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.


‘Nobody is Listening’ reintroduces ZAYN

Nobody is Listening, RCA

Boy bands have been around forever. From the turn of the millennium, pop fans were given groups like New Kids on the Block, The Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, and most recently One Direction. Almost always, one individual is given a greater media push to standout in hopes of a solo career.

Most prominent was that of *NYSNC’s Justin Timberlake. With his debut solo record Justified, the Timbaland collaborator established a sound that was unmissable in the 2000s and again in the 2010s with his return after a hiatus.

Different from groups up to that point, One Direction’s global success allowed not one, but arguably three incredible solo endeavors to come from the band’s decision to end their impressive and historic run. ZAYN, Harry Styles, and Niall Horan each found chart topping success in the years following their run with the band. Fans and music lovers mostly believed it would be Harry Styles to first find success. While the star has undeniably achieved more mainstream longevity, it was ZAYN who first broke from the band to release culturally significant solo music.

Unlike Styles, though, ZAYN was at a point where he had lost himself. In an attempt to create self-proclaimed “real music,” he released an, albeit very strong, pop album akin to the work from One Direction. It leaned more heavily into explicit lyricism and R&B inspirations, but remained true to the pop genre.

With the highly dismissed follow-up Icarus Falls, ZAYN favored excess as subverting mainstream expectation. The collection had some strong tunes, namely “Let Me,” but it was an overall flat and bloated project. Now, in 2021, ZAYN tiptoes back onto the scene with his third studio LP Nobody is Listening.

Perhaps a response to the lack of success Icarus Falls saw, the title is also representative of the themes throughout the album. Clearly more personal than his previous projects, Nobody is Listening is a decidedly concise, raw, and experimental record. Often too raw to be deemed compelling, it doesn’t make too much of an impact. Instead, it feels much like a course corrector and a personal artistic evolution for an artist looking for the light at the end of the suffocating tunnel of fame he has lived in up to this point. In other words, ZAYN seeks something real and authentic through this music.

Does it shine through in the lyricism and vocal performance? Often, yes. He pleads for second chances and the refusal to give up love on lead single “Better,” returns to the sultry world of Mind of Mine‘s “PILLOWTALK” on “Vibez” and standout “Sweat,” and contextualizes the album’s inspirations by bringing in The Internet’s Syd on “When Love’s Around.” On “Tightrope,” he recommits himself to partner Gigi Hadid in beautiful ode to true love.

Each of these songs possesses an earnesty that finds the boy band alum with increased clarity in his personal life. He appears more open to turn his vulnerability outward to the listeners that have stayed with him to this point in his career.

The pitfalls of the album come mainly from its stripped down, often dull production. Excluding the aforementioned tracks and perhaps the jarringly rapped opener “Calamity,” the remainder of the album is underwhelming at best. Tracks like “Connexion” and the hilariously titled “Unfuckwitable” go in one ear and out the other. The few tracks that bog down an otherwise solid project point to ZAYN’s current position of growth. He’s getting there, but his potential has yet to become fully realized.

The themes seen on ZAYN’s first two LPs–those of love, sex, and introspection remain at the forefront of Nobody is Listening. What makes the project different though, is ZAYN’s insistence in popping the bubblegum pop excess to cut open the makeup of who he truly is as an artist and what music he intends to make.

While imperfect, Nobody is Listening is a step toward a more assured, singular performer.

Swift’s ‘evermore’ amplifies the best of ‘folklore’

evermore, Taylor Swift

They say lightning never strikes in the same place twice. They also said that Taylor Swift’s career had likely met its peak during the 2017 release of reputation. Unsurprisingly, the singer-songwriter continues to prove skeptics wrong in disrupting the conversation surrounding her music and personal life. This deep into her career, Taylor Swift still subverts expectation.

