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. 

3. VINCINT 

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.

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