starts singing! I mean, this wouldn't be her song anyway 'cause...I-I just don't see any star quality in her.
Todd: I'm not good at predictions, but if you have any money in Bebe Rexha, I say cash out...[clip of Calvin Harris & Dua Lipa - "One Kiss"] start buying stock in Dua Lipa. Way more upside on that one. And I do find it interesting that...
Todd (VO): ...Bebe Rexha has to pretend to be a country singer to get a hit. [clip of "The Middle"] Meanwhile, Maren Morris is already doing pop crossovers just three singles into her career. ["My Church"] And those songs did well, she's not like...Bebe Rexha straining to establish herself. Why start spreading yourself out like that so quickly?
Todd: Well, I can only speculate but...here's one thing I have noticed. At some point over the last year, country music became extremely male.
Video for Luke Combs - "One Number Away"
Luke Combs: Number away...
Todd (VO): I have no clue how or why or when this started happening, but country music right now is a sausage fest. [shot of Hot Country Songs chart] I-I'm looking at the country Top 20 right now...there are only...
Todd: ...four women. And one of them's [pictures of...] Bebe Rexha! [...and...] And two others are Tori Kelly and Julia Michaels, [clip of Chris Lane ft. Tori Kelly - "Take Back Home Girl"] two more pop singers doing a guest spot on a male country singer's track. [single cover for Carrie Underwood - "Cry Pretty"] There's only one actual country chick in there. There are [pictures of Darius Rucker and Kane Brown] two black guys on the list! It's easier to be black in country music than female right now.
Live performances of "Meant to Be" and "The Middle"
Todd (VO): So even while Bebe Rexha is burrowing herself into Redneckville, I think Maren Morris might be building an escape route out of there in case she needs it. And even though she does have country cred, she fits into the pop world pretty perfectly. She sounds exactly like an established pop singer would, which...
Todd: ...honestly is kinda my problem with the song. And with Maren Morris in general.
Video for Maren Morris - "80s Mercedes"
Maren: Nineties baby
In my eighties Mercedes
Todd (VO): I mean, I like her fine enough. But she's just not a very interesting vocalist. It doesn't matter when she's writing her own music about church and cars and good-for-nothing men. ["The Middle"] But without that, she's...just another Bebe Rexha.
Todd: And we barely have room for the one.
Todd (VO): And she's just not strong enough to carry "The Middle" on her own because the song itself is just...
Todd: ...I don't know, it's missing something as great as it sounds. Maybe it just needs better lyrics?
Clip of "The Middle"
Maren: And I'm unaware
Of just how we got into this mess, got so aggressive
Todd (VO): I mean what is this about? "We're fighting. Instead of fighting why don't we...not fight."
Maren: Why don't you just meet me in the middle?
[sarcastically] Wow, what a revelation. Like, whatever you were fighting about must not have been that important if you're just gonna hug it out. So why am I even listening?
Todd: Or I don't know, maybe it just seems a little too familiar. Like, you compare it to Justin Bieber's "What Do You Mean?"...
Video for "What Do You Mean?"
Justin Bieber: What do you mean?
Todd (VO): That song totally made me feel the crushing strain of arguing for no good reason, 'cause you're young and dumb and know absolutely nothing about relationships.
Todd: In fact, it even has the same ticking clock!
Snippets of ticking clock from both songs
Todd (VO): That seems like a little bit of a ripoff. But, the person Zedd really ripped off...
Todd: ...was himself.
Video for Zedd ft. Alessia Cara - "Stay"
Alessia Cara: Hope the winds of change will change your mind
Todd (VO): I mean this is almost literally the exact same song as his last big hit.
Todd: A cappella chorus with multi-track robot vocals...
Alessia: Stay a minute
Todd: ...Ticking clock to indicate miserably slow passage of time...
Alessia: Clock is ticking, so stay
Todd: ...Lyrics begging for resolution to unspecified dangling tension...
Alessia: Wait a second
Your hands on mine
Elevator scenes from "Stay" and "The Middle" are intercut with each other
Todd (VO): That song was just last year. No wonder "The Middle" sounds so good.
Todd: Zedd already gave himself a trial run.
Todd (VO): I mean, I think I prefer "The Middle" to "Stay," but I do have difficulty remembering which is which.
Todd: And remembering which song is which is also a problem I...
Another live performance of...
Todd (VO): ...have with "Meant to Be" because...this isn't the only pop song that...
Todd: ...Flo and Go over here are on right now either.
Video for Hailee Steinfeld ft. Florida Gerogia Line - "Let Me Go"
Hailee Steinfeld: Someone will love you, let me go
FGL: It's been some time, but this...
