Pop critics for The New York Times weigh in on notable new songs and videos.
• Missy Elliott, "Throw It Back." Missy Elliott won the Video Vanguard Award at this year's MTV Music Video Awards. Her first studio collection in 14 years is an underwhelming EP called Iconology: only four new songs plus the a cappella vocals for one of them, the doo-wop-style "Why I Still Love You." Yes, she was an icon — a remarkable, incontestable groundbreaker — in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She wrote hits (particularly for Aaliyah), rapped, produced, sang, danced and claimed a place for hardheaded talent.
But on Iconology, her assurance is flecked with anxiety. The video for "Throw It Back" begins with a museum scene featuring a young girl who never heard of Elliott. And a big part of Elliott's rap on "Throw It Back" is her resume: "I did records for Tweet before you could even tweet," she reminds us. Her delivery — surrounded, in the video, by dancers in bright matching-colored outfits — is pure deadpan confidence: "What you're doing now, I did for a while," she notes, adding, "Don't look for another Missy 'cause there'll be no other one." But the production, by Elliott with her longtime collaborator Timbaland and Will Hendrix, is also a throwback: just a three-note synthesizer bass line and vintage drum-machine sounds. Elliott deserves to be acknowledged, but hip-hop moves a long way over a decade-plus. Iconology doesn't prove that the icon is still innovating.
— JON PARELES
• Rosalia and Ozuna, "Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi." Almost no young musician working in pop music has more promise than Rosalia, the Spanish flamenco-trained singer with thrilling ideas about avant-garde pop. And while she explores those ideas in her own work, she is also collaborating widely with performers from a range of Spanish-language styles — this year, there was "Con Altura" with the reggaeton superstar J Balvin, and now she's released "Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi" with the post-genre singer Ozuna. The latest one is breezy and sweet, edgeless, barely testing either of them, vocally or emotionally. Songs of this sort threaten to render her supernatural talents merely ordinary, especially if accolades for operating at half-speed discourage her from going all in. Fingers crossed that doesn't happen.
— JON CARAMANICA
• Jazzmeia Horn, "Green Eyes." Maybe it was inevitable that "Green Eyes" — the sassy, smitten closer of Erykah Badu's album Mama's Gun, featuring a trumpet arrangement by Roy Hargrove — would enter jazz's 21st-century songbook. And who better to enshrine it there than 28-year-old vocalist Jazzmeia Horn, whose new album, Love and Liberation, cements her as the next big carrier of straight-ahead jazz's vocal tradition? Horn stakes her claim to the song through what she leaves out (its cute opening verse, talking about vegetables and lovesickness; any trumpet playing at all) as much as through what she puts in (braided vocal harmonies and a coda of scatted improvisations).
— GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO
• Finneas, "Shelter." Billie Eilish's older brother, producer and songwriting collaborator, Finneas O'Connell, delivers a perky, unambivalent love song with "Shelter." Sure, it's in a minor key, but its guitars escalate from foot-tapping syncopation to full flamenco-pop drive. And while he sings about storms and destruction, it's only because he is sure that "I'll be warm as long as I'm yours." He could definitely use some of his sister's darker instincts.
— JON PARELES
• Normani, "Motivation." The track blends the cadences and bump of '90s R&B with the aesthetics of 2019's most rap-savvy pop singers — it's no surprise Ariana Grande is a writing collaborator here; the video is a delightful showcase of the onetime Fifth Harmony member's arsenal of dance moves. (Jump to the 1:56 mark for an impressive piece of basketball-related choreography.)
— CARYN GANZ
Weekend on 08/29/2019
Print Headline: Singular sensation? New Missy Elliott song lacks innovation