Kazaky Push

'Push': Kazaky, the High-Heeled Ukrainian Boy Band, Returns

You hear that? The faint click-clack, click-clack of a troupe of muscly Eastern European men somewhere not so far off in the distance?

Yes, that's right: Kazaky is back.

The Mortal Kombat-gone-gay dressed, high-heeled Ukrainian hotties have been around for a while now. I first wrote about them all the way back in 2011, in fact. They also appeared alongside Queen Loreen for an absolutely incredible performance of "Paper Lights" at Melodifestivalen in 2015. (Please go watch that if you haven't yet.)

Three years after announcing their disbandment, the boys went ahead and said: just kidding, we're calling it a "long creative break" instead. And you know what? I'm more than fine with that. Who among us has not announced an indefinite work hiatus?

Kazaky Push

On Monday (June 24), in honor of Kyiv Pride in the Ukraine over the weekend, Kazaky premiered a new song and music video called "Push," directed by Alan Badoev.

It serves as not only their official comeback, but the band's first tribute to the LGBTQ+ community, which "has supported and continues to support Kazaky for nine years, and represent a world of acceptance and self-expression, thanks to which the band has managed to become heard and seen."

It's also dedicated to "all those who need freedom and courage to be themselves and have their voice."

In case you weren't aware, Ukraine isn't exactly, uh, overflowing with gay rights: there's still no official recognition of same-sex relationships, nor can same-sex couples adopt, among various other injustices. Also, while we're about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City, consider this: Kyiv Pride only really officially kicked off about four years ago, amid heavy police protection, anti-gay protests and arrests. So, Kazaky's outspokenness is all the more crucial within a country that's significantly behind on advancing equal rights for all.

The accompanying music video is, thankfully, full of the group's signature slick styling, tight choreography and, of course, plenty of stiletto action. It's really very hot. But it's also full of important symbolism too, representative of their decade-long journey, which has certainly not been without backlash.

"This is our first work with a personal background, with what sometimes haunted us in the previous years of our way - hatred, ignorance, intolerance and lack of understanding of what we're doing from the side of a very conservative society. Of course, we couldn't talk about everything that was unpleasant for us, because it was obvious. Despite this we never gave up, even if it was difficult to move on. You can't even imagine how much your support meant for us and inspired to create everything we did when someone shouted around us that we were doing something wrong, sinful, that we were promoting false values etc. Your support and love became the most valuable thing we received. And we cherish this. We are who we are only thanks to you," they explain.

As for the song itself? Think of the dooming, sharp synth slabs of Lady Gaga's "Government Hooker" (and Born This Way in general), mixed with a hint of a BTS kind of K-popping chorus, all served up with a sexy Ukrainian accent.

It's very sexy, very danceable, and very, very queer: "My heels are my weapon," they declare with a deadly seriousness.

Although attitudes towards the queer community have shifted significantly stateside since the debut of Kazaky nearly a decade ago - we're already on the 84th season of RuPaul's Drag Race, can you believe? - where this band is from, the boys are undoubtedly still pushing plenty of people's buttons.

Push away, boys.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JUheB5lnsA0

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Photo credit: Sasha Ostrohliad


Robyn's 'Ever Again' Video Is a Triumph

Want to know how to tell if someone's a real star? Give them a mic stand and see what they do with it...or to it, for that matter.

Queen of Swede-Pop™ Robyn's signature video style is, for the most part, an intensely intimate, tightly choreographed affair. What comes to mind first? Her one-take, back flip-to-floor-thrust dance routine for "Call Your Girlfriend," probably? Or maybe the air punches in "Dancing On My Own"?

In keeping with tradition, the Colin Solal Cardo-directed, Maria "Decida" Wahlberg-choreographed music video for "Ever Again" isn't some massive, glossy pop production either.

Granted, she's got some cool Greek artifacts lying around in the sand with her in the - uh, somewhere?

“A dreamy place, somewhere undefined, somewhere in my unconsciousness,” she explains. Works for me! But really, it all comes down to one talented woman, a custom-crafted (and, clearly, easily removable) Louis Vuitton ensemble made by Nicolas Ghesquière, and a mic stand unknowingly in for the ride of its life.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfK88LsB0fg

Echoing the resilience of the Honey closer, which may prove to be a lowkey Robyn classic in due time (it's only gotten better, somehow?), the Swedish superstar thrashes, twirls, gyrates and humps her way through the triumphant post-breakup anthem, channeling the track's emotion into a powerful, sexually charged energy. She mounts herself on that mic stand and throws it 'round in every which way possible, supplying all of the Prince vibes in this ecstatic process. (Amid the on-set staff shout-outs, she thanked the late icon on Instagram.) That final, cathartic overheard twirl!

It's a bold and striking look - both literally, in the sense that she's showing way more of herself than ever before in a music video (and looks damn good doing so) - and also artistically speaking. No special effects or camera trickery needed: this is, quite simply, what a real entertainer looks like.

We are lucky to have Robyn. And this fierce new single mix of "Ever Again," too! Listen to it on the MuuTunes playlists.

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Madonna Madame X

'Madame X': Madonna Gets Lost in the World, But Isn't Lost

If we took a holiday, took some time to celebrate – just one day out of life, even - it would be so nice. Right?

Well then, let’s do it. Yes, I’m dead serious. You still got your passport? Good. I’ve got a friend of a friend who lives in Portugal we can stay with. Actually, she might be in Brazil at the moment. Or...possibly Colombia. You know what? It doesn’t really matter – I'll find out where she's at in the world, and we'll just go.

Her name? Oh. It’s, uh…well. She just goes by Madame X.

Who is she? The last I heard, she was working as a cha cha instructor in Medellín, but according to her LinkedIn, she’s also an equestrian. And a nun. And a spy. And a prostitute. And a wine expert. And a tiny spoon collector. And a Walmart greeter. And - you know what? Don't worry about it. She’s great. Everyone’s always talking about how she brings light to dark places. She’s a little bit mad - in the literal angry sense and also the loca sense – but in a good way. Just trust me. It'll be an adventure! Ven conmigo, let’s take a trip.

