Issue 1: 2017 in review
on this first issue: in memoriam the popheads mixtape
spotlight tours how to make an album songs of the year
album of the year creative
In memoriam. By JustinJSrisuk.
Celebrating the lives and music of the artists we lost in 2017.
Charles "Chuck" Berry | October 18, 1926 - March 18, 2017 Widely-regarded as the father of rock and roll music, Chuck Berry laid the foundation for modern pop music as we know it. Berry took the rhythm and blues of his native St. Louis, Missouri and refined its sound, creating such timeless works as Maybellene and Johnny B. Goode - songs with lyrics that were made to appeal to teenage audiences for the first time in the history of recorded music. With his trademark electrifying showmanship and guitarplaying skills, Chuck Berry captivated an entire generation of American youths with lyrical tracks about teen dances, fast cars and fast-living - an incredible feat for an AfricanAmerican man working in show business in an era in which half of the United States was still segregated. But Berry's talent and stardom could not be contained to the U.S., and his music directly-influenced artists all around the world, especially in the U.K., where legendary bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones have credited him with inspiring much of their own work. At home, Berry's distinctive musical voice has been instrumental in shaping rock and roll as a genre; and luminaries as diverse as Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, James Brown, Bruce Springsteen, Little Richard and Freddie Mercury have all attributed their success to his innovations at one point. Chuck Berry died this year at the age of ninety, ending his storied life and career as one of the most-lauded figures in popular culture, with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Kennedy Center Honors, Polar Music Prize and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame among the many prestigious awards he has received over the course of his seven decade-long career; not to mention the dozens of inclusions on "Greatest of All Time* lists by publications such as Rolling Stone, who placed him at number five on the list of the greatest artists of all time. Leonard Cohen may have said it best, that "All of us [musicians] are footnotes to the words of Chuck Berry." - and as he takes his place in the firmament of American musical culture as an icon, the illustrious life and art of Chuck Berry will continue inspiring fledgling artists and musicians far off into the future.
Chris Cornell | July 20, 1964 - May 18, 2017 The lead-singer, musician and lyricist for seminal rock bands Soundgarden and Audioslave, Chris Cornell utilized his powerfully expressive baritone voice and remarkable multi-octave range along with his skills as a songwriter to create some of the mostimportant records of the 1990s, which stylistically codified the sound and aesthetic of grunge music. Born in Seattle Washington, Cornell was instrumental in bringing the underground alternative scene in Seattle to mainstream America through such hits as Spoonman, Fell On Black Days and the iconic Black Hole Sun. An incredibly dynamic singer, Cornell was gifted at imbuing raw emotion into his music, which ran the gamut from loss to pain, to contempt, rage to righteousness. While he was best-known as the frontman for Soundgarden, Cornell was highly prolific and also found both commercial success and critical acclaim with his post-Soundgarden projects like Temple of the Dog (with members of Pearl Jam) and Audioslave (with members of Rage Against the Machine), along with a well-respected solo career. Unlike many artists and musicians in his cohort who came to prominence during the 1990s, Chris Cornell remained active and toured extensively to the present day, never slowing down his output. A naturally gregarious person, Cornell formed friendships with some of the most iconic people in rock, from Steven Tyler, Joe Perry and Chester Bennington, with whom he was especially close. However, throughout his career Cornell often struggled with bouts of drug and alcohol addiction and mental health issues, leading up to his death by suicide in May of this year at the age of fifty-two. Chris Cornell was productive to the very end of his life; and while tragically we'll never know what great musical albums we will never hear due to his tragic demise - he will forever be remembered as not only a pioneering figure of the grunge movement - but also as a loving family man and friend.
Prodigy | November 2, 1974 - June 20, 2017 The future legendary hip hop artist and Mobb Deep member Albert Johnson, better known by his nom de guerre Prodigy, was born on Long Island in New York into a accomplished and very musical family. His mother was a member of the girl group sensation The Crystals, while his father was a member of doowop group The Chanters; and his immediate family included several jazz musicians. It was when young Albert attended the High School of Art & Design in Manhattan that his life would be changed, forever. There he met a fellow student named Kejuan Muchita, who would come to be known as Havoc and Johnson as Prodigy as they formed their first rap group called the "Poetical Prophets" before choosing the name "Mobb Deep". Mobb Deep would grow to become vanguards of New York rap, and Prodigy's aggressive style and intimidating performative presence was only tempered by his ability to portray his hard-knock life in a lyrically evocative manner. This contradiction between Prodigy's caustic and abrasive artistic persona and his poetic nature made him one of the most electrifying figures blowing up in the East Coast rap scene of the mid-1990s to the early-2000s. A man with a scrappy personality who was as irascible offstage as he was on it, Prodigy was involved in several high-profile beefs m, including ones with artists like Jay-Z and 50 Cent. Though Prodigy was achieving great success in the rap game, his personal life was often tumultuous and on several occasions he landed in legal hot water; a situation that was exacerbated by his sickle cell anemia, a chronic condition that had plagued him from birth. However, his poor health didn't stymie Prodigy from continuing to flourishing creativity, both in his writing and through other ventures, including a well-received autobiography, a novella and a cookbook project. But most importantly, in the latter part of his career, Prodigy, backed-up by his wisdom and experience in the industry, became a sort of figurehead for hip hop, who pontificated at length on the state of the genre through his incendiary blog posts. Tragically, Prodigy died of choking on food in the hospital following admission for complications resulting from his sickle cell anemia at the age of forty-two. But the alwlays-opinionated Prodigy will always be remembered for his passion for the genre of hip hop and by the poeticism through which he communicated the way he saw the world.
Chester Bennington | March 20, 1976 - July 20, 2017 Chester Bennington, the singer and songwriter for the incredibly influential American raprock group Linkin Park was born in Phoenix, Arizona to a nurse mother and a police detective father. However, his childhood and young-adulthood would prove to be a volatile one, with the divorce of his parents, sexual abuse by an older friend, bullying at school and other traumatic experiences leading the teenage Bennington to becoming introspective, while finding solace in writing poetry and songs. It was also during this time that he began utilizing drugs and alcohol as a means of escaping the chaos that his daily life had become - a coping mechanism that he would stay with him for the remainder of his life. Bennington joined a series of local grunge bands before joining the band that would become Linkin Park as the lead singer in 1998. Their debut album Hybrid Theory was released in 2000, and it was immediately and meteorically successful, selling over four million copies and catapulting Bennington and the band into superstardom as one of the most important acts of the new millennium. The album adapted nĂź-metal and rap metal into a mainstream-friendly sound that became incredibly popular on rock, alternative rock and pop radio stations. The band's growing number of fans took to the amalgamation between Linkin Park's hard-hitting rock and hip hop production combined with Bennington's highly emotive vocals, which captivated an entire generation of disaffected youth in the mid-2000s. Behind the scenes, however, Bennington was struggling with medical and mental health crises and with addiction to alcohol and drugs. Always upfront about the difficulties he had in maintaining his sobriety, Bennington's emotional honesty made him an inspiration and role model to many young fans who faced similar hardships in their lives. In a genre that is normally as aggressive as nĂź-metal and rap metal, Linkin Park embraced emotional sentiment that went far beyond the simplistic angst of other bands who attempted to copy Linkin Park's sonic and thematic aesthetic. The ingredient in the alchemy of Linkin Park that made their music so successful was Bennington, a masterly rock vocalist who could begin a verse with a soft, pleading whisper and end it with a fiery shriek, as seen on such tracks as Numb, Crawling and In the End. Bennington used his music and songwriting as a means to exorcize the personal demons that had been beleaguering him for so many years. Tragically, Bennington committed suicide in July of 2017 at the age of forty-one, a completely unexpected turn of events that sent shockwaves rippling throughout Linkin Park's devoted fanbase and unleashing an tidal wave of grief online and around the world. A truly talented and accomplished individual whose life ended far too soon, Chester Bennington will live on through Linkin Park's catalog of classic hits, as well as through the love and admiration of millions of people worldwide who grew up listening to his work with Linkin Park.
Glen Campbell | April 22, 1936 - August 8, 2017 Best known for the twenty-one Top-40 hits that dominated the charts throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the country singer, songwriter, actor and presenter Glen Travis Campbell was born in 1936 in a flyspeck of a community in Arkansas called Billstown. The son of impoverished sharecroppers, Campbell grew up in a house lacking electricity with eleven other siblings. His family was full of musically adept member, and Campbell began playing the guitar at the age of four. Dropping out of school at fourteen, Campbell installed insulation to help support the family, all while dreaming of a life in show business far away from the poverty of his childhood. By 1960, Campbell was making a living as a session musician in Los Angeles, playing guitar on the albums of some of the most iconic figures of the era like Elvis Presley, Frank and Nancy Sinatra and Phil Spector. But a magnanimous genius at self-promotion like Campbell couldn't remain behind the scenes for long, and he was soon signed to a record label and regularly appearing as a guest performer on television. Once Campbell's rise to stardom began to commence, there was no stopping it, and by the middle of the decade, Campbell was one of the most famous people in both country music and in mainstream American popular culture. In between his ceaseless string of chart-topping hits like* Rhinestone Cowboy, *Wichita Lineman and Gentle On My Mind, Campbell dabbled in many other projects that continued to increase his already stratospheric level of visibility through forays into acting like in 1969's True Grit, through movie soundtracks and even through hosting his own syndicated variety show on television - The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, a program in which the affable country singer hobnobbed-with and performed alongside stars like The Beatles (whom he would outsell in 1968), Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Neil Diamond. Throughout the '60s and '70s, Campbell was practically omnipresent in his ubiquity, as he could be seen, heard or readabout in just about every facet of the entertainment industry. Campbell was exceedingly forward-thinking in the way that he leveraged his fame and music career into promoting his other business ventures, a playbook that is still being followed by artists today. As his career faltered in the '80s and '90s, Campbell focused on other projects and on his philanthropy work, becoming a major spokesperson for Alzheimer's awareness and research after he was diagnosed with it in 2011. After a difficult battle with the disease and being moved to a private care facility in 2013, Glen Campbell died in August of this year at the age of eighty-one. Campbell will be remembered for the multitude of honors he had revived, including his multiple Grammys, Grammy Lifetime Achievement and Country Music Award Lifetime Achievements Awards or his forty million-plus albums sold but most of all, Campbell's place in history will be as that of an old-fashioned showman in every sense of the word; one whose humble beginnings couldn't portend the level of success that he was able to achieve.
Tom Petty | October 20, 1950 - October 2, 2017 The iconic and ever-iconoclastic singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tom Petty was born in a bucolic neighborhood in Gainesville, Florida. A sensitive and introverted child, the young Petty was tormented by his physically, verbally and emotionally abusive father an experience that deeply affected his worldview as he grew older. Petty's love affair with rock and roll began in earnest at the age of ten, when he accompanied his uncle to the location shoot of the movie Follow That Dream where he met its star Elvis Presley on set. While Petty instantly became a fan of Elvis after that chance encounter, it wasn't until he saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show a few years later that he would seriously start dreaming of being a rock star. In 1975, after forming and joining a series of middlinglysuccessful bands in Florida, Petty - as a member of the band Mudcrutch, headed for Los Angeles, where he soon became ensconced in the local music scene that was centered around Lipham's Music, a record store in which Petty befriended many people who would go on to become musicians themselves. Mudcrutch would soon disband, but Denny Cordell, the head of Shelter Records, saw potential in Petty and signed him and some of his friends to the label as Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Their debut eponymous album was released later that year, which included the classic hit American Girl, was only moderately successful but music critics began taking notice of the band. On it, Petty's laconic songwriting managed to be succinct and yet still evocative in the way that it portrayed working class woes in a poetic manner. Petty voice, which carried a twang that belied his southern roots, sang with a authoritative clarity of purpose, which would only increase with the band's sophomore record You're Gonna Get It! and its followup Damn the Torpedoes, the group's first platinum-certified recording. By now, Petty was at the pinnacle of rock and roll stardom, but various contract disputes and legal battles with his labels cemented Petty's reputation as an outlaw in the music industry. In 1989, Petty embarked on a solo career, and the accompanying album Full Moon Fever included songs that would become known as his greatest hits like Free Fallin'. Throughout his career, Petty would be a staunch advocate for artistic control and creative freedom, wielding his power as an artist to object to price increases on his albums and to refuse to bend or fold to the demands of his record labels. Petty would have a very long and fruitful career, headlong major festivals like Bonnaroo and the Super Bowl into his sixties, always remaining outspoken with his views on music and the entertainment industry until his death this year of cardiac arrest. Tom Petty's legacy as the soulful maverick of rock and roll will live on in his distinctive prose that voice to the lives, loves, joy and heartbreak of regular Americans around the country; and his tenacity in fighting for what he believed in as an artist will inspire hundreds of others working in the music industry to do the same.
Lil Peep | November 1, 1991 - November 15, 2017 The up and coming underground rapper, singer and model who electrified SoundCloud with his emo-inflected "cloud rap" sound was born as Gustav Ă…hr in Pennsylvania and grew up in Long Island, New York. From a young age, little Gustav was called "Peep", "Peepers" and "Little Peep", a nickname that would stick with him for the rest of his life. At school, Peep was a disinterested student, spending most of his time there daydreaming. Peep dropped out of high school early and moved to Los Angeles to begin a career in music, settling in the Skid Row neighborhood and splitting his time between working on his early mixtapes and binging on drugs. At first uploading his tracks onto YouTube, eventually Peep discovered the music platform SoundCloud, where his rapidly gained a passionate online fanbase who took to his unique blend of sparse trap-inflected production offset by his highly emotive and sentimental lyrics that were influenced by emo or post-hardcore bands of the early-2000s like My Chemical Romance and Brand New. Peep pulled from highly eclectic musical and aesthetic references, with artists like Kurt Cobain, David Bowie, Panic! At the Disco and Red Hot Chili Peppers being among those that he admired and drew from artistically. Indeed, Peep was a highly idiosyncratic figure in modern hip hop, as an openly bisexual white male rapper who explored issues such as drug addiction, suicidal thoughts and depression in his music; it's no wonder so many of his young fans empathized with his lyrics and persona. Unlike other artists working in the same genre, Peep always kept his endearingly self-effacing personality, which never changed as he became more well-known and started to go on tour and be covered by national publications. Tragically, it appears that the frequent mentions of drug use in Peep's lyrics spoke to the way that he was living behind the scenes, as he died this November of an overdose of opiates and benzodiazepines at only twenty-one years old. While we will never know far Lil Peep could've gone with his infectious charisma and unique sound, the outpouring of love from Peep's fans in the aftermath of his death showed that though his time as an artist was far too short, Peep's music has irrevocably impacted the lives of of so many young people who will never forget him.
