This morning I woke up way too early, checked my Twitter and read music critic Maura Johnston confidently declare that Mariah Carey had just released the “song of the summer.” I groaned, rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, filled with a combination of skepticism and dread.
After all, the evidence had already piled up against it: The song contains a hashtag, is called “#Beautiful,” and features one of the most overused words in the English language. Silly, trendy and typical, I snobbishly judged -- before hearing even a lick of it.
While making coffee a few hours later, the computer stared, headphones laying wait. Would she actually use the word “hashtag” in the lyrics? Would it be about, God forbid, Tweet love? Why would Miguel, one of the best young R&B singers on the scene right now, participate in such nonsense?
Mariah and Miguel have now answered, and I’m struggling to adjust Monday to the reality that “#Beautiful” just may be said jam of the summer. Despite the hashtag, and the wariness, “#Beautiful” is as close to a perfect pop song as has been released in 2013. Produced by Miguel and Carey, the track is gritty and vital, filled with a crawling, dirty bass line, a seductive, immediately embeddable guitar melody and just enough tambourine to get the engine running.
From the first line, delivered by Miguel, the track takes to the road: “Hop on the back of my bike, let the cool wind run through your hair,” he sings. Miguel, the San Pedro-born breakout whose “Kaleidoscope Dream” was one of the best albums of 2012, rides away, his girl on his bike, with the charisma of a superstar.
They cruise through the night, Miguel crooning about her beauty while he advises her to “let the moonlight kiss your skin.” You can almost see a lunar glimmer on the Pacific as they roll down PCH.
Then, finally, Carey responds.
“I like when you run red lights, don’t stop till you thrill me,” she sings to the dismay of mothers and traffic cops the world over. She doesn’t even arrive into her own song until it’s a third of the way through, ceding to Miguel’s glorious tone with the confidence of someone who knows she can lift her verse to equal whatever comes her way. When she does, she does so with a seemingly effortless glow.
Ceding further control, she giggles. “Take me anywhere."
The song ends at the exact moment it should. No fat: 3 minutes 22 seconds, closing with a rush of layered voices that drift through the ears like a breeze, fading away as though Miguel and Carey have just squeezed the throttle and left the rest of us behind.
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit