Aly AJ Slow Dancing Remixes

Aly & AJ Give "Slow Dancing" a Few New Beats With Remix EP

Aly & AJ - purveyors of perhaps the Greatest Album of 2021 - are back right in time for this godforsaken year's finale.

One year ago, the "Potential Breakup Song" (Explicit Version) duo gave us the then-first taste of their album A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun, called "Slow Dancing."

The dreamy song hit right in time for peak quarantine daydreaming of less distanced days, conjuring up romantic, end-of-the-world imagery of a couple slow-dancing in the middle of a living room, chaos roaring just outside the walls. As it turned out...well, not much has changed!

Here we are, now facing the Omarion/Maricon variant, uncomfortably edging towards a new lockdown era.

And so, it feels entirely appropriate for the sister act to supply us with a slew of "Slow Dancing" remixes as of Friday (December 24), crafted by Overcoats, Hazel English, James McAlister and Nikki Pennie (The She-J).

The collection accounts for an array of moods, ranging from pensive to downtrodden to shades of nostalgic, '90s-ish shimmering splendor.

"We wanted to do something to celebrate the one-year anniversary of a song that started a new chapter for us. With the help of collaborators & friends we were able to dive back into a song that means so much to us. Thanks to the creative works of James McAlister, Overcoats, Hazel English & Nikki Pennie aka The She-J we bring you 4 new remixes of 'Slow Dancing.' Hoping these reimaginings get people dancing into the new year," the ladies said in a statement.

There's more on the way too, including the re-release of the record with a handful of new songs, and (God willing) a tour still to come.

Let us dance, slowly and cautiously, into this New Year, with our expectations on the floor. It could only up from here, right? (Narrator, one year later: it was not.)


Girls on Top SM Entertainment

BoA & Members of Girls' Generation, aespa & Red Velvet Form a Supergroup

It's nearly the end of another long, hard, mostly horrible year. (Meri Kuri to all, by the way.)

And while it feels mostly foolish to hold onto hopes and dreams at this point, there is now at least one reason to live in 2022: Girls On Top.

In a crossover event infinitely more ambitious than whatever Marvel movie everyone is clamoring about this week, members of aespa, Red Velvet, Girls' Generation and the one and only BoA are teaming up to form a supergroup.

SM Entertainment made the shocking announcement on Monday (December 27) in South Korea that the 35-year-old "My Name" icon will be joining WINTER and KARINA from aespa, as well as Taeyeon and Hyoyeon from Girls' Generation and Seulgi and Wendy from Red Velvet in a brand new girl group.

Along with a killer first look at the group - which, presumably, is named after BoA's 2005 studio album and smash of the same name - SM also revealed a little bit of their schedule (!), including a special stage on January 1, and a single that arrives on January 3 at 6 p.m. KST. (Happy early birthday to me.)

Girls On Top Twitter

"Girls, bring it on," their Twitter bio declares, along with a profile photo that appears to be a music video tease.

It's already too much to handle that heavy hitters from veteran and rookie girl groups are teaming up. But adding the Queen of K-Pop™ herself, BoA, into the mix? Unprecedented.

If there were any event powerful enough to shift us into the alternate universe / plane of existence we so desperately need to be tilted into, it will likely be this one.

Here come the girls...prepare accordingly.


Utada Hikaru Bad Mode Profile

Everything We Know About Hikaru Utada's 8th Studio Album, 'BAD MODE'

Utada Hikaru Bad Mode Profile

Today is December 9. (Well, in Japan it already is, and that's all that matters.)

It is a chilly but gorgeous day, and also a time to celebrate: it's the 23rd anniversary of Hikaru Utada's debut with “Automatic/time will tell."

And to honor the as-of-yet undeclared federal holiday (what is Biden's plan for this?), as promised, Hikki's team officially revealed many details surrounding Album 8 and beyond. And so, it's time to break it down...easy breezy, if you will.

What is the new Hikaru Utada album called?

BAD MODE.

Sorry, BAD MODE?

BAD MODE. I don't know what it means yet, either. But we will.

Wait, eighth album?

Eighth Japanese studio album. I know, there are technically more albums than that.

Okay. Well, when is the new Hikaru Utada Japanese studio album coming out?

It's out digitally on January 19, 2022 - otherwise known as Hikki's 39th birthday! - and then in physical form on February 23, 2022.

There are physical versions of BAD MODE?

Oh, yes. Oh, yes! There's a CD+DVD+Blu-ray, and a standard CD version, and they're both available to pre-order now.

Is there a cover?

Bad Mode Utada Hikaru

This appears to be it.

Well, that's a perfect, pandemic-era stun. Is that Hikaru's son on the right?

I believe it is, yes.

That's amazing. What's on the album?

So far, we know that all the previously released TV and movie themes and campaign tracks will make an appearance, including the most recent release, TBS drama Saiai theme song, "Kimini Muchuu." There's also EVANGELION:3.0+1.0 THRICE UPON A TIME's “One Last Kiss,” the still unreleased “Find Love” from the Shiseido "POWER IS YOU" campaign, Kingdom Hearts III opening theme “Face My Fears," the main theme for NTV drama Bishoku Tantei Akechi Goro, “Time," “PINK BLOOD" from To Your Eternity and “Darenimo Iwanai," from the SUNTORY Tennensui campaign.

That's already a lot of songs. Are there even going to be more songs?

"Of course, it also has brand new songs including the title track 'BAD MODE' and, on top of that, there will be some remixes as bonus tracks," Hikaru's site reassures us.

All in Japanese?