the popheads mixtape: a talk with the talented musicians of our community The Popheads Mixtape was probably the most fun all year I’ve had in terms of creating and collaborating. I tend to be a perfectionist and really self-conscious of what I work on, but being able to collaborate with fellow popheads and seek opinions from the executive producers really helped me feel confident with what I was making, and served as a catalyst for the production of my EP, Done For Now. I’ve been apart of /r/popheads for a little while now and I’ve seen several mentions of a potential collaborative project. It was a really cool idea, but I had no clue if we were going to follow through with it, because it would be mentioned one month and then complete silence the next month. It wasn’t until I saw the post from /u/awhile2 that the mixtape started to get real momentum, so I really have to thank /u/awhile2 for all of their hard work on this mixtape, you really pulled us all together! It was around that time that I’d started making some real headway with ‘Close To You’ which I thought was a fun and dance-y disco/rave vibe, so I decided I wanted to submit that. So I hit up the executive producers, and they were all very supportive and brought some ideas on how to fix things with the mix and structure (it originally was going to end on that first bridge, but thanks to Joebiekong, I had the chorus and bridge reprise). I also wanted to produce a song for someone else, so I looked through some cool beats that I had started but never made progress on melodies/lyrics, and I found a beat titled ‘deephouse idea’. I messaged TheAllRightGatsby and he responded and came up with a really nice melody and lyrics to the song. Once I got his demo back, I felt like we had a REALLY cool song going, so I made a few melody alterations in the chorus, just for some repetition, and then we hit up daybehavior, because I really thought a female vocalist would kill the song, and she sent over the vocals and it just all came together. It’s probably one of the quickest and smoothest songs I’ve done all year in terms of the writing/production process, usually I spend months agonizing over little details, but everything felt fast and really enjoyable, so I really can’t thank TheAllRightGatsby and daybehavior enough for killing their parts! I also was a little bit a part of ‘Don’t Speak’, mainly the mixing, but I think I remember adding a few melody notes or lyrics, but if I’m not mistaken Awhile2 was a part of that as well (I could be wrong, I’d have to double check the Discord), but that was a cool moment, seeing them writing on Discord, and hearing EVN’s demos through there, and adding a few thoughts. Speaking of which, there’s actually an outtake that I really wanted to be a part of the mixtape, but it didn’t happen due to time constraints; it’s a song called ‘Everybody Knows’. It started with a demo from /u/Awhile2 that was posted on the mixtape Discord, which I remixed and sent back which they really liked, so I went ahead and asked accuracyandprecision to help write and sing on it. She had exams during that time though which meant she wouldn’t have had the time to get a clear recording of her singing, so I told her to just focus on the exams. The track was left unfinished, but if she ever wants to finish that song, I’m totally down, because I still think it would’ve been a really cool song. Maybe next time, right? I can't wait to see what the next mixtape brings. -JayceCantor
Making “Don’t Want Me” was an exercise in isolation and heartbreak. When I was writing it, I was dealing with the rejection that I was “too black” to be with a potential lover. This was the first song I mixed and produced on. Working on it took much longer than I’d hoped, but I’m glad to have it out there for an audience. “Away We Go”was much more refreshing. Staci and I worked together, workshopping lyrics and emailing stems back and forth. It was a welcome change of pace, and we created a great song despite not seeing each other face to face. My favorite part is the bridge, layering robotic harmonies to build suspense for the final chorus. -simba-claus
When it was announced that the sub was working on a mixtape I was super excited and commented that I could contribute vocals but didn’t really think anything would come out of it. I was so surprised when my inbox blew up with people wanting to work with me! I’m so glad people liked the music I worked on and the mixtape made me feel more confident in pursuing music professionally. I found Popheads when I was browsing reddit and trying to find a sub for pop music. I already lurked on r/kpop but I wanted something that was for pop music fans in general. I’ve always loved pop music but it wasn’t until college that I really felt comfortable telling people that it was my fave genre. In high school, it felt like liking pop was “uncool” and I felt pressured to only tell people the indie and hip-hop artists I listened to. Having a community like Popheads full of like-minded and welcoming people is so important for fans figuring out what they like and building their self esteem. When you see that there are other people who like the same stuff you do and are confident in that, it really helps you build your own confidence. I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity Popheads has given me in working on this mixtape and the lovely people I’ve met through it! -daybehavior
Evacipated and TheAllRightGatsby originally came up with the idea for the Popheads Mixtape around a year before any actual progress on the mixtape was made. I just remember really liking the idea and wanting to pursue it once I felt like I had enough time. Initially I did not plan for the mixtape to become the polished, professional-type project it ended up being. If you look back at my original post about the project, I think it's pretty evident that I just thought it would be a fun way to get Popheads members to collaborate and build a stronger sense of community. I was honestly expecting a lot of really amateur stuff that was thrown together in a few hours just for fun. I didn’t realize how dedicated and talented the Popheads community was! To be honest I really had no experience in organizing any sort of project like the mixtape and sort of went into it blindly, but I had a lot of people helping and giving feedback. Everyone was a pleasure to work with and it made the whole process fairly easy. In fact, the only real annoyance I had throughout the whole project was trying to get the final product on to major streaming platforms, which was something I hadn’t even considered doing at the beginning of the mixtape’s production. Its funny because in the first few weeks after I made the post about the mixtape asking for song submissions, I hardly received anything and I was really worried that the project would flop because I wouldn’t get enough tracks to make a mixtape. Obviously, that ended up changing, as we were able to put out a Deluxe Edition of the mixtape. I just want to thank the Popheads community once again for making the mixtape such a success. Across all platforms, individual songs from the tape have been streamed over 13,000 times! -Awhile2 (editor notes: you can buy the popheads mixtape by various artists on iTunes or stream it on Spotify)
SPOTLIGHT Sabrina Claudio - -dollanteloBETSY - tedyonce Post Precious - driftwoodprose Luna Shadows - aflyingwhale_ Rina Sawayama - raykel
Sabrina Claudio - -dollantelo21-year-old Sabrina Claudio has been gradually making her presence known in the world of music with her crop of R&B elegance. Beginning with covers of acts from BeyoncĂŠ to Hiatus Kaiyote, she went on to record original material, resulting in her debut EP "Confidently Lost". The EP displayed the gorgeous voice that we heard from the covers as well as her vulnerable yet selfassured songwriting. Along with production that found a delicate balance between organic and synthetic sounds, "Confidently Lost" made for a short but effective first impression. After landing a spot on 6LACK's "Free 6LACK" tour, the full-length "About Time" was released. The release saw Sabrina honing her style, taking inspiration from the soul and R&B records of the past while creating songs that maintained a fresh, modern sound and a tour de force that is just as intimate and as it is dynamic. Between two projects in the span of less than a year and a guest performance on The Late Late Show with James Corden, Sabrina Claudio's spotlight is only getting brighter, and 2018 is shaping up to be an eventful year for the songstress.
BETSY - tedyonce From living in a dilapidated caravan to performing for Pharrell, Nick Jones & more at Paris Fashion Week, BETSY has truly seen it all. Born in Pembrokeshire, Wales, she was raised on a rural goose farm. From an early age, she was immersed in music due to her father’s band and Welsh music festival Eisteddfods. She then studied womenswear in London before accepting an invitation to intern at the iconic Paris-based fashion house Balenciaga. Balenciaga eventually offered her a permanent job, but she turned it down to focus on music. After moving into a broken down caravan and making some demo CD's, BETSY connected with Hot Chip member Joe Goddard and provided vocals on his 2014 track “Endless Love”. Two years later, her debut single “Fair” was released to critical acclaim, and a year after that, her eponymous debut was released in the fall of 2017. BETSY has a deep, incredible, orotund singing voice that recalls Cher, and her debut album puts it front and center. BETSY's music draws from modern pop and soul, utilizing striking harmonies on songs like "Body Burn" & "You Won't Love Me" and masterfully controlled vocals on the desperate, show-stopping ballad "Fair". She sounds most radio-ready on "Little White Lies", a stylish uptempo track about not being fully in love with someone. Live, she expertly breathes new life into all of these tracks (see her performances at London PRIDE and Lollapalooza). She also has a strong point of view, whether it be her impeccable style (likely because of her Balenciaga background) or her music videos. “Waiting” is the most notable of them, following BETSY around a strange town full of even stranger people called Echo Valley. BETSY is a fully realized superstar in the making with the mindblowing talent to back it up. All she has to do is wait for the world to catch up.
Post Precious - driftwoodprose "Love, you're fucked" sings a deadpan Alex Winston over a minimal guitar rhythm. This is the first thing we hear from Post Precious, the new side project of Alex Winston and MS MR's Max Hershenow, and their debut single "Timebomb". Eventually the song explodes into near anthemic proportions, as Winston escapes from her waste-oftime relationship. Both Alex Winston and Max Hershenow are coming out of a professional hiatus with frustrations with the record business. MS MR have been released from a multi-album deal after a long battle. Meanwhile, Alex Winston had her debut album, 2012's King Con, mishandled by lack of proper promotion or tour opportunities and what should have been 2015's This Ain't Luck remains unreleased. Her The Day I Died EP from earlier 2015 gave a strong indication of what direction she wanted her music to go with it's big 80s drums and synths, still juxtaposing the strong, dark emotions of relationships with bouncing rhythms. It's easy to relate these frustrations, and hear the continuation of these influences on "Timebomb". Hershenow's production follows current trends closely but the attention to detail and dark undercurrent makes it a vibrant experience. At the center though is still Wiston's amazing voice which cuts through any sonic clutter and demands focus. Her regret and disappointment comes through on every note, but still the triumph of realization and escape. This is an amazing track and a wonderful introduction to this new duo, can't wait to hear what else they're able to do.
Luna Shadows - aflyingwhale_ Los Angeles has long been an important center for the arts. Together with Hollywood and the endemic Californian landscape, decades of rock, punk, electronic, and rap helped shape the unique culture of LA. And from this bubbling stew, Luna Shadows emerged with a singular stage-name and her distinctive brand of brooding, dreamy synthpop. Luna's sound reflects her diverse musical background - she attended LaGuardia High School, an art school in New York, then moved to LA after she graduated. In her childhood, she studied classical piano and jazz vocals, but along the way she listened to everything from pop to punk to alternative. The result is a mixture of all that: two EPs (plus a Brand New cover) of altpop featuring intricate percussion, ethereal vocals, and atmospheric synths that wash over and engulf you. Ever since her first single was released in early 2016, Luna has been crafting a universe that's uniquely hers. Her writing is poetic and nuanced, dealing with seemingly straightforward topics yet shrouded in an uneasy haze. The theme of juxtaposition is a pretty big part of her artistic style; her aes is enigmatic and understated, a wistful portrayal of an endless LA summer. She took a while to get here too - she scrapped a music video and even entire albums because they didnâ€™t fit her artistic vision enough. Something really impressive about Luna is that she takes control over every aspect of her work (hi Grimes), from music to visuals to managing her merch and social media. Initially she worked with acoustic instruments but found them limiting, so she buckled down and learnt ProTools, Ableton, and vocal engineering. Now she writes and produces her own material, sometimes with only a couple of close collaborators (Thom Powers of The Naked And Famous, and Brad Hale of SOMBEAR and Now, Now). Her latest EP Youth was released just this October, and its title track is a clear highlight. Starting off subdued and swelling to an enormous chorus, Youth is
backed by sweeping synths, authoritative kicks, and enough well-placed vocal samples to make A.G. Cook jealous. It describes Luna’s internal conflict over the days in her youth, given to sadness and to the people and places she loved more than they loved her. Were they just lost time, or is loving always worthwhile regardless of how things turn out? It's an emotionally heavy song, an acknowledgement of her painful past regrets. My personal favorite on Youth is its third track, Cheerleader. With lines like Screaming to the bleachers/I could make ‘em all believers and Anyone can play/But I will be the one to change the game, Luna paints herself cheering for the athletes on the field except she argues that the cheerleaders are in fact plotting by the sidelines, steering the game more than a manager could. Cheerleader comes from her own experiences as a do-it-all artist, as she’s often mistaken as just a singer due to her demeanor and outward appearance. She hints that influence isn’t just about being loud - like the moon controlling the tides from afar, the quietest, most unassuming people can have the greatest impact. Between her writing, soundscapes, and aes, Luna’s project showcases her commitment to a remarkably cohesive theme. Her individuality shines through in everything she does, in a manner comparable to established auteurs like Lana or Marina. Between creating visuals (she released the video for Youth just this November) and playing two packed shows, she’s continuously working on fresh music - and an album in 2018 is likely. Luna’s just getting started.
Rina Sawayama - Raykel Born in Niigata, Japan and raised in London, Rina Sawayama set out to become an undeniable online presence that celebrated Japanese culture on the opposite side of the world with a pride for her heritage she didn’t find until adulthood. As a child who was moved to a country where she saw no one like her, Rina became embarrassed of her roots. Not eating her lunch of Japanese dishes at school in order to fit into the British bubble was the norm for her. Growing into her own has allowed her to find her perfect balance of Japanese and British culture. After finding a love for who she is, she was signed to Anti Agency for modeling, and her pride for her culture turned into a passion to combat racism for East Asian women in the modeling industry. Her activism landed her on an issue of Vogue Magazine for an interview regarding the sexualizing of Japanese culture. She now still continues this activism in publications like i-D, Vice, and more. While she was shooting for campaigns such as Missguided and Nasty Gal she was pursuing music too. Her first run in with this career was when she was a member of a hip hop group named “Lazy Lion” during her time in the University of Cambridge before she entered modeling. It wasn’t until after her studies that she finally pursued modeling and went solo with her music; debuting with her single, “Sleeping In Walking” in 2013. By 2015 and through a shared career of modeling, she became friends with Arvida Byström who then directed the music video for her second single, “Tunnel Vision”. Rina continued to release non-album singles until she teamed up with artist, Clarence Clarity and producer, Hoost.
After finding her collaborators, Rina was ready to start a full music project. She had all the courage she needed knowing talented artists were behind her music, despite not being signed to a label. So, what do you do when you have a low budget recording set up in your bedroom? Debut with the best pop r&b throwback-inspired EP of recent memory. The EP titled “RINA”, released just this year, made its impact immediately. Her music’s rhythm bringing back a fond memory of 90’s classics and production reminiscent of early 2000’s glitzy pop has gotten her praise from critics and listeners alike. Despite its throwback sound, the lyrics touch on current themes such as online relationships and internet interaction: Came here on my own/Party on my phone/Came here on my own/But I start to feel alone/Better late than never so I'll be alright/Happiest whenever I'm with you online (Cyber Stockholm Syndrome)
Rina has also branched out in lyrical subjects that have to do with her redeeming qualities of confidence and being an outsider as unapologetic as this song’s blaring production: Every single day I fight another war/Every single night I feel more powerful/Well guess it's what it takes to live it my way/So the world will take me as I am (Take Me As I Am)
But it’s no doubt that her uniqueness comes out in songs that accurately highlight the growing need to interact online and how it’s taking us out of what is more prevalent, real life connections: Emotions are too much for me/So I spread my love through likes/I didn't even leave my house last week/But I know what you did last night (Tunnel Vision)
This has put Rina in a rare spotlight, making her stand out from her peers. Instead of blending in with the world’s successful ideas, she has made her own galaxy. And as she perfectly stated, “They’ll be like ‘Oh [X] is the new Adele. This person is the new Janet Jackson.’ When they see me they’re like ‘You wanna be the next…?’” And the answer is Rina.
