Pop Song Review: Nico & Vinz – “Am I Wrong”

So here we go – writing ’bout pop songs – and what better way to start this train of fun off on its tracks than with the current UK no. 1 single, Norwegian duo Nico & Vinz’s “Am I Wrong”? That’s right, there isn’t one. Unless there is, but for now let’s pretend there isn’t.

First impressions: From what I can tell this song is another entry in the “dance songs that don’t really sound like modern dance music, but you can still get drunk to them” box. I have mixed feelings about said box: while these songs are trying to be a bit smarter and more eclectic than the average EDM garbage, they’re still obviously pandering to that market. To my slim, sexy ears this song sounds like it’s doing the same thing: the production and the instrumentation give it a bit of flavour, but the watery synths and the Autotuned cooing in the chorus remind me that there’s probably at least a dozen bad club remixes of this on YouTube right now, and that makes me uncomfortable. It’s… okay, is what I’m saying here. Not great, though.

The music: Apparently this song belongs to the Afrobeat genre, one that I’m not overly familiar with but according to Wikipedia is “a combination of traditional Nigerian and Ghanaian music, jazz, highlife, funk, and chanted vocals, fused with percussion and vocal styles, popularised in Africa in the 1970s.” So a bit of funk, a bit of jazz, a bit of world… I’d be down for that. Both members of the group have African origins, after all, so it could work.

Unfortunately, for me, a second listen reveals just how little there is to the song. The music is all positive and upbeat, but it’s also strangely demure and polite, as if they were worried that going all out with the African elements – what little there are here – would put people off, so they smoothed away the edges with a minimalist club-pop production. The “am I wrong?” hook is repeated too many times, which I get is the point of a hook, but it wasn’t a particularly great one to begin with and repetition doesn’t bring out any sudden burst of musicality from it. It’s catchy, in the sense that it sticks in your head after the fortieth time you hear it, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good. I do appreciate that there’s an actual middle-eight instead of a rap verse like in so many other pop songs these days, but it’s not a particularly good one. I would have appreciated the use of horns in the chorus more if half the time they weren’t synchronised with the vocals so tightly that they have no effect. The rhythm has a charming bounce to it and the beat has that African percussive style that I like, but even then the production stilts it so it sounds forced; again, they should have gone all out with the Afrobeat elements instead of holding back. It really is that modern dance production to blame: it polishes the song but it also suppresses any genuine joy it might have been trying to evoke (then again, I am a pretty joyless person, so maybe I have a harder time perceiving it than others). Ultimately “Am I Wrong”‘s is just not all that catchy or fun to listen to, and that’s all I’m really asking for from a pop song.

The lyrics: “Am I wrong for thinking out the box from where I stay? / Am I wrong for saying that I’ll choose another way?” So it’s another “shoot for your dreams, don’t be brought down by those around you, baby you’re a firework, you were born this way” song about… well, all that stuff I just mentioned. It’s also asking you the question of whether they’re wrong or not instead of just telling you they are or aren’t, which is confrontational but also evasive. Are they actually asking for my judgement on this? Well, they seem pretty confident – “my prediction, I’mma be on top of the world” and “don’t let them control your life” seem like assured statements of intent to me – so what’s the need for the rhetorical questioning device? You guys should know if you’re wrong or not, so why bother asking? People who think you are, in fact, “trippin’ for having a vision” aren’t going to do a sudden 180 just because you asked them like that. “You know, I did think he was tripping at first, but then he asked me about it and now I’m not so sure…” No, that doesn’t happen, especially when you never make it clear exactly what your vision is: famous musician? Chess champion? Professional Kraken tamer? Give us a clue, at least – and don’t be so polite, man. Be more sure of yourself. Just say “I ain’t wrong, so screw you” and be done with it.

Verdict: I’ll give this a 3 out of 5. There’s obvious effort that went into making this and I do like certain things about it – the message, as vague as it is, is a nice one – but there’s just not enough to keep me listening to it again and again. I understand its popularity to an extent, but understanding something is not the same as agreeing with it. For a song about being as unique and incredible as you can be it’s weirdly listless and safe. That said, I wish Nico & Vinz all the very best – just try and step away from the dance scene, guys. It won’t do you any favours in the long term.

Also, as an homage to Luke Giordano’s “Song I Like Today”, at the end of each review I’m going to suggest an alternative song to listen to that is along the same thematic lines as the single I reviewed. If you don’t like the single, there’s another song for you to enjoy; and if you like both songs, then you’re simply doubling up. Simple, right? It’s a no-lose scenario. Aren’t I kind? So today’s double-up is Audioslave’s “Be Yourself”. It’s not a particularly great song, but at least it’s direct about what it has to say.

That’s my opinion, anyway – what’s yours? Am I wrong? Right? Sexy? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

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