pop

Single review: Taylor Swift’s ‘Look What You Made Me Do’

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Gone are the days when critics had the power to pronounce artists “dead”. Now, it seems, they have taken matters into their own hands.

By now, you’ve probably heard the news: “The old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now….she’s dead!” Together with the sudden erasure of her social media accounts, and a move away from the Victoria’s Secret aesthetic, it is very clear that we are at the beginning of what Swifties lovingly refer to as an “era”.

At least, that’s what Swift is desperate for us to think. But why, if she is seeking to obliterate her past, has Swift called her upcoming album Reputation, a word that by its very definition requires a past?

And why so keen to kill off the old Swift? What did she ever do to deserve an early demise? Done in such a contrived manner, it reeks of fear. Fear of the PR effects of supposedly bitchy falling-outs so publicised by the media. Fear of remaining the same. And, perhaps most of all, fear of never again reaching the height at which 1989 set the bar.

Valid fears, one and all.  But this violent casting-off of the old would be far less offensive and far more effective, if the single around which this hype was generated was something more than…okay. Ish.

I won’t lie: the opening is spine-tingling. Strings? Sparkling synth? Hello. And then those booming beats, with Taylor right on the mic, her breath in our ears, spitting words that have the syntactic mastery of Blank Space. “I don’t like your little games/ Don’t like your tilted stage/ The role you made me play/ Of the fool, no I don’t like you”.

At the 45th second we have our pre-chorus, where, with rapid-fire piano chords and even quicker lyrics, things are starting to escalate (“But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time”) and that volume knob is going up, up, up.

The anticipation of a theatrical burst of anthemic, savvy pop is high. Very high. Until that amazingly, deafeningly, anticlimactic chorus.

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It’s as though the bottom just drops out of this song. The harmonic underpinnings vanish, the momentum evaporates, and we are left with a sparse, repeated refrain that sounds more like yesterday’s Meghan Trainor than today’s born-again Taylor Swift.  I’ll say it again: THERE IS NO CHORUS TO SING HERE. Move along folks. Have a nice day.

To top it all off, there’s something a little offensive about having this accusatory single flung in our faces. What have we done? It’s hard to know. Probably nothing, it’s probably all Kayne’s fault, but even so it feels a little…aggressive.

Revenge has always been her shtick, but as Swift sings “the world moves on, another day another drama/ But not for me, all I think about is karma” it all starts to sound a little petty.  1989 was not only a significant new musical direction, it was a welcome move away from the cryptic mud-slinging. Ironically, Reputation seems to be a return to the insecurity we thought she’d shed.

No, the old Taylor is not dead. She is just in hiding, behind the increasingly impersonal facade of the Swift™ machine.

Images: Variety & Giphy
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SAFIA @ Enmore Theatre 18.11.16

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Seats? What seats? Everyone became a dancer at SAFIA’s Enmore Theatre gig last Friday.

4/5

Some gigs are led by the performers, leaving audiences in the wake of their brilliance. Some (not-so-great) gigs are led by the audience, dutifully egging on an artist who over-promised and under-delivered. And still other (definitely great) gigs are a manifestation of glorious performer/audience teamwork; a cycle that is the antithesis of vicious, amplifying vibe upon enthusiastic vibe to create an outpouring of abandoned self-expression for both parties.

SAFIA and their wonderful fans succeeded in delivering something like the latter at the Enmore Theatre on Friday night.

Sydney duo Set Mo had amply warmed the crowd with their persuasive disco tunes, but the roar that greeted SAFIA’s appearance on stage was worthy of a band with twice their (already impressive) success. An eclectic, casual and irrepressibly cheerful bunch, it was clear this audience had been with SAFIA for a while. Singing their hearts out from the get-go and dancing in their seats, they were rewarded with multiple confetti cannons, funky visuals and a hella lot of energy.

Pumping through a set list filled with tracks from their debut album Internal, as well as old favourites such as Make Them Wheels Roll , Counting Sheep and Embracing Me, SAFIA hurled themselves tirelessly at an audience who lovingly returned the energy tenfold. Each song was greeted like a hit single; every lyric was hollered by the devoted; and even those of us who usually treat seats as sacred carriers of personal space, abandoned them to better allow our bodies to move instinctively with the beats. Within 20 minutes the entire theatre was on its feet, grooving as one big party.

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(Source)

If only someone had put a Fitbit on frontman Ben Woolner, he would surely have racked up his 10,000 steps within the hour, running from end to end like a crackling ball of electricity. While bandmates Michael Bell and Harry Sayers stayed put till the end, their contribution was just as intense – and the throngs of outstretched arms when they finally approached the stage edge proved their equal popularity.

