Friday, 16 October 2020

new (and old) music friday #53: ava max, gregory dillon, dagny, mel c

another week, same global pandemic, this time with the added confusion of england's new 3 tier system. 

currently lancashire and liverpool are the only areas that have been added to "tier 3", which means all bars and restaurants must close and mixing with people outside your household isn't allowed. 

i've been on edge waiting to see if greater manchester will be joining them, but mayor andy burnham is doing his best to stop this from happening, arguing that it will lead to (even more) job losses and business closures.

however i'm trying not to get all misty-eyed at the thought of our mayor actually doing something good for the area because knowing how this hideously incompetent government works, i'm fully expecting us to end up in tier 3 despite all his efforts. 

so while we wait for a decision to be made, here are some of the bops that have been keeping me (slightly) sane over the last few weeks. 

1. ava max 

i must confess i've never been a big fan of ava max. after hearing her first single sweet but psycho one night in G-A-Y of all places, it soon took on a life of its own, becoming a monster hit that received more radio plays than i've had hot meals. 

the last time i wrote about her was august 2019, where i was extolling the virtues of her song freaking me out, while being somewhat dismissive of her single torn

in the words of the jonas brothers, oh how the tables have turned.

torn, along with the rest of her recently released album heaven and hell, has become one of my most played songs over the last few weeks. 

i've also been obsessed with tattoo, naked and the uber-dramatic born to the night, which reminds me of the queen, aka one of lady gaga's best songs. 

with the current collection of synth-laden, 80s-leaning music being released by lady gaga, dua lipa and even BTS, it feels like Pop Music as we knew it during the glory days of gaga and katy perry could be making a return, so i was dismayed to see this article which claimed that this was the "end of pop"

sitting somewhere between a review of katy perry's lacklustre sixth album smile and a commentary about the ever-changing music landscape we now find ourselves in, it made many valid points, but i must respectfully disagree with the somewhat misleading title. 

i came across the article via a popjustice interview with ava max herself, in which she praises the saccharine sound that dominates much of her debut album; "i love this album: it’s anthemic, it’s empower­ing, and i enjoyed making it," she says. 

heaven and hell now fits seamlessly into this collection of pro-pop releases, but back when sweet but psycho appeared, we were still wading through the swamp of downbeat, melancholic R&B and "soundcloud rap", which is perhaps why max's single made such an impact on the charts. 

for anyone who claims that the good old days of pop are behind us, max's album proves that there's still a hankering for a Huge Chorus, and i can only hope more artists will follow suit. 

despite various news outlets comparing her sound to lady gaga's 2008 single poker face, it remains to be seen whether max will reach such dizzying heights of superstardom, but her rise to fame (sorry) is certainly impressive for a newcomer. 

2. mel c 

from a newcomer to an established star, i've been excitedly awaiting the arrival of melanie c's eighth studio album who i am, ever since she released high heels last year. 

the song - a joyful celebration of the LGBTQ+ community and an ode to my favourite activity, Getting Ready To Go Out - heralded the beginning of a new dance-pop sound for sporty spice, who captivated audiences worldwide as part of the spice girls. 

she followed it up with who i am, an excellent robyn-esque track, and two more strong singles; blame it on me and in and out of love

however, when i finally listened to the full album i found myself incredibly disappointed, not just with the songs but also the somewhat empty sentiment behind the album itself. 

despite repeated proclamations about fully ~embracing~ herself , the song-writing still felt impersonal and vague, and while i'm not expecting her to go into extreme detail about her struggles with the tabloids or her eating disorder, i was expecting something a bit more personal, especially considering she co-wrote every song on who i am. 

many of the interviews she's done for the album's promotion promise a deeper look at "the real mel c" and her journey towards "self acceptance", but after reading them i still don't feel like i've learned anything new about the singer. 

i only wish she'd taken some of the topics raised in this guardian article and incorporated them into the album's content, but at least she blessed us with some bangers. 

3. forever the sickest kids  

by far one of my most played artists over the last few weeks has been pop-punk pioneers forever the sickest kids. i first started listening to them back in 2007 (!) but this time last year i re-listened to their debut album underdog alma mater, which hasn't aged a day. 

choosing a favourite is hard as i love catastrophe, coffee break, my worst nightmare, believe me i'm lying and woah oh! (me vs everyone) equally, though breakdown has a slight edge as it features what i would consider a Key Change halfway though. 

then a few weeks ago i felt compelled to revisit their third self-titled album, which i remember enjoying as a teenager but not having a strong emotional attachment to like i did with their first release.

it's safe to say i wasn't disappointed, and i actually think i'm enjoying it more this time around. i instantly rediscovered my love for same dumb excuse, crossroads, summer song and bipolar baby! (though i doubt any artist would get away with such a song title these days) but also found new favourites in the form of king for a day, good life, life of the party and keep on bringing me down, which feels especially ~relatable~ during these stressful times. 

they released a fourth album in 2013, which in itself seemed like a risky move as the pop-punk scene i'd loved in my early teens had mostly dried up, and while they tried their hardest to recapture the magic of underdog alma mater, something about this collection of songs fell a little flat. 

luckily music lasts forever, so i can press play on my favourite songs any time and bask in the band's glory days. 