Actually, no. Hikaru told us earlier this year there's at least one English song, and possibly some English versions of Japanese songs.

Who's worked on the album?

We know PC Music maestro A.G. Cook is already involved in some of the songs, including "One Last Kiss" and "Kimini Muchuu." There's also Nariaki Obukuro, who's worked with Hikaru since Fantôme.

Hikaru was also pictured in the studio in October with drummer Leo Taylor, who's collaborated with the likes of everyone from Adele to Jessie Ware, and British producer/musician Floating Points.

How about the lyrics?

“In the past, my songs often focused on my relationships with other people. My new album is shaping up to be more about my relationship with myself,” Hikaru said over the summer.

What's going on with Hikki?

While there's no guarantee it's going to be explicitly addressed on the album, it's worth pointing out that this is Hikaru's first album since coming out as non-binary, and there already appears to be confirmation of the use of "they/them" pronouns in the official press releases - so keep that in mind when chatting about Hikaru.

Very cool. Back to being a CD nerd: what's the difference between the BAD MODE physical releases?

The CD+DVD+Blu-ray is described as a limited edition release, and features Hikaru Utada Live Sessions from Air Studios, as well as a behind-the-scenes documentary of the show, along with the music videos for “Time,” “One Last Kiss,” “PINK BLOOD,” “Kimini Muchuu” and “BAD MODE.” (So yes, at least one more new music video is coming.)

Utada Hikaru Air Studios Live

Wait, what is Hikaru Utada Live Sessions from Air Studios?

It is a pre-recorded show filmed at Air Studios in London, in which Hikaru performs a majority of songs from BAD MODE. The session also includes bassist Jodi Milliner, who also led the band during the Laughter in the Dark Tour in 2018. It was recorded and mixed by engineer Steve Fitzmaurice, who worked on the new record and Hatsukoi, as did Jodi. The performance was shot by David Barnard, who very iconically directed Björk at the Royal Opera House and Spice Girls: Live in Istanbul.

I'm sold. Where can I watch the Live Sessions special?

Hikaru Utada Live Sessions from Air Studios airs on January 19, the same day as BAD MODE drops, with (virtual) doors opening at 7 p.m. Japan Standard Time (JST) (yes, that's 5 a.m. EST) and the show starting at 8 p.m. JST. It will run for approximately an hour, with the ability to stream through January 23 at 11:59 p.m. JST.

How do I get tickets, and how much are they?

The ticket, which includes a Digital Invitation Card, and costs ¥2800 (approximately $24.60), available from December 9 at 12 p.m. JST to January 23 10 p.m. JST. It also allows access to watch after the concert ends.

Where do I get tickets?

Outside Japan, the options are Stagecrowd (the link does not seem to work yet) for China, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Mexico and Brazil, and BiliBili for China. For all ticket information, head to this special site.

Can I get a preview of the show?

Kind of! The music video for “Kimini Muchuu” dropped on the same day as the big album announcement, and it was recorded by the same director as the online concert, David Barnard, featuring footage from the performance, which Hikaru's website describes as a "teaser trailer."

Gorgeous! This is all a lot! Are we collectively prepared as a society for a new Hikaru Utada era?

No, in fact, we are absolutely not. Brace yourselves accordingly.

Shaking. Until then, can you (consensually) give me one last kiss?

Oh-oh-oh-oh, oh-woah, oh-oh-oh (oh-oh), oh-oh-oh-oh, I love you more than you'll ever know...

BAD MODE is out January 19, and available to pre-order as a CD+DVD+Blu-ray and standard CD version now.


Grimes Player of Games

"Player of Games": Grimes Goes Trance in Space for 'Book 1'

Grimes, the Marie Antoinette of the pop stan community, is starting a new chapter.

Problématique as she may be - for procreating with Elon Musk, The Richest Man In The World (and frequent asshole on Twitter), and/or beefing with Poppy and Azealia Banks (the feud of our generation, which needs to be resolved with an almighty collaboration eventually) - she still makes great music when she's not ideating about radical utopia on TikTok.

It's been a wild ride to be a fan of Grimes over the years, watching the one-time indie darling now navigate life post-"semi-separation" with a billionaire, in this Strange New World of stalkers and conspiracy theorists and "literal geopolitical scandals on CNN."

Her latest posts complaining about her celebrity are, unfortunately, not exactly garnering a ton of sympathy on social media, but she's still a human being after all, and there's no way her life isn't very scary and strange right now.

It's also no surprise that Grimes has increasingly turned to gaming and creating avatars and navigating virtual reality over the years for an escape from REALiTi.

"Player of Games" is the first song off of Grimes' upcoming collection Book 1, and it's clear - between this song, and her decentralized AI girl group NPC and their cynical EDM banger with Chris Lake, "A Drug From God" - that she's interested in dancing out the demons with this new cycle of songs.

The track's got all the makings of a signature Grimes song - dreamy, heavily vocoded melancholy - co-crafted with longtime The Weeknd collaborator, Illangelo, all while striking a nostalgic chord with its Anjunabeats-style progressive trance sound. (Good timing, too, with Ayumi Hamasaki revisiting her trance albums.)

"Baby, how can I compare to the adventure out there? / Sail away to the cold expanse of space / Even love couldn't keep you in your place," she laments. I wonder what Space(X)-minded former flame she's singing about?

"If I loved him any less, I'd make him stay...player of games."

Grimes never fails when it comes to her futuristic and nerdy visuals, and the accompanying lyric video for "Player of Games" is no exception, directed by Anton Tammi, featuring a naked Grimes clinging to an armored soldier, with a dagger tucked behind her back, just in case. It's sort of Arcane.

