Aly & AJ Am I Alright

"Am I Alright": Aly & AJ Provide a Perfect Indie-Pop Self Check-In

"It can’t be just me who's running on empty / It can't be just me who feels this way..."

Aly & AJ want to know: you alright, babes? And to that I say: good question!

In this wildly weird year of The New Normal™, admittedly, there haven't been a ton of records that have managed to grab my attention for too long before I go back to seeking refuge in a pile of pop classics. (And by that, I mean the Paradiso Girls' "Patron Tequila.")

That doesn't mean there's been no good music this year. Clearly, there've been plenty of bops! It's just been hard to focus my energy on anything new much at all past familiar routines. And Great British Bake-Off binges. Anyway.

The sister act responsible for providing the world's finest (now expletive-friendly!) Potential Break-Up Song arrived back in May with a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun (or just a touch of the beat..., if you're nasty), an exceptional release, and one I've returned to throughout the year for the finer feelings of a sun-soaked, contemplative getaway. (I even got around to doing a review. Rare for 2021!)

One of the more recent recurring music industry moves - although it's by no means a new concept - is the reissue. More and more, it feels like our favorite acts are extending the shelf life of their records in this Brave New World of streaming with deluxe editions after a few months. And honestly? No complaints here, especially at a time of uncertain touring schedules and staggered re-openings around the world, requiring artists to get clever with extending eras.

Aly & AJ already did it before with Ten Years, and they're doing it again with their 2021 record with a deluxe edition on the way in early 2022, which you can pre-order now.

On Friday (October 22), following the release of "Get Over Here" last month, the girls dropped a second brand new gem called "Am I Alright," which effortlessly folds into the rest of their stunner of an album with a propulsive drum beat (much like the album's namesake, "Don't Need Nothing"), sun-soaked guitar strums and a melancholy, nostalgic haze.

Every line of the song, written with Allie Crystal and Larzz Principato (who co-wrote Dua Lipa's "IDGAF"), feels all too relatable, echoing the same sentiments many of us have probably felt over the past nearly two years - if not much longer.

"You could say that I’m leaning on depression, but I'm pushing it away / You could say it’s a cry for attention, but I'm on the verge of breaking," they declare before diving into a question that's likely haunted many of us: "Am I alright? Am I alright? Am I?"

“Sometimes it’s hard to ask ourselves if we are in a healthy headspace. This song asks that question very simply without the implications of judgement getting in the way,” the girls said of the song.

It's a gorgeous ode to feeling stagnant ("I'm nеver happy when it rains in LA / And when it's sunny, I feel thе same") and, in my head at least, a distant spiritual cousin to elusive chanteuse Sky Ferreira's "Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay)." Remember, it's good to check in with yourself and others.

As with a lot of their latest record, Aly & AJ have really managed to capture the overall mood of this particularly meh moment in the world, while simultaneously providing some beautiful, much-needed escapism along the way.

I'm alright, all things considered. Hope you're alright out there, too.

a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun (Deluxe Edition) is available to pre-order on vinyl.


Shygirl Cleo

"Cleo": Shygirl Steps Into Her Spotlight

"You got me feeling like a movie star..."

There are several perfectly good reasons for Shygirl to feel like a movie star at the moment.

After dropping her Blu performance film this summer (which is a great introductory medley if you're unfamiliar with her music), as well as big dick-beckoning bop "BDE" with slowthai, the Rihanna runway-approved 28-year-old English rapper-singer-DJ darling just made an appearance on the remix of "Sour Candy" for Dawn of Chromatica, Lady Gaga's chaotic cool kid collective of a remix album squeezed out between doing jazz duty and accent work on House of Gucci.

As of Tuesday (October 26), Shygirl's got a new offering, which appears to be the first release off of her upcoming debut album, and it's called "Cleo."

As opposed to some of the more hectic, sweat-drenched, in-your-face beats on her ALIAS EP, "Cleo" is a bit dreamier and dramatic comparatively, taking its time to feel its own fantasy while still rooted in clubland.

Following a minute-long Chromatica interlude-like string introduction (fitting), the song's beat drops, co-produced by Shygirl, Jakwob and Sega Bodega, recalling Maya Jane Coles' "What They Say," the backbone of several pop hits in recent years, including Nicki Minaj's "Truffle Butter," Tinie Tempah and Zara Larsson's "Girls Like" - and Gaga's "Sour Candy." (Again, fitting.)

Shygirl cooly delivers confident declaration after declaration - "I'm the ruler of the world / Bеtter catch it all on camera" - commanding the dance floor across the four-to-the-floor beat. The third verse throws in a fun horn element - a touch of "Mr. Saxobeat" energy, almost - before those elegant strings reappear in the song's tranced-out final moments, not entirely unlike the Queen of Pop's Confessions on a Dance Floor.

After years of critically acclaimed releases and co-signs by the best under-the-radar tastemakers and mainstream superstars alike, Shygirl certainly seems poised to have her biggest moment yet. All eyes on me, indeed.


Tove Styrke Start Walking

"Start Walking": Tove Styrke Feels Her Dansband Fantasy With a Sad Swede-Pop Banger

"Say the words, either way it's gonna hurt..."

Nothing is certain in this world except death, taxes, and good pop music coming out of Scandinavia.

