This year has perhaps not produced much in the way to fill a compilation CD, and no, NOW compilations don’t count, they’ve long since collected together variations on the same drumbeat. I think maybe the people responsible for the NOW listings wouldn’t reduce themselves to the level of Commercial Radio playlist compilers. That would be a demotion and then some.
What good pop has, er, popped up has not exactly needed to pogo-stick whilst on fire to stand out. “Blow Your Mind (Mwah)” merely walked into a single gay club, whistled, and carried off the money in a cloud of CKIn2U and Liquid Gold. I heard this song in a gay club surrounded by dozens of people united in two actions: singing along to the chorus and checking Shazam. Instant hit, just add water(ed down beer).
I am led to understand that there are now so many remixes of this single that the people who used to package 1990s dance singles on cassette with approximately 25 different versions per tape are considering it a touch outré. In a year of the over-saturated and over-played, this corker wins many more battles than it entered.
“Green Man” by Mark Owen. Remember it? Of course you don’t. Nobody does. I doubt Mark does (if the “green” in the title means what it likely did, check the art work.)
Not long after the slow release/rapid collapse of Take That, “Green Man” sneaked out like a fart in a church, the first full album of a former member which didn’t ostensibly represent a full-on peroxide hair dye pill-chomping breakdown. That we know about. By most measures and considerations, Owen’s stepping away from boyband unity to mucky-haired indie boy was a disaster of epic proportions: those who were convinced that the lad had musical chops on the basis of “Clementine” soon found themselves knee high in festival mud and new-age whimsy. It’s not always sensible to leave the comfort of manufactured pop *and* reinvent your output all in one go.
Fast forward to 2016, slap bang in the middle of the immediate post-Bowie aftermath indeed, and reinvention was clearly the topic du jour. Enter stage left Zayn Malik. Sorry. I mean Zayn. Sorry again: ZAYN. Capitals. Important business. Significant. Goes well with a hashtag and sans serif fonts.
ZAYN took an almighty dump on just about every element of his boyband life in the moments between leaving and releasing “Pillowtalk”. Shit dumping on this scale would usually require an expert in colonoscopy. Achingly cool to the point of parody (HE SWEARS IN SONGS NOW! HE SAYS SWEAR WORDS!) this would have been the start of something quite significant (HE SINGS IN URDU ON THE ALBUM! WITH A THICK BRADFORDIAN ACCENT! TAKE THAT BREXIT!) were it not for commercial radio to take one collective listen to the follow up single and go “…..nah, not for us.”
Pop. What kind of year has it been for pop? As with 2015, it feels as though pop bangers of yore are, well, exactly that. Of yore. No longer guaranteed. Pop has been ripped apart like a chunk of Play-Doh, endlessly remodelled and reshaped, endlessly rolled into squashed up boulders which sort-of resemble dog-dirt. I accept that we live in a world of post-truth, are we also living in a world of post-irony? What even is post-irony?
Shura is not quite the all-out pop starlet we need. That said, “What’s It Gonna Be?” is pop banger material all the way through, and with the sweetest and most relevant accompanying video of the year. Yes, people still film pop videos. Presumably without irony. Or with. Maybe both? I don’t know where we are with irony, pre- or post-. Somebody help me.
“What’s It Gonna Be?” may not have broken through the mainstream channels as successfully as it should, but I’m not putting Shura to the back of my mind just yet, she’s got much promise yet to realise.
I think my favourite part of this song is the end of the second verse when Jonas (+others) thought “screw it” to fitting lyrics to the melody and, like a bad radio DJ, crashed their own song. Beautiful.
Lyrically ridiculous – and then some – “Jealous” would be as far away from this list as my kitchen is from the moon were it not for some basic facts. One, this song is a pop belter by some distance. Two, it’s harmless candyfloss, as all good pub songs invariably are. I’m aware that some snooty critics have drawn parallels between this and “Blurred Lines”, but I beg to differ. The latter is rape encouraging misogynist claptrap from the sewer of hell. “Jealous” is nonsense on stilts wearing novelty glasses.
I am further aware that dear old Nick Jonas is walking the same route last traversed by Carly Rae Jepsen in terms of not being able to follow up certified pop wonderstuff with anything remotely as good. There’s still time Nick. There’s still time. But don’t rush yourself, now, reputations can go down as well as up.
Well she was going to appear at some point, wasn’t she?