Everything she's teased from this era thus far sounds like a cool, sad, futuristic transmission from an alien dance floor in outer space (or coded deep somewhere in the metaverse), including "Utopia," which she introduced during virtual music festival Splendour XR, and the already amazing, Death Note-inspired "Shinigami Eyes," which frustratingly remains a TikTok snippet, as does the incredible-sounding "100% Tragedy," which her label apparently doesn't love.

Much like she did with last year's Miss Anthropocene, Miss Grimes seems poised to provide us with another incredible body of work in 2022. And, with any luck, no geopolitical scandals.


Netflix Arcane League of Legends

Netflix's 'Arcane' Is Excellent (And the Soundtrack's Great, Too)

Netflix Arcane League of Legends

To say I'm a gaymer would be stretching it: I'm an inconsistent dabbler at best.

But I do play League of Legends every now and then, and have for the past few years with a group of LGBTs.

I am objectively terrible at it (bronze trash, formally speaking) - largely because I do not try to learn things, like what the items do, or who's good against whomst. I just like to mash keys and hope for the best. Just like my strategy for life, now that I think about it.

However! Playing League for so long has made me at least vaguely aware of the lore that comes with the massively popular battle game.

Riot Games, the parent company of League of Legends, smartly began expanding the IP beyond the main game, including spinoff games, and an impressively successful entry into the virtual idol world in the form of the now legendary K/DA, which may have even inspired groups like aespa. (Look, the metaverse, virtual reality, it's all happening, so you might as well get used to it.)

Earlier this month, Riot made another big move with their first-ever animated series, called Arcane, which traces the origin stories of a handful of the League characters, including Vi, Jinx and Caitlyn - all League Queens of Pop - and the increasing tensions between the once-unified cities of Piltover and Zaun.

The series was helmed by French animation studio Fortiche, which also animated K/DA's "POP/STARS" music video, as well as providing work for Gorillaz, Imagine Dragons (more on them in a moment) and Marvel's Rocket & Groot.

The 40-ish minute episodes are entirely binge-friendly, and while they're all available to watch as of Saturday (November 20), they were originally released in groups of three early on Saturday mornings, providing plenty of cliffhangers to keep fans eager for more from week to week.

Visually, it's as stunning and dynamic and fresh as one would expect from that animation company's credits, and feels ambitiously next-level in its animation style. It's also gritty in moments - rarely have I winced while watching anything animated, but this packs a pretty realistic punch, literally.

Arcane is a smartly told story that shows instead of tells, down to the animation style, which alternates between human-like realism and more artistic, abstract depictions of the violence, grief and trauma that consume these characters. (This is a show about traw-ma.) And yes, there are cool battle scenes too, and some horny moments - and even (heavily implied) queer representation. We won!

Another reason it's so impressive? You don't need to know a damn thing about League of Legends, and it would still be a totally engrossing experience.

The characters are all complicated and flawed in this tale of inequity and classism and corruption and power and innovation that could appeal to everyone from fans of Star Wars to Game of Thrones.

And if you do play League, there are a ton of wink-wink references, familiar imagery and hints at characters' abilities as they go through the series and become who we now know them to be in-game.

Plus, there's added context, so when you get Jayce in ARAM, you'll really appreciate the craftsmanship that went into making that hammer.

Also, yordle sex workers. Are you not sold yet? (Also, as this review is clearly glowing, and I don't normally do TV reviews, let me be clear: I'm not being sponsored to say any of this - I'm just genuinely so proud of everyone involved.)

Oh, and did I mention "Love Myself" chanteuse Hailee Steinfeld voices Vi in the show? The Hailegend herself?! I mean...

Speaking of music: much of the soundtrack is very good and new!

The main theme is called "Enemy" by Imagine Dragons, which is, you know, men doing pop-rock music, so...they are allies, at least. It does get stuck in your head.

But there are also some great picks from some faves deeper within the series, including "Playground" with Bea Miller, a super sexy, slinky ominous dark-pop banger, which honestly could have been a theme song contender, too.

There's also the soulful, Temptations-like "Our Love" by Curtis Harding and Jazmine Sullivan, Ramsey's genuinely chills-inducing "Goodbye," the orchestral, James Bond theme-esque drama of "Guns for Hire" by Woodkid, as well as "Snakes," an absolute banger with Pvris and Japanese legend Miyavi placed perfectly in a fight scene during the show's third act, which all but demands a Season 2 order by its final few frames. It feels inevitable. (Update: and there it is - confirmed.)

Really, the show's creators ticked the boxes all around: style, story, songs - it's all really well executed. If only more gaming companies were this considerate about telling their characters' stories in such a gorgeous way. (Please, no live-action movie starring Chris Pratt as Vi.)

Good job, Riot. GG EZ, if you will.

 
 


Aespa Metaverse

aespa Is Leading Us Into the Metaverse

The world is becoming Ready Player One (and/or The Matrix, and/or Black Mirror...), and there's one K-pop girl group leading us towards our digital destiny: aespa. (To be fair, they already warned us they're on the Next Level.)

While they're hardly the first (half) virtual act on the music scene, they are perhaps the most ambitious to date.

In just one year since their debut, the half-IRL, half-virtual girl group - made up of NINGNING, WINTER, KARINA and GISELLE and their æ counterparts (their names are always capitalized, as per SM Entertainment's request) - has already provided enough lore to produce several films worthy of being adopted by Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Except, they've already got their own universe: it's called the SM Entertainment Culture Universe, or SMCU. (More on that in a moment.)