You’re in? Great. Meet me at the airport by 6. Also, do you have an eyepatch? I’ll explain later...

Madonna Medellin Maluma

For those of you just tuning in, here's where we last left off: after the release of her 2015 studio album Rebel Heart, a self-referencing modern pop retread of the most enduring themes in her music – perseverance, individuality and self-empowerment, mainly - Madonna moved to Portugal for her son, David, to pursue his passion for soccer.

While living the soccer mom life for the next few years, whether by extreme occident or divine intervention, she found herself inspired by the omnipresent sound of fado, a genre of Portuguese music, permeating throughout the streets, cafes and bars, as well as Cape Verde’s morna. The diversity of Lisbon (a "melting pot of cultures," as she put it) also influenced her - enough that she wanted to write a record.

To bring her ideas to life, she reconnected with some familiar faces, including her American Life and Music collaborator Mirwais, as well as Diplo and Mike Dean from the Rebel Heart sessions. She made new friends along the way too, including Colombia's Maluma and Brazil's Anitta. (Yes, I am immensely proud that Madonna collaborated with two international acts I've championed for years. Yes, I take full credit. Yes, I did personally A&R this record.)

But Madonna felt this album required an identity, like Dita to Erotica, and so, she reclaimed a nickname from her past: Madame X, given to her at 19 by legendary dancer Martha Graham while studying in New York City due to her shape-shifting identity.

And so, Madame X became the record’s namesake, and also its globe-trotting, injustice-fighting, eyepatch-wearing heroine. (She was injured, for the record. It's not just a bad case of conjunctivitis.)

With that, Madame X one, two, cha-cha-cha-ed her way into our world and onto the music scene, and Madonna returned with the latest addition to her prolific career as the long-reigning Queen of Pop™.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAxNaLAR2to

There’s a part during Madonna’s tours – at least, the ones from the last decade - usually referred to as something like the "gypsy section." It's the moment she and her dancers break away from the spectacle of the main show, gather 'round the band and perform folky renditions of Madonna's myriad hits inspired by different cultures: Gogol Bordello inspired the Sticky & Sweet Tour section, the Northern Basque Country's Kalakan shaped the MDNA Tour section, and Spanish flamenco dominated the Rebel Heart Tour section.

Madame X, essentially, is an album version of that section; a wild, political, romantic ride through world music.

Back in April, Madonna kicked off the campaign with “Medellín" (original review), a cha cha-dancing, toe-licking, bilingual burst of reggaeton-infused pop euphoria, like a cool younger cousin of “La Isla Bonita."

With an offensively sexy Colombian hunk smirking and gyrating by her side ("slow down, papi"), Madonna let loose, liberating herself briefly from her own self-judgement enough to indulge in her fantasy: “I took a trip, it set me free / Forgave myself for being me,” she coos - a most telling line.

The two wound up working together twice on Madame X, and once for his own album, 11:11. With Maluma sending flowers to your door, wouldn’t you?

“Bitch I’m Loca," their second tag-team, is the album’s most playful pop serving. In fact, it's even more fun than “Medellín," as the two trade flirty verses in Spanish and English across buzzy, banging Billboard-produced beats.

Quiero ser tu perra, también tu bebecita” Madge lusts. (Basically: “I want to be your bitch and your baby.”) The outro is the best part, as the two call each other by their pet names, Mr. Safe and Mrs. Crazy.

Where do you want me to put this?” Maluma adorably inquires in English.

Um...you can put it inside,” Madonna replies, as Maluma erupts into a giggle. Their cougar-papi chemistry is infectious - and he’s only too eager to meet her demands. (No doubt, she had many in the studio.)

She keeps the flirtatious energy going on “Faz Gostoso,” her duet with the multilingual Brazilian Funk Carioca Queen herself. Together, Anitta and Madonna bounce their bundas along a bilingual cover of Blaya’s 2018 Portuguese-language ode to a sexy man of seduction, which was also a No. 1 hit while Madonna was living in Lisbon.

In an album full of heavy themes – gun control, persecution, fighting for freedom - the Madgeluma and Madonitta moments on Madame X are welcome getaways, hammering home a different, yet important sentiment in its own right: women can be sexual at any age. Imagine that.

Her sexual expression isn’t necessarily the heart of Madame X like Erotica or Bedtime Stories, though: there’s a world out there in desperate need of change, and Madonna’s ready for a revolution of love. Are you with her?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Uagw4zser8

Just over a year ago, Madonna teased a new song on the steps of the Met Gala in front of Rihanna, who was dressed as the Pope. As it turns out, that song would become "Dark Ballet" - and it's way, way weirder than she let on that evening.

People tell me to shut my mouth,” Madonna vents on the lurching piano-led number, inspired by her Rebel Heart muse Joan of Arc, who is played by Mykki Blanco in the grim, religious iconography-filled accompanying music video. (She is nothing if not consistent in her love for all things blasphemous.)

The song quickly descends into electronic madness, as Madonna's voice warps into unintelligible levels of vocoder above an arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Reed-Flutes” from The Nutcracker before being spat out for a monologue: “Can’t you hear outside of your Supreme hoodie? The wind that's beginning to howl?” (The way she over-enunciates “who-die” alone truly makes the song.) A fire blazes. She blows it out, ASMR style. It’s as absurd on paper as it is in headphones. In the best way? Perhaps. If nothing else, it's shocking, at a time when few can still manage to surprise with their music.

"Dark Ballet" is only the beginning of Madonna's quest to shine a light on bleak subject matter: “God Control," the dazzlingly hellish epic that follows, is arguably the true centerpiece of Madame X, and it comes armed with meaning - pun very much intended.

Like Janelle Monae’s sunny, post-election depression jam “Screwed,” the song is a jaded-yet-joyous response to the State of Things – in this case, gun control.

I think I understand why people get a gun / I think I understand why we all give up,” Madonna murmurs in the song's moody opening, echoing the disillusionment and depression of a nation.