TOURS AND CONCERTS Lorde – twat_brained Charli XCX – abnormalpoppunk Dua Lipa – jelboo
(on the right, a full page ad for Lorde’s new perfume, byGoWestYoungKanye)
Lorde - Osheaga 2017, Day 1
It was a warm summer's day on a warm Friday afternoon in Montreal. I arrived at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve to bright skies and a wonderful atmosphere, soaking in everything that was around me. About 2 hours or so later, it started to rain. Hard. I would've had a terrible day without my raincoat. It really helped me brave out the horrible weather that day and I was duly rewarded for my patience. After standing around in from of the Scène de la Rivière stage for nearly 2 hours following MGMT's set, the lights came on. Just moments later, out from backstage and right to center stage emerged…
Lorde. Three whole years, several awards and an entire album later, she had officially returned to the Osheaga stage. She greeted the crowd with a gorgeous long-sleeved white gown, an umbrella, and a wide grin from ear to ear. She opened with "Tennis Court", picking up right where she left off 3 years ago. The set really kicked into high gear when she tossed her umbrella into the crowd at the first chorus, infecting everyone around her with intoxicating euphoria as the synths kicked in right then and there. It only went higher as she performed the first of her Melodrama tracks, "Homemade Dynamite", bringing out the song's co-writer, as well as another performer that day, Tove Lo! (Who btw killed her set too) That performance was a fantastic culmination of everything that makes Osheaga fantastic; it's a chance for music fans from all walks of life to rejoice and celebrate together, and both Tove and Ella gave us plenty of reason to celebrate. The energy did manage to slow down, though, but for good reason; Ella was about to delve into a very emotionally-driven and raw performance of local songstress Martha Wainwright's "Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole", which she followed up with a very heartfelt monologue, which I can't even remember now, which she followed up with one of the most beautiful-yet-heartbreaking renditions of "Liability" I will ever hear in my lifetime. When that ended, she immediately got the crowd back into a dancefest again with the effervescent "Supercut", which she followed up with "Royals", and sure enough, everyone knew the words to that one, nearly drowning out Ella's own voice. What followed those two were "Perfect Places" and "Team", which was just what everyone needed, as it was much more upbeat that the previous two but not so high-octane that it depleted us of our remaining energy. During "Team", however, she went into the crowd and hugged many of the fans (those lucky bastards) thanking them for their support of her as we had thanked her for her wondrous performance. After "Team" ended, Ella said something that truly made me realize I was witnessing the spectacle of a lifetime;
"I will never forget this performance." She made damn sure that it wasn't one we would forget either, closing out her set with "Green Light", getting everyone up on their feet, losing their damn collective mind, and having the best fucking time of their lives. The rain was unrelenting during her set, but it reached its peak during "Green Light", where Ella embraced the hell out of it, letting herself get drenched with us, having the best damn time of her life too. At roughly a quarter past 11 PM, we heard Ella say "I'm waiting for it, that green light, I want it!" for the last time that night, signaling the end of her set. Only it wasn't a set. It was a musical sermon, led by our true Lorde and savior, Ella Yelich-O'Connor, as she turned the rain into holy water, and turned Osheaga into her own little wonderland. This was not easy to put into words, nor do I feel like I can do Ella's set justice. What I do know, however, is that August 4th, 2017, was the absolute highlight of my year, and it turned me into a Lorde stan forever.
Charli XCX - New York 2017
Charli XCX is a name I never, personally, paid attention to before this year; in fact, anytime I heard her name, I would say “my sister hung out with her once” (they briefly met after a Marina and the Diamonds concert in 2013), and allow the conversation to pass. However, early this year, my sister showed me the Vroom Vroom EP and I was pleasantly shocked. Something about its left-field, experimental pop banger-ness just attracted me so strongly. While none of her earlier work completely caught my attention, her and Sophie’s efforts on *Vroom Vroom* left me stunned. When March came along, Charli XCX announced she was released a mixtape titled Number 1 Angel, and I was pumped, to say the least. On the release day, I eagerly listened and was obsessed with the crossover between mainstream pop and the wonky bops on her previous EP. She announced she was doing a four-show mini-tour in San Francisco, New York, London and Paris. I live in New York! I noticed Charli was playing at Le Poisson Rouge: a small (and kind of dirty) club that I had been to two years before. I called my mom, who said she’d buy tickets for me and my sister, yet they sold out an hour later. Damn. April 12th is now here: the concert is today and I am determined to be there for not just Charli, but she announced Cupcakke and Brooke Candy would be opening, and I could not miss a chance to see them. No tickets were on Stubhub or any other resale website due to it being a will call only event, so my only resort is the official Facebook page for the event, which is already flooded with other people pleading for tickets. Although I thought I’d never have a chance, I got a message an hour later with one ticket… but I needed someone to go with. My sister’s friend, Umru (stylised as umru), who eventually produced the track “I Got It” on her later mixtape, Pop 2, was guestlisted and was able to get her a plus one to the show. It’s lit. We ride the train into the city and get into the show about a half hour before it starts. While we thought we were gonna be in the back because of our late arrival, turns out there was a beautiful spot right next to the round stage that gave us a perfect view. (May I add, while I waited for the opener, my sister went with umru to hang out with A.G. Cook.) Brooke Candy was the first to perform, and while I didn’t know who she was at the time, she put on one damn good show. Cupcakke was next, and anyone who knows me knows I love Cupcakke. Even though her set was only five or six songs, I had such a good time screaming about vaginas. Finally, it was time for Charli, who came on wearing a sexy, shiny silver two piece with eyeliner that was almost as thicc as her. Opening with five songs from her new mixtape, everyone in the crowd (including Brooke and Cupcakke who were watching side stage) was going absolutely off. She has something in her, something in her stage presence that is so magical and universal throughout the crowd that made everyone be at their wildest state. From the banging instrumental on the unreleased “Bounce”, to the beautiful yet tense sexual themes on “White Roses”, to the booming bass on Vroom Vroom cut “Trophy”, Charli XCX, accompanied solely by PC Music founder A.G. Cook, managed to find something to connect with the crowd on every song. Not to mention the one-night only edition of “Lipgloss”, performed by Charli, Cupcakke, and Brooke Candy; their collective energy was insane and it was amazing to witness such an iconic performance. I’ve been to tons to concerts, and she, who barely even sang throughout the show, managed to become one of the best I had ever attended. Her stage presence is untouchable, which corresponds perfectly with her slapping club tracks.
Dua Lipa - Antwerp 2017
I personally believe the value of an artist can be measured best by how they perform on a stage. I am aware some will disagree with this; music is subjective, and what many want out of it is an emotion to match their mood, an expression of simple, universal feelings, an opportunity to forget. Those things can be attained by studio magic, songwriting talent and a voice to carry the weight of expectations. But take a pop star out of the safe environment of the pop music machine, no longer sheltered by producers and having to rely only on their stage presence, their charisma and the power of their voice - and very often they crash and burn. I have seen many an artist crash and burn - outperformed by their own stage production, bored by their own routines, struggling to sound like themselves vocally, and hoping to hide these flaws by dull choreographies and the occasional explosion. I have seen some of the greatest artists, alive and dead, perform on stage. Most of these experiences were incredible; it is quite the thrill to see an artist in the flesh, fulfilling or exceeding expectations, commanding an arena of thousands. Many of these concerts I went to were by established names, with decades of experience. So when Dua Lipa came to the Lotto Arena in Antwerp, I was curious more than anything. Only weeks before had I seen Lorde perform on that stage for an small and intimate crowd, but when we arrived, it became immediately clear Dua has a following in Belgium that eclipses Lorde and them some - she literally drew twice as many people to the arena. Here are my disjointed, and honest, thoughts. What draws me to Dua Lipa is the dark and soulful sound of her voice and the solid collection of singles she has put out - and solid is exactly what comes to mind when I think of her concert. Solid. Youthful. Professional. And grateful. Her legion of teenage fans were treated to a simple stage design, with large screens in the back showing high definition footage of Dua, staring at the camera in different stages of sulking. Let's be real - Dua is easy on the eyes, but after an hour or so the endless montage of beauty shots became stale and rather vapid. One of my only complaints and it's not even directed at the performance. Dua is a happy soul. Her voice translates perfectly to the stage. She sounds convinced, vibrant, energetic. You can tell she loves the songs she is performing, you can tell she knows where they all came from - they mean something to her, more than just the surface meaning of the lyrics. The setlist is pretty much what you'd expect from an artist with only one album out. Some songs felt a little bit too rushed (this goes for many of the singles in fact - Blow Your Mind was over before it began) while other songs came alive much more than they do on the album; never before had Garden sounded so mature, and never before did IDGAF make a floor quake just the way it did in Antwerp. She is young, and you can tell. She moves exactly like a quirky twenty-something who is becoming a pop princess should; improvised, unabashed. Nothing is implemented to hide her flaws; there is no smokescreen, no choreography, no master scheme to obscure the artist. This is the new sincerity of pop, where simple people make effective pop and do more than just talk the talk - they walk the walk. What she projected most, though, was gratitude. I've seen The Weeknd sing love songs to his fans, I've heard Gaga screech demonically about self-love and I've giggled as the New Zealand accent of Lorde punctuated her matter-of-fact narration of her day in Antwerp but with Dua Lipa, it was obvious she was as overwhelmed as her audience. She called it a milestone in her career to stand in such a large venue, and more than once seemed to become emotional as the crowd sang her songs back to her, and held up their phone lights to create a magic atmosphere. Songs that she might have once sang into a blurry webcam in a messy bedroom, songs that now reverberated to her out of a thousand throats. I'm grateful to have seen a star at the start of its trajectory to the pantheon. I am sure she will be a fixture for years to come.
(below, a photography by blue_heart_)
how to make an album
Last November, my friend Aya and I released our debut album ‘Atlas’ under the moniker Blue Horizon. It was the result of almost two years of writing, recording, producing and endless editing, with me on production and Aya handling vocals and lyrics. Making an album has always been a different experience every time for me; initially it was mostly me figuring out how to produce and use production software, later it involved refining my sound and composition, but this time for Atlas it was all about incorporating vocals and lyrics into songs. My first three solo albums had been fully instrumental, so adding those elements and making my music into full-fledged pop songs were an entirely new domain I hadn’t explored yet. It all started with the formation of our ‘band’, Blue Horizon: I was messaging Aya one night in February 2016 and we were joking around about making music together. Eventually it became clear that we could actually try this out, so I encouraged her to try writing lyrics for a song. She was reluctant at first, but after about an hour she sent me full lyrics to a new song; that ended up being ‘Glory Days’, the lead single from Atlas. We were both thrilled with the result and began writing feverishly with the goal of a full album in mind. After about 2 weeks, I had produced the backbone to several tracks and we had written about 13 songs, in their early forms. For most of the songs, Aya would write the lyrics and send them to me, and then I would write the melodies and song structure. This was interesting as my previous instrumental music had main melodies that were played by synths, so I was essentially making the same kind of melodies for these songs but with the constraints of fitting them to lyrics and bars. The next challenge was finding a microphone and place to record, and with us both being 10th graders at the time those resources weren’t easy to find. I ended up ordering an AudioTechnica mic online and we decided to record in one of the school practice rooms, which were basically non-soundproofed closets near the music wing of the school.
At first, we had no idea how to use the microphone and most of our recording sessions resulted in messy takes with us laughing in the background (probably 80% of the final takes had some sort of screaming or laughing clipped off at the end) or terrible sound quality. We eventually figured out how to get a decent sound from it and our efficiency increased; sometimes we would almost finish an entire song in the space of a lunch period. As June approached we had to rush recording to get all of the vocals in, since I was moving overseas at the end of the school year. The most drastic instance of this that I can remember is recording ‘Reality’ in the last week before final exams over a completely unproduced piano track; I ended up doing the entirety of the production during the summer after I had moved. Even after recording, producing Aya’s vocals was difficult as I had no experience in dealing with real audio tracks in the software. In the early versions she would often appear with way too much reverb or too low in the mix, so I had to do a lot of experimenting with layering and processing to get the clearest possible sound. This process was the most time consuming and least fun, and took almost a year after recording finished to fully perfect. I became a bit obsessed with editing and none of us felt an intense urgency to release the album right away so it dragged on for quite a while before everything was polished and ready to be released. Overall though, we’re very happy with the end result and I hope people enjoy the album as much as we enjoyed making it.
-Ben (editor notes: you can buy Atlas by Blue Horizon on iTunes or stream it on Spotify)
Popheads’ songs of the year, a list by Raicicle. In 2017, our community on r/popheads has voted in what we think have been the best songs of the year, which says just as much about the industry as a whole as well as our own community. Where 2016 felt dominated by releases from heavyweights in R&B and hip-hop, some of pop’s usual chart-topping names have all emerged from their slumber in 2017 in the race for the crown. It’s not just the likes of Katy Perry and Taylor Swift who are trying to win favor, and indeed one of the biggest trends of this year has been the rise of other stars into the spotlight— whether those artists are delivering on much awaited hype (see Lorde’s much awaited sophomore, or SZA’s and Harry Styles’ solo debuts) or are already established elsewhere in their own right (indie legend St. Vincent’s shift into poppier territory comes at the same time as Charli XCX’s insistence to move away from her commercial hits of the past). Perhaps what links many of the musicians this year is the personal changes that they have gone through or witnessed, their own awareness of that fact, and how willing they have been to put it so blatantly into their own music in radically different ways. The familiar names are abundant but the music might surprise you at times. The following is a selection of the top 25 in the Popheads Top 100 list of the songs and artists that we think have held up at the year’s end.
25. Taylor Swift – Delicate Like the layered vocoder in the intro, ‘Delicate’ excels with the emotional layers stacked throughout the track. The reaffirmation of someone’s love of you, followed by the first impressions in a dark room, and the infectious hook of isn’t it’s to close out the chorus. From her most recent release, Taylor Swift returns to her roots with comparisons and conversational lyricism, partnered with the industrial sounds of Max Martin, lines like “Oh damn, never seen that color blue” and “handsome, you’re a mansion with a view” seem even more vibrant sung over such a grey sounding track, creating a spectrum of emotion and sound alike much of her best work from previous years. In an album filled with ups and downs, ‘Delicate’ proved the infamously dead old Taylor must not have crossed over into the afterlife quite yet. After all, you can mostly certainly assume this old Taylor was ghost writing with the quality we see here. — Wailordfan
24. Charli XCX, CupcakKe – Lipgloss It’s funny and inspiring to see how this collaboration came to be. It all started when a stan on Twitter asked Charli if she could do a collab with CupcakKe, which Charli enthusiastically replied “omg i love too!” and asking how she could reach out to CupcakKe for a collab. Not too long later, CupcakKe replied to Charli with her email address and a collaboration was born. ‘Lipgloss’ is the closer to Charli’s mixtape Number 1 Angel that talks about the celebration of sex and vaginas and keeping it “sticky icky” like lipgloss. This sexually-charged bop, backed with an energetic, fun production from SOPHIE and A.G. Cook is perfect for CupcakKe, who sets herself as a sex-positive rapper, despite earlier critics dismissing her as a joke. Sure, this song feels more like a “CupcakKe feat. Charli XCX” track but this doesn’t change the fact that the people of Popheads loves this song and is definitely the most hyped track from the mixtape. This song definitely proves PC Music might be the future of pop music and it also launched CupcakKe into more popularity after gaining some following on Twitter with her earlier songs. Whether CupcakKe or PC Music would ever have mainstream appeal or not is up for debate but there is no doubt that CupcakKe has been getting praise left and right by Stan Twitter and professional music critics alike and PC Music has no signs of slowing down anytime soon. And we must thank Charli for all of this. —DoctorWhoWhenHowWhy
23. SZA – Drew Barrymore This song was the first most people heard of R&B singer songwriter SZA — well, not counting her feature on Rihanna’s smash album Anti last year — and, boy, what an introduction. Across this heartbreaking track she explores feelings of inadequacy and rejection through direct, but hard hitting and personal lyrics. Her commanding voice is complemented beautifully by warm guitars and strings while she paints a vivid picture of past experiences, so much so that the listener can’t help but to feel a part of her world. We’re in the same party, watching her across a crowded room and clouds of smoke as she longs for her ex-lover who brought his new girl.
