In Random Tracks, I’m reviewing a random hit song from any point in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 going from the chart’s beginning in 1958. If you like what I’m doing, comment and let me know what random Hot 100 hit song you want me to review.
JP Saxe- “If The World Was Ending” (feat. Julia Michaels)
PEAK: #27 on September 12, 2020
SONG AT #1 THAT WEEK: BTS’ “Dynamite”
It’s funny how time changes the perception of a song.
When “If The World Was Ending” was first released in October 2019, it was easy to see the song as nothing more than a forgettable joint between an unknown Canadian singer and an industry songwriter and singer who hadn’t had a hit in a couple of years. By the time the song peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 almost a year later, the world had drastically changed with a raging pandemic forcing us inside and to change how we live our lives. All of a sudden, a song like this held a new resonance. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be any good.
Jonathan Percy Starker Saxe came up in Toronto learning various instruments and writing songs. (The #1 song in the US when Saxe was born was Snow’s “Informer.”) Soon he was performing his material on Toronto’s music scene and posting his work online before catching the attention of some American producers which led Saxe to move out to Los Angeles. There, he began recording and releasing music none of which caught on or charted anywhere. But there was one person who was listening.
Singer and songwriter Julia Michaels stumbled upon JP Saxe’s music one day and was immediately a fan posting about him on her social media pages. Saxe was also a fan of Michaels’ music so the two got together to write some songs with “If The World Was Ending” written as part of their session. Michaels knows a thing or two about writing. Growing up in California in an entertainment family, Michaels started in her teens writing songs for major artists and has also put out music of her own as well as collaborations. (The #1 song in the US when Michaels was born was Meat Loaf’s “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).” Michaels’ highest-charting single, 2017’s “Issues,” peaked at #11. As a songwriter, Michaels will eventually appear in The Ones of the ’10s.)
In the song, both Saxe and Michael portray a couple who’ve broken up before an earthquake they experience a year after makes them think about each other and their own mortality. They both reconnect acknowledging that they weren’t right for each other but on the chorus they use the supposed end of the world to question their devotion to each other that they would be together and that all their fears about the world wouldn’t matter now that they’re together again.
Now framing a love song around the end of the world or some other worldwide apocalypse isn’t a bad idea on its own. Many great songs use this concept to create big sounds or lyrics that catch your attention. And using it to talk about a couple reconnecting also isn’t a bad idea where maybe the partners could express their past faults and learn with the events of the world to be better toward each other. “If The World Was Ending” is none of that.
In the verses, both Saxe and Michaels state how the first thing they immediately think about after the earthquake is each other despite them being apart for a year. Aren’t there more important people in your lives that you could be giving more attention to amid a life-threatening disaster? Also, they both state that the earthquake didn’t affect them all that much so what’s the point here in reconnecting if you weren’t shaken at all by what happened removing any tension from the song. Plus, there’s no suggestion that the two of them have even learned from their past mistakes instead using the earthquake as a lazy excuse to get back together and not worry about anything else.
And it’s not like JP Saxe and Julia Michaels are doing anything to sell it. Both singers have as much chemistry as a doormat. Saxe comes across as weak and anonymous while Michaels tries to inject emotion into the lyrics but ultimately fails to place any meaning to this already flawed song. This easily shows in the Jason Lester directed music video where they don’t even appear together most of the time and when they do we’re supposed to believe that this skinny teddy bear-looking doofus is in love with Julia Michaels. And that’s before getting at the contrived Emergency Alert System alarm from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that plays during the opening and closing of the video.
Both of them don’t have the ability to make a song like this work which isn’t helped by the music. Saxe and Michaels recruited Finneas O’Connell, the brother and collaborator of future The Ones of the ‘10s subject Billie Eilish, to produce their song after he expressed his liking of it. (As a songwriter and producer, O’Connell will eventually appear in The Ones of the ‘10s.) As someone who normally likes Finneas’ work with his sister, this is nowhere near his best as he’s saddled with this drippy adult-contempo schlock. There is a nice almost jazzy touch on the piano at the beginning that gives the song a saving grace but it goes downhill from there with standard piano chords and Finneas cranking up the reverb desperately trying to give the song power it doesn’t have.
Despite my negative attitude about the song, I get why this song got as big as it did. In a year of unprecedented turmoil and upheaval, people like to find comfort and make sense of this situation any way they can. With music, songs whose titles and/or lyrics make even the faintest references to our current times will naturally strike more of a chord with listeners whether they deserve to or not. This explains Saxe and Michaels teaming with various other artists this past April to record “If The World Was Ending” for charity with proceeds benefitting Doctors Without Borders for their work in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If The World Was Ending” wasn’t a huge hit peaking modestly in the Top 30 but gave Saxe his first taste of mainstream success and Michaels her first major hit as an artist since “Issues.” Both Saxe and Michaels haven’t had other hits this year but after their collaboration, they’ve started a relationship together and released a holiday-themed collaboration “Kissin’ In The Rain” earlier this month. They seem to be doing good for themselves.
BONUS BEATS: Here is the aforementioned Doctors Without Borders benefit version of “If The World Was Ending:”
(I’m not going to get into the highest-charting single of every single motherfucker on the Doctors Without Borders version but Kesha has already appeared in The Ones of the ‘10s twice and will appear in it again. Jason Derulo will also appear on this site.)