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.

Lorde basks in minimalism on ‘Solar Power’

Solar Power, Universal Music NZ

So it looks like Lorde discovered psychedelics and watched Midsommar during quarantine – like a lot. 

After another now expected lengthy hiatus, Lorde returns to the pop field with her third studio album, Solar Power. An encore of Melodrama, the record is again co-produced with pop music mainstay Jack Antonoff. Sunny, ruminative, and decidedly more reserved than her previous projects, the album will quickly become the artist’s most divisive collection to date.

The ruminative project showcases a grown Lorde reflecting on what matters most to her. Its a deconstruction of the celebrity from the perspective of one of the most singular artists of this generation.

The first inklings of these themes are introduced quickly on opener “The Path.”

“Teen millionaire having nightmares from the camera flash. Now I’m alone on a windswept island,” she recaps. The narrative immediately takes shape, with a less linear, more sporadically introspective tracklist revealing to fans where Lorde has been and what she’s been up to.

Throughout the LP, Lorde finds peace in reducing her life to the details, experiences, and values that matter most to her. What’s started on “The Path” continues in the form of rejecting excess on “California.” On “Big Star,” she laments the loss of her beloved dog Pearl on “Big Star.” With “Man with the Axe,” Lorde celebrates a beautifully complicated love.

The songwriter spends a large portion of the record denying the glitz that was the excess that has surrounded much of her tumultuous young adult life. Funnily enough, the project can easily be seen as a matured expansion of the perspective Lorde teased on her breakthrough hit “Royals” back in 2013. Having ironically achieved the materialistic draws of A-list fame she poked at on the single, Lorde reverts to the grounded world she once knew – inherently maintaining the perspectives she presented on “Royals.”

Where themes and ideas continue on from her first two albums, Lorde adopts a separate style of songwriting for Solar Power. The satire is thinly veiled, the metaphors and intentions more obvious. It sonically mimics the epiphanies and discoveries she’s made over the four years since Melodrama crowded the dance floors and festival lawns for the better part of 2017.

Does it make for the best music of her career? Maybe not; but, is it any less of an artistic statement than Melodrama or Pure Heroine? Not at all.

Solar Power, while less inventive in the sense that Lorde draws more heavily from previously curated songs, remains a compelling listen. It showcases a heavy roster of heroes that come from the psychedelic soaked sounds of the late 60s and early 70s. She engages in Rolling Stone drag on “Oceanic Feeling,” peaks at remnants of Pink Floyd on “The Path” and “Fallen Fruit,” and even takes inspiration from The Beatles on “California.”

Where there are many nods to the artists of the era Lorde draws the album’s aesthetics from, Solar Power is an album the artist made for herself and herself only. In doing so, does she alienate a chunk of her massive audience? Maybe, but that’s not something as valuable as that which she cherishes most.

Solar Power, if nothing else, is a celebration of life’s simplicities and a reminder to take a step back to enjoy the riches of those blessed enough to live healthy lives. To stop resetting the clock and adopting routines for the sake of cultural pressures, and instead to strip the excess and find what matters most.

These ideas may come across to some as overprivileged, and deservedly so, but in criticism of this album lives Lorde’s mass intention with the project. She shouldn’t be looked at like the pop goddess and unattainable hero she’s been made out to be. Instead, Lorde, or Ella Yelich-O’Connor, is human after all – a creative leaning poet with a flair for theatrics.

So while Solar Power may be Lorde’s least imaginative and industry rattling project, its perhaps her most confidently self assured statement yet.

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.

‘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.

Olivia Rodrigo passes driver’s test, goes viral

drivers license, Olivia Rodrigo

Is there a new Taylor Swift in town?

Many have come and gone in music attempting to replicate the profoundly detailed specificity that comes from a Taylor Swift song. Though many have come and gone with this mentality, one singer has made her mark. Coming from one of the flagship Disney+ series, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, breakout star Olivia Rodrigo has gone viral with her debut solo single, “drivers license.”

The 17 year-old songwriting pop hopeful releases the track fresh off her new deal with Interscope. In the vein of Swift, the track details confessional lyricism over a chamber of guitars and bedroom pop electronica. Its a simple, focused lament of losing one’s first love. Also in the vein of Swift is its instant media coverage appeal. Allegedly crooning to her co-star and ex, Joshua Bassett, Rodrigo gives fans of the series and newcomers have their latest scandal to escape into in an era when the news has never felt more chaotic or depressing.

Rodrigo cleverly utilizes a specific memory, a point in time when hope flooded the rooms of conversations with her partner. Teaching her to drive, her ex is now nowhere to be found when the singer earns her license. Left to her own devices, she solemnly drives through his street and the encompassing suburbs. A little bit “White Horse” a little bit “Green Light,” the single hits.

What made “drivers license” viral wasn’t necessarily its quality. It’s strong singer-songwriter pop, but the viral nature of its continued success is credited to a few things bigger than the track itself.

In a new year continuing to be characterized by grief, solitude and nostalgia, listeners are flocking to the melancholy. Like SZA’s latest single, “Good Days,” Rodrigo’s tune capitalizes on today’s collective consciousness. Additionally, the general public’s continued reliance on technology, namely the social media smash hit TikTok, has boosted the reach of the single and its mass resonance.

Finally, on top of it all, the themes of the song actually give listeners a socially distant activity to partake in during this prolonged quarantine. They can now shout scream the song and its sticky bridge and film themselves while doing so. Thus, the cyclical trend will flood the gates of TikTok until it exhausts itself.

More interesting, though, will be how Rodrigo capitalizes on this surprise and abrupt success. All eyes will be watching as this rising talent continues her upward trajectory into the digital age of pop music.

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”