The Pop Scribe 10

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It has been a truly mammoth week for pop: Steps reunited in spectacular form; Charli XCX dropped a 10-track mixtape/opus; Nicki Minaj appeared out of nowhere with 3 brand new tracks, ranging from standard to stunning …and that’s not even the half of it.

In the spirit of that ‘#FridayFeeling’ and because there are just too many great new pop tracks this week to remain unheard, I’ve compiled a 10-track playlist known as ‘The Pop Scribe 10’. The playlist collects my favourite pop cuts from the past week and will be updated weekly, bi-weekly or maybe even monthly depending on the state of things in Pop Land. The playlist isn’t in order of best to second best, but you can usually assume that the first track is a veritable masterpiece. I’m also a strong believer in playlists sequenced like albums, meaning STAY OFF THAT SHUFFLE button and enjoy the shift in tone and atmosphere. (You can, of course, enjoy the music however you please – it’s fine.)

The first ever Pop Scribe 10 includes: 

  • 3 appearances from Charli XCX in pop domination-mode
  • Steps well and truly pulling it out of the bag
  • ionnalee stepping out of the mystery of iam and into banger territory
  • A thrillingly dark and gnarly slice of new Goldfrapp
  • Louisa Johnson on her best behaviour, but also very much not.
  • Reflective, wooziness from Nicki Minaj
  • Lorde: the balladeer
  • Little Dragon channeling the sweeter side of the 90s

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The 2017 Tease

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Last year us pop fans were treated, or in some cases subjected, to a number of BIG pop teaser campaigns. In order of appearance: ANTI, Lemonade and Joanne all offered very different interpretations of the pre-release come-on, in which fans were thrown breadcrumbs across social media as they anxiously awaited the arrival of a new era from their fave.

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Rihanna’s ANTI was an agonisingly chaotic, strung out and seemingly expensive pre-album roll out, which took over a year to come to fruition. In contrast, Beyoncé’s Lemonade was an almost guerilla-style cultural event that teased the audiovisual album just a week before its release. In even further contrast, Lady Gaga’s Joanne was a more straightforward tease that gradually re-positioned ‘Mother Monster’ as a homegrown country gal over a 2-month period.

The ever-evolving and ever-saturated world of social media has completely flipped the idea of a ‘traditional’ album roll-out on its head. Pre-social media, I have the fondest of memories of bounding into HMV to pick up Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor on its release day (9th November 2005!) after the blast that was the Hung Up single campaign. The truth of the matter is, before digital downloading and streaming shook up the music industry into the unstable mess it is now, pop megastars tended to enjoy fairly fail-safe promotional campaigns.

This might be one of the last relics of that period:

Sigh.

The anticipation back then felt both magical and measured; only the artists/record labels themselves could really control the medium and the volume in which you were teased, be it through TV, radio or print media. Nowadays, that thrill is spread thin across social media and too often overshadowed by the gimmickry which follows – namely memes. For that reason, it takes a true wave of hype and mystique (+ a considerable marketing budget) to cut through the crap and really grab your attention on social media… Lo and behold, the return of Ms. Katy Perry:

Thankfully, after the constant uncertainty of 2016 it seems like we may be about to encounter not only a disco-pop (!) revival but, most importantly, a new era from a pop star who just ‘gets on with it’. Harking back to the golden age of big pop comebacks, the stars feel aligned for Katy to re-emerge on Friday with new single Chained to the Rhythm, its accompanying video AND an exclusive Grammy performance this Sunday.

At a time when there are now teasers for teasers, digital treasure hunts, or maybe no tease at all through surprise releases; it is strangely reassuring to know that pop stars such as Katy Perry still exist to guide us through the memory of what it felt like to be an expectant pop fan before the dawn of social media.

Good Ol’ Gaga

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How could I NOT write about Artpop aficionado herself: Lady Gaga and her Super Bowl halftime hoot!? (That’s enough alliteration for now, but it was a hoot.) Unfortunately, due to the very nature of hyper-internet-journalism there’s already a fair few articles out there which cover the sociopolitical side of things pretty succinctly. Both of these are worth a click and a read:

 

So what about the setlist itself? Bar the gloopy Million Reasons, which has been rubbing me up the wrong way ever since that god awful video, the choice of tracks was pretty on the nose:

It’s hard to argue with the inclusion of such pop behemoths as Poker Face, Just Dance, Telephone and Bad Romance. Even Born This Way and its ham-fisted, but well-intentioned, representation of queerness felt utterly vital in the backdrop of a strange, new America. As many critics have already noted, when Gaga said: “We’re here to make you feel good” – she meant it. The fact is: Gaga’s music has never really been designed to be deeply analytical or inward facing. Much like some of ABBA’s biggest and best hits, Gaga’s brand of pop often deals in big universal emotions which somehow feel completely personal to you, the listener. 

