Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Del Rey are talented performers who, despite their fondness for cultural appropriation, have all cranked out more than their fair share of legitimately fantastic music. “Don’t Call Me Angel,” the new single tied to Elizabeth Banks’ upcoming Charlie’s Angels, is not a particularly bright spot on any of their discographies.
The concepts behind both the song itself and the accompanying music video directed by Hannah Lux Davis are fairly straightforward and on-brand: Three women with different styles and personalities come together to form a super team of deadly spies who get shit done and have fun while they’re doing it.
It’s the pure essence of Charlie’s Angels, and you’d think that between the three singers, and the team of writers and producers who also crafted the song, “Don’t Call Me Angel” would end up being the sort of late-summer bop that would get you hyped up to see the film when it hits theaters later this fall.
And yet...both the song and the music video are disorienting messes that are surprising because you know everyone involved here is capable of much, much more. Lyrically, “Don’t Call Me Angel” is an exploration of its title’s declaration: All of the women are being watched by people who find them fascinating, but they’re not interested in being objectified. There’s nothing wrong with a simple, strong idea like that, but as each of the singers steps up to the mic for her individual verse, you get the sense that no one got everyone together to talk about making the vocals work together as discrete pieces of a musical song.
Grande, Cyrus, and Del Rey are all drastically different kinds of singers and the frenetic pop-y beat bouncing beneath “Don’t Call Me Angel” does little in the way of giving them much of a chance to blend their styles in an interesting way. At times, it seems as if you’re listening to three different demos strung together, which is made all the weirder because the music video is trying to use the music to help tell its own specific Charlie’s Angels narrative. The video follows each singer on different Townsend missions that showcase their unique approaches to espionage.
Ariana’s quite good with walkie-talkies and ordering in helicopters. Miley will fight you with her fists and bite you while wearing too many gold chains. Lana, the chillest-seeming of the group, spends a lot of her time luxuriating and petting her vast collection of weapons that she’s presumably very good at murdering people with. They might not be the trio from the film, but they are a group of Charlie’s Angels, and it’s hard to believe that any of them have ever successfully pulled off a mission.
Productions like this that are connected to major movies are a tricky. When they’re good, they’re good, and the movie’s got a little bright spot attached to it that may or may not have any bearing on the plot. But when they’re bad, that has the odd effect of making the movie seem iffy by association. The music video establishes that Ariana, Miley, and Lana are hanging out at the Townsend Agency, but the story that’s being presented doesn’t have much to say about what kind of agents they are or what you’re exactly supposed to get out of the music video.
Obviously, this year’s Charlies Angels will be a different movie than McG’s 2000 cult classic, but you can’t help but notice that both films were rolled out with big, buzzy song/video combinations headlined by stars. It isn’t exactly fair to compare any trio of individual singers to Destiny’s Child—an established group known for their epic harmonies. But the entire premise of “Don’t Call Me Angel” wouldn’t really be possible if Beyoncé, Kelly, and Michelle didn’t run the “Charlie’s Angels Boot Camp” in the “Independent Women Pt. 1” video.
Beyond the literal references to the actors performing in Charlie’s Angels, what “Independent Women Pt. 1” captured both as a video and as a song is that while all of the Angels can and often do operate individually, they all understand how and when to work together in order to accomplish their goals. There’s no reason that the women of “Don’t Call Me Angel” couldn’t be presented as a coordinated outfit of trained spies, but the video only reinforces the song’s underlying suggestion that they’re all out of sync with one another.
If “Don’t Call Me Angel” existed in a vacuum independent from the actual world Charlie’s Angels exists in, that’d be one thing. But the fact that Elizabeth Banks makes a cameo at the very end of the video as an actual Bosley who’s apparently in charge of this squad means that they’re an actual in-universe team, and from the looks of it, they might not be the kinds of spies you’d want saving your ass.
Charlie’s Angels hits theaters November 15.
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