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Single review: Julia Michaels’ ‘Heaven’ is ‘Fifty Shades’ of Unconventional Catchiness

Since The Weeknd’s “Earned It” peaked at number three on Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart, big names in music have been vying to produce the latest hit song for the “Fifty Shades of Grey” film adaptations. The second single for the first movie, Ellie Goulding’s power ballad “Love Me Like You Do,” hit number one in over 25 countries. ZAYN and Taylor Swift handled the lead single for the second installment with their Jack Antonoff-produced duet, “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” which also debuted on Billboard’s Hot 100.

The formula for these songs, it seems, is relatively simple: syncopated synth beat, layers of “ooh” vocals in the background, a creeping, sultry verse that builds to a stomping, anthemic chorus. Oh, and lyrics that beg and cajole, that bemoan the kind of romantic love at the center of “Fifty Shades,” the kind that’s illogical and irrational, yet simultaneously uncontrollable and alluring.

Whether it’s actually love or incessant boning that “Fifty Shades” celebrates, the climax of the trilogy is upon us—and so, too, is the final soundtrack. Producers tapped Julia Michaels—a relative newcomer best known for the song “Issues”—for the soundtrack’s third single, which earned Michaels her first Grammy nominations just this past January.

Michaels’ contribution to the “Fifty Shades Freed” soundtrack is “Heaven,” a sensual, slow-burn ballad recalling a love affair as toxic as it was intoxicating. Though sonically understated compared to its “Fifty Shades” predecessors, “Heaven” showcases Michaels’ vocal range and technically clever songwriting.

Michaels, whose songwriting credits include the likes of Selena Gomez and Fifth Harmony, smartly imbues “Heaven” with analogous lyric-sonic motion. “Falling for him was like falling from grace,” she sings on a descending arpeggio, as lyrical “falling” parallels musical descent. Its verse slides down a chromatic scale, whose breaks with major key signature produce a sound as discordant as the love affair in question.

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“Heaven” builds on Michaels’ established sound, the staccato synth backing not unlike the plucked strings that preface the verse of “Issues.” Yet the song makes use of her breathy vocals to spin the tune into a much darker contemplation of love. “All good boys go to heaven, / But bad boys bring heaven to you,” Michaels opines in the chorus. It’s the kind of buzzy wordplay on a truism that sticks in your head—the kind of punchy one-liner you’d expect Dakota Johnson to recite in a “Fifty Shades” trailer.

Any singer who scores a track on the “Fifty Shades” soundtrack seems automatically poised for instant viral music stardom, or at least radio plays. On first listen, though, “Heaven” doesn’t feel like the pop power ballad of “Fifty Shades” soundtracks past. It doesn’t even sound like a song that plays while the credits roll. Sure, there’s nothing remarkably innovative or fresh about “Heaven.” It’s pop manufactured for Hollywood, love synthesized for the radio. It’s a slightly toned-down version of what’s already come, only with a dose of Michaels’ songwriting prowess.

But that’s not to say it’s any less impactful or catchy than its predecessors—in fact, its simplicity lends itself to accessibility. The love in “Heaven” is not the holy grail, as in Ellie Goulding’s version. Nor is love equated to immortality, in ZAYN and Taylor’s version. As Michaels herself sings in the second verse, “There’s no regrets. I just thought it was fun.” “Heaven” renders love, or at least the “Fifty Shades” version of it, in simple terms. The boy is bad for her, and yet, so good.

—Staff writer Caroline A. Tsai can be reached at caroline.tsai@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @carolinetsai3.

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