Do you think we’ll be happier about more kink and less One Direction?
Josh Winters: I can’t explain cisgender heterosexual attraction, either, but from the sound of it, it seems like a ba–
Alfred Soto: I know it’s “complicated” because Machine Gun Kelly lets his teeth sink into her lips.
A.J. Cohn: While this track teasingly suggests kinkiness, the actual sexual fantasies described are decidedly bland: “Let me paint the picture/Couch by the kitchen/Nothin’ but your heels on.” It seems that sexual acts of the heterosexual, fairly vanilla variety are the titular “bad things” — wait, maybe I love this song.
Mo Kim: No, Camila, you’re not out of your head — in fact, it would be nice if you could get out of it and stop mewling half of your parts in that helium-inflected voice. Then again, one could make the argument that she’s only putting as much substance into her performance as she could find in the lyrics; would that we knew any of the Bad Things she and
Machine Gun Nerf Gun Kelly (who raps like a first-grade teacher trying to spice up a Common Core lesson on rhyming) are into. Alas, nowhere in the song are they ever specified, so we can only infer the abominable pleasures this duo want to partake in: avoiding BPMs above 10, plagiarizing Soundcloud user unprettytrapstar’s remix of a formerly tolerable Fastball song, making kink vague and nondescript enough to pitch to a mass-market audience busy Googling tips to spice up their sex life, boring everybody within earshot of a major radio station and/or mall to death. One pity point for the poor middle school students who will have to endure this dirge at every talent show in their foreseeable future.
Maxwell Cavaseno: Camila Cabello is truly one of the darkest, most malicious sadists on this Earth. By some defect of personality, she has chosen to take the worst parts of Ariana Grande (her tendency to scream to the point of ear-piercing), and overload that both with even more bombast and neurotic tics of melisma. The same way military experts think blasting Metallica at prisoners ensures breakdown of will, Cabello’s depravity could warp and plague the minds of the unwilling victims. It’s a great counterpoint to Machine Gun Kelly, who’s greatest weakness is, despite a technical mastery and excellence of execution, he has not come close to expressing one human emotion with his voice. There was a point on early singles when he goes for anger, and he screamed with all the intensity of an exhausted parent faking monster noises for five clamoring children. As a base for someone who knows nothing about having a personality, this is the perfect combination of too much “personality”; somehow, Kelly dodges his usual brand of post-Eminem/Tech N9ne wank and veers into accidental parallels to A-Wax’s white trash toxicity — though a kinder, gentler version for teens who should just do their best to find the chill once in a while.
Jonathan Bradley: Machine Gun Kelly combines Wiz Khalifa’s stoner meditations with Eminem’s maladroit earnestness, which apparently is how he ends up swooning over a “pretty little vixen” who runs her nails over his back tattoo. Times like these, I long for the return of real dirtbags — or at least Shifty Shellshock. Cabello — the vixen, I guess — has a nursery rhyme to sing; the good thing about having to sit still and sing pretty is there’s no risk of embarrassing yourself.
Katie Gill: The problem with “Bad Things” is simple: for all they’ve tried to push her, Camila Cabello has always been one of the weaker members of Fifth Harmony. Her voice trends towards the nasal and she consistently has a problem with higher notes, something that’s apparent right off the bat when her attempt at breathlessly, easily singing “if you only knew the bad things I like” comes off as her desperately trying to reach those notes in the first place. Add in a criminally boring rap from Machine Gun Kelly and this song lives up to it’s title.
Andy Hutchins: Camila Cabello’s career is still Ariana Tall at most, but you get the sense she’d like to be Ariana Venti, at a minimum. Good thing, then, that there will always be damsel-in-distressed love placements like this one, on which she climbs the upper register to tantalize Bad Boy’s white boy “Wild Boy” with “If you only knew the bad things I like.” None of her specific likes are ever fully vocalized, while Kellz, so far removed from telling Waka he’s a “hard rapper” that he may as well be chewed taffy, settles for heels-only sex on the “couch by the kitchen,” yet this love is “so unique.” “Love The Way You Lie,” an equally problematic song, at least tried to convince listeners that there might be pain and passion in an abusive relationship.
