It's a really strong New Music Friday this week. Maya B's sparky Dollar To A Diamond is the pick of the bunch but there's plenty else that deserves some time in your ears.
28 of the 30 good songs in this week's playlist are sung by women: not an unusual state of affairs in a Popjustice Edit, but pretty fitting for International Women's Day. Hooray!
Now let's think about how the same playlist would look if it only included songs 100% made by women. A playlist featuring absolutely no male co-writers or producers.
This probably isn't a surprise to many of us but when you see it like this: good grief. One song! If you're interested, Tayla Parx's producer and co-writer on I Want You is Wynne Bennett, who's also worked with people like Twin Shadow and Janelle Monáe. According to this interview Wynne has also seen a ghost. But let's not get sidetracked by tales of the supernatural. ONE SONG.
Some further reading, much of it quite depressing:
Where Are All The Female Record Producers? (Billboard)
Why Aren’t There More Women Working in Audio? (The Atlantic)
Why Music Needs More Women Producers (Culture Trip)
Why are female record producers so rare? (BBC)
13 Women On How To Change Male-Dominated Studio Culture (The Fader)
Why Do Female Music Producers Only Make Up 5% Of The Industry? (Girltalk)
Ruin My Life by Zara Larsson: quite a good song. Without Me by Halsey: also quite a good song. The common denominator is LA-based songwriter and now pop entity in her own right Delacey, whose new Ido Smishlany-produced single My Man is a) a really fresh pop tune and b) out and about as of right this very moment, following this evening's Annie Mac Hottest Record spin. "I hope you feel like you know me when you hear this song," Delacey told Annie, "and that you still like me after."
Delacey's bio blurb covers all the usual areas — "lyrical rawness" and "toughness and vulnerability" for instance, with the obligatory reference to "ethereal, yet soulful vocals" thrown in for good measure. But judging by the lyrics of My Man, Delacey seems like the sort of artist who'll make most sense when she tells her own story in her own words. Delacey describes herself as "an endless bank of crazy things I’ve gone through"; people will connect with her music in an honest way, she hopes, adding: "I hope that it makes them a little uncomfortable sometimes too."
Billboard ran a fairly good interview with Delacey a couple of months ago; Songwriter Universe also had a chat with her last year. There'll be an EP later in the spring but for the time being My Man, a sort of post-Lana reimagining of Jolene that's being billed as Delacey's debut single, serves as a really strong introduction to an artist whose presence could make pop a rather more pleasant place.
Books. They're like songs, except they go on longer and there's no sound. But they're still quite good!
I don't really know what I intended this post to be when I started writing it, but what it's ended up being is a very strange selection of music books from the past, the present and the future. It's an assortment based on very little rhyme and absolutely no reason. Some books are good, some are quite bad. Some are interesting, some are boring. They're all worth a go, though.
(I'm assuming you've already read the Lily Allen book.)
Wildcard by Christopher Maloney (2018)
I read this over Christmas but given how closely Maloney's 2012 X Factor reappearance as a wildcard contestant mirrored the story of Jesus' own comeback perhaps you'll find it makes sense as an Easter read.
As you might expect there are some unintentionally ludicrous moments in this book — it's incredible to think that among the billions of sentences written in the history of humankind never before have the following words appeared in the following order: "I was now living off crackers and spam and lasted four days before vomiting everywhere on a fermented egg."
Which may seem funny in isolation, but it's not so funny in context: Wildcard tells the story of a man whose life has rarely, if ever, been easy. Wildcard isn't the greatest book of all time but it's an important read for any of us who at one time or another have cheerily dismantled Maloney or celebrities like him.
Spotify Teardown: Inside The Black Box Of Streaming Music by Maria Eriksson 'et al' (2019) / The Future Of Music by David Kusek and Gerd Leonhard (2005)
On the left: a legendary book from fifteen years ago that got loads of things right.
On the right: a new book I haven't read properly yet and which seems, shall we say, a little light on jokes, but which also (among some quite dry business stuff) unpacks a lot of information about how Spotify ended up becoming a pop force whose full impact nobody really saw coming.
