Nice Hits! is a Reverb column that unironically dissects, reviews, and appreciates the best songs of the current Top 40. It is unsnobbishly premised on>"/>
Nice Hits! is a Reverb column that unironically dissects, reviews, and appreciates the best songs of the current Top 40. It is unsnobbishly premised on the logic that just because a lot of the music on the radio is crap doesn't mean all the music on the radio is crap.
The hit: "Girl on Fire," Alicia Keys, off the forthcoming Girl on Fire, out November 28.
Current chart position: #25 on iTunes, too early for the current Billboard chart (the song was just released this past Tuesday).
The team: "Girl on Fire" was co-produced by Jeff Bhasker, who's already having a smashing year thanks to his work with Fun--Bhasker co-wrote and produced several tracks on Fun's Some Nights album, including the monster hit "We Are Young" and the title track, which is currently charting high on iTunes and Billboard. Pre-Fun, Bhasker's work was mainly in the hip-hop and R&B world--he worked on Keys' 2009 record The Element of Freedom and created hits for Kid Cudi ("Make Her Say"), Jay-Z ("Run This Town"), and Drake ("Find Your Love") before his most prominent work to date, Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, for which he wrote and produced seven tracks, including all four of its singles--"Power," "Runaway," "Monster," and "All of the Lights." (Bhasker also worked on West's previous album, 2008's 808s & Heartbreak). He's subsequently worked with Beyoncé ("Party"), Jay-Z and West's Watch the Throne ("Lift Off"), and Lana del Rey ("Carmen").
Bhasker shares production credits on "Girl on Fire" with Salaam Remi, who's built up a resume of work with Nas, Cee-Lo Green, Leona Lewis, and Nelly Furtado. Remi's most notable work thus far has been with Amy Winehouse--he contributed songs to her 2003 debut Frank, her platinum-selling Back to Black, and was working on her third album at the time of her death in 2011.
Breakdown: Keys released three different versions of "Girl on Fire" this week, and the "Inferno" version, which features a rap by Nicki Minaj, is the one that's charting. But I'm into simplicity and prefer the original version.
Was Keys' new song and album title inspired by The Hunger Games? She says no, and what she has said about the title indicates that she's taking ownership of the phrase for herself and not modeling it after Katniss Everdeen. On her website, she wrote, enthusiastically: "I've had the title of this album in my mind for a long time... It is called Girl on Fire!!! And that's exactly how I feel!!! ... before making this record, in some ways I felt like a lion locked in a cage... I felt like it was time to stop making excuses for any part of my life that I wanted to change. Once I made that choice I became a Girl on Fire, the lion broke free!!" The imagistic lyrics come off as very empowering ("Looks like a girl, but she's a flame/So bright, she can burn your eyes," "Everybody stands, as she goes by/'Cause they can see the flame that's in her eyes"), and at least in song, girl power, while a fine thing, can come off as cheesy. But if any artist can take cheesy and make it something genuinely stirring and elegant, it's Alicia Keys.
Musically, "Girl on Fire" is put together like some of Keys' best, most classic songs--"No One," "If I Ain't Got You"--quiet, unassuming verses leading into big, empathic choruses. Keys and her team really wanted this chorus to stand out--it booms with thudding drums as her drawn-out notes soar on top. It's heavily bombastic, but the drama of it makes it memorable, and the hooky melody is beautiful and exhilarating. Keys seems to have to set out to make a statement song about power, and it's undeniable that she's succeeded in that.