So here we go. No this choice is not ironic, it’s not trolling, it’s not supposed to be ticking the chin of fate or fortune. I bloody love Taylor Swift, and I bloody love “Style”.
When Shania Twain’s body grew old and grey, she regenerated to become Taylor Swift. Or so one theory goes. Maybe that’s just something gleamed from Reddit some lazy Tuesday night, I forget. The thing is, there was once a time when female singers with sass and attitude appeared to zoom up the charts with one or two sharply worded power anthems before being slowly (or otherwise) dropped from great heights. Give a sassy songwriting woman a guitar, give her one top 10 single, then bury her in obscurity: such did the theory go to my observing eyes ten or so years ago.
“Style” would have slayed the opposition back in my youth. It has – and continues – to kill most in its path today. The slight electro background, the attitude in the chorus, its smart and slightly obscure sentiment in the verses, and all with an ear-worm melody so strong it could be classed as positively unhealthy.
“Why not choose ‘Shake It Off’?” I hear you ask. Well…here’s the thing. Were it not for the clumsy spoken word middle bit, then I would have called “Shake It Off” the worthy successor to ‘Call Me Maybe’ as pop event of the year. Alas it was not to be. “Style” has the whole package.
Back in 2013 I had an idea. You can see the Index for that idea here. Very pop-orientated. Very mainstream. I have pop sensibility and like a chorus strong enough to use as ballast, but really, I’m surprised by my choices coming across as more Radio 2 than 6Music. I would not choose the same list, nor put it in the same order now.
One year later is my 2014 Index . It is certainly less mainstream, maybe not organised quite how I would if doing it again (opening with Katy B, now there’s a misunderstanding about drawing in readers).
This year has seen my Spotify, SoundCloud, and ‘tucked in the back of the brain’ longlists growing by the week. Soon I will confirm the results of all that here – and as ever, the chosen 24 songs are presented in no particular order. In so many ways, this ain’t a chart.
Selling a bowl of Special K at £3.20 a pop is the work of deranged loony-tunes, as we all know, so for true vintage fun with a new age feel, don’t involve yourself with coiffured numpties with no care about the poverty on the streets outside their tasteless cereal flimflam, get your ears wrapped around Altar Flowers instead. (What do you mean, I’m making it obvious that I find horrific the idea that selling breakfast cereal at a hypergazillion percentage mark up is somehow acceptable in this day and age? No politics here, chums, I’m all about the music doncha know.)
Regular readers will doubtlessly know that my choices for Tracks Of 2014 are cut on a distinct bias. I ruddy love solid pop written with melody running all the way through like Blackpool rock. Not cheese (although heaven knows I like a slice of that) and not just taken from one style (because I’m open minded and don’t work for Radio 1). Altar Flowers’ “We Still Can’t Be Friends” is a great example of what I listen out for: rich and raucous and full of great pop sensibilities whilst carrying itself with more than its fair share of cool-for-school swagger. Altar Flowers have a certain curious side to their output I’ve liked for a while and there’s no suggestion yet that they’re about to turn away from this quite yet.
The former LVLS have been busying themselves with EPs and gigs of late, with more to come next year. “WSCBF” should help you get the feel of them while we’re all waiting for more: everything a neat little chart botherer should be without the danger of choking on a plastic toy at the bottom of the bag. YES I’M GOING ON ABOUT THAT DAMN CEREAL PLACE TONIGHT THANKS FOR POINTING THAT OUT.
Camp is what happens when you give personal fragility a punchline, and whilst that which is “camp” does not always mean that which is “gay”, the two concepts are inexorably linked. Divas (and Disney) know the power of the great big camp ballad precisely because the lyrics of which can be so easily adapted/adopted to represent the struggle for acceptance by LGBT people. Listen to Annie Lennox’s “Why” or Frozen’s big bad coming out anthem…..sorry, I mean Frozen’s female emancipation powerhouse “Let It Go”, two great examples of songs with a centre of camp.
I dare say this has much to do with personal circumstances, of course. Katy B may not have expected “Crying for No Reason” to be interpreted as either camp or gay, but it has a thread of “the cold never bothered me anyway” about it to my ears. I don’t know much about Ms B and her back catalogue, but this is a real whammer of a tune to my ears. Simplistic lyrics strike home a truly heartfelt message, and for all the pop sensibilities, there’s something deeper here which struck me from the start. I ruddy love it when a big, bold pop ballad comes out and shows more than just the knob-twiddling prowess of the producers; this one has true heart and soul, and gave me hope for the year ahead.