The Tiffin Children’s Choir chimes in: “We lost God control,” the kids eerily sing over and over. Their participation is no coincidence. Later on, Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez's impassioned speech leads into self-empowerment anthem, “I Rise.” Madonna knows exactly what she's doing with these choices.

And then, the song then gives way to...disco strings? Yes. Things are about to take a turn.

This is your wake up call,” a voice declares amid gunshots. And suddenly, we’re off: the track transforms into bitter bliss on the dance floor, as Madonna goes batty (“People think that I’m insane / The only gun is in my brain!”) and whispers the most damning of truths: “Everybody knows they don’t have a chance / Get a decent job, have a normal life / When they talk reforms, it makes me laugh.

It's a manic, anti-gun masterpiece, and only grows better with each listen. Sure, there’s some hypocrisy afoot: is the gun-slinging “Gang Bang” singer really one to get preachy about the subject now? But then, it's been a few years. Perhaps her attitude's changed given the impending collapse of civilization. Evolve or die, right?

Those clinging to the disco beat of "God Control" in an otherwise unfamiliar soundscape of world music will be relieved to discover another dance floor gem deeper (and deeper) into the album: “I Don’t Search I Find," which answers the question: what would happen if Madonna truly did “old Madonna” again?

If “I Don’t Search I Find” was revealed to be a polished-up version of a demo from a tape being sold in one of those personal collection auctions, no one would likely bat an eyelash: it is pure, early ‘90s, Shep Pettibone-style “Vogue”-Erotica-era ecstasy, out of nowhere, in 2019.

There’s no rest for us in this world,” she purrs, “Justify My Love” style, above strings and finger snaps. Each recitation of "Finally, enough love" is like a mantra - and it feels like home. It is wildly different than the majority of Madame X, and her fiercest song in over a decade probably; a perplexingly brilliant standout.

Ever the paradoxical pop icon, Madame X goes from a nostalgic dance floor ode to the whimsy of gypsy life to feeling lost - because she...wasn't lost. Still following?

I guess I'm lost / I had to pay the cost / The thing that hurt me most / Was that I wasn't lost,” she sings on "Extreme Occident," a mystical Mirwais ballad that finds the singer wistfully looking back.

No, I wasn't lost / It was a different feeling / A mix of lucidity and craziness / But I wasn't lost, believe me / I was right, and I’ve got the right to choose my own life like a full circle,” she declares. An "Easy Ride" reference, perhaps? ("I go round and round just like a circle...")

It’s one of the most introspective moments on Madame X, as she reflects on her past, and her conquest leading to the present - only to ponder what comes next.

Not everyone is coming to the future, after all: just ask Migos member Quavo. Their reggae-heavy “Future” is essentially a “woke,” vocoded-to-oblivion take on Rebel Heart’s “Unapologetic Bitch.” It makes more sense in context within the album, but remains one of the weaker, lyrically cringe-y offerings.

“Batuka,” recorded with Portuguese female orchestra The Batukadeiras, is also not quite a highlight: the protest song finds Madge in warrior mode, leading us into battle while standing up against a certain U.S. sitting president without once saying his name: “Get that old man / Put him in a jail / Where he can't stop us,” she chants. The pounding drums and rallying cries provide for an intense listening experience, although it plays more like something she'd do as a call-and-response during a concert rather than an actual song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpBEtsrwng4

Madonna's been hit with "desperate for relevancy" accusations for decades, especially when collaborating and performing with the trendiest of pop stars. That's proven to be embarrassing at times (remember the LMFAO love affair?), and genius at others. (The 2003 MTV VMAs - 'nuff said.)

While the Quavo collaboration feels somewhat stilted, she finds more success with Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee on the soft midtempo ballad “Crave," released as the follow-up to "Medellín." Sure, the video is a bit nothing - Madonna, please stop tossing pigeons off the roof - but Swae Lee's voice provides a pretty, if haunting accompaniment to Madge's yearning...if you can get past some slight slurring.

The one drawback of Madame X is, unavoidably, the artist's voice itself. The vocal engineering of a bulk of the record makes Madonna's voice sound dull, robotic and thin - and not in a “skinny legend” sort of way. It’s not the first time she’s purposely manipulated her voice, but back then – on songs like “Impressive Instant," for instance – she still sounded like herself, just being a weirdo in the studio.

Here, she mumbles (the opening of “God Control” sounds like she got caught doing a Sia imitation in the studio that they kept in), slurs (was she wearing the grill while recording “Crave”?) and speak-sings her way through much of the album. It’s unfortunate for fans who love her bigger pop hooks, although the state of her voice is a little unclear as it is. The less said about her Eurovision performance the better, but this vocal coach made a point: it sounds like she hasn’t been taking good care of her voice.

Madonna is not Celine Dion, nor do we want her to be (she's not me and she never will be), but there’s no getting around the fact that her voice just isn't quite at its best on Madame X.

That said, she does do new things with her voice: namely, singing and speaking in both Spanish and Portuguese. Although this white boy isn't the one to give her a pass, there’s something to be (positively) said about her singing other languages, introducing fans to artists from other countries and inviting collaborators to sing in their native tongues out of appreciation – an important distinction from appropriation.

Unfortunately, what she’s singing in English is the other occasional downfall of Madame X. Although she’s proven herself to be profound in the past (Ray of Light in its entirety), she’s also been known to engage in some mighty embarrassing penmanship: “I Love New York"? “Hey You,” anyone? Unforgivable.

In an effort to be sympathetic, she makes a misstep on the fado-infused, unfortunately-titled “Killers Who Are Partying,” name-checking about a dozen minorities in solidarity with their struggle. To Madonna's credit, I don’t know if any song will ever recreate the look on my face the first time I heard the opening line: “I will be gay if the gay are burned.

It’s really only downhill from there: “I'll be Native Indian, if the Indian has been taken / I'll be a woman, if she's raped, and her heart is breaking.” It’s all coming from a sincere place and meant to be a gesture of allyship, of course – but, oof. It just doesn't...work.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Looking for Mercy” contains some of the most vulnerable lyricism on Madame X: "Teach me to forgive myself, outlive this hell," she prays along a dark pulse. "On the outside, I'm strong / Hold my hand, please sympathize / Hard enough tryna forgive / Hard enough tryna live / Please don't criticize."