4. dagny 

my next most played artist has to be dagny, who released her long awaited strangers/lovers EP at the start of october. 

i adored come over and somebody, the first two singles released from the project, and naturally was praying for more of the same high octane bops. 

fast forward to this month and i found some of the songs a little disappointing, especially track 9 which was dubbed an "interlude"*; a one minute track verging into Sad Piano Ballad territory which for me feels like a complete waste, and i only wish she'd put another Huge Banger in its place. 

luckily there's bye bye baby, which is shoved near the bottom of the album - a deliberate move as the album tells the story of a relationship from start to finish - when it really should have received a full single release. 

while i've started to tire slightly of the seemingly endless barrage of robyn-inspired tracks being released lately, this one is a definite stand out and i've taken great pleasure in yelling along to it full blast most nights, probably to the annoyance of my family. 

i also enjoyed paris, a more subdued track than i'd usually gravitate towards, and let me cry, which i've also been playing at full volume in an attempt to become word perfect for whenever dagny can eventually tour the UK and i can scream along to it in a live setting. 

while i find some artists' attempts to show their "vulnerability" somewhat cliché (see: mel c above), there was something about let me cry that hit me right where it hurts. it's almost like she took the words right out of my diary and repurposed them in a much more eloquent way, perfectly encapsulating the feeling of wanting to Open Up to somebody and having them do the same with you. 

it's definitely a work in progress for me, and seeing as the NHS is terrible when it comes to getting help for one's ~mental health~ i've essentially become my own therapist, and i finally feel like i'm starting to trust new people. 

every time i listen to it, the feelings are just as strong as the first time i pressed play, and i admire dagny for her ability to be so open and honest in her song-writing. 

(*i've noticed several of my favourite artists adding these "interludes" to their recent releases, and it's a trend that shows no sign of stopping. 

the most prolific offender has to be troye sivan, who included the 52 second "could cry just thinkin about you" on his in a dream EP. maybe it's an artist's attempt to show a more Real side of themselves, as interludes are often rough, unfinished demos or voice notes, but i'd much prefer it if they just added a fully produced track to the album.) 

5. ella henderson 

i've never been the biggest fan of ella henderson, and i still have war flashbacks of her song ghost being played in G-A-Y literally every time i went out in 2014, and it seems i'm not the only one. 

i was honoured to take part in this year's popjustice twenty quid music prizevia zoom - something i was grateful for as it saved me an expensive trip down to london where the judging usually takes place - and one of the contenders was take care of you, henderson's most recent single at the time. 

an incredibly mediocre song with a whiff of clean bandit about it, i wasn't expecting it to get very far, and i was proved right, as when the song went up against another contender (i forget which one), it was swiftly kicked out by the panel of judges. the only problem with this was that ella's manager was actually part of the panel, and hearing everyone slate the song in front of her was one of the most surreal and awkward experiences i've ever had.

fast forward a couple of weeks and she released dream on me, a collaboration with DJ roger sanchez, who scored a Huge Hit with his song another chance back in 2001 (!)

i listened to it whilst getting ready, my attention mostly elsewhere as i attempted to tame the mass of unruly hair atop my head, but when it came to the first chorus i had to drop everything and turn it up louder, such was the power of this bop. 

much of its strength lies in the fact that roger sanchez co-wrote - and i suspect produced - it, as i instantly recognised the sound that made another chance such a big success, so i'm praying henderson will continue to work with other dance producers and give us the bops we deserve. 

i can only dream (help) of the post-covid day i can request this song incessantly at my favourite bar and properly dance to it, but until then i'll be playing it on repeat in my bedroom as loud as the speakers will allow. 

(*the song that came out on top was physcial by dua lipa, a worthy if not incredibly predictable winner, if you ask me. i was of course rooting for if you're too shy by the 1975 but despite my impassioned pleas to the other judges, the song was knocked out halfway through.)

6. julia michaels 

another unexpected addition to this week's post comes from julia michaels. 

the singer-songwriter scored a huge hit with issues back in 2017, an incredibly mediocre song that somehow went triple-platinum in the US, and has released a string of similarly underwhelming songs ever since. 

this could be set to change with lie like this, a far more up-tempo track than i'm used to hearing from michaels. 

it's a shame it was released in october as it has a breezy, summer air about it, and i can confirm it's an excellent soundtrack for being drunk in the back of an uber admiring the city


last time i wrote about FLETCHER, she'd just released her excellent track forever, and now she's got a whole new EP of bangers. 

much like dagny, she uses the seven tracks which make up the s(ex) tapes to chronicle the highs and lows of a relationship that deteriorated during quarantine, and even feel, the prerequisite Sad Piano Ballad, is still a joy to listen to. 

my favourite song is constantly changing, but i always find myself gravitating back to silence or if i hated you, though every track of this slick electro-pop masterpiece is a standout. 

in total contrast to the impersonal lyrics found on mel c's album, FLETCHER delves deep into the intricacies of her relationship with shannon beveridge, who also serves as the album's creative director and shot many of the music videos for the EP. 

it's a dynamic that seems exclusive to queer women; the ability to not only remain friends with an ex but work creatively with them, and in MUNA's case, start a band together. there seems to be little awkwardness between the pair, which is surprising given how personal and at times intimate the songs and music videos are.

she delves into the making of the project - and addresses her privilege as a white cisgender woman - in this teen vogue interview, a particular highlight being "i have so much of my own emotional baggage right now that it’s overweight at the airport", which feels like a pretty good summary of the EP

whilst we await a full length release from FLETCHER, i'll be keeping the s(ex) tapes on repeat, no doubt discovering something new every time i listen.