You can get a fair idea of what Spotify Teardown's like via the Amazon Look Inside feature.
Fried & Justified by Mick Houghton (2019)
Music publicist Mick Houghton's account of two decades' work in the music industry isn't out for a few months, but an advance copy arrived in the post last week and I finished it yesterday.
I first encountered Mick when I was an extremely annoying twelve-year-old who didn't really understand what music publicists did, but I sort of figured out that if you phoned them, like, on an actual telephone, and if they were as patient as Mick Houghton, they might sometimes send you music by and photographs of your favourite band. Maybe that sort badgering is only really tolerated if the publicists have themselves experienced the feeling of being, as Houghton describes his youth in the first page of this book's first chapter, "mad about music as a teenager".
Fried & Justified is frank and sometimes funny, and I suppose it's mainly a memoir, but it's something else, too. One of Houghton's most successful acts once wrote a book in which they told readers how to have a Number One single; while not presented or intended as such, Fried & Justified could easily be regarded as a manual on how to be a decent music PR.
No God But Herself: How Women Changed Music In 1975 by Jessica Hopper (2021)
Look, strictly speaking this book doesn't exist yet but I think we can all safely assume it will be very much on the right side of readable. (Hopper's 2015 collection of writing is an absolute banger.)
Selling The Pig: The Final Days Of EMI by Eamonn Forde (2019)
The weird thing about the whole absurd story of a record label being bought then totally bollocksed up by an investment group is that it happened REALLY RECENTLY and SORT OF IN FRONT OF OUR EYES, and somehow the full extent of the shambles was never really obvious.
Anyway, Eamonn's book is the opposite of shit as well as being a) jaw-dropping and b) very funny in parts, the latter of which you really can't ever take for granted in books about the music industry. Selling The Pig does also highlight just how ludicrous, compared to most other industries, the music industry can be: all the guesswork, all the excess, all the failure that's somehow part of the plan. There are times in this book when you almost — almost — feel sorry for the people who came in and thought they could fix it.
Cover Stories by Richard Easter (2018)
This one just arrived in the post so I've only had the chance for a quick flick through but it's based on a great idea: each chapter takes a different song and explores its characters in the form of a short story.
"I wondered what was going on outside the tracks," Easter explains in the introduction. "The composer gives us so much, but what about the rest? What does Dolly Parton's Jolene look like and why's she stealing everyone's men? What's her back story?"
Cover Stories expands the worlds of songs like Bowie's Space Oddity and Ed Sheeran's The A-Team. (If there's a second volume I'd definitely read a chapter on Rihanna's Man Down.)
One Hundred Lyrics And A Poem by Neil Tennant (2018)
Apart from the bad font on the cover this has to be the perfect popcultural artefact, right?
It contains a 15-page introduction in which I assume Neil talks about the songwriting process, but I'm not totally sure because I am saving it for a special day. You've got to have something to look forward to in life, right?
(Neil's collection was the first in what's turned out to be a series of collected lyric 'tomes'; Kate Bush and Shaun Ryder have already chucked theirs out, presumably there'll be an Anne-Marie one along before too long.)
Peter Powell's Book Of Pop by Peter Powell (1980)
In which, over 120 pages, Radio 1 DJ Peter Powell attempted to cover the total history of pop music and the workings of the entire music industry, while also telling readers how to be popstars and throwing in the occasional quiz. The result was, well, not great, but this is such a fascinating artefact.
Loads-slash-most of the book is gloriously out of date now, of course, but Peter's advice on how to write a hit song is hilariously blunt and, if you take a click through some of 2019's biggest songs, it remains spookily accurate:
"The melody .… has to fit whatever the current trends in music happen to be. Try listening to and studying the Top Forty. If you play an instrument, try playing one of two of the songs and get the feel of the way the chords are strung together. Then change them around and see how that sounds."
Outstanding. If you'd like to read this book there are currently two copies on Amazon — one is £0.01 and the other is £24.40 (?) so take your pick. If you can't be bothered with all that but still fancy a glimpse of what Radio 1 DJs were like four decades ago, clear 25 minutes in your diary for A World Of Difference on YouTube. It's an old BBC documentary that follows the surprisingly bleak early morning routine of Noel Edmonds as he hosts the Radio 1 Breakfast Show.
