ARE YOU FAMILIAR WITH ALL MUSIC GUIDE’S STATEMENT THAT YOU HAVE A, QUOTE, PERPETUAL MARVIN FIXATION, END QUOTE?
Patrick St. Michel: The idea of mixing up puritanical 1950s imagery with sex is nothing new but has never been done as clunky as this. “Let’s Marvin Gaye and get it on” flops about as foreplay before “Kama Sutra show-and-tell” zaps the barely there libido into nothingness.
Thomas Inskeep: Not only is this cut from faux doo-wop cloth identical to that of all Meghan Trainor’s hits (if she doesn’t show some versatility within six months, her career’s gonna be over), but then it throws in the most ill-advised faux-dubstep breakdown for its bridge. Puth shows even less personality than on “See You Again” — his high school yearbook must’ve said “wants to be Adam Levine.” The lyrics are repulsive: stringing references to Marvin Gaye song titles and lyrics is lazy enough, but the chorus of “let’s Marvin Gaye and get it on,” reducing Gaye to a synonym for fucking, is actually offensive. No redeeming qualities.
Scott Mildenhall: Verbing weirds language, and so it should, but don’t expect your conversion to cut the mustard when it in no way symbolises the action you are intending it to. Furthermore don’t compound that by introducing it as part of a quote, verbatim or otherwise, that is also wholly inaccurate. It just sounds stupid. In fact, nothing about this is “just like they say it in the song”. To its credit, it’s saccharine, and the restraint of the lightheaded Fauxtown production almost makes up for the uncomfortable semiotic mangling of “it’s Kama Sutra, show and tell”.
Iain Mew: It’s retro-formulaic to the point of taking the same bassline as “Dear Future Husband”, but it’s nothing like as polished and its jumpy uncertainty gives its own odd appeal. Sam Smith’s turn on “La La La” is the previous high water mark for the kind of wounded emoting Charlie Puth employs, and this doesn’t reach that level, but there’s a similar childlike vulnerability. Charlie sounds like he’s terrified and stalling for time, his “Kama Sutra show and tell” not even fooling himself, screaming mercy before he grimly follows his role as assigned by decades of pop culture. When it gets to Meghan Trainor’s verse and its skittering mechanics fall into place, the sense of anxiety becomes even more obvious and compelling. Let’s Marvin Gaye and get it over with.
Katherine St Asaph: I keep defending Meghan Trainor as no more regressive than half the country, and now she and Buddy-boy have turned “guys want sex, girls want love” into a song. And I keep fighting against the idea of pop music as music meant for kids, but what is this but the questionably necessary high school boyfriend pressuring you into sex anthem of the year? Charlie Puth, whose name and voice don’t recall Marvin so much as a Norn learning to talk, does his best jock who’s fumbling enough to sound ridiculous to adults (never mind the Kama Sutra, he probably got “till the dawn” from a song) but crafty enough to bait girls with bullshit like the “subtle” “loving” in her eyes — so subtle she probably didn’t even know it was there, right? Trainor’s verse is so plaintive, so minor-key lonesome and self-abnegating, that I can’t imagine any right-minded person rooting for these two to #marvingaye. I guess it’s good that the songwriters know more than two Marvin Gaye songs, though it’s also plausible that they threw “Got to Give It Up” in at the last second just to cover their ass. Points awarded solely for staying the hell away from “What’s Going On.”
Cédric Le Merrer: Listen guys, I know I should feel insulted that when legal warned you against the Gaye estate you decided to make this sound like Ben E. King, expecting that listeners wouldn’t know any better. But do you know some of those old songs are still owned by the mob? As awful as it sounds, you’re gonna wish you were Robin Thicke.
Alfred Soto: The past is there to be used and even exploited, so I don’t view this track as a desecration. But the way it swallows whole the ancient myths disturbs me. From the coyness with which she sheathes conventional ideas about love and sex in Motown sounds, Meghan Trainor is the most reactionary pop figure of our time. Never mind what fools say about bro country: know the real enemy. And, listen, you two, this song evokes “Cry to Me,” as in Solomon Burke, not Marvin Gaye.
