It Ain’t That Deep Either Way: Your Massive Midsummer Pop Roundup

Crying, sighing and swooning on a clammy sunny day, with Clairo, Troye Sivan, Charli XCX, BTS, Ajia and more of our midsummer pop picks

Pop music is super sad, according to science. A recent study analysed half a million British songs released between 1985 and 2015, pinning down the biggest moods of modern artists. Sadness is on the up, while simultaneously, songs are becoming more ‘danceable’ and party-like. Because who doesn’t enjoy crying in the club? Or ‘Crying at the Disco’ as a recent Lady Gaga leak offers. Rather than squalling until your soul leaves your body to Kate Bush’s ‘Among Angels’ in a dark bedroom, it’s all about jagged stabs to the heart with Jack Antonoff-produced deceptively sunny pop. Soon, our next summer banger could be about the housing crisis and rat landlords, punctuated by millennial whoops.

I find myself attaching big moods and life moments to music, in a more visceral way than I’d probably like: hearing any of Gwen Stefani’s seminal LOVE.ANGEL.MUSIC.BABY constricts my chest with tendrils of icy panic – I recall downloading the album off of Limewire, infecting our family computer with a virus which wiped everything off it, including my mum’s almost-finished dissertation. My body bristles with cringe hearing the ‘Jump On It’ percussion, palms sweat at the memory of getting dragged from a fresher’s ball for invading the stage one too many times. But then I feel the final celtic yells of Cranberries’ ‘Dreams’ deep in the pit of my stomach, fraught with nostalgia for every Irish house party its ever soundtracked, Mabel’s ‘Thinking of You’ stirs a love for London I sometimes forget.

As exemplified across this last little while in music, we’re all deeply emotionally (and socially) invested in what we’re listening to, feeling and receiving things a little differently, or sometimes totally polarised. Here we round up the pop that has produced some big, big moods.

Niki – Zephyr

Like hands skipping across satin, early sunlight fluttering through bedroom curtains, Niki’s vocal acrobatics are so sensual. The 88Rising signee, while staying faithful to classic shimmery pop and 90s R&B, allows her personality to pop in some really beautiful hooks and lyrical lovelies on this neat mini-album: “Go be someone else’s hangover,” she sings on the intoxicating ‘Newsflash!’. Elsewhere, she picks across the dizzying honeymoon-like moments of a new courtship, the jagged fights, ragged, raging nights, and explosive ends. ‘Vintage’ is an enthralling, nostalgia-driven banger, ‘Dancing with the Devil’ a glossy, SZA-like tune about a toxic lover.

Charli XCX – ’5 in the Morning’

Charli is currently touring with Taylor Swift and Camila Cabello in the states – I’ve been tuning in every night to her IG story, where her lovely awkward dancing as she guests on Taylor’s ‘Shake it Off’ live number is a bit of a joy. Leaning more into a DJ Mustard beat than the PC Music snaps of POP2, ‘Five in the Morning’ is a west coast after dark anthem. Dense with autotune and slack-jawed ad libs, it’s a cool, sleek tune that sits between ‘Unlock It’ and ‘After the Afterparty’ on the clock.

“I am going to release a lot of music this year and a lot of videos, you’re gonna be so fucking sick of me,” she tweeted recently. Take that as a challenge.

Clairo – diary 001

Finally! This is the culmination of years of curious viral fame for Claire Cottrill, and a fresh, new direction for bedroom pop, bursting out of an attic room skylight. While her voice is twinkly, cool, and languid, the lyrics are corrosive yet coy. The plummy Chad Valley keyboard-led ‘Pretty Girl’ probes how she changed herself for a boy: “I could be a pretty girl, shut up if you want me to.” Danny L Harle-produced ‘B.O.M.D’ (Boy Of My Dreams) is a fully fledged, hyper-saturated bop that giddily chronicles a new relationship. ‘Hello’, featuring Rejjie Snow, glides across the URL and IRL romance threshold. It’s a heady mix of the off-kilter pop of Charli XCX’s True Romance, razor sharp indie by way of Angel Olsen, and PC Music’s Hannah Diamond’s sugary irony. Ultimately though, it’s Clairo’s world, eyes square from staring at blue laptop screens watching.

Hatchie – Sugar and Spice

Harriet Pilbeam crafts dream pop that makes you feel in total control of those racing nighttime trances: as Hatchie, the Brisbane artist traces the airy outline of Mazzy Star and the quiet urgency of shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine. Jangly guitars and Harriet Wheeler-esque vocals culminate on the alluring ‘Try’, a song that skates from the tentative, dizzy beginnings of a romance into the full throes of infatuation. ‘Sugar & Spice’ explores the later uncertainties; a tangy, twinkly track that questions kisses that feel somewhat different, hands no longer held so tight. ‘You don’t call me baby anymore,’ she reasons. Hatchie is most magic and poetic in her simple, lithely assertive moments: ‘You don’t have to say it out loud,’ she sings on ‘Sleep’. ‘You just have to say it in your sleep.’ She’s said previously that she’s inspired and influenced by Sky Ferreira and Carly Rae Jepsen – this EP has more than a few glimmers of what could become similarly pulsating chart-topping hits.

BTS – Love Yourself, Tear

BTS’s Love Yourself 轉 ‘Tear’ is a triumph: not just because it’s the first album by a K-pop band to dominate (obliterate, completely upend) the western music charts, but as a record that captures everything fun and fresh about pop right now. The boy band hopscotches across genres with ease and without inhibition: there’s the dark, angsty drama of ‘FAKE LOVE’ that sounds like a Fall Out Boy crossover had they been actually good, and the MNEK-written ‘Paradise’ is a slick first go at true R&B. Their hazy jazz number ‘134340’ could rival NxWorries, while sweet, melodic gravity blows up on ‘So What’. Across the record, their individual voices intertwine and take centre stage; RM ravages the outro rap, and the delicate, emotional falsetto on stan-servicing ‘Magic Shop’, the first production credit in Jungkook is brilliant. Unfaltering and self-assured, this goes beyond the fan phenomena.

