Friday, May 30th, 2014

Nico & Vinz – Am I Wrong

Don’t answer that.

Thomas Inskeep: I can certainly see why this is catching on in the U.S.: it’s like the likes of Tiesto actually wrote a pure pop song. And that looped guitar figure is insanely earwormy. That said, the singer (Nico? Vinz?) sounds waaaaay too much like the dude from the Outfield at a karaoke bar. We sure this isn’t just the Outfield with an EDM makeover pulling a fast one on us?

Brad Shoup: If they were afraid of not sounding uncommitted, then no worries: that brass is flat like month-old soda, and I can’t remember the last I heard such grim handclaps. Yet another fretful guitar-figure/existentialism combo… what an odd trend.

Alfred Soto: That rubberband of a riff would have made the song a winner by itself, and those swelling “Sledgehammer”/Al Green horns sound like someone knows how to mix them. The vocal’s too open-throaty sincere. Imagine Ryan Tedder singing over the arrangement of his life. Which explains why it’s in the American top twenty.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine: I dig this. It’s a shameless copy of Bruno Mars’ shameless copying of The Police, but Nico & Vinz get everything right: a shimmering, arpeggiated guitar line decidedly simpler than anything Andy Summers would play, balanced by a keening vocal somewhat simpler than Sting. What matters is the chorus and the feel, both of which are so appealing they make the verse seem stronger than it is, but the shakiness of that verse dissipates because of the vibe. This is a summer song through and through, a record that creates the impression that magic hour–the moment when the sun threatens to sink into horizon–will never end.

Anthony Easton: I like the doubling of “wrong” here, and how the middle sounds fractured, so the doubling becomes a mirror.

Scott Mildenhall: It isn’t really either, but “Am I Wrong” falls on the hitmaking convergence of Mumford stomp and deep house. The line you can draw from this to “Waves” splits off to “Sonnentanz” as much as “Counting Stars”. They all fit on a diagram of hits – alongside songs like “Look Right Through”, “What I Might Do”, “One Day/Reckoning Song” and “Somebody That I Used To Know” – that all on some level trade on a kind of “earthiness”. Sparse solemnity from sad men strumming/on a saxophone, the main variable being level of danceability. On that front this falls closer to “Changes” than “Brutal Hearts”, but that still doesn’t make it quite as interesting as wildly theorising about it. Tenner bet Mumford & Sons record a haunting Colonel Abrams cover before Christmas.

Will Adams: Pleasant worldbeat featuring two emotive but nondescript, plaintive men, that unfortunately suffers from a bridge that invokes that old, “…then I don’t wanna be right” cliché. Never have I been so confident that a song is destined to be a one-hit wonder.

Katherine St Asaph: “Am I tripping for having a vision?” “Am I wrong for thinking out the box from where I stay?” Yes. You’re wrong. You’re wrong, for thinking this Bruno Mars / fun. / Stargate puree, these A&R ChickieNobs, this supposedly inspirational text that when it starts being about a girl (“that we could be something for real”) veers disconcertingly close to the Elliot Rodgers manifesto, is thinking outside any box. For one, can we get a chart-underdog-makes-good that actually makes good?

Andy Hutchins: “Am I Wrong” is one of my favorite songs of 2014, but it wasn’t until seeing the gorgeous, warm-toned, sub-Saharan-set video — something I will guess lots of kids who Shazam it (like I did) do for their second listen — that I got it: It’s no less than a perfect summer song. On first listen, it felt like be a pretty simple song about the girl just beyond the singer(s)’s reach; it’s really a semi-biographical song about two African-Norwegians reaching to the great wide something for stardom, and being absolutely sure that their arms are long enough to do so. It’s also suffused with a different kind of warmth than I feel from even the hotter signals from DJ Mustard’s increasingly massive orbit: The drums, claps, and the “Oh ya ya ya ye” in the second hook are familiarly African, and flesh out what would otherwise be pretty generic guitar-and-horns production, while the vocals sound like, as this guy noted, Sting crossed with Akon — something I couldn’t find on another song in rotation with a week to search. Warm, hopeful songs about going somewhere and doing something are my summer songs, and this will be one of many for me in the hot months of 2014. It may be late-coming over here in the States, given that it simmered in the summer of 2013 for the rest of the world, but it still arrived on time.

David Lee: Reminiscent of 2007 in its Akon vox and its Ryan Tedder songwriting. Luckily, the production is many more generations removed from “Take Me Home Tonight;” anything closer to the original would have sentenced this to total, deadening self-seriousness.

Reader average: [6.77] (9 votes)

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17 Responses to “Nico & Vinz – Am I Wrong”

  1. ” disconcertingly close to the Elliot Rodgers manifesto”

    this association strikes me as wildly inappropriate

  2. Happy to have canceled out Katherine here.

  3. it’s not really inappropriate, when you have a dude singing “Am I wrong that we could BE SOMETHING? If I’m wrong, I DON’T WANNA BE RIGHT!”

  4. No, it is, unless you think 90% of all love songs ‘veer disconcertingly close to the Eliot Rodgers manifesto’. It’s dumb but it’s also kinda offensive.

  5. first:

    A) I assume from your name that you’re a guy, which means you are not really qualified to tell me, a woman, what is and is not appropriate as a takeaway from that, and

    B) There is absolutely a trend of love songs expressing sentiments that would be disconcerting at best if expressed in real life, from one real person to another. They don’t even have to be love songs — look at how many people earnestly believe “Every Breath You Take” or “Possession” are sweet, when they are literally about stalkers, “literally” as in “Sarah McLachlan took letters her actual stalker sent to her and turned them into a song.” This is so omnidirectional and platitudinal that it isn’t just a love song, but the chorus, I think, is pretty explicitly designed to be taken out of context in a way that implies it is directed at a potential romantic partner:

    “Am I wrong in thinking we could be something for real?”
    “Yeah, you’re wrong.”
    “Well, then, I don’t want to be right.”

  6. It’s not a love song at all. If the only way it could be interpreted as one is ignoring the verses, i’m not sure that’s a particularly strong criticism.

    Even if it was a love song, the idea of asking a current, not potential, partner whether a romance could be something “real” (ie. of lasting significance rather than passing infatuation) is one of the oldest tropes in pop.

  7. Thinking about it a bit more — There’s more than a whiff of “won’t take no for an answer” to that particular part of the lyrics, I guess is what I’m saying. Which is fine when it’s “optimism! It’s great!” but when you get away from fluffy platitude line starts to become less so. Which is how a lot of platitudes work, really, when you really think about them. And I don’t even think I’m that oversensitive about these things (“Blurred Lines” is mostly OK by me), but this really seemed offputting.

  8. The next line is “am I wrong / for trying to reach the things that I can’t see?” – even within the context of the isolated chorus it seems fairly clear that it’s about self-elevation. There’s a danger that ‘problematising’ narratives about overcoming challenges / doubters disproportionately hits music made by black artists.

  9. If the only way it could be interpreted as one is ignoring the verses, i’m not sure that’s a particularly strong criticism.

    No, what I said is it’s the kind of omnidirectional platitude structure – like a song composed entirely of bumper stickers – where every part, including the chorus, is designed to be taken out of context, tweeted, considered on its own. (Contrast “Blurred Lines,” where the verses are pretty much the story.) And the minute “we” comes into the picture that bumper sticker becomes pretty much exactly what I just said. This is pretty close to how people in the real world are interpreting it. The only other way people have interpreted that line is something about Jesus.

    As for the rest, I invite you to go back over my reviews across the rest of the site, which you clearly haven’t, and see whether this is the case. I’ll start you off.

  10. The “we” is surely Nico and Vinz? Andy Hutchins’ interpretation – that it’s about two Afro-Norwegian guys reaching for the stars and trying to make a go of achieving success against the odds seems the most natural fit.

    Any song that strives to be motivational without being specific about the nature of the resistance to be overcome could potentially have lines that are misinterpreted when taken on their own. Something else that could easily be misinterpreted when taken out of context is a white critic reading a song about black self-motivation and elevation as evidence of violent misogyny / sexual threat.

  11. “Something else that could easily be misinterpreted when taken out of context is a white critic reading a song about black self-motivation and elevation as evidence of violent misogyny / sexual threat.”

    Admitted Katherine fan, but: haven’t you boxed yourself into a corner here? Either it’s fair to disregard context or it isn’t.

    (Full disclosure: I would have given this song a 3; I assumed, hearing it on the radio, that it was a generic love song; Andy’s blurb is making me rethink both assumptions.)

  12. I’m not sure I can really have an opinion on this, being a guy, but it really sounds like by “we can be something for real” Nico & Vinz are saying “Maybe we can pursue our dreams of being musicians”, so the “I don’t want to be right” means a generic “I don’t care what you say” sentiment. If Nico & Vinz say that it’s actually about a girl, then I’m gonna hate this song a lot and I’ll be on Katherine’s side, but I’m pretty sure it’s meant to just be one of those inspirational songs about following your dreams.
    tl;dr: I agree with Andy, but if N&V say that the song’s about a girl I’ll be on Katherine’s side wholeheartedly.

  13. If the “we” were Nico & Vinz then the whole song would be “we,” or even just the whole chorus when it’s implied maybe both are singing now. It’s not. This could just be lazy songwriting — are we seriously defending lyrics like “Am I wrong for thinking out the box from where I stay?”

    As for the others, I see what you’re saying, and I take agree that’d be a bad look, but I’ve had the exact same objection to OneRepublic, One Direction, countless bro-country singles, and if we want to get into songs by women, Katy Perry, “Brave” if we did Brave, on down. I don’t like most inspirational songs, regardless of who sings them, and if Nico & Vinz decided they’d rather be Stargate than crossover artists and handed this off to Ryan Tedder, I still wouldn’t like it.

  14. And I realize I could be wrong about this, and if so I apologize. I still don’t like the song.

  15. It looks like Nico and Vinz sing different verses according to rap genius. so maybe it could be “we.”
    But you’re right in that it’s probably just lazy songwriting. I like the music, personally (especially the vocal and horns doubling), but I see why people wouldn’t like the lyrics, especially if it’s interpreted to be about a girl.

  16. I mean, I’ve seen inspirational platitudes layered over dictators for ironic effect. (e.g., “you can do anything if you just believe,” and, lol, that includes genocides.) The fact that an inspirational (or built-to-inspire) message can be applied to different things and given different meanings doesn’t remove the significance that it may have in more positive contexts.

    For instance, one person may find King Krule’s “Easy Easy” as a sneer, but for me, it’s filled with hope. I don’t think this makes either of us “wrong” in our readings–

    Rather, I think there is something to the art of inspirational platitudes in themselves: powerful words, but as vague as possible, so they CAN be applied in many different contexts, and thus “inspire” all sorts of things.

    And I agree with Zhenya — it’s important to consider the source, especially when we’re thrown these powerful / vague statements.

    Make your transition!

  17. The only reason nobody thinks is The Outfield (band from the 80s) is because this generation has never heard of them before, or heard their music for that matter. The first time I heard the song on the radio ( the other day) I though it was an Outfield come back, or one of their kids making it big!