Wrapping Up This Week's New Music About Julia Michaels's New Single "Lie Like This" and Shawn Mendes's Single "Wonderland
I did a lot of debating over whether I wanted to talk about either one of these projects. I've generally stopped writing about songs together because long-term, it works better to have each analysis in a separate article, but both of these projects had too much in common to do anything else. The fist commonality is that I wasn't going to write about either, but I couldn't stop thinking about them, so I needed a place to get my thoughts out. The next is that my feelings on them are either confused or not very positive, and I try not to be negative on here. Finally, both "Lie Like This" from Julia Michaels and "Wonder" by Shawn Mendes are the lead singles off of their new projects, so I felt the need to document my first thoughts. I guess my last words before we get started are: Don't hate me?
Also, scroll all the way to the bottom for the video that rounds out today's post. On Friday, I shared my first listen to mxmtoon's EP Dusk that came out on Wednesday.
"Lie Like This" by Julia Michaels
Okay. I feel extremely guilty about what I'm going to say because Julia has been one of my all time favorite artists for a while now. I see her as one of the best songwriters ever. And I love her EPs Nervous System and Inner Monologue (Parts 1 and 2). I even met her once, and I still think about what she told me that day every week. That concert experience inspired me to start the blog in the first place. If you want to read my first ever post about that night, you can read it here. But I also have a history of being honest about the music my favorites make. I put out nervous articles after the release of "Look What You Made Me Do" (which I later came around to in a major way) and "Me!" (which I still maintain should've have happened), so this by no means is a statement that I like, care about, follow Julia any less.
That being said. I'm not a fan of the new song. I had a bad feeling, for some reason, when I saw the album art. It just didn't feel like Julia to me (disclaimer that I am not Julia so my thoughts on that really don't matter). Something just felt off. When the song dropped, I was really shocked. The beat is flat and manufactured. Maybe a touch disco? The opening sounds remind me of something Dua Lipa would choose to work on. The problem is that once you get into the song, the beat has no dimension- it's basically two alternating sounds. It is incredibly boring and totally mechanical. I have no problem with using electronic instruments. My problem is when people don't take the time to give them more dimension. Also, I feel like the backing track, for how monotonous it is, really drowns out Julia's voice. Her voice sounds nice on the track, and I wish this was highlighted more. Technically, those are all complaints for the producer. As far as my memory goes, I don't think she's worked with The Monsters & Strangerz before. Now I'm curious to dive into what else they've produced.
Lyrically, there's also not much to latch onto. Like I said, Julia is one of the greatest songwriters of all time so I don't get what happened? There's just not much content and the words aren't particularly pretty either. There's nothing for me to hold onto in this track. The beat feels as muddled as the lyrics.
Basically, she's talking about being afraid to get into a new relationship after being broken up with. She's elated with this new person but also gets bouts of fear. The problem is that the story gets blurred in so many lines that say nothing. It opens with "He says I'm pretty upside down/Pretty right side up too/Turn me halfway round". I guess those lines are supposed to be sexy? But all of these lines basically use the same four empty words. Then in the prechorus she sings, "He says I'm daydreamn'/About leavin' for no reason/Well, I got hay fever/From my feelings, yet I don't". Again, none of these ideas are new or deep. The first two lines are okay. They make sense to set up a story even though they don't have much substance. The hay fever line feels a bit cliche, and then making a watery statement and then being like maybe I don't makes the listener feel nothing because they weren't emotionally invested in the first place. The chorus doesn't have much in the way of deep lyrics either. "Head on your shoulder, you keep pulling me close/I'm spillin' over, tryin' not to unfold... We're right on course to never stop or go slow". There are a lot of words here, and yet I can't figure out why it had to be those words.
I guess I just don't get what happened. If this was a Selena Gomez song, I would nod and go okay. Would it be a song I chose to listen to? No, but it would make sense with the other music she tends to release especially from Rare. Even though Julia writes for Selena, the way she used to write for herself is very different. I love Julia's music because her lyrics are deep, funny, relatable. They open my eyes to new ways to look at boring pieces of the world and confirm feelings on topics no one else talks about. I love her music because it's full of organic instruments. Mostly, I latched on to the drums in her tracks. They were so dynamic and moving that I wanted to learn to drum because of them. Whether she's talking about anxiety, depression, love, romance, loss, or anything in between, Julia has always kept consistent on those fronts. This isn't a shift, this is a break. It's not that I can't follow artists through evolutions or appreciate that they'll want to evolve. I've followed Taylor Swift from country to pop to alternative because she's always the same person, the same artist at her core. Her songwriting has the same quirks and feelings. And I've called Taylor out on songs like "Me!" where I couldn't find traces of that Taylor. I'm hoping this is just how the single is because Julia is hoping for more wider radio play or something and the album tracks are more true to form, but I'm honestly nervous. I feel like "Issues" excelled because it felt different. It was brutally honest and a more organic sound for radio. This feels like she's trying to wedge herself into a lane because Miley and Dua and thriving in this disco/retro space. I didn't think I would ever question Julia on this front. I don't want to be disappointed, and I'm hoping this is just another case of me never liking the singles as much as everything else. I'm trying to keep an open mind about the new album.
