Little Mix

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!

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A No. 1 Review: “Rockabye” by Clean Bandit feat. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie (plus a lot of other things Sean Paul featured in last year)

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:

So… Sean Paul is back. Indeed, 2016 was awash with Sean Paul. You couldn’t move for Sean Paul. Signal 1 played nothing but him for five months straight, intermixed with the occasional Can’t Stop the FeelingYet Mr. Paul didn’t release a single song of his own that year; he just appeared on everyone else’s tracks. The thing is: no-one really seemed to want him to be there. For example…

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“Cheap Thrills” – Sia feat. Sean Paul

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Cheap Thrills is a mindless party jam about how great it is to go the club and dance. This type of song doesn’t really get made anymore, critiques of club music being much more common. That said, this is a song written by Sia, someone who is an incredibly slippery character. More than that, it seems to say something quite fundamental about her character: namely that she’s becoming increasingly bored with having to make pop music.

A lot of this comes from the album that Cheap Thrills is a part of. Cheap Thrills is from This is Acting, an album comprised entirely of songs that she wrote for other people and had rejected. As Todd in the Shadows points out, the reason why most singers would write a song and give it to someone else is that the song isn’t actually very good, otherwise the first singer would have sung it themselves. So the album is made out of songs that Sia didn’t think were good enough, all of which were then rejected by the people she fobbed them to, resulting in Sia going “Fuck it” and releasing the songs anyway. Built into every single level of this album is the idea that everything in it is, on some level, crap. It’s an album of songs that no-one much likes. As such, the idea of it also being one of Sia’s more mainstream and poppy albums comes with the implication that most mainstream, poppy albums are full of crap. The fact that this album has been successful forms part of it’s critique: we live in such a flagging music industry that you can literally release an album of rejected off-cuts and still have it be one of the best received albums of the year. Now that Sia’s a mainstream success, she doesn’t need to care anymore, and This is Acting basically exists to point this out.

In this context, the title Cheap Thrills can only be read as a critique of the song itself. This song is not good or pristine or well crafted, it’s cheap. It wants nothing more than to be a thrill: something ephemeral, quick paced, gone before you know it. In short, the song’s a mess that’ll be here one minute and gone the next: that’s literally how it defines itself.

As such, the inclusion of Sean Paul comes off as something Sia did for the sake of it: “Let’s get some has-been rapper from a decade ago to do some guest verses because why not; everyone else does it and it’s not like I’m going to put any effort into this”. Sean Paul’s presence is thus little more than a cynical parody of songs that pull stupid shit like getting someone as irrelevant as Sean Paul in to do a guest verse. His very appearance is a critique of itself.

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“Hair” – Little Mix feat. Sean Paul

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The Little Mix song Hair goes even further in this regard. In it, Little Mix equate breaking up from a relationship with getting a haircut: “Okay, gonna bleach him out, peroxide on him / Here on the floor like a memory of him / Now I feel brand new.” The thing about this lyrical conceit is that, underneath it’s bubblegum exterior, it’s almost impenetrably dark. Little Mix’s relationship with this man was so bad that, now he’s gone, they have to completely change their appearance in order to feel themselves again. This man got under their skin, got in their head, completely destroyed their personalities and wrecked them from the inside out. Little Mix’s last boyfriend wasn’t just a prick, he was psychologically abusive.

The forced cutting of hair is a traditional punishment aimed at women too, performed by men to make them less feminine and thus shame them into living however the men wished. Plus, what type of people have to completely change their appearance in order to get rid of other undesirables: those in witness protection and people who are running from violent people for their lives. I could even quote fitting sections of The Rape of the Lock here if The Rape of the Lock wasn’t sexist bullshit pretending to be satire. My point is that enforced hair cutting and male violence against women (in particular, rape) have been frequently equated to each other. As such, the boyfriend in Hair is an abusive criminal and the song itself is about the recovery methods of a rape survivor.