SAFIA is certainly a band that comes to life on the stage. Already catchy and heartfelt, their electronic pop explodes with new immediacy when heard in the flesh; the grooves have an all-encompassing presence, and there was a sense of communal catharsis as the fans bellowed the chorus of My Love Is Gone.

In a city where live music venues are dying left, right and centre, a gig like this goes a long way to instil confidence and hope in the Sydney music scene. And in a day and age where millennials are decried for their anti-social behaviour, it was nice to revel in a crowd of young people encouraging others to dance, singing with abandon and happily enjoying the full-body effects of bloody good dance music.

Things I think while listening to the radio: part I

It’s been a long week. And a long week – for me – involves long drives. Or at least, multiple longish ones.

This week I was also unhappily disorganised – read, left key items from my beloved CD collection at home. So, FM radio it was. Oh woe was I.

Don’t get me wrong, mainstream radio offers me guilty pleasures on a regular basis (I am a newly converted Belieber, after all). But one week solid of JUST. RADIO. was more than any person should have to resort to.

While it may feel like I listened to the same five songs all week, apparently there were at least 50 in rotation…HEAVY rotation.

Strange things happen to songs when they are overplayed…here’s an insight into the mental anguish* that occurs:

*strong use of melodrama intentional

50. Adele – Send My Love To Your New Lover

Thank God 25 hasn’t passed its radio date yet. *cue heartfelt singalong*

49. Justin Timberlake – CAN’T STOP THE FEELING!

WHY IS THIS TITLE ALWAYS IN CAPITALS? WHY DOES IT ALWAYS SOUND LIKE IT’S BEING SUNG IN CAPITALS? I USED TO LOVE THIS AND NOW IT’S A MONSTER.

48. Calvin Harris ft. Rhianna – This Is What You Came For

Taylor Swift should be singing this, Rhianna sounds bored.

47. gnash ft. Olivia O’Brien – i hate u, i love u

Nononononononononononononononono. *changes station*

46. Drake and Rhianna – Too Good

A venomous song, without the venom. Bring back Carly Simon please.

45. Joel Adams – Please Don’t Go

Emotive moaning. Next.

44. Lil Wayne et. al. – Sucker For Pain

Not sure if this is an ode to S&M, or a misguided commentary on mental dysfunction. Feel safer betting on the former.

43. Terror Jr – Come First

Thought this was a lacklustre version of Can’t Keep My Hands To Myself for a second…then realised it was just lacklustre.

42. The Chainsmokers ft. Daya – Don’t Let Me Down

Okay. Yes. This is cool. Overplayed, but cool.

41. Twenty One Pilots – Heathens

What is this edgy piece of intelligence doing on the FM airwaves? Transcending the drivel, that’s what.

40. Cheat Codes and Dante Klein – Let Me Hold You (Turn Me On)

Next.

39. NEIKED ft. Dyo – Sexual

Hell yes, this is a nice little piece of songwriting. Grammatically dubious chorus lyrics, but I’m singing along anyway.

38. Niall Horan – This Town

Niall, Niall, Niall. You aimed valiantly for ‘poignant’, missed by a mile and landed squarely in ‘yawn-worthy’. Also ‘whingy’ and ‘cliche-riddled’.

37. MO – Final Song

*adds to list of songs to learn all lyrics to because it’s such a damn cool singalong*

36. Coldplay ft. Seeb – Hymn For The Weekend

A Coldplay song I almost care about! For two minutes. Pity it’s 3’32”.

35. Cashmere Cat et. al. – Trust Nobody

Sexy talk, autotune and celeb cameos. Ahh, the tried and tested formula…packaged into something as charismatic as plastic. Next.

34. Marc E Bassy and G-Eazy – You & Me

Oooh, there’s a reggae thing happening. I like.

33. Shawn Mendes – Treat You Better

Ahhhh, it was only a matter of time before you showed up, Mendes. This is a decent tune, I’m sure I can listen to it for the bazillionth ti-…nope. Nope. I’m done.

32. Peking Duck and Elliphant – Stranger

*zones out and focuses on traffic/what to cook for dinner*

31. Alessia Cara – Scars To Your Beautiful

I am okay with listening to empowering cliches. Bored, but okay.

30. Calum Scott – Dancing On My Own

There is a reason she’s not dancing with you, Calum. Go and tell Shawn Mendes about it, he’ll understand. Could even be a collab in it.

29. Flume ft. Tove Lo – Say It

Yessssssssssssssssss, there is something so inherently bad-ass about this track. So much tension, so much release. Crank. That. Volume.

28. Anne-Marie – Alarm

Yeahhhh boi, another solid TUNE…well, for the first chorus anyway. Then it has the same monotonous effect as a real alarm. Wahh why does all this music lack staying power?!

27. Illy ft. Vera Blue – Papercuts

Yeah. Mm. Maybe. Kinda. Sorta. Next.

