Welcome back to the fifteenth installment of Spire’s Bops and Flops, the series where yours truly reviews the best and worst music of the month. There was an interesting contrast between vintage revival music and uniquely modern pop music in this month’s Bops. The music from May ranges from Japanese pop-punk with a message to dreamy hill country blues covers, so as usual, there’s something for everyone. Happy listening!
Olivia Rodrigo’s highly anticipated debut album SOUR is as surprising as it is predictable. First and foremost, there is not a single happy song on this album, but that does not mean it’s an unpleasant listen. Of the 11 songs released, eight come across as being about the same failed relationship. The simplicity of Rodrigo’s often heartbreaking lyrics combined with her vulnerable vocal delivery makes each song’s narrative uniquely compelling.
But just as Rodrigo moodily muses on her teenage heartbreak, she also reflects on her own insecurities and internal struggles. The final song of SOUR, hope ur ok, is unique to the album because it explores other people’s struggles instead of solely focusing on Rodrigo’s. jealousy, jealousy explores the dark side of social media and how constant comparison to other people’s best selves can be detrimental to the psyche. Much of SOUR’s power comes from Rodrigo’s ability to maintain a delicate balance between self deprecation and self love. While Rodrigo makes it explicitly clear in her music that she is an extremely insecure person, this is not an artist who hates herself. To dismiss SOUR as just an album about teenage heartbreak is completely missing the point. This is an album about a young woman desperately trying to find herself after losing her innocence to adolescence.
Despite the wild success of tracks like drivers license and good 4 u, brutal has to be the obvious standout. brutal kicks off the album with a surprising, and fantastic bang. Rodrigo punches lyrics like “who am I if not exploited?” and “I’m so sick of 17, where’s my f*cking teenage dream” over a cool guitar riff and intense drums. It’s teenage whining at its finest. I’m not sure many people expected Rodrigo to release a rock song that’s actually good, much less open her overwhelmingly emotional album with it. But I do very much appreciate her experimentation and ability to keep listeners on their toes.
Delta Kream is alternative rock duo The Black Keys’ tenth studio album. Blissfully vintage, it pays tribute to the duo’s blues roots. Delta Kream is actually a cover album of hill country blues songs by various artists, some of which worked on the project with The Black Keys. The album’s smooth instrumentals are reminiscent of bands like the Eagles, and the guitars are so beautiful that they’ll entrance any listener. I highly recommend Delta Kream to virtually every type of music listener because it’s a mellow album and an exceptionally easy listen— even for those who have never listened to blues before.
WINK is genre-bending Japanese band CHAI’s third studio album. At first listen, the album might not sound incredibly substantive due to its eclectic bubblegum sound. But CHAI is a band that creates music with a message.
CHAI is definitely a band with something to say, and WINK’s ACTION (stylized in all uppercase) is the album’s most prominent example of that. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests in the spring/ summer of 2020, ACTION’s lyrics are hopeful and promote spreading love.
In an interview with NPR, the members of CHAI talk about how their music aims to subvert the Japanese culture of kawaii, which means “cute”, and the often harmful pressure on women to be kawaii. CHAI explains that in Japanese people are referred to as kawaii or busu (“ugly”). This is where the concept of neo-kawaii comes in. CHAI is a neo-kawaii band, which doesn’t mean that they’re rejecting kawaii, but rather trying to make a broader set of ideals than just cute/ desirable and ugly/ undesirable. By extension, WINK is an album about self love.
With her debut single Build a Bitch, Bella Poarch shows her Tik Tokker peers how to actually make a quality pop song. The song is catchy and somewhat unique, which already makes Build a Bitch much better than recent music from other Tik Tokkers. My vendetta against Tik Tokkers making music will be resolved when they actually do better, and I think that Build a Bitch is definitely a step in the right direction.
Bleachers, the solo project of the multitalented Jack Antonoff, will finally be releasing an album this year. Stop Making This Hurt is the third single, following 45 and Chinatown, from Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night, which is set to be released on July 30, 2021. As expected, Stop Making This Hurt is nostalgic and bittersweet as per Bleacher’s signature. With a flair for the dramatics of John Hughes movies, Bleachers aims to recreate that same larger than life, vintage feel in his music. As Bleachers’ fourth studio album and first full-length project since 2017, Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night is highly anticipated.
Green Day is just a group of cool, punk dads doing their thing, and I’m here for it. The band’s music has been hit or miss for a while now, but their new single Pollyanna is a bonafide Bop. As people begin to see the light at the end of the pandemic’s tunnel, Green Day released Pollyanna to reflect that energy. The word “pollyanna” is actually used to refer to a person who has an unrestrained optimism, so the title fits the song quite well. It’s refreshing to start hearing optimistic songs rather than songs about how the world is ending and everything sucks. I think we can expect a significant boom in upbeat, happy songs to replace the pensive and moody songs written in the height of the pandemic.
Dixie, a.ka. famous Tik Tokker Dixie D’Amelio, is still trying to make it as a music artist despite heavy online criticism of her existing singles. I commend her for ignoring the haters and continuing to make music, but I cannot defend her absolute lack of originality. Every Dixie song to date, including FUCKBOY, sounds like a cookie cutter pop song. Of course, not every song needs to be lyrically deep or even sonically original. Fun, predictable pop songs have earned their popularity for a reason. However, when someone releases one of these songs, it at least has to be good in some capacity to earn Bop status. FUCKBOY is so devoid of substance, creativity and fun that it’s hard to imagine someone listening to the song and genuinely enjoying it.
Katy Perry’s Electric is the second single from the Pokémon franchise’s 25th anniversary celebration soundtrack. The first single of this soundtrack was Post Malone’s cover of I Only Wanna Be With You by Hootie & The Blowfish, which was actually quite good. But Electric is in the Flops section for the exact same reason as FUCKBOY by Dixie— it is a boring cookie cutter pop song. To be fair, Electric does feature feel-good, kid friendly lyrics that are somewhat substantive and Pokémon inspired. But as a whole, the single falls short due to it’s blatant lack of originality.