So this is what Adele has been up to…

30, Adele

There are a growing number of avenues for success in pop music. Artists like Ariana Grande have capitalized on the urgency and quick attention spans of audiences by releasing concise, polished projects within a few months of each other.

Others take a more relaxed approach. Frank Ocean, Lorde, and many other mainstream artists sit with their albums long after they’ve been released, allowing breathing room to experience what life throws at them in between projects. Neither tactic is necessarily better than the other, but its global superstar Adele who has mastered it more than any of her contemporaries.

In deftly marketing her albums as encapsulations of chapters of life through age, Adele is able to seamlessly paint portraits of where we was during these times. She locks the memories, attitudes and feelings that come with being 19, 21, or 25.

But, as with any pop star, every new project brings with it the increased pressures to succeed and build upon the foundations of its predecessors.

With 21, the singer-songwriter encapsulated heartbreak flawlessly from a youthful perspective. The one of a kind album went on to become the most successful domestic and global album of the century.

On 25, Adele was burdened by the pressures that come from a diamond selling 21st century record in 21, resulting in some attempts to cater to a variety of audiences throughout the same record. The record is brilliant, but its main pitfall is that needed to please everyone. Perhaps poetically, it maintains success in that it accurately portrays Adkins’ headspace during that period of her life.

In finding even more record-breaking glamour with 25, Adele realized she no longer has anything to prove. The new chapter, 30, is a collection that feels totally hers, from the sonics and styles to the raw lyricism and the spoken introspections.

In ways, 30 is at once the star’s most accessible and niche album. It incorporates more popular contemporary elements than perhaps all of its predecessors, but yet the glue is a nostalgic soulfulness that has only come with the experiences on which Adele is recapping her seemingly endless audience.

On “My Little Love,” Adkins coos over a 70s groove. It’s a haunting, pensive exploration of what it means to be a mother and express one’s independent challenges to a young child. Her honesty is profound, sprinkling in raw voice notes of conversations with her son and a voicemail to a trusted friend.

On 30, Adele lets listeners in to become that friend. After a chilling intro with “Strangers By Nature” and the lead single that set the tone for the themes of the record (“Easy On Me”), “My Little Love” begins the story of the album.

Many have deemed that story to be one of divorce.

On the surface, sure, it is. But in taking a deeper look, 30 is an album of self discovery. It’s a manifesto of building the courage, the self awareness and grit to choose oneself wholeheartedly above all else. Knowing the many risks that lay ahead for Adele on her road of being alone, she strides anyway. 

The album presents a matured Adele with a profound confidence. Through this journey, even in its darkest moments, Adele finds ways to step forward and explore herself more freely. The midsection of the album largely consists of glossy pop tracks that use Adele’s proven sounds as a foundation for experimentation. Tracks like “Oh My God” and “Can I Get It,” the latter a tried and true Martin/Shellback ear worm, are the biggest proof of this.

On “Woman Like Me,” Adele stands up for herself in setting boundaries and knowing her worth. Flipping the beat of 21’s “Lovesong,” the sultry slow burner is a memorable deep cut.

Through the peaks and valleys of Adele’s process post-divorce, she remains firm in her decisions. The climax of this mentality, and of the album, comes with perhaps Adele’s greatest song yet, “To Be Loved.”

The track is a retelling of Adele’s decision to leave her relationship. In doing so, it quickly becomes one of the singer’s most powerful and haunting songs she has recorded. Within the ticking of the piano chords, she bares her soul.

Above all, 30 is a very brave artistic statement. It doesn’t have any of the immediate hits of 21 or 25 on initial listen, but what it does possess is a narrative a rich soundscape that’s more cohesive than any past project.

Adele reveals sides of herself she has yet to in her career, exploring the depths of herself and with that pursuit laying bare her strife to the globe. In the shedding of those layers, the ignoring of fan service, and the committing to herself, Adele presents her most fully realized body of work.


Remi Wolf is pop’s newest it girl

Juno, Remi Wolf

The music industry sits in a very interesting position. In the ongoing pandemic, artists are finding an increasing number of ways to connect with fans, market themselves, and maintain the diminishing attention spans of their global audiences.

