Weeks on Chart: 13
Peak: No. 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100, February 6, 2013
Current Radio Play Frequency: No. 10 on KIIS FM’s Playlist
Pop music allows for about five genuine weirdos to get meaningful play at any given time, and usually three of those spots are taken by rappers. Florence Welch may not have had a song take off like 2010’s “Dog Days Are Over,” but she’s proven to be good for more than just Eat Pray Love trailers, and has since become a perennial figure in the Starbucks CD rack scene (which may not be the coolest niche to find yourself in, but is worth something; Mom Rock is of course important because moms still buy physical music discs), as well as the soundtracks to just about any young-adult film or TV show released in the last two years. All of these career highlights are very helpful in making you forget that Welch is still really weird and, as such, a potentially powerful pop weapon.
Welch hasn’t exactly shied away from mainstream platforms, but her collaboration with Calvin Harris on “Sweet Nothing” is the most high-profile one in years, and thankfully, expectedly, she sounds excellent on it. Welch has a messy, highly emotional delivery that could be seen as antithetical to EDM’s sometimes obsessively pristine façade, but she and Harris complement each other surprisingly well. Harris’s past singles with Rihanna and Ne-Yo seemed more in the general dance-music wheelhouse, but “Sweet Nothing” could be the single that convinces a lot of naysayers that EDM has a soul. Possibly in the context of a spin class, but a soul nonetheless.
Of all the big crossover EDM artists collaborating with A-listers right now, Calvin Harris is probably the one who I feel has the most humanity in his music; there’s something very terrestrial and warm-blooded about his big hits, like he respects the possibility that the people dancing to his music might be more than just pill-chomping robots. “Sweet Nothing” wastes no time cozying up to you on the dirty sofa, with Florence already singing by the third downbeat of the loungey, vaguely disco rhythm. I actually prefer the sound of the verses to the drop/refrain, which is a little unimaginative this time around — literally one-note. But Harris does sneak in a fun little staccato bit during the last repetition of it, at the four-minute mark, which helps break things up.
Yes! This is what the singer/DJ collabo should sound like! Lately it seems like every radio dance track is made with some imagined “effort budget,” and either the songwriting or production will eventually have to take a hit. If you have a producer making music that warrants his name getting top billing with the person singing the words (this is officially a Calvin Harris track, not Florence’s, but she’s the more familiar face of the two), it’s an opportunity to have just as much thought put into the words, instead of just opting to repeatedly remind listeners for four minutes that they are dying/the world is ending and it’s time to “go.” That’s not to say that “Sweet Nothing” is a particularly complex song — it’s simple but chooses its moments of specificity wisely, and opens with the line “You took my heart and you held it in your mouth,” which is a bit more evocative than the words slapped on top of most build-and-drop jams these days.
It helps that Welch sings it like she’s just a splash of holy water away from speaking in tongues; her voice dips down into the ominously phrased “there is a hollow in me now” at the end of each verse, and that last, unhinged “You give me nothiiiing!” vomits up gloriously all over the last leg of the song. It’s cool to hear a singer accurately vocally reflect what a truly exciting electronic song feels like, instead of just zipping up her space suit and playing techno dress-up.
Maybe you just need to hear it during spin class.