But what role does Sean Paul play in this? Well, he plays the rapist. More than that, he plays him completely unrepentantly:

“Inseparable at the beginning when we started,
Good chemistry between me and you girl we got it,
I spit you game and just to tame you was my target
That was my aim just to be playing with your body
Thought that forever we could continue this party
And now you telling me that your love is departed
Right I’m just saying you gon’ miss your sugar-daddy.
How you gon’ get me out ya hair girl when I bought it?”

So Sean Paul is a prick. But listen to that language: “I spit you game and just to tame you was my target.” Doesn’t that remind you of the Blurred Lines lyric “Tried to domesticate you / But you’re an animal”? He’s also got the “game”; he wants to “be playing with your body”: he talks just like any club singer of the past decade, using their turns of phrase and their type of language. Hell, he even refers to his prolonged abuse of Hair’s narrator as a “party”. Sean Paul is fully representative of 00’s era club music in this song. If you felt that many of the songs from this era and genre were overly rapey, here’s a song that purposely presents a 00’s club singer as an actual rapist.

Of course, because this is a Little Mix song, what is the correct way of fighting against your male abuser? Well, go out and have a make-over. Or, put another way, go out and be as confidently girly as possible. Sexism is imposing a certain set of values onto the genders so as to keep the balance of power firmly in one gender’s court: just refuse to believe that your gender naturally diminishes you as a person and carry on regardless. There’s nothing more powerful and disruptive as doing whatever you want even after being told not too. Get your hair done and stick two fingers up to Sean Paul: it’s the Little Mix way.

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“Rockabye” by Clean Bandit feat. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie

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There is potential salvation for Sean Paul though, that being Rockabye which he did for Clean Bandit alongside Anne-Marie. Rockabye is about the trails and tribulations of single motherhood, talking to a baby about her hardworking single mother in order to confirm to it that ‘somebody’s got you’ and that it never needs to feel sad. As such, the obvious question to ask is what’s Sean Paul doing here? Where does the aggressive club dancer fit into this small-scale story of motherhood and intimate spaces?

Surprisingly, he fits into a support role. Mr. Paul appears to introduce the song ‘for all the single moms out there / going through frustration’ before immediately taking back-up vocal duties behind Anne-Marie, allowing her to tell the tale of a struggling single-mother while providing little utterances to emphasize various parts of her story. In certain verses, it almost sounds like he’s listening to Anne-Marie speak, his noises being little filler sounds to show that he’s still listening:

“Facing the hard life, without no fear (Yeah) […]
‘Cause any obstacle come you’re well prepared (Oh no) […]
And you give the youth love beyond compare (Yeah)
You find his school fee and the bus fare (Yeah)

This gives Mr. Paul an interestingly liminal position within the song itself. The only other man mentioned in the song is the single mother’s daughter’s father, a man who is defined by his absence from the mother’s life and from the song in general. Similarly, Mr. Paul’s appearance in this song is defined by it’s lack: by the way that it falls into the background and doesn’t impose itself upon the main narrative thread; by the way that it’s easily missed and not strictly neccessary. Built into this is the song’s opinion on absent male figures: their disappearance is sad and deeply felt, but ultimately they’re not needed and women can go on regardless. More than this, the situation is presented as one where the opinions of men do not matter at all: men can help but they can do so by listening, emphasizing and supporting women, not by imposing their ideologies onto them.

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In conclusion, Mr. Paul is a surprisingly liminal character in the pop world as a whole at the moment: a marginal figure infecting mainstream hits, a club musician haunting a post-club world. Built into his persona are both warnings from the past and potential ways into the future. In short, he is a symptom of a music scene which has rejected its past forms but still doesn’t have a new one. For better and for worse, Sean Paul was the artist of 2016.

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.