8. booty luv 

one of the most difficult parts of dealing with COVID-19 has been the closure of live music venues, with all the concerts i'd planned to attend now rescheduled for sometime next year, though the ability to attend a gig - socially distanced of course - still feels like a million years away. 

as someone who would attend at least five or six gigs a year, i've realised how much i rely on live events to give me something to look forward to throughout the year, so imagine my delight when last month we went to freight island - a new development at manchester's disused mayfield railway station - to see a drag show, and a performance from bradley mcintosh, best known for being a member of s club 7, who soundtracked many a school disco back in the early 2000s. 

while the group spilt up in 2003, three of the members - jo o'mera, paul cattermole and bradley mcintosh - formed s club 3, performing at venues across the UK over the last few years, occasionally joined by other members including hannah spearritt and tina barrett. 

it was s club 3 who had originally been scheduled to perform at freight island, but by the day of the show, only bradley took to the stage after o'meara announced in august that she was taking time away from the group to work on a solo project. 

nevertheless, it was a moment my 6 year old self could only dream of, getting to see him perform reach and don't stop movin' live. 

another unexpected addition to the line-up was booty luv, who i can only describe as Trashy Pop, once scoring five top-20 hits in the UK but now largely forgotten.

i've always been a huge fan both then and now, and my friends were equally ecstatic when we found out they'd be appearing at freight island.

it wasn't exactly a roaring crowd that greeted cherise and nadia that night, but when they played some kinda rush and boogie 2nite, we were by far the loudest audience members. 

i only wish they'd been able to play a longer set including my favourite song say it, but i've been listening to them at home ever since and was overjoyed to discover two songs they'd released in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

both fit comfortably into the Trash Pop category that i've come to know and love ever since fully embracing my love of pop music, and while black widow is a solid bop, this night is an Absolute Banger that wouldn't sound out of place in any gay bar.

while i continue to dream of the day i can set foot in a club, i feel satisfied - if not slightly bemused - about the fact they were one of the first artists i saw live post-lockdown. 

9. gregory dillon 

as i tweeted the other day, i'm slightly concerned about the number of times i've played lovely by gregory dillon over the past week. 

there's something about this track - which dillon describes as "my attempt to outrun a fear that i destroyed the beginnings of a new relationship" - i truly can't get enough of, and with halloween right around the corner, he's dropped a super-spooky video that pays homage to the horror film genre. 

i'd also highly recommend his other singles from 2020, screenshots and plastic ferrari, as well as his earlier releases including alien boyfriend, vacuum and painted blue. 

10. brooke 

as always i've saved the best till last, a song by northern irish singer brooke scullion who was set to appear on the 2020 series of BBC's the voice and be mentored by meghan trainor before it was postponed due to the pandemic

determined not to let this stop her, she began working on new music in april and has just released her first single, a frighteningly catchy bop called attention, which is inspired by her friends' experiences with "an obsessive ex", according to this interview with belfast live

in all the years of the voice being broadcast, i've never heard of anyone becoming a Huge Star as a result of appearing on the show, and unlike the x factor, it's yet to birth an incredibly successful act, so here's hoping brooke could be the one to buck the trend. 

Thursday, 17 September 2020

throwback thursday #2: katy perry - teenage dream

katy perry recently released her sixth album smile, and much like her previous release witness, it was incredibly underwhelming, apart from a few tracks which have grown on me in the last few weeks. 

the only Major Bop on the album is teary eyesinspired by the ultimate Sad Banger, robyn's dancing on my own - and i'm also partial to a few listens of cry about it later and tucked

however, i still maintain that perry hit her peak with teenage dream, and it's a statement i've made in various blog posts, yet never fully elaborated on. 

i was all set to change this and do a whole post on the album to revive my throwback thursday series which i started last year, so imagine my surprise when i discovered a whole review i'd written for VIBBIDI in june last year that was never published on the site. 

i've been trying to figure out why this is - the article was finished and ready to go, but after searching through my emails from around that time, i couldn't find any evidence that i'd actually sent it to my editor for him to upload onto the site, and it's nowhere to be found on my profile or perry's artist page

i didn't stop writing for VIBBIDI until october last year, so either i never sent the article, or i did and it was never published.

either way, i've decided to post it here so i can finally put all these feelings i've been storing up about this album out into the world. 

On Teenage Dream, Katy Perry Harnesses The Power Of Nostalgia to Create A Timeless Classic

For an album that spawned five number one singles, it’s hard to believe that Katy Perry’s magnum opus Teenage Dream received a mixed critical reception. On reflection, the male-dominated music industry was never going to take too kindly to a grown woman skipping through a brightly coloured candy land and shooting whipped cream from her bra, but if they’d actually taken time to listen to the lyrics, they might have seen a more vulnerable side to Perry hidden away behind the layers of artifice that came to define her second album. 

While “California Gurls” and “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” topped the charts, critics seemed quick to dismiss them as frivolous party tracks and criticised her move away from the pop-rock inflections found on her debut album “One of The Boys”, but in hindsight, the electro-pop gem “Hot N Cold” should have served as a sign of things to come. 