Merely 5 months after her career capping masterpiece folklore immersed listeners in a world independent of the bleak reality that is 2020, the singer announced yet another surprise full length LP. The record, evermore, is a direct continuation of folklore. The first of Swift’s albums to be serialized, the release is the singer’s closest attempt to The Beatles’ White Album. Does it succeed? Astonishingly. evermore doubles down on the strengths of folklore, decidedly adding a contemporary edge not necessarily as overtly present on the preceding instant classic.

The storytelling that sewed together the tapestry of folklore continues on evermore. There are tales of Hollywood’s Dorothea (“’tis the damn season,” “dorothea”), aching glimpses into heartbreak at all stages of life (“happiness,” “tolerate it”) and joyous expressions of love (“willow,” “cowboy like me”). Ever-present on evermore is Swift’s now expected ability to instantly compel listeners. Each subsequent track feels novel and lived in simultaneously. What’s so impressive about the more uptempo folklore sibling is this immediately timeless sound.

Excluding perhaps on its predecessor, Swift has never sounded this authentically self assured. There’s a reason evermore is displayed in color. It’s brighter, more animated than the pensive, delicately delivered folklore. The autumnal album sees Swift lean more heavily into her past pop-rock influences.

Most notably applying this style is “long story short,” a quietly revelatory account of the last few years of the singer’s personal life. Fans of this poppy style seen many times over throughout Swift’s past work can also find pleasure in this and many of the tracks on evermore. “long story short” will likely become the latest TikTok trend seeing content creators throwing it back and twerking their way through the woodlands. Swift’s uninhibited vocals reflect back on her spirit that encompassed her seventh record, Lover. Sharper and more focused, the singer has mastered what she set out to in folklore, wiping off the tattooed media press informing her image and owning her narrative with a well veiled allegory.

Swift also takes the fictional storytelling of folklore to exciting new places with collaborators old and new. On “no body, no crime,” she uses her real life friendship with Este and the rest of the Haim sisters as an entry point for a crime thriller reminiscent of The Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl.” The country-folk banger showcases a playful Swift. Listeners will practically hear her smirks throughout the song’s vocal.

Other collaborations are just as fresh, with Swift uniting with the remainder of The National members on the quietly devastating “coney island.” A relative to folklore‘s “exile,” it successfully incorporates the band’s signature style to bring together a rich group dynamic. One of the album’s most pleasant surprises is the mystery collaborator on “cowboy like me,” a chess match turned authentic love affair. Now confirmed by Swift as the one and only Marcus Mumford, the two act as con artists fooling themselves into a relationship.

Individually, Swift continues to manifest what has given her the boundless platform she has today in “marjorie.” There’s perhaps no better track to encapsulate Swift’s mastery of songwriting. It’s here where Swift ruminates on her relationship with her grandmother and her later learnings of Marjorie’s life through familial inquiries. It’s a one-of-a-kind, universal observation of loss. The song details what it means to realize one’s naivety in approaching their relatives early in life. That epiphany cuts short what could’ve been a powerful relationship that informs that person’s life. At the song’s center is Swift’s staggering delivery of every last shred of her emotion.

Mirroring the more alt/indie sensibilities is deep cut “closure.” The song will almost definitely be overlooked by the majority of listeners, but it’s an endlessly interesting blend of the album’s overall sound and jarring electronica.

The album closes with the flawless “evermore.” Surpassing “exile” as the superior Swift/Vernon collaboration, the climactic finale once again pits two artists vocals against one another. Bon Iver swoops in to bring the tempo up before slowing it back down for Swift to deliver the final blows. It encapsulates the melancholic atmosphere Swift, Dessner & Antonoff have orchestrated in her music this year.

evermore is nothing short of epic. It elongates a magnum opus to provide the world with what many would consider a double album. It adds enough singularity, individual depth, and fresh sound to enrich the already scrupulous development of the world of folklore.

“The road not taken looks real good now,” Swift croons with a tongue in cheek grin on “’tis the damn season.” This knowing nod to her releasing evermore when not even her most devoted fans had anticipated it, Swift proves this.

