Tuesday 10 January 2023

best of 2022: years & years, foxes, kim petras, charli xcx, MUNA, mabel

in a plot twist that no-one saw coming, i have decided to resurrect musing and lyrics... partly because i got an email last month telling me that my domain was about to expire, so if i'm paying £10 to renew it for the year, i may as well create some ~content~ for this severely neglected blog. 

in my defence though, i have genuinely been Very Busy over the last year, so in order to justify my extended absence for the three people who actually read this nonsense, let us go back to may 2021 when i last posted. 

back then, the world was still recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown that meant we were trapped in our houses and forced to socialise via zoom for the majority of 2020. at the time of writing, the UK was just about to relax its guidance on the number of people who could meet up and socialise indoors, so i was mentally preparing to be in The Club again and actually see my friends in real life. 

once the restrictions ended, i certainly made up for all the time spent indoors and had an iconic summer of attending gigs (my personal highlight was seeing little mix twice in one day in may 2021) and making weekly trips to our favourite bars and clubs. we also got to attend manchester pride again and zara larsson's headline performance was literally one of the best moments of my life.

i also decided to make the foray into ~dating~ after years of Being Alone, and while i haven't found The One (if such a thing does exist), it definitely showed me what i do and don't want in a potential partner. 

finally, despite my fear of commitment re: dating, i've actually continued to engage with the therapy techniques i first encountered during lockdown, and am very much in a self-help book era; seeing things written down is the only way i can retain information, and it's good to have a book to hand so i can look at it whenever i feel bad and stop myself spiralling. if you too have ever struggled with self-esteem and/or struggling to sleep, i would recommend overcoming low self esteem by dr melaine fenell and you will get through this night by daniel howell (yes, the youtuber). i'm now 1% more able to cope with distressing feelings/situations and for the first time in my life, can talk about my feelings instead of letting them build up and resulting in a Huge Breakdown. 

on a less serious note, if you're simply looking for some new years resolutions that aren't just body-shaming and pressuring you to lose half a stone by the end of january, this list is incredibly helpful. 

so that brings us to september 2021, when i managed to find a part time job i don't hate and began my full-time studies at the university of manchesterfor those who don't know, this is not a university where creativity is encouraged; the majority of people study biochemistry or molecular biology, and even within the music department, most people are more familiar with mozart than madonna (the only symphony i know is by zara larsson), so i assumed that my decision to write about hyperpop wouldn't be well received by my fellow peers and tutors. surprisingly though, people were actually quite interested in my research area, probably because it's something that nobody has ever written about. during my dissertation research, i could only find three other academic articles or essays that mentioned hyperpop, so as far as i'm aware, mine is the first masters dissertation on this topic.

looking at my dissertation feedback now, i agree with my supervisor that i could've ~refined~ my writing and made it more coherent, but my lack of ~academic~ experience - i've never officially studied music before, never mind at such a High Level - combined with my desire to write down literally every thought i've ever had about hyperpop (many of which were actually formed through a post on this very blog in 2016) meant it was slightly disjointed. 

despite this, i still managed to pass, and graduated last month on what was literally one of the coldest days of the year. the weather didn't dampen my spirits though, and i found myself trying to hold back tears at various points during the ceremony, because 15 year old me wouldn't have believed i'd get into this university, never mind graduate with a masters degree. but now that it's actually sunk in that i've just graduated from the 28th best university in the world, my full time job search has officially begun.

in the meantime however, i really want to get back into writing about music, so i'm going to start with the best albums of 2022.

1. years & years - night call 

the first album to be released in 2022 that i really enjoyed was night call by years & years, formerly a trio but now the solo project of olly alexander. their previous album palo santo contained a couple of bops, but for the most part was missing the euphoria that made their debut communion such a hit. an NME interview from april 2021 suggested that alexander felt creatively stifled while the trio worked together and he wanted to make more upbeat pop music than his bandmates. as a lover of Huge Pop Songs - and more recently dance music - i hate to say it, but i was low-key excited for him to become a solo artist if it meant the bops would return, and they definitely did. the first single starstruck was released in march 2021, and i remember breathing a sigh of relief as it was everything i'd been hoping for. he also released a version featuring kylie minogue, which is the epitome of Gay Rights. 

the rest of the album was inspired by lockdown and the desire to go out and party, which seems to be a common theme throughout many of the albums released in 2022. obviously the pandemic was an incredibly stressful and traumatic time for many people - i too lost a relative to the virus and was unable to attend the funeral - but creatively it had a positive impact on the music being made, so at least something good came from it. 