While the subject matter is nothing new, this song showcases SZA’s undeniable talent for storytelling. She is Drew Barrymore here, at her lowest point, before the happy ending of Never Been Kissed comes and she’s overwhelmed by loss and heartbreak. By taking this moment we’ve seen, and lived through, a thousand times and stripping it down to its bare bones through the lens of her own experiences, SZA makes it crystal clear that in terms of conveying raw emotions, she is second to none. —Number3rdInTheVoting
22. St. Vincent – Los Ageless Only Annie Clark, better known under her stage name, St. Vincent, could write a song that evokes sensuality, despair, and regret, yet make you feel so damn good about it. ‘Los Ageless’ looks at lost love, denial, and fear, and throws it in with top notch sharp production. The best way to really look at this song is through a comparison of another song, ‘New York’. The absolute minimalistic sound, mainly backed by piano, makes this heartbreak feel bipolar. ‘Los Ageless’ is big and spacious, opening up for more guitar, and louder production, and even a soulful bridge filled with a religious analogy to the mindset she lives in after a break-up. This sorrow and pain felt by Annie is the fuel she needed to really connect and re-establish her sound after her critically acclaimed self-titled album. Assisted with Jack Antonoff, together they re-built St. Vincent, and made her sound polished and refined, yet broken and vulnerable, a paradoxical world I’d love to live in if it meant I could get more music like this. — Wailordfan
21. Lil Uzi Vert – XO TOUR Llif3 Originally left off of Lil Uzi Vert’s debut album, Luv Is Rage 2, ‘XO TOUR Llif3’ became the little song that could for this SoundCloud rapper. With some chart success stemming from singles from 2016 mixtapes Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World and The Perfect Luv Tape, Lil Uzi Vert was on his way to becoming a rap icon. ‘XO TOUR Llif3’ sealed the deal. The song was an immediate SoundCloud smash upon release, forcing his label to scramble to put the track on Spotify. The song soared to the top ten, becoming his highest charting solo single. The track itself is a triumph, a depressing and moody party track in the vein of ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ or ‘Codeine Crazy’. “Push me to the edge/all my friends are dead,” he entices. He doesn’t shroud the intent of this track behind glossy production or encouraging delivery. Instead, Uzi snarls over dark, percussion-heavy TM88 production. Armed with an Interstellar sample, ‘XO TOUR Llif3’ has one of the most menacing, hard-hitting beats of the year. And no one else is as equipped to dominate this track as Uzi, who barely even enunciates on most of the verses, opting for this drawn out, washed over delivery that feels more akin to a pained cry for help than a mass of words. —ThatParanoidPenguin
20. Kendrick Lamar – HUMBLE. “My left stroke just went viral” is probably the line everyone and their mother has recited insanely loud with pure nihilistic joy at some point this year, in a prophetic move from Kendrick Lamar. To Pimp a Butterfly was all the way back in 2015, yet his absence was barely noticeable with the legendary aura that Kendrick has cultivated since then. He’s fully aware of it of course, and that is in many ways the point of ‘HUMBLE.’ whose video sees him recreating The Last Supper and dressed at the Pope — partly serious, partly tongue-in-cheek. His lyricism is perfectly concrete and feels like a series of religious commandments against Mike WiLL Made-It’s piano-driven trap-styled beat (a world away from the jazz stylings of To Pimp a Butterfly). Even choice diversions into topics like the media portrayal of women (“Show me something’ natural like ass with some stretch marks”) feel perfectly calculated in the song, and you get the sense that Kendrick is teasing as much as he physically can from this unusually poppy and hooky song structure rather than ramble on into something more freeform, not because he’s lazy but because he can. Step back, and you notice that there’s something bizarrely ironic about ‘HUMBLE.’ in that he barely even has to tell others to be humble in his presence: he practically proves it before the song’s even begun. — Rai
19. Taylor Swift – Call It What You Want The fourth and final track released before Taylor Swift’s newest album, reputation, is a welcome change of pace from the other previews of the record Taylor gave us. ‘Call It What You Want’ is a love song, but it’s not without context. It’s the second to last track off of reputation, and like many of the songs on the album, Taylor gives us small glimpses of what she’s been doing these last few years. “Nobody’s heard from me for months,” she notes. “I’m doing better than I ever was.” And like many of the songs off of reputation, ‘Call It What You Want’ is about falling in love with her hot British heartthrob boyfriend (can you blame her?). Perhaps one of the most tender, honest lyrics on the album is where Taylor describes how she’s “laughing with [her] lover, making forts under covers,” and it is a genuine moment of unbridled love. Partnered with some soft, layered Antonoff synths and contrasting trap snares, ‘Call It What You Want’ is one of Taylor’s dreamiest songs, and certainly one of the best songs on the album. — Piccprincess
18. Kendrick Lamar – DNA. “I live a better life, I’m rollin’ several dice, fuck your life.” With his critically acclaimed 2017 album DAMN., Kendrick Lamar proved he was the most popular rapper and most critically acclaimed rapper in the world, and nothing short of the best rapper alive. The first song on the album ‘BLOOD.’ is just an interlude, setting up the story of the album and ending in a Fox News snippet of racist assholes criticizing his performance of ‘Alright’ at the 2015 BET Awards. This perfectly leads into what is, in my opinion, one of the best hip-hop songs of the decade, ‘DNA.’ It is one of the best and biggest rap songs in recent memory with such an aggressive, bar-after-bar-afterbar delivery. Producer Mike WiLL Made-It had to create the beat based off of an acapella version of the song Kendrick rapped in the studio, and had to add the second part after the beat switch like. Despite no promo, ‘DNA.’ debuted at #4, giving Kendrick two top 5 singles that week along with ‘HUMBLE.’ and got play on hip-hop radio. It enjoyed 10 weeks in the Top 40 and 20 total charting weeks. — FuckUpSomeCommas
17. Halsey, Lauren Jauregui – Strangers Halsey is one of the most controversial figures in the pop landscape right now; she divided audiences with her debut effort Badlands, a moody, seductive alt-pop effort that established Halsey as a new, fresh star. Despite the criticisms against her (or maybe directly because of them) she’s remained in the public spotlight enough to see widespread success with her sophomore album hopeless fountain kingdom, which contains one of the most complete, polished pop songs of the year with ‘Strangers’. In a contrast to Halsey’s typical sound, which is slow and ethereal, ‘Strangers’ is a punchy synthpop anthem. Sharp synthesizers serve the groove throughout the track, with smooth, glossy keys gliding across the back. Lyrically, the song tackles the hardships of a same sex couple, with Halsey and Lauren Jauregui (of Fifth Harmony fame) trading verses about the struggles and emotional distress regarding their relationship. Both of the vocal performances are passionate, but not overbearing, as they work together with the beat to create what I consider to be pop perfection. This track is a landmark in Halsey’s career, and a single release in 2018 with subsequent success seems not only logical, but likely. — dropthehammer11
16. Taylor Swift – Getaway Car If there is a song on reputation that summarizes the relationships Taylor was involved in the times between the releases of 1989 and reputation, ‘Getaway Car’ is a perfect song for that. In this song, she uses metaphors to compare a doomed relationship to a “getaway car”, proclaiming at the start of the song in an autotuned voice “No, nothing good happens in a getaway car” that would later be repeated at the end of the chorus of the song. Why does nothing good happen in a getaway car? A getaway car drives really fast. This alludes to the fact that the relationship between Taylor and Tom Hiddleston was formed quickly after it was announced that Taylor and Calvin Harris broke up, and the relationship between Taylor and Tom itself was short-lived as well due to media scrutiny. When you’re in a getaway car, the police will obviously chase you around. This police that Taylor was referring to is the media, who had eyes on her and Hiddleston since the tabloids leaked a picture of them kissing on the beach. Considering the messy circumstances, Taylor knew this relationship was going to fail. And she didn’t blame anyone for this. She just knew. This ballad tragedy backed with Bonnie and Clyde imagery is one of the best songs on the album, with the production that has the most Jack Antonoff-isms on a Taylor Swift song ever. Yet, it has the classic Taylor style of songwriting that is melodramatic and cinematic that people will either love or hate. Whatever it is, it’s no denying that this New Taylor still has some Old Taylor in her when it comes to songwriting. — DoctorWhoWhenHowWhy
15. Charli XCX – Boys
2017 has ended up being one of the worst possible years to justify celebrating men, but Charli somehow manages to make it happen. Her ode to the male form and its accompanying video, a hodgepodge of men ranging from Mac Demarco to Jay Park to Brendon Urie all doing Sexy™ things, straddles the line between subversive feminism and gratuitous sexualisation in a way that gets the best of both worlds. Indeed, it straddles another line too, that between her PC Music experimentalism and the commercial pop that her label so desperately wants her to release, and frankly it seems to have been a pretty great success (it’s worth noting that this is one of the few songs of hers that Charli did not write, but it captures her essence well). The rougher edges of the PC Music-style production are sanded down but the overall oddball spirit remains (the Super Mario coin noise alone is one of the most genius additions to a pop song in the past few years), and it’s paired with an almost comically simple and ridiculously undeniable hook which is basically just the word “boys” repeated a lot. Come for the boys, stay for the bop. — Rai
14. Lorde – Green Light
For the lead single heralding the return of pop wunderkind Lorde, ‘Green Light’ offers little familiarity for fans that connected with the moody minimalism of her debut. And yet, it functions perfectly as an entry piece for Melodrama, tossing listeners into the deep end of a new sound and trusting them to get on board. It also serves to introduce some key themes that resonate throughout the album: the fraught emotional territory of first heartbreak; negative feelings both stifled and healed with hedonism; and a keen self-awareness from Lorde about the responsibility and giddy power that comes with processing emotions through the public platform of songwriting (“I whisper things/the city sings them back to you” is the dark, vaguely threatening twin to joyous anti-chorus repetition of ‘The Louvre’: “Broadcast the boom boom boom boom/and make ’em all dance to it”). The abrupt shifts in tone and intentionally off-kilter rhyme scheme in the first verse keep listeners without a solid anchor for about as long as a pop song can realistically sustain, and other peculiar choices spring up throughout. But all that discomfort and uncertainty, improbably wrapped up in a club-ready banger, perfectly reflects Lorde’s position as the narrator: perched precariously between the disappointment and anger of a failed relationship and the electric possibility that comes with moving on, she fills the space in between with a party. — vagenda
13. Bleachers – Don’t Take The Money As well as practically working with everyone this year, Jack Antonoff has also been releasing new Bleachers music as well, a look at his esoteric and distinctive songwriting in its most concentrated form. His collaborators this year have been characterised as very strong-willed artists with massively distinctive songwriting styles of their own, and Antonoff’s knack of making his influence heard among that all is scarily impressive. Now, when you give him the train conductor’s hat, not even Lorde has the tools to escape from Mr. Antonoff’s Wild Ride (she appears as backing vocals on ‘Don’t Take The Money’, but she is merely a cog in the enormous stadium-sized machine that Jack is building). Antonoff has an intimate understanding of emotional pacing, where to pull back and where to deliver ecstatic climax. ‘Don’t Take The Money’ churns along with unstoppable momentum — huge gated drums, pulsing synth bass, vocals that have him essentially shouting in your face all through the chorus — but he knows to give listeners a reprieve two-thirds of the way in, a moment exactly long enough to process the adrenaline he’s delivered before it’s back onto the rollercoaster once again. — Rai
12. Lana del Rey – Love Lana Del Rey has made a name for herself in the music industry for one thing: sadness. Quickly after her debut she became a symbol of female despair, a paramour whose relationships always ended in tears and tragedy. Each of her album covers depict her staring at the camera with a forlorn pout, except for one- on the cover of 2017’s Lust For Life, she shines a bright, joyful smile. You would never guess that big toothy smile belonged to the woman that once told Rolling Stone magazine that she “wished she were dead already.” Lust For Life itself is a big departure from her past works, taking on a markedly more hopeful outlook on life and love. At the helm of this is the lead single, ‘Love’. ‘Love’ is an anthemic, booming song inspired by sixties girl-groups. The instrumental is not groundbreaking for Lana — atmospheric drums and strings dominate the track, making it as cinematic as past tracks ‘Ultraviolence’ and ‘Born To Die’. What sets ‘Love’ apart from these tracks is that it makes the leap from love as a tragic concept, to love as a hopeful concept. ‘Love’ is dedicated to Lana’s leagues of young fans, centered around how exciting it can feel to be “young and in love.” Lana becomes an omnipotent onlooker, observing young people as they go about their lives, and dealing advice: “Seen so much, you could get the blues/But that don’t mean that you should abuse it.” She’s done a great deal of reflecting on her own youth, in songs like ‘Carmen’ and ‘This Is What Makes Us Girls’ from the destructive and wild era of Born To Die, which reflect on her struggles with alcoholism and getting herself into trouble. In ‘Love’, she’s wishing something better upon her fans, lifting them up by reminding them that the world is theirs to mold. Her delivery is loving and reassuring, and her vocals sound as beautiful as ever on the ethereal bridge, repeating once again that there’s no need to worry about the future. Following the release of ‘Love’, Lana stated “The past 4 albums have been for me, but this one is for my fans, and where I hope we’re all headed.” Lana experienced somewhat of a political awakening in 2016 & 2017, giving Lust For Life a political flair, contextualizing itself as an album made in response to Trump’s America. As young people become the forefront of protests and political revolution, Lana commends our ability to remain empowered by love in the face of turmoil. Lust For Life marks a turn from darkness to sunshine in Lana’s discography, with ‘Love’, a shining beacon of hope, leading the way. —ramenworshipper
11. Harry Styles – Sign of the Times If One Direction had a face, it was Harry Styles. The most ‘household’ of the group’s five members, Styles’s solo career also seemed to be the most intriguing in the wake of One Direction’s indefinite hiatus. However, time was taken, and this was no Justified. When the song was released, this became even more clear. ‘Sign of the Times’, rather than beginning Harry’s solo career with a ready for the charts pop hit, is a five minutes long epic poprock song with a distinctive throwback flavor. The song takes off from a dour, slow piano chord, backed by what sounds like a UFO taking off. The song feels like an ascension of some sort, from the spacey vocals of Styles to the droning, building instruments. The wailing guitars give the song a feel not unlike the stadium rock anthems of the 1970s, with a clear Bowie influence above all. The song climaxes with building guitars and an angelic chorus that gives way to a quiet ending to the most interesting debut single in a long while. —ThereIsNoSantaClaus
