It must have been two months ago that a kid whose opinions when it comes to music I hold in not very high esteem told me that this new Will.I.Am track was going to blow up. I tend to take enthusiastic endorsements of pop tracks with a grain of salt. While it might seem easy to pick a ‘next big hit’ from the outside (I will, accordingly, claim Flo Rida’s ‘Whistle Song’ as an early prediction), being a voracious consumer of this stuff (not by choice, my car’s CD player has officially passed on) provides enough evidence to know that it’s not. Just when the entire current of music is running one way, some major player will change things up and with enough record label push behind them, turn the whole beast around on the strength of a single chorus or a particular lyrical witticism. All you need is a singer-songwriter to drop a catchy guitar-based tune for months worth of EDM to suddenly sound passe. At the same time, doing the same thing as what’s out there is no sure-fire path to success. Fads get old faster than you can say ‘Bruno Mars’. Viewed through this lens, ‘This Is Love’ looked ridiculous. Breaking out with some Michelle Branch-style keys, turning into robotic Elton John-style crooning, moving through Rihanna-style yelping finally onto Swedish House Mafia-style (R.I.P.) phat bass drops, there was no way this was going to win.
That’s exactly what I told the kid at the time and stood by the premature evaluation until precisely a week ago when I heard the first single from ‘#willpower’ (no comment) being debuted on commercial radio. Eating my words I was as Will.i.am’s typical exhibition of word salad boomed through my speakers and that devastating moment of slight familiarity and greater enjoyment coincided. This was that song that that guy had told me about and oh mY GOD IT’S FUCKING UNBELIEVABLE. Once I’d come off the freeway, reduced my speed and had a moment to reflect, some of the gloss came off but ultimately, I was left, pulled over on the side of the road, texting, humiliated, ‘you were right on the Will.i.am bro. Good call.’ And then it struck me that, aside from his last solo outing ‘Songs About Girls’ which was largely a misstep, Will.i.am is like pop kryptonite. The man does not make wrong moves. ‘The E.N.D.‘ was ridiculous when it was released in 2009 and ridiculously well-received because it so obviously heralded in a new era for pop. Before Benassi and Pitbull, Guetta and Chris Brown, the Black Eyed Peas were smashing commercial pop against dance music and making it work.
Will.i.am’s inability to keep focused for more than about twenty seconds has been serviced exceedingly well by Swedish House Mafia’s Steve Angello on this track which carries on the Black Eyed Peas bandleader’s recent legacy of having a finger in every pie and making the whole hand taste pretty good as a result. By general forces of deduction, it shouldn’t work. The words ‘night’ and ‘right’ are rhymed more than twice. Eva Simon’s attempts to ape Fergie sexy/sassy dichotomy but ends up sounding slightly grating. Will even mentions something about his love for orchestral music and cellos. But in Angello’s hands, even the most banal lyricism, a relative no-name feature and more vocoder than you can poke a stick at all end up sounding somewhat cohesive, with a dynamic that holds your attention more than most pop songs, held together by the glue of Will.i.am’s outrageous ambition. In much the same way as Labrinth’s ‘Earthquake’ was a masterclass in creating value in ‘moments’ in songs, ‘This Is Love’, if not completely lucid, explodes where it needs to. I should’ve listened to the manufactured crowd sounds when approaching this one. Love him or hate him, is Will.i.am a pop innovator? Hell yeah.
Will.i.am – This Is Love Ft. Eva Simons