It falls in line with her thoughts on social media: even Madonna is not immune to insecurity. If the Rebel Heart herself is crippled by self-doubt sometimes, what hope have we mere mortals? (On a lighter note: imagining that she wrote the chorus while literally looking for her daughter, Mercy, inside one of her sprawling estates makes it even better.)

Madame X is also rich with self-references. And with a catalog like hers, can you really blame Madonna for plagiarizing herself?

I want to tell you about love…and loneliness,” she urges on “Dark Ballet,” a reference to “Future Lovers.”

Don't tell me to stop 'cause you said so," she sings on “Future,” a nod to "Don't Tell Me."

The Portugal-inspired “Crazy” finds Madonna bending her knees "like a prayer." See what she did there?

"Crazy" is also the sole song on Madame X that tackles a rocky personal relationship, a theme that's all but absent on this more globally-minded project, but has dominated previous records. (MDNA was essentially a Guy Ritchie divorce dance-off.)

'Cause you're driving me crazy / You must think I'm crazy / Você me põe tão louca / Você pensa que eu sou louca,” she croons across a romantic accordion. Despite the subject matter, it’s still a swoon-y offering – “cra-a-a-zy” – like Madge delivering a breezy kiss-off over the phone to a former suitor before twirling into another living room session somewhere in Lisbon.

Madonna Madame X

Don’t tell Madonna this (or Madame X, for that matter) – and definitely don’t mention it if you’re profiling her for a cover story in the future – but age is an important part of her story, now more than ever. In a society that worships youth, in which women over 35 are essentially blacklisted by radio (unless you’re listening to an adult contemporary station, or have adopted a clever diversion tactic like Sia and her wig), and women over 50 are made to feel invisible, Madonna is here to say, loudly, that she's still here. After all the barriers she's broken over the years, ageism is perhaps the most daunting wall still standing in her way, which she's determined to demolish.

The truth is, there is no roadmap for an artist like Madonna. She's still paving the path in real-time. Most of her contemporaries – Michael, Whitney, Prince, Bowie - are dead. Yes, there are older icons still being iconic – Barbra Streisand, Cher, Dolly Parton among others – but her crusade is a different one.

She is the pop star archetype: the music, the choreography, the tours, the wardrobes, the marketing roll-outs, the music videos, the awards show performances alongside artists a third her age. There is a reason for the reverence after all this time. There is a reason she is still the Queen of Pop.

But even with all of her professional success, and even all of the love in her life (finally enough love...), it must be an increasingly lonely road to walk at times, especially when the world heckles her for being too old. And if it's not that, it's that she's too irrelevant, too desperate, too sexual, just too much – her detractors will only keep at it until she cha-cha-chas into the great beyond. And then, those same people will write their breathlessly reverential tributes. “It makes me laugh.

Is a musically diverse, politically conscious global-futurist record not the best we could hope for from Madonna in 2019? What else should she be doing? (To the hater who just yelled “retire, bitch!” in the back – I heard that, asshole.)

Really though, why call for someone to bow out of the game who’s still so hungry? “Ravenous,” she clarified in one interview.

Is she meant to do more of the same? Reunite with Stuart Price and whip up a Confessions Part II? (Gays: "Yes!") Should she conform to today's streaming standards? Hit up some teenage bedroom producer to pop out a few 2-minute GarageBand bouncy “bops” for New Music Friday digestion? Actually, don’t give her ideas.

But no, this is Madonna Louise Veronica Ciccone we're talking about: she's not one for an easy ride. And neither is Madame X. And now that we're fully acquainted, what about Madame X, the album?

Madame X is Madonna’s weirdest album, for sure. It’s at least her most artistically daring effort since Ray of Light, and her first real start-to-finish statement since 2005’s disco epic, Confessions on a Dance Floor. It's also more ambitious in scope than both 2012’s MDNA, a bout of EDM-laced stress relief after her divorce and her directorial debut, and 2015’s Rebel Heart, a varied collection of modern pop that felt closer to a career retrospective.

All that is not to say it’s her most enjoyable listen – 2008’s Hard Candy, her hip-pop opus that is now aging like wine, is miles (away) more fun to listen to than an album with heavy-handed cuts like "Killers Who Are Partying" and "Batuka." But Madame X isn't meant to be that kind of a record. Madonna isn't as concerned about saving pop with bops as she is about saving the world these days.

At a time when "settling down" could be a very attractive option to someone who's enjoyed such an illustrious career, Madonna's (blonde) ambition only seems to be reinvigorated as an artist, 14 albums and 37 years after the release of her debut single. She's still the same girl who said she wanted to rule the world. She came, she saw, she conquered...but she's far from done.

They say be all I can be / And all I want is peace, peace, peace, peace, peace, peace / See the world, haven't seen it all / All I wanna see is, see is, see is, see is, see is dreams,” she coos while boarding her rocket ship to the sky on the ethereal “Come Alive." (Madame X is an astronaut too, I think.)

Madame X is also only Madonna's latest identity. She's the Queen of Reinvention for a reason: she's shape-shifted throughout her whole career as a recording artist - and years before then, too.

But at least one thing's stayed the same, regardless of what she's wearing, the language she's speaking, where she finds herself, or who she's claims to be on any given day: it's that seemingly endless hunger for life, knowledge and experience - to dream and do and see more (with her good eye, anyway) - that makes her Madonna.

Madame X was released on June 14.

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Photo credit: Interscope Records


Sabrina Carpenter In My Bed Singular Act II

'In My Bed': Sabrina Carpenter Remains Today's Most Reliable Post-Disney Pop Princess

There are few objective truths in this world: death, taxes, and the pop supremacy of post-Disney princesses.

Of all the new girls on the scene, Sabrina Carpenter remains one of my favorites - and it all comes down, obviously, to the music.

Consistently, she's supplied nothing but quality since debuting with Eyes Wide Open in 2015: from 2016's EVOLution, including "Thumbs," the spiritual continuation of Sam Sparro's "Black & Gold," to all of last year's Singular Act 1, including "Almost Love" and "Paris," a stroke of breathy, romantic genius.

