Black Magic

A No. 1 Review[s] – “Say You Won’t Let Go” by James Arthur and “Shout Out to my Ex” by Little Mix

I haven’t updated this blog in a while: in between moving house, starting a PhD, working a job, dealing with Brexit and staring dumbfoundedly at Donald “Racist Paedo-Rapist” Trump, the blog has ended up taking a backseat. I’ve been determined to finish my No. 1 reviews though so here we are, a whole bunch of posts giving quick reviews of every 2016 UK No. 1 that I missed while they were in the charts:

Say You Won’t Let Go – James Arthur

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Bog-standard Post Club track where man makes himself look sensitive against a non-existent backdrop of mush. Literally nothing of interest contained in here at all.

Shout Out to My Ex – Little Mix

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Bog-standard Little Mix track in which they respond to male oppression by being so girly as to become untouchable. Of course, this is all that’s required to make the song one of my favourites of the year; it’s just that, from the point of view of this blog, it leaves very little to say other than it’s an repeat of “Love Me Like You“, which in turn was a repeat of “Black Magic“, only without the magic bits.

And… honestly, that’s it. I racked my brain for months for something worth saying about these songs which didn’t just repeat something I’ve already said; alas, there was nothing. 2016 was just horribly boring and uninspired, I cannot overstate that. By way of apology, my next post is a doozy: it barely mentions the song it’s supposed to (which is probably no surprise to my readers by this point) but what it does say, I think, is interesting. And besides, I need to start getting stuff out of the way because, right at the moment, Ed Sheeran needs tackling. Prepare yourselves: the blog’s about to get messy.

TheWrittenTevs’ Top 5 Best No. 1’s of 2015

It’s time. My Top 5 UK No 1’s of 2015. I’ve run out of ways of introducing these lists. Let’s get to business.

No. 5 – “Sorry” by Justin Bieber

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2015 has been the year where Bieber rose from being universally derided to surprisingly likable. Completely accidentally, his rise has been pretty accurately captured in microcosm on this blog: burnt out on this summer’s tasteless dirge of completely incompetent trash, I savaged Bieber in my first review of his work before giving it more of a chance and finding that actually his current work’s alright. For the first time in his career, it seems like Bieber is an actual living thing; it’s amazing how much being basically human will make people like you.

It does also help that Sorry has a pretty nice beat and an above-par set of lyrics. I even grew to like the line “Because I’m missing more than your body” which originally sounded like a standard singer-trying-to-be-emotional-but-unable-to-get-past-sex sentiment when in reality the sentiment’s closer to singer-wants-to-be-able-to-get-past-sex-but-can’t.

Wait a minute – Bieber’s dissatisfied with making songs about hollow sex and wants to make more fulfilling material about genuine emotions? Holy crap,  he’s a Reconstructionist. That’s how much the pop world is changing under our feet right now. Damn.

Full Review

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No. 4 – “Not Letting Go” by Tinie Tempah feat. Jess Glynne

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Surprise!

I can’t stand Jess Glynne. If Bieber is representative of the best trends of 2015, Glynne represents the worst. Her lyrics are disconnected from any sense of real emotion, they barely manage to fit together, there is absolutely no variation between any of them, and she just doesn’t seem to care about anything she produces. Unsurprisingly then, Glynne is easily the worst element of this song: she comes in spewing a bunch of her own cliches, doesn’t care that they’re entirely disconnected from the verses, and largely serves to drag everything down.

Goddamn if I don’t love the verses though. Tinie Tempah raps about a girl he likes and he sounds like he means it: that is fucking rare at the moment. More than that, the person he describes has a personality: she likes records, she enjoys singing, she’s carefree and fun. She’s alive. We actually had a love song in 2015 which was about someone.

People keep telling me that I’m needlessly harsh on pop music. I’m not though; I just want it to be written with a bit of competence. If you’re writing a love song about someone, I want to know about them and what makes you love them. An ass does not a relationship make; an ass does not a girlfriend make. Tinie Tempah’s verses were the only ones in the charts this year which sounded like they were actually written about someone, and for that they got the No. 4 spot.