Rapid Reviews 07/06/16

So after spending a long time setting the blog’s aesthetic standards in stone and despairing at the ruination of British society, let’s relax for a bit and release some residual steam on a few easy targets. We can return to things like nuanced analysis (?) next post. Let’s go!



Tears” – Clean Bandit feat. Louisa Johnson

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The problem with Clean Bandit is that they’re only as good as their collaborators allow them to be. Pair them with people like Sean Bass and Alex Newell and they shine: the singers have the technical capabilities to match the music, and thus free Clean Bandit to really go for it with their musical compositions. Pair them Jess Glynne though and they completely fall apart: Glynne is not capable of matching what they’re doing and so their songs end up disappointingly disjointed.

That problem rears it’s ugly head here: Clean Bandit and Louisa Johnson just don’t work well together. Clean Bandit are known for their classically influenced, precise and multi-layered instrumentals: there’s a lot going on in Clean Bandit’s music and it’s always very tightly controlled. Meanwhile Louisa Johnson is an X-Factor winner and so comes from the school of singing whereby she injects as many syllables into each line as possible, resulting in an overly fussy mess. When you’ve got two people in the same song whose sounds are this busy though, one is going to be naturally drowned out by the other. Unfortunately Louisa Johnson is allowed to take control, filling the song with empty vocal gymnastics while leaving Clean Bandit with very little space to do anything interesting musically. The result, again, is something which is disappointingly disjointed and uneven. Even worse than that, with no space for anything interesting musically, the song just sounds bland. It’s the least interesting Clean Bandit song by a long chalk.

Clean Bandit are just too easily dominated by their guest artists, which is a shame because I’m still to hear a guest artist who isn’t entirely outclassed by them. I just want them to produce an entirely instrumental album, though I suppose that won’t happen while they’re still trying to get in the charts.



Faded” – Alan Walker feat. Iselin Solheim

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This could’ve been interesting, maybe: the lyrics at least have some ideas in them, and they’re not bad ones at that. Sure, “sun and water metaphors being used to describe a relationship” has been the default mode of a lot of pop music recently, but this song twists them by having the boyfriend be the narrator’s “shadow” who is linked to the ocean and blocks her from the sun, subverting the traditional way that these metaphors work. Unfortunately, it’s still not that interesting. Even if it inverts the metaphors, it’s still using the same images as a lot of bog-standard pop at the moment. And, again, the music is just bland: sparce and empty.

I have tried to listen to this song in the same way I listen to Are You With Me – as an atmospheric track that’s meant to sound like pop but fundamentally isn’t – but the subtexts of the lyrics just aren’t there to support this mode of listening. Fundamentally, the song is meant to work as a cathartic release and it details a standard love narrative: it’s 100% pop music on auto pilot, draped in imagery that’s an inversion of the usual so as to look vaguely interesting. It’s like Deadpool or The Fault in Our Stars: narratives which are trying to look like radical deconstructions of their genre but which are ultimately just standard examples of their genre with louder witty asides. There might be something in it, somewhere, but actually finding it feels pointless.



I Know What You Did Last Summer” – Shawn Mendes feat. Camila Cabello

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Shawn Mendes’ girlfriend cheated on him once, they stayed together, but now she’s acting shady again and he’s demanding to know where she’s been, which means the relationship isn’t working and the two should break up. Relationships are about trust; two people can stay together after one cheats on the other but only if trust is regained. Mendes doesn’t trust his partner, is now getting overly aggressive towards her and, as such, they should break up. He’s a whiny demanding arse, she’s self-involved, they don’t seem to have any actual reasons to stay together, yet neither actually reach the obvious conclusion at hand. Instead, we two unlikable people shouting at each other in circles to cover the fact that neither have actually arrived at the most obvious conclusion yet: they should break up.



Love, Hope and Misery” – Jake Bugg

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Jake Bugg is an indie rocker who so obviously wants to be the Libertines, it’s ridiculous. In that form though, he’s at least bearable: wannabe rock stars are omnipresent in the indie rock scene, they just come with the territory. But now the bad boy’s going to show his softer side, and my god is it terrible.