"In My Bed" is the third offering thus far from Sabrina's upcoming follow-up, Singular: Act II, out on July 19, and it's the best one from the set yet.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rB2fd5MV2BI

"Little things become everything / When you wouldn't think that they would," the 20-year-old singer solemnly declares in the song's dramatic opening.

Eventually, the track's tension bursts into bubblier territory: "I'm still, I’m still, I’m still in my bed about it," she purrs on the bouncy, synth-y chorus, which recalls the flirty and featherlight stuff of Selena Gomez's Revival era-and-beyond quirky bops.

“It’s a clever play on words instead of saying, ‘I’m in my head about it.' The song is about one of those moments where life feels like a lot to deal with. We took that and turned it into something really fun and vulnerable," she says of the ode to overthinking, produced by Mike Sabath, who not only worked on "Hold Tight" from Act 1, but Little Mix's almighty "Wasabi."

There's no real massive pop moment, per se: the best parts are in the details, from the playful background beats ("woo!") to the sultry delivery of the line "I'm not usually like this..." to that hurried bridge.

It's the little things that become everything, as one might say.

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"In My Bed" was released on June 7.

Photo credit: Hollywood Records


MUNA Number One Fan

'Number One Fan': MUNA Finds the Bliss in Stanning Yourself, For Once

So, here's the bad news: this life is not easy.

Harder, still, is getting through the day without being entirely consumed by your own crippling insecurities and/or anxieties that still need to be ironed out in therapy, which you can't afford right now - let alone taking into consideration the opinions of others being thrust at you on your timeline, especially from those who do not wish you well. No? Just me? And also Madonna?

Anyway, here's an alternative to crumbling: hype yourself up, instead.

Enter MUNA, the queer electro-pop band which produced a truly fantastic debut in the form of About U in 2017, including one of the more recent additions to my Favorite Songs Of All Time list: "Everything." (Appropriately titled, still.)

After some time away, the group returned on Friday (June 7) with "Number One Fan," co-produced by Mike Crossey (The 1975), a fierce, danceable burst of self-empowerment that is all too real, playfully sarcastic and genuinely encouraging all at once - and, mercifully, free of toxic positivity (#LiveLoveLaugh #YouJustNeedToSmileMore).

"So, I heard the bad news / Nobody likes me, and I'm gonna die alone in my bedroom looking at strangers on my telephone," frontwoman Katie Gavin robotically monotones in the song's opening seconds, which - well! I feel seen. But imagine not being consumed by existential dread, endless comparisons and loneliness from scrolling through the feed late at night?

"Well, wouldn't you? Wouldn't you like if I believed those words? / If I'm born to lose, I'll never try and I will never learn," she goes on, as a swift strut kicks in.

Rather than sulking, the troupe takes a collective look in the mirror and adjusts their moody mindset, going full-force as fans of themselves for once, instead.

"Oh my God, like, I'm your number one fan! / So iconic, like big, like stan, like / I would give my life just to hold your hand / I'm your number one fan," they swoon on the playfully fangirl-y chorus.

The video only digs deeper into the concept, as Katie slowly but surely demonstrates how to be her own number one fan after much pursuit - and a bit of Dance Dance Revolution, naturally. (Deeply relatable.)

“'Number One Fan' is the first release from an album that we truly cannot wait to share with our fans. It is a song about recognizing the negative voices in your head and learning to speak back to them. It’s a joyful and surprising experience to recognize that, just as we can all be our own biggest haters, we can also decide to be our own biggest fans. We can choose to believe in ourselves, to take notice of all the little admirable things we do, to applaud every inch of progress and comfort ourselves through every pitfall. It’s an incredibly liberating process, learning to love ourselves this way. In this culture, we are almost taught to look to other people to fill up some void in ourselves. What happens when we accept that we are already whole? We become our own icons. We become unstoppable and un-buyable. We save the world. No, just kidding, sorry we got caught up in the moment. (But maybe!)," they said in a statement, perfectly encapsulating the spirit of the song.

They're only semi-kidding about that saving the world thing, though: the track is their first from their upcoming sophomore album, called - wait for it! - Saves The World, out on September 6.

It's easily my favorite new song of the week, and already a very promising indication of what's to come from the band.

“Pretty much anyone you look up to who’s making art has days where they’re like ‘Should I even be doing this?’ But you just keep going, you keep doing it anyway," Katie said to Billboard.

Now read through the lyrics, post them up on your mirror, create a Brazilian stan account for yourself, blast this song on repeat - do whatever you need to do to live through this.

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"Number One Fan" was released on June 7.

Photo credit: Isaac Schneider / RCA Records


Roisin Murphy Incapable

'Incapable': Roisin Murphy Contemplates a Loveless Life With 8 Minutes of House

Róisín Murphy is capable of love. Err. Right?

Well. Maybe not.

"Incapable" is the Irish singer-songwriter-disco-pop-pioneer's latest offering since supplying a handful of singles last year, and it's a girthy one: an over 8-minute long hypnotic House contemplation about living life without ever having had a broken heart, to be exact.

Joining the ranks of "Simulation," "Jealousy," and her other seemingly endless dance floor monsters, the song finds Róisín taking her sweet, sweet time cooly cooing, lusting and sassily yelping her inner thoughts and insecurities aloud across a Pride day party-friendly disco-infused groove, crafted alongside longtime collaborator Richard Barratt.

"Never had a broken heart / Am I incapable of love? / Never seen me fall apart / I must be incapable of love," she ponders. Is she, do you think? Or does she just need to keep swiping right a bit more?

It's no secret that Róisín's only strayed further from "mainstream" and gone increasingly experimental with her sound over the years. And while "Incapable" is still unlike the laser-focused, radio-friendly construction of the songs on her 2007 opus Overpowered in terms of structure, it's sonically in the same neighborhood - or discotheque, rather.