Looking back, the internalised misogyny from the largely male pool of reviewers is glaringly obvious as they criticised her lyrics that concerned partying and casual hook-ups, themes that have been rehashed countless times by male musicians without anybody batting an eyelid. 

But by judging this album (literally) on face value, blinkered by their narrow definitions of what “real” music is, they failed to realise that these songs were created for not just teenagers but the dreamers and hopeless romantics of the world who seek solace in the safety of a carefully constructed chorus. 

It was this complete and total disdain for pop music that meant I kept my love of albums such as “Teenage Dream” hidden, only embracing it some seven years after its release, but luckily those days are long gone.

Pure Bubblegum Pop?

It would seem that even the brightest stars aren’t above enjoying Teenage Dream; in a 2017 New York Times profile, New Zealander Lorde professed her love for the title track and pop music in general.

“There’s this sadness about it, where you feel young listening to it, but you feel impermanence at the same time”, she said, before continuing,“When I put that song on, I’m as moved as I am by anything by David Bowie, by Fleetwood Mac, by Neil Young. It lets you feel something you didn’t know you needed to feel… There’s something holy about it.” 

Those same critics who decried the brilliance of Teenage Dream would no doubt recoil in horror upon hearing her compare it to David Bowie and Fleetwood Mac, but that’s precisely how I’ve always approached music. No genre is off limits and I despise the phrase “guilty pleasure”. Why should I feel shame over something that’s brought me so much joy in so many dark moments? 

It’s this line between euphoria and tragedy that Perry tows so well, bringing to mind another ode to eternal youth, the hauntingly beautiful immortality of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”. 

On the latter, the song’s subject is “young and sweet, only 17”, in the prime of her life, yet the song’s melody also has a touch of the melancholy, its joyful sound at odds with the personal turmoil experienced by ABBA at the height of their fame. Listening to the song from their perspective, it takes on a whole new meaning as they know that feeling won’t last forever.

“Teenage Dream” evokes a similar sense of sadness because despite Perry’s proclamation that “you and I, we’ll be young forever”, she later went on to divorce Russell Brand, who inspired the song. Footage of the fallout from their split was included in Part of Me, the documentary concert film released in 2012. 

It showed a whole new side to Perry, who seems immobilised by the pain of their separation ahead of a performance as part of the California Dreams Tour. 

A world away from the elaborate wigs and costumes, her vulnerability is on full display, and despite breaking down moments before she’s due on stage, she still manages to deliver an incredible performance, her fans none the wiser. 

The criminally overlooked “Hummingbird Heartbeat” also evokes fond memories of a first love and being inspired by her relationship with Brand, it retains the youthful optimism of “Teenage Dream” while incorporating the same pop-rock sound found on “Waking Up In Vegas” and “Thinking Of You” from One Of The Boys. 

Nevertheless, it’s impossible not to be drawn in by these tales of a love that has the potential to last forever and while it might be a rose-tinted view of the highs and lows that plague one’s adolescence, “Teenage Dream” and “Dancing Queen” serve as a reminder that it’s important to enjoy the good times while they last.

Leaving A Legacy

One of Perry’s greatest gifts is her ability to channel such heartbreak into a universal experience that resonates with everyone the world over, as all good music should. Whether a lover or a hater of pop music, I find it hard to believe that those who were quick to dismiss Teenage Dream wouldn’t have felt at least a shred of compassion as they watched her desperately try to keep her marriage alive in Part of Me. 

Songs such as “Not Like The Movies” and “The One That Got Away” still tug at my heartstrings nearly ten years after the album’s release, even though I’ve never experienced that all-encompassing love she speaks of.  What makes Teenage Dream so brilliant is Perry’s ability to keep believing in it despite the breakups she’s experienced, and nowhere is this more apparent than on “Not Like The Movies”, which urges the listener to never accept second best and wait for that fairy-tale ending, while “Wide Awake” sees her “crashing from the high” of her relationship with Brand, but also finding the strength to carry on as she’s “born again”. 

She emerges from the ashes, bright and triumphant with the undeniably catchy “Firework” and “Part of Me”, a Female Empowerment anthem long before conversations around feminism and #MeToo became a part of everyday life, and they still pack the same emotional punch nearly a decade later. 

Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Leah Greenblatt - one of the few women to review Teenage Dream - criticised its lack of cohesion, but for me it was an expertly crafted collection of songs that blended seamlessly into one another, all retaining the electro-pop sound first heard on “Hot N Cold” and translating it into one chart topping smash after another. 

Not many albums will stand the test of time, but I can guarantee I’ll press play on Teenage Dream in another twenty years and feel that familiar rush of endorphins that made me fall in love with it in the first place, because all the big emotions that encompass the human experience - love and loss, heartbreak and hopefulness - never go out of style. 