The best song, by about a mile, to come out of this all this year's Eurovision selections is Spirit In The Sky by KEiiNO. It's been in Popjustice's Big Hit Energy playlist for about a month and, in a rare instance of pop justice in action, over the weekend the semi-ludicrous, 100% amazing pop beast romped to victory at Melodi Grand Prix, meaning that it's now been selected as Norway's official actual entry.
The song— "a story about brave men and women that have fought, and are fighting, for the right to be respected and loved for the person you are" — is a triumph in its own right, but as you can see from the performance below, if you throw in some smoke machines, some lasers, six strictly unnecessary drummers and a load of crowd noise you've got 'quite a moment'.
It's the crowd noise, isn't it? The crowd noise when the first chorus explodes. You simply cannot go wrong with crowd noise. The band should put a new version of Spotify which is just the normal version with crowd noise chucked on top.
In an email to Popjustice last month, Tom from the band explained that KEiiNO's goal "is to make arctic pop-bangers combining joik, nordic folk and camp pop in a synth heavy sound", which he might have just copied and pasted from some existing text but that doesn't matter because but whichever way you look at it that description's just ideal isn't it?
Tom's next email was from "up here in the mountains". He added that the next day the band (Tom plus Fred Bujlo and Alexandra Rotan) would be out in a reindeer sled on the tundra (!), which isn't something you hear from many pop artists. Pictorial evidence quickly followed.
Five points to take away from all this:
- "Arctic pop-bangers combining joik, nordic folk and camp pop in a synth heavy sound" are the way forward.
- KEiiNO are a very good pop outfit!!
- Spirit In The Sky should win Eurovision.
Alphabeat, who return today with new single Shadows, will always have a special place in the pages of Popjustice.
They happened slightly by accident, about ten years ago, when a lot of the best pop felt like it still happened slightly by accident. They were a six-piece Danish band staffed almost entirely by people called Anders whose euphoric 80s-influenced pop ended up crossing over both commercially and internationally. For a moment songs like Fascination and 10,000 Nights Of Thunder were inescapable.
After the band's third album they split. An Anders from the band tells the Official Charts website today that they "could no longer sit down and write a song for Alphabeat – it just wasn’t possible anymore."
Seems like that's no longer a problem. There's a whole new album due later this year and Shadows is a rather charming way of kicking things off.
As you know, Carly Rae Jepsen released two new songs this week: Now That I Found You and No Drug Like Me. If you find them on Spotify you'll notice they've been bundled with Party For One in a sort of three-song EP format. A 3P, if you will. It's a Carly Rae J3Psingle.
On January 18, CRJ posted this on her Facebook page:
This week- not unlike weeks before I stressed right out about song selection and instead of going nuts, called my trusty friend/ guitarist Tavish Crowe who helped me dig to the bottom of some 100 plus songs. (More like 200). This process happened w Kiss and emotion and I want to give cheers to the truth that asking for help when you need it is never a bad thing. I find that it’s strong to know your weaknesses. Needless to say we have a favs list now and a song order and he’s the one friend I turn to when I need to hear my OWN opinion still cause he lets me battle it out without weighing in to hard but instead, continually asking- what feels right to you??! So hold tight loves. I’m re- learning lessons I need to and shortlisting this bad boy for your pretty ears. Thanks for patience. Here a pic to remind me of the wishful thing I was before over writing and over thinking things. Soon I think, we get to dance.
So what we're looking at here is a situation where Carly Rae Jepsen has a pile of up to 200 songs, and the best ones are the two she's released this week: Now That I Found You and No Drug Like Me.
How does that make you feel? How does it sit with you that from up to 200 songs sitting around on Carly Rae Jepsen's hard drives, those two are the best?
