Two of pop’s most conspicuous three-year absences have been filled as of this weekend. Katy Perry’s finally back with “Rise”, commissioned for NBC’s coverage of the 2016 Olympic trials, while Britney Spears has returned with “Make Me,” a collab with G-Eazy. Both are pretty bland.
Perry’s is more forgivable; it’s a low-stakes mercenary project. Though it’s not much of a stand-alone pop song, it works splendidly as it’s meant to. Perry’s synonymous with the inspirational ballad (her and Kesha — seriously, #FreeKesha), so this is the kind of thing she was put on earth to do. With its tremendous, arena-filling bass drum, it sounds like sports, and she belts the chorus like the most pissed-off national anthem singer ever. But it’s not that interestingly produced, nor is it that catchy, so don’t expect to blast anywhere but your TV speakers.
“Rise” thus isn’t really much of a disappointment; we’ll wait until she announces her next album to know whether or not she’s lost her edge. But is Britney’s entire career really worth something as safe and anonymous as “Make Me”? None of the things that made Britney such an engaging and interesting pop star in the 2000s — her razor-sharp cool, her ear for out-there production, her way of making sexy seem a bit scary — are present here. This is the sort of tepid slow-ballad shit that pop stars make when they’d rather feel safe with a number-11 hit than have less than a fifty-fifty chance of hitting number one. It could have been on Gwen Stefani’s This Is What The Truth Feels Like. Or Hilary Duff’s last album. Or any American Idol runner-up’s ninth album.
How is it that the woman who sang “Boys” now singing songs where any mention of sex is replaced by the word “ooh?” Did all the media mockery she endured in the 2000s cause her to forget that her name is a seal of quality? Does she not know poptimism is a thing, or that “Toxic” is one of its core texts? Does she not know she can let loose? Even 2013’s Britney Jean, which was admittedly pretty boring, made it clear it was “Britney, bitch.” This is more, “well, here’s Britney, she’s still on our label, let’s see how far we can get this one to chart.” It’s depressing.
And G-Eazy… well, I never thought I’d say this, but he makes me wish J. Cole would just show up.