But what about all these words in their lyrics? KWANGYA? KOSMO? "NAVIS, we love you"?

It's all a lot, depending on how much you wish to engage with the growing mythology, which has been summarized better elsewhere, including a glossary of key aespa universe terminology, should you wish to take a deeper dive.

For what's it worth, even if you've got no ænergy to figure out how to help these ladies defeat the villainous Black Mamba, their songs, performances and music videos objectively slap.

These are forward-thinking, hyper pop-influenced bops, and their Savage mini-album easily stands out as a highlight of 2021.

Half their songs sound like eight different tracks in one, complete with clanging, disjointed, utensils-in-the-sink (SYNK!)-disposal noises and Charli XCX and PC Music-adjacent production, all brought to life through the expert, precise singing and dancing skills we've come to expect from graduates of the K-pop training system.

SM's obviously seen the global success of some of the biggest K-pop acts that have managed to successfully crossover in recent years (like BTS and BLACKPINK, among others) - not that they didn't help to pave the path with early international efforts, like BoA's still-excellent 2009 English album.

But the agency is clearly aiming for even bigger exposure with aespa: the girls made their U.S. television debut on The Kelly Clarkson Show last month (a Kellegendary pick for their premiere, if you ask me), and the girls are now set to become the first K-pop group to perform during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in a few days.

But they're not just going for global domination in the traditional charts-and-sales sense of the music industry: they're taking over the (digital) universe, too.

Accelerated by the ways we were forced to adapt to working and communicating with each other while social distancing over the past year and a half amid the pandemic, as well as how many people continue to escape the horrors of the real world by entering into digital utopias (see: Animal Crossing), the "metaverse" concept is becoming a mainstream reality.

Last week, SM founder Soo-Man Lee appeared at Solana Foundation's Breakpoint 2021 conference in Portugal to discuss the company's moves, describing aespa as the “first girl group with a metaverse worldview, where the members exist together with their self-created avatars that are in a virtual world.”

“Due to the rise in aespa’s popularity, the concept of metaverse is gaining attention in the entertainment industry,” he said, describing the SMCU as “a future entertainment world without a boundary between reality and virtuality that connects the world through culture."

Of course, other companies like Meta, or The Artist Formerly Known as Facebook, are making headlines by trying to develop metaverses themselves, but the girls have been steadily laying the groundwork for well over a year now.

This isn't even the first time SM discussed building a metaverse with aespa. In fact, CEO Sung Su Lee was talking about it at 2021 STARTUP:CON over a month ago, before the Facebook announcement even officially happened.

In a speech called SM Content Roadmap – The Future Content Era as seen through SMCU, he spoke about how Soo-Man Lee predicted “the future becoming a world of robots and celebrities, as well as avatars, and since, has been preparing for the future content era for decades," adding that “with the debut of a ‘Metaverse Girl Group’ aespa with avatars last year, SM presented the reality of a massive virtual world that starts with aespa’s storytelling. This is the metaverse that SM visualizes, and is SM’s culture universe called SMCU.”

He also gave some of the first details about the SMCU experience: “The main keyword of SMCU is ‘KWANGYA’ and holds a symbolic meaning as it encompasses both real and virtual worlds. K-POP fans call our relocated SM Headquarters in Seongsu-Dong and the Seoul Forest area ‘KWANGYA.’ It’s our goal for ‘KWANGYA,’ an infinite virtual universe, to expand as the concept of space that refers to our new location and become the landmark of SMCU.”

"We will reach the next level by creating an expanding universe of metaverse-styled IP content that connects the various and independent IPs of artists, music, music videos, performances, etc. within SMCU to one another," he added, (unintentionally?) name-dropping one of aespa's big hits.

It's a lot of industry and tech jargon, I know, but basically, buckle up: things are about to change even more rapidly in the entertainment industry, going digital in a way like never before.

It's as exciting as it is sort of frightening and dystopian. Online concerts are already becoming more of a thing in the Pandemic Era, as well as virtual meet-and-greets. Who knows what's coming next? More advanced VR technology for fan meet-ups? Customizable album experiences via NFT releases? K-pop cryptocurrency? I'd invest in SM Coin this second if I could, honestly.

One thing is absolutely certain: I am ready to pack up and go wherever aespa is heading next. NAVIS, wait for me!


Utada Hikaru New Album 2022

Hikaru Utada's Eighth Studio Album Is Coming in 2022

Utada Hikaru Kimini Muchuu

Hikaru Utada - Hikki, if you're nasty - is coming.

It's been three long, hard years of Fighting the Blues since the "First Love" phenom came full circle with Hatsukoi. And while we've been treated to an array of excellent singles ever since, as well as a very exciting Netflix announcement, album news remained as elusive as the singer and their gay bear.

But now, there is clarity (and reason to live): Hikaru's eighth studio album is arriving in 2022. (Eighth as far as Japanese studio albums - eleventh overall.)

"Fans will be super excited with the latest news that her long-awaited 8th album is in production and will be released next year," the official website declared.

The release notes that the album will include Evangelion theme "One Last Kiss" (a standout of 2021), Shiseido campaign anthem "Find Love" (which is coming...eventually?), as well as “Kimini Muchuu," the new theme for TBS drama Saiai, due out on November 26.

The stunning "Kimini Muchuu" single art is featured above, and the song has its own campaign site with a T-shirt giveaway. There also may or may not already be a radio rip floating around online like it's 2009 again, because that's how Hikaru's team still works. It may or may not sound sort of like "Stay Gold" with a touch of experimental Exodus edge, a la "Kremlin Dusk." Who's to say?