Catalogue Check: Taylor Swift

The tumultuous unpredictability of 2020 forges on in its final few weeks, and with it comes more and more music from artists around the globe. Taylor Swift is one such artist, whose had as busy a year as any in her career. She has just announced yet another surprise album, her third record in just over a year. Before evermorefoklore‘s sister album, is released, take a look back at the sensation’s collection through the years.

A Definitive Ranking of Every Taylor Swift Album:

Taylor Swift AlbumsTaylor Swift Credit: Big Machine
Taylor Swift, Big Machine Records

8. Taylor Swift (2006)

Taylor Swift was just a taste of what would become of Taylor Swift. The pop phenomenon’s first record was her only true country album. It spawned the timeless hits “Tim McGraw” and “Our Song,” but simply does not compare to her subsequent, sweepingly epic saga of albums. There is a lot to love, and it provides enough intrigue to give the next few albums a listen, but Taylor Swift does not match up to the quality of Swift’s later records.

Best Track(s): “Our Song,” “Cold As You”

Taylor Swift albumsTaylor Swift - Speak Now Credit: Big Machine
Speak Now, Big Machine Records

7. Speak Now (2010)

Speak Now is a perfect example of growing pains. After the immense success of her second album Fearless, Swift was forced back to the drawing board. How could she top a multiple-Grammy-winning smash hit of an album? Switching gears, perhaps. Swift made one of the boldest moves in her ongoing career, penning the lyrics and composition of Speak Now completely alone. What came out of Speak Now were raw, unfiltered glimpses into Swift’s diary. The record is too long, but it possesses some of the singer’s most impressive, haunting songwriting. Though some songs are skippable, Speak Now would be considered many other artists’ magnum opus.

Best Track(s): “Dear John,” “Enchanted,” “Long Live,” “Last Kiss”

Lover, Taylor Swift

6. Lover (2019)

Lover is as imperfect as its unapologetic creator. In embracing the facets of her personality and the genre experimentation that has defined her career, Swift continues to prove her longevity. With the exception of the swift closing of the narrative to reputation in the album opener “I Forgot You Existed,” Lover is very much a direct sequel to Swift’s most culturally influential album 1989. Adopting a similar, 80s inspired pop sound, Lover exists as most sequels do– it’s bigger, more ambitious, and often less polished than its predecessor. 

Best Track(s): “Lover,” “Death By A Thousand Cuts,” “Daylight”

reputation, Big Machine Records

5. reputation (2017)

After Swift established world domination with the instant classic 1989 and its subsequent world tour, she faced immense backlash in the media. The singer was branded a snake and a fraud. Many saw this media storm as the abrupt end to the once prolific career of the country-pop goddess. In true Swift fashion, the singer-songwriter took back her narrative. She owned the snake, her past mistakes, and dropped one of the best videos of her career. Its accompanying single remains one of her worst tracks, but the album has a lot to offer. reputation shows Swift further experimenting with perspective and narrative writing. The sonically adventurous reputation is a violent, brash, cathartic reflection of Swift’s most turbulent year of fame.

Best Track(s): “Call It What You Want,” “End Game”

Red, Big Machine Records

4. Red (2012)

Red is a complicated record in that it showcases the best and worst of Swift. The album showed the singer at a crossroads. Released in her early 20s, Red represents the uncertainty of young adult life within its lyrics and sonics. Red is a lot of things, but boring is not one of them. The album contains elements of dance pop, country, alternative, folk, and rock. It is the most Taylor Swift of Taylor Swift’s albums. It features her best song to date, “All Too Well,” but drags on with overly melancholy cuts that could’ve been left off the final LP. With Red, Swift bid farewell to the country girl and laid the groundwork for what would become a pop phenomenon. Red marks the turning point of the singer’s career in a thrillingly chaotic way.

Best Track(s): “All Too Well,” “State of Grace,” “I Knew You Were Trouble.”

