It goes without saying that just about everyone is going through it right now. Sometimes it really feels like the world is burning, but music has given many people solace in these tough times. I truly believe that listening to music can be a powerful outlet for all of our anxiety and anger.
May’s music releases have been, as a whole, anything but lackluster. I was excited about so many drops this month and very few disappointed. Y’all know the drill by now, but below are comprehensive reviews of this month’s Bops and Flops!
Of all the music released in May, Chromatica was the most highly anticipated. The album is fantastic.
Chromatica consists of three acts, all separated by string instrumentals — Chromatica I, II, and III. The inclusion of beautiful instrumentals give the album a cinematic and larger than life feel. They are also the only songs that aren’t mostly, if not completely, electronically produced. Chromatica’s sound is that of an extremely elevated and more mature version of her early albums.
Lyrically, the album is about persevering through pain in various forms, but sonically, Chromatica is a fun dance album. This combination creates an outlet in which listeners can, essentially, dance the pain away. The power of this form of emotional release is unmatched — especially in today’s environment.
The obvious standout on Chromatica is 911. The track is lyrically simple and focuses on Lady Gaga’s relationship with anti-psychotic medication, but its striking beat and Gaga’s robotic vocals are what set the song apart.
Another amazing track from Chromatica is Rain On Me, which features Ariana Grande. Gaga and Grande’s powerhouse vocals compliment each other beautifully and pack an intense emotional punch. The lyrics “I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive,” are powerfully sung by both artists, serving as a reminder that no matter how bad it gets, you’re alive, and that’s something worth celebrating.
A comprehensive review of Chromatica would not be complete without discussing the track Sine From Above, which features the legendary Elton John. This track is dedicated to the power of music. It focuses on how music is a form of salvation, and choosing “sine” instead of “sign” was a deliberate reference to sound waves, which are also called sine waves. Featuring John on a song that is essentially a love letter to music itself was a very fitting choice as he may be one of the most iconic and beloved musicians in modern history.
All in all, Gaga created the album everyone desperately needed right now. We need music to dance the pain away to and she delivered with an album as joyous as it is heavy.
If The 1975 wrote the soundtrack for a John Hughes movie, this would be it. The album is odd and spectacular, which is The 1975’s signature. Notes On A Conditional Form begins with a self-titled track. This isn’t surprising, as every album the 1975 has releases starts with a song titled The 1975.
Usually, the band keeps the same lyrics and basic sonic quality of the song, but it always sounds completely different each time in order to match the energy of the album. The band entered unexpected territory on Notes On A Conditional Form by having the introductory track be a recording of climate activist Greta Thunberg speaking about climate change. This was a bold move, but The 1975 has always been unapologetically daring.
The third track is entitled The End (Music For Cars) and is one of four lyricless songs on Notes On A Conditional Form. This is also nothing new. While the concept of an interlude or majorly lyricless song is a concept many artists play with, The 1975’s lyricless tracks always seem to have more a distinct purpose, adding something substantial to the album as a whole. The 1975 never disappoints when it comes to creating dynamic conceptual albums.
I tried to make a list of Notes On A Conditional Form’s standout tracks, but it ended up being the majority of the album. Each song on the album is as unique and eclectic as the band who created them, so it’s nearly impossible to rank.
Listening to a song or album by The 1975 feels like experiencing the full spectrum of human emotion and existence. The band’s ability to make people feel a million things at once has always enamored me and their point of view is extremely unique. Each song on Notes On A Conditional Form tells a universally understood story, but that story is unique to the person listening to it.
While Colourblind isn’t the most original or professionally produced, it’s still a really fun pop song. The fact that it’s not too manufactured ends up giving the song a unique vibe and the song creates an ethereal, nostalgic feeling that is heavily influenced by Peach’s dreamy vocals.
Something that also impressed me is that Colorblind was created by not just a smaller artist, but a lesser known producer as well. No big labels, oversight, or daunting expectations were involved in the creative process, so the product is raw and fun.
The story of how Colourblind came to be is just as cool as the song itself. Colourblind’s producer, Jeris Johnson, and its singer, Peach, dated and recorded bits and pieces of this song together. They eventually broke up due to distance (as she hails from Australia while he’s from the U.S.), but Johnson ended up putting together a whole song with what they had previously recorded. As a surprise for what would have been their one year anniversary, Johnson uploaded Colourblind to Peach’s Spotify account.
If that’s not beyond cute, I’m really not sure what is.
Hayley Kiyoko kicked off Pride month a little early this year by covering The Killers song, Mr. Brightside. Unfortunately this cover is not on Spotify or Apple Music since she recorded it exclusively for Amazon Music, but it can of course be found on YouTube.
For those who don’t know, Kiyoko has been comically and fittingly dubbed “Lesbian Jesus” by the LGBTQ+ community for many reasons, but chiefly for her unapologetically queer music. A 13 year old at the time of the song’s original release, Kiyoko said that she connected to the feeling of sitting in her room, listening to Mr. Brightside, and knowing that her crush was probably with another guy.
When I first heard this song, my immediate thought was that this is exactly what I didn’t know I needed. Kiyoko doesn’t exactly add anything spectacular to the song per se (besides her presence), but it isn’t about that. Kiyoko’s cover of Mr. Brightside is pure for fun and for her and the listeners’ enjoyment without too critical of an ear.
To put it simply, the song lacks any originality. I knew exactly what I was getting myself into before I even listened to the song. Both musically and lyrically, Stuck with U is just beyond boring.
In true artist fashion, musicians are creating songs inspired by what they know and what’s relatable. And right now that’s quarantine. So far these singles have been extremely hit or miss. Stuck with U fits into the latter category because, as previously stated, the song is glaringly uninspired.
Despite my feelings for this song, I do love Ariana Grande’s music and think she’s a great artist. A major reason I’m so disappointed with Stuck with U is because I’m used to Grande’s imaginative musicality and prolific understanding of modern pop. However, I’m afraid Grande doesn’t know when to stop. She has a bad habit of overworking herself and sometimes it’s easy to tell what projects she prioritized. The newest Charlie’s Angels soundtrack, more specifically the single Don’t Call Me Angel is a prominent example of this. Stuck with U sounds like it was created in five minutes or less and given very little thought.
As for Justin Bieber, his career peaked with the release of his 2015 album Purpose. His music has given me little more than “meh” since then.
In no way am I hating on pop music. Not all pop music is repetitive, and the genre itself is a rich blend of diverse inspirations. But Stuck with U and songs like it are the reason pop gets a bad reputation for producing uninspired content.
Check out Spire’s Best of May Playlist.