Every Friday, pop critics for The New York Times weigh in on the week’s most notable new songs and videos — and anything else that strikes them as intriguing. You can listen to this playlist on Spotify here. Like this Playlist? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and sign up for our Louder newsletter here.
Katy Perry, ‘Chained to the Rhythm’
The trick about the new Katy Perry single, the first from her forthcoming album and the song she’ll be performing on the Grammys on Sunday night, is that it begins with louche energy, casually strutting, with a touch of saliva on the tongue. It’s “Miami Vice”-wave, and then she begins singing, and it’s not that at all. But it’s too late — Ms. Perry has laid the bait, then switched to a song about personal responsibility in a time of increasing social fragmentation. No, seriously! “Chained to the Rhythm” is about the politics of escape: “Trapped in our white picket fence, like ornaments/So comfortable, we’re living in a bubble, bubble/So comfortable, we cannot see the trouble, trouble.” Behind her, the synths remain sensuous enough to conflate sociopolitical conscience with ecstatic release, despite a handful of awkward lyrical twists. Produced by Max Martin and Ali Payami, and written by them with Ms. Perry and Sia — and also featuring a rote, uninspiring verse about upliftment by Skip Marley (son of Cedella, grandson of Bob) — this is an eerily effective song, so effective that it masks its glitches well. (The lines about abandon, Ms. Perry sings crisply; while on the lines about how we use abandon to overlook the troubles of the world, she triples down on the vowel sounds, emphasizing feeling over content.) In the past, Ms. Perry has emphasized personal empowerment, but times are changing — now the world’s problems are hers, too:
Are we tone deaf?
Keep sweeping it under the mat
Thought we could do better than that
I hope we can
A stew of several different — and conflicting — strategies for supersize hip-hop songs, “Outlet” is either the sound of a genre in free fall or in free flight. Perhaps this is Desiigner’s plan — each of his essential songs to date has had its own strategy of disruption, and that’s more or less worked. So why not make a song that’s all disruption, all the time: faux horns, splashing water, pseudo-explosions, Auto-Tune howls, scraped-up yells, self-interrupting raps, raps that wait for the music to stop. Perhaps this is really just his whole debut album, with songs layered atop each other to create one cacophonous thrill. J.C.
Bonzie, ‘As the Surface Rose’
Bonzie, a 21-year-old songwriter from Chicago born Nina Ferraro, made her first album as a teenager; her second is due in May. This song is an ambitious interlude, a statement of commitment. “As the surface rose,” she sings, “You would stay underwater.” More a meditation than a song, “As the Surface Rose” revolves through four chords in a video that’s part conundrum, part rescue. A guy in a skinny tie pursues her, rowing into a storm. He has a film camera, she wears a glittery dress. There are no bubbles as she breathes underwater, but she tells her story. “You won’t let go,” she sings. JON PARELES
“P.O.W.A.” is a new postscript to M.I.A.’s 2016 album, “AIM,” and it consolidates her trademarks. It has a kinetic East-West hybrid beat, this time built almost entirely of drum sounds and (male) vocal interjections. It has a singsong vocal that splits the differences between rap, chant and playground taunt. And it has lyrics that equate her own pride — “I’ve been around in this world causing drama/the real spice girl, hot girl power” — with standing up for “people power.” But the video clip, which she directed, could be the real public service. When it’s not showing her riding in elaborate South Asian costume on a bed of flowers in a flatbed truck, or standing in magnificent mountain landscapes with a giant billowing scarf, it has a long line of male dancers choreographed with moves that travel quickly down that line. Show it at enough arenas, and it could make “the Wave” obsolete. J.P.
Marty Stuart, ‘Way Out West’
Marty Stuart, a Nashville stalwart (although he was born in Mississippi), is an expert in all sorts of traditions. “Way Out West,” his album due March 10, is a tribute to the country styles of California, and the obvious traditionalist choice would have been to make its title track celebrate the Bakersfield style of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. Instead, “Way Out West” is rootsy psychedelia in a late-1960s-early-1970s daze, like the Grateful Dead dropping by Laurel Canyon. Its lyrics are a shaggy-dog story involving a circus, a jailbreak and popping multicolored pills. Mr. Stuart and his band, the Fabulous Superlatives, jam their way through it with light-fingered aplomb. J.P.
Mike WiLL Made-It, Lil Yachty and Carly Rae Jepsen, ‘It Takes Two’
Well, this exists. Made for a Target ad campaign, this remake of the 1988 Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock classic is inessential fun. Lil Yachty’s raps about positivity and good cheer serve as a fitting bridge between the original song’s era and the present day. Ms. Jepsen sings the hook, raps a little bit near the middle, and doesn’t burden the song with overcompensatory vocal force. No one asked for this, but no one will send it back either. J.C.
Thievery Corporation, ‘Letter to the Editor’
Thievery Corporation — the duo of politically-minded dance-music songwriters and producers from Washington, D.C., who have always sought out international input — made its new album, “The Temple of I and I,” on familiar turf for music of resistance: Jamaica. “Letter to the Editor” is a reggae track with bits of electronics bouncing around in stereo. It features the toasting and singing of Racquel Jones, who lets it be known that she’s a “Jamaican bad gyal, queen and revolutionary/Never quick to start a war but shoot whenever necessary.” J.P.
The Black Angels, ‘Currency’
During a four-year gap between albums, the Black Angels have dug in on their music’s darkest side. They still deliver insistent, neo-psychedelic drones, reaching back to the most ritualistic 1960s songs of the Velvet Underground, the Doors and their hometown forebears from Austin, the 13th Floor Elevators, along with a touch of 1970s krautrock. “Currency” comes from an album due in April called “Death Song.” The lyrics indict the corrosive effects of money — “There’s no God in who you trust” — and warn that “One day, it’ll all be over,” as the music stays both measured and bristling. The dense mix holds repetitive, inexorably building drumbeats; the sustained tones of an Indian tamboura; rippling keyboards and guitars that erupt from low, buzzing riffs to screaming leads. It’s an old-fashioned apocalypse, down to the video’s low-res strobing moiré patterns. J.P.
Khalid, ‘Shot Down’
An unhurried young R&B singer from El Paso, Khalid has a voice that’s slightly fissured, cut through with a touch of Sampha’s devotional air and a bit of Michael Kiwanuka’s pensiveness. His breakthrough single, “Location,” was a sensual wonder, moving at an almost tauntingly deliberate pace. “Shot Down” isn’t a come-on — it’s a come-down. Khalid sings with fragile care about loving someone who won’t love back while behind him, hymnal vocals interweave with insistent, crackling percussion. It soothes — until it suffocates. J.C.