Iainsight’s February Top 20

If you were under any illusion that pop-punk was back, then please wonder no more because it is here and it was absolutely thriving in the month of February 2022. From the game’s early player Avril Lavigne to its latest monarchs Machine Gun Kelly and WILLOW, there is a lot of guitar driven angst this month – long may it continue.

I’m only about a week late in posting this, which really just reaffirms the ranking decisions I’ve made below in the top twenty songs that came out in February. There’s a lot of excellent music, marking another great month for pop, and I hope that you find something you missed or maybe didn’t give enough of a chance the first time around because, as someone who has listened to all of these songs countless times I am confident they are all worthy of a spin or two.

Here’s this month’s Spotify Playlist, words and videos below – happy listening!

21. Church by Jennifer Lopez

I simply cannot decide if this song is brilliant or terrible – it’s that exact right level of cheesy gospel-pop that contextually in the film this song is from (fictional Jlo is about to get married at one of her live shows in from of 20 million plus people and performs this before the ceremony) feels right but in every other context feels so so wrong. The best way to describe this sonically is an absurdist Beyoncé song and I cannot get enough of it.

20. Mayhem by Cassyette

One of many excellent pop-punk songs to come out in February, rocker Casseyette does a really good impression of P!NK on her latest song Mayhem – that exact level of chaos, rage, and vocal talent that made her predecessor so famous, you have to expect equally impressive things on the horizon for Cassy Brooking.

19. Boys Lie (feat. Machine Gun Kelly) by Avril Lavigne

I don’t know why people were so surprised that the new Avril record from the pop-punk queen herself is so good. It feels only right that she partnered up with King of pop-punk’s global renaissance, Machine Gun Kelly, for a guest spot on the album and unsurprising that they have created a song that is so perfectly in the genre you might think you’ve accidentally time-travelled back to 2002 and are hearing Let Go for the first time.

18. You Feel Like Depression by AVIV

Tonally, the title of this song tells you exactly what kind of vibe you’re about to be faced with, but the meandering verses on this lull you into a haze of despair then rocks you right out of it when that chorus hits. A very interesting song indeed.

17. Burn For You by Boyzlife

I should be incredibly embarrassed for even listening to a song by boyband supergroup ‘Boyzlife’ – a very uninspired portmanteau of Boyzone and Westlife’s Keith Duffy and Brian McFadden who have come together as a duo – but I would not be true to myself if I did not indulge in this outdated angsty older white man genre whenever it comes along. Feels like it should be objectively terrible, and yet this one really landed for me, particularly some of those gritty vocal moments.

16. Girls In Line for the Bathroom by Carlie Hanson

To steal the sentiment from my original review: not being a girl, this is a life experience I’ll never truly have, but Hanson really paints the shared experience of waiting in line for the bathroom and sharing your deepest secrets beautifully; That second verse is just: ‘I mean it’s just a bunch of strangers in the hall/But I can tell them anything at all/I know they don’t judge me like you do/Maybe I should sleep with them instead of you.’ Hanson’s chorus has been a fixture in the jukebox of my brain for weeks and there is no indication that it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

15. Shadow Of Mine by Alec Benjamin

Alec Benjamin has such a wonderfully distinctive vocal, the kind that your ears prick up a little bit to try and figure out what it is you’re listening to, and he really utilises it well on this perfectly pitched little pop song. The piano line is so simple and is somehow both elegant and unsettling.

14. Dancing Feat (feat. DNCE) by Kygo

It would be incredibly embarrassing if the middle Jonas brother’s side project didn’t live up to its DNCE branding, but fortunately his cheeks remain unflushed as he has once again delivered on bop-front featuring on this funky little banger from one of the best DJs in the pop game – let’s hope this is the finally the precursor to a second record from Joe and co.

13. Fat Funny Friend by Maddie Zahm

It’s truly fucked up that anyone has to think about themselves in derogatory terms and justify their body to anyone, let alone use the internalised self-loathing it as fuel for an emotionally wrought pop song. Zahm really slams you with the self-deprecation that springs from the ‘fat funny friend’ label, the way her vocal strengthens throughout is heartbreaking.

12. Kiss Me Like The World Is Ending by Avril Lavigne

The whole Avril album was a perfectly executed triumph of pop-punk (thank you once again Travis Barker) and Kiss Me Like The World Is Ending is just one of many brilliant songs on a brilliant record.