This ‘in one ear, out the other’ mentality makes it difficult to make a lasting impact across genres, especially when it comes to pop music. New young artists have shorter album cycles. Artists like Olivia Rodrigo are already ideating on a second album within their first year of release. Others like Billie Eilish, who is only the 3rd year of her label supported career, have been deemed to be in their sophomore slump that much quicker than their predecessors.

In these fast times, it’s tough to break the track record. Enter Remi Wolf.

A 25 year-old California native, Remi Wolf has been through periods of growth already. She debuted on American Idol in 2014 while still in high school. A few years later, she attained a degree from USC’s Thornton School of Music.

It wasn’t until 2019 when Wolf debuted her first EP, You’re a Dog!

The collection’s 2000s retro photo booth aesthetics and funk infused pop sound caught the eyes of a pretty large audience for an indie artist. Continuing that motif with the impeccable I’m Allergic to Dogs EP, Wolf remained persistent in cementing her fresh take on what pop music should and can sound like in 2020.

Finally this year, Remi Wolf officially arrived in the form of her debut album Juno, you guessed it, named for her dog and best friend through quarantine. While its named for and inspired by her dog, the album is an encapsulation of the complex, wholly unique mind of the artist at the helm.

For the most part, Juno enriches the electropop-funk sonics of Wolf’s first two EPs. Spotlighting some of the most creative songwriting in pop, the album is a sweeping showcase of intricacies of a young person navigating their 20s throughout a pandemic, the minefield of social life, and the relationship pool.

Its presentation is laid back, loose and free, but the songs feel intricate and lived in. On “Liquor Store,” Wolf opens the album discussing her alcoholism and relationship insecurities. With songs like “Guerrilla,” the songstress weaves together a fresh narrative of the warfare that comes with a house party. On “wyd” and “Quiet On Set,” she delves into the growing demands of an artist seeing success and the pressure thereafter that comes from the team surrounding her with branding, marketing, and unsolicited (wink) wisdom.

The album also delves deeply into modern romance and relationships. The closer, “Street You Live On,” takes a common theme and drenches it in vocal pitching and a poppy backbeat. The track, along with others like “Volkiano,” exemplify Wolf’s willingness for vulnerability.

Lyrics like Volkiano’s “I’m a flunk, I’m a dead white lighter. You have spunk you’re a twelve-leg spider,” detail her attitudes toward a lover in a way not many others can. The song’s metaphor of an explosive, volcanic relationship is just one of many that makes Wolf’s music so compelling.

Wolf turns vulnerability into power, flipping the script on “Sexy Villain.” Her best “bad guy” impression, the laid back tune is an album highlight. It presents a confident character in Remi, adopting a bravado through sleek guitar backing and creative storytelling.

In fact, what continues to set Remi Wolf apart from her pop contemporaries is her inventive lyricism and production on these tracks. The songwriting takes familiar themes and applies so many new angles and approaches.

With its rule-breaking and inventive free spirit, Juno easily takes the prize of the best pop album to release in 2021. It appears Remi Wolf will likely become pop’s newest it girl.

Catch her touring with Lorde on the Solar Power tour and her own solo run in support of Juno early next year.

‘Montero’ builds his seat at the table

MONTERO, Columbia

The table has just opened an extra seat and its covered in glitter.

From memes on Twitter to the biggest smash hit record ever recorded in Billboard’s charting history, Lil Nas X’s claims to fame have had one thing in common: they’re wholly unique.

Proudly queer, Lil Nas X has shattered a city full of glass ceilings. Beginning with “Old Town Road”, the singer, born Montero Hill, broke barriers by coming out while he still had a charting Hot 100 #1 Single. More, the single showed no signs of flopping or fallout from the news. In fact, the track continued to reign and become the longest No.1 of all time.

Now, years later, the singer births himself again. He began his “comeback” by hyping himself up with an aptly titled holiday single. After lukewarm success, X returned with his debut album’s lead single “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”. The song, and its video, sparked the controversy pop hopefuls could only hope for. It ruffled feathers, made national news on both ends of the growingly divisive landscape, and even sparked faux and very real lawsuits.

In an industry so chameleonic that its nearly impossible to obtain success in a traditional way, Lil Nas X utilizes his marketing and Internet culture sensibilities to the greatest of heights.

The best part of his debut album Montero, on top of the fact that it pisses off so many regressive people across the world, is that the album is actually good.

