Thursday, 31 December 2020

the winds of change are comin' over me: on being present, pursuing a passion and making peace with yourself

“in every work of art something appears that does not previously exist, and so, by default, you work from what you know to what you don’t know" - ann hamilton (making not knowing

as pale waves once sang, i don't wanna be alone on new year's eve, and this sentiment has never been more apt. 

this will be the first time i've spent new year's eve at home since 2016, when both a temp job in retail and the fact that all my uni friends had gone home for christmas prevented me from going out and celebrating.

i spent the night completely alone, which isn't something i'd recommend, but sadly this year that was the reality for many people who were unable to go home for christmas due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

i've always been An Introvert, so part of me was relieved to skip what has historically been a stressful and somewhat cursed event, with drunken arguments and losing my most valuable possessions in a park (?) just some of the wonderful things that have happened to me on new year's eve. 

of course this year is different; no longer trapped in my draughty university house with its erratic central heating system and housemates i had nothing in common with, i would love nothing more than to be stressing about my outfit and haphazardly applying fake tan in preparation for The Big Night. 

but covid put a stop to all that, as 90% of the UK is now in the newly created "tier 4", the conditions of which are essentially the same as the initial Full Lockdown we experienced back in march, with the "stay at home" order rearing its ugly (but necessary) head once again. 

it's true that you only really appreciate something once it's gone, and despite previously approaching NYE celebrations with some hesitation, i would gladly take my chances and fully embrace the celebration this year. 

i've come to realise that new year's eve is supposed to be terrible, as we strain under the weight of not only the excess calories consumed over the festive season, but all the resolutions we make knowing full well they won't last beyond january 2nd. 

much like the muffin tops that hang over our new year's outfits, so too does the pressure to have The Best Night Ever as a precursor to The Best Year Ever, in which we will finally start running/stop smoking/drinking/having any kind of fun and Get Our Shit Together. 

while i'm all for self improvement, this amount of pressure only leads to spilled drinks and ridiculously expensive ubers home, not to mention the hangover from hell the next day. 

but of course, now all that has been stripped away and i'll be forced to stay indoors, i take some comfort in this guardian article by james greig in support of new year's eve celebrations. 

as the cost of Going Out has risen over the last few years, part of me can understand why people would be reluctant to spend the night at a bar that charges £20 entry, but as greig says, "i have been locked in a one-man culture war against homebodies, irrationally furious that someone, somewhere, might be enjoying having more time to spend curled up under the duvet with a peppermint tea and a page-turner, or whatever it is that introverts like to do."

you may notice that this contradicts what i previously said about being An Introvert, but Going Out is perhaps the one time where i can shed my nervous exterior (largely thanks to copious amounts of alcohol) and fully Be Myself, so i too have become irritated by this ever-growing swathe of people for whom Staying In is an innate part of their personality, and who seem to look down on people who, god forbid, actually like to leave the house. 

but for those of us who don't co-exist in perfect harmony with whoever we live with, greig rightfully describes NYE as "a pressure release after the tensions of a domestic christmas, a way of reasserting adulthood after the infantilization of spending time with your family and slipping into historic roles", especially as many people who once lived alone and enjoyed their independence have now been forced to move back home full time. 

of course, not going out for one more night after months of lockdown and national restrictions probably won't make a huge difference to our already frayed mental states, but i can't help feel slightly sad that i won't get to put some glitter on my face and make questionable decisions in a nightclub. 

so what to do with all our free time? that article led me to another piece by elle hunt, who like many people this year, realised that she was suffering from work-related burnout and wanted to make a change. i had a similar moment of realisation in july, as it ocurred to me that my ambitions to move to london and become a magazine editor by age 25 were not only a) wildly unrealistic, but b) a cover for various Mental Health issues i'd been experiencing before and during my time at uni. 

while my struggle to find a Full Time Job doing something i don't hate is something i've been experiencing for the last three (!) years, many people who previously had a 9-5 job now find themselves in a position not too dissimilar to my own, trying desperately to fill the seemingly endless hours of Free Time that lie ahead. 

