Justin Bieber featuring Chance the Rapper, ‘Holy’The earnest, restrained “Holy” doesn’t exactly announce the arrival of Justin Bieber as a Christian pop star — he’s more doing devotional R&B, blending themes of loyalty and faith with those of romantic commitment. (For example, “I don’t believe in nirvana, but the way that we love in the night gave me life, baby.”) These are lines that are already fuzzy in gospel and contemporary Christian music (CCM), but Bieber’s turn in this direction — amplified by a squeaky, nimble, praise-adjacent verse from Chance the Rapper — signifies both Bieber’s ongoing journey away from his tumultuous teen years and also the increasing visibility of spirituality in secular spaces. Did you have Justin Bieber-goes-Amy Grant on your 2020 bingo card?
Sam Smith, ‘Diamonds’
Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” morphing from ballad to club propulsion, has been a durable template for songs by resentful exes. The latest is Sam Smith’s “Diamonds,” a denunciation of a mercenary partner that starts as a lament but gradually takes on a 4/4 disco thump and busily scrubbing rhythm guitar. “You’re never gonna hear my heart break,” they (Smith’s pronoun) declare, adding, “Take all the money you want from me.” But there’s anguish in their voice, even as the beat pushes Smith toward freedom.
Blood Orange and Park Hye Jin, ‘Call Me (Freestyle)’
The pandemic has fostered the kind of web-surfing that leads to unexpected, long-distance collaborations. For “Call Me (Freestyle),” Devonte Hynes, a.k.a. Blood Orange, places his melody and lyrics atop the hazy, looping piano refrain and drum-machine beats of “Call Me,” a 2018 track by the South Korean singer, songwriter and producer Park Hye Jin. Her vocal in Korean, from the original track, chants, “Don’t answer my phone. It’s just a depressing story anyway.” Above her serenely melancholy piano, Hynes — sometimes harmonizing with himself — sings in quick triplets about bicycling late at night and poses questions: “How do you feel?” “When was the last time that you cried?” Mood: suspended, isolated, wondering.