It delves deeper into the life of Montero Hill. It fluctuates quite seamlessly through feelings of gratitude, strength and conviction to intense sadness, vulnerability and loneliness. It interweaves stories of love longing (“That’s What I Want,” “Lost in the Citadel”), celebrates one’s riches and successes in spite of adversaries (“Industry Baby,” “Dolla Sign Slime”), and enriches a character through important backstory (“Dead Right Now,” “Sun Goes Down”).

The album’s narrative perfectly encapsulates the delicate approach Hill himself took to introducing himself to the world. On opener “Call Me By Your Name,” he asserts his ability to make an undeniable ear worm, a hit so annoyingly invasive it lingers with the listener until they’re left with no choice but hit replay time and time again.

This boastful nature gradually unravels as the album’s tracklist continues. On “Dead Right Now” Nas X continues the sound of the opener, gradually delving deeper into his past. The song is both a righteous knife twist to his years of detractors and a deeper glimpse into his upbringing in an oppressive world, not just at the hands of his sexuality but in the context of a broken family.

As the album continues, it shows more of its layers. On “Lost in the Citadel,” Nas X reflects on a lost love and the lesson learned from its failure. On “Void” and “Sun Goes Down” he sits with his trauma and explores how it informs his current persona. On closer “Am I Dreaming,” he nods to his fans and yearns for validation. “Never forget me and everything I’ve done,” he pleads.

The closer mimics a lot of albums to come in the Gen Z pop landscape, capitalizing on a slow burning swim deeper into the oceans in which these artist’s live. Like Billie Eilish’s debut, the album goes deeper and deeper and ultimately reveals to the listener as much as they’ll continue to venture, closing on a deeply pensive and not so hopeful note.

Perhaps a nod to this new generation’s seemingly nonexistent attention span or perhaps an effort to bury personal toil within a chunk of pop bangers, its a new form of the pop album that continues to work on Montero.

Is Lil Nas X’s debut absolutely spectacular? Of course not. But in the record’s ability to largely mimic some of the best pop albums of the last few years and solely exist makes it a groundbreaking project. It will continue to assert queer people, those lucky enough to experience it as teens and those who still yearn for that adolescent, angsty validation, for years to come.

Is Billie Eilish really ‘Happier Than Ever’?

Happier Than Ever, Darkroom/Interscope Records

“Would you like me to be smaller, weaker, softer, taller? Would you like me to be quiet?”

When Billie Eilish, the latest teen pop sensation to grace the contemporary pop music landscape, embarked on her When We All Fall Asleep world tour in 2019, she asked these questions. Accompanied by a visual of the singer stripping down as she speaks more vulnerably, Eilish quietly ushered in the next chapter of her career.

Slowly but surely, the singer introduced a new sound and musical universe through which she expressed herself within the traumatic and often suffocating world of intense fame she now inhabits. Now, years later, the project is sewn together in the form of Eilish’s second album, Happier Than Ever, entirely written and produced with brother Finneas.

The languid, introspective LP is a representation of where the singer is in her world today.

On Happier Than Ever, Eilish reflects on trauma, abuse, power imbalance, fame, body image and healing. The sweeping album of 16 tracks touches upon this plethora of themes, all glued together with the intent to heal. Eilish isn’t happy, per se, but she is growing and evolving beyond the dark angsty teen the world came to know and obsess over in the last year pre-pandemic.

Happier Than Ever is most adequately described as an album of healing through self-relfection. It delves into the cyclical nature of life. Beginning with “Getting Older,” Eilish illustrates how singing and her artistry has gone from a motivator and driver of reaching for success, to a lifeline to plateau and stay afloat. The track encapsulates the themes of the album and teases the sonics to be heard throughout.

At the album’s center is an obvious break-up. Perhaps, unimportantly, that from the relationship featured in Apple TV+’s The World’s a Little Blurry documentary. The main narrative begins on “I Didn’t Change My Number.” The funky mid tempo banger is the first inkling of the more confident mood that appears sporadically on the record, in between the moments of grief and vulnerability.

Eilish has clearly had her last straw on the track. This attitude continues in waves throughout the remainder of the album. Tracks like “NDA,” “Lost Cause,” and “Therefore I Am” solidify Eilish’s apathy towards a once thrilling relationship.