in a culture that equates self-worth with productivity and glamourizes working 50+ hours a week, it's no surprise that so many of us are now realising that this way of living is no longer sustainable, nor good for our mental well-being. it might be a cliché, but once i realised that i'm not defined by what i do for work and i should prioritise other areas of my life, i began to feel better. 

one of those things was to surround myself with people i could fully Be Myself around, and of course once i'd found them, my entire social life was put on hold at the start of the year, then resumed briefly during the ill-advised "eat out to help out" scheme of this past summer, and is now firmly back on hold with the return of the "stay at home" order. 

at first it was incredibly frustrating, but around the beginning of november, right after my scaled back birthday celebrations, i began to realise that all this free time wasn't a problem to be solved, but something to be enjoyed. 

after years of ignoring the advice of various counsellors and therapists to try Being Present, it was only during the last few weeks in which all outdoor activities were prohibited, that i started to follow the advice of roman philosopher seneca and "hold every hour in your grasp". 

another detour here: i became aware of seneca and his book letters from a stoic after reading this article about zadie smith. 

her latest book intonations is a collection of essays which she began writing at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and finished soon after the murder of george floyd. 

this article includes several quotes from one essay called something to do, which mirrors my own experiences of trying to see free time as a gift and a privilege rather than something that must be constantly filled with meaningless tasks. 

in the absence of these tasks, one of which being the banana bread craze that swept across the world mid-pandemic, she writes that "love is not something to do, but something to be experienced, and something to go through — that must be why it frightens so many of us and why we so often approach it indirectly".

at a time where human connection has become more important than ever, it's a sentiment that resonates deeply with me, and an idea i hope to hang onto when life eventually returns to "normal" and our lives are once again filled with work and social engagements. 

she also appears to come to terms with her fear of the unknown (something i've always struggled with) when she says, "i’m not the only person on this earth who has no idea what life is for, nor what is to be done with all this time aside from filling it."

it was once believed that only ~creative~ people like artists and writers had the time to contemplate such intense ideas, but more and more people who would have previously been "too busy" for that kind of thinking are now pondering this question, and working out how to fill their time without the constraints of work. 

going back to seneca's idea of holding every hour in my grasp, i've been trying to focus on things from one hour to the next, rather than worrying about what will happen in the next few days/weeks/months. 

even something as simple as going for a walk felt like a task i had to complete in a hurry until the other day, when the snow and ice that appeared overnight meant i had no choice but to walk at a slower pace to avoid slipping and/or falling over. 

at first it was slightly annoying, but once i realised i didn't have anything i needed to rush home for, i was able to actually focus on and, dare i say, enjoy my surroundings. 

to quote seneca once again, "nothing is ours, except time" and i'm now much more at ease with this idea, finding enjoyment in simple things like reading a book and of course, listening to music. 

after coming across this interview of stevie nicks by matt healy, i found myself listening to buckingham nicks, the 1973 album created by a pre-fleetwood mac stevie and lindsay buckingham. for reasons i'll never understand, the album wasn't a commercial success and the duo were dropped from their label due to "poor sales". as a result, it was never given an official release - though the odd copy can be found on amazon - and was never added to streaming platforms. 

luckily a full version can be found on youtube, and while every track is excellent - especially lindsay's solos without a leg to stand on, don't let me down again and lola (my love), all of which reminded me why i made a disastrous attempt to learn the guitar between the ages of 14-17 - my favourite has to be frozen love.

a glorious seven minute long track, the real magic begins at precisely 3:45, when the guitar-based melody gives way to a glorious orchestral backing track that flows seamlessly into buckingham's picking technique.

special mention must also be given to that's alright and without you, two demos from the coffee plant sessions which showcase nick's incredible vocals long before landslide

i've long been fascinated by the idea of Real Music and what makes a song or album have that "timeless" quality so revered by critics, most of which are balding, middle-class white men. 

i'm not denying the existence of such things; as soon as i heard the buckingham nicks album, my mind instantly categorised it as a Forever Album, i.e. something i'll listen to in 5 years that will still make me Feel Things. 

