Welcome back to the sixth installment of Spire’s Bops & Flops series! The music that was released in August was so amazing that I had a genuinely tough time narrowing down what made the cut. As summer comes to a close, the general tone of this month’s music is quite somber and reflective. Of course, WAP is the exception to that energy. I’m extra excited about August’s music, and I know you will be too, so enjoy!
Kaash Paige’s second studio album Teenage Fever is late-night R&B excellence. The “Kaash” in Kaash Paige stands for “Kill All Arrogance, Stop Hatred”. Often compared to SZA, Paige’s sound is much younger than SZA’s, which makes sense considering Paige is only 19. Fittingly, Teenage Fever explores the ups and downs of growing up. This is one of those albums where you don’t have to relate to the lyrics in order to deeply feel what’s being sung. No matter what the listener’s teenage years were like, there is something about the album that will submerge them in a romanticized version of those memories.
My personal favorites include Fake Love and Lost Ones because of their dreaminess. Any one of Teenage Fever’s 13 songs will whisk the listener away to a late night of driving with no destination.
Paige’s debut album Parked Car Convos was a success, but one song in particular from the album really skyrocketed her to stardom. Due to the mystical powers of Tik Tok, her song Love Songs blew up almost overnight. Less than a year after Parked Car Convos’ release, Teenage Fever continues to highlight Paige’s smooth vocals and undeniable talent.
Let me tell you, listening to BADLANDS (Live From Webster Hall) is an out of body experience. First off, Halsey released the live album on the five year anniversary of the original BADLANDS, which made the whole thing very meta. To be a solo pop act, Halsey is unique because she performs with the energy of a rock band. Her shows (with the slight exception of the Hopeless Fountain Kingdom tour) are organic and don’t feel painstakingly rehearsed, and that energy translates seamlessly to the live album.
In May of last year, Halsey announced that she’d be playing two standalone concerts, each dedicated to one of her two albums, BADLANDS and Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. BADLANDS (Live From Webster Hall) is the recording from the first of those two concerts. The live album’s concert was performed during the time that she was recording her soon to be third studio album Manic, which was released in January of this year.
Halsey’s debut album BADLANDS was originally released in 2015. It was an accidental success. Halsey was a nobody at the time and the album was odd in many facets. But that is exactly why people immediately gravitated to BADLANDS. Halsey’s lyrics are rarely relatable, but there is something so deeply human about her music that pulls people in. Even if you have no idea what she’s talking about, you feel it.
Each song on the live album has so much emotion behind it. Coming Down is played acoustically, Roman Holiday sounds even dreamier and you can practically feel Colors pt. II shake the venue. Halsey also included songs like Trouble and Is There Somewhere that were not officially on BADLANDS but were heavily associated with that era of her career. Another cool aspect of the album is that sections of the concert where Halsey speaks to the crowd are included as their own tracks instead of being edited out. She finishes the set with Is There Somewhere, a fan favorite that has never been anywhere near a radio station. It’s a somber yet electrifying finale.
BADLANDS was an album that a niche of young people clung to during some of the most formative years of their lives. Its release five years later created a collective sense of deep nostalgia among longtime Halsey fans. In a letter to fans following the release of the live album Halsey wrote “I watched kids with brand new braces and driver permits become adults with college degrees”. BADLANDS (Live From Webster Hall) is not only a testament to Halsey’s growth as an artist and performer, but it is also a testament to the fans’ growth within each of their own lives.
If you like extremely chill music, The Japanese House is the artist for you. TJH is a British indie pop solo artist named Amber Mary Bain. What initially attracted me to TJH’s music is its ability to be calm and dreamy without ever sounding explicitly sad.
I was slightly disappointed that Chewing Cotton Wool is only a four song EP, but hey, not every release can be a 15 track conceptual album. Chewing Cotton Wool is good for studying too, so it’s release date was perfectly timed for back to school. Of the songs on the EP, Something Has to Change and Dionne (feat. Justin Vernon) impressed me the most because they are perfectly balanced between calm and energetic, and Bain’s vocals are as dreamy as ever.