26. Tove Lo – Cool Girl

*zoning out again*

On repeat lately (#3)

St Lucia – Do You Remember

So. Much. 1980’s. Goodness. Do you need another reason? Okay then, explosive indie-pop choruses and exuberant waves of synth. This one is just bursting out of its skin with joy. And so will you.

Sally Seltmann – Heart That’s Pounding

It would be remiss of me to do an On Repeat Lately post without mentioning Ms Seltmann’s Heart That’s Pounding album. Every few months it makes a reappearance and goes on heavy rotation during my daily commute – and every few months it sounds as sweet and fresh as the first time I heard it.

The Heavy – Since You’ve Been Gone

I was lucky enough to be given a pre-release version of the entire album for review, but I highly suggest you groove along to this funky-as-hell single until April 1 brings the full track-listing.

Lontalius – A Feeling So Sweet

New Zealand teen Eddie Johnston (aka. Lontalius) puts insomnia, insecurity and self-examination to music in a way so delicate it might just blow away on the breeze. It feels wrong to only list one song from a collection that is so beautifully cohesive it should be listened to as a whole.

City of the Sun – Brothers

(Listen to Brothers on iTunes here)

Earthy instrumentals that sound like the quieter sibling of Bears With Guns. Reverb-laden guitar hooks echo into the spaces between soft tambourine accents and free-spirited strumming rhythms. Good lord, this stuff is dreamy.

Confessions of a (happy) hypocrite.

While the rest of the world is consumed with the creation and perusing of ‘Best Of 2015’ lists (and, okay, I may even do my own before NYE. Maybe.), I am a little preoccupied at how my musical year has, ahem, played out.

Because no matter how you look at it, there is no denying that the music that attracted my ears in 2015 has forced me to eat large helpings of my own words, with a generous side of Humble Pie. Let’s take a look at those wonderfully self-assured and longstanding opinions that fell by the wayside this year, shall we?

“Like, she can write lyrics and stuff, but I will never, ever, ever, EVER be a Taylor Swift fan.”

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Yes, you, Taylor. I will never, ever, ever-..oh, what the hell.

Okay, in no universe do I start sentences with ‘like’, but the general sentiment still stands. And yes, even in a stadium of 76,000 bellowing Swifties, in the presence of the songstress herself, I could only halfheartedly join in towards the end of Love Story (because, key change you guys…I’m a musician, not a robot).

But in no universe can I deny that T-Swizzle got me good with 1989. And then Red. And finally, towards the end of term 4, when sanity is a scarce but valuable commodity, best fuelled by soothing simplicity and unabashed singalongs, even some of Fearless and Speak Now. All I need now is a flower crown…

“I am not a pop fan. I am NOT a pop fan!”

TayTay aside, there has been a steady flow of pop in my album rotation this year. 2015 hasn’t been a particularly exciting year for music releases, but there have been some pretty sweet pop tunes floating around…and, much to my surprise, I found myself relishing the structural security and devilishly catchy choruses of the genre I have often dismissed, nay, disowned, in a misguided attempt at street-cred (which you can thank 14yo Jessie for).

It wasn’t until I’d worn the Chet Faker and Marcus Marr collab ragged in a mere afternoon that I realised I’d better just own up: I AM a pop fan. Good pop, mind…but more on that another day.

“Streaming? Pah! I’ll always prefer my real-life CD collection.”

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‘Nuff said.

I clung valiantly to my ideals…until The Beatles started streaming. Done dealio. THE WORLD IS IN MY HEADPHONES RIGHT NOW.

Who’d have thought being a hypocrite openminded could be so profitable?!  Wonders never cease…

Image sources: Stereogum That Eric Alper

Confessions of a ‘1989’ listener

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Generally speaking, pop music makes me uncomfortable. It’s too loud, it’s too catchy, too mundane, too…easy.

So I’m not sure what I was thinking when I bought a copy of Taylor Swift’s 1989.

I’d heard Shake It Off, I’d watched the Blank Space video (which, incidentally, makes for a terrific reaction from all car-lovers… girly screams galore, and that was just my dad). But you know, I didn’t think this was my thing. What did interest me, was how a musician could leap from one genre to the other and bring their fans with them. So I handed over $22 to satisfy my curiosity and listened to the whole damn thing in one sitting. Call it research.

Oddly enough, I can recall my first encounter with Taylor Swift rather vividly – especially given that was a figurative sentence, not a reference to a face-to-face encounter. It was my 17th birthday, I was cruising down the freeway, and one of my best friends (and enthusiastic Swifty) couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard Swift’s eponymous debut album. ‘Play’ was pressed accordingly and I found myself privy to someone else’s love-life in a matter of seconds. I was fascinated; not just by these uncensored matters of the heart, but by the neatness of the meter and rhyme (Edward Lear’s poetry was always my jam).

