Every Friday, pop critics for The New York Times weigh in on the week’s most notable new songs and videos. Just want the music? Listen to the Playlist on Spotify here (or find our profile: nytimes). Like what you hear? Let us know at [email protected] and sign up for our Louder newsletter, a once-a-week blast of our pop music coverage.
Lizzo featuring SZA, ‘Special’
Lizzo’s soulful, gospel-choir-backed performance of “Special,” the title track from her 2022 album, was a highlight of this year’s Grammys telecast, and now she’s recruited SZA to provide a fresh spin on the song. “You call it sensitive, and I call it superpower,” SZA sings, nimbly skipping across the beat, while Lizzo offers her a message of solidarity: “I thought that I’d let you know, in case nobody told you today, you’re special.” If the original version was a more general anthem of uplift, SZA’s presence gives the song a more intimate call-and-response quality, as if she and Lizzo were two girlfriends exchanging words of support after a long day. LINDSAY ZOLADZ
Beyoncé, ‘Cuff It (Wetter Remix)’
It’s easy, and expected, to think about Beyoncé from the top down. On Sunday, she won four Grammys, giving her a career total of 32 and making her the most decorated performer in the show’s history. Conversations about her music, how she assembles it and how she releases it often take on a world-historical tone. She is the defining superstar of the stan era, publicly available only every once in a while.
The Emotionally Charged Sound of SZA
The artist, whose real name is Solána Imani Rowe, has become a dominant figure in American pop.
- View From the Top: Her moody, enigmatic music made SZA a megastar. Can she learn to live with success?
- ‘Ctrl’: The artist’s first album for a major label, released in 2017, held on to the electronics and the leisurely tempos of her past work. But it placed her fully in command of her songs.
- Interview: After receiving five Grammy nominations for “Ctrl,” the singer sat down to discuss her journey to success and facing her inner critic.
- ‘SOS’: On her second album, SZA presents herself not as a heroine but as a work in progress who knows she’ll make more mistakes.
But she is listening. One of the more gratifying and unexpected turns of the “Renaissance” era has been her acknowledgment of how fans listen to her, responding in something like real time. First, in August, she formally released a mash-up of “Break My Soul” and Madonna’s “Vogue” that had been floating around online.
Now, she’s done it again. A few months ago, the D.J. and producer esentrik made a mash-up of “Cuff It” with “Wetter,” a temperate love rap from 2009 by the Chicago fast talker Twista, produced by the Legendary Traxter. It was a hit on TikTok, and now, it’s become something even more substantive. Beyoncé recorded new vocals for this version, which takes the sauciness of the original and cools it down slightly, leaning into afterglow.
Making this remix official is savvy acknowledgment that fans listen to music in ways artists can’t anticipate, and it behooves artists to be mindful of how they’re being consumed. And it is savvy business too, a way of formalizing the chaos of TikTok and bringing it under the umbrella of the empire. JON CARAMANICA
Jessie Ware, ‘Pearls’
Jessie Ware’s latest disco-inspired track is an effervescent invitation to, as she puts it, “shake it til the pearls fall off.” The single from her April album “That! Feels Good!” is thick with sumptuous atmosphere and Ware’s signature sass. But most impressively, its chorus’s ascending melody is a dazzling showcase of Ware’s stratospheric upper register. Sing along at your own risk. ZOLADZ
Megan Moroney, ‘I’m Not Pretty’
A razor-sharp premise for a song: “Somewhere out there my ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend is scrolling through my Instagram/Tearing me down, passing the phone around.” A young country singer with a voice that mixes sweetness with wryness, Megan Moroney targets this charming, funny, exhausted song at women who tear other women down. CARAMANICA
Luke Combs, ‘Love You Anyway’
In midcareer mode, Luke Combs doesn’t let it rip quite as often as he once did. His bellow is more stable, his emotional presence more dignified. But there’s still something of a purring engine inside songs like “Love You Anyway,” which in the hands of a lesser singer, would be a familiar, cloying ode to a love so strong, it’s worth the pain of potentially losing it. But when Combs sings, “If your kiss turned me to stone, I’d be a statue standing tall in ancient Rome,” he sounds like he’s thoroughly pondered the consequences — the likelihood of heartbreak — and is pressing on with force nonetheless. CARAMANICA
Indigo de Souza, ‘Younger & Dumber’
“Younger & Dumber,” from the Asheville singer-songwriter Indigo De Souza, is a slow-burning tear-jerker, a gradual accumulation of heartbreaking lines that takes flight in a soaring climax. “Sometimes I just don’t want to be alone, and it’s not because I’m lonely,” De Souza sings in a wearied croon. “It’s just that I get so tired of filling the space all around me.” But just then, her voice swells in intensity and fills that space with her own wrenching emotion. ZOLADZ
Yaya Bey, ‘Exodus the North Star’
Brooklyn’s Yaya Bey brings a light touch to “Exodus the North Star,” the title track from an upcoming EP that follows her excellent 2022 album “Remember Your North Star.” “Exodus” is a love-struck reverie that begins as a sparse arrangement — just Bey’s voice and some celestial keys — but soon explodes into a joyful, horn-kissed celebration. “Baby, it’s the way you make me feel like your girl could get up and fly,” Bey sings and, accordingly, the song suddenly takes flight. ZOLADZ
French Montana featuring 2Rare, “Ratataaaaa’
Turns out that French Montana’s meandering smears, typically at home over lightly galloping production, sound equally intriguing over sounds twice as quick. This song (which perhaps is an allusion to an old TikTok meme) is jubilant and spacious, and a little odd. The Philadelphia club rapper 2Rare, who guests here, is more naturally bouncy than his host, but his antic energy is mostly a counterweight to French Montana’s impressionistic almost-raps. CARAMANICA