Carly Rae Jepsen

The Best UK No. 1’s of 2016 (posted April 2017)

Right, let’s finally finish 2016! Only four months late! Then move onto Ed Sheeran! Oh God, pop music is torture!



Special Mentions

‘Paradise’ – Charli XCX

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A staggeringly gonzo bricolage of 90’s rave tropes, all turned inside out and formed into a club smash that’s romantic, exciting, alien and more. I didn’t enjoy a single song in 2016 as much as I enjoyed this.
[Listen]

‘Suitcase Jimmy’ – Evans the Death

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Evans the Death continue to be my favourite British band going at the moment. Their latest album – Vanilla – was recorded on a barge using guest musicians they found on Facebook, continuing to both diversify of their sound and increase the anger in their work. A particular highlight of the album is Suitcase Jimmy: a stonking barrage of trumpets and shouting which would be the defining sound of British Indie if only I had my way.
[Listen]

‘Madeleine Crumbles’ – Major Parkinson

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A beautiful nightmare; all sweeping violins, ethereal choruses and gritty verses. It’s parent album can’t come soon enough.
[Listen]

‘Higher’ – Carly Rae Jepsen

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I didn’t start listening to Carly Ray Jepsen’s Emotion album until early 2016, meaning that it missed out on being included in my Best of 2015 list. I’ve always been slightly ashamed of this: the album’s great. Luckily, Jepsen’s 2016 appendum – Emotion Side B – is just as good as it’s big sister, even if it doesn’t quite hit the same heights. ‘Higher’ probably comes closest to those highs, hence why it’s on the list, though shout-outs have to go to the songs ‘First Time’, ‘The One’, ‘Body Language’, ‘Cry’, ‘Store’… hell, all of them. Everything gets a shout out. Carly Rae Jepsen’s the best.
[Listen]

‘Same’ – Clarence Clarity

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Clarence Clarity specialises in throwing discordant noises, random computer sounds and distorted voices together into labyrinthine messes that somehow work as solid, cathartic pop songs. Same is technically the B-side to his single Vapid Feels Are Vapid but I prefer it, so on the list it goes.
[Listen]

‘Stained’ – HMLTD

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A baroque piece of 80’s throwback goth electro, married to an actively tasteless aesthetic which combines The Damned and Bauhaus into something distinctively new. Its music video also wins the prize for most disgusting of 2016, so you know the band’s doing something right.
[Listen]

‘Ain’t It Funny?’ – Danny Brown

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Maybe funny’s not the right term: boisterous, demented, trumpet-filled and swinging are better. The most enjoyable rap track of 2016 for me.
[Listen]

‘Me And Your Mama’ – Childish Gambino

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An immense two-part soul throwback featuring intense vocals, biblical gospel backing, meaty instrumentation, and the most delightfully childish name of the year. An astonishingly fun track with some real impact behind it.
[Listen]

‘One Call Away’ – Charlie Puth

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What can I say, this song just gets me. Is it trite, cheesy and overly earnest? Yes, it is. I love it.
[Listen] [Original Review]



And now the list itself:

#5 – ‘Love Yourself’ by Justin Bieber

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This is my least favourite song of Bieber’s ‘Actually Quite Good Phase’, coming well under both What Do You Mean? and Sorry in my estimations. Unfortunately, due to the absolute dirth of No. 1’s in 2016, the number five slot either had to go to this or Cold Water by Major Lazer, Justin Bieber and MØ. I can’t remember what Cold Water sounds like, despite the fact that I last listened to it five minutes ago. Love Yourself it is.

#4 – ‘Shout Out to my Ex’ by Little Mix

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Easily the least interesting song Little Mix has ever released. As previously explained, it’s little more than “an repeat of Love Me Like You, which in turn was a repeat of Black Magic, only without the magic bits”. Love Me Like You and Black Magic are both fantastic hits though; being a direct retread of them still means that you’re a pretty good pop song, particularly given how joyless everything else was that year. Little Mix on autopilot is still better than almost everything else in the pop scene; that’s how good a band they are.

#3 – ‘I Took a Pill in Ibiza (Seeb Remix)’ by Mike Posner

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It grew on me. Though I’m still convinced that the remix instrumental completely misses the point of the song, I can’t deny that it sounds wonderfully atmospheric, resulting in the minimalist pop hit of early 2016 that was the easiest to lose yourself in. This became the song that I most enjoyed listening to in the first half of the year; at least, it was light years ahead of it’s nearest contemporaries Stitches and 7 Years.

