Thursday, 15 March 2018
There’s a school of thought that suggests that pop music somehow has less depth than other forms of music like rock, jazz, or soul.
That school of thought is absolute bollocks.
Here’s an example to prove my case. Her name is Sigrid. She’s from Norway. She does pop music. You of course have already heard of her, or you’ve been living under a rock.
Sigrid is brilliant. She can do all the things that are required of brilliant pop music. She has great tunes. She can sing. Boy oh boy can she sing. She has the moves. She has a great band around her.
But there’s more than that. Because any great art has to have more than the sum of its parts to really resonate. Songs are great to connect with, but it’s all the other stuff that surrounds popular culture that’s just as important. Of course, it’s a dangerous thing to do – putting artists on pedestals can lead to them falling off – but if we didn’t, how would we ever show off their greatness to others?
And Sigrid is great. Not just because of the music, but because of the way she is. There’s no artifice or act. People who argue that authenticity in music is important (often fans of men with guitars) will even find it difficult to argue that Sigrid doesn’t have that authenticity in huge bucket loads. Of course, they’ll argue that it’s ‘just pop’, but when you’ve been to a show like the one I saw Sigrid perform last night, it’s possible to see that sometimes pop isn’t ‘just pop’.
From her simple stage attire (jeans, plain t-shirt and tied back hair) to her self-aware and unassuming nature (before thanking the audience for coming to the show last night she asked “Can I be a bit cheesy now, is that OK?”) to her inability to surpress her emotion (last night at the start of Don’t Kill My Vibe Sigrid became so overwhelmed with the reaction she couldn’t sing, so she just held the microphone out to the audience who sang the words back whilst she stood and cried – it was a beautiful moment that made even the hardest of us well up a little). These are the things that, combined with the music, make Sigrid special. There is something about her pure and raw.
Which is 398 words just to shoehorn the word Raw into the conversation, which just happens to be the title of the new song from Sigrid.
It’s the first in a collection of brand new material, set to drop every week. It’s not a banger. Don’t worry banger fans. If you wanted another Don’t Kill My Vibe / Plot Twist / Strangers she has more of those to come. But having watched Sigrid’s set grow over the six times I’ve seen her one thing that is becoming apparent is that she’s a much more versatile pop artist than one that just does in your face jams. This one is stripped back to the very core.
“No apologies for being me,” sings Sigrid on Raw. I think this much about her we all know.
Sigrid - Raw
Tuesday, 13 March 2018
If you’re into lo-fi or bedroom pop music then the chances are you’ll have already found Claire Cottrill, known as Clairo from Boston, USA. Even if you’re not, you may well have stumbled across her homemade video for Pretty Girl, which she uploaded last August and somehow went viral with (currently viewed more than 10 million times). But if you haven't, this post is for you...
The Pretty Girl video which Clairo struck internet gold with had no clever production, no super cool direction and Clairo has gone on record to say that on the day she recorded it her hair and skin looked bad, but she felt that that was the perfect day to make it – after all it’s a song about feeling that you have to be ‘pretty’ for someone else and feeling that you have to change for someone else and ultimately how messed up that idea is. “I could be a pretty girl, I’ll wear a skirt for you, and I could be a pretty girl, shut up when you want me two,” she mouths as the words scroll across the screen and she stares into the camera with headphones in her ears.
Clairo - Pretty Girl (Video)
When Clairo uploaded Pretty Girl, she didn’t think that it would get seen by that many people. It was just her mucking around in her room – a what you see is what you get visual. “I'm still not entirely sure how Pretty Girl blew up the way it did. It wasn't really meant to. The song was originally meant for a compilation tape for a magazine called The Le Sigh, and I made the video in about 30 minutes. I only expected about 5,000 views at most! Getting a million views on a video I made is still hard for me to wrap my head around. Most of my friends back home still have no idea that any of this has happened,” she told Pigeons and Planes website recently.
