Friday, September 20th, 2019

Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus & Lana Del Rey – Don’t Call Me Angel

“Independent Women Part III: No Throttle”…


Josh Buck: Absolutely not.

Katie Gill: “Don’t Call Me Angel” is a fun piece of movie credits music. There’s nothing special here, but it’s a jam of a song that would fit perfectly well in the already established oeuvre of middle-of-the-road yet totally serviceable movie tie-in songs. Two of the singers know exactly what sort of song they’re in and give it the sultry, radio-friendly, sexy spin the song needs. The third is Lana Del Rey and her inclusion BAFFLES me. This is so far out of her wheelhouse that it’s hilarious. Seriously, was Selena Gomez busy or something? The music video for Demi Lovato’s “Confident” was practically an audition piece for this type of thing, why the heck isn’t she here?

Thomas Inskeep: Ariana does some Grande karaoke, Miley sounds like she’d rather be singing “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and Lana teleports in to do another take on her breathy schtick (and brings the song to a screeching halt in the process) — nothing about this, apart from (I imagine) someone’s discussion of market share, makes any sense. There’s no cohesion here. There’s barely even a song.

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: So, so, so cringeworthy. Ariana, Miley and Lana sound like reality music TV contestants who were forced to make a song together one week, couldn’t get on the same page and ran out of time to rehearse, but had to release something anyways. Ariana is awkward and lonely on the hook, like she’s waiting for help that never comes; Miley comes out of nowhere with a cloying shouted verse; and Lana is off in another world mumbling incomprehensible nonsense. Even the backing track has a nervous manic energy. If you want a good song about Charli(e)’s angels, just listen to this instead. 

Michael Hong: In high school, I worked on a group project where the only times we met up were when we decided upon a topic and to actually present the whole piece. Rather expectedly, the whole thing fell apart rather quickly and it was a completely embarrassing experience. “Don’t Call Me Angel,” gives off the same vibe, like Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Del Rey were each given only the title and asked to write something vaguely empowering for women. Each artist sounds like they wrote for a different track and made absolutely no effort to meld styles, instead forcing the producers to try and mash the entire thing together. Even the chorus buries Miley and Lana completely beneath Ariana, perhaps rather wisely as I can’t see the group’s vocal tones meshing together very well. “Don’t Call Me Angel” survives only through the one thing my group never had, natural charisma.

Alex Clifton: How did Ari, Miley and Lana end up in this? I guess it echoes the three Charlie’s Angels but this trio doesn’t make sense. I can see how individual duets would’ve worked; Ari and Lana could’ve done something slow and spacy, Ari and Miley taking a more upbeat route, Lana and Miley singing something retro. This, sadly, doesn’t play to anyone’s strengths and just ends up being overproduced mush with a decent riff. If I had to pick any artist who could make this song make sense, it would be Rihanna, and the music video would be her in thirteen different outfits kicking ass. 

Hannah Jocelyn: I didn’t realize how dated the Max Martin sound was until hearing “Don’t Call Me Angel.” Pop music is now either created with substance(s) or has substance thrust upon it. Meanwhile, the lyrics are clunkier than ever, “you know we fly/but don’t call me angel” no longer endearing melodic math but shallow feminist lip service at a time when “if you feel like a girl/then you real like a girl” can sneak onto a major label record. It’s the first time I can’t listen to a Martin production without thinking of this unexpectedly poignant stand-up segment about Martin and Cosmopolitan. When the tropical house is so bland, further lyrics stick out more; Miley’s pre-chorus (“Do I really need to say it/Do I need to say it again”) is lazy, and Ari’s vampire metaphors are just baffling. Lana comes out strongest, someone who seldom charts but has more cultural relevance than the former and is much hipper than the latter. Her verse is classy when Ari is unmemorable and Miley cribs from a Rihanna album reject from four years ago. “Angel”, though, feels like a reject from 2013, when Miley was in her imperial phase and Ari was just breaking out from Nickelodeon — in fact, it probably would have had Rihanna instead of Lana at that time. But no matter what trio, one thing is clear: with this lemon, you cannot make Marmalade.

