“I heard this life is just a play with no rehearsal.”
The thinking person’s music idol, Janelle Monáe, has consistently delivered wonderfully realised concept albums but this year, I gotta give it up to her for nailing it with one song.
‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ – an 80s funk inspired number – is the forerunner of Monáe’s latest outing The Electric Lady. Since the last album’s critical success, we’ve seen Janelle’s star power quadruple. She played sell out shows everywhere she went, became a Cover Girl spokesperson and she is seen as a role model for young black women world over.
What I really enjoy about ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ is the sass, and the way it weaves themes of racial and gender equality with a very straightforward message of self-love. “Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am”.
Yes, the lyrics are thought-provoking and they challenge prejudice, but just like Monáe you can’t categorise ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ as being about one thing or another. It’s like a magazine flicking through different thoughts and questions, subtly connecting different humanitarian and cultural themes.
“Add us to equations, but they’ll never make us equal. She who writes the movie, owns the script and the sequel. So why ain’t the stealing of my rights made illegal? They keep us underground working hard for the greedy. But when it’s time to pay they turn around and call us needy.”
It’s rare to come across an intelligent and empowering anthem that also makes you want to dance. The musical backdrop of flamboyant synths, sly bass line and finger snaps sounds like a fabulous lovechild of Prince and Monáe. Long may the Electric Lady’s reign be.
“Spend my days locked in a haze, trying to forget you babe.”
You know me, I go weak for a good tear-streaked electro pop ballad but there is something about ‘Habits’ and the way it draws you into its numbing cloud of tragedy. Why am I addicted to a song that makes me feel so sad?
Swedish pop artist Tove Lo’s despondent lyrics about cycling through different activities to feel something other than soul-destroying loneliness struck a nerve.
The random hook-ups, the sex club visits, getting high, the excessive alcohol consumption – I love how the account plays like a fast-flicking and blurring montage, tinged with pain and denial.
“Staying in my play pretend where the fun ain’t got no end. Can’t go home alone again, need someone to numb the pain.” We can all more or less relate, yeah?
“You know very well, who you are…”
R&B music made a strong mark on 2013 for me, particularly with new releases from a few key female artists who I am typically loyal to.
Tamar Braxton’s first album in 13 years Love and War caught me by surprise but one song in particular kept me thirsty for more with every listen.
‘The One’ is an instant favourite and unlike anything else on the album, it is carted out on a beat that sounds like a bubblegum throwback to 80s funk and hip hop. Stylistically, it gives a respectful nod to early Mariah Carey records, when she started applying glossy diva vocals over hard-hitting hip hop beats.
The sweet lyrics are enough to melt any hard candy heart and make you want to fall in love instantly – I know it did for me. Coming in at just under 2:55, it’s the perfect quick sugar fix.
“It’s gonna burn when you touch me, when you touch me!”
I am hopelessly devoted to this Aussie pop starlet who snatched the X Factor crown in 2012.
‘Firestarter’ came about six months after her explosive winner’s single ‘What You’ve Done To Me’ (which made the Top 5 Songs of 2012). It was a risky to wait so long and test the fickle public devotion, but this dance pop number is a scorcher worth waiting for.
The song, which Sammi co-wrote with Sony Music Australia’s powerhouse songwriter/producer duo DNA Songs, sounds like a proper European floor filler. Yes, the musical direction may be a tad obvious for this gorgeous singer, who has been compared to Kylie, but it is nonetheless thoroughly fitting and enjoyable.
The throbbing beat, fluorescent synths and massive belt-out chorus gives Sammi the opportunity to showcase her abilities on stage as a world class singer and dancer.
“We want two different things at two different times. You know how the story goes – easy come, easy go…”
‘Down on Love’ quickly became one of my favourite songs of the year because I have never heard a song that so beautifully expresses the ennui and disappointments of trying to find love.
The game playing, the unmet expectations, the broken trust – Kelly paints a picture that is all too familiar for those who have been in the dating pool for longer than they care to remember.
It’s not something most people would expect from Kelly Rowland, but this former Destiny’s Child singer has a flair for penning confessional ballads – as proven with her Ms Kelly album track ‘Still In Love With My Ex’ and more recently, the career-defining ‘Dirty Laundry’.
The slick production with perforating urban beats give the song some pace, which goes down particularly well in sections where Kelly spits: “Tried your love at five in the morning, I never thought that you would hurt me. Yeah baby you sho’ did. I put up with your shit. Calling, I ignore it. Why you actin’ like it ain’t five in the morning, when you know you ain’t worthy?”
For casual observers of Rowland’s solo career who may only be familiar with the David Guetta hit ‘When Love Takes Over’, ‘Down On Love’ is a worth a play just to note the contrast in her work – and how she effortlessly excels in her element as an R&B artist and storyteller.
Listen to ‘Down on Love’ audio.
“Don’t you ever say I just walked away, I will always want you.”
This time last year, no one could have predicted that Miley Cyrus would become a pop culture phenomenon of 2013. Her movement, this deliberately hammed up new image and musical direction, has been nothing short of formidable.
Behind the hype, however, stands a towering song that justifies this young artist’s place in time. ‘Wrecking Ball’ exposed the world to a heartbroken and vulnerable Miley when all anyone could talk about was her rolled out tongue and twerking antics.
What’s brilliant about ‘Wrecking Ball’ is its heart-on-sleeve lyrics, which were delivered with great conviction. Sonically, Miley is traipsing to a whole new territory here. The song is uncomplicated in its approach. It doesn’t want to distract you with intriguing instrumentation or deeply poetic concepts – its sole mission is to maim your heart by the first chorus.
The sparsely layered track that allowed Miley’s impressive vocal performance to take centre stage. The tremble and cracks in her voice when she takes on the fluttering higher register, the balls-out belting in the chorus – these will be observed, cherished, and replicated in drunken Singstar nights long after she grows out the tongue ‘n’ twerk phase.
“Don’t you know a girl like a boy who moves?”
The all-important first single for Little Mix’s new album was always going to be make or break. After successfully letting the world in on their brand of harmony-driven pop, what’s next?
Will they simply replicate the sound of their global hit ‘Wings’ or dare they push for something a little different? We know it’s a fine line between maintaining a consistent sound and doing something fresh, and ‘Move’ is the perfect example of one that walks the tightrope well.
Everything that made ‘Move’ appear to be an odd choice for a first single is what justifies its place: the rhythmic tongue-clicking, the beat that takes its time to build up, the way the first chorus discreetly slides in without you even knowing, and the fact that it’s a ridiculously infectious dance song without being of the ‘dance genre’ variety the mainstream audience expects.
Just like it was when ‘Wings’ and ‘How You Doin’?’ dropped, ‘Move’ sounds like nothing that is on the charts at the moment. By taking this risk and watching it pay off, Little Mix continues to strengthen their reputation as reliable purveyors of pop that step outside the norm.