With lo-fi music there are generally two types of artists. There are those who like to keep the sound quality lower than usual contemporary standards. It’s part of their aesthetic. But then there are those who do it out of necessity. Recording at home rather than using expensive studio space is a commercial reality for many musicians. This sort of musician would love to have the opportunity to record somewhere where the imperfections are ironed out and overall reproduction of the sound is improved but they just can’t afford it. Sometimes when a lo-fi artist does develop to a more polished sound they lose some of their fans but gain many more – for some it’s that DIY sound that attracted them in the first place.
With Clairo’s DIY efforts blowing up the question is which sort of artist is she? If she got the opportunity to grab the gloss, would she paint it all over in bright lurid colours.
It seems that the answer might be yes. Although not in the way you might think (yet). For yesterday Clairo released a new video for her track Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, a simplistic but weirdly addictive chill-pop song she put out six months ago which has achieved over 1.5 million streams on Soundcloud. This video has a lot more budget thrown at it than the likes of Pretty Girl. Way more. It involved directors, stylists and choreographers and er….. dancing Cheetos! Visually it’s a long way from her bedroom minimalist beginnings and has already divided fans with some calling her early work a façade. But is an artist not allowed to change an develop? Is this not part of the natural evolution of art? Can we all not just enjoy the silly dancers?
What comes next musically from Clairo will if nothing else be intriguing. Will she try to keep her low-key, minimalistic bedroom pop sound alive? Or will she aim for a bigger more expansive hi-fi pop sound? Or try and find a halfway house between the two? Only time will tell, but for me whatever direction she goes it’s the quality of the songs that’s important. It’s whether they connect, irrespective of if they’re hi-fi or lo-fi. Let’s wait and see.
Clairo - Flamin' Hot Cheetos
Sunday, 11 March 2018
Some artists take a while to establish their true artistic vision, some never fully realise it and some come with it fully formed. Chløë Black is definitely from the later school. Whether she’s singing about f*cking you for life or getting high enough for two, her take on pop has always danced towards the darker side; songs that deal with topics such as getting f*cked (by either sex or drugs) and death make up Black's arsenal. Up until now I would have said you’re hardly likely to find Chløë on the dancefloor wailing about bringing on the Good Times. But it seems I’ve been proved wrong.
Not that Chløë is covering Chic or bashing out some thoughtless happy-day-glo disco track about being in da club (the only club she’s sung about is the 27 Club). This is very much her take on things. She might sing of wanting to get high, but there's also a reminder that those transient moments of chemical euphoria come double-edged: “Everything hurts when I’m sober,” she adds. The music takes the same form as the songs lyrics, with melancholy piano balladry and heavy beats matched with Ibiza tropical rhythms and moments of lighter bliss to convey both sides of the highs and the lows.
It's another piece of stylish pop from Chløë Black.
Chløë Black - Good Times
Saturday, 10 March 2018
Let’s face it, New Music Friday can be both a blessing and a curse. Yesterday I wasted the best part of three and a half hours working my way through the UK edition of Spotify’s NMF playlist to find very little to connect with. But then away from the playlist there’s the new Sofi Tukker. Oh yes, and Sofi Tukker rule.
New single Baby I’m A Queen is the sound of Sofi Tukker grabbing pop by the nether regions and twisting them hard until an intense climax. It’s all about a chunky granite guitar riff, Sophie’s finest vocal delivery yet and some techno-club beats that thwack like they're trying to raise hell.
Of the track the band say: “Baby I’m a Queen is about embracing tumultuousness and vulnerability. Just because you are vulnerable, doesn’t mean you have to let yourself be belittled or infantilized (Why is “baby” the default nickname?) We are strong and empowered because we cry, because we desire, and because of what is chaotic about us. This song is about standing up as strong and powerful, because of that courage to share ourselves. It’s about being both a baby and a queen at the same time.”
The good news is that Sofi Tukker has announced the release of the debut album Treehouse for April 13th. They’ve also announced a world tour that runs through from late March to August. The bad news is that for those of us in the UK that tour doesn’t include our fair land. However, the tour is labelled Part 1, so perhaps we’ll all get to the chance to dance hard with them later this year?
Sofi Tukker - Baby I'm A Queen