Jake Bugg’s vocal styles for this song combines the nasal tone of Passenger with the vapid whinginess of Shawn Mendes, resulting in a performance which feels like being stabbed in the ear with an ice pick. The orchestral music sounds like it’s been ripped from a low budget 1970’s easy listening record, and the lyrics tick off every Post-Club cliche it’s possible to check off, minus the “actually be good” box. It’s unlistenable. A genuinely terrible song.



Work From Home” – Fifth Harmony feat. Ty Dolla $ign

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For the longest time, I was convinced that this song was Rihanna’s Work. Then I actually watched the music video for Work and found that I was actually listening to something completely different. Also, I was listening to something infinitely better.

Work From Home is nigh-on indefensible. A woman is sending sexts to her partner while he’s at work while complaining about how his work stops him from being able to constantly have sex with her; still she resigns herself to it because he does have to work and, after all, he is “the boss at home”. Meanwhile the husband (as played by Ty Dolla $ign, the man with the worst rap name I’ve ever seen) spends his time talking about how much his wife better be constantly making herself look sexy for him and “putting overtime on [her] body”.

See what’s happening here? The man’s duty is to go off and work, making the money and providing a life for his family back at home. In return, the woman’s duty is to stay at home, comply to her husband’s wishes and make herself sexually available whenever he might want it.

How the fuck is something this sexist acceptable in this day and age? I mean, wow. Fucking wow. Do I even have to go on? When we live in a world with Little Mix, why could we ever need Fifth Harmony? Fuck this song; fuck it.



Just Like Fire” – P!nk

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Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass was a surprisingly decent film, seeming to understand Tim Burton’s version of Wonderland much better than Tim Burton ever did and retroactively fixing a lot of the problems I had with the first movie. (Yeah, I think Deadpool and The Fault in our Stars are overrated and like the second Alice in Wonderland film. Suck it.) There’s one thing that’s horrendously jarring though: that being when the film awkwardly slams into the end credits and it’s tie-in song Just Like Fire starts playing. That song just does not fit what went before it.

Part of this is just a matter of context. Alice in Wonderland is set in the Victorian era and in a surreal self-contained fantasy land: though passing comment on the modern world, it’s fundamentally disconnected from it. As such, to end the film with a top 40 hit from a famous post-2000 singer is like ending The Book Thief with Skillrex track: the song just fundamentally doesn’t belong in the film it’s in.

The song barely fits with the film thematically either. Both are fundamentally feminist texts which feature female characters refusing to be defined by their opponents – whether that’s Alice refusing to sign a man’s business contract which would make her an intern or P!nk fighting against whoever she’s fighting against – but other than that, they’re polar opposites. This can be most obviously seen in how they deal with the theme of madness. In the film, Alice is fundamentally not insane; it’s just that the world treats her as such because it looks at a woman going above her station and inherently sees something wrong with it. Meanwhile P!nk is busy claiming that she’s unbeatable because she’s resolutely insane and no-one can touch her. The two messages are completely separated; they’re saying two different things.

And where did the fire metaphor come from? There’s only one fire in the entirety of the original film: that being the fire which killed the Mad Hatter’s family. So is that what P!nk is: a dangerous fire so out of control that she keeps causing distress and death to her friends and family? That doesn’t work at all. I could go on.

The result is a tie-in song to a movie that the writer has obviously not watched. In a post-Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack world, this is just not acceptable. The fire metaphor is cliche, the music and lyrics are P!nk on auto-pilot, and the song is completely disconnected from it’s source material. No-one cared at any point: once again, it’s blatantly a paycheck mascarading as a song. It’s Faded but stuck at the end of a movie.



Stitches” – Shawn Mendes

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Just to reiterate (again), this is everything that’s wrong with pop music. Genuinely awful.

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.