while there's the classics like goodbye yellow brick road, avalon and ziggy stardust and the spiders from mars, some more recent albums such as lorde's magnum opus melodrama and the 1975's sophomore release i like it when you sleep... can also be considered Forever Albums, and the newest addition to this exclusive club is imploding the mirage by the killers. 

while i've always considered myself a fan of the band since their human era, i had no idea they'd released this album until months later when one of my ~internet friends~ tweeted me about it. 

naturally i listened straight away and wasn't disappointed. 

since their debut album hot fuss was released to critical acclaim in 2004, the band have created what can now be described as their Signature Sound, which encompasses inspirations such as the smiths, new order and depeche mode as well as a classic rock and roll sound, and nowhere is this more apparent than on imploding the mirage. 

after watching an episode of song exploder that sees the killers discussing how their 2006 single when you were young was created, i re-listened to the new album and realised that their "stadium ambition" - to create a big sound regardless of the the setting - has never left them. 

it's a shame they won't be headlining reading and leeds next year as the first track my own soul's warning would make an excellent set opener. i also appreciate the lyrics, which remind me of all the times where i went against my ~intuition~ despite knowing something was wrong. 

dying breed, caution and running towards a place wouldn't look out of place next to classics like read my mind (probably my favourite killers song), somebody told me and of course mr. brightside.

much like their early work, imploding the mirage also draws from the band's personal experiences of living in las vegas, far away from the bright lights of sin city. blowback is a perfect example of this. veering in a slightly country direction, the track tells the story of a small town "white trash" girl longing for more. 

the title track is reminiscent of lead singer brandon flowers' solo releases, particularly diggin' up the heart from 2015's the desired effect, while when the dreams run dry pays homage to their love of 80s synth-pop acts like depeche mode.

but my favourite song, and the one which best evokes that feeling of a Forever Song is fire in bone. a dead ringer for talking heads with a hint of U2, there's just something about this song that i love but can't fully put into words. 

genius describes the song as "largely a retelling of the story of the prodigal son from luke 15:11-32 in the christian bible", and its themes of guilt, shame and redemption are probably why the song stirs something inside me that i've long tried to keep hidden.  

overall it's one of their best albums to date, and i know i'll still be having these same feelings when i press play on it in years to come. 

but what about those songs that don't have a sense of Forever about them? my teenage self would have dismissed them as disposable, throwaway pop songs, but now i realise that not every piece of music needs to be deep and profound to be enjoyed. 

i'm referring to artists such as becky hill, who i now have a newfound appreciation for thanks to one of my friends sending me several of her songs recently. 

hill is an artist that is everywhere and nowhere at the same time; her songs have soundtracked the Big Nights Out of anyone who non-ironically attended a slug and lettuce or revolution in the last six years (speaking of which, please read this impeccable piece of journalism from vice), and yet i couldn't name a single song until recently. 

it's a strange feeling, to be so familiar with a song (gecko (overdrive) in particular gives me war flashbacks to every club i attended between 2014-2016) and yet keep discovering new things about it with each listen. i now find myself unashamedly enjoying bops such as space, heaven on my mind, wish you well, better off without you and lose control. i'd also recommend watching her radio 1 dance weekend mashup if you're missing The Club as much as i am.

the final artist i've been enjoying without a trace of irony is RAYE. much like becky hill, she was someone i'd always been aware of but never really listened to beyond dreamer, her iconic collaboration with charli xcx and starrah.

then her song please don't touch was one of the contenders for popjustice's twenty quid music prize this year, and while it didn't win, i found myself listening to the low-key bop on repeat, along with love me again, another track that's far more subdued than my usual tastes.

luckily she upped the energy levels with the release of her EP euphoric sad songs in november this year.

it contained the aforementioned singles as well as secrets, her collaboration with regard that is a Mild Banger/excellent Walking Song.

natalie don't and love of your life both feature the disco-inspired sound that made kylie minogue's disco and dua lipa's future nostalgia two of the year's finest albums, while regardless brings a club-ready feel to the proceedings and feels like a distant cousin of waiting for tonight by jennifer lopez.

