Monday, August 6th, 2018

Benny Blanco ft. Halsey & Khalid – Eastside

Meet Benny…


[Video][Website]
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Katherine St Asaph: Meet Benny Blanco, former Dr. Luke protege, self-admitted “record producer, songwriter, and masturbator,” and horseman of the fratty atmosphere and lowest-common-denominator ethos in pop music. Bonnie McKee’s said that when working with Max Martin and Dr. Luke, they had to “Benny-proof” away any quirk or lyric he didn’t get, because otherwise “America won’t get it.” Benny, for instance, didn’t get a double entendre about “trying me on” in “a “Teenage Dream” draft, because presumably he’s never heard of trying clothes on for fit, unlike McKee or Katy Perry or any woman on the planet. Slapping someone’s ass cheeks as a snare drum (or at least claiming he did)? That, he gets. He, as much as his toxic former mentor and more than Max Martin, is responsible for shaping this decade of pop music, and not for the better. Now, he’s been bequeathed the fanbases of Halsey and Khalid and others to come for a top-billed solo career. Fortunately, his production work has grown less garish alongside the pop-music vogue (though he did do “Freaky Friday,” so outliers remain). Unfortunately, he’s also been bequeathed co-writer Ed Sheeran, whose trademark quasi-rap verses Khalid and Halsey struggle to replicate (Halsey manages better than Khalid). It’s a chill tale of forbidden love, nuance to the story Benny-proofed away, Los Angeles nostalgia written by an Englander and and sung by people who grew up in Georgia and New Jersey. It’s not that I expect their work to be literally autobiographical; you just need some source of extramusical oomph to sell this “Fast Car” for Chainsmokers.
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Joshua Minsoo Kim: After producing some of the biggest hits of the past decade, Benny Blanco goes “solo” with a song that reminds listeners that “Closer” was actually a relative high-water mark. Its corny, forced rhymes and lightness of tone made every faux-diaristic detail feel more authentically teenaged/young adult. In other words, its very inelegance was made admirable through sheer commitment and self-awareness. “Eastside” has just as many shallow attempts at fleshing out a particular relationship, but the moody guitar figure and hushed vocalizing are too self-serious, revealing just how purposeless every lyric is. Even worse, Khalid sings with little to no conviction while Halsey fares only slightly better. Still, better performances couldn’t salvage a song with so many other shortcomings.
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Ryo Miyauchi: Khalid and Halsey make sense as the stars of “Eastside”: it’s hard to find better alternatives in current pop who can provide the voice of The Youth. Yet their passive display of teenage memories undermines the potential in the collaboration. Both reminisce upon details of their adolescent years that likely resonate to them personally, though it feels too mundane viewing them from the outside at such a distance.
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Stephen Eisermann: A “Don’t Let Me Down” retread shouldn’t move me this much, but “Eastside” feels like Kirkland-brand old Taylor Swift mixed with current pop trends, and in the fallout of the Reputation era, I’ll take it.
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Alfred Soto: Halsey wastes her Stevie Nicks-influenced high thinness on a track that’s no more than a rueful catchphrase and guitar.
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Jonathan Bradley: The non-specificity of the eastside in which these stories take place hints at the low stakes of this song; it’s as if the principals hope they can summon dramatic intrigue without too much effort. Fortunately, that’s a task for which Halsey’s flickering vocal and stray clarity is suited.
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Jibril Yassin: As much as I’m annoyed with Khalid becoming The Dude You Get For Pop Duets in 2018, he and Halsey make for a stunning duo here, trading verses of first loves with a bittersweet yet playful energy. Benny keeps out of the way here, providing a minimal backdrop that could nearly be mistaken for twee if not for those massive dancehall drums. 
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Pedro João Santos: Longing for summer has been and perhaps always will be a fixture of my life, in spite of how tedious or torrid it gets, and summer hits used to be a large reason to why — opulent lyrics and cooler, sensual sounds invading the airwaves for often indiscriminate aural pleasure. I did, however, always avoid the ubiquitous sad ones — from “I’ll Be Missing You” (I wasn’t alive in 1995 and it still caught me) to “See You Again,” the worst offender. So (apparently) not having one in 2018 was a relief, but also seemed to be a sign of the times, as if listeners were finally learning to revel in the artificial hedonism that permeates the season. “No Tears Left to Cry” could be considered, but its urgency far outweighs its suggestion of sadness; “Another Lifetime” is nowhere near charting. Turns out the top contender was just belated, via Benny Blanco’s newest stab at summer melancholia. “Eastside” is airy and a touch insubstantial, flowing pleasantly through its verses and a hook made memorable by the melody and Khalid’s expressive vocals, which re-tint “Eastside” as their own vehicle. With her fragile tone, Halsey doesn’t benefit in any way from the song, despite a lovely — and just as generic — delivery. In terms of downbeat summer soundtracks, “Eastside” is acceptable, benefiting from its easygoing structure and tugging lightly at the heartstrings, if not much else. Also, one point for not being (the Blanco-assisted) “2002.”
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