I keep hearing people invoke the Moulin Rouge soundtrack cover of “Lady Marmalade” — starring Lil’ Kim, Mýa, Pink, and Christina Aguilera — in speaking about the new Ariana Grande, Lana Del Rey, and Miley Cyrus Charlie’s Angels soundtrack single “Don’t Call Me Angel,” and I sorta get it, but I also don’t. It’s a successor to the 2001 hit in the sense that, yes, multiple famous women are singing together on the same beat. That’s the beginning and the end of it. “Marmalade” braided voices together that had been circling the same hip-hop and R&B/pop scene. “Don’t Call Me Angel” is something else, something that could maybe only happen in an era where everyone exists in their own tailor-made internet with their own little network of music-app playlists and Netflix and Hulu recommendations. “Angel” blends styles that sound fine alone but struggle to jell together, such is the vastness of the space between the singers present.
That’s cool, though. Ari’s in her zone skating around the elaborate network of interlocking notes designed by frequent collaborators Max Martin and Ilya Salmanzadeh, and Miley’s Music City–by–way–of–the–club drawl and timbre are adaptable enough to keep her from breaking anything here. “Angels” strains to figure out what to do with Lana, such as she exists now, as a singer who does her best work at half the speed of her peers in the biz, whose last album was closer in spirit to glacial ’90s northwestern indie rock than anything on the radio in this decade. The beat here slows its tempo to accommodate Lana, which is fine because it ran a little fast in the first place. In the end, “Angels” is less of a meeting of like minds and more of a ride from the pulsing center of a city past the limits and into the laconic stretches outside.
Maybe pop’s done consolidating. Maybe the logical end of the algorithmification of mainstream music is that in the next decade, artists will get to occupy their own individual principalities of sound and trust that our tastes are limber enough to traverse between them, instead of always meeting us in the middle. Or maybe they won’t! Time will tell. I’m thankful for “Don’t Call Me Angel,” at the end of the day, because I’ll take every opportunity to watch Lana Del Rey wield weapons. Thanks to director Hannah Lux Davis and everyone involved for a GIF gold mine full of throwing knives and nunchaku.