Friday, July 16th, 2021

Tate McRae x Khalid – Working

But how is it when we’re blurbing?


Andrew Karpan: A mournful non-banger around which hangs the stink of its impotence. The general project of Joel Little’s records — shimmering and slight, and ultimately comfortable in their sadness — collapses here into the awkwardness of discomfort, though for these exact reasons I could imagine this suitably soundtracking a particularly unhappy party on HBO’s Euphoria. But it’s a poor fit for McRae, whose voice oscillates throughout in her understandably desperate efforts to take the song seriously. I tried too. By the time Khalid shows up, we understand that this is meant as a kind of warning.

Ian Mathers: It probably says something that I felt the need to go look up the lyrics and double check this, but as far as I can tell this is a breakup duet where neither party feels the need to run down anyone involved. Nobody’s doing anything wrong, there isn’t even necessarily a lack of affection (“still got a thing for you”), it’s not even circumstantial (“the time is right, we just don’t work”), the closest thing to a reason is the general malaise of adult life (“I haven’t been serious since high school”, not having good conversations anymore, the repeated reminders that when they’re at work they miss the other, it’s being together in person that isn’t sitting right). Hell, the most vehement stance here seems to be that leading on someone else is the wrong thing to do. There’s no recrimination or defensiveness, because sometimes this is just the way it goes. But it’s one thing to be relatable, or even laudable. Those qualities would be notable even in a song with half the sneaky charm of “Working”. It’s the kind of sad banger where both the sad and banger parts are relatively subtle; it actually helps that both vocalists give performances of such surface diffidence that it can blur “when I’m working” and “we ain’t working” together. It’s not working, but they work well together, and the result can hit surprisingly hard, even if you haven’t been in this kind of spot for years.

Katherine St Asaph: The music is nothing, and the wordplay isn’t nearly as clever as they think it is. You can almost reconstruct the writing process: Sarah Aarons and/or Joel Little jotting down “when I’m working / but I’m not working,” high-fiving over the double meaning until realizing it doesn’t actually make sense, realizing the “we” version is even worse, then going with the clunky compromise. But the lyrics do get one thing right: McRae and Khalid’s voices do not, in fact, work together.

Alfred Soto: This is a song? Oh, sure, a “song,” theoretical perhaps. To claim Khalid and Tate McRae don’t mesh is to propose each had heard the other in any context.

Austin Nguyen: A break-up song built around a pun with the same dad-joke wit and 9-to-5 mentality of “working hard or hardly working?”. This, apparently, is Tate McRae and Khalid’s idea of a “summer jam”, as stated in the video description, but “working” is more ennui than anything else — the bored clap-and-snap hand games played while waiting in line for an overpriced amusement park ride, staccato blacktop-synth simmer seen with vacant eyes, camp cheer-alongs for the bus ride back home. As with McRae’s perception of love, an idea best left to the imagination.

Nortey Dowuona: The rally synths and rakish guitars tautly hung from the snaps and bounced by the bass kicks allow Tate to stroll across, a leg or knee turning to fog as she struggles across. Khalid floats over it comfortably, uninterested in walking that rope, instead circling and binding it, allowing Tate to limp across further, the chattering echoes no longer lurking but lopsidedly following as he gently supports her to the end. Gently, they begin to float without their legs to a Wendy’s.

Dede Akolo: The dreamy cinematography of this video and the presence of two young boys only enhances the banal quality of the song. It works. The synth sounds like a character-hopping-in-a-video-game type beat. Ultimately, this is the Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, SZA-fication of every upcoming pop singer nowadays. Tate McRae’s vocal tone and articulation sound like everyone else out there and while I’ll bop to this song in the line at Forever 21 in 2016 and possibly “Shazam” it, I won’t ever look back at it again. 

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