"'Incapable' was a little experiment in songwriting for me. I thought it might be fun to write from a point of view totally opposite to the usual heartbreak and despair. This diva is mildly concerned at her own lack of feeling and it’s beginning to dawn on her that there will be no love without pain. When it came to the imagery, for some reason I wanted a huge perm. Perhaps in my mind, a character so untouched by the pain of heartbreak would also have huge mounds of luxurious hair?" she said of the song - and the single's super glam, '80s-tastic retro cover art - to DIY.

This one's for the unbroken heart-having, luxurious hair-having souls who haven't found love in a hopeless place. Yet, anyway.

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"Incapable" was released on June 5. (iTunes)


'A Kiss Goodbye': Tei Shi Makes a Delicate & Dreamy Departure

The last we heard from Tei Shi - apart from a feature on Blood Orange's Negro Swan last year - was her gorgeous and sensual 2017 debut, Crawl Space.

The 28-year-old singer-songwriter, born Valerie Teicher, has since moved from New York to Los Angeles, and as of Thursday (June 6), she's back with "A Kiss Goodbye" - the first taste of what's next, and a departure from what's come before.

The song was produced by Stint who, most importantly obviously, co-produced Carly Rae Jepsen's "LA Hallucinations." He's also worked with and Jessie Ware, among others.

The press release describes "A Kiss Goodbye" as "reconnecting musically with her Latin roots and influences, delicately drawing influence from ’70s Brazilian pop and Spanish folk ballads. And at the bridge, with its heady trap-leaning beats 'A Kiss Goodbye' takes on a new urgency that echoes the intense self-possession at the heart of her lyrics."

Indeed, it is a lush and luxurious listen that feels best suited for a sunbathing session on a pool float this summer - preferably just after dumping someone, packing up, and moving many miles away to start a new life.

And yes, that breezy "ba-da-ba-ba-ba-ba-da" bit does remind me of the McDonald's jingle. I can appreciate high and low art simultaneously.

"So I lead with my body, follow with my head / Was it love that you wanted? / Let me walk away, I'm on the other side," she coos.

“This song is about intuition—following my gut and my body more than my head. It’s about learning from love and from giving so much of myself to other people, and coming out of it with a more selfish mindset, to save my love and my nurturing for myself. It’s about figuring out who you are on your own and without someone else defining that for you, through trusting yourself and allowing for the universe, the supernatural, the unexpected to take hold," she says of the lush new tune.

It's very Jewel "Intuition" messaging in that way.

She's also been working on her follow-up album, which was inspired by her move - and her creative reawakening in the process.

“I felt like I was closing a chapter in my life that was tied up in a lot of negativity, and reconnecting with open space and my own creativity in a way that I hadn’t in a very long time. I was spending so much time in nature and seeing all this beauty in my surroundings, and I felt really inspired to bring that feeling into my music.”

May we all aspire to be inspired to do the same.

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"A Kiss Goodbye" was released on June 6. (Apple Music)


BoA Feedback Video

'Feedback': BoA, Queen of K-Pop, Returns With a Nostalgic Summer Bop

BoA, Queen of K-Pop™, is back - because she's got to keep carrying the entire K-pop industry on her back. (Kidding, although I do secretly love seeing comments like that.)

"Feedback" - her latest Korean single, out on Tuesday (June 4) - might as well have been called "Throwback," because that's exactly what it sounds like: an easy, breezy, synth-y, summery bop from the early '00s with an '80s edge. The giddy, funky tune actually sounds more like her glossy pop Japanese releases than the bulk of her Korean work - "Key of Heart / Dotch" anyone? The Nucksal feature is fun, but kind of unneeded, truthfully. Why must all of my seasoned faves insist on features?

The song's all about...err, requesting feedback: "There's one thing I want to hear: I want a feedback, I want a feedback from you," she requests. Someone get this woman a comment card, stat! It's also yet another BoA co-write and co-production, further demonstrating her hands-on involvement in her career, and her talent as more than just a pop star.

BoA flaunts some fun, cutesy high fashion lewks and just generally looks beautiful (duh) in the sugary-sweet video, which some fans have pointed out also gets points for its diverse cast of dancers and extras - a less common occurrence in Korean pop. Only the Queen of Inclusivity!

It's been quite something to watch BoA evolve over the years, and - more importantly - endure.

It's no secret that playing the long game in any industry is a challenge over time, especially when it comes to the hyper-critical, youth-driven entertainment industry. I'm watching a lot of my most beloved idols fight against the inevitable tide of the waves of next-best-things - from Madonna to BoA, who is still only 32 but almost two decades deep into her career - and it's both upsetting and inspiring all at once.

I'm possibly-maybe projecting, but things have changed so much in such a short amount of time with this industry...it just feels really nice to see my all-time favorites continue to put out content.

Thanks for coming back to us yet again, BoA - and thanks for a fun new addition to this summer's poolside playlist.

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"Feedback" was released on June 4. (Apple Music)


CL Cut It Up Video

'Cut It Up': Queen CL Returns to Slice & Dice Some Bitches

Queen CL, The Baddest Female™, is back at last, and she's brought a few friends (and a few sharp objects) along with her.

The 28-year-old 2NE1 girl group member-turned-solo star teamed up with Japanese hip-hop collective PKCZ - that's Exile's Makidai, M-flo's Verbal and DJ Daruma - as well as "Take Over Control" Dutch EDM maestro Afrojack for a cross-cultural collaboration called "Cut It Up" - and yes, there will be some slicing and dicing.

CL and company are fully living their samurai film-slash-Kill Bill-slash-The Matrix fantasy, busting out their blades to make quick work of the masked men falling down at their feet. (I mean, kind of sounds like a typical Friday night for me.)

The "MTBD" baddie showcases her bilingual rapping skills throughout, although there's one English line in particular during her Korean verse at the end that really seals the deal: "Don't give a fuck, ain't nobody safe." Shaking.

The immediately catchy, mile-a-minute tune kind of recalls DJ Snake's own superstar-filled bop, "Taki Taki" - which is not a bad comparison to make. I'm also getting shades of Namie Amuro's "Put 'Em Up," which, obviously, is right up my street. Cut it up! Put 'em up!