Katherine St Asaph: Remember, “Independent Women Part I” stopped the otherwise great song dead on the bridge to announce it was commissioned for CHARLIE’S AAAAAAANGELS, so “Don’t Call Me Angel” earns points already for not doing that. It keeps its product placement to outside context, namely the fact that the song exists despite the three artists having little in common besides having stanbases and sniping at critics. The disparate styles can work together — see the “Lady Marmalade” remake, unfairly maligned except by a few — but here there are only anti-synergies. Miley’s verse can’t decide if she wants to be the track’s Mya or the Pink (probably the better idea), but its bluntness also best fits the backing track. Ariana’s sighed, harmonized “angel” is a great millennial R&B hook, but one that outside of an R&B song is starved for air. Lana’s bridge, though a complete non-sequitur and only empowering if you squint, is also the most sonically charged thing she’s done in ages; if there isn’t a reason Lana Del Rey hasn’t worked with Max Martin beyond “Lust for Life” (I suspect that there is), that wouldn’t be the worst career direction. Everyone’s part diminishes everyone else’s, the exact opposite of what you need from an event single or a Charlie’s Angels shine-theory ad.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Every big pop collab feels a little unnecessary — pop stars work based on the idea that they’re the center of the universe, and collaborations by their very nature make that seem silly. But this sounds really, really unnecessary. Two artists coming off career highs (and one coming off of “Cattitude”) should at least drive some head-to-head comparison, but none of the three credited artists interact in any meaningful way. It’s the Batman V. Superman of pop music — conflict and chemistry built mostly on reputation rather than action, with nothing to defend unless you’re an unabashed stan.

Joshua Lu: In which Lana Del Rey learns that her reward for releasing her magnum opus is the opportunity to limp through a thank u, next reject. Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus’s voices already feel unbalanced, but Lana’s mushy croons are so inapposite that they grind the song to a halt.

Scott Mildenhall: It rattles along satisfyingly, but this never leaves the marks that the intermittent brass punctuation seems to signify. None of that is aided by how Del Rey, unbending in her lack of persona, has to be deployed in the manner of a guest rapper, wheeled on and off through a side door. The inability to sound at home with her collaborators in the way they do with each other is one thing, but the inability to sound anything other than lifeless in the face of them is another, and that’s the precise opposite of what’s called for.

Will Adams: As out of place as she may seem on paper, Lana’s bridge is the only point where the song becomes interesting: the key dips even more minor, and the arrangement has tangible cinematic sweep. The rest is a cluttered shamble of an Ariana Grande album cut, with her and Cyrus trading off lines with all the dubious empowerment of a Barb Wire quote.

Jackie Powell: All right folks get ready for a sports metaphor, because it’s coming. Ariana Grande is a bit of a ball hog on this track. What she doesn’t seem to understand is if you are going to lead your team, you’ve got to provide the proper assist to each of your teammates. To me, saving Del Rey until the two-minute mark supports the idea that these “angels” aren’t really meant to work together. I thought the purpose of this was to present a team of strong women looking to take on the world via a song that preaches empowerment for this new wave of both feminism and Charlie’s Angels films. Where a point guard should pass the ball and set up her teammates on the wings (no pun intended) and under the rim, Grande instead takes all of the shots. When the mic is pointed toward Cyrus after Grande’s opening hook, though, she shoots with simultaneous finesse and power, letting her head voice mix well with the potent sound in her chest. If I was reviewing the visual made to accompany “Don’t Call Me Angel,” Hannah Lux Davis’ treatment would receive a [10]. Grande, Cyrus and Del Rey all exude a mystique, ooze sex and expel power. For a Charlie’s Angels theme song, that’s right on the money. But what confuses me lyrically is how the hook clearly communicates the theme, even nodding to Destiny’s Child, but the verses, bar maybe Cyrus’, are underwhelming. The clock-tower cowbell loop that runs through and through grabs my attention, but I think Kristen Stewart could write better poetry.

Reader average: [2.77] (9 votes)

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6 Responses to “Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus & Lana Del Rey – Don’t Call Me Angel”

  1. “two artists coming off a career high and one coming off cattitude” was amazing but really this is great writing all around

  2. “Pop music is now either created with substance(s) or has substance thrust upon it.”

    I’m not sure I understand what this means. Could you expand on this?

  3. @Joshua Copperman: Which Max Martin sound do you mean?

  4. let the record reflect that out of all these songs the best one is “Independent Women Pt. II”

  5. @Josh: The idea was that pop music has a greater focus on emotional depth now than it did in the early 2010s – see: Billie Eilish, Khalid, even “Thank U Next.” Either that, or songs will take on a deeper meaning due to their surrounding cultural context – Old Town Road is the most significant recent example.

    The (s) bit was me being silly and has no bearing on what I was trying to convey. hope that clears things up!

    By the Max Martin sound I more specifically meant the so-called “melodic math” thing where the words matter less than the melody. “I only wanna die alive” wouldn’t cut it.

  6. Thanks!