Tove Stryke's at it again with a brand new bop, following this summer's "Mood Swings," her first release in three years since 2018's Sway. And this time, she's really gone and done the damn thing. (Huge week for Swedish Idol contestants - magical, if you will!)

The 28-year-old singer-songwriter hopped into the studio with an enviable array of songwriting and production talent, including Dua Lipa collaborators Caroline Ailin and Sly, Lostboy (who has done great stuff with Griff) and Pablo Bowman.

The end result is "Start Walking," out on Friday (October 22), a misleadingly sad pop banger, and the latest, greatest addition to the Crying at the Discotheque genre, full of dance-the-tears-away gems that we love, crave and relate to way too deeply on the dance floor.

"Say the words, no one wants to say the words, we're holding onto nothing, but nobody here is talking," she laments across a misleadingly chipper dance-pop beat.

I mean, this line alone: "I ain't scared of feelin' lonelinеss / I'm scared of watchin' my life pass while I makе somethin' bad last." Oof. Felt!

“[It's] a song I made together with some amazing writers and producers and I’m obsessed with it. It’s an upbeat song with sad lyrics, which is my favorite combination. It’s about a person who knows a relationship is over, and how it sucks to actually be the one to leave but you know there is no other way," Tove says.

Much to our delight, the catchy cut arrives alongside an amusing, imaginative Oskar Gullstrand-directed music video featuring “Tove Styrkez,” a fictional dansband, as they tour around Sweden in the '70s. (A fun fact: the possessive suffix "s" is often replaced by "z" in dansband names.)

Dans-who? Allow Ms. Styrke to explain the concept to the non-Swedes...

“I love the insane music video we made for the single. It’s about a Swedish ‘dansband’ with supernatural powers. ‘Dansband’ is a signature style of Swedish pop music that has drawn huge audiences dancing cheek to cheek around the country for decades. My dad played in one of these bands – they were called Max Fenders – in the 1970’s which is where the idea for the video initially comes from. Think Stranger Things, but the 70’s, showcasing cheesy pop band culture, set on the roads of deep Sweden. I can’t believe such video did not already exist, so I simply had to make it… Get ready for thunder, lightning, lasers and ‘Tove Styrkez!’”

Think Carrie, Scandipop style. The lesson is: don't overwork Tove and her traveling dansband, lest you're looking for a lightning bolt to the face.

Sometimes the best bet really is to just start walking. Are you ready, boots?


Agnes Magic Still Exists

Agnes' 'Magic Still Exists' Offers Hope for the Dance Floor (Review)

"What today seems like insanity, tomorrow might be reality..."

Agnes is no stranger to the dance floor.

Arguably, she's almost always been there: after kicking off her Idol 2005 win with her 2005 self-titled debut and follow-up Stronger a year later, she found her footing with 2008's euphoric dance-pop foray Dance Love Pop, including lead single "On & On" and the soaring, string-laden global smash of a re-leeeee-ase you surely know and love her best for, "Release Me."

A few years later, she dug deeper still onto the dance floor with 2012's incredible Veritas, and took a few years off to regroup and refocus before returning with the entrancing Nothing Can Compare EP in 2019, a more experimental offering, inspired by Donna Summer and Paris Is Burning, that showcased an artist still in transition.

But with her fifth studio album Magic Still Exists, released Friday (October 22), the Swedish vocal powerhouse has never sounded so sure of exactly who and where she's meant to be right now.

The tight set of 11 tracks - four of which are interludes, which truthfully makes this more of an EP - arrives ahead of a series of singles: last year's "Fingers Crossed" set the tone for the sound of the rest of the record; a kind of ecstatic dance floor devotional - or, in her own words, "spiritual disco."

“Disco for me – it’s the sound of being free...even though it can be sad, it can be dark, it always has this kind of uplifting thing around it…it’s like you stand on top of a mountain, you feel like the wind in your hair,” she told MuuMuse last year.

"You want to be free, you want to express yourself, and I think when people are free and do what they are supposed to do, you vibrate on another level, and that’s what you’re supposed to do."

Agnes began to carve out more of the record, influenced by acts like Giorgio Moroder, Sun Ra and Sylvester, with a throbbing emancipation anthem of a follow-up in the form of "24 Hours" - one of the year's best songs, easily. "Here Comes the Night" came next, with an invitation to the after-hours for the dreamers across a ABBA-esque synth flare.

With track titles like "Spiritual Awakening," "The Soul Has No Gender" and "Love & Appreciation," Magic could come across as cliché as "Live, Love, Laugh" scrawled across a disco ball.

Instead, the inclusive sentiments throughout the record ring thoroughly sincere, recalling all the best pop queen messaging from past decades, from Madonna's "Express Yourself" to Kelis' "Emancipate."

The hypnotic "XX," complete with Daft Punk vocoders, feels like the shimmering final project from a graduate of Confessions on a Dance Floor University, while the strutting, space-age "Selfmade" recalls dance floor commanders Róisín Murphy, Grace Jones and Giorgio Moroder, as she barks out declarations across an "I Feel Love"-esque beat - "We live every minute, delete and replace / It's all or nothing!" - before a slow drift outward into the cosmos.

"Love & Appreciation," meanwhile, is the album's most joyous and euphoric singalong, full of soulful, uplifting crooning - "sweeeeet love and good vibrations," specifically - as the distant sound of a raucous party pumps through the speakers.