The thrills are present as well as Eilish dives into her psyche and reviews her journey. “Billie Bossa Nova,” “Oxytocin” and “Halley’s Comet” blend together to illustrate Eilish’s emotional process of falling in love. At times confident, sensual, and completely lacking control.

That lack of control is further illustrated from Eilish’s newfound realization and perspective on a relationship where the power was all in her partner’s hands. “Your Power” is the crux of this, acting as a cautionary tale and delicately retelling the heartbroken feelings she has in reminiscing on the relationship. “GOLDWING” offers an omniscient narrator perceiving the teen Eilish was prior to this painful and toxic relationship.

This toxicity and loss of innocence extends beyond merely a romantic relationship. Beginning the second half of the album is the spoken word interlude, “Not My Responsibility.” Taken from the live tour interlude, the track is a revealing look into the way culture builds and destroys women, especially young women. There’s no winning, and Eilish expresses that before diving into one of the album’s best tracks exploring femininity and body image more universally on “OverHeated.”

Perhaps the strongest moments, though, are the album’s final two tracks. “Happier Than Ever” summarizes the album’s themes flawlessly, with an acoustic front half and all out brawl of a climax. It shows Eilish finally free of the traumas that have plagued her.

Only until the epilogue, though, in “Male Fantasy.” Closing the album on a both somber and thoughtful note, she’s healing, but will remain forever changed by the experiences detailed throughout this sophomore LP.

Sonically, the album is of course impressive. It’s incredibly commendable for an artist at the top of the game to take risks and move into another direction, experimenting with sounds and not limiting herself to a particular sound, image or expectation. The experiments don’t always work. Songs like “Oxytocin” and “Everybody Dies” are interesting but flawed. That said, the decision to swap the bangers of her debut for more laid back, subdued sounds and textures is jarring and impressively allows the record’s narrative and Eilish’s vocal performances to take center stage.

With only a few missteps, Happier Than Ever is an undeniable showcase of the continued status Eilish holds in the modern music. Her resistance to norms, brother at the helm of her sound, and refusal to sell out is what ironically makes her the most successful name in pop right now. Her artistry will undoubtedly continue to evolve and inspire those in her wake.

So, is Billie Eilish really happier than ever? Maybe, and what an exciting road to be on.

Normani is back with ‘Wild Side’

It’s been a while…

“Wild Side (feat. Cardi B”) – Normani; Keep Cool/RCA Records

Two years after what once was thought of as her breakthrough single “Motivation,” R&B princess Normani has returned to claim the throne that has been waiting her since the aforementioned single’s live performance at the 2019 VMAs.

Finally free from the artistic and personal constraints placed on the singer in her time with girl group Fifth Harmony, Normani spent a lot of time honing in on her sound. Collaborating with names across the Pop music landscape from Khalid to Calvin Harris, Sam Smith to Megan thee Stallion, the singer has released soft to smash hits. Sonically, they were all over the map. “Love Lies” adopted collaborator Khalid’s blend of youthful R&B while songs like “Checklist” and “Dancing With a Stranger” with Harris and Smith, respectively, leaned heavily into the EDM space. Where sonics were scattered, the streamline was Normani’s obvious talent.

“Motivation” was a further complication in the direction the singer would ultimately take. A strong debut solo single, the song was more bubblegum than bass. Its throwback qualities were an exciting taste of what would become of the singer, but fans would have to wait years before they heard new music from the rising star.

Now returning more assured, powerful and daring, Normani leaps from the gate with her latest single that showcases an artist who patiently took the time to develop. “Wild Side” presents a more matured, darker R&B trap pop sound, sampling Aaliyah and placing what will become Normani’s undeniable charisma at center stage.

A simple idea, “Wild Side” spotlights Normani as she invites the song’s subject to unleash themselves and show her their best. Its both an invitation to the subject and those listening. Fully in control, Normani invites anyone who dares to match her energy.

The song’s lyricism and sonics reflect where the artist is in her career. She calmly yet powerfully asserts herself. Normani demands for a seat at the contemporary pop table. The results are astounding, with the artist releasing a single so powerful it instantly guts the listener. Don’t expect to escape this song over the course of the next few months.

