“Arms Around You” is more algorithm than art. The Lil Pump, XXXTentacion, Swae Lee and Maluma song, which was released last month, is engineered for crossover success by sheer force of SEO optimization. The song tries to exploit a variety of disparate demographics first — SoundCloud rap, Latin pop market, EDM scene — and worries about making a worthwhile creative statement second.
The Mally Mall, Skrillex and JonFX-produced song is a vehicle for Lil Pump, in his role as our new (if unlikely) pop overlord, notably tinkered with after XXXTentacion’s death. “Lil Pump reached out to XXXTentacion’s mom Cleopatra Bernard in an effort to posthumously create a track that would continue the legacy of her son’s status as an innovative force,” a statement released with the song read. “Together, they carefully assembled ‘Arms Around You’ and worked with collaborators Maluma and Swae Lee.” The results were bland, a 2018 pop song that sounded created by committee. Unfortunately, the video, released on Friday, continues the song’s descent into maximizing profit over taste.
Directed by James Lerese, “Arms Around You” relies heavily on effects to make XXXTentacion seem like he was part of the video shoot when, obviously, he was not. The juxtaposition of the Florida rapper looking solemn as sketches of him move in and out of frames as Pump, Lee and Maluma awkwardly dance to the bright, bubbly beat is a lot to take in. At one point, a photo of XXXTentacion is surrounded by angel wings, skeleton arms and a beating heart; Lil Pump shimmies beside him as if he has no care in the world. A video this vapid coming just a few weeks after recordings of XXXTentacion reportedly admitting to domestic abuse and other violent acts is discomforting.
“Arms Around You” isn’t “Despacito” or “Unforgettable,” no matter how recklessly it tries to shove those songs’ templates down the listener’s throat. Rappers getting a commercial boon after their death is generally assured, no matter how grim and morose that can be; there was no need to Frankenstein’s monster this together.