#2 – ‘Rockabye’ by Clean Bandit feat. Anne-Marie and Sean Paul

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Possibly Clean Bandit’s best song, combining their trademark pristine instrumentation with a solid tale of single motherhood and female strength. Even Sean Paul is used to the best of his abilities, being slotted into the background so as to provide pretty vital backing vocals. A fully fleshed out and realised track: at last, Clean Bandit have a song that feels worthy of them.

#1 – ‘Closer’ by The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey

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Yeah, it’s a failed mess, but it’s exactly the type of failed mess we need right now. The Chainsmokers are not good artists but, for just one track, they managed to accidentally hit gold, producing the track that most encompassed what 2016 was – for better and for worse.


Right then Ed Sheeran, I’m coming for you!

A Pop Song(s) Review: “Bills” by Lunchmoney Lewis and “I Really Like You” by Carly Rae Jepsen

The problem with running a blog where I review every UK No. 1 is that the UK No. 1 doesn’t actually change that often. As such, I suppose I better talk about some other songs. Let’s pick the two songs in the Top 10 that I currently have the most to say about: this week’s No. 3 – Bills by Lunchmoney Lewis – and this week’s No. 8 – I Really Like You by Carly Rae Jepsen.

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A world where Bills by Lunchmoney Lewis isn’t in the charts is a world that’s wrong. A world where Bills is at No. 3 below Cheerleader and See You Again is almost as bad.

I’ve complained previously about the way that current pop music frequently refuses to actually tackle with the problems of living in 21st Century Britain/America, yet here we have “Bills”, a song about how difficult it is to pay the bills in a time of social inequality and an increasingly dysfunctional job market. It’s grounded, relatable and voices a concern that thousands of people in the world currently have. It’s the type of thing that pop music hasn’t been for years now.

It is also just very funny (“My shoes… They have no soul….. oul…. oul, oul, oul oul oul”), yet it’s ridiculousness is also it’s point: it is ridiculous that we can live in some of the richest countries in the world, yet still have large sections of our societies who are barely make ends meet; it is ridiculous how people leave the poor to their lot; it is ridiculous how work obsessed our cultures are to begin with.

The decision to write this song with a jazz/ragtime-piano groove is brilliant too. Jazz and ragtime came out of marginalised black working class American cultures and became their version of folk songs, being happy tunes which voiced the concerns of the average man and thus gave them a cathartic release from the stresses of the everyday. To situate Bills as the modern equivalent of this music fits perfectly and makes the political subtexts of this song even juicier.

So the song laughs and it criticises; it’s angry enough to deliver it’s left wing political points, yet is feel-good enough that you can sing it during your daily commute and actually feel uplifted by it. It’s a true force of goodness in the word and is in many ways actually transcendent, making joy out of a terrible situation while never actually underselling the situation itself. It’s the best song of 2015 for me.

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It is for the same reasons that I also adore I Really Like You by Carly Rae Jepsen, my previous pick for Best Song of 2015 and my current pick for Second Best Song of 2015.

At first glance, I Really Like You is a girly, happy pop song about being in love. At second glance, it’s a girly, happy pop song about being in love. That’s because it is a girly, happy pop song about being in love. More than that, it’s one of the most violently girly, happy songs about being in love I’ve ever heard. With it’s blaring synths, carefree delivery, sing-song chorus and bubblegum production, the song is determined to sound like it’s in love and is happy. It needs you to know that it’s love and is happy. It beats you around the head with the fact that it’s in love and is happy. Did you know that this song is in love and happy? It is.

Which is weird because the lyrics aren’t about someone who’s in love; indeed, one of the lyrics is the narrator admitting that “I know this isn’t love”. The song is just about how she much she finds a guy attractive and would like a relationship with him, despite not knowing whether he’d be into it or not: that’s it.

So why does it sound so happy? In other people’s hands, this song could’ve been angsty and desperate. Indeed, some of the lyrics are: “Who gave you eyes like that? / Said you could keep them? / I don’t know how to act / Or if I should be leaving / I’m running out of time / Going out of my mind / I need to tell you something / Yeah, I need to tell you something”.

Yet the song refuses to be angsty or upset. It never loses the fact that the narrator’s crush is also a good friend and never loses the ability to enjoy the friend’s company, whether her love is requited or not. The entire song is just about loving being in love more than anything else; it reminds us that life can be hard and sad but we should just enjoy it anyway. And that’s why this song is similarly transcendental: it takes a moment of emotional uncertainty and turns it into the single loudest declaration of love of recent years. Just shut up and enjoy the emotion, it says; once you’re able to do that, everything else will fall into place around you.

