Congratulations to Laura Mvula, whose single Got Me has won the 2021 Popjustice Twenty Quid Music Prize. In fairness, it's a great single. Twenty quid (cash) on its way to Mvula Towers. More details on the voting tomorrow; for the time being, here's the best British-and-Irish pop single of the last twelve months.
It's not easy getting a decent screenshot of Sarah Harding's epic 'walking Primrose' line from The Promise's video. Back in 2008 a 480p pop video seemed like the height of digital wonder, but at some point between then and now things moved on. Those small things change slowly. But life, as we know, moves fast.
Nineteen Septembers ago Popstars: The Rivals started its first and only run on Saturday night telly. I'd been asked to write the show's official book, which meant I first met Girls Aloud before they were even a band. During the summer I'd visited the girls' house, tucked away somewhere in Surrey near Cliff Richard's house, to get some profile questions answered. One question I asked each future band member was: 'What scares you?'
Sarah's answer stands out today as the only one that captures the precariousness of the pop dream. While future bandmates were mainly concerned about being murdered (??) and spiders, Sarah was scared, she said, of "having to go back to really awful jobs". She was twenty at that point, and had recently been working in debt collection. More than some of the other singers entering Popstars: The Rivals, she knew what was at stake.
Sarah did not have to go back to an awful job. By Christmas she was one fifth of a band who'd go on to achieve a record-breaking run of Top 10 singles, hit platinum sales, pull off multiple arena tours, and redefine pop music.
Since hearing yesterday about Sarah's death, many of us will have naturally been reflecting on how Sarah's life impacted our own lives over the last decade or two. With Popjustice having been such a big part of my life for so long, I'm reminded that writing the Popstars: The Rivals book meant I'd been given early access to Sound Of The Underground, which in turn meant I'd been able to write about it on the still-quite-new Popjustice blog. As Girls Aloud got bigger and better, it felt like the band dragged Popjustice (and the whole of pop music) along with them. Such was the power of that band's presence that many fans will feel the same way: those fans in their teens, twenties, thirties and beyond were all dragged along. To be fair, we didn't put up much of a fight.
And if, during those years when Girls Aloud ruled pop, any of us had been asked to identify the spark at the heart of Girls Aloud — one member with the same chaotic, unpredictable energy that was in so much of the band's music — we'd surely have said that spark was Sarah. A pig wearing a hat could have had a hit with Sound Of The Underground. But could Girls Aloud have done everything they went on to do, and would any of us be the people we are now, without Sarah Harding?
If there's one thing worth bringing Popjustice out of semi-hiatus for it's the long-awaited return of an iconic, platinum-selling four-piece pop juggernaut whose acronymised name alone can reduce grown adults to tears. But enough about JLS, whose new single is out today, and let's talk ABBA.
Specifically, let's say:
- Of the two new songs, Don't Shut Me Down is THE ONE.
- The best pop songs are often about one thing (eg a relationship) and another thing (eg a band making a comeback). Don't Shut Me Down is about that one thing and that other thing, but it's also about a third thing: a popstar returning as a spooky infinite digital pop entity.
- There was a moment at the end of the launch event last night when Don't Shut Me Down had just started playing and Benny and Bjorn were making their way from the stage to the back of the room. Benny stopped for a moment and when the beat dropped (do beats drop in ABBA songs? Let's go with it) Benny turned to the room and mimed the piano swoop. As he did that he smiled, and as he smiled, he and I made eye contact. I'm still computing it all to be honest but right now it feels like the most meaningful moment I've experienced in 25 years of loitering around popstars.
- Shortly after that I was introduced to Ludvig Andersson, the producer of the new show (among other things), and I asked him if once the digital ABBAtar things had been created, it would be possible to amend them for special occasions, for instance chucking Santa hats on the band for Christmas shows. "In theory yes," he said, "but…" "But basically no," I offered. "No," he agreed. And that was that.
- Interesting to note following my recent tweet about whether Voyage is pronounced 'voyage' or 'voyage', it's actually pronounced 'voyage'.