Fearless, Big Machine Records

3. Fearless (2008)

Fearless was just that. The 13-track LP was a cohesive, lyrically driven, country-pop smash. Each song said something compelling and found its place on the album. It is incomprehensible how, at 18 years old, Swift was able to articulate such a vast array of emotions through these traditionally arranged country songs. Its raw authenticity, emotionally resonant vocals, and strong production made Fearless Swift’s shining moment. It launched her from being an artist to watch to standing among the biggest pop stars in the world.

Best Track(s): “Change,” “You Belong With Me,” “Forever & Always”

1989, Big Machine Records

2. 1989 (2014)

1989 marks the best concept, promotion, production, and delivery from the artist. Swift managed to retain her good girl persona while growing up and adopting a bold new sound. It was the riskiest move in her career, and it very well may be her best decision. The album marked a rebirth in sound and mind. Swift named it after her birth year, drew influence from the music of that time, and astounded even the biggest of skeptics. 1989 was a true gift and will go on to be remembered as one of the best albums in 21st century pop music.

Best Track(s): “Blank Space,” “Wildest Dreams,” “New Romantics,” “Out of the Woods”

1. folklore (2020)

Reinvention, novelty, surprise, and quality. Pop stars are plagued with the task of accomplishing all of these, many times over. Those that withstand the brutal, often sexist tests of time become immortalized. Taylor Swift is one of those women. Though a far cry from maintaining a perfect public persona, Swift has always retreated from her mistakes and found solace in songwriting. In a year when the public was longing for solace in their respective isolated bubbles, Swift once again rebirth herself and her sound with folklore. Swept away were the heavily curated promotional cycles and replacing them were inspired, richly imagined songs that for the first time transcended Swift’s personal life and its incessant coverage. In many ways similar to the now classic 1989folklore has unlocked the latest chapter in the living legend’s career.

Best track(s): “august,” “invisible string,” “the 1,” “the last great american dynasty”

Grammys 2021: Nominations + Predictions

Another year, another chaotic and unpredictable string of nominees to read across the screens of music fans, lovers, and critics as they hear the nominees for this year’s Grammy Awards. Pleasant surprises and shocking oversights were to be expected, but the biggest surprise this year is The Weeknd’s complete shut out. Receiving 0 nominations in a year when the artist is at what many consider his peak, After Hours‘ failure to be recognized is baffling. The first smash album to come from the pandemic, After Hours is the cinematic escape from reality that listeners could latch on and relate to. Where it didn’t literally relate to the year at play, it thematically weaved together concepts like isolation, grief, and loneliness in an extremely profound way. It’s just one of many shockers to come from one of the most baffling lists in Grammy history yet.

Take a look a look at the snubs, surprises, picks and predictions for this year’s ceremony:

Catalogue Check: Ariana Grande

Ariana Grande has grown through popstar evolution and personal tragedy. With perhaps the strongest vocals out of any singer in pop today, the songstress has withstood countless heartbreaks, romantically and publicly, and dealt with far more than most people can say. The one constant, though, has been music. Through it all, the superstar has bared her soul to the world and picked herself to travel to new heights. As we await the arrival of positions later this evening, let’s look back at each of Grande’s studio albums, ranked.

A Definitive Ranking of Every Ariana Grande Album:

5. Yours Truly (2013)

From its inception, Yours Truly was meant as an experiment. Opener “Honeymoon Avenue” went through several reworks, and after the success of one of the strongest singles of Grande’s career in “The Way (feat. Mac Miller),” the remainder of the record opted for a contemporary doo-wop R&B sound. It has a lot of highlights, namely the aforementioned intro, as well as “The Way” doppelgänger “Right There (feat. Big Sean)” and deep cut “You’ll Never Know,” but it pales in comparison to the more fully realized artistry of her follow-ups.

