Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Del Rey are all having stellar years. Ariana scored her fourth #1 album with the critically acclaimed thank u, next (review here) along with a slew of Top 10 hits that included the #1 hit “7 rings”; “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored”; and “boyfriend” (review here). Miley has reached a new creative peak with her pristine SHE IS COMING EP (review here) and her latest solo single, “Slide Away.” Finally, Lana delivered what is arguably the best female studio album of the year in Norman F*****g Rockwell (review here).
Now, all three of these powerful pop prima donnas have come together on the lead single for the Charlie’s Angels remake soundtrack, “Don’t Call Me Angel.” Over a bouncy bass-driven instrumental that draws slightly from house and trap music, the trio flip the very concept of “Charlie’s Angels” on its head. The original concept of Charlie’s Angels is a trio of over-sexualized woman crime-fighters who are directed by the unseen Charlie Townsend. In the 2019 Elizabeth Banks-directed remake, Banks herself assumes the role of “Charlie” and emerges from the darkness. Like the 2019 Angels, who are in control of their sexuality and hold the power, Ariana, Miley, and Lana sing (demand, rather): “Don’t call me angel/You can’t pay my price.”
All three woman sing the hook, although Ariana is the primary voice. Speaking of the hook, it isn’t a stretch to say that Ariana Grande, Ilya, and Savan Kotecha are making the best mainstream pop music right now. As if that wasn’t evident on Sweetener (review here) and thank u, next, those three know how to craft a sublime hook. Ariana’s inimitable swagger allows her to ride the beat in a way that is deceptively simple but actually quite difficult. Similarly, on her verse, Ariana rejects the most obvious melodic pattern and instead opts for an off-kilter flow that is more reminiscent of hip-hop than traditional pop music. Simple choices like these are what allow Ariana’s music to float across genre lines while still remaining pop at its core.
Miley also mimics the unconventional flow on her standout verse. Arguably, Miley has the best verse on the song; her aggression, spunk, and devil-may-care attitude bring the song to another level. Lana, on the other hand, remains in her hazy alternative element and offers a hauntingly seductive bridge that absolutely steals the show (in the song and the video). What’s so great about “Don’t Call Me Angel” is that each lady brings her own style to the collaboration and shines in her own way. Miley’s voice is one of the best in pop music right now; she has the perfect mixture of rock roughness, country twang, and a smoky tone. She uses her voice and character to her advantage in both the song and video as the more “in your face” Angel. Ariana plays around with her upper range and sneaks into falsetto a bit during her verse, and she contrasts that with a more punchy vocal performance on the hook. Both vocal parts remind the listener of Ariana’s duality as a pop princess and bad girl. Last but not least, Lana takes control of the bridge at a natural break in the song and slows things down just enough to offer some much-needed variation in the tempo.
“Don’t Call Me Angel,” is very good, but there are few things that the song is missing. For one, the final chorus should have been much more explosive than it is. There’s a solid buildup between Lana’s bridge and the layered vocal runs that Ariana does directly after, but the chorus feels dull and flat. This is especially important because the chorus is only sung once after the bridge, so this was a missed opportunity. Also, in the music video, the ladies have great chemistry, but that doesn’t always translate on the recording. Miley and Ariana have sung together before (their “Don’t Dream It’s Over” performances are excellent), but they feel disconnected on the hook. Miley should have sang more on the hook and offered some additional ad-libs on the outro to really tie this collaboration together. Nevertheless, this is an exciting look at what Ariana has to offer from the Charlie’s Angels soundtrack, out later this year.