Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

Ciara – Level Up

It’s 2018, and it’s still levels to this shit…


Anjy Ou: I’ve missed this Ciara — the one who gives us the killer dance bop with moves that you try and fail to replicate in your bedroom mirror. The one who lays down her vocals like your mama lays down the law in her house and doesn’t stutter. Who layers her vocals with synths to give us harmonies. The Ciara who knows her way around an R&B track like nobody else. So, so here for this. OK, back to dancing.

Alfred Soto: Ciara’s story is of creating good singles despite record label chicanery. I root for her — she’s responsible for some of the small-c-coolest and most urgent R&B of the last dozen years. With a thrusting chorus, aerobic chant of a chorus, and countdown “Level Up” would’ve been a sensation in 2006 or maybe 2011. Not now.

Thomas Inskeep: With the hard R&B dance of “Level Up,” Ciara’s officially made herself the inheritor of Janet Jackson’s legacy, which maybe we should’ve seen coming? I mean, “Promise” kinda does = “I Get Lonely.” This is so fast-paced to bear a resemblance to both footwork and B-more house, and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit to hear that they may have influenced Ciara. I could do without the “yummy/tummy” line (c’mon), but apart from that, this upbeat positive anthem does the business. Hard.

Katherine St Asaph: J. R. “Big Honking Sample” Rotem strikes again! This time it’s DJ Telly Tellz’s semi-viral “Fuck It Up Challenge,” which “Level Up” reproduces in near-entirety, countdown and all. (Not credit and all, but…) There’s not much song around it; there is its own, separate, even-more-semi viral challenge. But you signed up for big honking samples when you signed up for “Body Party,” you signed up for lines like “yummy on your tummy” when you signed up for an artist who also released “Read My Lips” or, like, “Goodies,” and we were all collectively signed up for viral-jacking hits somewhere between Tim Berners-Lee’s birthday and the “In My Feelings” Challenge. Outside music-crit-land, this likely seems desperate and opportunistic as hell. Inside music-crit-land, we’re moving too fast to care.

Ashley John: There is a path to take to be cynical about this song and about Ciara in general. “Level Up” is topical, supposedly inspired by a tweet and sampling one of Jersey club’s most recent top hits. It has a contrived challenge. Rolling your eyes would be easier, but doing so saps the song and the woman who made it completely of meaning. “Level Up” sounds like a woman comfortable and confident in herself, not trying to erase the mistakes of the past but use them as stepping stones to a higher ground. Ciara posts pictures of her sons playing t-ball and making almond milk and sponsored content to try to get the MLB to make a baseball team in Portland. It’s silly, at a certain angle, but “Level Up” tries to drag us into the sunlight and see it differently. In a fucking garbage world, it’s lovely to make the choice instead to take joy in simple things and not be ashamed of it. 

Julian Baldsing: “Level Up” plays like an extended remix of the “i just drink water :)” response to self-improvement — and perhaps it’s that approach, or the knowledge that I’ve had to wash my bedsheets twice in the past three days after dropping various forms of takeout on them, but I cannot listen to this track and find the motivation I can only assume Ci was hoping to stir within this breast. Still, when Ciara wants a banger, she makes a banger, and “Level Up” slams more than hard enough to make up for any lyrical disconnect.

Iain Mew: Not level up like an RPG, in a series of little progressions of attributes. Level up like Tetris, where it’s purely about acceleration.

Stephen Eisermann: Songs that come from bad tweets have no business being this good. The sample interpolates perfectly, Ciara’s staccato vocals bounces perfectly along the beat, and the flexing in the lyric feels less arrogant than it should. You can’t help but nod and dance along with Ciara, who you know has the perfect choreography for this in her pocket, all the while giving her max kudos for giving us a great late-summer jam.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Even leaving aside certain word choices in the hook, “Level Up” feels like a waste. A lot of that is in its tempo– the pace of the drums and Ciara’s vocals reads less as up-tempo and more as frantic, throwing gimmicks at you at breakneck rates until something sticks. It’s a tiring song: when the bridge finally hits and the tempo slows down a bit, the change of pace is a relief, but mostly because it’s a sign that it’ll be over soon.

Ian Mathers: If, after listening to your single, my most pressing concerning is trying to remember what semantic satiation is called, something has gone wrong somewhere.

Anna Suiter: Just because it’s a motivational dance song with a bit more lyrical meat beyond the hook, it doesn’t make it anything more than a dance song. It succeeds in being a decent dance song, though, so does it need to be anything else?

Alex Clifton: “You know you want this yummy, yummy all in your tummy” is such a dumb line, especially for a chorus, but that doesn’t change the fact that “Level Up” sounds like a great party. Wherever Ciara’s dancing, that’s where I want to be. It’s a breakneck song that left me trying to catch my breath (while Ciara doesn’t seem to break a sweat), but it’s three minutes of thrills. I’m really pleased if only because way back in 2004, I worried Ciara might be a flash in the pan; I’m glad that of all the artists to survive that era, she’s one of them.

Reader average: [3.12] (8 votes)

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