My Everything, Republic

4. My Everything (2014)

Grande’s sophomore effort was less of an album and more of a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” project. Her most, industry speaking, political record, it offers the glossy EDM of its time in “Break Free (feat. Zedd)” and an impressive array of collaborations from the biggest names in R&B and Hip-Hop. In addition, who can forget that sax on “Problem” and the guest spot from now irrelevant Iggy Azalea. The album could not be more from its time. That said, it doesn’t have much of a voice or any real insight into who Grande is as an artist. Bangers? Quite definitely, but like from Yours Truly, compelling artistry is the missing piece in this bloated pop confection.

Sweetener, Republic

3. Sweetener (2018)

Sweetener is an incredibly complex project. Coming after the Manchester attacks in a time when Grande found joy in a new love, it’s a glimmer of hope in what continues to be a violent and uncertain cultural moment in history. Grande enlisted the help of the ever-present Pharell Williams and longtime collaborator Max Martin for the bulk of the album, which is as much an asset as it is a burden. The different styles of the aforementioned producers make much of the album a jarring, disjointed listen. It lends itself to trap pop in “God is a woman” and “everytime,” but also showcases Grande’s best N.E.R.D. impressions in “the light is coming” and title track “sweetener.” Some tracks are complete throwaways, while others remain some of Grande’s strongest work. As an entire project it’s messy and uneven, but its ambition alone elevates it from much of the singer’s past work.

thank u, next, Republic

2. thank u, next (2019)

The fact that this album, in all of its cultural ubiquity, did not win Album of the Year in 2020 was a huge shock to most. Led by dual smash hit singles “thank u, next,” the biggest and baddest ex kiss-off of the 21st century, and “7 rings,” a revamped Sound of Music banger, the album was undoubtedly the most talked about of the year. While the lyricism could have been stronger, the empowering narrative and personal growth Grande poured into the record remains an astonishing feat, only months after the Sweetener release and death of dear friend and partner Mac Miller.

Dangerous Woman, Republic

1. Dangerous Woman (2016)

From the moment “Dangerous Woman” was released into the world, pop Stans and music listeners everywhere did a double take. Here she was, a near fully realized superstar finally seizing the power of her own vocals. What followed was a decidedly “good girl gone bad” evolution for Ariana Grande. Does it cater to the cliches of pop albums that have come before it? Sure, but it does it ever so stylishly. Coming before a wave of grief completely and unfairly removed an innocent young woman from a joyous time in her life, the album showcased Grande at her most powerful and least problematic. There was no brown facing, instead a collection of timeless bangers cohesively stitched together in her strongest project to date. Dangerous Woman is peak pop.

Joji drops commercial ‘Nectar’

What happens when new media meets art?

In the 21st century, each decade has produced new avenues for talent of all kinds to achieve the success they likely would not have achieved without technological advancements. This can date back to the days of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. Utilizing the newly minted “reality television” medium, the two socialites became the original “influencers,” ushering in an Instagram-driven age of the self brand and a type of self employment that required nothing but luxury and style.

Today, this now obsolete tactic has created an oversaturated market for influencers far and wide. In need of a new tactic, the public flocked to YouTube and TikTok. Both free form platforms for users to put out essentially anything they want, it has provided an outlet for stars like the D’Amelios and Addion Raes of the world.

On the YouTube side, artist Joji made a stark transition to music, utilizing his steady following on the platform to seamlessly segue into his new role of genuine artist. His single, “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK,” was a huge streaming hit. It allowed the singer to shed the skin of his former persona, leaving room for an easily marketable “sadboi” for the kids of Gen Z.

Clearly an ingenious tactic, the single resonated with users of this demographic. The song was appropriated into one of the first TikTok trends of its kind. Users utilized the song to film their own videos, expanding the already viral nature of the single.

With Nectar, Joji’s second studio album, the artist triples down on this tactic. The sweeping 18 track set features enough melancholy and hip hop influenced beats to dominate TikTok feeds for the fleeting days of the app’s reign.

