Remembering and facing the challenges of the past is a bold, potent choice, but nevertheless, so many people prefer to forget. Taylor Swift has rarely been one to put up blinders, instead making her problems her gasoline, her kindling, her spark. The anguish is the art. But “Me!” — her new single, and presumably the first from her forthcoming seventh album — is, quite relentlessly, the sound of moving forward, eyes averted.
At the beginning of the song’s video, a pink-and-white snake slithers toward the camera; the reptile was part of the symbolic language surrounding the sharp-tongued “Reputation,” Swift’s 2017 album. Swift was the snake — painted as such by Kim Kardashian West, in a public feud that reshaped Swift’s image from belle of the ball into something darker and more textured. But in the video, the snake explodes and becomes a thousand butterflies: Her conflagrations are in the past, and Swift is renewed.
A shame, really. “Reputation” was Swift’s most forward-looking, contemporary-pop-aware album. Even if large parts of it were animated by agita, it was well-written and well-executed (if occasionally awkward) with a persistent hum of tension.
“Me!” — which is mechanistic fun, but dull at the edges — skips all that in favor of a kind of uncritical exuberance that’s almost piercingly saccharine. The song’s lyrics are in a familiar Swift mode (if on the whole, a little less punchy than usual): “I know that I went psycho on the phone/I never leave well enough alone.” It’s her singing that alters the calibration. Swift isn’t an especially powerful vocalist, but she’s long had an unerring sense of how to deliver tsunami-grade melody, knowing when to lean in to a buildup. But here, when she gets to the hook, her singing thins out, gets childlike, almost gleeful. The restraint is, at times, agonizing.
“Me!” is a duet with Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco, a potent vocalist with far lower star wattage who seems to be under-singing here so as not to trample the boss. (That Swift chose a duet for her return is also baffling — the collaboration is a distraction, not an additive.) And on Thursday night, Swift appeared for a brief interview during the N.F.L. Draft; “Me!” will be the soundtrack of its second round. It is difficult to think of a less apt partnership than Swift, who has recently found her political voice, and the scandal-plagued N.F.L.
All of which is surprising, because Swift is as aggressive and effective a chess player as pop has seen in years. These choices suggest that the urgency of the bigger goal — to shake free of the last few years of distractions — was far more crucial than the minor details of songwriting (by Swift, Urie and Joel Little) and production (by Swift and Little). Rather than opt to wear the patina of surviving a rough stretch, Swift has chosen a to-the-studs restoration and a fresh coat of paint. It gleams so bright, it just might obscure the fact that anything was ever out of place. Too bad. JON CARAMANICA
Bruce Springsteen, ‘Hello Sunshine’
For some time Bruce Springsteen has been mentioning an album that harks back to the 1970s of Southern California — Laurel Canyon pop, a genre exploration that has nothing to do with the 21st century. “Hello Sunshine” is the first sample of that album, “Western Stars.” It’s a well-cushioned, smoothly melodic testimonial to despairing resignation. Springsteen sustains a croon, backed by a pedal steel guitar, a cottony bass line and a string section; there’s a meditative instrumental outro. But when he sings “Hello sunshine, won’t you stay?” it’s a request without much hope; he’s been singing about lonely, endless empty roads ahead: “no place to be and miles to go.” As plush as the music is, that’s his vista. PARELES
FKA twigs, ‘Cellophane’
On its own, “Cellophane” would be striking enough: a slow, desperate plea to hold on to a love that’s disappearing: “Why don’t I do it for you/why won’t you do it for me?” At first FKA twigs is accompanied only by a few piano notes, but other sounds waft in, acoustic and distorted and electronic, among them a forebodingly calm whispered beatbox beat. The video clip multiplies the strangeness: It’s a pole dance turned into a cosmic abduction and muddy ritual. PARELES
Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats, ‘Sell Out’
“Anger Management,” the new mini album from Rico Nasty and the producer Kenny beats, is wild, boisterous fun. Rico Nasty is an enthusiastically aggrieved rapper, and on “Cold,” the album opener, with its greasy and chaotic production, she’s brawl-ready. But there’s an appealing calm — relatively speaking — on “Sell Out,” about finding peace somewhere on the other side of the storm (or maybe within). “Had a lot of built-up anger that I had to let out/Lost a few friends, me and money never fell out,” she raps, adding the therapeutic realization, “The expression of anger is a form of rejuvenation.” CARAMANICA
Diplo presents Thomas Wesley featuring Cam, ‘So Long’
“So Long” is the first single from a forthcoming country music project by Diplo, who in the last decade has taken his talents to just about anywhere that might have them. Nashville can be a cloistered place, but this alliance isn’t as unlikely as it seems. Avicii pioneered the blending of dance music and roots music many years ago, and, for a time in the early 2010s, Nashville had a brief flirtation with EDM, with aftereffects that still linger. Which is to say that this up-tempo thumper, with firm singing by Cam, doesn’t sound like a rude intrusion, but rather a logical, uncontroversial continuation. CARAMANICA
Ezra Collective, ‘Why You Mad?’
“You Can’t Steal My Joy” is the debut album from Ezra Collective, one of the burgeoning South London jazz scene’s leading ensemble. The record channels the group’s live performances, which can feel at once like a concert and a communion, and flow easily from fathomless, woozy grooves to thrashing, high-energy bouts of brass and percussion. In just two-and-a-half minutes, the track “Why You Mad?” exemplifies that nimble versatility; in concerts, this piece can often feel like it’s taken over the crowd, turning it into a single body and causing it to move in a collective heave. GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO
Petrol Girls, ‘Big Mouth’
“Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard,” the voice of Poly Styrene intones on the British punk band Petrol Girls’ new single, “Big Mouth.” (As we well know, Ms. Styrene had a differing opinion.) “Big Mouth,” a preview of the band’s May album “Cut & Stitch,” is a paean to speaking up and breaking out. “Know your place/Bite your tongue,” the singer Ren Aldridge taunts in the snotty voice of an oppressor. On the chorus, she explodes: “I’m raising my voice louder/It carries me beyond their walls.” CARYN GANZ
Rajna Swaminathan, ‘Peregrination’
Joined by a cast of standout young jazz musicians, the percussionist Rajna Swaminathan — who plays the mridangam, a barrel-shaped drum native to south India — has just released “Of Agency and Abstraction,” a debut album with its own fresh, interpretive take on the Carnatic music tradition. Much in the way of the Tirtha trio (featuring Swaminathan’s mentor, the pianist Vijay Iyer) and the Indo-Pak Coalition before her, Swaminathan lets jazz and Indian classical merge organically, through her writing and the skill sets of her improvising partners. On “Peregrination,” prominently featuring Swaminathan’s sister, the violinist Anjna Swaminathan, that means mixing passages of slithering mystery with sections of bristling, complex rhythm. RUSSONELLO