Friday, 11 September 2020

new (and old) music friday #52: steps, moistbreezy, grace davies, troye sivan

sadly little has changed since my last post; i'm still dealing with Work Stress, driving lesson-induced panic and my skin is breaking out so much that i now resemble my 15-year-old self, minus the badly drawn black eyeliner and alarmingly orange shade of maybelline's dream matte mousse (which shockingly still exists). 

i'm also still recovering from this year's pride celebrations, which saw me going out three days in a row. however, despite the actual manchester pride festival being cancelled, it was actually the best pride weekend i've ever had, and as someone whose anxiety has anxieties, it was a relief not to have to push my way through the heaving crowds which usually clog up canal street every august bank holiday. 

i've always been of the belief that having several Close Friends is better than lots of random acquaintances, and i much preferred spending the weekend with a few people i actually care about at a smaller - socially distanced - gathering than fighting my way to the bar at a sweaty club and waiting half an hour to be served. 

however, it does mean that we won't be going out-out for a few weeks, so these bops will have to tide me over until then. 

1. julie bergan

i usually save the best till last, but i simply couldn't wait to scream about the new EP from this norwegian pop starlet. 

the last time i wrote about her was in july, but since then she's released her best song yet, which goes by the name of one touch

forming part of her hard feelings: ventricle 2 EP - which includes previously released singles kiss somebody and commando - it gave me goosebumps instantly and i know i'll be playing it on repeat for days/weeks/months to come. 

also worthy of a mention is the other new track all of themthe synth-heavy chorus gives it a ~eurovision~ feel, reminding me of tamta's song replay, which the 2019 entry for cyprus

2. dua lipa

the megastar set Gay Twitter alight once again with club future nostalgia, which gave her 80s-inspired sophomore album a - you guessed it - more club-ready ~vibe~. 

i must admit i was somewhat disappointed with the majority of it and i feel like the only way to fully appreciate it would be whilst Highly Intoxicated in The Club at 3am, which sadly isn't an option right now. 

however, i was overjoyed to see love is religion make an appearance, which i still maintain is her best song and much like carly rae jepsen's love again, deserved an official release. 

if i'm being really picky - which i am - i would have preferred if she just released the original track as opposed to the blessed madonna remix, but at this point i'll take what i can get. 

the other standout was the love again remix by horse meat disco (?) which takes the 80s sound to a whole new level, reminiscent of how will i know-era whitney houston. 

i was also disappointed that if it ain't me wasn't included, but there's still hope that she'll follow in carly's footsteps and release side b of future nostalgia, featuring the much-loved (and leaked) collaboration with normani and love is religion. 


as the end of the year hurtles towards us at an alarming pace, i'm reflecting on the songs that have had the biggest ~impact~ on me in 2020, and hard 2 forget by VINCINT sits pretty high at the top of my list. 

i've been extolling the virtues of his impeccable 80s-inspired bangers since last year, a particular highlight being say, which - as i said at the time - features one of the best key changes in pop since greedy by ariana grande. 

however, VINCINT has truly outdone himself with hard 2 forget, which features both an impeccable Big Chorus and a spectacular Key Change.

he recently announced via twitter that he's planning to release a few more songs over the remainder of this year, so hopefully there's more where that came from. 

4. BTS

speaking of Key Changes, it seems like the world of Mainstream Pop might finally be taking them seriously, as evidenced by BTS on their latest single dynamite

while i'm not a huge k-pop fan, i adored boy with luv and hoped they would one day release another Huge Banger. 

my prayers have now been answered with their first song to be sung completely in english that also happens to be a chic-inspired bop. 

and then there's The Key Change; a moment so powerful it gave me full-body goosebumps the first time i heard it. 

hopefully this signals the start of the Pop Resurgence i've been praying for over the last three years, and other artists will follow suit. 

5. grace davies

on paper, this should not work; a former x factor contestant releasing a song about Female Empowerment, a now-tired trope that has become increasingly commodified in recent years - both in pop music and society overall - along with the entire feminist movement itself. 

but for those who remember grace davies' performances on the 14th series of the singing competition, she was anything but ordinary. 

the now 23-year-old wowed viewers week after week with her original songs and distinctive voice, and her version of life on mars? is still one of the best performances i've seen on the show. 

sadly she didn't win, but securing the top spot isn't always necessary for an artist to succeed post-x factor. 

she proved this by signing with simon cowell's record label in 2018 and releasing her debut single invisible in january this year. 

several more singles followed, and all four were released as part of her friends with the tragic EP in june. 

this brings us to not just a girl, which is definitely the most ~upbeat~ of the EP's largely piano-driven tracks, and her take on the aforementioned Female Empowerment "anthems" that have dominated hen parties over the last decade). 

but what sets this track apart is the incredibly personal yet still ~relatable~ songwriting that has become somewhat of a trademark for davies, and while she's signed to a major label, she's managed to retain her independence and find her own sound. 

it's also a Huge Banger that i never get tired of screaming at the top of my voice, which also helps. 

i've long been fascinated with the effect x factor has had on the world of pop music, and while it could be argued that it's no longer relevant in a world where artists can reach millions of would-be fans without the backing of a big label, it's still beneficial for artists like grace who sit somewhere in-between; think bedroom pop on an arena-size stage. 

gone are the days where artists are tightly controlled by record executives and put in a room with whatever producers a group of old white men have decided will sell the most records - stars who emerged via the reality TV route have now gone on to forge their own unique sound, and grace is no exception. 

