Monday, May 19th, 2014

Jhené Aiko – The Worst

No, the theme today isn’t ladies topping the R & B chart with accented Es.


Alfred Soto: I haven’t figured who Aiko wants to be or which singers she wants to approximate, but it’s led her to mediocre songs and nondescript arrangements. “You weren’t special till I made you so,” she coos to her lover, her producer, herself.

Thomas Inskeep: I was initially skeptical: the breathless press hype (that’s what I get for reading industry tipsheets), the weird EP cover with Aiko in a bikini bottom (from behind), and a peace sign, and is that a Spanish galleon?!, and the a-little-too-breathy voice. But the song won me over, insofar as it’s grown folks R&B that’s just smart enough for its own good. I’m actually surprised this just hit #1 on the R&B airplay chart, as it sounds like nothing else there right now (cf. trap, Drake, Beyoncé), not even like the pure R&B that’s been hitting lately (cf. John Legend, Pharrell). Her EP backs up that she’s got something, not just good producers/writers but some star power of her own — cards played well and wisely, she could potentially be a career artist. This is a good place to start.

Mallory O’Donnell: Fans of R&B miserablism couldn’t ask for a better time to be alive than right now. Aiko distinguishes herself from the res of the recovery jargon pack because even at her most hopeless (“Drinking & Driving,” “3:16 AM”) her voice is so supple-smooth and full of yearning that mercy seems as likely a possibility as jail. “The Worst” is centered around a desultory piano meander, the obligatory wet snare and a relationship backstory that’s atypically longer than a single evening, but it’s still essentially the same saga of bad decisions told bravely and bitterly. Not the best, but well above average.

Katherine St Asaph: This, again, is Fisticuffs doing 40 circa “Un-Thinkable” (also, possibly: Pharrell circa every intro ever): shame-spiral piano adrift in a sea of sulk. Aiko, too, sings again with her ersatz emoting — stresses that don’t quite flow, like each word is spliced in from a separate vocal take — but here it works, the more jarring bits matched to Aiko’s internal conflict. Note “you know that I do-not-depend-on nothing, or no one,” sung like she’s sputtering right through the syllables, or “change my mind like — that,” like the first blink before a tear, or the hook, four insistent repetitions of “I don’t need you” that resolve as pleas or sighs or flutters down to resignation, each sung accordingly. An ideal soundtrack to staring out the window, staring at your reflection staring out the window.

Crystal Leww: Aiko has maybe benefited from the trend to sparse, but she’s also taken the most shit for it, with every misinformed rap bro blaming her for making R&B boring. The most disappointing is how dismissing Aiko as a concept means dismissing songs like “The Worst,” which is perfect for Aiko’s whispered, stumbled, and invested confessions. Her vocal performance is supposed to sound detached because it’s all part of the facade, but if you really listen, she is entirely too interested in trying to sound detached, in trying to not take things personally, in trying to care less, in trying to convince herself via convincing the other person that she doesn’t care. My god, it fails spectacularly. The way that she sings “You weren’t shit / you weren’t special ’till I made you so” is so put on anger that all you can hear is desperation and sadness. The bridge is hollow then wistful. She sincerely hopes that he’ll take her up on the fact that her love is “patient and kind and shit,” final qualifier meant to convey a sense of not-really-giving-a-fuck but instead successfully conveying the misery of dealing with the impact of his actions. “The Worst” is peak-Aiko: the cool girl facade for someone who cares entirety too much.

Brad Shoup: She’s surfacing to a melody, I think, but maybe she’s happy to drift on the 40 parallel. I feel like there’s a couple dozen phrases waiting to be rinsed out by Soundcloud twerps.

Edward Okulicz: The song needs some sharper corners than a few uses of “shit” to emerge from the sad fog, rather than sounding like Sia wrote a Drake song.

Patrick St. Michel: Jhené Aiko is at her best when she gets out of bed and, like Jojo, offers up an alternate perspective to the hedonistic-but-sorta-self-aware lyrics penned by Drake or The Weeknd. “The Worst,” in particular, seems like a more interesting version of the former’s “From Time,” down to a much pricklier beat (pitch-shifted vocals! channel-hopping singing!) that doesn’t just lean on piano notes for all its drama. Besides just sounding twisty, it’s also a far more lyrically interesting song, more conflicted than Drake’s journal entry which featured Aiko playing the role of fantasy-woman. “The Worst” is Aiko giving the women usually serving as NPC’s on other artist’s songs a chance to express themselves and proving they tend to be more interesting.

Reader average: [9.25] (4 votes)

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3 Responses to “Jhené Aiko – The Worst”

  1. Katherine that Pharrell thing is amazing. Almost the next song I put on after it was one I hadn’t heard before, ‘Crescendo’ by Jetta, coincidentally produced by Pharrell. Lo and behold…

  2. I think she means “the best” (sorrynotsorry).

  3. This song is awesome though