Everything means nothing (stylized in all lowercase) perfectly encapsulates the vibes of late summer as Gen Z. blackbear’s sixth studio album is sonically upbeat for the most part with generally unhappy lyrics about heartbreak and girl problems.
blackbear has earned the attention of teenagers and 20-somethings alike by blending catchy beats with meme references and internet slang. His lyrics feel like cleverly coded messages that are only decipherable by young people. Even though this can make some of his songs refreshingly comical, blackbear’s work rarely comes across as a blatant joke. Hot Girl Bummer, which is the first track on the album, is a spoof of the memed phrase, lifestyle and song Hot Girl Summer by Megan Thee Stallion. But instead of being a one dimensional parody, it has a satirical element to it. Hot Girl Bummer explores how superficiality, especially that surrounding the culture of social media, can be unfulfilling and damaging to relationships.
It’s worth mentioning that some feel that the running theme of women being the bane of blackbear’s existence in everything means nothing is misogynistic, or derogatory towards women. As a woman and a feminist, I usually pick up on misogyny in everyday life as well as the music I listen to. However, I personally didn’t have a problem with blackbear’s portrayal of the women in his life. While his lyrics towards women are rarely positive, they feel more like personal experiences rather than a general “women suck” attitude. The only song I could see potentially causing a problem is why are girls? because it is a very generalized song. But it feels more self deprecating than a hateful message. It sounds like blackbear hates his taste in women more than he hates women themselves.
My personal favorites from the album include sobbing in cabo, clown (with Trevor Daniel) and smile again. everything means nothing is an album about feeling too much and hating every minute of it. The pairing of an overall bubbly sonic tone with frustrated lyrics about continually being unhappy perfectly characterizes what it’s like to try to stay positive during the crazy times we’re living in.
To talk about music in August is to talk about WAP. This is a song that could not be ignored. As soon as WAP and its corresponding music video were released, everyone had an opinion. Some say the song, which explicitly focuses on female sexuality, is too vulgar. Others think it’s a feminist anthem. Either way, it’s a certified bop. With a strong bassline and clever punchlines that shock, WAP’s popularity isn’t going away anytime soon.
This is the first single from Miley Cyrus that I have loved since Malibu. Midnight Sky is a catchy song of personal freedom that immediately caught the attention of girls and gays everywhere. Lyrics like “I was born to run, I don’t belong to anyone” resonated deeply with listeners.
Midnight Sky is the lead single from Cyrus’ upcoming album She Is Miley Cyrus that does not currently have a release date. If this is the energy Cyrus is bringing to her new music, I cannot wait to see what she puts out next.
This cover of Sisqo’s iconic Thong Song is exactly what I didn’t know that I needed. The juxtaposition of Amber Mark’s smooth R&B esque vocals gliding over the comedic lyrics of Thong Song is really fun to listen to. I highly recommend this to anyone who just wants to listen to a fun and lighthearted song that’s also high quality.
If Remi Wolf’s genius had to be restricted to a genre, her music would be pop. But Wolf’s unique music is hard to categorize in the best way possible. She strikes me as an artist who doesn’t take herself too seriously, and that is easily recognizable in songs like Monte Carlo. On Wolf’s Instagram post announcing the release of Monte Carlo, she said “I hope it makes you feel like you are on a rainbow cloud above the world!!!!!” It definitely does.
I rolled my eyes when I first listened to this song. I’m all for telling women that they need to be kinder to themselves, but there’s something about the song that just doesn’t sit right with me. Maybe it’s because Charlie Puth’s voice sounds as bland as a saltine cracker. The song just bores me, plain and simple.
I don’t actually hate this album, but I really loved the vast majority of what came out this month, and Mixtape Vol. 1 just didn’t live up to the standard. I like Kane Brown as a person and artist, but this just sounds like every other basic pop-country album. That doesn’t mean Mixtape Vol. 1 isn’t a fun, summery album that’s easy to listen to, however, it’s lack of originality and a “wow” factor have made this album a certified Flop.
That being said, I do think it’s worth mentioning the song Worldwide Beautiful that is featured as the last song on the EP. It’s cheesy, but it’s message of racial equality is quite relevant. As a biracial (half white and half black) country artist, Kane Brown is often perceived as an anomaly for the genre’s predominantly white image and association. It’s interesting to see a person of color within a majority white space comment on an unfortunately divisive issue, and then not get cancelled by the country music scene for it. After all, The Chicks (formerly known as The Dixie Chicks), were some of the first victims of cancel culture after saying they were ashamed that the President (George Bush Jr.) is from Texas. There was also a minimally negative reaction to Dolly Parton’s recent public support of Black Lives Matter. I genuinely hope this energy among country fans and artists continues.
Check out Spire’s Best of August Playlist.