10. Tove Lo – Disco Tits ‘Disco Tits’ sits as a surprisingly unique-sounding song in 2017’s pop climate thanks to its lively revival of the sound of UK house, something that’s seemingly dropped off the map for a few years. The only major pop star who’s been trying their hand this year at the previously dominant pop sound is Katy Perry, but those attempts (‘Swish Swish’ being the most prominent on Witness) have underperformed compared to her usual standards perhaps because of how untrendy the house sound currently is. It’s not really deterred Tove Lo however, and you get the impression that she’s not really aiming for something, uh, publicfriendly anyway between the song’s name and that cover art. Basically, it’s saying something when your album being called Blue Lips is the most subtle thing about your entire schtick. Either way, what Tove Lo delivers is intoxicatingly fun and aggressively sexed up, as usual. While driven by its house beat, the name hints to the disco influences of the song that give it a distinctly old-school sensuality (the production feels particularly glitzy and is punctuated with fuzzy vintage synths, while the melody has a faint Diana Ross and Donna Summer vibe about it at points). The hook, of course, is utterly ridiculous. Much like last year’s ‘Cool Girl’, it feels like there’s pretty much no effort present in the hook whatsoever, which is this barely-emoted spoken word sortof-thing: “I’m sweatin’ from head to toe/I’m wet through all my clothes/I’m fully charged, nipples are hard/Ready to go” Tove intones. Monotone it is, but don’t do the song a disservice by mistaking her ice-cold deadpan humor with laziness, because it’s not. What we end up with is a rather irreverent and brilliant take on pop music which is honestly all we can ask from Tove Lo in this day and age. With the rest of the world frankly being a bit of a downer, it’s perhaps worth making an active effort to be as carefree as Tove Lo talking about her hard nipples. — Rai
9. Lorde – The Louvre ‘The Louvre’ quickly starts off as one of the most radio-friendly-sounding songs on the entirety of Melodrama, between its Taylor Swift-esque guitars and similarly Swiftian melody that flits between two conversational notes, but it doesn’t take long for a touch of the weird to materialise. The soaring pre-chorus and its Tumblr-rebloggable closing statement of “Broadcast the boom boom boom boom/and make ’em all dance to it” feels ready to leap into an even more enormous pop chorus (Jack Antonoff’s anthemic 80s touches are audibly felt in the verses, and he certainly knows how to peddle a gigantic chorus) but instead the whole song drops out into a fuzzy, muted anticlimax. Its side chained base glory is unsurprisingly curated by Flume, an artist pairing we first saw when he made a very highprofile remix of Lorde’s own ‘Tennis Court’. The subversiveness of the song barely disguises the fact that ‘The Louvre’ is potentially one of the happiest songs Lorde has ever written, and it sees her deeply and intensely in love with her paramour, as lines like “I am your sweetheart psychopathic crush” or the titular “They’ll hang us in the Louvre/Down the back, but who cares — still the Louvre” suggest. Lorde has a perspective that feels both entirely universal to young adults yet somehow completely unique to her, and every line is unequivocally Lorde in execution as you listen. Its bizarre that it’s took until Lorde for someone to really capture what she has in her music, but it’s also not surprising that she has created a slew of imitators in her wake as everyone realised “wait, that’s a thing we can try to do too”. Far too often, the emphasis is on the word “try” though, as what others try to do comes to Lorde as naturally as just living life. There’s a point a third of the way into the song where grandiose Queen-style pianos suddenly emerge in the midst of the fog as she half-deadpan comments “Okay I know that you are not my type”, and with the sheer brashness and confidence of her confession of love, you do wonder whether she knows what she’s doing. I don’t think Lorde knows, but I imagine that’s part of the fun. — Rai
8. Selena Gomez – Bad Liar ‘Bad Liar’ begins with the legendary Tina Weymouth bassline of the Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’. It’s not unreasonable to imagine that that sample certainly cost Selena’s label a hell of a lot of money, but frankly Selena probably has the cash between her Disney money, her 13 Reasons Why money, her fashion endorsement money and the money from her multiple chart-friendly EDM collabs over the years. For such a commercial goliath, it’s somewhat surprising that ‘Bad Liar’ re-interprets that ‘Psycho Killer’ bassline with such smart wit that even David Byrne himself commended the song. It’s even more surprising that Selena Gomez may have made something that could legitimately be called a little bit weird. The whole song feels like a deconstruction of a basic pop song. It’s just a few elements when you reduce it to its most important parts: that bassline, some syncopated claps, and her vocals. Those elements don’t really interact with each other in any sort of complex way, but the simple way in which they do is fundamentalistic and lets each of those elements shine to the best ability. Her vocals are obviously going to need addressing. It’s no surprise that Selena has earned herself the tasteful nickname of “Whisper Queen”, in her career, and the stream-ofconsciousness, I’m-telling-an-interesting-story-for-Voguemagazine delivery of the verses doesn’t really dispel that title. It’s in all respects incredibly compelling however, and the most mature Selena Gomez has been despite how much the memeyness of it all tries to make you think otherwise (I have to say that there is something a little bit MIKA’s ‘Grace Kelly’ and/or internet classic ‘The Duck Song’ about the whole affair). If you weren’t already aware, the song was written by, among others, Julia Michaels. She’s certainly become one of the most distinctive songwriters recently, and songs like ‘Bad Liar’ or ‘Hands to Myself’ from two years ago are imbued with the same restrained minimalism and freeform gossipy melodies that are on Julia Michaels’ own songs (see her breakout hit ‘Issues’). But, Selena has a certain humorous quality to her delivery that Julia Michaels doesn’t quite suit, and Selena’s lyrics, regardless of who wrote them, do feel like they were meant for her. In ‘Bad Liar’, she travels across the line “Call me an amenity” like it’s a slip-n-slide. Other lyrics like “But just like the Battle of Troy/there’s nothing subtle here” have the same glorious absurdity as her famous “metaphorical gin and juice” lyric. But let’s not beat around the bush here. The centrepiece of the song is its obscenely catchy chorus, as she repeats “I’m tryin’” far too many times to count. If ‘Bad Liar’ is a pop song at its most laidbare, it’s fitting that its chorus is a pop hook at its most devilish and concentrated. But even in the paradigm of her pop music, there is space for imperfection. She only barely sings the chorus in tune, and her passionate unbounded yelp of “oh baby” in the bridge comes across as desperately fanatical in its sudden unmusicality. It’s a shame that ‘Bad Liar’ wasn’t the hit that Selena deserved to have this year, because it’s the most human and eccentric song she’s ever made. — Rai
Calvin Harris, Migos, Frank Ocean
My personal conspiracy theory is that Calvin Harris’ new dodgy moustache is actually an ancient relic possessed by the dead spirits of funk-loving aliens that has taken him over. Hence, exit Calvin Harris the DJ and enter Calvin Harris the boogie ringleader. When ‘Slide’ dropped as the first song from his Funk Wav Bounces era, I’m sure a fair few people had the thought of “Wait, this is Calvin Harris?” and fair enough, it’s a long way away from the squelchy electropop during his nerdy skinny years, and the streamlined EDM after he magically became a fitness model. Of course, Calvin Harris has always conjured up the summer but ‘Slide’ finally injects something into his music that has often been lacking, which is warmth. Out go the icy-cold rave stabs, and in come warm Rhodes keyboards, vintage analogue synths galore and healthy dollops of Californian sunsoaked bass. It’s already a relatively pleasant surprise seeing Calvin Harris try out something that doesn’t scream machismo EDM, but the guests themselves make for pretty big surprises as well. Frank Ocean is the obligatory guest vocalist, but it’s curious to see him move into something so obviously poppy after coming off the back of a subtle and slightly obtuse record like Blonde. The same goes for Migos who seem to be popping up on every song possible this year, but ‘Slide’ is certainly one of their more interesting excursions and one of the most detached from their usual trap fare. The best Calvin Harris songs in the past have been the ones with guests that have imbued his slight variants on the same house song with their own unique personality: see the gothic soul of ‘Sweet Nothing’ with Florence Welch, or the ’Edge of Seventeen’-channeling ‘Pray to God’ with HAIM. It’s still true of new-era Calvin, and ‘Slide’ stands out amongst the many similar cuts on Funk Wave Bounces Vol. 1 mostly thanks to Frank Ocean’s ability to make the song entirely his own. He delivers lines like “Do you slide on all your nights like this?” with distinctly muted, laid-back mien. He doesn’t even have to try to simply exude personality all over the track, and even when he’s pitched up as a curious sample as in the song’s intro and outro, he sneaks in some gloriously whimsical lyricism (“I might empty my bank account/and buy that boy with a pipe”). It does seem rather improbable that this whole thing came together, but it’s certainly no bad thing that it did. This may be a new style for Calvin, but one’s stayed the same at least: he’s still making the premium songs of the summer, year after year. — Rai
6. Carly Rae Jepsen – Cut To The Feeling This is technically not supposed to be a Carly Rae Jepsen year. After 2015’s Emotion and 2016’s Emotion: Side B, one would imagine that we’d have to wait a while before anything appeared from her side as she readies herself for her much-anticipated next era. Yet, that hasn’t stopped her from keeping her foot in the door this year by releasing a song she lent to the soundtrack of a slightly naff animated film where she voices a ballet teacher as a single. Thankfully, the song, yet another irresistible pearl of glistening 80s pop, is much better than the film. You can tell why she left it off Emotion, which is no insult to its quality, mind. As she mentioned herself, the song felt too “cinematic and theatrical” to fit into the nocturnal gesturing of the aforementioned album, and even Emotion’s most power-pop moment in its very opening ‘Run Away With Me’ is laden with wistfulness, which is something that ‘Cut To The Feeling’ does not try to pretend to have in its vocabulary — this is a sunny grandiose pop anthem, prime material for song of the summer (which, admittedly, did not happen but that’s beyond the point). It’s not as rapturously enveloping as Emotion, nor as sophisticated as Emotion: Side B, but ‘Cut To The Feeling’ is magnitudes bigger and more concentrated than anything she’s done before, forgoing the more subtle nuances of her 80s touchstones for capturing the decade’s bombastic spirit (and perhaps returning to her bubblegum roots to some extent as well, for a little extra dose of pure ecstasy). Even her voice sounds enormous, which is impressive given that Carly isn’t usually known for a powerhouse voice. Other popstars perhaps have something to learn from Carly when she can literally release a loosey from a B movie soundtrack and conquer the year. Queen of 2017. Long may she reign. — Rai
5. Camila Cabello, Young Thug – Havana Walking away from one of the biggest girl groups of all time is no simple decision to make. 2017 has marked the first proper forays into a solo career for Camila Cabello, former member of Fifth Harmony and now burgeoning superstar in her own right, thanks to ‘Havana’, which has become her best-performing song by a margin. Her other solo efforts have been passable, but didn’t feel like a reflection as her as an artist. ‘Crying in the Club’ was undeniably a pretty catchy effort, but it also sounded pretty much like her singing a Sia demo and the Christina Aguilera-sampling chorus also didn’t help either.
It’s therefore rather joyous that ‘Havana’ stands as a testament to Camila’s own fervent and ineffable charisma. Latin pop? A worrying statement to make, since no-one really wants another reggaeton or trop-pop song as long as the twin singularities of ’Despacito’ and ‘Mi Gente’ exist. But this is Latin pop of another sort entirely, and comes as a breeze of fresh Cuban air in the current pop climate. Sure, it is intensely trendy, thanks to its slight trap flavor and Young Thug’s guest appearance, but it is also uniquely informed by Camila’s Hispanic heritage (without defaulting to reggaeton). The song is
predominantly driven by Cuban salon-style, orquesta típica piano, and a trumpet part informed by Camila’s part-Mexican heritage (which solos all across the second half of the track with a hot hazy air). The “Havana oo-nana” hook is irresistibly simple and every melody in the song is rich with folksy Latin chromaticism.
There’s a general sort of West Side Story vibe to the whole affair, which also contrasts American life with the plight of Hispanic immigrants from the Caribbean (Camila’s lyrics contrasting Havana and East Atlanta — Young Thug’s hometown — and indeed lines like “And papa says he got malo in him” which could have easily been straight from the musical). Camila channeling her Cuban heritage does nothing but wonders for her, and it adds a huge amount of authenticity and natural confidence to a track that another popstar may not have delivered nearly as well. — Rai
4. Kesha – Praying Catharsis is the name of the game with ‘Praying’. In it, Kesha tells her story of going through hell and back, and finds strength and solace in forgiving her wrongdoers for the wrongdoings done upon her. She has forgiven them, but can they forgive themselves? That is the question that Kesha asks, although she asks it without any hint of spite — hate begets hate is the mantra to keep in mind here. Of course, this is as direct a response imaginable besides just mentioning his name to producer Dr. Luke, whose shadow has plagued Kesha’s existence for years. On a meta-level, the song is quite obviously detached from his sugary production with Ryan Lewis instead offering up something more organic in its instead. That isn’t to reduce this song simply to that backstory however, and you absolutely do not need to be aware of that in order to hear the rawness in Kesha’s voice and in the sheer emotion of the song.
It’s not necessarily the most revolutionary song of all time (and this year seems to be a year of forgoing complex pop in favor of variants of the classic four-chord pop ballad joining the likes of Lana’s ‘Love’ and Harry Styles’ ‘Sign of the Times’), but Kesha’s delivery elevates a song that could have been quite cheesy into something genuinely affecting. Her voice first wraps around the piano before soaring above it in the song’s climax, and only a few other choice flourishes make their way into the track (squealing, barely tuned strings and primal thumping drums towards the end). I say that ‘Praying’ is forgiving in nature, but the overall effect makes it one of the most biting and fiery songs Kesha has ever released towards a transgressor. Kesha more than anyone has given practically everything to end up where she is today, and this song is proof of that — when she launches into the pinnacle that is her incredible high note, she makes the world listen. — Rai
3. Lorde – Perfect Places ‘Perfect Places’ superficially seems like a pretty paint-bynumbers 80s-inspired pop song that could have perhaps slotted in somewhere on Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion. Yet, everything about Lorde’s songwriting feels likes she’s just doing what comes out of her life experiences, and simply happens to accidentally make a pop song in the process. Much fuss has been made in the media about Lorde’s ’incorrect songwriting’, a sage quote from Max Martin, an academic master of meticulous pop structure. He’s right, of course, and you can hear it in ‘Perfect Places’ when you look a bit closer — the pre-chorus disappears after its first use, there’s no bridge at all (a recurring trend across Melodrama). These small imperfections give the song an organic sense of spontaneity that works in its favor immensely, and works to make it feel distinctly Lorde.