It’s impossible to analyze Nectar from a purely artistic standpoint. The strategy is too on-the-nose. This, though, doesn’t necessarily discredit the quality of the often high quality record. Is it a few songs too long? Yes. Does it repeat themes to the point of monotony? Definitely. Is it, above all else, emotionally compelling and entertaining? Absolutely.

Nectar is made up mostly of love tunes across the spectrum of pursuit, loss, and the instability between those two benchmarks. The opener, “Ew,” immediately sets the tone of the project. Lamenting the loss of a love and wishing for one more longstanding and true, Joji sounds exasperated. This exhaustion only continues throughout most of the tracks.

The singer goes beyond the science of love to discuss the trappings of fame and the business side of his industry. Standout “MODUS” deals directly with labels and publicity teams forcing an image on him.

“I don’t feel the way they programmed me to feel today,” he sighs. The chorus of the song plays like an eboy version of Adele’s “Someone Like You,” and it’s actually one of the best moments on the album. It’s an interestingly self aware moment for a project seeped in its own commercialism and business oriented structure, actually including a song titled “Tick Tock.”

Another highlight is the Diplo assisted single “Daylight.” It’s a rare uptempo bop in a sea of mid tempo pieces of introspection.

Should Nectar have been abridged to about 12 songs, it would play as a much better album. Joji’s talent as both a songwriter and performer is undeniable since BALLADS 1. He’s shifted his sonics to inconsistent success. Though this work is a symptom of the maneuvers that got him to this point, the strength of the work often shines through the cracks.

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

Monét hunts for stardom on ‘JAGUAR’

JAGUAR, Tribe Records

Powerful and mysterious, Victoria Monét embodies the jungle cat with charisma on the aptly titled JAGUAR. A small collection of 9 impressive tracks, the album is a slight showcase of Monét as she continues to grow into herself.

The R&B singer songwriter is no stranger to the industry. Backing one of the biggest albums of 2019 in thank u, next, its increasingly clear how deeply the artist influenced the latest sound of Ariana Grande – one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. Her name is credited on nearly every song on the record, pointing to her ability to encapsulate the vernacular and attitudes of a new generation.

JAGUAR is not much different. While a significant shift from the work on the aforementioned juggernaut of a pop album, the project exists in a similar lyrical playground. Like the animal she embodies, Monét stalks the line of surface pop and more meaningful messages of self-empowerment and confidence. It plays as an extended resume for an artist still waiting for her increasingly imminent day in the sun.

Opening with the previously released “Moment,” Monét declares herself as an up next A-lister. “So fuck a fantasy, this your motherfuckin’ moment,” she states. Both to the listener in herself, Monét instills a sense of confidence that immediately envelops the listener into the sultry funk of the record.

This sense of self-promotion continues on “Big Boss,” an smooth, silky interlude. It acts as a bridge perhaps the biggest standout on the album, “Dive.”

Similar to Wale and Rihanna’s “Bad,” the track’s production weaves the sound of a bed spring with classic funk in horns and drums. It slyly flips the script on the traditional R&B sex songs often put out by male performers. Monét is in complete control here, commanding her partner through a night in bed. The singer’s voice is immediately disarming on the track.

The crux of the album lays in its title track, “Jaguar.” The latest single off of the album, the track bridges the slower, more sensual R&B of the first half with the dance beats of the latter portion. More, it showcases some of the stickiest songwriting on the entire record, with Monét dissolving into her pop persona seamlessly. It paves the way for the fun collaboration with SG Lewis and Khalid in “Experience” and lead single “Ass Like That.”

The final two tracks continue the hot streak. With an album so slender, each song needs to have enough weight to standout. With JAGUAR, it’s evident Monét delicately strung together these songs to formulate the album’s world. “Go There With You” features the playful contemporary voice the singer penned on thank u, next. “We’re picking fights like its fortnite,” she asserts. Youthful and provocative, it’s a deep cut that bleeds gold.