- A few years back, before any of this current stuff was announced, I was thinking of doing a website called JUST ONE SONG: a petition, of sorts, requesting just one more ABBA song, and laying out the reasons this should happen, and could happen with minimum rigmarole for the band's members. It would have included a reassurance that the band wouldn't need to do any press, or touring, or media stuff. Perhaps B and B have made a similar reassurance to A and A. Either way, ten new songs is absolutely ideal.
- Ten new songs!
- Maybe I lack imagination but when I was considering what the band's first press shot might look like — and there's been plenty of time to consider it, given that new music was first announced a few years ago — one look I didn't consider was Tron: The Gameshow. Yet here we are. What a time to be alive.
- 'What a time to be alive' is quite a powerful expression in this context isn't it? A lot has happened in forty years and I can't be the only one today thinking of all the people who loved this band and aren't around today to hear these new songs. How lucky we all are, in so many different ways, to hear this music.
- Nobody's making much of the fact that one of the ten new songs is called Keep An Eye On Dan. Who is Dan? What's he playing at? Why can he not be trusted? If you think you might be Dan, please step forward.
Breaking radio silence to announce the twelve British and Irish pop singles shortlist for the 2021 Popjustice Twenty Quid Music Prize.
- Black Hole by Griff
- Got Me by Laura Mvula
- Hot Hot by Bree Runway
- I Don’t Mind by Georgia Twinn
- I Don’t Really Care For You by CMAT
- Levitating by Dua Lipa
and DaBabyUPDATE: Let's just go for the Dua version shall we
- Love Of Your Life by Raye
- On A Mountain by Danny L Harle
- Right Now by Sophie & The Giants
- She’s My Religion by Pale Waves
- Sweet Melody by Little Mix
- What’s Your Pleasure? by Jessie Ware
For more info, playlists, and to register as a Zoom judge on the September 9 prize night, click here.
- Georgia Twinn continues her fairly robust campaign to become one of Britain's best new popstars this week with Moth, which references Nirvana and combined with Olivia Rodrido's recent homage to Radiohead makes you wonder if we'll be seeing L Devine interpolating Shed Seven by the time the year's out.
- By sounding like a) The Weeknd and/so b) songs like Boys Of Summer the new Max Martin-produced Coldplay single sounds like Radio 1 and Radio 2 at the same time. Which in-house DSP playlists it sounds like is a different question but we seem to be living in an era were Coldplay are releasing 'bops' so perhaps we should all just embrace the chaos.
- Zyra's done a new version of the brilliant Closer. (It's still brilliant.)
- Apparently Joan's new one is the first song from two EPs due out this year — one's about falling in love and the other's about breakups. So Good's one of the falling-in-love ones.
- Warning: Jake Bugg has released an acceptable single. I mentioned the notion of embracing chaos and if you thought it felt like a good idea here's the ideal opportunity to put that all to the test. If you can pass the Jake Bugg Acceptable Single test, you're ready for anything.
The new Julia Michaels song starts off as one thing and ends up as something a bit different. Pop songs about relationships tend to be variations on a fairly small number of themes but All Your Exes articulates anxiety over former partners in a really unusual way, and there are some completely excellent lines in the song. "When your friends tell stories about 2017 I know there's parts that they leave out to be considerate of me" — A LINE. (For instance.) (I mean that's an actual thing that happens all the time isn't it, but have you heard it in a song before?) "Wish I could be blissfully unaware of where you used to put your mouth and who you write your fucking songs about" — ANOTHER LINE. Loads of lines. It's literally a song with lots of words in. (A very good song.)
- Having said all that, "I think I'm ready for your sex" in the Alle Farben/Theresa Rex song is probably the best lyric of the week.
- Moyka is absolutely not mucking about on her new one. What a song, what a popstar.
- Another set of KLF reissues means another completely anachronistic NMF playlist entry, this time in the form of Jarvis Cocker doing Justified & Ancient.
- I don't think history will judge me kindly for including the Seeb/Kooks remix on this week's playlist. Even I'm taking a bit of a dim view of my actions. But: it kind of works doesn't it? Like, it's actually quite good? We live in strange times. Maybe this is what a year without proper social contact does to people. What next? A Pigeon Detectives x R3HAB remix being 'actually not that bad'?