That competition-winning voice is just as sturdy, emotive and impressive as ever, captured best in the record's final moments on "Magic Still Exists," the sole slow moment, as she powerfully belts affirmation after affirmation across a piano: "Free your mind and free your body," she repeats like a mantra.

"For all the nights you were the last one to go home, not 'cause you're lonely, you're just holding onto hope," she declares on the toast to life. "We don't have to close our eyes and make a wish, with you I know that magic still exists."

Magic Still Exists is a collection of epiphanies about what it means to be human and our need to constantly search for something bigger, something more. The album was made together with friends and the process has therefore been very intimate. Something that made me relax, let go and have fun with it," she says of the album.

2021 will go down as one weird gray area; a year of rocky transition, with stop-start efforts to safely reopen as the world grapples with getting used to whatever the "New Normal" is meant to look like amid a pandemic with no clear end in sight. It's easy to feel lost, discouraged and hopeless.

Agnes' Magic Still Exists is a warm bout of ecstatic encouragement in an uncertain world. (And yes, it could have been a few more songs longer.)

Like the very best of 2020's dance records during more severe stages of lockdown - Lady Gaga's Chromatica, Kylie Minogue's Disco, Jessie Ware's What's Your Pleasure? and Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia, among others - the transportive record is a standout of the year, full of familiar sonic references provoking nostalgia for better days, and pulsating prayers for nights still to come.
 
 


Kylie Minogue Olly Alexander Second to Midnight

"A Second to Midnight": Kylie Minogue & Years & Years Shine Like a Light in the Dark (And Do Drag!)

Kylie™ made the dreary days of lockdown a whole lot brighter last year with her 15th studio album Disco, a loving ode to the genre, and a most necessary nostalgic escape in the bleakest of days.

One year later, things aren't...worse necessarily, but we're not back to normal yet, either. Whatever that means.

And so, to supply us with another encouraging dance-pop pick-me-up, the Anti-Depressant of Pop is back at it in the form of Disco: Guest List Edition.

The repackage, arriving on November 12, comes with a whole array of remixes and new songs with guest stars, including "Kiss of Life" with Jessie Ware (yes, it's finally happening), Dua Lipa (with her "Real Groove" remix), and the legendary "I Will Survive" crooner Gloria Gaynor on "Can't Stop Writing Songs About You."

And then, there's "A Second to Midnight," starring Years & Years' Olly Alexander, out Wednesday (October 6).

Not satisfied with taking us to another galaxy on her remix of Years & Years' "Starstruck" earlier in the year, Kylie evidently had even more in mind for Olly, who is officially living out the dream of Minogue stans worldwide.

"I had so much fun with Olly - I hope you love it!" Kylie says of their fantastic latest collaboration, crafted alongside Disco collaborators Duck Blackwell and the iconic Biff Stannard, as well as Martin Sjølie of Rachel Stevens' "Funky Dory" and "Dumb Dumb" fame (!).

The shimmering and sleek, instantly great track fits in perfectly with the rest of the euphoric, nostalgic stuff of Disco, full of strings, catchy melodies and distant memories of a dance floor ("Remember back in '99 / We danced like maniacs all night") while chasing the clock, which just keeps ticking the tock.

The Fever queen and the Years & Years star take turns on the verses, making a complimentary musical pair once again, especially as they trade off on the bridge, with Kylie's signature breathy come-ons and Olly's impassioned yelps: "So love, run / Freedom / Go on / Get some (Oh, get some) / Dig (Dig!), deep (deep!) / Let (Let!), go (go!) / Oh (Oh!), oh (oh!)"

And then, there's the music video, starring Kylie and Olly both supplying the full "Shocked"/"What Do I Have to Do?" styling fantasy, directed by longtime collaborator Sophie Muller, filmed at London’s historic Collins' Music Hall.

Together, the two shimmy, thrust and twirl 'round as they croon their joyful tune, as the massive space eventually fills out, sort of Savage x Fenty Vol. 3 show style, with dozens of enthusiastic dancers donning Kylie and Olly face masks.

Kylie Minogue Olly Alexander Second to Midnight

And no, your eyes do not deceive you: it's a split-second drag duo fantasy throughout. Condragulations: you're both the winners of this week's challenge, baby!

Of course, the Marvelous Ms. Minogue certainly didn't need to revisit and re-release her 2020 studio album for us a year later. But as always, Kylie remains one of the most consistently generous and satisfying pop stars of our generation, constantly giving us more, more, more - and we're so lucky, lucky, lucky.

Disco: Guest List Edition will be released on November 12.


Kelly Clarkson Christmas Isn't Canceled Just You

Kelly Clarkson Kicks Off Christmas With a Festive Middle Finger

Kelly Clarkson is having a very different kind of Christmas this year. Maybe you are too.

As nice as it'd be if everyone was feeling lovey-dovey this coming holiday season, the sober(REFERENCE)ing truth is that some of us just don't get that warm and fuzzy feeling at the thought of snuggling up close and roasting chestnuts on an open fire with certain others, be it former friends and/or estranged family members. Or maybe ex-husbands. Who knows?

But that certainly doesn't mean the holidays have to suck.

Kelly, Forever The One, True Idol gifted us with an incredible Christmas album nearly a decade (!) ago called Wrapped In Red, including modern classic "Underneath the Tree."

This year, ahead of the release of her highly anticipated follow-up to her 2017 studio album The Meaning of Life, she's back with a second holiday album called When Christmas Comes Around..., out on October 15 - and she's not exactly tip-toeing around the drama happening in her personal life while diving headfirst into the holidays.