The upcoming record also includes Kingdom Hearts anthem “Face My Fears," “Time” and “Darenimo Iwanai” (which was initially puzzlingly left out of the press release until fans mercifully bullied staff into editing the post), and To Your Eternity theme “PINK BLOOD."

Is there a slight concern amongst the fans that, because the album contains every single campaign song of the past three years, we'll only end up getting, like, two new songs? Yes, there is. However, we will be choosing to think positive and believe that there's an equally long list of new songs, instead. In Japanese and in English. Right? Right.

Also, equally exciting: "An online concert to celebrate the album release is in the works, and its video production is currently underway in London," the site adds, noting that further details for both the album and the online concert will be unveiled on the anniversary of Hikaru Utada's debut, December 9.

Until then, we shall have to...wait and see.


Little Mix Between Us

'Between Us': One Decade Later, Little Mix Are at Their Most Powerful Yet

Little Mix Between Us

Little Mix.

(To be declared in a booming, God-like voice, a la the 2017 BRITs performance opening.)

Girl groups don't often get a chance to celebrate a career that's gone ten years deep. In fact, it's hard enough to get past two or three albums max before "creative differences" arise, egos and tensions flare, and solo ambitions derail the whole project.

And sure, they've not gone without their own personal and professional drama over the years. They're also now down a member who's making some, um, choices on her own.

But Perrie Edwards, Jade Thirlwall and Leigh-Anne Pinnock have still managed to overcome the increasingly unlikely odds to deliver Between Us, out Friday (November 12), a phenomenal celebration of a decade of the hits and beyond. And, to quote another greatest hits from a certain Legend, it just keeps getting better.

While the stacked set is enough of a feat in its own right for the trio, it's not just a victory lap before calling it quits. Far from it, in fact.

Instead, this feels like the stuff of a newly reinvigorated group, armed with Big (Little) Mix Energy, and the earned confidence of an established act that's seen and done quite a lot together - and that's with two out of three of them pregnant throughout nearly the entire process of putting the package together.

Between Us is Bangers Only™ from one of the best-selling girl groups of all time, traversing across hit after hit since 2012's post-X Factor UK debut "Wings" to "Move" to "Touch" to "Salute" to "Black Magic" to "Shout Out to My Ex," all the way up to their most recent smashes, including "Sweet Melody" and "Heartbreak Anthem."

Listening through the entirety of the record is a most fulfilling exercise in happy memory recall. "Oh yeah, that one! And that one! And that one too!" They've had the bops from the very beginning, quite frankly.

However, the new songs are just as impressive as the consistency of their singles run.

While there is one requisite sentimental moment - "Between Us," an ode to their history and connection (which has always felt more genuine than the majority of groups, if we're honest) that cleverly name-drops some of the hits included in this package - the new songs are largely about looking forward and keeping it moving.

The girls of Little Mix are truly grown women now, and they're simply not having what no longer serves them. The fresh tracks are all massively catchy, self-preserving, boundary-setting anthems, cutting off flops left and right.

Ex-lovers? Ex-bandmates? Decide amongst yourselves.

"No" is a total pop monster, produced alongside Kamille, Tre Jean-Marie and MNEK - the Bernie Taupin to their Elton John - that feels like a slight nod to millennium-era Max Martin for 2021. The ladies all reign supreme in the accompanying video, in Housewives mode, remote-controlling their robot men (men, boo!), who still can't get it right, even in nuts-and-bolts form.

"Love (Sweet Love)," meanwhile, taps into the En Vogue massive vocals and harmonies that made the group great from the very beginning, as they deservedly celebrate themselves, while "Trash," originally cut by Mabel, supplies the player-rejecting energy one might expect from a group that grew up on the likes of Destiny's Child and TLC.

Perhaps the feistiest in the bunch of new bops is the instantly addictive "Cut You Off," crafted with one of the hottest producers of the moment Lostboy, which Jade described as "kind of a therapy songwriting session."

"Everyone's got a limit, really saw my life with you in it / 'Til you walked right out," Leigh-Anne declares off the top of the track, providing massive melody after melody, complete with blade noises for the full slicing-off effect.

There's a certain energy to "Cut You Off" - and basically all of the new tracks, for that matter - that seems very...pointed right now. Even the track listing feels a little...interesting, kicking off with "Shout Out to My Ex" and ending with "Wasabi" which, in its final few seconds, finds a former member wildly yelping about going solo. Really makes you think!

Beyond a bit of amusing shade here and there (intentional or otherwise), the best part about Between Us is that, while it could easily serve as the cherry on top of an incredible run for one of the best girl groups of the modern era, the newest bits scattered throughout play like a troupe that's only just begun.

Between Us is out now, and available on vinyl.
 
 


Mitski The Only Heartbreaker

"The Only Heartbreaker": Mitski Resigns to Being the Bad Guy

"If you would just make one mistake, what a relief that would be..."

You know how there are songs that, upon hearing an opening line for the first time, you just know it's about to have you in a chokehold?

Mitski is back.

The 31-year-old Puberty 2 singer-songwriter actually returned last month after a three year hiatus with "Working for the Knife," an all-too-relatable contemplation about growing older and having dreams take a backseat now that there's bills to pay. (Oof, oof.)

And on Tuesday (November 9), she followed that up with the announcement of her new album - Laurel Hell, out on February 4, 2022 - as well as a new single called "The Only Heartbreaker," which is not only a gorgeous, completely devastating ode to being the perpetual fuck-up, but also the first song she's crafted with another writer to date.