‘Perfect Places’ is the closer to Melodrama, which is essentially a concept record about a house party. Lorde, barely in her 20s now, dealing with the onset of adulthood (and being a global popstar too) yet is still very much immersed with teenage inhibitions, sees the idea of the party as something completely and utterly resolute in both all its joy and also all of the emotional and physical mess that comes with it. ‘Perfect Places’, as it turns out, is a very good closer. It has a just-right mix of triumphant and melancholy imbued in its sound and particularly its lyrics. “All of our heroes fading/Now I can’t stand to be alone”, Lorde sings, calling to mind a number of names; Is it Bowie? Prince? One of the other many musical heroes that have passed away in recent years, whose passings mark the end of an era? The song’s outro is a hypnotic recitation of “All the night spent off our faces/Trying to find these perfect places/What the fuck are perfect places anyway?” and it acts as some of the hardest-hitting lyricism in Lorde’s discography. Even if you’re not necessarily off your face all the time, the image manages to capture the singular experience that so many young adults face of simply getting through life. — Rai
2. Paramore – Hard Times Paramore has been around for over a decade, which seems absurd to think about at this point. Hayley Williams practically hasn’t aged whatsoever, which makes it tempting to believe, if you haven’t thought of Paramore for a fair few years, that they’re still peddling the same old emo pop punk that their album Riot! made them famous for. So, in comes 2017 Paramore (with a new trio lineup featuring the return of founding member Zac Farro on drums, who provides a welcome energy to the arrangements) with Williams gone all hipster platinum blonde and them all dressed up like an episode of Art Attack (Americans, search it up). ‘Hard Times’ was the first taste of their new sound, which has more in common with the early 80s rock of the Talking Heads and Blondie than the 00s pop punk sound that got them famous. And there’s definitely a touch of the sunny rhythms and instrumentations of Afrobeat that Paul Simon brought to notoriety with Graceland. It’s different-sounding from their beginnings for sure, but it’s dishonest to say that it’s surprising. The band’s transformation into ambassadors of pop for a
new generation of bright-eyed teens has always been on its way, nowhere more apparent than on 2013’s self-titled Paramore and its gospel choirbacked indie pop hit, ‘Ain’t It Fun’. To re-iterate the point, Paramore has been around for over 10 years, and to expect the band — and especially a band of this much rebellious and intoxicating energy — to be doing the same thing for that entire time is silly. Thankfully, there’s pretty much no real reason to argue against the sound change, because ‘Hard Times’ is ecstatically brilliant. The vibrant backdrop of marimba, funktinged bass and post-disco guitar riffs makes for a great interpretation of the 80s, and feels both part of and clearly distinct from the 80s revivalism that people like Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen have made popular in critical circles. It’s bright, streamlined and angular, yet Hayley Williams’ introspective lyrics that deal with depression lay disguised in plain sight on its surface, a reminder that you can’t really get rid of the band’s roots. There’s black humor in lines like “All that I want is a hole in the ground/You can tell me when it’s alright for me to come out”, and a wildly singable dejection in the “Hard times!” refrain. It’s some of the sharpest yet understated lyricism of their entire career, and shows off the maturity that the band has gained with a decade of experience and wisdom without sacrificing any of their youthfulness. — Rai
1. Dua Lipa – New Rules The runaway hit of the year, at least for Popheads, has come from the heavenly figure of Dua Lipa. Despite only having released her debut album this year after releasing singles from it non-stop in the time period that has seen me grow wrinkles, it has took until ‘New Rules’, the album’s sixth technical single, for Dua to move from anonymous pop starlet to bona-fide star. The song gave her her first UK #1, and infected the upper reaches of the Billboard charts like a tenacious flu, and gave everyone a fever in the process (until everyone got vaccinated and stopped her from cracking the Top 10 which is a travesty). While catchy, architectural, trend-hopping songs by random pop girls are pretty much everywhere these days, ‘New Rules’ defies expectations by being genuinely brilliant in all ways, and its popularity comes because of that simple fact. It propels itself through its run length with insatiable energy unlike any other song this year, and even its most climactic moments, feels like an endless rumbling buildup. It’s a bold and fierce song, yet has enough subtlety for new elements to catch you on each listen; indeed, the song is so compelling in all of its facets (Dua’s voice, the lyrics, the melodies, the production) that you wonder if it makes sense for any song to be this great. Even Coldplay’s Chris Martin went out of his way to call ‘New Rules’ perfect, and that’s not even the song on Dua’s album that he helped write. At the heart of ‘New Rules’ is a vital and life-affirming dancehall beat, the same sort of summery rhythm that Rihanna drew from last year with ‘Work’ and like that song manages to stay afloat above the masses of other tropicalflavored songs by being a little bit weirder, a little bit closer to what makes
dancehall tick. Listen to the song and perhaps you might notice that it’s just a little bit faster than maybe you’d expect a song like that to be. It’s not quite rushed, but it does have a sense of urgency and tempo, and restless tension as the synths run up in those uneasy chromatic trickles. Its a perfectly timed and paced pop song in all regards. One, don’t pick up the phone. Two, don’t let him in. Three, don’t be his friend. Dua’s novel approach to the classic quandary of how to get over an ex is genius, and is also ridiculously fun to sing along to. Unsurprisingly, it’s the rules that have made the song the viral hit it is, as instantly meme-able as it is surprisingly profound. The beauty of it is in its simplicity, and its strength comes from Dua’s characteristically husky voice being the one singing it. These are not just rules, these are commandments, and Dua’s here to deliver some heavenly justice. The iconic music video captures so much of what makes this song the list-topper it has for Popheads. It’s beautifully choreographed, with Dua passed from friend to friend in some sort of primal girl-power ritual, before she undergoes a divine ascension — I mean, she literally walks on water. ‘New Rules’ feels like the culmination of a lot of years of hard work for Dua Lipa, and her tenacity as a relative newcomer into a harsh industry should be applauded. There’s something pretty damn low-budget about the video compared to the monolithic efforts that the likes of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry have been pumping out this year, and it acts as a refreshing tribute to what the success of ‘New Rules’ represents — a championing of honest, no strings-attached good music. — Rai
ALBUM OF THE YEAR Rachel Platten – Waves Kesha – Rainbow JAY-Z – 4:44 MØ – When I Was Young Halsey – hopeless fountain kingdom Katy Perry – Witness Charlotte Gainsbourg – Rest SZA – CTRL Billie Eilish – dont smile at me Taylor Swift – Reputation Lana Del Rey – Lust For Life Sigrid – Don’t Kill My Vibe Demi Lovato – Tell Me You Love Me Aly & AJ – Ten Years Lorde – Melodrama
ALBUM OF THE YEAR berober04 joshually vodkainsipido theedgiestmirror dropthehammer11 letsallpoo vodkainsipido abnormalpoppunk skyblade79 wailordfan therokinrolla mashluke c0ns3rvative letsallpoo mudkip1
Rachel Platten â€“ Waves Berober04
I cannot be perfect for you.
In 2015, Fight Song was inescapable. The breakthrough hit for American, Rachel Platten brought equal inspiration and frustration for music listeners everywhere. Two songs followed on Rachel’s debut album Wildfire, not quite reaching the highs, but continuing to portray the idea of Rachel, the inspirer. With Waves, Platten continues this theme, but mixes in an improving and evolving musical style, creating an album that almost seems designed to showcase that inspiration comes in many forms. The lead single, Perfect For You, instructs the listener to love themselves as they are in the now, instead of idolising the impossible. But what’s startling is the beat going on behind the message, striking basslines and an almost oceanic flow through the song immediately let you know this album wants you to sit up and take notice. Collide is a statement song, musically. Soaring strings in the chorus as they build through are a high point of the song, focusing in on the title, as the instruments, well, collide. The confidence in the music continues into one of the signature songs of the album, Keep Up. Blending so many styles into one song is a titanic effort, and Rachel pours her heart into every part of Keep Up. Each new segment of this song is distinct from the other, from the last two lines of the chorus scaling back the instruments, to the spoken word breakdown before upping the ante in the final chorus. Sandwiched between, Broken Glass serves as a strong bridge between the two songs, meaning the strength of Shivers in the tight production isn’t lost contrasting against Keep Up’s bold experimentalism. Mixing in a strong message selfindependence, Broken Glass allows the album to keep pace going into Shivers and beyond. Something worth reiterating: Waves has no title track, but the influence of the title is felt throughout. The album has a fluid feel to it, crashing with something new, before receding to familiarity. But doing so naturally. The recession from Keep Up is felt fully in the next song. Loose Ends is the you’d most expect of Waves, pulling back memories of Fight Song in tone, but by sounding airier leading into the bridge, it has a stronger chorus, musically. Two songs further, with Loveback, the wave begins anew, swelling up not with bombast, but with heart. The crashing of this wave coming with Hands, a deeply emotional ballad as Rachel converses with her Nana through song, culminating in a touching phone conversation with the Nana over the final verse Overall, the words and relatability that made Fight Song such an unexpected hit are still in full view, and with the production catching up to the messages of the song, Waves is a success for having the ability to shock and inspire everyone in equal measure.
Kesha â€“ Rainbow joshually
Come and paint the world with me tonight.
Mariah hits the Top 10 for the first time in almost a decade. Taylor outsells literally everyone combined. Camila exceeded expectations. People finally know who Dua is. The tides are finally turning for our much beloved pop girls. But there is one story that shine a beautiful light upon an otherwise dreary year: a prismatic, colorful, bright shining kaleidoscope of wonderful noise and color and strength and love. The undisputed comeback queen of 2017, Kesha reminds us that beyond the gloom and sorrow, there you’ll find a rainbow, baby. After years of being mired in the most poisonous of legal battles, replete with soulsucking drama, shocking judgements and conflicts of interest, our dear Kesha finally makes her triumphant return with Rainbow, a beacon of hope for everyone who’s ever been downtrodden or marginalized, which, as we know of this world, is basically almost everyone at one point or another. Rainbow opens with the solemn and affirming acoustic Bastards, setting the stage that this Kesha is earthier and not the messy electroglitterpop of the Ke$ha of yesterday. “They won’t break my spirit” she croons, and we believe her. After all the shit she’s been through, she has not let the bastards get her down. A #1 album and a sold-out tour, widespread critical acclaim and her first Grammy nomination, Kesha is winning and we’re all here to applaud her triumph. Praying, the lead single, is THE empowerment anthem of 2017. In Praying, Kesha chooses to take the high road, even though she was “put through hell”, she still hopes “you find your peace”, a woke forgiving queen, we all love and admire that! And that F6 high note is literally the injection of life we all needed to infuse ourselves with and keep carrying on. This album straddles between solemn ballads like Hymn, Learn To Let Go and the title track, and fun kooky Kesha we all loved from before, with Hunt You Down, Boogie Feet and Boots. And then there’s Godzilla, probably the most bizarre metaphor used in a song, but really, when you pay attention to the song, it is so symbolic of being an outsider, of feeling uncomfortable in your own skin, and Kesha is telling you, “Baby, you’re beautiful, you’re okay, you’re unique. I love you just the way you are” and it feels good. Every song on Rainbow is an antidote for someone’s ails. Mired in regret? You gotta Learn To Let Go. Feeling insecure with your current boo? Just remember that Old Flames Can’t Hold A Candle To You (this particular duet with the iconic Dolly Parton is probably the most epic diva duet this side of When You Believe, it’s subtlety is sublime, but powerful). But perhaps the most healing of songs is the album closer, Spaceship. A galactic bluegrass love song to herself, Spaceship just touches you instantly. The lyrics are poignant, the atmosphere created lulls you into a compassionate calm, and the spoken word outro is powerful: “Nothing is real, love is everything, and I know nothing.” But there is one thing we all can agree on, Rainbow is a triumph, and Kesha is the queen.
JAY-Z â€“ 4:44 VodkaInsipido
Letter to my dad that I never wrote.
4:44 is the album of the year not just because it’s the most solid hip-hop album of 2017, but because it’s the one that stands out the most. In a year where most hip-hop albums have been done by young rappers (including Lil Pump, a 17 year old), Jay-Z pulled out an album being 48, long ago from his prime. Being 48 means paying bills, taking care of children and going to work, not spending money on drink and going out every night, so one wouldn’t expect 4:44 to touch the same topics as, say, Migos’ Culture. Instead, 4:44 is an introspective album. It’s a counterpart to LEMONADE, so first of all, it’s about Jay’s affair with another woman, and how much he regrets to do it. But it also talks about many topics related to family: Gloria Carter, Jay’s mother, comes out in the song Smile, and the first verse (a flawless one) acts as a come out letter: So all the ladies havin' babies, see a sacrifice/mama had four kids, but she's a lesbian/had to pretend so long that she's a thespian/had to hide in the closet, so she medicate/society shame and the pain was too much to take. In The Story of OJ he raps about race, referencing the famous OJ Simpson trial and how he said ‘I’m not black, I’m OJ!’ but also about wealth, and legacy. The bridge sums it up: You wanna know what's more important than throwin' away money at a strip club? Credit/you ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it. Legacy, that’s not a theme usually seen in hip-hop. Jay-Z can buy a painting for one million, and after years it’ll revalued ten times the original price. That’s credit. That’s legacy. And 4:44 also finds Jay reconsidering his past: from the ego-murdering of Kill Jay Z to the ego-worshipping of BAM, going through the need of survival of Caught Their Eyes or the critique to hip-hop’s current state in Moonlight. The position of the last (deluxe) track, ManyFacedGod, isn’t a coincidence: it considers Jay and Beyoncé’s current relationship and how far they have come, sorting any kind of problem on their way. 4:44 is a tour de force, a proof that one artist can be years past his prime and still drop an album close to masterpiece, even though based on previous releases many expected this to be another unsurprising disappointment. That’s what makes one album the album of the year.
MØ – When I Was Young EP TheEdgiestMirror
Hold my head high, so I won't see what is comin' underneath.
Since 2015, MØ has struggled to find her musical identity; torn between her indie-oriented electropop origins found on her 2014 debut album, No Mythologies to Follow, and her more mainstreamoriented pop sound on her music following her breakout feature on the global mega-hit “Lean On”. 2017, however, found MØ striking a balance between the two, connecting her past and present in a sound that healed this rift. When I Was Young is a product of that newfound balance, an experiment marrying MØ’s indie-pop sensibilities with the new sound MØ has developed working with producers such as Diplo, Cashmere Cat, and SOPHIE, and the results are fantastic. Prominently on display is MØ’s songwriting, a return to form for her as she returns do the emotionally complex and deep lyrics that first gained her a following during her No Mythologies to Follow days. MØs production is at its best here too, taking some of the electropop style featured prominently on her debut and folding it in with her current more mainstream sound. The highlight track of this EP is the title track, featuring a light and airy chorus building up to what can only be described as a heavy and wholly satisfying drop, heavy on the EDM production while featuring emotionally complex lyrics where she reflects on her desire to return to the freedom she felt in the days of her youth. Two other standout tracks include “Turn My Heart to Stone”, where MØ laments over her inability to leave a toxic relationship and her wish to numb herself to the pain of heartbreak, and “BB”, a song dedicated to her current lover if, or when, they ever decide to end things between them. When I Was Young is the best EP of 2017 for one simple reason: it manages meld indie pop with mainstream EDM-inspired pop in a manner that will please fans of either genre. With MØ’s highly anticipated sophomore album rumored to release in 2018, When I Was Young provides fans of either side of MØ with a taste of what’s to come that will surely wet their appetite for more.
Halsey â€“ hopeless fountain kingdom dropthehammer11
Cause you know that truth hurts, but secrets kill.
hopeless fountain kingdom is a concept album in the same way that Badlands was; there isn’t a very strong focus on said concept; rather, it’s an overarching theme that encapsulates the sonic and lyrical elements of the whole project. It opens up with a monologue straight out of Romeo and Juliet, leading into Halsey crooning over a Vocoder as the moody instrumental takes shape. A welcomed change in hopeless fountain kingdom is in the sound, varied and eclectic. There’s something for everyone in the project, and Halsey does a great job at working with what was given to her. Tracks like Now or Never, Eyes Closed and Devil in Me are punchy, sinister, with strong alt-R&B influence; similar to what we’ve heard from Halsey before. That being said, for the first time ever, Halsey takes a turn into a variety of new elements here. Strangers, featuring Lauren Jauregui, is an anthem with driving synthesizers mixed in with glossy keys and some wonderful vocal performances by both women. Alone is loud and in-your-face, and also experiments with some old school horn sections. Walls Could Talk draws influence from early-2000s Max Martin. Halsey conforms to this new, upbeat sound very well, as she emphasizes the power and volatility of her voice; a welcome change. Another change is the inclusion of ballads. It’s rare that Halsey strips back and performs a raw, emotional ballad, but there are several instances on this new record. Sorry is a highlight, and also acts as the tender, emotional, and raw climax of the whole album. Over piano chords, Halsey sings her way through a cutting set of lyrics that are doubtfully apologetic and woefully sincere. You can hear the pain in her voice as she glides over the dreary pianos in the back. The album’s closer, Hopeless, is an electronic rollercoaster of emotions, as Halsey panders to herself if she will ever find love. The Vocoder based vocals are sharp and powerful, mixed with the quiet, string-based backing track. Halsey has also matured immensely as a songwriter. The melodramatic lines are now sharp and simple. The whole album is based around a dysfunctional relationship, and all aspects are highlighted throughout each and every song, with a different emotional approach. The rawness of Sorry contrasts the pleading and begging of Now or Never; Halsey does a tremendous job of conveying a wide range of emotions with her wonderful voice and lyrics In every aspect, I believe this is the most complete pop album of 2017. Halsey really proved to me that she belongs amongst the top tier of pop artists with her versatility and talent, and she still has a tremendous ceiling she hasn’t reached yet. I’m officially on board, and I’ll be waiting with bated breath to see what avenue Halsey takes next.