Todd (VO): Yeah, there are two pop songs with Florida Georgia Line. And I get those songs confused all the time.
Todd: And in fact, I also get it confused with that new Camila Cabello song.
Video for Camila Cabello - "Never Be the Same"
Camila Cabello: It's you, babe
And I'm a sucker for the way that you move, babe
Todd (VO): First time I heard it, I was like...Wow [concert photo of...] Miley Cyrus' return to country...
Todd: ...seems to be going well for her. [shot of article: "Kane Brown and Camila Cabello Are The Next Pop-Country Pair to Team Up For Duet] And yes, there is a Nashville version of this one, too. That's a fourth vaguely countryish pop hit right now. That's officially a trend.
Clip of "Let Me Go"
Todd (VO): Not a good trend, though. The fact that I can't even remember how these songs go is a really, really bad sign. [clip of "Meant to Be"] You'll notice I've made almost zero comment on the actual lyrics of either song because who on earth could care? What is "Meant to Be" even about?
Bebe & FGL: So, won't you ride with me, ride with me?
See where this thing goes
Like, they're flirting and...maybe they'll have a relationship.
FGL: Maybe we do
Bebe: Maybe we don't
FGL: Maybe we will
Bebe & FGL: Maybe we won't
Todd (VO): Maybe they will, maybe they won't. See this fits perfectly with Florida Georgia Line; it's the exact kind of laid-back, lazy, no-commitment vibe they're good at because...
Todd: ...they don't have to sell anything deep or heartfelt or thoughtful, just...
Todd (VO): [redneck voice] "Let me look at you girl. Why don't you ride in my truck?"
FGL: Kick your pretty feet up on my dash
Like, I'm not sure either of these guys have ever even had sex with a girl.
Todd: They just drive with them in the truck.
Todd (VO): And unlike "The Middle," "Meant to Be" doesn't even sound good. There have been attempts at combining country with pop music over and over again. Sometimes it turns out OK, but a lot of the times, it turns out like this. It's not one thing, and it's not the other. It's just flavorless mush.
Todd: And yeah, I am a little offended as a traditionalist, but there, y-you know there's different kinds of non-traditional.
Video for Lil Pump - "Gucci Gang"
Todd (VO): Hip-hop traditionalists are not fans at all of mumble rap, and for the most part I agree with them. But at least I respect that those 14-year olds are making something original, and that they want to make.
Todd: Or hell, even bro country!
Video for Thomas Rhett - "Get Me Some Of That"
Todd (VO): I bag on it, I'm still gonna bag on it, but it was a new unique sound. [clip of "Meant to Be"] This isn't anything. It's just pop that's not fun, and country that's not authentic.
Todd: And even though I prefer Zedd...[sighs; pause] look, I want to like Zedd. I want to like him so bad.
Clip of "The Middle"
Todd (VO): But he's got the same bad habit that most big-name producers have. They drain their singers of personality. [brief clips of "Clarity" and "Break Free"] His best couple songs were when he worked with Foxes and Ariana Grande, both of whom are huge, over-the-top singers that he couldn't water down. But Maren Morris...remove her from country music and, she just sounds like a Walmart-brand Demi Lovato. That's right, [image of...] Walmart!
Clip of Target commercial
Not even up to the high standards of her own sponsor. She could very easily cross over into pop music, but I don't see what she'd add.
Todd: Or who knows? [shrugs] Maybe she should anyway. Get some new blood into the Top 40, 'cause this whole format is just a goddamn [image of...] ghost town right now.
Live performance of "Meant to Be"
Todd (VO): I-I doubt country pop is the future, but I do get why it's happening. Country music has always had this frustrated crush on cooler musics...
Todd: ...they're like that loser guy that kept trying and trying to get the hot girl's attention...
Todd (VO): ...and then pop music was at a low point, and now it's having a badly considered rebound hookup with the dumbass in the cowboy hat, and it's probably going to regret it instantly. [clip of "The Middle"] This whole thing is just a bad idea, and if this is a trend, I hope it ends soon. All it's doing is making interesting artists boring, ["Meant to Be"] and making both genres worse. If this is where country and pop meet...
Todd: ...then they should not have met in the middle, and I certainly hope it's not meant to be.
Bebe & FGL: If it's meant to be
Closing Tag Song: "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool" - Barbara Mandrell
"The Middle" is owned by Interscope Records
"Meant to Be" is owned by Warner Music Group
This video is owned by me
THANK YOU TO THE LOYAL PATRONS!