And to start things off, she's giving a little kick to Santa's sack in the form of “Christmas Isn’t Canceled (Just You)."

The lively and festive sleigh ride is full of blaring horns, big ol' heaven-sent vocals and snow-filled jingle bells - and it just happens to be as eviscerating and empowering as much of her discography.

"You ruin all my favorite things / But you won't take Christmas from me," she declares. A little messy divorce isn't going to put a damper on decking the goddamn halls, thank you very much.

"I'll be hanging every light I find in this house / Playin' Christmas music so loud / This year Christmas won't be quite so blue / And I'm gonna shout too much and dance in the snow / Drink just enough to let us go / Christmas isn't canceled...just you."

There are a bunch of self-references to her own songs and covers from her first Christmas album scattered within the lyrics as well, including “Winter Dreams,” her ode to her now ex.

That's where we met / Like a winter dream and I bet / I wasn't the first, and I won't be the last / Underneath that mistletoe, you've been so bad.” Oof. A shady little sleigh ride, indeed.

It's cheery. It's pissed. It's defiant. It's all very Kelly.

“My purpose for choosing this lyric for being the title of this project was to bring forth a sense of reality to the fact that we are probably all in very different places emotionally ‘when Christmas comes around.’ Some of us consumed with a new love, some of us reminded of loss, some filled with optimism for the coming new year, others elated for some much deserved time away from the chaos our work lives can sometimes bring us," she explains of the record.

"Wherever you are, and whatever you may be experiencing, I wanted everyone to be able to connect to a message on this album. Each year you may even have a new favorite depending on where you are in your life, but while change can be unpredictable there is no better time of year, in my opinion, to breathe hope into one’s life and let possibility wander.”

Truthfully, it's a refreshing concept: a more realistic Christmas album that doesn't try to entirely jolly out the noise. And if anyone were to carry out an emotional roller coaster on ice, it's our beloved "Behind These Hazel Eyes" powerhouse.

When Christmas Comes Around Kelly Clarkson

The 15-track collection includes both originals and classics, including “Santa, Can’t You Hear Me," a collaboration with her Voice co-coach and noted Clarkson stan Ariana Grande (a lyrical nod to Britney's own Christmas classic and/or cover, perhaps?), Chris Stapleton ("Glow"), who she's covered before, and last year's "Under the Mistletoe" with Brett Eldrege.

While the set still looks largely joyous, there are other some eyebrow raises: besides "Canceled," there's a track called "Merry Christmas (To The One I Used To Know)." Oh, my.

Her My December (It Gets Colder) is coming. Well, maybe.

When Christmas Comes Around... track listing

1. Merry Christmas Baby
2. It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas
3. Christmas Isn’t Canceled (Just You)
4. Merry Christmas (To The One I Used To Know)
5. Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree
6. Glow (feat. Chris Stapleton)
7. Santa Baby
8. Santa, Can’t You Hear Me (feat. Ariana Grande)
9. Last Christmas
10. Jingle Bell Rock
11. Blessed
12. Christmas Come Early
13. Under The Mistletoe (feat. Brett Eldredge)
14. All I Want For Christmas Is You
15. Christmas Eve


Sarah Harding

In Loving Memory of Sarah Harding

Even though she told us, quite bluntly, that this was all but destined to happen before Christmas of this year, it still doesn't feel real.

Sarah Harding, beloved singer, actress, TV personality and member of the almighty Girls Aloud, has passed away at the age of 39 after a long battle with cancer, her mother confirmed over the weekend in a heartbreaking update on social media.

It's a strange experience to be a massive fan of an act popular everywhere but stateside. After all, Girls Aloud did not crossover to America in any real way. It's stranger, still, to experience the loss of that act.

In another universe - the United Kingdom, among other territories - the group were once hailed as the most successful girl band of the 21st century, with a string of 20 consecutive Top 10 hits - from "Sound of the Underground" to "The Show" to "Love Machine" to "Biology" to "Something Kinda Oooh" to "Sexy! No No No" to "The Promise" to "Untouchable" to "Something New." A record that's difficult to get - not everybody has that to their credit, as an elusive chanteuse might say.

For me, the name Girls Aloud bubbled up in the pop nerd forums right around the same time as Britney's In The Zone, probably around "The Show." They would become prominently featured on Peter Robinson's pop music bible PopJustice, my gateway drug to music outside of what was playing at Top 40 U.S. radio, and eventually, the reason I started writing about pop music myself, providing breathless updates about their every move during the peak years of my standom.

Every member of Girls Aloud had their own defining characteristics to a certain extent, even if their personalities weren't as somewhat spelled out to us like the Spice Girls: Cheryl was the rough-'round-the-edges-Geordie-turned-posh pop princess who ascended quickly to tabloid royalty, Nadine was the powerhouse Irish diva with one hell of an accent (and an elusive passport), Nicola was the underdog-turned-indie darling, and Kimberley was the warm, mom-like theater nerd.

Sarah Harding, then, was the Rock Chick; the firecracker, a vital, mostly untamable energy that coursed throughout the Aloud catalog, providing wild yelps and arena-sized belting in the general pop-rock style of a P!nk, or a Miley Cyrus, or an early Gwen Stefani.

