Best & Worst Singles of the Week -- From Kelly Clarkson to Ellie Goulding

James Bay
"Scars"
Republic

James Bay takes a nostalgic approach to road-weary rock ballads, and "Scars" is no exception. The track features dusty organs and outdated tech references: "In the dark, you try to make a pay phone call to me," he sings. Bay's emotive bombast may echo Ed Sheeran and Hozier, but he's an old soul at the core.--Ryan Reed

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Kelly Clarkson
"Heartbeat Song"
RCA

Kelly Clarkson returns the right way with "Heartbeat Song," the sound of a reinvigorated artist proving herself yet again. Reteaming with "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)" mastermind Greg Kurstin, she channels that track's driving beat and adds the synthetic heart of the producer's work on Tegan & Sara's pop opus Heartthrob.--Jason Lipshutz

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Action Bronson
"Actin' Crazy"
Vice/Atlantic

"I'm in a robe dancing salsa on the top floor," bellows Action Bronson over Omen and Drake partner Noah "40" Shebib's space-age production on "Actin' Crazy," which precedes his major-label debut, Mr. Wonderful, due in March. As with many of the Queens rapper's over-the-top lyrics, it makes for a disturbing image but a great listen. --Dan Hyman

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Matthew E. White
"Rock & Roll Is Cold"
Domino

"Everyone knows that rock'n'roll is cold," sings ­Matthew E. White on this softly lit, full-bodied first listen from his Domino debut, Fresh Blood. But he obviously didn't get his own memo, because the song has a true heartbeat, with purred sha-la-las, beautifully understated saxophones and Ian Stewart-style piano riffs.--Harley Brown


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Django Django
"First Light"
Ribbon Music

Psychedelic Scotsmen Django Django bent minds with the polyrhythmic harmonies of their 2012 debut, but on new track "First Light" the foursome tones down the pastoral weirdness for a more mainstream tact. The group's fairy-dust sparkle is constricted to a corkscrew synth, and a lockstep kick keeps things a little too tight.--Harley Brown

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Ellie Goulding
"Love Me Like You Do"
Polydor

U.K. singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding has one of pop's more distinct voices, and while she tries to spin her magic on the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack single "Love Me Like You Do," her quivering warmth is paired with cliched lyrics. The colossal chorus makes up some ground, but she seems oddly detached from the swell of emotion.--Jason Lipshutz

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Avicii
"The Nights"
Avicii Music/Universal

It's hard not to roll your eyes while listening to Avicii's "The Nights," a sugary folk-dance ode to living life to the fullest. It's an irksome message from a world-touring DJ, as well as a cliched one, and the blatant similarities to his mega-hit "Wake Me Up!" don't help. The lyrics encourage originality, but Avicii isn't taking his own advice. --Megan Buerger


This story first appeared in the Jan. 24 issue of Billboard.


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