See? We can stand Fucking Drake and The Weeknd when The Other Side can speak.
Mallory O’Donnell: Kind of a “Me & U” for the current substance abuse and self-analysis set. The track itself, absurdly minimal, is like “The Rain” reduced to a radar ping, while Jhené’s pliant but frustratingly childlike vocal narrows in for the (relative) kill.
Katherine St Asaph: If my surroundings sounded like a Fisher-Price xylophone like Aiko’s, I’d do drugs too. It’s admirable that R&B is producing a dreary track for every bleary hour, even more that they’re generally Weeknd answer songs, but Aiko’s too childlike in affect, in a way I suspect’s supposed to be alluring; what should be frustration comes off as fanservice. I’d rather wait 44 minutes for grown-up Melanie Fiona.
Jonathan Bogart: Producer Fisticuffs (best known for Miguel’s “Quickie”) does his best Shebib, with icy, spare beats and a sense of hovering dread, but Jhené inhabits the despairing, intoxication-fading-into-psychosis headspace and then some, a performance with only the faintest amount of affect letting slip the void in the soul.
Anthony Easton: I love how she sings “frustrated,” and I love how she is off-beat, just a little bit. I love the cliches imbued with a fresh hatred and am fond of the exhausted coda of self-loathing near the end.
Brad Shoup: When I start sounding like a popular YouTube comment, it’s probably time to get back in the box, but I’m still figuring out if it’s Aiko’s wilfull beigeness that offends me so, or beige as a vocal coloration in ’10s R&B.
Alfred Soto: The Weeknd’s ethos lives in this latest example of somnambulism-and-blues, with vocals that sound as if she learned to sing from reading early Joan Didion novels aloud. A song that’s not so much abandoned as uninhabited. “Answer songs” work if their subjects don’t treat themselves like objects. Was Cassie unavailable?
Will Adams: A sequel to “King of Hearts” if I ever heard it. It’s not just Jhené’s icy delivery and the moody backing that unwittingly echoes its predecessor; it’s the continuation of that same night where the protagonist met this king. Now it is 3:16am, and the curtain has pulled back to reveal a toxic figure, shattering the pedestal on which he once sat. The devastating finale, however, leaves Jhené as no better off – “You’re all that I know,” she murmurs as a final beat seals her fate.
Patrick St. Michel: Drake and to a lesser extent The Weeknd have achieved success thanks to music about hedonism, about nights spent indulging in booze, drugs and women. That last one is problematic: often women are just another intoxicant to enjoy, no different than the coke or cough syrup. Rare is the woman in a Drake or Weeknd song that is given a personality, the women wandering around the sonic loft both occupy solely to throw themselves at the performers so that then they can sulk about it later. It has been refreshing, then, to watch artists like JoJo and now Jhené Aiko take the same minimalist production to create songs that exist in the same drug-fueled world as those two Canadian acts, but with way more character development. The protagonist of “3:16am” could be attending one of The Weeknd’s late-night shit shows, but instead of just diving in she offers a reason for the indulgence. “I wanna fly/if it all goes well/then I will/but what if I don’t?/I’ll be right where I was before.” Then someone coerces her to dive in (picture someone whispering “Trust me girl/you want to be high for this”) before true intentions come out and the song’s protagonist goes from rage to desperation as she realizes she’s been tossed aside. “3:16am” gives the women usually kept in the background of the party to tell their story, and it turns out they are way more interesting than the rich dudes.
Iain Mew: Jhené is planning to fly… “but what if I don’t?“. It’s a question so shocking that the whole track reels away in horror to leave only a plinking ghost of a tune in the darkness. That’s just the strongest of several moments where she lets silence speak volumes, and with her vocals serve up isolation and suspense to go with it. Also it may be it’s because it took me so long to get it, but I appreciate her taking the early hours title game to a new level by fixing up a track time to match.