The magic behind these songs doesn’t really need explanation. To my ears, the chants of ‘Ra Ra-ah-ah-ah, Roma Roma-ma’ just feel that little bit epic and evil. I don’t know why, they just do…and I love it. This is why Gaga’s performance was both authentically Gaga and widely applauded. Don’t be fooled by the elaborate fashion and academic interpretations; at its core, this is pop all about pure, unadulterated FEELING.

However, in order to completely contradict the purpose of this post, I started to think about what a setlist with a healthy dose of politics would look like. Additions would include: 

  • Americano – a batshit pro-immigration opener
  • Do What U Want – a defiant nod to anti-abortion legislation
  • Perfect Illusion/Bad Romance medley – just a general sense of chaos (?)
  • Born This Way (The Country Road Version) – a liberal call-to-arms for conservative country lovers
  • The Edge of Glory – a positive vision of what America could be + a bangin’ closer

So there we have it. It’s probably just as well Gaga avoided my suggestions in light of the heavy backlash received by past performers Janet Jackson (nipple-gate) and M.I.A. (finger-gate). Nevertheless, have a listen to my alternate reality setlist below:

    Ásgeir’s Winter Wonders

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    While some turn to hot water bottles and blankets as the winter months freeze on, these past few days I have found myself tuning into the wondrously comforting music of Iceland’s Ásgeir Trausti. Ásgeir’s music sits somewhere between the gentle folk of Bon Iver (For Emma era) and the chilly electronics of Björk (Vespertine era) and, at its best, these influences are blended into gorgeous electro/folk-infused pop…aka the sound of winter.

    ~Even as I write these words I can hear a voice in my head shouting: ‘Is this actually pop!?’ But let’s leave that for another post…~

    The brightest of these Icelandic gems form a quintet of songs which I’ve very cleverly named: Ásgeir’s Winter Wonders. At a time in the year when everything can seem a little bleak, particularly if you’re ‘in between jobs’, these ‘Winter Wonders’ provide a perfect spot of Icelandic escapism in soothing pop form.

    Wrap up and take a listen to the playlist below:

    P.S. Ásgeir also has a stunning new single out called Unbound, but I didn’t want this to seem like a big ol’ promotional post. Nevertheless, check it out…

    Anymore: a lesson in edging

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    ‘I can’t wait, I can’t wait anymore’ – Alison Goldfrapp’s husky plea on the first taste of the duo’s seventh album Silver Eye is the perfect summation of how it feels to be a fan perched on the cusp of a new Goldfrapp era. Just a few days ago I was listening to Jacques Lu Cont’s hypnotic ‘Conversion Perversion’ remix of Twist and wondered if the Frapp would ever return to the scuzzy/slinky electropop first introduced on their (superb) second album Black Cherry. This got me thinking back to a school project I produced on that very album, in which teenage me had to decide whether it was appropriate to include said raunchy album art in the project:

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    A simpler time.

    Anyway, teenage me would be delighted to hear that, as metamorphoses go, the Frapp’s new single Anymore is a delightfully chunky and enticing indication that Alison and Will have returned to their electronic roots. While the March 31st release date of the new album feels just that little bit out of reach, Anymore edges us a tiny bit closer to the sound of Goldfrapp getting their bite back. Alison’s always been a tease, but this time she’s got us begging for more.

    Have a listen to the single below:

    WTF is Pop?

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    For centuries scientists, philosophers and religious nuts alike have all been throwing in their two cents to try and determine the true meaning of life. In that time, wars have been won, technology has changed the face of the Western world forever, and Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe has sold in excess of 18 million copies. So, what is my point? What is the fantastical link I am trying (but probably failing) to make? Well, the point is: pop music can be as head scratchingly baffling and beautiful as life itself. Some will regard pop as low art – a cheap and nasty product of the mainstream music industry. Others will regard it as an expert study in postmodernism – a perfect collision of style, substance and slay. For me, pop is all of these things and more.

    Nearly ten years ago I encountered an article by Pitchfork writer Tom Ewing comparing Britney’s pop masterpiece Blackout with the disembodied voices heard throughout David Lynch’s equally masterful TV series Twin Peaks. I’d never watched the show before but the comparison stuck with me as I re-approached Britney’s robotic come-ons with new ears. Five years later, I had become a David Lynch devotee and the bizarre comparison suddenly made perfect sense. On one level, Blackout is an escapist slice of forward-thinking electropop; on another, it’s the sound of manufactured pop quite literally eating itself as our former bubblegum princess is drawn into darker and more daring sounds – see Exhibit A:

    It’s moments like this when pop really gets interesting and the good, the bad and the ugly perfectly align.

    So I suppose you’re still wondering… WTF is Pop!? Well, as your Pop Scribe I’m hoping to explore the endless answers to this question through a careful combination of words, sentences and clichés. Failing that, here’s a quote from Ms. Britney Spears herself:

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    “I don’t really have time to sit down and write. But when I think of a melody, I call up my answering machine and sing it, so I won’t forget it.”