Katy Perry â€“ Witness letsallpoo
If I lost it all today, would you stay?
The Katy Perry of 2017 was not the same Katy Perry of yesteryears, the one known for bombastic, aggressively inspirational anthems that were also mindless and benign. Instead, 2017 Katy was, as Entertainment News described, "reflective, anxious, and fired-up," and her resulting album rollout confirmed her fears. Criticized all around for her music, her hair, her middling success, and her inability to adapt to a new pop zeitgeist, Katy became one of the media's favorite punching bags. Witness is, if anything, anxious. Katy never reaches the confident heights of "Roar" or "Firework," and even the songs that emphasize inner strength are undercut by reminders that Katy's fighting something that can't be defeated with just a catchy hook. "Hell hath no fury like a woman reborn / And now I'm burning like a blue flame once more," she croons in "Power," but the song is just as preoccupied with how she's been hurt: wings clipped, flowers wilted, power siphoned. "Chained to the Rhythm" is the most feel-good party song on the album, but it’s remembered more for its themes about how pop culture consumption can blind us from reality. Even "Bon Appétit," a filthy sex jam featuring Migos, became subversive with its music video, which features Katy being prepared for literal consumption. With the entertainment industry becoming more politicized and volatile, 2017 Katy was forced to look at herself and decide who, as a person and a pop star, she wanted to be. She chose the harder route, promising "purposeful pop" and culturally cognizant music. While her career was then sent into a tailspin, Witness is best seen as a reflection of Katy’s budding discontent with herself and the world. "Bigger Than Me" refers to this growing feeling — vaguely, mind you — and her struggle to articulate it: "So I'll speak my truth / Though my voice shakes." Perhaps the biggest year-end surprise was the music video for "Hey Hey Hey," a song that was far from a fan favorite. But the release made sense in the scope of the year she endured: it was a selfaffirmation of her strength and how despite hardships, she will refuse to break. It's no coincidence that the video features a long-haired, frilly, and feminine Katy being rescued by a distinctly short-haired Katy. Witness is not a perfect album, but it is a product of its time. Katy is perpetually unsure of what she is, what she wants to be, and what the world wants her to be, and these anxieties seep into her music. The title track almost reads like as a confession, that underneath her cracking pop star shell, she's just a human that's as frail and fallible as the rest. She doesn't ask for much, though, just for someone to ride this ride with her. If you can't be her friend, or even her fan, that's okay. She just wants you to be there.
Charlotte Gainsbourg â€“ Rest VodkaInsipido
Restes avec moi, s'il te plaĂŽt, ne me laisses pas t'oublier. (Stay with me, please, don't let me forget you.)
Rest isn’t quite exactly my album of the year, but it’s the project that has caught my attention the most in the last months. The story behind Rest is quite sad: after her sister Kate Barry jumped out of a window in an act of suicide in 2013, Charlotte Gainsbourg flew to New York to escape the ghosts that haunted her mind. There she met with producer SebastiAn (Frank Ocean’s Blonde) to write, produce and record for a year. She remembers it as a year full of sadness that she poured into the lyrics. The themes around Rest are abstract, and in many cases almost spiritual: from death (Rest), to marriage and love (Deadly Valentine), time (Dans vos airs), grief (Kate) and hope (Sylvia Says). All of this is surrounded by a production with powernames just like Paul McCartney, Owen Pallet or Guy-Manuel De Homem (Daft Punk). All of them give a near perfect production, an ode to the french synthpop of SebastiAn’s label Ed Banger, a mix of light and danceable disco with orchestral strings and tints of dark funk.
And yet with how grand and epic it could have been with those names, the biggest accomplishment of Rest is how minimalistic and intimate it feels. With the release of the first single, she mentioned how she “came in with all my lyrics… and Guy-Man was saying, ‘You can’t say all that; you have to simplify it,’ and he reduced it to three words! It was exactly what I needed at that time.” There are few moments of grandiosity, like the chorus of Roses or the strings of Deadly Valentine, but Rest is an album that says a lot with very few words. Take the vulnerability and depression of Les Crocodiles, the fear of future on Dans vos airs or the elegy of Kate. The final moment of Les Oxalis, a song about her visiting a grave, makes the full album worth it: a record of Charlotte’s son singing the alphabet over drums and pianos. In a year where big albums have triumphed (Melodrama, Reputation, Utopia, DAMN), it’s a blessing that Rest is the most honest and only says what’s really worth.
SZA â€“ CTRL abnormalpoppunk
How could it be? 20 something, all alone stillâ€Ś
SZA was one of the most talked about names of 2017; an artist who blew up four years after being signed to the label Top Dawg Entertainment, which has produced number one albums and singles by Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q. After releasing three EPs, one of which, Z, was on Top Dawg, SZA, whose real name is Solana Rowe, created one of the most anticipated and talked about records of the year. Rowe’s album-making and release process were… hectic, to say the least. Due to label stress and personal reason, the singer even threatened to quit music completely in November 2016, but triumphantly returned with the first single of her first full-length album, CTRL, “Drew Barrymore”. With a simmering guitar basis and a light R&B percussion track, “Drew Barrymore” gives a clear view of SZA: a somewhat insecure, stilllearning woman who finds confidence through her music and creates a world of her own with her straightforward and figured vocals. CTRL was further promoted with “Love Galore”, a collaboration with Travis Scott that became her first top 40 hit. “Galore” is a perfectly crafted alt-R&B jam, combining Solana’s comforting vocals singing about the dating life of a 20 something-year-old woman, whether that be one saving a relationship or one trying to grasp onto a new one, with a slapping bass track and another upbeat yet dark percussion track. When CTRL was finally released in June 2017, it was acclaimed by critics and fans alike; it became apparent that SZA was incredible at making art about the trials and tribulation of everyday life and personal stress. “Supermodel”, the opening track, is an interesting choice for such placement on the record, being a soft and low-key guitar ballad. Starting with a message from her mother, then singing “Let me tell you a secret/I been secretly banging your homeboy/Why you in Vegas all up on Valentine's Day?/Why am I so easy to forget like that?/It can't be that easy for you to get like that,” in the first verse lets the listener know the two main themes of the album: love and insecurity. CTRL peaks on praised fan favorite, “The Weekend”, an R&B ballad discussing the life of being a side chick. While the lyrics tell a detailed story, they also manage to show Rowe’s personal connection to her writing, singing, “Knowin’ I’m desperate/Gettin’ all in your love/Fallin’ all over love, like/Do it ‘til it hurts less,”. “Broken Clocks” is a track focuses completely on the struggles of being a working girl who tries to manage a social life on top of such matters. SZA, on the chorus, questions if putting the time and effort into love is worth it, or if she should just stick to priorities: a topic that nearly everyone faces yet nearly no one discusses in music. CTRL comes to a close completely and beautiful, with “20 Something”, a track that shares a great likeness to the opener, “Supermodel”. Another low-key guitar ballad, Solana sings about the raw being of a young adult: hoping to keep friends and find love whilst keeping your life together. All of the themes sung about individually throughout the record and combined in “20 Something”, which closes with another speech from her mother, who states, “If it’s an illusion, I don’t want to wake up [because] the alternative is an abyss, is just a hole, a darkness, a nothingness. Who wants that?”. With statements from her mother and grandmother, raw and relatable lyrics, and emotional lyrics, Solana Rowe is able to captivate her audience like few others, keeping a resonating theme that is expressed in such a way that makes her debut record, for lack of a better word, perfect
Billie Eilish â€“ dont smile at me SkyBlade79
Sittin' all alone, mouth full of gum, in the driveway.
Don’t Smile At Me is alt-pop singer-songwriter Billie Eilish’s debut project. Don’t Smile At Me was released when Billie was only 15. Throughout this EP, Billie’s voice is soulful and versatile, and her songwriting is so very mature. Her brother, Finneas, is the sole producer of the EP; at 17, he seems to have already found his calling in life with his amazing soundcrafting. Billie’s first studio quality song, “Ocean Eyes”, was a moderate internet success. She was only 13 when she sang it; the emotional depth, the atmospheric vibes, and mature voice show that Billie has always far surpassed expectations, despite her age. Sonically, the sound of this album is incredibly varied. Aside from the atmospheric pop of “Ocean Eyes” and “Party Favor”, Billie manages to capture some of the most unique sounds of the year with one of my personal favorites, “COPYCAT”. This track is basically how anger incarnate would sound like; it is a hybrid of alternative pop and trap, and it works so very well. Billie’s vocals change with every line, from an accusing, deeper tone on the verses, to a lilting, high register on the bridge. With quite possibly the best bass all year, extremely quotable lyrics, and just about the maximum level of sass that one can fit into a song, “COPYCAT” is sure to make an impression. “Bellyache” is a fan favorite and a force to be reckoned with. It combines deep distorted bass with an acoustic guitar for a sound that is both refreshing and mature. The buildup to the pre-chorus is breathtaking and showcases Finneas’ proficiency in production. The lyrics themselves are totally unique; the song tells the story of a serial murderer on the run from the cops, but somehow Billie makes this strange theme work without trying too hard. However, Billie Eilish doesn’t have to rely on pounding bass and electronic beats to excel. “idontwannabeyouanymore” is a smooth and jazzy piano ballad and one of the most beautiful songs all year. It’s a heartbreaking look at the difficulty of self-acceptance and the pain of insecurity. It’s mature and powerful, and this track further displays just how unpredictable Billie and Finneas are together. Don’t Smile At Me is full of great songs, including the jazzy "my boy", the creative sampling of "watch", and the slow-burning beuaty of "hostage", but these are my favorites. dont smile at me is diverse, entertaining, well-paced, distinctive, and full of soul; it meets all the criteria to be considered a great project. Billie is a versatile and mature artist; she just turned sixteen and she’s already building a promising life in music. Finneas is also an amazing producer, and these two siblings could become one of the best duos in the alternative music stream. I can’t wait to see what they do next.
Taylor Swift – reputation Wailordfan
Don’t read the last page… but I stay.
In 2017, no release was quite as polarizing as ‘The Return of Taylor Swift’ via her 6th studio album, ‘Reputation’. Socially, the album became a quick fluff piece for any journal/media outlet, with think pieces erupting ranging anywhere from which boyfriend is going to be attacked the most, whether Taylor Swift is secretly a Nazi hiding behind lyricism in her lead single, Look What You Made Me Do, or even if her lack of promotion was due to a secret pregnancy. Initial questionability of the album came from the album art. A greasy appearing slick-backed Taylor plastered by headlines of simply her name done over in fonts and directions across half of her face. It was deemed unprofessional, rushed, or mediocre. Everyone had an opinion, your mother, your best friends, even your 5th hour science teacher decided to be the cool teacher that day and talk about it. Taylor Swift got people talking. She promoted the album through one of the most polarizing methods of advertising, change. Through the three month period of waiting, we learned that the new Taylor was dead, that Taylor could rap in …Ready For It?, but suddenly we hear Gorgeous and the world thinks the old Taylor has returned, and then are backed with the release of Call it What You Want a week away from official release. What was it? Was the old Taylor dead, buried next to her reputation? Or was the death in the family merely marketing? This one question was what was needed for Taylor to push out 1.216 million albums first week. In an era built on the back of streaming moguls, Taylor extended her record to 4 consecutive albums to sell 1 million+ albums opening week. The era began with a death, questioning of direction, a new sound, and doubts. But as you listened through the album the first time you begin to realize how easy it was to get you to that point. The album could be complete shit in your opinion, or it is easily the best album you’ve heard all year, but how did you get here? Did you just walk into your store and see this album from some girl on the stands? Chances are, Taylor Swift brought you in to answer one of many questions she hung in front of us all on a short string. She knows we are going to bite, it is on our end to just decide when we want to give in.
Lana Del Rey â€“ Lust For Life therokinrolla
This is my life, you by my side.
From the first verse on Lust For Life, in Love, you can tell that this truly is the end of an era for the infamous Lana Del Rey (“Look at you kids with your vintage music/Comin' through satellites while cruisin”), contrasting old-age music with “new-fangled” technology. It’s almost an admiration, something rarely seen from Lana outside of her references to narcotics and near-abusive relationships scattered throughout her music. Immediately afterwards she refers to these kids as “the future,” something Lana would dread in songs such as Dark Paradise. The songs brilliantly crescendos into a chorus which finally makes it evident what Lana has come to terms with: life. The Lana of yesteryear is no longer with us. The reckless Lana has been replaced with a Lana that embraces life and love. And with this comes something that the Lana of before couldn’t do - express love and help through her music. God Bless America is a track that celebrates womanhood; it acts as a warm, reassurring hug to all the women of the world. Love is a youthful anthem of being carefree and being in love with… love. But nothing is always perfect. There are decidedly more sorrowful tracks, but whereas “old” Lana would take it as it is, Lana now offers solutions, and works things out to try for a happy ending. When The World Was At War is a folksy, more downtempo track about dancing your ways through the hard times; how we have done it many times before, and we can do it again. White Mustang could easily be seen as a track in the same vain as Born To Die or Ultraviolence, featuring Lana singing again about a reckless lover, like her older tracks. However, in this track Lana finds herself in it to leave him, and look forward. The two most important tracks on the record are perhaps her final two: Change and Get Free. Change, an epic 5 minute ballad of pure piano and Lana’s voice, directly addresses climate change. It’s an important track in context of the record because it feels like a track almost directly addressing the listener, saying, “There's a change gonna come, I don't know where or when/But whenever it does, we'll be here for it;” this song is a warning from Lana. It is a call for action from her listeners. Then, the uptempo finale that is Get Free has Lana explaining why this record exists. This describes Lana’s transition from a woman of dread to one with hope. Her “modern manifesto.” She wants to do it for those that didn’t get the chance for happiness, she wants to do it to feel something new. And so we return to where we began. This whole album is her reverting to the start, and looking forward. This album is also her lesson, so nobody is ever trapped in the same place she was. This is her manifesto. Learn to hope. Learn to lust. Learn to love. And to lust for life.
Sigrid – Don’t Kill My Vibe MashLuke
You think you're so important to me, don't you?