At a time when K-pop is busting down all sorts of barriers across the world, it's been somewhat annoying to watch a most deserving superstar like CL sitting it out on the sidelines while a newer generation makes waves. It's about time she steps back into the spotlight to claim the throne once again - and the fact that she's doing it with this Korean-Japanese-Dutch cross-cultural collaboration makes it even cooler.

CL. PKCZ. Let's go...

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"Cut It Up" was released on June 4. (Apple Music)


Rosalía Aute Cuture

'Aute Cuture': Rosalía Nails It Yet Again (Literally)

Rosalía continues to do no wrong - as does her manicurist.

The 25-year-old Spanish flamenco revivalist-turned-pop savior returned to us on Thursday (May 30) in full, glorious pop superstar mode with "Aute Cuture" - a staple in her incredible live sets and now, at last, a single in its own right.

Co-penned and co-produced by Rosalía, her longtime collaborator El Guincho and Spanish writer Leticia Sala, who authored the book Scrolling After Sex, the song is described as being written from the perspective of "a confident young woman who has overcome heartbreak, and now projects her strength through a passion for fashion and personal style."

After all ladies, just as Alaska Thunderfuck would tell you: if you're not wearing nails, you're not doing drag - nor are you overcoming heartbreak, rolling into town with a fashion-forward gang of bad bitches to hand out nail salon pamphlets, providing chic makeovers, securing the bag, cutting up shady men and ultimately reigning supreme.

The Bradley & Pablo-directed (not me, another Bradley) video for "Aute Cuture" was conceived by Rosalía and Pili, and follows a "mystic beauty gang." Imagine if YouTube beauty gurus traveled in packs to terrorize small towns with their affiliate codes and vitamin pill dramas? A horrifying thought, actually. I digress.

The video is a fast and furious spectacle of Lady Gaga-style over-the-top, sensory overload pop imagery and Quentin Tarantino-inspired, Kill Bill-esque gang drama - and even a bit of violence.

I mean, those daggers for nails on her fingers? Edward Scissorhands is shaking. Freddy Krueger is canceled.

"'Aute Cuture' is the title: written incorrectly but with a sense of humor and strength," Rosalía explains of the song.

"I wrote this song before going out to tour El Mal Querer and I have taken the time necessary so the song would come out with the best video to accompany it. Filled with claps, nail art, and a Tarantino vibe. Enjoy it and hopefully it’ll make you dance and laugh like it does me."

Honestly, what Rosalía's achieved in such a short amount of time is incredible: not only is she coming through with a sound and style that's exciting people and making them want to partake regardless of whether they speak Spanish (music transcends language barriers!), but she's really giving the girls all the goods of a top pop superstar: the looks, the moves, the drama - and of course, the nails.

With her official foray into reggaeton with siempre papi nunca inpapi J Balvin "Con Altura", one of the year's most effortlessly fun bops, and now "Aute Cuture" under her gold chain belt, the only thing more exciting is to consider that she's really only just begun. Vamos ya!

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"Aute Cuture" was released on May 30. (Apple Music)


Miley Cyrus She Is Coming

'She Is Coming': The Reintroduction of Miley Cyrus Begins (Review)

What's a girl like Miley Cyrus to do in 2019?

She's already conquered tween-pop, followed by the requisite Disney princess-gone-bad rebellion era. She dove in head - err, sorry - tongue-first to #SomethingMoreUrban territory, twerking her way around hip-hop beats and cultural appropriation allegations aplenty. She launched herself into outer space, squeezing into cartoonish couture and experimenting with psychedelic sounds. She brought herself back down to Earth with a return-to-roots, stripped-down record. So, what now? As American philosopher Onika Tanya Maraj once pondered: what's good, Miley?

As it turns out: a little bit of everything.

SHE IS COMING is the first of three six-song EPs promised from the 26-year-old superstar (a la Robyn's trailblazing Body Talk series), released on Friday (May 31), leading to a complete collection called SHE IS: MILEY CYRUS due out later this year.

And while we've only heard one-third of the project thus far, one thing's for sure: she's not too worried about settling for any one genre anytime soon.

"Hallelujah, I'm a freak, I'm a freak, hallelujah," she proclaims seconds into lead track "Mother's Daughter," a rebel yell from the artist formerly known as Hannah Montana.

Produced by Miike Snow's Andrew Wyatt and co-penned by neon-haired rebel youth pop penner ALMA, "Mother's Daughter" plays like a cockier, cuntier grown-up continuation of Can't Be Tamed's rousing electro-pop empowerment anthem, "Liberty Walk."

The beats are grittier and the lyrics are fiercer ("don't fuck with my freedom"), but the attitude (err, cattitude - more on that later) remains largely the same as that of her 2010 emancipation album.

While "Mother's Daughter" forms a bridge between the rebellious Can't Be Tamed days and modern Miley, the all-too-abrupt "Unholy" (2:10, really?), crafted by XXXTentacion producer John Cunningham, finds the superstar dipping back into her infatuation with hip-hop and reflecting the fuckery of the fame game she's played ever since.

"I'm sick of the faking, the using, the taking / The people calling me obscene / You hate me, you love me, you just wanna touch me / I'm only trying to get some peace / So let me do me," she rants on the drugs, sex and alcohol-fueled banger, which plays like a Bangerz-era comedown with an underlying plea for some humanity: "I'm a little bit unholy / So what? So is everyone else..."

If you thought the substance intake has even slightly slowed since Miley was in the club, high on purp with some shades on over five years ago, think again: "D.R.E.A.M. (Drugs Rule Everything Around Me)," which samples Wu-Tang Clan’s "C.R.E.A.M. (Cash Rule Everything Around Me)" and features Ghostface Killah, is a dreary, drug-addled, freshly tattooed hands-in-the-air anthem, like a cross between "We Can't Stop" and Lykke Li's depressed trap-pop opus, so sad, so sexy.

"Hit the Goose, raise a toast, pop the molly / I can go toe-to-toe, like I'm Ali / We're all tryna fill the lonely / Drugs rule everything around me," she cooly declares.