Griff's really done it this time. Heartbreak really shouldn't sound this spectacular but, well, here we are. What a song. The Black Hole artwork features a hole with a black border, ie the opposite of a black hole, but on the upside it does feature Griff ON HORSEBACK. Look at this:
- ELIO releases a really brilliant EP today and Charger is a real winner, despite being about mobile phones (a topic rapidly rising up the lyrical banned list).
- Rose Gray, a rave-pop practitioner of considerable talent, releases her Dancing, Drinking, Talking, Thinking EP today and every track's a winner. Which is best, do you think, out of dancing, drinking, talking and thinking? It would be interesting to get Rose Gray's thoughts on this matter.
- Years & Years have covered It's A Sin. Possible something to do with Olly being in a TV show of the same name which may or may not be starting on Channel 4 tonight; hard to say really as there's been very little publicity around it. The cover is ACOUSTIC but PERMITTED.
- 220 Kid's done the shanty.
- PRETTYMUCH's Stars is included in this week's playlist mainly for the almost heroic line "girl you're an angel from every angle": a lyric that surely made perfect sense written down but required some severe vocal gymnastics to deliver 'in song'. They really went there didn't they? And to think they say pop music can't push boundaries.
You might say "Peter why have you put a 28-year-old song at the top of the New Music Friday, are you having another meltdown" and, yes, fair point but:
a) America: What Time Is Love? hasn't been commercially available for nearly three decades after The KLF threw a strop and deleted their entire catalogue. (The band have today put a handful of their hit records, including two Number Ones, on streaming services.)
b) It's a very slightly different edit to the one that came out in 1992 and is therefore unquestionably NEW.
c) Any excuse to celebrate one of the two greatest pop duos of all time.
d) I think, very seriously, that all popstars could learn a thing or two from a band who responded to the challenge of remixing a hit for the US market by turning in a song in which they claimed to have arrived in America 500 years before Christopher Columbus. A policy of more ridiculousness wherever possible wouldn't harm pop in 2021.
Also this week:
- Fa La La (feat Boyz II Men) hitmaker Justin Bieber releases his best in a while; it comes with the best artwork of his career.
- Kylie and Dua 1have chucked out the Studio 2054 Real Groove thing.
- Raye's released some remixes; the Joel Corry reswizzle of Love Of Your Life is the best of the bunch.
For the avoidance of doubt that's Minogue and Lipa↩
Notes on this week's new releases:
- Mae Muller's new one Dependent is the week's best new song — it sounds brilliant and has a great twist on the "treat me a like a lady" trope. Her new EP No One Else, Not Even You, is also out today. Commas in titles are generally to be avoided but this one works well. 8/10 for the comma.
- The only thing that could have made the Miley Cyrus and Stevie Nicks 'collab' any better is a "Stevie, can you handle this? Miley, can you handle this? It's the remix, can you handle this? I don't think you can't handle this woo" bit over the intro.
- Georgia Twinn's new song is a big moment in its own right but also lands halfway between second album Lana and first album Charli, which isn't a bad place to be is it?
- Hello and congratulations to Little Mix, whose sixth studio album is released today. As a gentleman named Jon with a private Twitter account noted earlier this week, the last British girlgroup to pull this off was Sugababes in 2008, and by that point they were on their third lineup.
- Kylie's disco album, cleverly titled Disco, is out today. Last Chance is arguably the album's most on-brief song although I suppose disco means different things to different people. The extended version of the album shows up as Disco (Deluxe). Is Disco Deluxe a better album title than Disco? (Yes.)
- While we're praising longevity Shirley Bassey, the Queen of Q4, has released 70 albums across seven decades. Still no Bruce Hornsby collaborations on the new one but she does cover I Made It Through The Rain, one of the most sensational optimistibangers of all time.
- After several years I've binned off one of the features of the Popjustice New Music Friday edit — the bit where I put a total stinker at the bottom of the playlist. Most weeks I'd find myself actively searching out something terrible and there's enough negativity in the world without having to deliberately look for new Jake Bugg releases. (Or accidentally hearing them if, like a lot of people, you listen to playlists on shuffle.)