Pop Song Review: Jessie J, Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj – “Bang Bang”

Merry September, everyone! Let’s review another pop song, shall we? This time around it’s “Bang Bang” by Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj, because short-lived supergroups aren’t just for rock musicians anymore. Given that this little number peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 over in the US and has already started to slip, I’m guessing “Bang Bang”, like a mayfly, has had its day flitting about the big bright world, drinking up the sun or whatever it is mayflies do, and now, having fulfilled its purpose, is off finding a nice leaf somewhere to wither and die on. What I’m saying is that I’m a little late to the celebrations on this one. Never mind, though – on we trot.

EDIT: Yes, I realise my prediction was a tad off. Now shush.

First impressions: So how long until Grande actually perfects the time travel she needs to go back to the Sixties and we no longer have to put up with this retro-soul fetish of hers? Actually, that’s not fair: given what evidence I have, this is more of a Jessie J song than anything else – she has the lion’s share of the vocals and has been given top billing on the song, so this is more accurately Jessie J feat. Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj. Also, what did I just listen to?

The music: Well, “Bang Bang” is certainly an apt title, seeing as how my eardrums keep bursting every time this song comes on. I haven’t heard a song quite this loud and obnoxious since Alien Ant Farm were on the radio, and yet there isn’t a single guitar on here. So what is?

Let’s start with the three women. If you’re aware of the stylings of each vocalist on here, there shouldn’t be any surprises in wait for you on “Bang Bang”. Jessie J does her usual shake-the-rafters singing that feels like an airhorn coming at you through the speakers. I do have a soft spot for Jessie J, but this is just bombast with no real craft or purpose to it. Grande is a very capable singer but she sounds like she’s singing through her nose half the time, and the cutesy soul thing she has going is a little out of place for the sheer onslaught of this song. As for Nicki Minaj, she isn’t in it long – remember when songwriters used to write actual middle-eights instead of outsourcing the space to a rapper? – but her cameo is just as abrasive and annoying as you’d expect it to be (though given the overall feel of this song perhaps it’s fitting).

Now, for the structure of this song I would normally use the descriptor “bare-bones”, but that would be putting it lightly – at least bones have marrow inside them. This has a stutter beat, an occasional blast of synths, a lot of yelled vocals and a bit of rapping. And that’s it. That is freaking it. Is it catchy? Er, well, the “bang, bang, into your heart” bit has a nicely-arranged clump of notes to its name, even if I swear they’ve nicked it from somewhere else, but it doesn’t last long and, by the zillionth time you hear it, it’s already lost what little intrigue it once had. The rest is just a full-frontal assault of colourful noise that I swear gave me a concussion at one point. I would analyse the music in greater depth, but I’m not completely sure there is any music to analyse here.

The lyrics: “Bang Bang”, as far as I can tell, is a song about that most universal of feelings: desire. Jessie J wants you (and by you, I mean some guy), but you’re with somebody else and, by all accounts, this woman you’re with is pretty great. But ah! Miss J is here to tell you that as good as you’ve got it, it could be so much better with her – and what better way to express this sentiment than with that most romantic of poetic devices, puns? Everybody likes puns, right? Shakespeare ruddy loved them, and you wouldn’t argue with Shakespeare, would you? Puns that range from the acceptable…

“She got a booty like a Cadillac / but I can send you into overdrive”

…to the bad…

“She got a body like an hourglass / but I can give it to you all the time”

…to the downright weird and creepy…

“She might’ve let you hold her hand in school / but I’mma show you how to graduate.”

These “she/but” dichotomies get old about as quickly as you’d think – or at least they would, if the sheer aggro of the production gave the lyrics any room to breathe.

By the way, we’re constantly being reminded how great J and Grande are in comparison to this other woman, but is that really wise? Why must someone be put down so that we may raise ourselves up? There’s something so sickeningly capitalist about that which, to be honest, makes perfect sense in the context of all this. Also, are they talking about the same woman? Does that mean they’re both flaunting themselves to the same guy? That’s a bit strange, isn’t it? Assuming they win, who takes him? Do they have a coin toss?

The chorus is made up mostly of “bang bangs” attached to various sentiments, such as “Bang bang into your heart / I’m ready for ya.” If that line made any sense to you, you are likely the intended audience for this song, and by that I mean you are a stupid person with more money than sense. What exactly are they banging into our hearts? A wooden stake? Are we vampires now? Does Republic Records know something we don’t? There’s also “bang bang all over you”, which… okay, I don’t even want to know what’s going on there. It does give way from the “bang bangs”, though, for this: “Wait a minute, let me take you there.” Is it me or does this sound like she had to go feed the cat before they got down to it? “Wait a minute, guy – I’ll take you there once Mr Tibbs has had his nom-noms.”

As for Nicki Minaj’s rap… you know, I might have been too harsh about her lyrics on “Anaconda;” as stupid as they are, at least you get the impression they’re about something. On “Bang Bang”, however, she subjects us to such nonsensical couplets that even Lewis Carroll would scratch his head at them. I mean, “kitten so good, it’s dripping on wood / get a ride in the engine that could”? Am I supposed to be turned on, confused or grossed out here? I mean, I think I know what she’s rapping about, but I’m hoping against hope that it’s not what I think it is.

Verdict: The word often given to great singers is “effortless”, as in “they make singing with that much power and grace seem so effortless.” Thing is, just because your singers don’t have to put effort into sounding great, that doesn’t mean the songwriters can take the afternoon off as well. Where was the craft in this? Where was the music? Where was the slightest semblance that anyone cared about this song at all? This gets a 1 out of 5 from me: loud, obnoxious and hollow, “Bang Bang” is thoroughly unpleasant to listen to – which I’m pretty sure is the antithesis of everything pop music is made to be. Weird, right?

Today’s double-up is The Virginmarys’ “Bang Bang Bang”. Loud, aggressive, passionate – and look, there’s an actual song to go with it all. Good song, too.

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