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Song of the Week: Big Red Machine and Taylor Swift Debut a Stirring Summer Collab With “Renegade”

Faouzia, G Herbo, and Maria Isabel also dropped essential tracks this week

Big Red Machine Taylor Swift Renegade
Collage by Graham Tolbert, photos by Graham Tolbert and James Reynolds
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    Song of the Week breaks down and talks about the song we just can’t get out of our head each week. Find these songs and more on our Spotify Top Songs playlist. For our favorite new songs from emerging artists, check out our Spotify New Sounds playlist. This week, a tender new track from Big Red Machine and Taylor Swift is a welcome summer listen. 


    For someone in a seemingly vibrant and loving relationship, Taylor Swift still knows exactly how to write about heartbreak. “Renegade” reunites Swift with folklore and evermore collaborators Aaron Dessner (of The National) and Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver), who have recently joined forces to create Big Red Machine. Swift has been honing her craft for more than a decade, exploring different production styles and avenues of storytelling, but she seems to be finding a home in this current era and with these creators at her side.

    What Taylor Swift and Co. specifically seem to understand about love and affection is that, often, these feelings come with plenty of frustration, too. The path to understanding is often lined with sadness. Here, the focal point of “Renegade” is someone refusing to let love in — in the chorus, Swift begs, “Open the blinds/ let me see your face” — and the slightly repetitive, looping, interlacing nature of the song serves the story well as she seems to be denied time and time again.

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    Here, the titular renegade should be regarded in the least idealized or romantic sense, an uncharacteristically Taylor Swift move. Where elsewhere she might have meant for the subject to sound rebellious and exciting, here, that choice of words can only refer to someone committing an act of deep betrayal — the kind that comes with the rejection she describes. The aspect more on brand for Taylor Swift is the bracing honesty with which she is able to write about heartache. Love is messy and extremely nonlinear sometimes, and it doesn’t have to end to be hard. The song takes place right in the middle of the story. This chapter matters, too.

    “Renegade” asks how many times someone can be turned away while waiting patiently for the subject of their affection to realize it’s ok to ask for help, and, sometimes, for forgiveness. The song ends with a question — the outcome remains uncertain.

    Is it insensitive for me to say, “Get your shit together so I can love you?”

    — Mary Siroky
    Contributing Editor

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    Honorable Mentions:

    La Bonte – “Don’t Let This Define Me” 

    This is a song about tension and release — the painful process of letting go. Having played in punk and hardcore bands for a decade in the Los Angeles scene, Garret La Bonte is taking aim at something new: patience. The track is paired with an excellent music video that features La Bonte standing idly in a variety of Southern California locations, in backyards, outside public buildings, and in front of stores, bars, and empty establishments. The isolation presented in the video, along with the dry malaise of the San Fernando Valley, lends itself beautifully to this cathartic track.

    With an indie rock sound that hearkens back to emo, slowcore and Pedro the Lion, “Don’t Let This Define Me” sees La Bonte carving out room for himself to build, then pause, breathe, and build again. Though the melancholy of the song and its accompanying video are on full display, La Bonte reckons with the past in a clear, decisive, and emotionally affecting way.

    — Paolo Ragusa

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    LVRA – “Nightmare”

    On “Nightmare,” LVRA sings for the insomniacs. The appropriately carnivalesque latest from the rising Chinese-Scottish pop artist, three and a half minutes of controlled chaos, arrives ahead of her sophomore EP. The dread and exhaustion simmering in the lyrics sit in contrast to the dreamy hyper-pop production, just frenetic enough to get the point across. In reference to her perpetually chaotic sleep schedule, tracing back to childhood, LVRA says: “I remember those early hours as being a time where I felt the most free of expectation but in hindsight it was an easy escape from my reality.” While LVRA wrote and produced the track, Imogen Heap assisted with the mixing — the result is certainly the escape from reality LVRA is referencing.

    — M.S.

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    Thuy – “In My Bag”

    Thuy’s got it in the bag. On her latest single, the rising Vietnamese R&B star swaggers with hard-won self-confidence as she effortlessly croons, “Who knew I would be the one?/ Yeah, I knew, I knew, I knew/ Talented but they don’t work as/ Hard as I do, I do.” The Bay Area native, whose debut EP is expected later this year, is also serving purse-first in the track’s accompanying music video, delivering look after high-fashion look (those butterfly hair clips!) from inside the pastel-pink bedroom of our early ‘00s dreams. Sorry haters, Thuy can’t hear you, she’s too deep inside this bag.

    — Glenn Rowley

    Faouzia – “Hero”

    While the world is still getting to know her, one thing is clear: Faouzia doesn’t need a hero. Just twenty years old, the Moroccan-Canadian artist both writes and performs with a polish far beyond her years — not every computer engineering major could release a song with a global name like John Legend and write a new track while also studying for final exams.

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    Faouzia has been releasing music since she was fifteen years old, but “Hero” marks a step into a more confident pop sound. To her, heroism can be a two-way street, a mutual act, or just a good friendship. The rising multi-hyphenate knows what she wants to say and is saying so with confidence — playing the role of protagonist to a tee.

    — M.S.

    Maisie Peters – “Psycho”

    There’s nothing quite like a pop star scorned. On “Psycho,” Maisie Peters enacts sweet, sweet revenge on a cheating boyfriend who plays “a perfect Patrick Bateman.” And don’t let the song’s sugary sweet melody fool you, the British pop upstart’s lyrics have a delicious bite. “All your exes found me and so beware/ We’re all friends now maybe you should be scared/ You’re so crazy/ Baby, who has two phones?/ One for her and one to still call me psycho,” she intones on the bridge, all while performing winking choreography with an army of lookalikes she’s recruited to bring the philanderer to his knees. American Psycho? More like British boss babe.

    — G.R.

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    Bobby Sessions – “Repeat”

    “Can I talk my shit?” Bobby Sessions asks at the beginning of “Repeat,” as if the Dallas MC needed anyone’s permission. Having helped launch Megan Thee Stallion to superstardom with his behind-the-scenes work on “Savage,” Sessions is off the leash and ready to run. On “Repeat” he loads up on puns and punchlines, while backloading each phrase so that they end in multisyllabic rhymes. “Get my jack, no Billie Jean,” he raps, “Her hair go off, no guillotine.” It’s a master class in control of consonants. By the time you’re ready to tell him if he can talk his shit, Sessions has blown right by.

    — Wren Graves

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    G. Herbo – “Drill feat. Rowdy Rebel”

    It’s easy to forget G Herbo was just a teenager when he and Lil Bibby were integral players in the breakout of Chicago drill during the 2010s. Having made it out of the streets, he’s now a grizzled veteran at 25 years old, and quick to remind listeners of his impact on the current state of hip-hop while hopping on a Brooklyn drill beat with his New York counterpart Rowdy Rebel. “Chiraq, boy, we invented drills,” he matter-of-factly raps.

    Meanwhile, Rebel continues to make up for lost time since being released from jail in December 2020 with gritty bars like, “Gotta watch for the cops, it get drastic/ I been in that field when shit got real.”

    — Eddie Fu

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    María Isabel – “No Soy Para Ti”

    Coming to the realization that things aren’t meant to be is usually a sad epiphany, but María Isabel welcomes the sense of freedom. “No soy para ti/ You’re no good for me,” she says over a breezy beat, carefree and unburdened. The accompanying music video shows the Dominican-born, New York-raised singer-songwriter undergoing a homecoming of sorts. “No Soy Para Ti” is an encouraging reminder that fizzling endings can just as easily turn into refreshing beginnings moments later.

    — M.S.


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