You get the sense that Miley's feeling more than a little isolated in her fame bubble, seeking some normalcy in the form of partying like her peers.

The Mike WiLL Made-It and Swae Lee-assisted "Party Up The Street" makes it even more clear: the girl's not done having a good time. But "Party" is one of the EP's most left-of-center offerings. It's closer in vibe to Dead Petz than "Party in the U.S.A," unraveling gently across a summery beat and, later on, gorgeous strings as Miley supplies a subtle assist to the Swae Lee-dominated, reverb-heavy, thoroughly relaxing production.

One song on the EP sticks out like a sore, uh, meaty tuck: if you happened to catch the overly eager pop star frolic among the queens during her appearance on the premiere of RuPaul's Drag Race Season 11, you'd know "Cattitude" feels almost inevitable - it's essentially Miley in peak fangirl mode, or a Todrick Hall track, RuPaul feature and all.

It's full of cocky, cringe-y rapping, "SMS (Bangerz)" style, and corny as hell, although playfully self-aware. Ru opens the library and reads Miley immediately: "Put some damn clothes on...nobody need to be seeing all of that!" Like her recent social media explosion of Disney Channel #TBTs, Miley's not taking herself too seriously - maybe to a fault? That flippant "I love you Nicki, but I listen to Cardi" line is getting her skewered on the Internet for pitting the two against each other.

Also, the Supermodel of the World says the foulest shit on this track: "Bust my pussy nut while I'm fingering your butt." Pardon? All that self-censoring for the increasingly mainstream Drag Race audience clearly caused RuPaul to pop off in the studio.

Across all sounds and styles over the years, from her squeaky-clean pop days ("The Climb") to her most out-in-outer-space ("Lighter"), Miley tends to deliver when it comes to earnest balladry. As much as she loves to behave like a bad-ass, she shines when she lets the walls break down. "Wrecking Ball," anyone?

"The Most," this EP's closer, is no exception to Miley's successful sensitive streak.

Co-penned and produced by "Nothing Breaks Like a Heart" collaborator Mark Ronson, the vulnerable ode to, presumably, her beloved Liam Hemsworth for constantly reeling her back in despite her wild child ways is a lush, somewhat country-tinged, Younger Now-ish beautiful breath of fresh air after a steady stretch of druggy bops and drag queens.

From empowering to irritating to introspective, She Is Coming sounds like the work of a can't-be-tamable twentysomething with two middle fingers in the air, still figuring it all out. So what? So is everyone else.

While SHE IS COMING is undeniably the stuff of Miley (as her best friend Lesley would agree), it doesn't feel like she's quite there yet - at least, in terms of establishing a defined "era." If anything, this sounds more like a transition phase; a collage of previously explored musical moments while finding footing in this brave new trap-pop world.

Maybe she's just feeling it all out. Maybe she's picking the hardest hitters from each EP for the final project. Maybe a cohesive collection isn't the goal at all. There's still much left to see and hear before drawing conclusions: SHE IS COMING, after all.

Until SHE arrives, let's just enjoy the ride.

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Photo credit: RCA Records


Cheryl Let You

'Let You': Cheryl Returns With a Self-Aware Summer Banger

Cheryl is back...because she let herself be back, thank you very much.

After releasing "Love Made Me Do It" at the end of 2018, only to be met with a fuck-ton of backlash - about the song, her physical appearance, her hand-licking choreography, and just about everything in between - the 35-year-old (right up my) street-dancer, Messy Little Teardropper and one-fifth of the almighty, untouchable (REFERENCE) Girls Aloud made a triumphant return to form on Friday (May 31) with "Let You," a danceable acknowledgement of an unhealthy power imbalance in a prior relationship, and a reclamation of control.

Given how the Internet treated her just a few short months ago, "Let You" doubles as an especially empowering moment for Chezza: if she felt down after skimming the comments even once on her own Instagram, it was because she let them get to her. No more of that. Which, well...relatable.

Produced by The Invisible Men - responsible for lots of killer tracks, but perhaps most importantly the Almighty Aloud's "On The Metro" - and co-penned by Chiara Hunter and none other than Cheryl's trusty Sister in Sound (of the Underground) and Bearer of Cinderella's Eyes herself, Nicola Roberts, the effortlessly great track is a throbbing offering for the dance floor, supplying cool, old-school Chezza sass, mixed with nostalgic '80s synths that allow for fierce footwork and ample hand and hair-flicking.

"I gave you what you wanted, when am I gonna get mine? / We only got like this 'cause I let you..."

The video provides us with a bit of narrative (relationship drama), "Call My Name"-style busting a move in bright colors, and some lewks to boot. I myself am partial to the Cock Destroyer Chezza street look, to no one's surprise.

"Let You" is Cheryl's most solid overall package - song, video, visuals and choreography - since the A Million Lights days, for sure. And, like "Fight For This Love," the song feels applicable to Chezza's much-publicized romantic life (it's, dare I say, personal), setting it apart from a standard break-up bop.

"I loved this song from the moment we wrote it in the studio. I knew I had to release it! I’ve made mistakes in relationships. I’ve been with men who were controlling, who made me unhappy, but I allowed it to happen. That’s what this song is about. You have to recognise it, and you have to try and not let it happen again," Chezza said of the song to Fault.

"I stopped reading about myself long ago because I’m not there to cater to 'that' world. For me being honest isn’t about discussing my day of waking up and playing with my son, it’s about sitting in a room with my closest girlfriends and sharing an experience that we can all relate to and I want to put that in my music – creating music that everyone can feel and relate to."

As for the song's success? Honestly, I have no idea where Cheryl stands in pop culture in 2019. I barely know what's even considered pop in 2019. But the fact is that Cheryl's been at this since Popstars: The Rivals, nearly two decades ago now. That she's still going strong and serving up a quality release as a solo star is impressive enough in its own right to consider this one a win, regardless of charts and sales. (Well, solo for now...let those Aloud reunion rumors rumble. Keep the faith.)

Fight on, Chezza.

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"Let You" was released on May 31. (iTunes)

Photo credit: @CherylOfficial