The 19 niftiest pop numbers of 2019

19. Sturgill Simpson – Sing Along

An embittered electro rampage from the American country singer. The beat is so urgent, you won’t notice you’re dancing on scorched earth. 

18. Chaka Khan – Hello Happiness

This feel-good floorfiller is no ‘I’m Every Woman’ or ‘I Feel For You’ – yet if all three songs showed up at the same party, they’d get along swimmingly.

17. Ariana Grande – NASA

Singing what might be the cleverest lyric of the year, Ariana offers the universe to a suffocatingly needy lover. Her price? Just a little space

16. Mark Ronson (feat. Lykke Li) – Late Night Feelings 

For camp melodrama, look no further than this gorgeous 70s-disco expedition. It basically stomps around swigging a glass of wine with mascara running down its face. 

15. Charli XCX (feat. Big Freedia, CupcakKe, Brooke Candy & Pabllo Vittar) – Shake It

In this four-way battle royale between esteemed rappers, Charli plays the part of referee, regularly stepping into the ring to remind you to shake it.

14. Rina Sawayama – STFU!

‘STFU!’ bites back at casual racism with a fiery nü-metal-inspired assault. 

13. Post Malone – Circles 

The singer-rapper’s softboi mumbles are a perfect fit for Tame Impala-lite dream-pop. 

12. Theophilus London – Cuba

A self-described ‘angry lovesong’, spewed out over a warped disco groove steeped in hip-hop fuzz. 

11. Grimes & io – Violence

This trance-pop glitterbomb is relatively generic for Grimes. Yet her erotically-charged account of abuse – sung in eerie, bird-like trills – is something you’re unlikely to hear from any mainstream popstar.

10. Miley Cyrus, Swae Lee & Mike Will Made It – Party Up the Street 

Low-key and hypnotic tropipop laced with laced with Timbaland-esque BVs.  

9. Lana Del Rey – hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but i have it

Dressing up existential dread in old Hollywood glamour is Lana Del Rey’s hallmark, but this superbly stark piano ballad doesn’t overindulge. Life sucks – yet hope persists. 

Oh, and here’s a fantastic cover by my friend Shay Khan.

8. Stormzy – Vossi Bop

Does any lyric sum up 2019 better than ‘Fuck the government and fuck Boris’? Um, NOPE.

7. Tame Impala – It Might Be Time

Kevin Parker reinvents his rock-pop project’s neo-psychedelia, adding harsh industrial overtones to highlight the protagonist’s paranoid internal monologue. 

6. Billie Eilish – bad guy

The opening beat thumps like some poor bastard who woke up in a coffin and is trying to bang his way out. The spooky post-chorus riff will go down as one of the decade’s most recognisable.

5. Tami T – Single Right Now

Over a churning bassline and synths that grow evermore anxious and chaotic, Swedish singer/producer and queer femme icon Tami T gives a brutal analysis of the quinntessential young person’s relationship trajectory (‘You wanna be single right now, but then you meet someone…’). The refrain is repeated but Tami swaps in the appropriate pronoun each round, making this song a safe space for everyone to cuss out their ex. 

4. Sir Babygirl – Pink Lite

Sir Babygirl’s music harks back to 90s femme-fronted pop-rock, a magical era when riot-grrrl edge (think: Veruca Salt, Republica) was still commercially viable. 

3. Fontaines D.C. – Boys In the Better Land 

The Dublin rockers write a sneering post-punk postcard from the big smoke. Depictions of an Anglophobic taxi driver aren’t just colourfully written – they’re politically timely too. 

2. Katy Perry – Never Really Over

Classic high-impact pop with a tongue-twisting chorus. I can confirm that it is very satisfying to memorise. 

1. Lizzo – Truth Hurts

Yes, ‘Truth Hurts’ is technically a 2017 song. Yet watching this once-niche banger not only ascend to the summit of the US Hot 100, but also go on to become the longest-running #1 by a leading female rapper (tying at seven weeks with Iggy Azalea’s ‘Fancy’) was a massive win for the millions of music fans worldwide who sees themselves in Lizzo

The 31-year-old Detroit-born singer/rapper/flautist had been plugging away for years before hitting the big time in 2019, and she did so on a platform of love and compassion, both for ourselves and the people around us. 