6. troye sivan 

i really had a hard time getting into troye's latest EP in a dream, despite loving the first two singles, take yourself home and easy

third single rager teenager! failed to thrill me, and the 52 second could cry just thinkin about you feels like a waste of valuable album space that could have been filled with either a full length version of the melodramatic snippet, or a huge my my my! style banger. 

i even struggled with in a dream - i read about the song prior to its release in a vulture interview, where its sound was described as "maximalist percussion that would fit a wham! song and grinding synths that take precedence over sivan’s echoing, angelic vocals and gentle guitar interludes", so naturally i was expecting this to be the my my my!-esque bop needed to pep up the more subdued sounding songs he'd already released. 

sadly it didn't live up to this incredible description, and i certainly didn't get a whiff of wham! at any point during those 3 minutes and 50 seconds, but after a few days of non-stop listening in a bid to make myself fall in love it, something finally clicked and i've had this easy, breezy track on repeat in the last few days before the summer draws to a close. 

however, my favourite track has got to be STUD - the production and lyrical content far ~edgier~ than the emotional break-up themed tracks which make up the majority of the EP. 

both a personal exploration of body dysmorphia and self esteem issues and a Huge Banger, it's like the dance break which closes out take yourself home turned up to a thousand, and troye himself summed it best when he described it as starting off "super introspective, in my head, and then takes you to this club scene, where you meet this hunky guy who’s there to save you from all of your body image issues.”

it's escapism at its finest, and while it's not quite the polished pop sensibility he explored on bloom, the track provides a much needed boost of energy which contrasts perfectly with the rest of the EP. 

i'd even go as far as to say it's one of his best songs, and i'm hoping his next release will contain more of these Introspective Club Bangers (a new sub genre perhaps?). 

7. miley cyrus

speaking of bangerz, i can't get enough of miley's latest offering, midnight sky

it's distinctly disco while reminiscent of stevie nicks, and it's the Break Up Bop i was hoping troye would bless us with.

i also very much appreciate the line "see my lips on her mouth", because despite the huge increase in LGBTQ artists in recent years, many of them still shy away from using any pronouns in their songs.

the last time i recall such a ~high profile~ female singer discussing a same-sex relationship was halsey in strangers, her collaboration with lauren jauregui, and i can only hope hearing someone as famous as miley being open about it will encourage others to do the same. 

much like in a dream, it took me a few listens to really Get Into It, but once i did, i couldn't stop and was word perfect in about two days. 

she followed up the excellent music video with an iconic VMA performance which culminated in her riding atop a disco ball in true wrecking ball style; we love a self-referential queen. 

much like lady gaga and madonna before her, miley has cycled through a range of different genres since the start of her music career, with varying degrees of success. her "hip hop" era was widely criticised as she was constantly accused of cultural appropriation and her 2013 VMA performance with robin thicke was criticised for what some deemed "sexually provocative" content.  

her last album younger now saw her return to the country roots of her father billy ray cyrus and godmother dolly parton, but it received a lukewarm reception and just two weeks after its release, she stated she was "over it" and "already two songs deep on the next one". 

a collaboration with mark ronson followed in november 2018, and for a while the disco-tinged nothing breaks like a heart was inescapable, receiving its fair share of radio play. 

on reflection, the song bears many similarities to midnight sky, so i'm hopeful that her new album she is miley cyrus will continue in the same vein, and according to wikipedia, she's collaborated with pop heavyweight max martin, producer andrew watt - responsible for bops by rita ora, justin bieber, dua lipa and charli xcx - and billy idol, who is one of my favourite 80s artists of all time. 

if that's anything to go by, i'm expecting a bop-filled album when it's released sometime in the future, but like everything else it's been delayed by the covid-19 pandemic, a vocal chord surgery and her divorce from actor liam hemsworth

8. moistbreezy

i first became aware of moistbreezy when she collaborated with boy sim on his excellent track criminal in 2018. she also contributed vocals to arcade, a hyperpop dream released by that kid in march last year.

then in august she released contact, a truly impeccable bop that appears on her somewhat underwhelming new EP breezy.

for me there's nothing more frustrating than this; how can an artist release one good song and the rest of the tracks are so mediocre??

while i fear that contact might be a one-off, i know i'll still be playing it on loop in the coming months.

9. sia and david guetta

another artist who has consistently frustrated me with a string of underwhelming songs is sia. at her "peak", she experienced huge success with tracks such as elastic heart, chandelier and cheap thrills, a song so irritating it still makes me irrationally angry whenever i hear it.

as i mentioned in this post, her talent as a songwriter is undeniable, and she penned a series of outstanding tracks for vox lux, which featured natalie portman as a fading pop star struggling to keep her life together, and i still love listening to private girl, EKG and blinded by love.

i just couldn't understand why she would give away all these excellent songs to other people and release such disappointing ones under her own name, but this could be set to change with let's love, a brand new collaboration with david guetta.

while it's nothing particularly groundbreaking - sounding like a cross between boys of summer and 2013-era CHVRCHES - i'm hopeful that another household name is climbing aboard the SS Pop Resurgence, joining artists like dua lipa, lady gaga and little mix as they bring back the glory days (i had to) of pop music, filling the charts with 80s-inspired synths, key changes and of course, one Big Chorus after another.