The single features the latest Rap Queen Cardi B with a solid guest verse. Nothing more than a deft marketing play to get more ears on the single and eyes on Normani’s new persona, the verse comes much later in the track. With this play, the songwriting team allows Normani plenty of room to express herself independently. She doesn’t waste a bar, insisting listeners focus on her and only her.

Cardi B’s verse, while an afterthought, enriches the song with an added level of credibility. It expertly incorporates the unbridled sex appeal Cardi B has spent the past few years of her career cultivating for herself and the women rising the ranks of pop today (“WAP,” “Up”).

To cement Normani’s return even further is the single’s accompanying video. The video is helmed by Ukranian director Tanu Muino who has been responsible for some of the biggest hits in the last year (“Up” and Lil Nas X’s “Montero”).

Featuring a simple treatment, the clip allows Normani to stand front and center in single room, often muted backdrops. Her multifaceted talent as a performer can’t be missed, with choreography that simultaneously pays homage to yesterday’s R&B while forging new ground from an artist only at the tip of the iceberg that her career will become.

Now that “Wild Side” is out into the world, Normani’s artistry has officially been unleashed. An undeniable track, the single is already a pop highlight of the year and will drive conversation for weeks to come.

Fall Favorites: Best New Music

If music is in the age of the independent artist, then 2020 is the renaissance of innovation. Forced isolation and physical entrapment has led to an escapism in creativity from a never before seen scope. This forced reality alteration has proven its profound impact on musicians. With more music coming out and new ways of releasing and promoting it, this is one of the few industries to find enrichment throughout this time (though we of course all miss our live shows).

This season, check out the below EPs from new and up-and-coming artists injecting their own DNA into the veins of the global music ecosystem.

I’m Allergic to Dogs! Remi Wolf

I’m Allergic to Dogs! – Remi Wolf

Remi Wolf is one of the most creative songwriters to breakout this year. “He likes his cherries when they’re Maraschino, he likes his movies when they’re Tarantino,” she asserts on standout track “Disco Man.” The set is incredibly fun and demands a few repeats with every listen. Funk, pop, and indie electronica provide a compelling backdrop from a lyricist unafraid to explore the facets of herself and share them with the world.

For fans of: Cautious Clay, Ryan Beatty, BROCKHAMPTON

Skofee, Signs From The Universe Entertainment

Polished – Skofee

The self-proclaimed “Beverly Hillbilly,” singer-songwriter Skofee impresses with a debut EP well beyond its years in maturity and artistic integrity. The 5-song set, released earlier this month, largely tells tales of loss, heartache, and self doubt. Amply titled, its juxtaposes the artist’s internal strife with a vocal performance so self-assured it beckons skepticism of how novel this artist really is. Indie pop has never been so emotionally affecting. Prepare to cry in the club (looking at you, “Bleach”).

For fans of: Tove Lo, Charli XCX, BANKS

Good Things, Atlantic

Good Things – Wafia

Wafia has been around for quite a while now. Her biggest hit remaining the Louis The Child collaboration “Better Not,” the multicultural alt-pop craftsman has yet to make her own mark on the pop sphere. That’s not to say the artist isn’t locked and loaded with some of the most powerful and introspective bangers. From “I’m Good” to this project’s “Flowers & Superpowers” and “Good Things,” Wafia balances vulnerability and confidence in a relatable way. This project has both, stitched together by a strong woman finding her way in life and love.

For fans of: Empress Of, King Princess, Lennon Stella

On Self Loathing, McCall

On Self Loathing – McCall

It’s endlessly impressive for any artist to be able to encapsulate internal anxiety and stress. A hidden battle, it often goes unnoticed by others. With her latest project, On Self Loathing, McCall powerfully achieves this. Both in sonics and lyricism, the artist is able to pinpoint the thought pathways that carry people through waves of depression. Beginning with “Nothing Even Wrong,” a dreamy, Bon Iver inspired opener, the artist volunteers her struggle to find the source problem for the feeling of hollow sadness. “I’m sorry I can’t come out, I really hate myself right now,” she secedes on the bouncy “Without Even Trying.” Endlessly honest, On Self Loathing forces listeners to think of the parts of themselves they shy away from, painting a relatable portrait for everyone.

For fans of: Bon Iver, The 1975, The Japanese House