Thursday, February 8th, 2018

Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey – The Middle

She said she could use a love song, but she didn’t specify the genre. Til now!


Crystal Leww: Sarah Aarons is a 23 year-old songwriter from Australia who signed a deal with Sony/ATV last year and has started penning some of the best songs from the current wave of EDM-pop. She’s got an autoimmune disorder, which explains why she prefers the behind the scenes despite having a great voice herself. “The Middle” sounds a lot like “Stay,” which she also co-wrote, and that’s fine because “Stay” is pretty much a perfect song and “The Middle” is pretty great, too. This sounds big and twisted — a crush that has gotten a little out of control in your mind, but you still want it to work anyway. There’s a version of “The Middle” floating around that Bebe Rexha cut vocals for, but Maren Morris ended up being a great fit. Her country pop sensibilities here give it just the right amount of grounding a way that someone like Rexha would have just done too much for. And shoutout again to Sarah Aarons — she should be a huge songwriter this year.

Katherine St Asaph: I have yet to hear any indication Zedd has had an original idea. This time he’s got clock ticks from “What Do You Mean” and vocoders from everywhere. But also, a kick in the pants somehow, as if all this time “Stay” had been ripping off this. Country listeners know Maren’s a powerhouse vocalist, no surprises there. The actual surprise: does this mean Grey are good?

Hannah Jocelyn: Unlike every other song lately, “The Middle” doesn’t take as much inspiration from “Closer” (except for the one line) or “It Ain’t Me” — rather, it seems like Zedd’s been paying closer attention to Carly and Charli. And Zedd’s “Stay,” while I liked it enough at first, grew on me a lot. So you have a song that starts with an urgent cry of “BABY!”, plays with the percussive elements of a melody (“losing MY MIND” is this song’s “pull up pull up”) and repurposes the vocoder break from “Stay” but raises the stakes. Instead of a come-on, it’s a song of desperation, so it winds up more compelling than “Stay.” Yet there aren’t any random band name drops, and at long last, no gang vocals. This really shouldn’t feel fresh, but it does because of what it leaves out rather than what it puts in.

Ryo Miyauchi: Zedd’s recent singles got more commonplace in setting yet they still remain voyeuristic like you’re spectating upon acts of human struggle through a display glass. “The Middle” features a fight between a couple, though the cliche details white out the personal from its suggested fury and frustration. But at least this kitchen-sink, post-Flume era of Zedd sounds way less clinical. While it’s most likely coincidence to sense a thematic linkage between the song’s glassy percussion and its scene of broken dishes, it’s a delight to hear him purposely rough up his once-plastic records.

Micha Cavaseno: Between that clunker of a snare and the jarring autotune slurs and distortions making Morris’ sloppy warble, “The Middle” is a record that works its hardest to break the monotony of the radio with a lot of irritants. Dynamic is relentless in this song, a record that could easily be four or five versions sliding in and out of place to leave the listener searching for a definitive footing that’s never ever there. It’s a clever puzzle, but the game is more satisfying than the song.

Alfred Soto: Fresh off her first #1 single on the Hot Country Airplay chart, Maren Morris gets inserted through the dirty cogs of the Zedd-making machinery. If she’s losing her mind, this clopping production won’t help.

William John: A pleasant-enough assembly of ticking clocks, dolphins, and vocodered pleading, but has the air of a faded Xerox of superior predecessor “Stay,” and this time with that song’s breathless, endlessly pivoting chorus blanked out.

Edward Okulicz: Zedd’s big singles have had staying power because they work in short blasts of earmworm-deplying chorus, and are surprisingly sticky taken in full — can you even read the words “if our love” without thinking “Clarity?” Marin Morris has power and clearly loves the glossy surfaces of pop (“80s Mercedes,” a truly great single, was barely country) and in hindsight is an obvious guest for a song like this, but it’s only the “baby’ bit that cuts through for me. And two syllables isn’t quite enough.

Thomas Inskeep: Zedd has a knack for this kind of EDM/pop, from “Gravity” (a slow-burner which, when it grabbed me, really grabbed me) to last year’s “Stay” and now “The Middle.” He writes well for female voices that are just a smidgen different, whether it’s a slight vocal hiccup or a different tenor, from Foxes to Alessia Cara to, now, the sublime country star Maren Morris. (I didn’t expect Morris to become a crossover pop star quite this fast, but I’m not mad at it one bit.) This has more tempo than most pop of the current ilk, so I’m thankful for that, and Morris sounds surprisingly great in this musical setting. And Zedd’s a surprisingly solid songwriter, so this is a surprisingly good-to-almost-great single, below “Gravity” but above “Stay.”

Reader average: [7.5] (4 votes)

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2 Responses to “Zedd, Maren Morris & Grey – The Middle”

  1. Better than “Stay” imo. I like the ticking clock a lot in this… how it’s at a faster tempo during the chorus but eventually gets buried in the mix with similar clacking percussion. I like the differences with each chorus and how it represents an unspoken change in tone with which the lyrics are delivered. At first she sounds patient, but then the drop coming in early the second time around is like Morris can’t wait any longer. And then the third time it sounds like a final, desperate plea.

  2. Still bummed I didn’t get around to giving this a [7] and bringing the average up to a [6.00]. It’s admittedly a carbon copy of “Stay,” but I think it’s better produced. Between this and the additional oomph on “Starving,” I’m inclined to agree with Katherine that Grey are likely the ones to credit for bringing the banger-ness.