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.
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 prize* via 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.
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.
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