speaking of losing a relative, i knew there was a reason why my favourite track on night call is see you again. at first glance, the lyrics may simply be referring to someone struggling to let an ex-partner go, but alexander told apple music that they're actually about his grandma who passed away and how he wishes he could see her again and spend more time with her. as someone who was incredibly close to my own grandma who i lost in 2019, the song took on a new meaning and perfectly encompasses the Sad Banger genre; catch me simultaneously bopping and shedding a tear to this song. elsewhere, the album draws on what has now become a staple of alexander's song writing; Being Queer. songs such as muscle, immaculate, intimacy and title track night call document the highs and lows of his past relationships. 

the album also sees alexander collaborate with dance producers and DJs such as regard and galantis, and as i mentioned in a previous post, i'm now a huge fan of Basic Bops, i.e. songs that wouldn't sound out of place at a hen party or bottomless brunch in a regional branch of slug and lettuce. a far cry from the Deep and Meaningful (and incredibly depressing) songs by the smiths and joy division i devoured as a teenager, sweet talker and hallucination contain simple lyrics and melodies that don't leave you with an emotional hangover. 

the only disappointing thing about the night call era was the accompanying tour. my friend and i went to see years & years at resorts world arena in birmingham, which had all the charisma and warmth of an airport terminal. part of the problem was that the venue was only half-full, and there were no big screens, so from our position at the back - our preferred spot as we are simply too old to be pushed and shoved in a crowd full of 19-year-olds - it was hard to see what was taking place on stage. luckily the bottle of wine i consumed throughout the show meant i didn't care too much, but i was expecting much more of a Stage Presence from alexander based on TV performances i'd seen. 

2. foxes - the kick

another album that was inspired by the constraints of lockdown was the kick by foxes. prior to this album, i'd always been a casual listener of foxes - real name louisa allen - but her first two albums never quite packed the same punch as singles such as let go for tonight and body talk. luckily this changed with sister ray, the first single from the kick. the title references the 1968 velvet underground song of the same name, which describes "an insane debaucherous party with heroin abuse, violence and an orgy, with sister ray being a drag queen heroin dealer" (thanks genius) and while foxes' version is a lot less explicit, the ethos of Going Out and Having A Good Time is very much the same, and i can confirm that when played in a gay bar, it absolutely goes off. 

the rest of the album contains the usual themes of heartbreak and the beginnings of a new relationship, but there's nothing typical about the kick. this is one of those rare albums that doesn't contain a bad song, so picking a favourite is hard, but my most-played tracks are potential, two kinds of silence and dance magic. i also found myself drawn to too much colour, which surprised me as i've always said that no album has ever benefitted from a Sad Piano Ballad. despite this, as someone who has always felt things Very Intensely and often feels like i'm Too Much for the people around me, its lyrics really resonated with me. 

however, there were no tears when i saw foxes live at night and day in february 2022. my friend and i arrived 60 seconds before she took to the stage, so we were right at the back and could barely see a thing, but i actually prefer this as it gives me more room to dance, and that's what this album was designed for. i was hesitant about going to night and day as it's the place i broke up with my first girlfriend when i was younger and i'd never returned since, but this gig was so good that any negative feelings have been replaced by an iconic gig that i would love to experience again. 

3. kim petras - slut pop/problématique

as a long-time fan of kim petras, i could barely contain my excitement when her EP slut pop was released on the same day as foxes' the kick. inspired by sex workers, the album contains the most explicit lyrics i've ever heard, most of which are far too graphic to repeat here, but if you love dance-pop and german techno (an ode to petras' native cologne) then you'll be bopping all night. again, every song is impeccable but my favourite is treat me like a slut, followed closely by superpower bitch

as someone who has had a difficult time with ~intimacy~, the irony of singing these lyrics at the top of my lungs isn't lost on me, but as this vice article says, these days being A Slut is more about the aesthetic of sex than actually engaging in it, which could also be due to the pandemic when sending nudes was the only way to feel close to someone. it's also weirdly empowering; to quote the author: 

"the new slut era is all about self objectification: the knowledge and the power that you hold in knowing that you are hot. you’re a slut because of the way you posture yourself; because of the way you dress yourself; because of the way you interact with others. the power of self objectification is owning the light in which you are seen, rather than having another’s gaze imprinted on you. it’s redefining sex as a public expression, rather than a private act."

an honourable mention must also be given to our fallen comrade problématique, an album that was shelved by petras' label republic records. much like slut pop, it pays homage to her love of german techno and has already become a cult classic. my favourite tracks include deeper, hit it from the back, your time to cry and je t'adore

petras herself has encouraged fans to stream the album and expressed her frustration at working so hard on music that never saw the light of day. there may be a ray of hope though; a few weeks ago she posted a snippet of revelations - objectively the best song on the album - on her instagram, which many fans have taken as a sign that she might release it as a single or part of her upcoming album. if the Gay Gods are real, it will happen and the song can be played at full volume in the clubs, as it so deserves. 
4. charli xcx - CRASH 

the bops start coming and they don't stop coming, and nowhere is this more true than on CRASH, the fifth album from charli xcx and her final release with atlantic records. charli's struggle with her record label has been well documented over the years, and while she previously chose to reject the "major label" approach to song-writing and production with her mixtapes pop 2 and number 1 angel, she decided to embrace it on CRASH, and while critics were divided, it contains some of her best songs yet. 

