Say this for Ariana Grande, Lana Del Rey, and Miley Cyrus on “Don’t Call Me Angel”—they do sound independent. As in, on different continents. Their single for the new Charlie’s Angels movie arrives with glitterbomb hype and blockbuster production—and a video that lets Lana achieve her final form of literally throwing knives at The Man—but its glossy execution comes at the expense of any chemistry between the singers. They arrive sequentially to give cursory verses, sounding variably comfortable in these anodyne pop surroundings—this is Ariana’s playground, and possibly Lana’s Bad Place—then drift on to more interesting endeavors. There’s no interplay, joy, or friction between them. They barely even stick around to harmonize.
The action-flick single is a difficult needle to thread; the usual idea is to assemble an Avengers of talent du jour and hope they’re greater than the sum. Love or hate Moulin Rouge, its vampy soundtrack rendition of “Lady Marmalade” with Christina Aguilera, Mýa, Lil Kim, and Pink reached far more ears than Ewan McGregor scream-singing “Roxanne” onscreen. The pop stars of “Don’t Call Me Angel” meet at a lower creative common denominator than they’ve enjoyed lately; from the PG bedroom lyrics to the lightly hip-hop-infused production, this song has the distinct flatness of being created by committee. Their verses dance around the idea of autonomy, making a binary argument about self-sufficiency. All three have offered more interesting statements about womanhood in the past year. Miley’s lightly sneering lines are most overt: “I make my money and I write the checks/So say my name with a little respect,” she insists, in what feels like a nod to Destiny’s Child and their catchier Charlie’s Angels hit of 2000, “Independent Women, Pt. 1.” Ariana flutters around in her comfortable falsetto range, coquettish yet stern: “Don’t you know that I bite when the sun set?” she trills, tossing in the melisma she could sleepwalk through.
Lana is at least a confounding presence; she delivers her own tepid lines with typically breathy monotone, pulling the clichés like taffy until they feel grotesque. “I appreciate the way you want me, I can’t lie/I drop it down, I pick it up,” she intones, unhurried by the beat scrambling beneath her. Her voice slips by like scratchy polyester; the charitable interpretation of the disconnect in her delivery would be “ironic,” but her lackluster strutting in the music video suggests apathy. (Also, as the Victoria’s Secret-lite clip hammers home: a movie so quick to trumpet its diversity in casting couldn’t do the same with its soundtrack’s marquee single?) Charlie, your girl has gone rogue.