Nina Lea Oishi: I’m sure someone else is writing about what a weird Back to the Future-esque time-period amalgam this song is, using a style that peaked in the early ’60s to reference songs from over a decade later (“Got to Give it Up” released in 1973, “Sexual Healing” in 1982). There’s also something to be said about the curious cross-section of sexual attitudes and musical styles that comes along with that amalgam. In the famously repressive ’50s and ’60s, doo-wop was only able to reference sexuality with euphemisms and subtleties layered over the most wholesome of harmonies, whereas the aforementioned Marvin Gaye songs oozed unabashed sensuality and desire. As for the song itself, it’s charming in the way that Trainor’s pseudo-rapping or nasal drawl will never be. There’s a reason doo-wop is such an enduring genre, and finally Trainor et. al. have touched on the genre’s better traits — the sweetness of the harmonies, the pleading, longing nature, the nods to something naughty — while minimizing previous numbers’ most annoying aspects. In other words, they’ve minimized the amount of Meghan Trainor. Puth is fine, and he could pass as perhaps the forgotten fourth member of some ’50s boy group (Dion & The Belmonts, maybe? Discuss). This recent doo-wop resurrection might feel like a bit of an overdone schtick, but it’s better crafted than other endeavors. More than that, it’s actually enjoyable.
Brad Shoup: I don’t want to jeer this because there’s some Legacy that needs to be treated right: time narrows signifiers even further, until you get maybe one thing. Gaye’s first single was released 54 years ago; he’s been dead for 31. That’s quite a span in between, and if the malt-shop pop on display misses the truth, the evocation’s as true for younger listeners, surely, as the languid lust the man’s name implies here. Yeah, the song’s ass, but isn’t it always fascinating to see what nostalgia looks like for other people?
Josh Winters: Listening to old doo-wop recordings in 2015 feels like digging up a lost but cherished artifact. You can still discover songs like “I Only Have Eyes for You” or “Angel Baby” and find yourself enchanted by their ageless magic and mystery. It’s a sound that illustrates the fading beauty of a time long ago, and because of that, it should almost never be recreated in modern-day hi-fi, as most top-40 pop homages fail to translate its subtleties (an exception to the rule is Ariana Grande’s debut album). But here we are, with a dude who comes off as having the sense of humor and sexual experience of that kid in middle school who’d brag about how many chicks they’ve banged and a girl who finds his flaccid double entendres cute and charming. Some couples are truly meant for each other.
Maxwell Cavaseno: There’s a website for people who want to sleep with everything, right? Charlie Puth is a goldmine waiting to happen because he’s great. For nose fetishists. Why else would he stuff every note of this song in his nose? Meghan loves it, and you know deep down you do too. So get yourself dressed up in every inadequate Hallmark version of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s when “real things happened” by wearing, spritzing, driving and buying a polystyrene imitation of everything in history. Bring ‘em down to the sock hop, get yourselves an ice-cream sodee. And then when you arrive at lover’s lane, eyes on that giant, sleek nose you’ve been eyeing shyly since the beginning of this atrocity, let ‘em know what you want.
Anthony Easton: One of the great things about “Blurred Lines” is that the history of Marvin Gaye was hinted at and extended. I’m not in favour of authenticity, but the disadvantage of the kind of direct quoting here is that no one sings like Marvin Gaye, and there is no pop cleverness to make up for the blanched hollowness of Puth and Trainor.
Moses Kim: “When I was making my record,” said Puth in an interview with Billboard, “I just wanted to make this soulful sound. When Marvin Gaye made his music, he evoked this feeling that would reach everybody.” Several thoughts: 1) this is often how the contributions of black musicians to the American canon are defined, an uncritical emphasis put on the soulfulness of the music without ever so much as a glance at the context of racist violence that black musicians had to (and still have to) grapple with. 2) The idea of a universal feeling has the effect of erasing differences within an audience. Many believe in music as a way to unite across lines of identity, but usually it’s privileged viewpoints like Puth’s (who explains “Marvin Gaye” as a way for him to approach girls without actually approaching girls) that are given voice. 3) Another consequence of the myth of music as a universal force is that musicians like Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder get Martin Luther King’d as figures of non-violence and love that all oppressed people must aspire to if they ever want to be treated as human beings. Even today, it’s unsettling to me to witness the revival of retro pop on one hand and the continued violence perpetuated against black Americans on the other: it sometimes feels as if America is all too happy to listen with one ear and stick a finger in the other. To be fair, this isn’t an unpleasant song. The instrumental sparkles like a glass slipper, and Trainor has never sounded as good as she does here. But it’s hard to buy into the polished prom night nostalgia “Marvin Gaye” paints knowing what’s happening just outside its doors.
Madeleine Lee: This is what “All About That Bass” sounds like to people who hate “All About That Bass,” isn’t it — corny, creepy, and suffocatingly smug.