Ajia – Visions

With body bouncing beats and woozy synths by way of J Dilla, London singer-songwriter Ajia takes it old skool. Her debut single ‘Real Love’ remains a central track on this release with some honey-drenched vocal flips, rolling all the windows down on the expansive, jazzy and joyful ‘Flavours’. The title track, about difficult life choices and uncertain futures, is a radiant neo-soul tune. Visions has a bruised, but wildly beating heart.

Kleopatra – ‘Cameo’

“Just another broken clone, life is just a cameo,” the Glasgow musician pushes in a dark pop offering that percolates with dystopian paranoia. Exploding our ideas of reality, asking us to get out of our own heads, Kleopatra glides across sinister-sounding synths with airy, engrossing vocals. There’s some flecks of Grimes’ Visions on this, as well as some of Lana’s Born to Die.

Temptress – ‘I Say When’

Lush harmonies from the south London duo ride the burning ember beats on this stellar track, ‘I Say When’. It’s a nice direction to go in since their early 2016 work ‘Guilty Pleasure’ – stepping away from the fluorescent strobe-light, the alluring ‘I Say When’ is lit only by flashes of cars speeding by in the night. It’s commanding and entrancing, demanding that you stay wrapped up in the late night fantasy with them.

No Rome – ‘Do It Again’

Co-produced by Matt Healy of The 1975, ‘Do It Again’ is a moody, honey-thick first tune from No Rome. Real name Rome Gomez, the now London-based artist was recently signed to Healy’s label Dirty Hit. Bubbly, popping percussion underpins a sombre vocal from the Manila artist, who’s unpacking how he seriously didn’t anticipate the choices his love interest was going to make. His RIP Indo Hisashi EP is forthcoming – a tribute to the Japanese artist whose work stark paintings inspire multiple meanings and messages.

LOONA/yyxy ft Grimes – ‘Love4eva’

K-pop girlband Loona and Grimes were connected by a cross section of online fandom, and ‘Love4eva’ is the lush, hyper result. Grimes begins with a chatty spoken-word opener, as if welcoming you into a SEGA fantasy game, then the tune dissolves into speedy, bombastic power pop with a Skrillex-like EDM freakout and fantastical harmonies. Yyxy is the third ‘subunit’ of LOONA, a 12-member act which culminates in a larger debut later this year – as a sidenote, looking into the workings of the LOONA universe and this style of band constructing is endlessly fascinating. This is Grimes’ first serious foray into a realm of music she’s been heavily influenced by – she called ‘Phone Sex’ a K-pop version of Rih’s ‘We Found Love’, and a vocal fan of BLACKPINK. Personally, I think a link-up with SOPHIE or Danny L. Harle on their future records would be superb.

Troye Sivan – ‘Bloom’

Yay! More Troye, and it’s what he’s called the ‘most subversively queer pop’ song on the album – basically, a bop about bottoming. Off the upcoming album of the same name, ‘Bloom’ has the feel of the palpitating Katy Perry Teenage Dream, Heartthrob-era Tegan & Sara – racing guitar lines, with a headrush of a climax. The video itself is a breathtaking homage to queerness: club kid looks, Boy George and Madonna references, and heavily influenced by the work of photographer and artist Robert Mapplethorpe, with the shots of blossoming flowers contrasting against close-ups of male body parts. Mapplethorpe was a pioneer of sexually charged, stunning gay art, capturing the S&M scene of 70s New York, as well as iconic celebrity portraits and floral still life; deliciously erotic and curious, he is a wonderful reference point for a modern queer pop star.

Tirzah – ‘Gladly’

A simple but stunning earworm from Tirzah’s upcoming debut album Devotion. It’s been a little while since ‘I’m Not Dancing’, her Mica Levi-produced distorted house banger, and here, Tirzah strips it all back to this heart-on-your-sleeve slice of experimental pop with some production by Levi once more. Hazy keyboards and smooth, sweet vocals appreciate a relationship’s easy, small but mighty moments. It sounds like squinting at the beating sun until those pretty, squiggly lines veil your vision, summer sweat hugging your bare arms. This album is going to be great.

Kim Petras – ‘Can’t Do Better’

Petras comes up with something so urgent and full-bodied that it practically screams for a John Hughes-esque teen movie OST spot, at the very least a Pretty In Pink reboot. This leads on from brat anthem ‘I Don’t Want It At All’ and the glassy ‘Heart to Break’. Synthy, belty, ocean-deep sexual tension, with huge splintering vocals. I am enraged this is produced by Dr Luke, to be honest – please Kim, zone in on the PC Music lot.

Dorian Electra – ‘Career Boy’

Dorian Electra dives into synthy executive realness on ‘Career Boy’, veins pumping with coffee and eyes square from late stints in the office on a slow, deep and slightly disturbing EDM banger. The high concept video, directed by Charlotte Rutherford, speeds through Wolf of Wall Street aesthetics to some Ziggy-period Bowie and strobe-lit BDSM.

SOPHIE – ‘Immaterial’

The Glasgow producer’s much-anticipated follow up to the glossy Product lands like a hyperpop Venus emerging from a giant scallop shell. Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides melds corrosive electronic beats with eardrum-destroying pop – ‘Immaterial’ is the album’s major moment. The pitch oscillates like drunken legs trying to find the dancefloor’s rhythm, like Hatsune Miku levelling up. “I can be anything I want,” the song percolates, beyond “legs”, “genes”, “blood”, exploring what we are outside of our physical bodies.

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