Concluding the album is the sexually fluid “Touch Me.” Reminiscent of other R&B artists from Kehlani to SZA, the song is another smash. Describing the song in a discussion with Apple Music, Monét stated, “Instead of thinking about this song completing the project, I wanted it to be more of a pathway into part two for when the project completes itself as an album.” It’s the perfect “to be continued” title card, departing before overstaying its welcome.

The album is, well, a jaguar – light on its feet, quietly confident, and quick. At just 9 tracks, it’s a smooth shot of tequila. “Get to know me inside. If you love me, show me,” Monét pleads in the album’s final moment. It’s this call to action to everyone listening that she leaves listeners with.

Victoria Monet has declared her presence, and demands those supporting her to make it known.

Ordinary is extraordinary on “Hot.”

Hot., Yavin

In a world where heavily curated Instagram feeds and expertly vetted artist branding are the most powerful tools to a successful career in music, Boston based pop artist Yavin just wants to organically connect to his fans.

“I want listeners to feel seen,” Yavin explains. “I’m trying to be ordinary and allowing myself to shine through.”

Shine he does.

Throughout the last few years, the artist has put out two full length LP’s in Romance. and Growing Up. On top of that, the singer/songwriter has grown his following through select live shows around the greater Boston area.

When this momentum was exponentially growing, as is the case for the rest of the world, the pandemic got in his way.

“The weekend after [public spaces] began shutting down, I was scheduled to play a show in Pittsburgh, PA,” Yavin remembers in reflecting on the show’s cancellation. His second out of state show, the live appearance would have been an exciting new step for an artist still juggling a day job with his more than full time gig as a musician.

This water tread balancing act has been at the forefront of Yavin’s experience for quite a while.

What started as a hobby in college in 2015 became a serious career opportunity two years later in 2017, the year of his first album, Romance.‘s, release. Yavin began working with a producer at school, recording and releasing his first song during his time in college.

After leaving school, Yavin decided he had to go full throttle with music. Two albums and a few singles later, “Hot.” has arrived.

“Beauty standards can be exhausting,” the artist expresses. While this reigns true across social environments globally, it has an added twist of the knife in the self-proclaimed “safe spaces” permeated across queer pockets around the globe.

“Hot.” dives beneath the often shallow mentality of those on the hunt for conventionally beautiful people in nightclubs, adopting a fantastical narrative of having the courage to approach someone way out of one’s league and succeeding.

“I’m not your type – I’m hardly even mine,” Yavin states on the track. Cheeky and self-deprecating, it’s a pop song that exists as the best ones do; on the surface, it’s bubbly and fun; but, underneath it all, there’s a lot unpack. Structurally, it mimics Yavin’s longing for the beholder to see beyond his appearance and get to know him.

Written entirely by the artist with production from Dephrase, the all too relatable “Hot.” is a bouncy synth pop single with hints of Lorde and Troye Sivan. In fact, Yavin cites Lorde and Ellie Goulding, among others, as having an influence on his work. He combines his passion for contemporary electropop artists with earlier 21st century lyricists like Jason Mraz and Sara Bareilles. Bring these together, Yavin forms a bright, fun, lyrically driven concoction.

That said, “Hot.” is an entirely fresh, forward thinking statement from an artist with a familiar perspective. Working independently, Yavin has been able to navigate and learn about the industry proactively. Some of his best friends to date are musicians he’s met throughout his journey.

On being queer in the music industry today, Yavin expresses his understanding of the challenges and drawbacks that continue to exist, but spotlights the many silver linings.

One such strength is the greater sense of community and belonging.

“A lot of my musician friends are queer,” Yavin celebrates. With a collective understanding, often shared experiences, and an open-minded empathy few can boast, this community is all the artist needs to continue pushing forward his career in music.

Whenever live venues do finally open up, the electro-pop innovator will be off to the races.