First: a note about 'best'. People who work in pop have different, confusing and sometimes conflicting ideas about what 'best' means, but it doesn't always (or often!) mean best best. The best song for the moment can just as often mean 'best to get streaming numbers back up' and 'best to fit in with the pop landscape right now', or 'best to act as a bridge and get us to a point where we can do something else'. Popstars sometimes don't ever release their best best songs. Still, the fact is that Now That I Found You and No Drug Like Me have been deemed the right songs to release right now. Best in some way, for some reason.
Another note, before we continue: as we all know, the 'pick songs from a pile of hundreds' idea hasn't always brought Carly Rae Jepsen's best best songs to the surface on the first or even second attempt. Cut To The Feeling missed the cut on both E•MO•TION and the subsequent E•MO•TION: Side B album, meaning it was passed over not just once but twice. Which makes you wonder — of that particular batch of songs, what else never made it out?
And now the meat of the situation: neither of these two new CRJ songs is great. Come on. It's okay, you can let it all out. You're among friends.
Both songs are fine! Both are better than bad! But they're not Jeppo great. They're not Run Away With Me or Your Type. They're not the songs you would play someone to show them that, hey, perhaps they need to think twice about the person who made Call Me Maybe and perhaps they also need to rethink their thoughts about what pop and popstars can do. The most troubling thing about Now That I Found You is that it's the sort of thing people who don't listen to Carly Rae Jepsen think Carly Rae Jepsen songs sound like. And this week, they're right.
There's a lot to unpack among all this: persistent questions about whether everyone or anyone in Camp Jeppo has ever really understood exactly how and why E•MO•TION did what it did and was what it was, whether goodwill and support from the more leftfield side of the media was help or hindrance, whether The Jeppsinator herself hears her music and likes the same things the rest of us do. There's also the question of whether niche success (which in 2019 is still quite a lot of success) is enough for Carly and her team or if, as the Spotpop-friendly sound of something like Party For One suggests, the ambition and aim is to move her on from her current position by crossing over into a less idiosyncratic pop space.
It'll be interesting to see and hear what lies ahead for Carly Rae Jepsen as 2019 plays out. One surprise so far is that on the evidence of what's already out there she's not taking things back in the sonic direction of 2008's pre-Call Me Maybe album Tug Of War, which felt as if it was one of the ways things could end up panning out. It'd be good to hear that one day. Maybe that's still on the planner for sometime in the future. Maybe she doesn't want to go back there at all! Who knows. For the time being, the frustrating thing is that you know, somewhere in that pile of 100–200 songs, there's probably the perfect Carly Rae Jepsen album for right now: an album full of her best songs and her best best songs. And you know that for whatever reason, half that brilliant album's songs could easily end up staying in the pile forever.
The Song Of The Week is Everybody Hates Me by The Japanese House.
Says Amber: "This song is about me being really hung over for two, three years. Every day waking up with that feeling of ‘everyone hates me and I’ve ruined my life.’ Looking back at the time, I thought—almost jokingly—it’s a hangover anthem. Now it’s really sad for me to look back knowing I spent so much time hating myself because I couldn’t stop drinking." Song of the week, then, from what'll probably turns out to be one of the albums of the year.
- Good to hear new music from Arrhult — they've been knocking out interesting music for a few years and had a good song last year called 1999. Mind you, who didn't?
- Ellie Goulding's Flux is, in her words, "not a bop, exactly". Actually it's not a bop at all, and all the better for it. It's hard to say how this sort of back-to-basics song will do in the algopop era. Sometimes that's not the point though, is it?
- The Jonas Brothers and Alphabeat are both back and suddenly it's 2007 again. Christ, 2007 was hard work wasn't it? Not musically, just generally. Good grief.
- The Marina teaser tracks continue; this time it's the turn of Superstar. It's reasonably good!
- Considering it's basically a Tom Walker song, the Zara Larsson collaboration Now You're Gone is curiously listenable.
- 2X SOLANGE. 2X SOLANGE. 2X SOLANGE.
- 6LACK pops up on two songs this week: a reswizzled Rita Ora song and Bea Miller's it's not u it's me (the latter of which is better).
- It's a sad state of affairs but neither of the new Carly Rae Jepsen songs are very good. Now That I Found You is particularly troubling. We live in strange times.