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It Ain’t That Deep Either Way: Our Pop Picks For January
Anna Cafolla , February 1st, 2018 18:35

Hayley Kiyoko, Holland, Kailee Morgue, Nakhane and Camila Cabello are here to usher in the first sweet rays of spring. Happy imbolc, pop pickers!

January is a weird, contemplative, mostly grim time of year. Thankfully, this month in pop reflects exactly the opposite: in the pop-o-sphere, it’s clear skies and 30 degrees, maybe a little too humid if anything, and no one’s swerving nights out for duvets and nudging Netflix that yes, they’re definitely still there. Pop, as Queen of Christmas Mariah and High Priestess of Sad Girl Summers Lana del Rey can tell you, can be distinctly seasonal, and sun-dappled festival tunes are what’s going to get me safely into spring.

This month the world lost Dolores O’Riordan, singer of the Cranberries and lead vocalist that soundtracked my teens. It was lovely, as a young Irish woman, to find the punk, DIY spirit that once seemed far away with Seattle riot grrrl or English dream pop in a group close to home.

Her legacy is wild, lush and far-reaching. She always sounded unequivocally, gloriously Irish in her phrasing and diction - the hard ‘T’s and soft ‘A’s that punctuate ‘Linger’, the celtic vocalisations of ‘Dreams’. Storming the charts, the Cranberries had people the world over singing along to stark, spectral songs about Irish conflict, and pushed forward the mid-90s, brooding pop sound we hear today from Beach House to Girlpool.

Below’s round-up of releases should let some of the light in.

Camila Cabello - Camila

Her heart may be in Havana (na, na, na) but Camila’s debut album is buried deep in my frontal lobe. Stepping away from the glossy, peppy anthems of Fifth Harmony, the Cuban-American musician delves deep into her heritage, one that’s held court over the charts. What elevates this above other reggaeton pop bangers is her stripped back vulnerability and interesting lyrical leaps. She shows true hurt on the acoustic ‘Real Friends’, dominates on the elastic-bodied ‘She Loves Control’ and sparkles on ‘Never Be the Same’. “Show me the scary parts,” she demands on ‘In The Dark’, seeking out intimacy amid desire. Even when Camila does venture to the club - on ‘Havana’, or the skin-tingling ‘Into It’ - it’s low lights, a slow, walking bassline, and whiskey neat. This is fizzing, personal pop done right.

Troye Sivan - ‘My, My, My!’

Troye Sivan has been at the forefront of queer, unapologetically modern pop for a while. ‘My, My, My!’ builds on the fluorescent, wild abandon of his 2015 debut Blue Neighbourhood with delicious detail that expands over synthy, splintering beats. “Spark up, buzz cut,” he teases. “I got my tongue between your teeth.” Stick the ‘Justify My Love’-esque video on too, it’s very, very hot.

Dua Lipa - ‘IDGAF’

Dua Lipa, 2017’s most-streamed woman, set the bar stratospherically high for videos, mega-hits and hyperspecific memes with last year’s output. ‘IDGAF’, the fifth song from her debut LP, is an impressive follow-up - a ruthless takedown and level up powered by the commandments set out in ‘New Rules’. It’s a tune about self love and preservation in the face of internal struggle and/or fuckboys, with a stellar video that sees Dua dance off with herself in David Byrne-esque, Tide Pod colour palette suits. Curious Masonic vibes in the visual too, what with the duality and triangular shapes and all. All hail the Dua doppelgängers.

Nakhane - ‘Clairvoyant’

“Love has not made me clairvoyant, all I know is how to be a servant,” Nakhane asserts. “I look to you - nonetheless”. On ‘Clairvoyant’, the South African artist navigates his freedom as a now-out gay man who had a strict Christian upbringing. He arranges complex, deep emotions into something quite stunning; pain, love and lust shudder across synths and celestial piano chords. Nakhane draws from the beats of queer techno clubs and a hypnotic pop framework with the help of Bat For Lashes affiliate Ben Christophers to produce a powerful, cathartic and ultimately danceable track. This is the first release from his upcoming album, You Will Not Die, a visceral, soul-opening search for solace and self.