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These songs both take the mundane and explode them wide open, moving past all the songs around them and producing two of the most definitive statements to hit the charts in ages. I’ve complained a lot about how lazy and unambitious the vast majority of pop music is but these are not lazy and unambitious, they are big, they are important and they are great. Fuck Cheerleader by OMI, that confused ode to nothing much, and fuck See You Again by Wiz Khalifa, that eulogy written by people who just don’t care; the current No 1 and No 2 should be Bills and I Really Like You. I love both of them.

A No. 1 Review – “Cheerleader” by OMI (Felix Jaehn Remix)

This year, I’ve challenged myself to write a review of every song that manages to get to No. 1 in the UK charts. Here’s the latest one:

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If this guy has finally found the person who makes him happy to be alive, then why does he sound so sad? How depressed was this guy before he found her? I can picture them now: she’s a supermodel dressed as a cheerleader with bright eyes and a brighter smile, stood next to a man dressed like Charlie Chaplin who holds a single red balloon while crying.

What is it with music nowadays that means you get either good music with crap lyrics or good lyrics with boring tunes? This is a song about true love, happiness and commitment set to three dour chords and a wandering, lonely trumpet. The music would be great if it accompanied a set of lyrics about losing your cheerleader, and the lyrics would be great if they accompanied by a happier set of music. As it is, the two major parts of this song are pulling in completely separate directions.

This is usually the point where I’d declare that the song doesn’t work and move on, but actually let’s step backwards and think about this some more. Usually when you put happy lyrics against sad music or vice versa, it’s to create a lyrical dissonance which is then used to dramatic effect. Carly Rae Jepsen’s I Really Like You uses it to turn a song about how confusing love is into a transient anthem about just enjoying love no matter what*; Nena’s 99 Red Balloons uses it to contrast childish innocence against nuclear holocaust so as to make an anti-Cold War statement; Paul Simon’s 50 Way To Leave Your Lover uses it to give an intensely bitter song a humorous edge. Lyrical dissonance is actually one of the most interesting tools in a songwriters handbook; artists like Jimmy Somerville have built their entire careers around it.

As such, let’s assume that the lyrics and the music not matching is a purposeful artistic feature and extrapolate that to find out what it makes the song mean (whether the song’s actually meant to mean that or not). First extrapolation: if the narrator is talking about how great his relationship is and can’t actually manage to sound grateful for it, that implies to me that the relationship isn’t actually working at all.

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Picture a man. He has no problem getting together with women. He’s in the club and girls come to him and say “Do you need me? Do you think I’m pretty? Do I make you feel like cheating?” This man is attractive to women; he can go to a club and get sex. His problem is thus that the sex is unfulfilling for him. He doesn’t want sex; he wants true love. And one day he finds her: a women – his cheerleader – who offers him not sex but compassion, companionship and support. He gets the one thing he wants in life. He gets his love. And he finds that it’s still not enough. He’s still miserable. So what does he do? Should he give up the relationship and go back to square one? Should he give up entirely and just resign himself to loneliness? Or does he try to remain happy and convince himself that his relationship is actually working as it should be?

I think the narrator of Cheerleader does the later. He tries to sound happy, praising his cheerleader for everything she does for him, but he can’t actually sound like he means it, if only because he doesn’t.The lyrics say what the narrator wants to feel and the music sounds like he actually does. That’s why there’s a massive discrepancy between the music and words of this song: because it’s there in the singer himself.

And it makes the song genuinely heartbreaking. There is no hope here; no chance of happiness or satisfaction. Hayley Williams can scream “Are you going to stay the night?” at people all she wants but her desperation implies that, even if her current man says no, she’ll keep on shouting it at other people until eventually she gets what she wants. She will be loved. But OMI has found love. He has everything he wants. And it’s not enough. He will never be happy because he has everything he needs to be happy and still can’t manage it. And this man wants to marry his cheerleader: “Now all that’s left to do / is just for me to pop the question”. He wants to be with her until death does he part. This man will die feeling sad and hollow. Happiness is impossible. He’s settled for sadness because it’s easier than keeping on trying to be happy.

So yeah: the current UK no. 1 is a horrifying depiction of self-deception and the hollowness of modern relationships. Or possibly a disappointing track that doesn’t really hold together. I personally prefer the former song.

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* Yep, I still really like I Really Like You.