She earned herself a bit of a wild child reputation along the way, to say the very least, spilling out of clubs and causing scenes, but that chaos magic was absolutely part of what made The Aloud so great: as rebellious as she was, she always had that down-for-anything attitude, an everlasting positivity, and an unwavering enthusiasm for being in the band.

If you want to see the Harding Havoc summed up, there's no better evidence than the footage of her accepting their much-deserved award at the prestigious BRITs in 2009. As she hooted and hollered and made her way up to the stage with the girls, she flailed around as Kimberley spoke and grabbed the mic from her visibly concerned bandmate to declare: "Hellooooo! Can I just say...it's about tiiiiime! I think I've just wet myself." Utter madness, in the best way.

Sarah was the one who Did The Most. She took big swings. Often they paid off, like the pristine, primrose-walking bridge of "The Promise," the "take a walk on the wild si-i-ide of life" of "Something New," the nostalgic ending of "Whole Lotta History," and the surprisingly raw "Hear Me Out," which she co-wrote, and which Xenomania maestro Brian Higgins just recently discussed while sharing the behind-the-scenes story.

Other times, we'd get a spare...bum note.

Knowing what Sarah was capable of as a performer at her best, with that big, sometimes unruly voice, made it feel okay to laugh about it when she pushed it too far. She always seemed game to make the best of it and have a laugh at herself too, even when facing the darkest of diagnoses.

“I keep thinking about funerals at the moment,” she wrote in her book.

“I’ve also thought about an epitaph for my grave. I’m thinking ‘FFS’ might be a good one. It’s probably been my most used phrase throughout this, with one crappy event following another. ‘For fuck’s sake!’”

I met Sarah briefly backstage when I was 24 at the Ten Tour in 2013.

Having been in full fangirl mode, jet-lagged and delirious upon arriving in a mysterious land across the pond for the first time, my memory of that moment is foggy at best, and I can't recall what words were even exchanged. But even after a long night at the O2, she was still all smiles while showing off her fresh tattoo ink, entirely eager to chat and goof around, and just generally exist as the rowdy burst of energy we came to know and love.

Of course, that's the Sarah that we knew: a public persona, the one we saw on stage and screen, which is merely scratching the surface of who she was to so many people. I can't imagine how hard it must be for those loved ones in her life who truly knew her, and I'm so sorry for their loss.

For me, she exists as a core memory as a member of Girls Aloud, one of the key acts responsible for shaping my identity, my friendships and my relationship to pop music.

It's hitting me now that there can never be a reunion with all five of them ever again - all differences, drama, disbandments and egos aside. It's absolutely devastating, honestly, especially as the band nears their 20th anniversary, considering all the rumblings of a reunion tour for the past few years.

But there's also a sense of camaraderie, a shared sadness, that is happening at the moment. I'm watching familiar faces from pop music spaces share their own stories of Sarah, and reflecting and reconnecting with friends with whom Girls Aloud is a most sacred shared interest as well. And we will always have that - and the music, the videos, the tours, the memories, the dreams that glitter - for ourselves.

Thank you for everything, Sarah. Aloud Forever. Rest in peace.


Charli XCX Good Ones

"Good Ones": Charli XCX Enters Her Evil Main Pop Girl Era

"I always let the good ones go..."

Charli XCX is a sell-out. Or, well, that's the goal.

Over the past few months, our dearest Charlotte Aitchison, She of Track 10 Fame, has been distancing from left-lane, artsy-fartsy, experimental alt-hyper-pop princess sonic territory and not-so-subtly swerving towards a Big Ol' Pop Era in the works.

She's (jokingly?) talked of selling her soul and giving in to her label Atlantic Records' demands, sarcastically taken part in TikTok trends, signed up for big endorsement deals and done big mainstream club bops. She's even hanging out with Addison Rae.

Basically, this is her Evil, Soulless Illuminati Major Label Puppet Era - not entirely unlike Marina's Electra Heart era - and she's living (and/or dying) for it.

It's not just the sound, either: Charli's going as big with her hair as she is with her music, opting for an '80s goth pin-up va-va-voom aesthetic for the cover art of her new single, "Good Ones" - one of the best covers of the year, easily - supplying a version of herself that feels like True Romance's bombshell babe of an older sister.

She's already leaning in hard to this new alter-ego, having her fun playing a dead-inside supreme pop ruler with a firm, cold grasp on the music landscape, right down to the press release: "Today, I, the inimitable Charli XCX, am releasing a brand new single ‘Good Ones’, accompanied by a twisted, dramatic and quite frankly electrifying music video," she declared on Thursday (September 2).

"The first single of my new chapter embraces all that my life has to offer in today’s world - fame, glamour, inner demons and global hits. ‘Good Ones’ was produced by Oscar Holter of Max Martin’s Wolf Cousins entity, and laments my inability to keep hold of healthy relationships, instead being endlessly drawn back to the dysfunctional and toxic. Filmed in Mexico and co-directed by my new favorite director: Hannah Lux Davis, the ‘Good Ones’ video sees me dramatically mourning the untimely loss of my partner as I battle with the realization that once again I’ve abandoned the goodness in my life, in favor of the sinister, with a visual aesthetic that marks a new era of me: Charli XCX."

And, the best part: "As you already know, I am an iconic figure in the arts, and have helped expand the landscape of popular music over the last decade by seamlessly traversing the underground and the mainstream with my output. My innovative approach has opened up new possibilities within the pop sphere for both myself and others. You’re welcome."