and yet my most-played track is walk on by, which sits somewhere between ballad and disco bop, never fully committing to either sound.

however there's no confusion about the direction of her latest offering, as this month she blessed us with a "dance edition" of the EP, featuring remixes by joel corry, punctual and MOTi.

i'd also highly recommend her radio 1 dance weekend mashup which features an exquisite reworking of by your side, a collaboration with jonas blue released in 2016.

sonically, RAYE and becky hill couldn't be further away from the "classic" sound of buckingham nicks and the killers, but my enjoyment of all these artists is what unites them, regardless (SORRY) of whether they could be categorised as Forever Songs or not. 

i've always hated Music Snobs (having been one myself), and this exploration of "real music" is something i cannot wait to explore further when i start my masters in musicology at the university of manchester (!) next september. 

told you i always save the best till last.

Friday, 27 November 2020

new (and old) music friday #54: tom aspaul, MARINA, pale waves, betta lemme, kylie minogue

since my last post, not much has changed, as the minute england's month-long lockdown ended, most of the country - including manchester - has been put straight back into tier 3, meaning we still can't meet people indoors and pubs and restaurants must remain closed. 

while my mental health is generally Not Great, for some reason i found it even more difficult to deal with the effects of the lockdown over the last two weeks.

maybe it's because the days are getting increasingly shorter and the sun now sets at 4pm; i had no idea that the lack of sunlight could have such a big impact on how i feel. 

the only other significant thing was that i turned 25 (!) on halloween, and celebrated my birthday with just one (1) close friend in an outdoor space with only a bluetooth speaker and several bottles of wine, but weirdly it ended up being The Best birthday i've ever had, despite the fact we couldn't go to Tha Club. 

i'll spare you the clichéd bullshit about how it's the people you surround yourself with that makes Life Events like birthdays more enjoyable, but it's one thing i've realised as a result of this incredibly stressful year, and something i hope to hold onto once we're all vaccicnated and can return to a vague sense of normality. 

that's enough of the Fake Deep stuff for now though - below are the artists and albums that have been keeping me (slightly) sane during this trying time

1. tom aspaul

i first became aware of tom aspaul when he released the excellent single back 2 earth in 2019, and he recently followed it up with his debut album, black country disco.

the theme of ~home~ is one i've explored at length since this blog began 5 (!) years ago and it was screaming about the music that most reminded me of manchester that led me to where i am now, so when i heard that his album was an ode to his hometown of birmingham, i was instantly intrigued before i'd even heard a single song.

by combining the disco sound that has slowly been creeping back into the pop landscape with lyrics exploring the end of a relationship, difficulties in his music career and returning to birmingham after living in london for several years, aspaul has created a collection of impeccably catchy tracks that i can't get enough of.

highlights include tender, traces, title track black country disco and my personal favourite W.M., which makes birmingham sound like a neon-drenched paradise, something i never though any artist could achieve.

2. astrid s

the norwegian singer released her long-awaited debut album leave it beautiful last month, and though it's a lot more ~muted~ than i was hoping for, the tove lo-esque tracks still have that satisfying synth-driven sound i love, even if the choruses are slightly less dramatic than i would have liked.

title track leave it beautiful is an ode to possibly the most amicable break-up ever, as she pledges to end things on a positive note with her ex, while quite literally singing the praises of a new love on can't forget.

there's also some Self Reflection, which can often seem trite, but astrid avoids this by sprinkling in some of her personal experiences on good choices - who hasn't stayed out late when they know they're up at eight the next day?

with the exclusion of singles dance dance dance and marilyn monroe, my favourite track has to be hits different, an ode to ~self love~ that makes an excellent Walking Song, whether you're newly single or not.

sadly i didn't get to hear any of these songs live as her UK tour - scheduled to start this month - was postponed due to COVID, but hopefully next year i'll be able to yell along to the words at full volume like nothing ever happened.