"This is the first song in my entire discography of however many albums I’ve made where I have a co-writer, and it’s because this song was this puzzle that I couldn’t solve," she explained to Apple Music.

"And I was just sitting on it forever. I have so many iterations of it. Nothing felt right. And right when I was stewing over it, I was actually in LA, doing co-write sessions for other artists. And we had this one day, or I had this one day with Dan Wilson. I had every intention to write for somebody else, but then I just sat down at his piano, and I was like, he’s one of the best, smartest songwriters in the world. Maybe he can help me with this song. And so I brought the song to him, and it turned out he’s really good. He helped me solve so many of the problems and kind of lead me out of the labyrinth of it. And yeah, I’m really glad that I took that chance with him."

If there's a songwriter to solve a puzzle with, Dan certainly seems capable: perhaps you know him for a song he did with under-the-radar indie singer Adele, called "Someone Like You."

The puzzle, evidently, was solved in the studio, but that doesn't help the fact that Mitski herself remains a problem...at least, in this particular brilliant song's version of events.

Propelled by a rapid pulse and a thoroughly '80s sheen of synths (shades of Bonnie Tyler, perhaps? A little Depeche Mode?), the singer glides across perfect pop melody after melody as she surrenders to the idea of being no good - or “the person always messing up in the relationship, the designated Bad Guy who gets the blame," as she explains.

"I'll be the loser in this game, I'll be the bad guy in the play / I'll be the water main that's burst and flooding, you'll be by the window, only watching," she resigns, "I'll be the only heartbreaker." It's a sad and straightforward sentiment that lingers in the air long after the song fades out, and its got its own (even sadder!) layers hidden underneath.

"It could simply be about that, but I also wanted to depict something sadder beneath the surface, that maybe the reason you’re always the one making mistakes is because you’re the only one trying," she says. Twist the knife, why don't you?

For anyone who's ever felt like they can't seem to do anything right by someone, and/or are wracked by perpetual guilt and shame and the nagging suspicion that you're just a Bad Person (oh, hello!), this one certainly ought to cut deep. (It's also just a very excellent exercise in songwriting, lyrics aside.)

The song's structure also cleverly captures the increasing mess she's made, as the instrumentation gets progressively more chaotic - the piano chords mashing down midway through, the searing noises coursing through the speakers towards the song's end - building and building towards an abrupt collapse.

Similarly, the accompanying music video, co-directed by Maegan Houang and Jeff Desom, immediately communicates the song's message of being nothing but trouble in motion, in the form of being a fire-starting decay-maker in the middle of the forest, which has a vague Volta or Vulnicura-era Björk feel. (It also marks her first green-screen production.)

Mitski can't help herself, as everything she touches goes turns to rot and flames and soot. She captivatingly, frantically dances her way through the pain as she simultaneously burns it all down to the ground, horrified at the hurt she's caused at her own hands - eventually destroying her entire world.

"The worst pain I’ve experienced is when I’ve fully understood the pain I’ve caused another. It’s one of the hardest parts of being human, that no matter our intentions, we’ll inevitably do something hurtful to our fellow man, if not someone we love. In this case, the harm Mitski enacts in the video is to the world. It’s unstoppable and destructive, but worst of all, she doesn’t even want it to happen. She’s a stand-in for humanity as we collectively do so little to save ourselves and our planet," director Maegan explains of the song's video concept. See? There are so many opportunities for us to be bad for ourselves, or for our loved ones, or for the world as a whole! What a joy the Human Experience is.

So whether you're feeling bad about your behavior, or you're looking for an anthem to lean into chaotic evil (honestly, work), Mitski's got you covered.

At least destroying everything we touch sounds really, really fucking good. (Or "so fire," as Vanessa Hudgens would say.)


Donna Missal To Me Your Face Is Love

"(To Me) Your Face Is Love": Donna Missal's Club-Ready Love Letter

Donna Missal To Me Your Face Is Love

"You’re symphonic, you’re the melody I want..."

Donna Missal doesn't -- wait for it -- miss. At all. (Still workshopping this one. Sorry.)

The 30-year-old powerhouse belter has come a long way sonically since her 2018 debut This Time, followed by last year's Lighter, both of which are full of massive, soul-shaking melodies largely rooted in pop-rock, soul and country influences. ("Let You Let Me Down" is a major wow moment, still.)

She's grown even more experimental in recent months, including a cover of Cigarettes After Sex's incredible "Nothing's Gonna Hurt You Baby" for the Promising Young Woman soundtrack, as well as the intimate "sex is good (but have you tried)" released earlier this year, an almost Imogen Heap-meets-Donna Lewis-meets-BANKS-like exercise in sensual, near-whispered electronica introspection.

That song was produced by Sega Bodega, who also just co-crafted the excellent new Shygirl song. And their collaborative sessions didn't end there, much to our great benefit.

On Tuesday (November 9), just as she kicks off a supporting gig on the new U.S. CHVRCHES tour (one of the albums of the year!), Donna dropped a brand new song called "(to me) your face is love," a head-over-heels smitten ode, and an intriguing dive even deeper into pulsating production with a hyperpop flare.

It's also the first song that she wrote in person alongside Sega Bodega amid the pandemic.

"I went to London to finish songs I had started virtually with Sega Bodega. We made this song there in studio, working together in person for the first time. It’s a love letter," she explains.