We love a humble queen, don't we?

As for the actual music? First things first, the bad news: "Good Ones" is, like all music in the streaming world, just too short. Barely over two minutes long? Come on now. It easily could have benefitted from at least another minute or so. But, well, that's what you get for living in an attention span-deprived TikTok world.

The good? "Good Ones" is a good one indeed, and makes good on the whole premise of this era already. And with a music video like this one, who cares if the song pulses through the speakers faster than a podcast ad?

It's no surprise that the brief song is a banger, co-written with some of the absolute best writers in the game - Mattman and Robin, Oscar Holter and Noonie Bao - who've penned bops for everyone from Britney to Carly Jae Repsen to Tove Lo. (And that's all with Charli, who is already a hit machine in her own right.)

Kicking off with a very Natalia Kills "Mirrors"-esque deadly synth intro, the pulsing Scandi-pop banger is a tight, razor-sharp production, complete with an infectious pulse and a simple, sweet earworm of a chorus ("ooo-oo-oo-ooo"). It's a bittersweet bye-bye, delivered by a superstar who simply can't be tamed. It's not you, it's Charli, baby.

"I let the good ones go" is also a funny and fitting line for an artist like Charli XCX who, time and time again, has handed off mega mainstream hits to other pop stars in prior years. It's about time she's claimed some for herself.

The "Good Ones" visual is Charli XCX having a major Main Pop Girl™ moment, as she arrives at a funeral for a former lover and pays tribute in the form of fab goth girl choreography that ought to make Mother Monster proud. She looks absolutely stunning in every single shot. A funeral femme fatale. A cemetery sexpot. A gravestone glamazon. A burial site baddie.

Who wouldn't want a major pop spectacle at their final send-off? A bunch of pantsless, hip-thrusting dancers kneeling in the dirt? Is there a sign-up sheet somewhere? Hopefully she can make this a full-time touring gig.

It's looking like the Evil Pop Album's not coming 'round until March of 2022 (at least that's what her gravestone suggests), but this is one killer way to kick off the campaign - a real um yes queen skinny legend versace boots the house down slay queen hunty mama and oop daddy work charli xcx snatch my wig, if you will.


ABBA Voyage

The Actually Iconic Return of the Actually Iconic ABBA Begins

ABBA.

The term "iconic" is beaten to death, thanks to the Internet and Stan Twitter, and maybe also sometimes me. But in this case, it's only appropriate.

The legitimately legendary Swedish troupe and Eurovision winners-turned-global icons - responsible for every pop song you've ever known and loved growing up, from "Dancing Queen" to "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" to "Mamma Mia," which has since experienced a resurgence among Gen Z thanks to TikTok - is finally back.

And, just as Perfect Pop pioneers would, they're doing things a bit differently.

After taking a casual (near) 40 years away from the scene, having last appeared with 1982's The Visitors, the group used a global livestream on Thursday (September 2) to unveil some rather major plans: they're returning with not only a whole new record at the end of 2021, but an entire custom-built concert experience next year.

"To tell the truth, the main inspiration to record again comes from our involvement in creating the strangest and most spectacular concert you could ever dream of. We’re going to be able to sit back in an audience and watch our digital selves perform our songs on a stage in a custom-built arena in London next spring. Weird and wonderful!" they casually announced in a press release.

“We simply call it Voyage and we’re truly sailing in uncharted waters. With the help of our younger selves, we travel into the future. It’s not easy to explain but then it hasn’t been done before.”

To kick off the campaign, the group released two singles: "I Still Have Faith in You," and "Don't Shut Me Down."

And to be honest, as the footage of hordes of shaking and crying fans listening to their hits segued into their new songs on the livestream, it was hard to even recognize that these were new entries into their discography.

Truly, they sound like classic ABBA songs - more robust with modern production, sure - but those melodies and hooks are undeniably the stuff of a group that's still got it, decades later.

But wait - there's more.

In addition to their upcoming album Voyage, out on November 5, the group has spent months preparing a special show that will open on May 27, 2022 at their own custom-built ABBA Arena, a 3,000 capacity venue located at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London.

And while the idea of a hologram show might not initially sound appealing, the preview of the project from their livestream alone looked pretty dazzling. It also helps that it was constructed with an 850-member team from George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic, the company behind Star Wars, in their official "first foray into music." (Ticket info is here.)

All of the ABBA members also weighed in with their thoughts about the project.

“It’s hard to say what’s been the most joyful thing for me with this project. If it’s the involvement in creating the concert together with everyone or being back in the studio together again after 40 years. I think hearing Frida and Agnetha singing again is hard to beat. When you come to the arena you will have the four of us together with an absolutely glorious 10-piece band. And even if not in the flesh, we will be right there, thanks to the work of the creative team and ILM," said Benny.

“Those first sessions back in 2018 were such fun and when Benny called and asked if I’d consider singing some more I jumped at it! And what songs!! My respect and love go out to these exceptionally talented, truly genius songwriters! Such joy it was to work with the group again. I am so happy with what we have made, and I dearly hope our fans feel the same," Anni-Frid added.

“When we got back together in the studio I had no idea what to expect…but Benny’s recording studio is such a friendly and safe environment, and before I knew it I was really enjoying myself! I can hardly believe that finally, the moment has come to share this with the world!” Agnetha remarked.

