Another month where a lot of good music came out, another month where I hand select the 20 best new songs for you.
Before that, a quick note on the album front: some decent releases in April from Demi Lovato, Charlotte Cardin, AJ Tracey, Paul McCartney, Imelda May, and Amy Shark, all of which are worth a little spin if you have the time.
Also, at the risk of crying wolf, I’m restarting my weekly Monday newsletter which will basically be a link to a playlist containing the 10-12 best songs released the week previous and maybe a few other thoughts about music related things – subscribe to that here.
Here’s this month’s Spotify playlist to have a skim through/listen along. Videos for each of this month’s top 20 songs are below with some words about each.
20. Girl From Rio by Anitta
Brazillian breakout star Anitta is coming for song of the summer (if you would believe the folks at the official chart company) with Girl From Rio: a song which breaks down the romantic illusions (‘we don’t look like models’) of what being ‘a girl from rio’ is all about (‘tan lines, big curves energy glows’). Sonically, it sits beside Ariana Grande’s staple elevator-pop-meets-trap: sparse instrumental, infectious hook-repetition, one that the radios will be keen to play and you’ll be keen to hear.
19. Ride or Die (feat. Pheobe Ryan) by Cash Cash
Taking home this month’s award for the best hyper-generic-but-very-effective-edm-euphoria-nonsense-banger is Cash Cash, whose enlistment of Pheobe Ryan is a pitch perfect choice. The key to this kind of song is shovelling lyrical genericism (I would risk it all I’m not afraid/Are you with me? Would you do the same?) with that one line that eclipses the rest, in this case it’s the Pillowtalk-evoking ‘Cause I wanna face this crazy life with you/fuck and fight with you/On and on until we’re insane’ which lands the killer blow.
18. Lucky by Rupaul + The Cast of Rupaul’s Drag Race Season 13
Lucky is up there with the best Rupaul’s ‘write a verse’ challenges has to offer. Not only does the hook slap (L U C K Y baby come on, pussy on fire) but all four queens nailed it on their solos. From Gottmik’s no-nonsense ‘Here’s the tea, I put in work baby’, to Kandy Muse’s iconic ‘Yo, the Muse is back’, to Rosé surprising ‘I can rap? what a gag/check it baby this is drag’, to Symone’s show-stealing ‘You wanna-wanna taste of me?/(Aah) I’m the mothertuckin’ ebony’, it’s a beautiful thing to belisten.
17. Met Him Last Night (feat. Ariana Grande) by Demi Lovato
In dual roll-out with her YouTube docu-series, Demi Lovato unleashed her 7th album, featuring this collaboration with fellow teen-actress-come-global-phenomenon Ariana Grande. There was a lot to like on the album, but after a few dubious listens, Met Him Last Night presented itself as one of the record’s strongest tracks. Is it current-sounding? Not really. Is it either of their best work? Of course not. Did these two powerhouse vocalists go head to head in a spectacular singoff? Not even. It’s just a solid pop song, which is a powerful thing in itself.
16. Introvert by Little Simz
It feels reductive to call Little Simz’ Introvert a song. It’s a culmination of a movement, it’s confessional self-scrutinising poetry, it’s passionate, it’s musically intuitive, it’s about being heard. It’s a six minute experience that you should not miss.
15. Dance by Foxes
Foxes is a long time favourite of mine, and I *think* my most seen live performer. She’s very adept at curating a rising, echoey pop feast, a la Dance. Great vocal, lovely chorus, an itch that has been scratched. Can’t wait for more new music from Louisa Rose Allen.
14. Amy Shark by Amy Shark
Excellent Aussie pop star does Halsey-level-good confessional pop. We all know by now that being a famous singer is challenging and addictive and lonely and frustrating and relentlessly testing. Amy Shark is the self-titled story of Amy Shark’s pop star experience. It’s the perfect balance of evocative guitar, restrained vocals, and emotion. It is, I think, one of the most down-to-earth, sympathy-drawing examples of this very familiar story. The cut-scene video is particularly jarring. Really, very good.
13. Starstruck by Years & Years
Despite Emry and Mikey dipping out for the third Year & Years record, front man Olly Alexander proves himself perfectly capable of doing it on his own on Starstruck. It’s perhaps too early to say there’s something lacking where three become one, we may never know what the full-band version of Startstruck – a hopelessly euphoric, relentlessly upbeat love song about the addictive nature of love – will sound like, but it’s reassuring and welcome to see one of the UK’s best pop stars back at it.
12. I’m Fine by Ashe
Friend of the O’Connell family, Ashe, is set to release her full debut album Ashlyn at the end of the week in the wake of a string of very-good singles, including last month’s temporal end-of-the-world-anthem Till Forever Falls Apart and her latest: I’m Fine. It’s no easy feat to be a woman in pop with an instantly recognisable voice, but Ashe is putting in the work and her increasingly vivid signature sound is at the centre of this song about saying you’re fine to the person who really knows when you’re not fine at all. The casual intimacy and the strength of the hook mark Ashe out as one of 2021’s most interesting artists.