I also feel like I was extra disappointed because this song treads the same ground that one of last week's releases "Maybe Don't" by Maisie Peters and JP Saxe does, but their song is so much more unique, economic with words, and just cute. They're going for two very different vibes, but at the core, it's the same message. If you're curious about "Maybe Don't", I wrote about it here.
Shawn Mendes "Wonder"
I don't follow Shawn Mendes super closely. I had a real three month phase a few years ago where I only listened to Shawn Mendes after seeing some concert vlogs about him that has since fizzled, but since this video premiere was so hyped, I figured I'd check it out. I've seen the video a few times now because I'm just confused by it. There's contemporary dancing, Polar Express vibes, a T back tank top, and woods that seem straight out of "Cardigan". Also, his intro with the woman talking about going to Wonderland during the premier gave me major Eroda vibes, but it seems like he's doing a concept album in the vein of "Badlands" or "Hopeless Fountain Kingdom" more than making an elaborate marketing scheme. I'm not totally sold yet, but he's definitely gotten me to think about him far more than I did before.
The song is interesting. It almost has a musical theater sense in the breakdown of the chorus, the choir, the extended, grand notes. There's a sweeping nature that's not seen in pop all that much. The music video doubles down on the theatrical feeling. His voice sounds different here too. To me, it feels edited and smoothed out. The orchestra gives it a new vibe that definitely sets it apart from his past work and from where pop music seems to be at at the moment. It's not a throwback sound, but it also doesn't hit a modern chord. My only problem with the track, really, is that it buries Mendes's voice. I have a hard time catching the lyrics from within all that production, and he has some interesting, topical things to say.
In the verses, he questions so much of his life and how he's choosing to live it. I appreciate the self-reflection. It feels like authentic confusions, and from the small amount of his life I've seen on social media, I think it's a necessary topic for him to explore. "I wonder, if I'm being real/Do I speak my truth or do I filter how I feel?" These lyrics have a cool double meaning in them. Is he questioning whether he should speak out or is he questioning his subconscious impulse not to? "I wonder, wouldn't it be nice/To live inside a world that isn't black and white?/I wonder what it's like to be my friend/Hope that they don't think I forgot about them". This last part feels pretty par for the course as far as famous people and friendship, but again, I like that it shows that he's starting to seriously put some thought into the world outside himself. In the second verse, he starts questioning the mark society has left on him. "I wonder, when I cry into my hands/I'm conditioned to feel like it makes me less of a man". These lyrics feel like some of the most important to include. They feel very genuine to what I've seen Shawn go through, and I'm glad that he's looking into his own programing and starting to challenge it. Given what he used to think was okay as a kid/teen, he's come a long way, and I think these lyrics show he's digging deeper.
It's interesting that the chorus isn't about some sweeping personal journey. It's about wanting to be loved by someone in particular. "Right before I close my eyes/The only thing that's on my mind/Been dreaming that you feel it too/I wonder what it's like to be loved by you". Honestly, I can't complain about this chorus. I like how it fits in the melody and raises the tension, and I almost feel like burying those real thoughts in a love song might be necessary to get them out. Sneak them into the verses and it feels less real. And he does seem to hint that it's wanting this relationship and experiencing this love that's giving him the confidence to question and make changes. In the second verse he mention, "And I wonder if some day you'll be by my side/And tell me that the world will end up alright".
This song achieves an of the moment feeling without it being too on the nose. It definitely has a new sound for Mendes and for pop. I still think it belongs on a stage being performed as musical theater. I'm not sold on the music video because I feel like a select few artists can contemporary dance well, and they should be the only ones to do it. I'm intrigued by the idea of this being a concept album. He released a short intro along with "Wonder", and they are two of the fourteen tracks. Concept albums are always fun when they're done well, and if it really is a concept, then we know this is the sound of Mendes's third album. For not being much of a fan, I'm a bit invested in this era. The album drops in 2 months on December 4th.
I also find it pretty fascinating, as a side note, that Thomas Hull (otherwise known as Kid Harpoon) is a writer on this song. He's been a defining force behind Harry Styles's career, and I wasn't expecting him to pop up here. Connecting those two projects, you can tell Hull has an affinity for live instruments and brass. Also, I had to laugh to myself because Shawn Mendes has emulated a lot from Harry, so this just felt like another step closer. I like Hull's work, so I'm excited to see how it's expressed here.
Let me know in the comments what you thought about this week's releases! Are you excited for these forthcoming albums based on the singles? Did you have a favorite release? Comment or Tweet me @mslaurenbrice. Don't forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel for more music fun including reactions and music news.
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