With an innocent face but the energy of an erupting volcano, Sigrid is one of the most promising pop singers of today. The name of her EP, 'Don't Kill My Vibe', accurately captures the soul of the release and instantly makes you understand the spirit of it. The 4 tracks in it all deal with refusing to be attached to things and people that not let you express yourself the proper way, whether the songs are about love stories or friendship. From the first track, of the same name of the EP, to the third one, we chronologically see the start and the end of 3 distinct fights and the redemption of the singer from her initial situation. It's the story of a young girl who after biting the bullet for too long, she eventually broke it and chose confidence over fear. The unhealthy environment and tough situations that she encountered slowly fueled her hunger for independence and she turned these into her personal gasoline. After getting rid of that poison that was hurting her inside, the pace drastically changes at the end, like a sigh of relief, with the slow jam that is "Dynamite". She puts a stop to everything but before doing so, she wants her opponent to acknowledge her radical change. Her last words: "you're as safe as a mountain; but know that I am dynamite", represent the final response before leaving, the last drop of revenge that she has. The EP is not the birth of a new her, but the internal growth of all the kids whose goodness was put to test every day and who now, are ready to kill with kindness and fight back.
Demi Lovato â€“ Tell Me You Love Me c0ns3rvative
Oh no, here we go again.
As one of pop's biggest voices, Demi Lovato has never been afraid to lend her pipes to a variety of hits over the course of her career. Despite her mainstream success, however, Demi's studio albums have remained somewhat scattershot, and she has never quite been able to garner consistent critical acclaim. Naturally, Demi set out to mature her sound for her 6th studio effort, and turned to the genre of pop soul to craft a record that manages to be both cohesive and consistently compelling. Simply put, Demi snapped on Tell Me You Love Me. The record feels like a natural successor to 2015's Confident, with Demi trading in the sleek dance-pop of that album for a more subdued and midtempo sonic palette. While the production here is nothing remarkable, it is warm and brassy, and acts as a more than serviceable backdrop for Demi's vocals. Speaking of - Demi's vocals truly steal the show on this record. Her belts on uptempo highlights "Sexy Dirty Love" and the gospel-tinged lead single "Sorry Not Sorry" exude confidence and bravado, while slower cuts such as "Only Forever" see the star bring her voice to an expressive and raw croon. Like so many artists in the public eye, Demi has publicly struggled with a variety of personal issues throughout her life - most of which she addresses in her accompanying album documentary. While she doesn't reference these events directly on Tell Me You Love Me, it becomes clear right from the opening minutes of the album's titular track that this record is her most personal yet. "Tell Me You Love Me" is easily one of Demi's best ballads, and finds Demi utilizing her entire range to put on a stunning vocal tour de force. Demi pours her heart out on the track, building from a softly-sung apology to a brassy belted chorus. Elsewhere on the record, Demi continues to navigate the ins and outs of her relationships: she pledges her allegiance to love on "Hitchhiker", coyly confronts attachment issues on the synth-spiked "Daddy Issues", and unabashedly taunts her lover on "Games". Demi is clearly on the cusp of something truly great with Tell Me You Love Me. Her brash delivery and powerful vocals may have suited her previous pop rock style, but after hearing her voice melt away over these instrumentals, the fact that she took this long to delve into pop soul almost boggles the mind. In a year defined by half-baked reinventions, the sheer ease of execution that Demi demonstrated on this record was refreshing to behold. You go, Demi.
Aly & AJ â€“ Ten Years letsallpoo
I've been spending my attention on you, on you.
The road to Ten Years was a bumpy one. In 2008, after confirming their next album was coming, then delaying the album to 2009, then to 2010, they rebranded as 78Violet, promised the album was still coming, parted ways with their record label, cancelled the album, and finally released an EP. It was okay. The duo then abandoned their band name and disappeared into production limbo for a few more years before suddenly rematerializing in 2017 with "Take Me," which was mistakenly released on Spotify a few months before its planned debut. The lucky few who managed to hear "Take Me" were justifiably hyped; it was sonically gorgeous, taking on the 80s style and burying it under deeper synths and lush vocals. With all of these mishaps, it's nearly miraculous that Ten Years sounds as wholly realized as it does. There are clear inspirations, from the 80s and from Emotion, but Aly and AJ's take on confectionery pop sounds distinct from every release this year while still feeling wholly familiar. The lyrics are vague yet moving, such as in "Take Me": "Show me something before I show something to you," they warn their lovers, never offering an explanation of what this "something" is meant to be. The vagueness gives way to relatability, as listeners feel invited to substitute their own meanings, whatever â€œsomethingâ€? suits their current moods the most. "The Distance" is similarly abstract; it's an upbeat dance track with deep echoing drums and lyrics about feeling empty and soulless but not much else. The only image provided is a reference to how "every hang up" (not even a phone is provided) drives the singers further into despair. But the song still succeeds, and every reference to how they can't help but go "the distance" resonates with any listener who's been there: the painful longing for someone no longer interested in you, the crushing emptiness when you've lost the person you need the most. "I Know" is more concrete; what they know is how down The Boy feels, and they plan to make him feel better, whatever way that may be. The last we heard from Aly & AJ was "Potential Breakup Song," a good song in its own right but has grown less fresh over the years. To hear the two of them undergo such a radical change in style, yet still feel comfortable and innovative was one of the most welcome surprises of 2017. The road may have been long, but it was ultimately worth it. Has it really been ten years?
Lorde â€“ Melodrama Mudkip1
But you're not what you thought you were.
At the height of her career, Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor seemed almost untouchable. Her name was everywhere; ‘Royals’ surpassed all expectations, reaching number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and cementing Lorde amongst a list of the greats. Her cultural impact created a number of other artists attempting to mimic her style in her absence – after the success of Royals and top 10 hit ‘Team,’ Lorde stepped away from the spotlight to take time to reflect. Years felt like decades before we finally heard an response. In early 2017, Lorde released ‘Green Light,’ a powerful, complex drama that didn’t follow the typical standards of current pop music. Fully aware of how often her old, original style had been mimicked, Lorde changes the game on her listeners with this song. The rest of Melodrama is no different. The entire album seems to ride on an unmatched wave of constant highs, leaving you short of breath by the album’s end. The story she tells details her old relationship and the heartbreak, paranoia, and change that comes with it. ’Green Light’ is about moving forward, even though the memories will never fade. Her spirits are high, joints relaxed, arms joyously, frantically moving to the beat. Her spontaneous dance flows through to ‘Sober,’ where Lorde is in full paradise. ‘We’re King and Queen of the weekend / Ain’t a pill that could touch our rush’ she muses. The passion she feels around her lover is so intense that nothing can heighten it. Pure bliss, but what happens when the magic fades? She explores these thoughts more in depth as the album continues. ‘Liability’ is about what happens soon after – the loss of a friend, a loved one. Depression is hard to deal with but she explores it thoroughly in this track. ‘I understand, I’m a liability / I’m a little much for everyone’ is powerful to hear, especially after the euphoria from earlier tracks. Lorde realizes that relying on others hurts too much to bear and that it’s time to come to terms with herself. She’s her own best friend. The album concludes graciously. After adjusting to this change in scenery, Lorde remembers fondly of the moments she shared and can’t go back to, discovering that ‘When I reach for you / There’s just a supercut.’ These feelings carry through to ‘Perfect Places,’ the closing track. She’s now aware of how oppressive these thoughts can be, noting, ’Now I can’t stand to be alone.’ Life sucks sometimes, but things always get better in the end – ‘Let’s go to perfect places.’ ‘Royals’ became Diamond certified in December 2017. It’s a stark reminder that the past is never gone. Lorde’s still here, she never left, she moved on, but her music has changed for the better. Melodrama is a work of modern art, a testament of how much she’s learned and how much is still left in store.
Full steam ahead
And I see it now, magnified The horoscope in my balled up newspaper didn't lie
Screaming full, full steam ahead
I'm gonna die in a beautiful train wreck tonight
You don't know but you've got a strange power The way your eyes sweep me in It's a siren song, crashing into treacherous rocks Only stop on my express train of thought And I just can't help the way you move Feels too smooth
I see a hundred stop lights blur past in red And I'm racing 1000 miles an hour on a dream instead But I've never felt so alive Screaming full, full steam ahead
Going downhill on a serotonin slide And I know it's suicide Lightning flash, but I wanna live a little before I die I'll be a desperado on your runaway ride tonight
And the next day a hundred headlines read Love ends in midnight flames and burning red But tonight I'm hanging on for dear life Screaming full, full steam ahead
So These tracks they end in dead-ends I see a hundred stop lights blur past in red And I'm racing 1000 miles an hour on a dream instead
And this train is spitting sparks And these brakes look like rust And this train is going way too fast...
But I've never felt so alive Screaming full, full steam ahead
And I don't know how to stop And if I don't get off now I'll miss my stop
And the next day a hundred headlines read Love ends in midnight flames and burning red
But I don't know if I should And I'm not sure I would if I could...
But tonight I'm hanging on for dear life Screaming full, full steam ahead
The last stop lights blur past in red Do I hold on to a dream or give up instead?
I feel the danger at the eleventh hour Say my name and pull me in
But I've never felt so alive Screaming full steam ahead
It's intoxicating, like rum on moonlit rocks I only have one wish before we get caught Let's stand in line and last-dance at The Louvre The sun comes too soon Nowhere to run and hide
Won't care what the headlines said When I'm gone in flames and burning red Only fools live a half-life And never get to scream full, full steam ahead.
concert (a poem I should have written seven months ago and another one about him)
unclear and vague.
but because they were written that way.
this is a poem I should have written seven months ago. It is another one about him, and it another one about thinking I was in love.
not just because I couldn't do them the justice they deserved,
or at least, that’s the excuse I’m going with.
It does not belong here. and this a poem that would probably feel much more at home surrounded by all the other ones about him,
seven months later, written by someone who’s realized the one obvious thing that I hadn’t yet realized back then.
the ones with the yearning, hopeful desires and quiet, unspoken fantasies.
seven months later,
the ones with the maybe’s and the hopefully’s.
now I know that you never loved me.
the ones that were full of possibilities.
seven months later,
this poem does not belong here.
now I know that you never even liked me.
it does not belong here, seven months late,
seven months later,
surrounded by poems written by someone who’s learned a lot since then but who’s remembered nothing.
now I know that for all my infatuation,
seven months late, surrounded by poems that are unsure and uncertain
it was hopeless from the start.
so regardless of how out of place it might be,
how unfitting it is for this moment in time,
I watched you leave through the front door,
here it is.
saying something over your shoulder to someone inside before shutting it.
here is the poem about that night we went to that concert together. here is the poem I should have written seven months ago.
we went to a concert together that night early in November. it was my first concert. it was your first concert too. somehow, I imagine that’s the only first we’ll ever share.
when you smiled at me as you walked down the front path, I smiled back. and when you got in the passenger side, I laughed at the joke you told as you purposefully mussed your hair in the rearview mirror.
as we drove down the highway, it was early November. the snow hadn’t started to fall yet
I found myself obsessing over the little things,
and my winter coat still hung untouched in my closet.
the way your mouth curved up in the corner when you smiled
my favorite blue sweatshirt and skinniest black jeans, the outfit that I had obsessed over the night before,
or the way your lean fingers looked as they tapped idly on the window. and as dangerous as I know it was, I worry that my eyes spent more time on you than they did the road.
would be enough to keep me warm. and if it wasn’t,
when we got to the concert,
I was banking on you coming close to keep me warm instead.
we parked the car far away.
I picked you up at your house a little after six,
it wouldn't work,
casually late on purpose.
hoping to avoid traffic afterward.
and we’d be stuck together even longer on the ride home.
but as I was locking my car and walking away,
sang along to every lyric to every song,
I was secretly hoping that traffic would be bad.
because I was at my first concert and I was determined to enjoy every moment of it.
once inside, we found a spot halfway to the back of the theatre, one somehow still empty in the rapidly filling auditorium.
you? you were at your first concert and somehow seemed like you didnâ€™t even want to be there. you just stood there nearly motionless,
arms held stiff at your sides.
as we waited for the lights to go down,
and during the quick strobes of flashing light that were thrown out over the crowd,
I tried my best to talk to you without making a fool of myself. I tried my best to talk to you and ignore the fact that you didnâ€™t really seem that interested in talking back. I tried my best to talk to you and ignore the fact that I could see you texting him instead.
I could see how completely unaffected your face was.
as if this moment, one I had quietly anticipated for months, not just because of you,
but soon enough the lights went down and the stage was covered in flashing spotlights, spotlights that caught in the smoke that was hanging in the air and hovering hazily just above the stage.
the crowd screamed and shouted as the music kicked in, and I danced the best I could in the tight space,
but also mostly because of you, truly meant nothing.
and maybe it really was nothing to you, because I remember playfully bumping your hip with my own in the middle of a song, leaning over as close to you as I dared
and telling you to let loose and dance,
I sat in the dark at my desk like I’d done so many times before,
almost shouting over the music swelling underneath my voice and all around my body.
sat there in the quiet dark with the sounds of the concert still pulsing in my head, and I tried to write a poem but found that the words wouldn’t come.
you smiled weakly, and I should have known it was forced by the way your lips stayed thin and you showed no teeth.
you smiled weakly but said nothing. and maybe that’s when I should have known it was hopeless.
that is, until now. now it feels like the words flow all too easily.
and now I finally have my poem about the concert and not that anyone else was counting,
I think I knew it then.
Not that anyone would know if I didn't make such a big deal of it,
I might not have wanted to know it.
but it's seven months late.
I might have pushed it down so deep that I didn’t even realize I'd done
it’s seven months late
and perhaps it wasn’t poetic enough
I think a part of me knew.
but I think I did the best that I could,
it’s just that the rest of me didn’t listen.
after I dropped you off at your house, I went home and tried to write a poem about it.
because as much as I wish it wasn’t, sometimes real life isn’t always all that poetic.
Conclusion When I came up with the idea of making a magazine earlier in November and told people in the staff chat, I thought it would be a somewhat easy thing to do: just making a post asking people to do this and that, doing myself a part of it, and overall just coordinating people. And of course, editing all the pieces later. As I’d discover after it wasn’t that easy. Designing a magazine isn’t really easy even to just make an early model, and doing it with amateur tools such as Microsoft Word for the documents and Photoshop wasn’t a great idea either. But after all, a few days passed and the initial design in some parts changed to be more complex and prettier. Most of the change was thanks to dirdbub, who helped me to go from left example to right example:
After receiving a few more pieces as album writeups around the middle of December I started to do a final design and settling down on a cover that Iâ€™d later delete and remake. I had to check on a few people and start asking for some backups, and finally at the end of December I had received all the parts I needed, I just had to start formatting and editing them in. Later on I asked raicicle if he wanted to collaborate on this, since he had been doing the list of songs of the year with all the votes in the subreddit, and that was the last real part I needed to make. Well except for the cover, which I had a few problems making but thanks to a few people and especially BreezySeason I finished it. Overall making this was a great experience. I think I have spent more time wondering what to do with a document with this magazine than in my whole life, and I really like how it has ended up looking like. It has been great to do this, take a lot of advice, try to be more creative and things like that. Stressful at times but I loved it. This sub is really creative, and reading all the texts and seeing all the drawings Iâ€™ve got sent was fantastic. Would I do this again, maybe this summer or maybe around Christmas? Of course. Would I do it splitting the work with someone else? Trust me I would. See you next summer, I guess. - VodkaInsipido
it's finally here