Full Review

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No. 3 – “What Do You Mean” by Justin Bieber

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I’m as surprised as you are that Justin’s appeared twice on this list. When I started writing my essay on this song, claiming that it was a well crafted exploration of loneliness in the postmodern age, I was being a bit facetious: I thought I was taking the piss. Once I finished the essay though, I was actually convinced I was right. More than that, I actually grew to like the song the more I wrote about it. That essay is now my favourite post this year. It just goes to show, you can convince yourself to like something through concerted effort. Thanks Bieber, I’ve learnt so much from you this year.

Full Review

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No. 2 – “Love Me Like You Do” by Ellie Goulding

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I have spent a lot of time on this blog complaining about how most pop music is just vapid men oogling women because they’ve got attention spans even shorter than their overcompensated dicks. I’m still a straight man though and I have to admit: this song is sexy. Ellie Goulding’s delivery is sexy. The production is sexy. The lyrics are sexy. Pretty much every song on the charts nowadays is about sex, but this is the only song released this year which I’d consider sexy.

And the amazing thing is that this song is pretty much fanfic based on Fifty Shades of Grey, a deeply unpleasant book which tries to romanticise a man who is clearly a sociopath and borderline rapist. This song is aware of the problems with it’s source material though and is able to negate them while still staying true to the book. That is an astoundingly hard thing to manage. Every word has to have the exact right connotation to avoid sending the entire piece directly to Problemville: the control has to be immense. Yet Ellie Goulding pulls it off. The fact that she’s actually able to make the lyrics sexy too is just the icing on the cake. Out of all the No. 1s this year, Love Me Like You Do is the easily best written by far. It’s not quite my favourite though.

Full Review

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And finally, my favourite No. 1 of 2015:

No. 1 – “Black Magic” by Little Mix

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It’s a feminist magick trick designed to change “wanting sex” from being a predominately male thing to something that both genders can do (without shame and all!). That should be genuinely enough to justify it’s place on the list. How many songs can be summarised as a “feminist magick trick”? If the answer was more than one, we’d live in a much better world than we do now.

I’m not even really sure what to say about this: I just really like it. Much like I Really Like You, it’s joy is infectious; it just makes me happy to be alive. I love Little Mix’s Love Me Like You too, and their album Get Weird is pretty damn good. I just love that there’s a group aimed at teenage girls who are telling them that they can be as strange as they wish, as long as they’re happy. I love that they’re telling them that they can be weird and individual, yet still can have friends, love and sex; that they can still be accepted as functional members of society even if they decide to do their own thing. In a world featuring You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful and Nick Jonas’ Jealous, we have a band who are telling teenage girls to be proud of themselves and to live full, enriched lives which are defined entirely on their own terms. Little Mix are important. They’re a shining beacon in a world of shit. I love them.

I just hope that more people take their lead. At the very least, I definitely want more Little Mix in the charts as we head our way into the vagueness that is 2016.

Full Review

A No. 1 Review – “Black Magic” by Little Mix

This year, I’ve challenged myself to write a review of every song that manages to get to No. 1 in the UK charts. Yes, I do realise that I’m running very behind schedule. Here’s the latest one:

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While researching Black Magic by Little Mix, I found a review of it written by Marcus Floyd which said that “it’s fun and catchy, and there’s no need to over analyse it.” No need to over analyse it, Marcus? That sounds like a challenge. WHO WANTS TO OVER ANALYSE SOMETHING?!

Part I

Fairy tales are largely a method of societal control which sell certain sets of morals and assumptions through the form of narrative. Hansel and Gretel tells people not to be greedy, not to enter strangers’ houses and to be suspicious of things which seem too good to be true. Mythologies and religions work the same way: what is the point of religious stories if not to back-up their ideologies through examples of people who benefited from them/suffered for not following them?