3. kylie minogue

as i said before, disco has well and truly made a return to the world of pop, and naturally kylie minogue's 15th (!) studio album is the best of a good bunch.

after the disappointment of her cliché country album golden in 2018, i was nervous that her first new music in two years would be disappointing, and while her first few singles didn't thrill me, the rest of DISCO definitely exceeded my expectations.

a filler-free album is hard to find, but of course kylie delivered on this front, and while i naturally favour certain songs over others, there's not a Bad Song in sight (or sound). 

speaking of favourites, my number one track is the daft punk-inspired dance floor darling, which deserves a grammy purely for the middle part which speeds up slightly like that bit in come on eileen before erupting into a final Dramatic Chorus, and i'm dreaming of the day when i can finally hear it, five drinks deep and covered in a light sheen of sweat, on an actual dance floor. 

coming in as a close second is real groove, an impeccable track that sees kylie green-eyed with jealousy over her ex's new lover; resentment never sounded so sweet. 

it wouldn't be a disco album without at least one reference to ABBA, and this comes in the form of last chance, with a chorus that borrows heavily from the aha! refrain that makes the chorus of voulez-vous so joyous. 

giving vroom vroom a run for its money, kylie implores listeners to jump in my ride at the start of fine wine, a divine CHIC-esque track, and there's more of the same sound on spotlight, hey lonely and supernova

i adore the drama of where does the DJ go? which sees kylie trying to chance another dance before morning. if anyone knows the feeling of not wanting the party to end, it has to be me; i've been known to stay in Tha Club alone long after my friends have called it a night, and this song would be a superb soundtrack to my solo discos. 

i also discovered a new appreciation of those aforementioned singles after watching her live-streamed concert, infinite disco, which can only be described as a religious experience. while i love it and magic still aren't my favourite tracks from DISCO, i can imagine them going down an absolute treat when she can perform in front of a packed-out arena once again. 

4. fraxoim/gupi

from classic pop to hyperpop's most weird and wonderful, i've been obsessed with fraxiom's blend of synth-pop and mid-2000s pop punk, and would even go as far as to say that thos moser is the best representation of what "pop" music can - and should - sound like in 2020.

they've been releasing music at an alarmingly fast pace and while i was still processing this song, i discovered the feeling cool and normal EP.

naturally my favourite is fly with ü, which samples the Absolute Banger l'amour toujours, but i also love how this guitar interpolates lyrics from ed sheeran's song thinking out loud and making them bearable, while cishets (i don't want it at all) deserves a mention for the title alone.

hailing from boston, fraxiom is also one half of the duo food house along with gupi (who produced slayyyer's most recent single, the chaotic NSFW banger throatzillaaa).

their debut album arrived at the end of october and while it probably won't make (m)any end of year lists, it's definitely one of my favourite releases this year.

choosing a favourite track is near impossible as they're all so good, pulling from more contemporary artists such as SOPHIE and 100 gecs along with the iconic sound of scene artists like metro station and cash cash.

ride appears to be a fan favourite, and 8 now is a lyrical highlight, urging listeners to "get your ass off twitter cause it gives you fucking mental illness".

also worthy of a mention is clown nose, which sees them put their own spin on circus by britney spears, along with 51129, one you know and mos thoser, a reworked version of my beloved thos moser.

5. 3OH!3/100 gecs 

when i first heard about this collaboration, i was sure it had to be a joke, so imagine my joy when it turned out to be real.

i must admit that i found lonely machines slightly underwhelming; given the combined power that 3OH!3 and 100 gecs could possess, there was something a little subdued about the track.

hopefully this won't be the last time they collaborate, as i'm praying for a banger on par with 3OH!3's biggest hits don't trust me and starstrukk.

after waiting over a decade to see 3OH!3 in january this year, it became one of many gigs to be rescheduled for 2021, and i'm manifesting 100 gecs being announced as the support act when they finally travel across the pond.

6. paloma faith 

this is one artist i never expected to be writing about, as i've always found paloma faith's voice somewhat grating, and she doesn't even have the bops to back it up.

however, i stumbled across supernatural from her latest album infinite things, and was blown away by this michael bolton-esque power ballad with one of the most dramatic choruses of any song released this year (or maybe ever).

sadly it seemed to be a one off, as the rest of the album veered into her usual Sad Piano Ballad territory - with the exception of Mild Bops monster and living with a stranger - but i'll be yelling along to this impeccable track until further notice.