Katherine St Asaph: The pop machine can’t even commit to calling him “Machine Gun Kelly” — at least only Radio Disney felt compelled to attribute “Closer” to “TCS,” and also that’s horrifying. So the bad-things ceiling is pretty low from the outset, somewhere around liking Fastball. If we’ve learned one thing from the Great Derailment of 2016 it’s that we live in conservativeland, where “bad things” generally means “thoughts of premarital sex by women”; if we’ve learned one thing from this bleak midwinter of relationships in pop, it’s that “bad things” here probably means the woman being the top. Most duets are manufactured for follower synergy, and the difference is fandom and taste. So I shouldn’t make too much of Camila Cabello never having heard “Out of My Head” or Kelly’s pop push, like G-Eazy’s, existing because top 40 radio is scrambling harder and harder not to playlist black rappers. But sometimes it’s just that extra bit of blatant.
Josh Langhoff: Just when I’d forgotten the unrelenting hellscape of the late ’90s, here comes a remake of the other Fastball song, with all the portent of György Ligeti plonking out the Eyes Wide Shut soundtrack, and lifting its title from that unfunny comedy where Jeremy Piven kills the stripper in Vegas. Sure, baby doing bad bad things can be a turn-on, and pissing all over Fastball songs is the best way to honor them. But just as comedies should be funny, sexy songs should be erotic. These two sound like they mistook a medical textbook for The Joy of Sex.
Edward Okulicz: Oh you dimwits, the good Fastball single was always “Fire Escape,” and having sex on one of those might actually qualify as a Bad Thing. Camila Cabello sounds like she thinks she needs to apologise for having a vagina.
Ramzi Awn: They bring up a good sample, that’s for sure. And Ms. Cabello’s vocal is outrageous.
Joshua Copperman: The ambient intro is bizarre. It sounds like new Coldplay sampling themselves from Viva La Vida-era Coldplay. Also weird is Camila Cabello’s melody in the chorus, which didn’t make sense to me until I heard the source of the sample. It works there, because of Fastballer Tony Scalzo’s laid-back delivery, but the Auto-Tune and severe compression on Cabello makes that note sound like a glitch. MGK himself is cringey but passable enough. I like the “scars on my body” line as a hook (also “I’m insane/but you’re the same”), but the chorus clashes so much with the rest of the song that it’s difficult to reconcile the two sides. In fact, I’d like this song more if it was just called “Scars On My Body,” and those pre-chorus lines were the chorus. Then it would be fun to shout along to, but Camila and her awkward melody mostly remain in a completely different universe from the rest of the song. It brings to mind the time earlier in the decade where Skylar Grey was grafted onto several Alex Da Kid productions no matter the context. While Grey’s performances were usually excellent, until the last minute or so Cabello gives the exact kind of emotionless delivery that someone who left her former band “via her representatives” would give.
Will Adams: Camila Cabello’s solo leap is premature and already annoying, but I’m inclined to give her some kudos for sounding relatively restrained compared to YOoooUURRR’e tHEEeeE BoOoooOSss AaT hOoOMeEe, while Machine Gun Kelly represents the beginning of a wave of mealy-mouthed white dude rappers. So the problems with “Bad Things” are mostly its periphery, and the song itself is another example of radio sludge that likes to imply danger or badness without taking any risk in naming it.
Thomas Inskeep: It’s funny how so many current pop hits are mining the ’90s for their samples and interpolations, when the bulk of their intended audience isn’t familiar with said source material, often because they’re too young to recall it. Case in point, this single, built largely around a rejiggering of Fastball’s 1998 hit “Out of My Head” — I wonder, did producers The Futuristics and YektroBeatz use it for nostalgia value? Or (and this is where I lean) more likely, did they just like the melody of Fastball’s hit and decide that it was a good thing to incorporate into their single? Either way, “Bad Things” has reminded or informed me of the following things: a) “Out of My Head” kinda sounds like The Band; b) Machine Gun Kelly has no discernible talent whatsoever; c) I’m sick to fucking death of Caucasian rappers; d) Camila Cabello couldn’t have timed her departure from Fifth Harmony better, as this blows up into a huge smash; e) this record rides on her talent 100 per cent. I wish the production on this were a bit more distinctive, but it still stands out a bit from most Top 40 radio fodder these days, and for that I’m grateful.
Megan Harrington: Do you believe in borrowed nostalgia? I don’t. I don’t think “Bad Things” is at all a sentimental, water colored ’90s retread. And sampling isn’t — and never was — an act of nostalgia. “Bad Things” isn’t nostalgic; it’s catchy. It’s catchy and it’s just a bit too vile which makes it complicated and fascinating. I’m compelled by the way co-dependence and lust fold together, staining each other and making the song’s narrators unlikable to anyone but themselves. I’m drawn to their narcissistic attraction, to their mutual sickness. Apart, these two are classic antagonists. Together, they are a very particular storybook romance: true love’s curdled remains.