‘Truth Hurts’ might look like a sassy breakup anthem on paper – ‘Why all men be great ‘til they gotta be great?’ will forever be a question the male race must find a collective answer for – but it plays like a transcendent church sermon. Lizzo isn’t the first popstar to evangelise emotional independence and preach self-help quips, but as a black, plus-size female rapper, the breadth of prejudices she has unfairly had to defy to get where she is today means that, for many people, she might be the first popstar they deem qualified enough to inspire them. 

The Weeknd’s new singles reveal his shrewd ambitions

I absolutely wanna be the biggest in the world.’ This is the confession Abel Tesfaye made to an A&R bigwig at Republic Records.

At the time, the singer, better known as The Weeknd, was reconciling with the relatively subdued response to his much-hyped debut, 2013’s Kiss Land. His switch from mercurial mixtape icon to major-label investment didn’t exactly go unnoticed, but Abel had a crystal-clear vision of where he wanted to be. In a word: everywhere. 

And for a number of years, that’s exactly where The Weeknd could be found. Subsequent full-lengths 2015’s Beauty Behind the Madness and 2016’s Starboy became veritable blockbusters – the former nimbly juggling avant-R&B and Max Martin-honed pop confections, and the latter doing the same but enlisting a revitalised Daft Punk for a futuristic twist. Both spawned multiple smashes, and by the time Starboy scooped a Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album in 2018, The Weeknd did indeed seem like the biggest popstar in the world. 

Yet as we know, pop music moves at a ferocious pace. With the dual single release of ‘Heartless’ and ‘Blinding Lights’, Abel isn’t defending his title, but rather using a calculated two-pronged strategy in order to reclaim it – one song for rhythmic radio, one for pop. 

‘Heartless’ is classic Weeknd: Low-slung trap groove? Check. Depressing bass line? Check. Nasally, unapologetic trilling about pussy, money and generally being a bad boy? Cheque please! And it’s already Abel’s fourth US #1.

‘Blinding Lights’ is much better: a kaleidoscopic traipse through metropolitan nightlife, possessing a twinkling synth riff not at all dissimilar to A-ha’s ‘Take On Me’. It’s hard to imagine any of Abel’s male peers – or successors like Post Malone – resorting to such a reckless pop monster. That’s the thing about Abel: he just wants it more.

Listen to ‘Heartless’ and ‘Blinding Lights’ below:

Dua Lipa pulls off a techno-disco throwback on ‘Don’t Start Now’

Sporting a simplistic techno bassline and swirling strings, Dua Lipa’s new single is a mean disco throwback.

Dua Lipa’s singing technique is the vocal equivalent of resting bitch face. This icy detachment has been utilised to chart-topping effect on several occasions, most notably on the Calvin Harris collab ‘One Kiss’ – the ubiquitous popularity of which is best summed up by this video of football fans chanting the chorus:

‘Don’t Start Now’ is a similarly club-ready throbber, but it’s nowhere near as comically apathetic. ‘New Rules’ producer Ian Kirkpatrick demonstrates zero chill in trying to cultivate a sassy disco throwback in the vein of  ‘I Will Survive’ – falling back on swirling strings and even appropriating a famous line from the Gloria Gaynor classic. 

Despite whiffs of desperation, ‘Don’t Start Now’ is stabilised by Dua’s cool and aloof presence. The 24-year-old strikes her usual standoffish pose, yet there’s an emotional conviction bubbling underneath the fairly innocuous lyrics. It’s a deadly combo that suggests the breakout star is only getting started.

Watch Dua Lipa flit between dull-looking parties in the ‘Don’t Start Now’ video below:

‘Raising Hell’ by Kesha: A rapturous celebration of freedom

Had it been unleashed at the height of Obama-era optimism in 2011, Kesha’s new single ‘Raising Hell’ would have a three-week minimum stint at #1 on lock. 

The infectious LOL-pop number – replete with horn-driven breakdowns – is as purpose-built for sorority house party playlists as ‘Tik Tok’ or ‘We R Who We R’. At its heart is a message of salvation through sin, a textbook credo for a Kesha song, written for the ‘misfits of creation’. 