Of course, horror stories fit well into this type of storytelling. These stories are focussed largely on defining what you shouldn’t do rather than what you should; the easiest way to make someone not do something being to link that thing to something horrible and nasty. Don’t masturbate or you’ll go blind; don’t step on a crack else you’ll break your mother’s back; etc (apparently at one point, someone really hated crazy paving).

This is why a society’s monsters have a tendency to be metaphors for whatever that society is scared of at the time. With their sudden changes, increase of hair and periodic mood swings, werewolves are common metaphors for the onset of puberty (hence films like Teen Wolf and their use in series in Twilight, etc); killer artificial intelligences are metaphors for the diminishing importance of humanity in increasingly technological worlds; Dracula is a foreigner who can’t be trusted and is coming to ruin everything for everyone.

So what do witches represent that society is so scared off? Witches have existed for centuries; our fear of them must be pretty deep rooted. What are they? Well; they’re women. In particular, they’re ugly and/or old women. The horror, the horror.

Witches are women with the power to control and sabotage the lives of men, their mystical properties giving them the ability to dominate men and their very existences. The magic of witches is thus metaphorical for their attractive feminity which is seen as inherently deceptive and dangerous to men. This is why witches also have a tendency to disguise themselves as beautiful young women when in reality they’re old and warty: because women might look sweet and innocent but in reality they’re dangerous, hideous things who need control.

The dominant message of stories featuring witches is that women are creatures who try to control men and deserve punishment for doing so. Which, of course, makes Little Mix’s Black Magic into a feminist reclamation of that archetype.

Part II

Black Magic is about women who are going to use their “magic” and “potions” (metaphors for their sexuality and femininity) to seduce objects of their affection and make them fall in love with them. They are literally stating an open intent to do everything that men are scared women will do.

The image of the man-eating powerful woman has actually become a common topic used in many pop songs. Taylor Swift’s Blank Space is perhaps the most obvious example, though the themes can also be seen in such songs at Katy Perry’s Dark Horse, among many others. There are certain problems with most of these songs though (at least from a feminist point of view) in that these songs represent the controlling women as dangerous psychopaths: Katy Perry is a defiled woman on the warpath in Dark Horse while the entire point of Blank Space is that it’s central character is an unrepentant psychopath. Even when they’re the main characters, women who use their feminine charms to overpower men are still portrayed as dangerous, nasty and inherently wrong people. Women are still shown that they shouldn’t be too dominant and powerful when it comes to their personal relationships with the men in their lives, else they become people who are truly unlikable.

This portrayal isn’t to be found in Black Magic though. It’s not an angry song featuring damaged or dangerous characters; it’s a harmless pop song about some happy looking women who are going to go out, dance around and seduce some guys because they’re sexy. You’ll recognise this as the female variation of all the club songs concerning men who are going to go out, dance around and seduce women because they’re sexy. The message is clear: if men can get away with saying and doing these types of things without being shamed for it, then so can women. The witch archetype has been taken, cleared of it’s negative connotations and repurposed to allow women to voice the same opinions and feelings that men can voice.

Oddly enough, this means magick alchemy* has occurred. An alchemical magick trick works by taking a symbol which has meaning in society and then changing that meaning, working via the belief that if you change the symbol, you thus change the society (So above, as below; etc). Think voodoo: by manipulating a small figure of someone, you thus manipulate the actual person.

This song thus takes the symbol of the witch and changes it with an open societal intent. As such, Little Mix’s Black Magic counts an actual magick spell. Black Magic is a pop song written in the Alistair Crowley mode.

Part III

Do I like Black Magic then? Well, I like what it represents. Do I like listening to it? Depends. This song works best in smaller quantities: it’s ballsy, larger-than-life attitude can grate if you’re forced to hear it too many times a day while listening to the radio. I think it counts as a good song though, and it’s exactly the type of song which we need more of in this society. It’s magic; you’ll like it, though not a lot.

And “no need to over-analyse it”. Pah!

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* Alistair Crowley, practicing magician, invented the term “magick” to differeniate between parlor tricks (“magic”) and actual magic (“magick”), hence that random K which appears a lot in this paragraph.