11. Bad Bitch by Charlotte OC
The very first line lets you know what you’re in for in Charlotte OC’s Bad Bitch: a low key, vocally taunting i-couldn’t-give-a-fuck-about-your-opinion pop track with a chorus that really won’t quit. The song that I came back to the most over the last month.
10. 100,000,000 by BERWYN
Third runner up in the probably meaningless BBC Sound Of 2021 poll Berwyn released some low n slow n really lovely RnB poetry in the form of 100,000,000. It’s the kind of song that says a lot but is given so softly that you can just ease your way through it and get a little bit more every time you listen. A very lovely tune.
09. My Girlfriends Are My Boyfriends (feat. Saweetie) by Demi Lovato
The best track from Demi’s new album is this: the Saweetie-featuring ‘My Girlfriends Are My Boyfriends’. Conceptually, if we’re being candid about it, it’s another 7 Rings style song about the strength and permanence of female friendship, that steadfast relationship in the oft tumultuous world of dating. Does it hit as hard as the Ariana tune? Nah. But it still succeeds in hammering in the point, it’s quintessential Demi at her feistiest, and Saweetie sounds as good as you would expect. A tune.
08. Vertigo by Alice Merton
If there’s one thing I trust Alice Merton with it’s handing over a big stonking pop tune, case and point: Vertigo. Merton has always been one to lean heavily on a thick bass guitar and layer it with a full throttle chorus, which she does to full effect here. Easily one of my favourite voices in music and beyond stoked to hear the material is just as strong for her sophmore album. If you haven’t already, get listening to Alice Merton.
07. déjà vu by Olivia Rodrigo
You have the biggest song in the world as your debut single then… what? It was never going to be an easy road to follow up the behemothic, impossible-to-best drivers license, so Rodrigo did what any sensible pop upstart would do and continued to play into the narrative she’s painting around her, diving into the perceived relationship her ex has with his new girlfriend, playing into that insecurity we’ve all had wondering if you’ve done *this* before. deja vu was never going to best drivers license, but it has given her the opportunity to stretch her Swift-like lyrical abilities by putting the twist in the bridge: ‘Play her piano, but she doesn’t know/That I was the one who taught you Billy Joel’. For someone who had all the pressure in the world to deliver on her second single, she did a damn good job.
06. Your Power by Billie Eilish
Do you like Billie Eilish singing slow songs? If yes, listen to Your Power, a ballad about the abuse of power, the second single from her forthcoming second album. If no, you are wrong and now must watch the Billie Eilish documentary on Apple TV+ and then listen to Your Power, a ballad about the abuse of power, the second single from her forthcoming second album. Stunning.
05. Anyone Who Loves Me by Charlotte Cardin
Five years in the works, Charlotte Cardin has unveiled her debut album, and on it is one of the year’s best ballads to date: Anyone Who Loves Me. It’s a straight up and down ballad, short verses, huge chorus, impeccable vocals in both strength and restraint. What! More! Do! You! Need!
04. NEVER FUCKIN KNOW by poutyface
Sometimes a song just presents itself from the ether of new music, no warning, no reservations, it just arrives and slams you in the fuckin face with how GOOD it is. The light strumming in the intro, the conversational verses which tease into singing in the run up to the chorus which does not pull any punches, all of it hits just right. Think Icona Pop’s I Love It but with more nuance and even more audacity pumping through it.
03. gray! By 44phantom
There have to be half a million of these emo-rap-meets-trap-meets-pop songs, so standing out among them isn’t an easy thing to do, but from the opening ‘all my friends are dead’ you know that 44phantom has it in hand. It’s short, sharp, and incredibly easy to throw on repeat. Also, it contains probably my favourite lyric this month: ‘ I want a real smart girl/with a Harvard brain/shawty really gotta give good mind’.
02. Mr. Perfectly Fine (Taylor’s Version) by Taylor Swift
You really have to wonder who what where when and WHY Mr Perfectly Fine was left on the cutting room floor when Taylor Swift put together Fearless the first time around, because it really is peak-Fearless-era Taylor. Nobody is questioning the song writing credentials of the country-come-pop-come-folk icon, but it’s genuinely mind boggling to think that she’s always been this good. It’s really nice to hear her positive juvenility in this long-forgotten, upbeat clapback song probably about Joe Jonas. From the hook to the bridge, it’s pure pop-country perfection.
01. Dover Beach by Baby Queen
Look, the thing about Bella Latham AKA Baby Queen is that if she’s putting it down then I’m probably picking it up and putting it on repeat. Dover Beach is just the upbeat love song for the summer that I didn’t know I was missing. What I love most about Baby Queen is how, even though you might completely miss them, every single lyric is tight, interesting, and does something: “In my self-made isolation, you’re my only inspiration/When the mirror says I’m ugly and if anybody loves me, it’s a lie/And right before I’m swallowed by my mind and cursing at the sky”. A fine pop song from pop’s finest songstress.