Kimbra - ‘Human’

Kimbra exposes the savage, raw complexities of being human, and what it means to have a “primal heart” on her latest track ‘Human’: the ravenous yearning for love, self-preservation, ego, envy. It is urgent and full-bodied electro pop. She recently spent time in Ethiopia working for women with HIV creating long-term businesses. “I was able to see my usefulness in a new way. Not just as a musician that could give music, but as a person with an ear to hear and to share stories,” she recently told Rolling Stone Australia. Shifts in her personal life have brought about bold, focused themes and fascinating sonic complexity. Somehow, she just keeps beating out that time she recorded ‘Good Intent’ in Simlish.

LIZ - ‘Queen of Me’ / ‘Could U Love Me’

The wonderfully mercurial LIZ comes through with a sparkling double A-side: ‘Queen of Me’ and ‘Could U Love Me’. The sticky taffy-like basslines boom big, and LIZ brings it like Gwen Stefani at the heights of Love. Angel. Music. Baby. ‘Queen of Me’ is slick and ferocious with excellent production by Wave Racer, while ‘Could U Love Me’ explores the artist at her most vulnerable, and a bit sexy: “Could you love me right? Even when I don’t shine bright? Could you love me high and low, up and down, in between?”

Mabel, Not3s - ‘Fine Line’

Fast becoming a familiar face in the pop column, Mabel is on an assured path following her major breakthrough banger ‘Finders Keepers’. The London singer has a fantastic knack for capturing those dizzying peaks and cavernous valleys of budding relationships we’re all blessed and doomed to experience. This time, ‘Fine Line’ playfully charts that uncertain phase where you’re just trying to figure someone out - teetering on the edge of full-blown infatuation of emotional ruin. Its energy skyrockets with the sharp badinage between Mabel and Not3s.

Hayley Kiyoko - ‘Curious’

It’s ‘Twenty-Gayteen’ baby, and it’s Hayley Kiyoko’s year: she’s shed her Disney tween star skin once and for all and completed her metamorphosis into a sparkling queer artist. In her poppiest record to date, the 26-year-old singer confronts the gnawing frustration of someone out to break your heart with their game playing. It’s percolating electro pop by way of Tove Lo, and a lush follow-up to 2016’s wonderful Citrine EP. ‘Curious’ is a worthy lead single from her debut album, Expectations and I hope it inspires as much stellar Hayley fan art as the last record did.

Holland - ‘Neverland’

Holland is breaking new ground in the K-pop scene, debuting as the first out gay star with the syrupy R&B influenced ‘Neverland’. The soft and sweet aesthetic video was given a 19+ rating in South Korea because it features a same-sex kiss. Holland’s tender lyrics delve into the pain of being discriminated against as an LGBT person, as he longs to share love hard without fear. His voice is silky and angelic, powered by the urgent need for more real nice shit like this in the K-pop world. In an industry that can slalom along the thin line of authenticity (not that that’s always a bad thing), it’s nice to champion much-needed queer representation. It’s been very cool to see factions of the K-pop fandom come out and support Holland’s stunning introduction too.

Kailee Morgue - Medusa

A bop before it became a superbop - Kailee Morgue’s goosebump-demanding ‘Medusa’ went viral when she first posted the demo on Twitter last year, and this month sees its official release on the same-titled EP. Crossing the threshold into a hazy otherworld, Morgue floats between the light and the dark, the lush poppy beats and grinding guitar lines. It’s beautiful and unsettling, with a narrative that has me rapt: “There’s secrets and riddles that live in these walls,” she sings. “There’s ghosts of past heroes and I hear them call my name, we won’t be tame.” Definitely one to watch in the coming year, and worth the IG follow.