10. steps

it would be wrong to talk about the Peak of Pop without mentioning steps, who enjoyed a glorious run of success in the 90s and early 2000s with singles such as 5, 6, 7, 8, stomp (my personal favourite), deeper shade of blue, and love's got a hold on my heart.

their first three albums were all produced by pete waterman, who remains my absolute favourite producer, responsible for bangers such as hand on your heart and the legendary never gonna give you up.

they also hold the honour of being the only band to successfully cover tragedy, chain reaction and better the devil you know, three songs that are so iconic they really shouldn't be messed with.

while everything steps touched during this time seemed to turn to gold (i am SORRY), they split on boxing day 2001 and h and claire went on to form a duo, though they were dropped after just one album due to poor sales.

the group reunited in 2011 and their next full-length album arrived in 2017 after the release of their incredible single scared of the dark, which features a stupendous Key Change and provided a much needed rush of euphoria when it came on during my post-uni nights out.

released to rave reviews, tears on the dancefloor instantly became one of my favourite albums that year and there's not a single bad song to be found.

so naturally i had high expectations for their new single what the future holds, which the group have been teasing on social media all week.

on first impression, it's Classic Steps, i.e. the perfect addition to the playlist of any respectable gay bar, and has the potential to be a winning Eurovision Banger, but i didn't feel that same elation as the first time i heard scared of the dark.

interestingly, it was written by sia, once again proving my hypothesis that she gives away her best songs to other artists, but if it means we're blessed with bops like this, i'm not mad about it.

as for steps, their sixth album of the same name will be released on november 27th, and i'm hoping for some club-ready bangers that will put it on par with tears on the dancefloor.

Friday, 21 August 2020

new (and old) music friday #51: allie x, robyn, kiesza, griff, rina sawayama

honestly, i couldn't be more relieved to see this week come to an end. 

a combination of Work Stress, hormones and driving lesson-induced panic has just about finished me off, so i decided to do the one thing that consistently brings me joy in times of trouble; write about some of my favourite songs from the last few weeks. 

but before we begin, i must draw attention to the fact that love again - one of my top three carly rae jepsen songs - is finally on spotify after five! long! years!

originally a bonus track from jepsen's seminal sophomore album emotion, i fell in love with it instantly and was always mystified as to why it never appeared on the album, even just as a bonus track (though it did appear on the japanese edition). 

however my days of wondering are no longer as she announced via twitter that love again and never get to hold you would be available on spotify.

the Queen of The Gays delivered once again, dropping a "deluxe expanded edition" of her finest work on the streaming platform today, so that's my plans sorted for the next 48 hours. 

1. allie x

another pop icon whose debut EP has been receiving a new wave of adoration from fans since the queens from canada's drag race lip-synced to her song hello is allie x

i still remember being captivated by bitch and prime back in 2014, but re-listening to the EP the other day literally brought me to tears, so in awe i was over the impeccable synth-driven production. 

i've struggled to listen to good as its lyrics have always been a bit too Close To Home, but i managed to push my feelings aside and appreciate the song and its super dramatic outro, along with the CHVRCHES-inspired sound of catch and tumour

but my favourite has got to be sanctuary, with production so intense i couldn't contain my tears, and have played it endlessly since.

i hate to admit it, but i found her most recent album cape god a bit too subdued for my liking, so i'm glad to have coxlltion I to tide me over until her next release. 

2. astrid s 

another artist i've been obsessing over in the last few months is astrid s, whose uber-catchy bops have been a mainstay in my most played songs, and her latest single marilyn monroe doesn't disappoint.

i hate to use the word "sassy" but that's exactly what this song is, a defiant statement to anyone who dares to judge not only astrid but women in general. 

it sometimes feels like whatever decision we make is open to criticism, whether that's wearing make-up or going bare-faced, dating casually or settling down with one person, and dressing in a ~revealing~ way as opposed to covering up. 

but none of that matters as soon as i press play on this absolute banger, which i can't wait to blast at full volume on my Daily Walks (literally the only vaguely good habit i've developed during lockdown). 

3. robyn 

i've always felt that robyn hit her peak with 2010's body talk, the album which spawned the original Sad Banger, dancing on my ownand a diabolical cover that somehow reached number 2 in the UK charts a few years later - along with hits like call your girlfriend, hang with me, indestructible and the sorely underrated stars 4-ever.

that all changed with her latest track impact, a collaboration with producer SG lewis and channel tres. it's the high impact (i am SORRY) production robyn's more recent releases have been lacking and i can't wait for this song to be played at full volume in Tha Club once we're allowed back on the dancefloor. 

4. kiesza 

Gay Twitter has been buzzing about the release of kiesza's latest offerings for the last few months, and with their 80s-inspired production and a Big Chorus or two, it's easy to see why. 

she first became known for her song hideaway back in 2014, which brings back somewhat distressing memories of nights out at uni as the song was played on loop in every single bar, so naturally i'm delighted she's moved towards a more pop sound. 

i'd highly recommend all of the feelings, crave, run renegade, and my favourite track love me with your lie, along with the MEDUN remix


i last wrote about FLETCHER when she released the alarmingly catchy track forever back in april, and her latest single if i hated you is another excellent break-up bop i've been playing non-stop. 

featuring a similar synth-laden chorus to forever, the track forms part of her upcoming EP the s(ex) tapes, set to be released on september 18th, which hopefully contains more of the same. 