A welcome difference this time is a dose of churchy delirium (handclaps, dramatic pianos, chintzy organs) that not only allows Kesha to really SANG, but also dovetails nicely with 2017’s GRAMMY-nominated ‘Praying’. 

But where that ballad was a searing account of alleged abuse at the hands of disgraced über-producer Dr. Luke, ‘Raising Hell’ is a rapturous celebration of freedom. Even when the unmistakable voice of bounce legend Big Freedia commands you to ‘drop it down low’, this is a party where the guests are drunk on gratitude more than anything else. 

Watch Kesha preach the good word and kill her abusive husband(!) in the ‘Raising Hell’ video below:

Harry Styles evokes indie-pop ecstasy on ‘Lights Up’

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Psychedelic gloss and a midway U-turn towards gospel make this a pleasingly soulful return.

Harry Styles is very good at writing songs about nothing. That skill has been a liability in the past – see laughably hollow solo debut ‘Sign of the Times’ – yet new single ‘Lights Up’ somehow makes sense of his flair for nebulous lyrical imagery. 

Presumably the first offering from the singer’s upcoming sophomore album, the song emulates the hushed ecstasy of indie-pop heavyweights like Miguel or Tame Impala, with a midway U-turn towards gospel and a psychedelic finish. 

Musings on knowing ‘who you are’ and shining ‘so bright sometimes’ land with all the sagacity of that guy who brings his acoustic guitar to every house party doing shrooms for the first time. Thankfully, the lush milieu and stacked harmonies add a soulfulness that would otherwise be missing. For three magical minutes, Harry Styles sounds like he’s got something to say. 

Watch Harry brush skin with some sweaty people (yes, woman AND men) in the ‘Lights Up’ video below:

Katy Perry burns rubber on new single ‘Harleys In Hawaii’

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Are those the macho revs of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle you hear? Or the enthused purrs of KatyCats the world over? 

‘Harleys In Hawaii’, the latest single from Katy Perry’s yet-to-be-announced fifth studio album, promises both. 

Produced by Charlie Puth and Johann Carlsson, it’s a tantalising midtempo built on guitar plucks and woozy synths. Giving her sexiest performance in years, Katy invites her lover – who may or may not hold a Hells Angels membership card – to join her on a tropical escapade. According to the fanciful lyrics, she apparently makes this suggestion on a rather humdrum Sunday, because that’s what being a millionaire is like. 

‘Harleys’ bridges the optimism of summer with the cool resistance of autumn, lying somewhere between Lana Del Rey’s ‘Doin’ Time’ and Camila Cabello’s ‘Havana’. Like the latter’s now-iconic ‘Havana-na-na-na’ hook, the titular island state is immortalised with its own equivalent: a breathy ‘Hawaii-aii-aii’. At least it should be a hit somewhere. 

Watch Katy burn rubber in the ‘Harleys In Hawaii’ video below:

 

Miley Cyrus’ new single is a brutal tale of romantic incompatibility

mc sa.jpg‘Slide Away’ by Miley Cyrus isn’t just a dignified response to a tumultuous year. It’s also an instant classic. 

A campfire ballad drunk on late-90s electronica, the new single is patched together using assorted threads of inspiration that unspool with every listen.

‘Bittersweet Symphony’ is an obvious one, while the delicate string-laden outro mirrors the denouement to Madonna’s ‘Don’t Tell Me’, layered with bubbles of altered background vocals by way of Moby. The song’s title is utilised as a clipped and effective hook á la ‘Wide Awake’ by Katy Perry.

Unexpectedly, producers Andrew Wyatt and Mike Will Made It evolve these melancholic elements into an R&B-slanted ambience that feels bracing and comfortingly familiar all at once. Were there no words, you could almost call it an uplifting piece of music. 

But there are words. Very sad words. 

Addressing her fresh split from teenage sweetheart Liam Hemsworth after nine months of marriage, Miley isn’t angry anymore – just impatient. ‘Move on, we’re not 17,’ she instructs with characteristic grit. ‘You say that everything’s changed / You’re right, we’re grown now’

The song plays like a comprehensive checklist of a couple’s incompatibilities. Drinking. Drugs. Malibu mansions destroyed by fire. It’s a very mature genre of emotion, told – with brutal honesty – from a beautifully immature perspective.