Seventeen-year-old me may have investigated further, but Love Story had invaded the airwaves several times too often and I made it my full-time job to avoid this soppy, angsty, trash – much less ever seek it out. I turned up The Beatles and directed the full force of my adolescent disdain toward Swift’s crowd-pleasing love songs. Oh yes, my music snobbery started at an early age.

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But how time changes the heart. Last week, I finished my 1989 listening spree feeling subdued and emotionally spent. Swift has always been an earnest scholar of the laws of attraction – and her thorough research has given her reams of relatable material – but 1989 deals more sagely with that vulnerable place between teenage romance and adult affairs. The passions are stronger, the recoveries slower, the scars are deeper, and our narrator changed forever. If ever there was a time to apply the “coming of age” label, this is it.

And let’s talk music. In keeping with the magnitude of the emotions dealt with here, 1989 is created mainly from an expansive palette of 1980’s-inspired synths and booming beats. The banjo has been banished, gone is the girl-next-door twang, and the whole album is begging to be heard loud and live. Even I know this is not typical Swift. That was, in fact, part of the attraction. If I liked this album, I figured, it wouldn’t make me a T-Swizzle fan…right? I’m safe. So I can sing along as loudly as I like… *ahem*

1989 is a pop record, plain and simple. Swift’s knack for narrative and rhyme means she handles the catchy chorus better than most, and her snappy songwriting fits sleekly into her new choice of genre. The euphoric Welcome To New York is surely a concert-opener, Style had me at “James Dean”, but it is Out Of The Woods (which I invariably call “Into The Woods” because I am actually a forgetful, Sondheim-loving grandma) that forms the standout moment of the album for this reviewer. It’s a powerful combination of adult realisation and innocent hope, delivered with hard-hitting repetition and a plethora of backing vocals. Shake It Off pales into insignificance beside this kind of thing.

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So here’s my shocking (at least to me) confession: I’ve had 1989 on repeat ever since I bought it. I can’t say I like all the tracks (Bad Blood, for all its hype, is a little too whiney for my taste), but the bigger numbers keep me coming back for more. Perhaps it’s the inevitable relevance it carries for me as a twentysomething, perhaps it’s the fact that Swift’s songwriting transfers effortlessly to a pop sensibility, perhaps it’s just that sometimes you need to stop thinking and dance. But I actually dig this album.

One more confession: less than a week after purchasing 1989, I added Red to my collection. And though I will never, ever, ever, ever, like THAT song, I rather enjoyed the others. Which begs the question: after all these years, am I actually a Swifty??

Well, they do say denial is the first stage…

Michael Buble: To Be Loved

Strategically targeted album cover: ladies, please control your imaginations.

Album: To Be Loved
Artist: Michael Buble
Released: April 22, 2013

RATING: 3.5 STARS

From the baby-faced stare of the self-titled Michael Buble, to the seductively moody film-noir vibe of Call Me Irresponsible, the pop-Sinatra of the 21st century returns with an unashamedly sexed-up offering. Observe the suave confidence with which Mr. Buble appears to be ripping his tie from his throat, and the obvious absence of a wedding ring…which features quite prominently in almost every other photo in the liner notes.

Once I’d stopped laughing at the obvious marketing ploys, I approached To Be Loved with suitably low expectations.

In some ways, I was justified: the more successful Buble gets, the more he can smuggle his own staggeringly ordinary love ballads into an album that is otherwise full of beautiful classics. With the notable exception of the high-hitting single It’s A Beautiful Day (an arrogant rant by a rejected dude, that somehow turns out ridiculously fun), the original tracks by Buble and co. are largely forgettable fillers. Not to be cruel: they’re rather nice fillers, but fillers nonetheless. It’s big, swinging numbers like You Make Me Feel So Young, Come Dance With Me and Nevertheless (I’m In Love With You) that make the album solid. Add in an adorable rendition of You’ve Got A Friend In Me and you’re pretty set.

As always, Buble does best when he’s singing covers…solo. While old pals Naturally 7 provide a rich layer of harmonies in Have I Told You Lately That I Love You, Bryan Adams does nothing to help the tacky rhymes of original After All (“excited” and delighted” just don’t have class, sorry) and Reese Witherspoon by any other name would have been just as forgettable a Nancy Sinatra substitute in Somethin’ Stupid.

However, between the fluffy pop and guest vocals we didn’t pay to listen to, To Be Loved manages to give a hefty whack of sassy jazz, Sinatra suave, swingin’ brass and raucous refrains. Perhaps it’s only fair to stem the criticism and accept the album as the artist obviously intended it: to be loved.

While you’re reading this, listen dance to: Come Dance With Me