6. the japanese house 

as someone who's always loved Big Pop Songs, i've found my enjoyment of the japanese house's low-key sound to be somewhat of an anomaly in my music taste, but ever since i first heard the pools to bathe in EP back in 2015, i've been a huge fan of amber bain. 

her latest EP chewing cotton wool follows her long-awaited full-length album good at falling, which was released last year and easily became one of my all-time favourite albums. 

upon first listen, i didn't love the EP's first single chewing cotton wool, but having re-listened, it's perfect for those times where i just need to be In My Feelings. 

opening track sharing beds harks back to amber's early days where her vocals were so distorted it was hard to tell if it was a man or woman singing, retaining that sharp electronic sound which had been missing from her more recent EPs, swim against the tide and 3/3. 

after taking what felt like a slightly more ~pop~ direction and stripping back the autotune on songs like you seemed so happy, somebody you found and good side in, i'm glad she's returned to her roots, as i still get the same goosebumps when i hear early tracks like still, clean and teeth, though that might just be the nostalgia talking. 

i instantly loved something has to change when it was released last september but my favourite track has to be dionne, a collaboration with justin vernon - aka bon iver - which no doubt sent Real Music fans (aka men who use beard oil non-ironically) into auto-drive. 

i could talk at length about how the use of autotune is praised when used by male artists like bon iver and francis and the lights but women such as charli xcx and amber herself face criticism for hiding their "real" voices with it, but i'd much rather talk about what an incredible track dionne is.

sonically it harks back to her earlier releases, but lyrically the track - and the EP as a whole - see amber exploring the aftermath of a breakup. 

on instagram she said these songs "punctuate the stages of coming out of a relationship and entering into a new phase", and her eloquent self-reflection is reflected in the lyrics of dionne, particularly "your past becomes your present if it's always on your mind", a feeling i know all too well as i've struggled to let certain people go in the past. 

7. griff

speaking of which, another artist who has been extolling the virtue of being kinder to yourself and Letting Go is griff. her track forgive myself hit me right where it hurts, so much so that i can't even choose a particular line that resonated the most. 

like the japanese house, it's a much more mellow sound than i generally gravitate towards, but as long as there's some synths thrown in i can get on board, particularly as she wrote and produced the whole track herself. 

her latest track say it again is slightly more upbeat in context, and i can feel myself developing a mild obsession with it in the coming weeks. 

think of it as a Dual Purpose Bop; perfect for playing in the background whilst working or doing a mundane task but transforming into a bit of a banger when played full volume with a hairbrush microphone in hand. 

8. rina sawayama

i must admit, when i saw rina sawayama support charli xcx in october last year, i wasn't particularly impressed, despite everyone on my twitter timeline professing their love for her. 

but during lockdown i became a regular attendee of queerantine, the virtual equivalent of girls night out, and one of the songs played was who's gonna save u now? by rina. 

this would make an excellent Karaoke Song, and i'm living for the day i can drunkenly scream along to it in a booth at my favourite bar. 

featuring a euphoric guitar solo and KEY CHANGE, it sounds like a modern day mash up of holding out for a hero and total eclipse of the heart by bonnie tyler, two of the most dramatic and iconic songs of all time, an honour i don't hand out to present day pop stars without good reason. 

i also really enjoy bad friend, a 1975-esque, auto-tuned Sad Bop that sees rina address her tendency to lose touch with once close friends. again, it's a familiar feeling, forcing me to accept that i too could have made more effort with friends i no longer speak to.

finally there's the brabo and pablo vittar remix of comme des garçons (like the boys) which i also discovered during one of the queerantine zoom nights and is an excellent song to make you feel like That Bitch.  

9. lesley roy

it wouldn't be a new music friday without a eurovision bop, and while this year's contest was cancelled due to coronavirus, i've been playing story of my life by lesley roy on repeat over the last couple of months. had the show gone ahead as planned, she would have represented ireland in the competition, and it's a travesty that we won't get to see it performed live. 

my only requirement for a eurovision song is that it's as "cheesy" as possible. while most people would consider this a bad thing, i gave up caring about what they think a long time ago, and this song fits the criteria perfectly with a Huge Chorus that wouldn't sound out of place on an early one direction song. 

10. the toppers

though not released this year, during one of the BBC's many eurovision-themed programmes they showed to try and compensate for the cancelled contest, i became aware of what is by far one of the cheesiest entries ever. 

representing the netherlands in 2009, the song is shine by a group called the toppers, which features alarmingly positive lyrics, a Big Chorus and multiple key changes, a winning formula that means i never get tired of hearing it. 

clearly the majority of people don't share my enthusiasm for the song as it failed to qualify for the eurovision final, but luckily we were blessed with a semi-final performance that includes a woman with an eerily resemblance to gemma collins on backing vocals and pretending to DJ, so if you need a serotonin boost, i'd highly recommend watching it here

11. samantha harvey

i can only assume it was popjustice who introduced me to british singer-songrwriter samantha harvey. 

she began posting covers on youtube back in 2017 before releasing her first EP in 2018, and while these generic, top-40 filler songs failed to thrill me, it was her 2019 single get to know you which caught my attention. 

gone were the Sad Piano Ballads and in their place, a much more 80s-inspired sound. 

get to know you is as catchy as they come, and she followed it up with a remix by ekko city, which gives the bubblegum pop masterpiece a club-ready edge. 

then in june this year she released hard to get, a slice of pop perfection with a chorus so good it still gives me chills every time i hear it.

hopefully there's more where that came from, and maybe she'll even sneak in a Key Change or two.