“They’re such amazing singers those two, I was completely floored by the way they delivered those songs. They’re true musicians; totally unimpressed by pop star glamour but still having a great time being creative in a recording studio. The Voyage project has injected new life into us in more ways than one," Björn added.

If ever there were an act to revolutionize the live concert experience, and once again put a dent in pop culture after four decades, it's undoubtedly ABBA.

“So, again, thanks for waiting! We hope to see you in the ABBA Arena and yes - see - because we have infused a good deal of our souls into those avatars. It’s not an exaggeration to say that we’re back," the group added.

Iconic behavior, truly.


Griff One Night

"One Night": Griff Tries to Dance the Darkness Away

"Can I have one night, one night, one night where it's just me alone?"

Griff's still got the good stuff - arguably more than ever.

The 20-year-old Chinese-Jamaican UK singer-songwriter's been on my radar (on my ray-duh) for a minute now - at least over a year now - and she's been steadily gaining tons more fans and streams with each passing release, including this year's "Black Hole" and her fantastic One Foot in Front of the Other EP, released back in June.

Of course, don't just take my word for it: she was named on the prestigious "BBC Sound of..." list for 2021, and also won the Rising Star Award at this year's BRIT Awards. Plus, Taylor Swift is a "huge fan." Very major.

As of this week, she's back with yet another winning track: "One Night," an anthem dedicated to the midnight hour when the mind starts to wander and the Bad Thoughts settle in, co-penned and produced by Peter Rycroft, otherwise known as Lostboy. (But let it be known: she's fully capable of solely self-producing, and has done so numerous times.)

The song was inspired by her "love of Whitney Houston and The Weeknd" (taste!), and it is about "feeling like you’re always carrying this darkness or burden."

"I think in the daytime we can feel distracted because we’re around people and we’re busy, but that moment between going to bed and falling asleep, there’s just enough silence for those burdens to get louder. Essentially this song is trying to understand why I can’t shake it, and the chorus comes to this breaking point of desperately wanting at least ‘One Night’ alone," she went on to explain.

Like the rest of Griff's output, the instant earworm leaps from hook to hook across the echoing, '80s-inspired synths and kicky beat (pointing to Abel and Whitney as inspiration for this song feels accurate), providing the kind of earnest vocal delivery perfect for pop radio, and the type of lyricism that proves she's got a real knack for tapping into complex emotions and spilling them out into song.

The talented storyteller opted to bring her description of the tune to life in the form of an accompanying music video, released on Wednesday (September 1).

After heading out onto the street - all pop stars do well with a good walk 'round a busy street, just ask Kylie Minogue to come into her world - it becomes clear pretty quickly that Griff's shadow isn't content with, well, being in her shadow.

And so begins a showdown against herself, a la Britney's Dream Within a Dream Tour rendition of "Lonely," as Griff attempts to shake that pesky hanger-on and have a moment to herself again.

Truly, I had no idea that Griff was even the kind of girl to give us some choreography. What a pleasant surprise! The full package.

Also, life imitates art(hur):

GRIFF Arthur One Night

She's got the voice, the moves, the melodies, the hair - it's really only a matter of time before she goes from One to Watch™ to the newest Main Pop Girl™ on the scene.

Enjoy the (rapidly diminishing) obscurity while it lasts, Griff.


Sigrid Burning Bridges

"Burning Bridges": Sigrid Sings the Pop Praises of Self-Preservation

"Can't love somebody who loves burning bridges..."

Alright, Miss Sigrid is not playing around.

To be fair, it was made abundantly clear upon the release of euphoric disco-pop smash "Mirror" back in May that the 24-year-old Norwegian singer-songwriter was breaking out the big guns for her follow-up to 2019's Sucker Punch.

A few months later, she's returned on Wednesday (August 25) - scorched, but not stirred - with "Burning Bridges," an ode to "the moment of enough is enough."

“It's inspired by one of the toughest things I've been through. It's a song that's about the point where you just have to say in a relationship, 'you know what, let's just finish this.' That moment of enough is enough, and you need a clean break," she explains.

The song first premiered as our Illuminati Label Puppet Sell-Out Queen Charli XCX's "Hottest Record in the World" pick via Future Sounds with Charli XCX on BBC Radio 1 - and you know what? Charlotte did not lie.

Like "Mirror," the tune was co-crafted with Sly and Caroline Ailin, responsible for Queen of 2020 Dua Lipa's "Don't Start Now," Pretty Please" and "New Rules," among many other smashes.

The assured anthem's an instant pop earworm, clocking in at just under the 3-minute mark, making it an epic by today's attention-starved standards. It goes off in all the right ways, armed with a chant-along chorus, synths and delicious strings.

It's an effective bop lyrically too, filled with succinct cautionary advice ("You cry, they don't / That's how you know"), providing all the right relationship advice amid red flags aplenty: "You gotta let them go, before you go down with them." And she's absolutely right!

There's also some excellent pop howling throughout, especially towards the very end - you know, just to really get that message across. Between this and "Mirror," Sigrid's making sure that we're heading deeper into this New Normal™ as emotionally healthy and stable as humanly possible.

Self-love and self-preservation are truly the themes of 2021, ladies - and we've got some fantastic pop tunes already to demonstrate how it's done.


Kacey Musgraves Star-Crossed

'Star-Crossed': The Epic Return of Kacey Musgraves Begins

"Let me set the scene, two lovers ripped right at the seams..."