7. MARINA

i have a somewhat tumultuous relationship with MARINA's music; once upon a time i was a Huge Fan, but everything post-FROOT failed to thrill me, and the less said about love + fear the better. 

so when she announced her new single man's world, it prompted an in-depth speculation between one of my friends and i, as we feared it would be another disappointment. 

luckily the track retained the electro-pop sound that defined FROOT, with similarly ~political~ lyrics that reference the sultan of brunei of all things. 

only marina could get away with such a specific reference and make it work in the context of a pop song, and it's this talent that makes her such a strong songwriter. 

she also made the decision to produce the song herself, working with just one producer, jennifer decilveo, best known for her work with anne-marie and NCT 127. 

if this largely piano-driven track is anything to go by, it looks like marina's upcoming fifth album will have a similar sound to FROOT, and my dreams of another radioactive level banger probably won't come true any time soon. 

while man's world definitely isn't my favourite track she's ever released, her lyrical talent is compelling enough to keep me interested, and hopefully there'll be some slightly more upbeat songs on her eagerly anticipated album. 

8. pale waves

another band who made a musical comeback recently is manchester four-piece pale waves, who i've been a massive fan of ever since their first single there's a honey.

their work with the 1975's matty healy and george daniel helped build their fanbase and debut album my mind makes noises had their signature 80s-inspired synths all over it.

however this probably won't be the case for their upcoming album who am i? which has a release date of february 12th 2021.

new single change certainly marks a turning point in their sound, and lead singer heather baron-gracie has cited avril lavigne as a huge influence for both the single and the accompanying album.

as someone who grew up screaming along to complicated and trying my best to hit the high notes of i'm with you, i'm not mad about this sonic shift, but will definitely miss the synth-pop sound that made their first album one of my most played in 2018.

this NME interview provides some context for their decision to move away from the sound of their debut album, and it's hard not to be sympathetic towards the band and everything they've been through personally and professionally.

with heather now taking sole responsibility for the song-writing on who am i? and drummer ciara doran in charge of production, it must have been quite an adjustment, but already there's a new found sense of confidence that radiates from change, and i can't wait to see what comes next.

9. betta lemme

my most played song this week has to be mommy by better lemme.

i found it through my discover weekly playlist which is essentially spotify putting together a selection of songs it thinks you'll like, and so far they've been pretty spot on.

i first became aware of better lemme through leland, a long-time collaborator of troye sivan who co-wrote her 2019 single play, which has a Big Eurovision Energy.

this has been replaced with something slightly more ~edgy~ as mommy was produced by PC music's danny harle, hence why it's such a Huge Banger.

here's hoping this won't be a one-off collaboration, as i can't get enough of this club-ready bop, even if i can only dance to it in my room right now.

10. rina sawayama

as usual i saved the best till last, and i am once again extolling the virtues of rina sawayama. 

i first became acquainted with her music earlier this year and while i still wouldn't consider myself a Big Fan, i'm obsessed with her new single lucid, which has sent Gay Twitter into meltdown thanks to the club-ready production, though i do think it sounds eerily similar to now that i found you by carly rae jepsen, another absolute banger.

i also appreciate the use of the same-sex pronouns throughout - still very much a rarity in pop music and beyond - and her description of the song, which she says is about "living a different life through dreaming, whether it's to be with the dream girl or to be the dream girl".

she also tweeted that the song is "maybe" about masturbating, but as far as i'm concerned, it's the Bisexual Bop we've been missing since halsey dropped strangers with fifth harmony's lauren jauregui back in 2017 (!).

lucid is the first song to be released from the deluxe edition of her album XS, which also includes two new bonus tracks and a cover of love it if we made it by the 1975 (!).

the album will be released on december 4th, and i'm praying these new tracks could be enough to turn me into a full-fledged rina stan, but only time will tell if she delivers more bops. 

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

7. FLETCHER

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.