"I was dancing around alone a lot during this time, wanting to be around people, I wanted to make what I could dance to. I was very inspired by the change in environment after so much time stationary, a time of anxiety and longing. When I got back to my flat from the studio that night, I danced around to our demo and felt so excited for the first time in a long time. I want to share that feeling."

The song is nothing short of a vaguely early '00s-reminiscent club dream, full of woozily crooned proclamations across beats with an almost Prodigy sort of breakbeat energy: "You’re beautiful / You’re an angel in the dark / I’d give all earthly possessions / To keep you in my heart," Donna swoons.

Things take an especially interesting turn as her voice frantically fast-forwards through the bridge: "Don’t cry for me love / When I run to your arms, no space no god can own / Knowing you’re not alone / I know I’m not alone!"

The accompanying Rodrigo Inada-directed visual feels like a nostalgic nod to Y2K-era pop culture in some ways as well, supplying a bit of The Fifth Element styling, a touch of American Beauty bed dreams gone surreal, and the futuristic sheen of early-to-mid '00s Ayumi Hamasaki Japanese advertisements, all filtered through a trippy, dream-like haze.

It's fascinating to hear (and see) Donna take such a sharp left turn from her more traditional singer-songwriter roots, especially going from full-bodied, soulful yelps to vocoded breathy coos and throbbing beats, but the payoff is just as brilliant. We love a versatile queen.


CXLOE New Trick

Australia's Dark-Pop Princess CXLOE Has a "New Trick" Up Her Sleeves

"I got a new trick / Why'd it take all this time?"

Australia is home to some of the finest, most globally cherished pop exports of our time: The Sisters Minogue™. Natalie Imbruglia. Holly Valance.

Enter CXLOE into the discourse.

The 26-year-old Sydney-born singer-songwriter has been making waves for well over a minute now with her brand of emo-electro-alt-pop, following an X Factor Australia run in 2014, as well as her banger of a track "Show You" in 2018 and her Heavy, Pt. 1 debut EP, which racked up millions of streams and led to opening for the likes of Maroon 5, Broods, King Princess and The Veronicas, as well as her own headlining tour.

More recently, she kicked off the year with "Cry & Drive" back in May, a spiritual cousin to fellow drive-and-crier Olivia Rodrigo's "Drivers License," later feeling her early '00s pop-rock fantasy with "Soft Rock" in August, inspired by Kelly Clarkson and Paramore, as well as last month's "Close," a whispery, whirring, appropriately eerie banger for the spooky season. And now, she's got a new trick up her sleeves - literally.

"New Trick" is the latest single from CXLOE, released on Friday (November 5).

The breathy, synth-y track comes equipped with a fierce, thumping anti-chorus of sorts, offering up an empowering and vaguely ominous declaration: "I got a new trick / Why'd it take all this time? / I think you're gonna hate it / Sorry but I'm getting mine," she announces, sort of recalling a darker take on Selena Gomez's moodier quirk-bops, like "Boyfriend."

The song was co-written with an array of Aussie singer-songwriter talent, including Xavier Dunn (who also produced the track), Jess Kent, Charley, Georgia Denton and Rory Adams.

"’New Trick’ is all about newfound, unapologetic confidence. Unfortunately, we often find ourselves in situations where we are suppressing feelings and hiding oneself in fear of being persecuted. The song talks about finally letting go of that fear and embracing confidence and individuality. Often, this brave trait doesn't come naturally to most people, so when it does, it only feels best to describe it as a New Trick," CXLOE says of the track's inspiration.

There's an accompanying visual as well, which finds CXLOE and an array of dancers pulling shapes, emancipating themselves and twirling their new tricks all around the sands of Cronulla, a beachside suburb in New South Wales, Australia. It's basically what happens when you and your goth Fun Fashion Friends™ plan a day by the sea.

"I think you're gonna hate it"? Couldn't be further from the truth. Keep the tricks coming, Miss CXLOE.


ABBA Voyage

ABBA Takes Us on the 'Voyage' of a Lifetime (Review)

"We have a story, and it survived."

The idea of the return of ABBA is too legendary for words.

Literally: it feels silly to do a proper written review of a comeback by one of the most important and influential pop bands of all time. The group behind "Dancing Queen," and "Waterloo," and "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)," and "Lay All Your Love on Me," and "The Winner Takes It All," and "Mamma Mia," and...well, you get it.

What a gift to have Voyage, out Friday (November 5), in our digital and physical hands.

The demand is still there, obviously: the band broke Universal's record for the fastest pre-order of all time in the United Kingdom, with over 80,000 copies in just three days.

More impressive, still, is that the collection of 10 songs, crafted by the legendary Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and vocally brought to life by the iconic Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, could have largely been plucked from the lesser-known depths of their storied discography, remaining largely free of modern genre influences and production tricks and trends.

As always, the album's programming and mixing was largely helmed by Benny, who hosted the four members over the past four years at his studio Riksmixningsverket in Stockholm. (In truth, the music likely would have come sooner, but there were production delays in the ABBA Vovage process, plus a pandemic.)

“It’s been a while since we made music together," ABBA said, in the understatement of the century. (For a sense of how long it's been, their last album was among one of the first albums ever to be pressed as a CD.)

"Almost 40 years, actually. We took a break in the spring of 1982 and now we’ve decided it’s time to end it. They say it’s foolhardy to wait more than 40 years between albums, so we’ve recorded a follow-up to The Visitors."