The Kacey Musgraves comeback begins now - and she's starting out strong.

It's been three years since the 33-year-old singer-songwriter released the Best Album of 2018™, Golden Hour, and a lot has happened ever since.

For one thing, that entire body of work has been rendered awkward, given...she's no longer married to the man responsible for much of that record's floaty, love-drunk feelings. In fact, she's "grappling" with the idea of even singing those songs moving forward.

But instead of shying away from a very public divorce filing, Kacey's opted to dive headfirst into the drama instead and turn her trauma into art.

"I think it would have been extremely awkward if I just acted this last chapter didn't happen for me. So I think you saw my highlight reel with Golden Hour and this is the other side of that. And I mean, there are beautiful parts of that too," she told Zane Lowe in an interview for Apple Music.

And so, it all begins with the title track and opening song from the record: "star-crossed," released on Monday (August 23), and written with her Golden Hour collaborators Daniel Tashian, and Ian Fitchuk.

The track couldn't feel more appropriate for an introduction: a choir of angelic voices guides us inward towards a lone Spanish guitar, as she sets the scene of an awfully familiar tale of two lovers torn apart in the swaggering style of Nancy Sinatra, fit for a Quentin Tarantino movie. (More on this in a moment.)

"I signed the papers yesterday / You came and took your things away / Moved out of the home we made, and gave you back your name," she declares.

The song builds with intensity, as the atmospheric undercurrent grows louder, and the guitars start to sting, and a sea of electronic beats bubbles up underneath, recalling something closer to Robyn's brand of sadness.

"What have we done? Did we fly too high just to get burned by the sun? No one's to blame, 'cause we called all the angels to save us, called them by name. But I guess they got lost. Star-crossed..."

"It was the 14th song we wrote, and actually funny that it's the first song on that opens the album. I just really liked the definition. And I kind of came up with my own sort of too, because all the definitions that are out there are pretty antiquated from the old Bill Shakespeare days. But it's to be fucked by love or luck. You're ill-fated, it's just not written in the stars. It is not for you. And everyone puts out their highlight reel, nobody's putting out their fuck ups. And that's one of the reasons why it's daunting," she told Zane.

star-crossed, the album, arrives on September 10, and the 15-track set, structured as a modern-day tragedy in three acts, "tells an extremely personal journey of heartache and healing," and was recorded in Nashville earlier this year "in just under three weeks," according to a press release.

"I think that there are certain aspects of this record that sound a little bit more country, I guess than Golden Hour. I don't know. But at the same time, I feel like I'm tapping into more influences on this, widespread influences on this album. I don't know, there are some moments that kind of bring it back to that, where you can see kind of the relation to my previous music," she said to Zane. (She's recently referenced everyone from Sade (!) to Daft Punk (!) as inspiration for the upcoming record.)

Kacey also had a little help along the way, in the form of psychedelics - which helped to inform the overall concept of the record.

"If you do any kind of research about psychedelics, and mushrooms, and plant therapy, it's really helping a lot of people. And I'm not here to be any kind of advocate on that. I just know what kind of what works with me. And I would never push anyone to do anything that they're not comfortable with. But no, it's incredible though," she said.

"It was at the beginning of this year. I was like, I want the chance to transform my trauma into something else. And I want to give myself that opportunity, even if it's painful. And man, it was completely life changing in so many ways. But it also triggered this whole big bang of, not only the album title, but the song 'star-crossed', the concept. Me looking into the structure of tragedies themselves, as an art form throughout time. I mean back in the Greek theater, it was set around a tragedy. Oh my God, it brought me closer to myself. The living thread that moves through all living things, to my creativity, the muse...the common thread there is catharsis. I mean these audiences would go to the theater to forget about their own traumas, for just a second. And they would witness these characters, the exposition, a climax, a downfall, and then a resolution and they would all leave. Days of Our Lives."

Along with the album is star-crossed: the film, a 50-minute film hitting Paramount+ on the same day.

The already incredible-looking movie was directed in LA by Bardia Zeinali (who also shot the "Easy" video with her and Troye Sivan), with cinematography from Black Swan's Matthew Libatique.

Eugene Levy, You's Victoria Pedretti, Princess Nokia, Drag Race Season 13 winner Symone and Megan Stalter all make cameos. There's too much to take in from the trailer alone: the synchronized "Good Wife" choreography. The fashion. The Lady Gaga "Marry the Night" vibes. The Kill Bill Church wedding dress moment. Running with a horse! Also, is that not the LA river where Cheryl's "Call My Name" video was also shot?! Truly, "Gay rights!" of massive proportions.

Pre-orders for the album begin now at her shop, including a limited box that includes the vinyl, a pendant, a handkerchief, stick-on ears, prints and art cards. (!) Plus, a Target exclusive vinyl. And a CD version, with surprise versions to come at Amazon. Oh, and there's already a track listing too.

It's all a lot to take in, but one thing's for sure: it's already looking and sounding like something major is upon us, and we're about to yee like we've never hawed before. Paws up, Little Muskrats.

1. star-crossed
2. good wife
3. cherry blossom
4. simple times
5. if this was a movie..
6. justified
7. angel
8. breadwinner
9. camera roll
10. easier said
11. hookup scene
12. keep lookin’ up
13. what doesn’t kill me
14. there is a light
15. gracias a la vida