leaning into the Basic Bop style of music making, used to know me samples the absolute banger that is show me love by robin s, and i'm embarrassed at the number of times i have requested it in the club over the past year. the rina sawayama-assisted beg for you brings a more subdued, garage feel to the dancefloor classic by september, though part of me wishes she'd used the original sample. good ones also falls into Basic Bop territory - it even received the remix treatment from joel corry - and is accompanied by one of the best music videos of the last five years. 

album tracks of note include constant repeat (potentially my favourite song of 2022), yuck, twice and lightning, another standout that reminds me why 80s music is still my all time favourite. then there's the bonus tracks, produced by george daniel of the 1975 who also happens to be charli's partner. selfish girl and what you think about me are fun tracks that see charli shrugging off criticisms from her fans, but the real highlight is sorry if i hurt you, another 80s-inspired synth fest that made me ugly cry when i saw charli sing it live at pryzm in kingston in june last year (a truly surreal moment, as i used to go out there most wednesday nights when i was a student). i also saw the CRASH tour in may, but as it was the sweatiest gig i've ever attended, it did make it difficult to fully enjoy myself as i was just desperate to get out of the venue for some air. luckily the afterparty was one of the best nights i've ever had, and it was only a tuesday. 

CRASH reached number 1 in the UK, so whether charli intended for it to be a mainstream hit or not, it clearly resonated with fans and cemented her as one of the best pop stars in the business. 


nobody does Trauma Bangers better than LA-based trio MUNA, and their 2019 album saves the world was always going to be hard to beat. as feared, their latest self-titled release didn't quite hit the mark, but they still retained the 80s-inspired sound that made songs like pink light, hands off and never so powerful. their self-titled album sees the group settle into a much more ~positive~ mindset, focusing on the personal growth and healthy relationships they've cultivated in the last three years. highlights include lead single what i wantno ideasolid - all of which echo the sentiments of Queer Joy celebrated on night call - and runner's high

i saw MUNA live in december last year and while they were excellent, i can't help but feel like they were slightly upstaged by their support act, drag race UK alum bimini, who performed several of their own original (iconic) songs and covers of the fear by lily allen and blue monday by new order. nevertheless, it felt great to be in a room full of fellow queers at a time when controversy over the world cup being hosted in qatar was at an all time high.

6. mabel - about last night... 

the final album to be featured in this post is about last night... by mabel. i've had a long and complicated relationship with mabel's music, which began when she supported harry styles in april 2018, something that made no sense to me as her RnB inspired songs was totally at odds with harry's rock-pop sound. fast forward to 2020 however, and i found myself unironically enjoying her singles such as don't call me up, ring ring, boyfriend and god is a dancer, so when about last night... was released in july 2022, i was primed to become the mabel stan my past self never could have predicted.

it all began with let them know, the first single which saw her sample supermodel by rupaul. once again, her foray into dance-pop was inspired by watching pose, drag race and the documentary paris is burning during lockdown, and while it may have alienated the largely heterosexual fanbase she amassed via her early singles - let them know peaked at number 19 on the UK charts last august compared to don't call me up at number 3 and mad love at number 8 - my friends and i were instantly obsessed. 

unwilling to totally abandon her RnB roots, let love go featured a cameo from lil tecca (?) and overthinking saw her collaborate with 24kgoldn. i've personally never been a fan of verses from Inane Male Rappers as they add nothing to what is otherwise an excellent pop song (little mix are the worst offenders: did the superb Getting Over You anthem no more sad songs really need machine gun kelly on it? what value did ty dolla $ign bring to the otherwise sublime think about us? why was stormzy intruding on the already brilliant power?), but the disco-heavy sound of let love go and stargate's devastatingly good production on overthinking still shine brightly. 

also amongst my most-played tracks are animal and shywhich manage to blend mabel's love of RnB grooves with more conventional pop production - as well as crying on the dancefloor - another stargate masterpiece that makes me even more grateful for nights out in a post-COVID world - and i love your girl, which is about mabel "losing her mind" during a break-up and becoming infatuated with her ex's new girlfriend, though it could also serve as a queer anthem of sorts. good luck is also a fun party moment, but the spirit of the album is best encapsulated on definition, which never fails to make me feel like That Bitch. 

i'm furious that i didn't get to see mabel tour this album, which is ironic given my confusion at her supporting harry styles; i'm now at the point where i'd actually prefer to see her instead. if only i could turn back time to that show in 2018 and hear her Basic Bops in all their glory. 

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