There's a lived-to-tell quality to much of the music on Voyage, which is appropriate coming from true industry veterans, including the sweeping and cinematic lead single released back in September, "I Still Have Faith in You," which perfectly summarizes the story of their return in just a few, succinct lines: "We do have it in us / New spirit has arrived / The joy and the sorrow / We have a story, and it survived."

Some of the tracks play like age-old folk songs passed down, telling wistful tales of the passage of time, and people coming and going in our lives, like the still-hopeful, Ireland fair-inspired "When You Danced with Me." And, true to their country of origin, there's an undeniable Scandinavian melancholy that flows throughout much of the record.

"You're just here for the music, that's all, or could it be / You miss the good old times when you danced with me?"

There are tracks for traditions still to come too, including the delicate and twinkling "Little Things," the album's peak in sentimentality, Björn told Apple Music "could be played for Christmases to come, and that would be great, because we want to own Christmas and New Year’s Eve, like with [1980’s] 'Happy New Year'."

It's not all so gentle: "Don't Shut Me Down," the fired up, a vaguely disco-tinged standout, feels as sturdy of an ABBA single as many of their past hits.

Written from the perspective of a heartbroken protagonist showing up at the door of a former flame to try and win their love back, it doubles as a triumphant rallying cry for the comeback: "I'm not the one you knew / I'm now and then combined / And I'm asking you to have an open mind / I'm not the same this time around / I'm fired up, don't shut me down!"

Similarly, the feisty and spirited "No Doubt About It" finds the group grappling with a temper that just can't be tamed: "I made a mess this time, and thеre's no doubt about it / Hands down, the fault is mine, and I'm prеpared to shout it," they merrily rage until the eventual calm comes again.

"This isn't where it ends!," they insist in the song's final moments, a most fitting declaration.

Of course, Voyage would have never happened without ABBA Voyage, a groundbreaking virtual concert complete with a 10-piece live band, being staged in a custom ABBA Arena in London starting in May of 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 said in a statement.

Delightfully for the diehards, the record weaves in hints of melodies past - and at least one track that's decades in the making: “Just A Notion” was originally recorded in 1978 for Voulez-Vous, and was featured as part of the "ABBA Undeleted" medley on the Thank You for the Music box set in 1994. Like uncovering a forgotten pile of vintage Polaroids in the attic, it's a nostalgic thrill to hear the start of a decades-old idea carried out, dusted off and put on display at last.

The rollicking track frolics across happy piano keys, as the group swoons: "It is our destiny, there's nothing we can do / And tonight is very special, it's a night for me and you." It's a Frankenstein-ed production, built out of the original vocals cut in the '70s, but backed by new instrumentation, which doubles as a representation in song form of what to expect from their upcoming ABBAtar show.

The album is occasionally current in unexpected ways: "It's quite absurd, this summer morning / To think we could be trapped inside a world where all is changing / Too fast for bumblebees to adapt," they lament on the twinkling "Bumblebee," using an innocent observation from the window as a subtle, melancholy nod to climate change.

Their knack for conjuring vivid scenes through storytelling is as sharp as ever, as with "I Can Be That Woman" and "Keep an Eye on Dan," a personal favorite.

"There’s a lot of stuff going into ['I Can Be That Woman'], but it’s basically about someone who has come down from an addiction and finally come down into real life and is sorry about all the wasted years. But there’s hope at the end of the tunnel: I can be that woman now. Only we know what is fact and what is fiction about our life experiences together. It’s a kind of freedom that you get. With 70, you get that freedom," Björn explains of the song, inspired by who he declares to be the "Queen of Country," Tammy Wynette.

The dark and dramatic "Keep an Eye on Dan," meanwhile, pulses with a certain tension, capturing a couple mid-divorce, with a child stuck in the middle (Dan!), certainly something the two former couples could relate to in varying degrees of intensity. "I know that this shouldn't be a traumatic event but it is, and I feel so bad." It's one of the most unique tracks on the album, from both a musical and lyrical perspective, proving that ABBA can still ways to bring something new along their Voyage.

All good things do come to an end eventually, and the album's gorgeous comedown, "Ode to Freedom," takes us gently outward deeper into space on their next journey. It also leaves the record unresolved, supplying food for thought rather than a formal sign-off, which feels appropriate for ABBA.

"I would like to think that freedom is more than just a word / In grand and lofty language, odes to freedom often go unheard," they sing, nearly hymn-like, as the strings take flight.

"This is not my ode to freedom; it’s about how if I ever wrote one, it would be simple. I don’t know what it would be about, but I wish someone would write one," Björn explains of the track. (Hey, there's always time...)

The legacy of ABBA aside, there's something very special about seeing the news of this album so loudly celebrated on a global level, having come from 70-something-year-olds making pop music. In a youth-obsessed world, where we regularly revere the opinions and images of baby-faced teens in pop culture, and where radio programmers largely retire acts (especially women!) by their mid thirties from the airwaves entirely, it is a truly rare thing for a veteran act like ABBA to capture the public's attention to this degree once again.

They're our pop elders, and their perspective on life comes from their actual lived experiences, making much of the material feel more poignant than ever before. "A while ago, I heard the sound of children's laughter / Now it's quiet, so I guess they left the park..."

Perhaps what's most impressive about ABBA's return is that it isn't just some sentimental victory lap, nor a "thanks for the memories and goodbye" gesture, like a greatest hits collection with a new song or two - which would have certainly sufficed as enough of a panic in its own right.

Voyage is uncharted territory. A new adventure awaits. Nearly 50 years beyond their debut, here stands ABBA, still exploring new ideas, still faithful in their mission, still heading towards the great unknown.

How fortunate we all are to get to come along for the ride.