11. House On Fire by Mimi Webb

Revenge is a dish best served hot when it comes to pop bangers – something which Mimi Webb is fully aware of when she sings in the bridge: “You should’ve seen this from the start/When you could’ve been honest, you could’ve been smart/Yeah, we might have touched, we might have kissed/But, darling, I’m sorry, it’s not enough to convict“.

10. God Is A Freak by Peach PRC

Surely having a hook that goes ‘God is a bit of a freak/Why’s he watching me getting railed on the couch” is reason enough for anyone to listen to this audacious work of musical art.

09. Gentleman by Foxes

After six long, long years of waiting for my own personal queen of pop Lousia Rose Allen AKA Foxes to release a third record, she finally did so in February and did not disappoint. The Kick is wall to wall disco-pop perfection from start to finish, but it really on the final minute of Gentleman that Foxes felt like she had returned.

08. 20s by Bow Anderson

As someone who turns 28 this year, being told by Bow Anderson that I’ve ‘Only got until I’m 29/To figure out what I’mma do with my life‘ is slightly terrifying, but she delivers the blow with that dance-your-troubles-away pop fervour that makes it feel like I might just have a little more time.

07. dying on the inside by Nessa Barrett

Shiny on the outside broken on the inside is a tried and tested subject matter for an angsty pop banger and Barrett absolutely nails it here. You really feel like she is dying on the inside with every utterance of: “Beauty is a knife/I’ve been holding by the blade/Swallowing my pride so I won’t eat anything/It’s all a lie, honestly, it’s eating me alive“.

06. Moderation by Lilyisthatyou

Lilyisthatyou delivered two-for-two on audaciously good pop songs in 2022. Moderation is an Eilish-esque tune that builds on the sex-positive Purity from last month: ‘Everything in moderation/Drugs, sex, gin, and masturbation/Keep my vices on rotation/I don’t swallow, I’m just tastin‘. The pre-chorus tongue pop is everything.

05. reckless driving (feat. Ben Kessler) by Lizzy McAlpine

You start this song off thinking it’s just another run of the mill indie-pop acoustic song, gentle vocals from McAlpine, a good duet partner in Kessler, even when the first chorus lands it all still feels warm and fuzzy, but then the switch imperceptibly trips and an unsettling wave of anxiety sweeps across things until you realise you’re rocketing towards an unstoppable, shocking climax.

04. No Romeo by Dylan

Dylan is a real talent, and it’s only been a matter of time before she delivers that song and lo and behold it is here: No Romeo is that perfect blend of euphoric vocal, massive chorus, huge final chorus that has been a winning formula for so many, and continues to prove a success for Dylan. Now this is what I call a pop song.

03. emo girl (feat. WILLOW) by Machine Gun Kelly

Machine Gun Kelly’s pivot to pop-punk in 2020 was a real career-making move for the former rapper. He’s been on a few feature spots since Tickets To My Downfall but it’s clear he’s been saving his best efforts for himself on his latest lead single. WILLOW is a smart choice as a duet partner for this song: she really embodies the titular Emo Girl as her vocal contributions pay testament to. There’s a lot of great moments on this songs, but the one that always gets me is the ‘mmm’ after MGK sings: “Takes pics with a cherry-red lipstick/Says she only dates guys with a big“.

02. debbie downer by LØLØ + Maggie Lindermann

This song hits so right for exactly three reasons: the American Idiot guitar line in the verses, the prechorus “Brrr, it’s cold in here/All black everything sad and weird“, and the short sharp moments of repetition (‘Debbie-Debbie’, ice ice ice’, too aggressive, too too agressive‘). I’m fully aware that the ‘too aggressive‘ is near identical to Lilyisthatyou’s ‘be aggressive’ on Purity but when both are so good and perfect for their songs, does it really matter?

01. Bleach by Isaac Dunbar

The pop theatricality of Bleach is what makes Isaac Dunbar’s latest song my top pick for this month. From that opening ‘I should bleach my hair to make my parents mad, especially dad’, to the way it builds into the chorus, to the not one but two bridges, to Dunbar’s impeccable falsetto, to the rare effective use of cowbell – everything about this one was thought through from top to bottom and it absolutely shows. This is what perfect pop sounds like.

What songs did you like this week?

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