Quarantine playlist: my favourite songs of 2020 so far

It’s unbelievable what this coronavirus has done to all of us. We’re stuck at home, bombarded by videos of Instagram models working out in their apartments, teaching us how to use pots and pans to increase the effectiveness of push-ups. Stars like Miley Cyrus or Charli XCX do Instagram story live streams daily, interviewing each other. Some people say they’re planning on reading more during this time, which is definitely a good idea. Despite having two or three books to finish myself, I’m not really in a position to recommend any reads to anyone. However, I’d be more than happy to share a few songs released this year that I’ve really enjoyed. Maybe some of them will make your time at home (including bicep curls performed with plastic water battles) a bit more enjoyable.

Christine and the Queens – La Vita Nuova feat. Caroline Polachek

I mean, we stan Chris. I wasn’t so keen on her last album so as soon as I heard she’s realising new music in 2020 my stomach dropped like the stock market last week. La Vita Nuova is the title track off Christine and the Queens’ new EP released in February. Named after Dante Alighieri’s painting, the record includes six crazy, disco-queer-electronic bops. I wasn’t sure which one of them include as my recommendation but finally, I decided it’s going to be the title track. The pop masterpiece starts softly, with Chris singing in Italian against the soft instrumental until the beat kicks in to let us know we’re not worthy. The song also features another pop phenomena, Caroline Polachek, who shows off her vocal range and language skills after the first chorus. It’s like if Michael Jackson was a genderqueer, art-pop Knight Templar of good taste and decided to do a collab with one of the most gorgeous pop singers on the planet.

Alec Benjamin – The Book of You and I

I’m always keen on listening to new singers songwriters, especially if they sing about how good things used to be, and how shit they are now. If I could transform an Apple Music playlist into a country and move there, that’d be “In My Room” playlist, with all the sad, acoustic songs on there. Heaven.

This guy is what Ed Sheeran could have been if he had (any) taste. His debut album These Two Windows is scheduled to be released on May 29th this year and, seriously, I can’t wait. I love how his songs sound smart, even though they’re clearly cliches. He’s obvious without being tiring. I’m also a massive fan of his, kind of, androgynous and soft voice. Give it a listen if you like easy listening, acoustic pop songs.

Conan Gray – The Story

Staying within the young-singer-songwriter-sad pop territory, this guy has just released his debut album Kid Krow today (20/03/2020). The record’s closing track is my personal favourite. It’s a sad ballad telling a story of two boys and their love-gone-wrong. It gives me Tracy Chapman vibes, especially with the lyric: “if we worked and we saved, we could both run away and we’d have a better life”. I like how nicely structured it is, with a very neat and tidy production. It really is a beautifully written and gently performed pop song and I recommend it to all of you! Conan Gray’s biggest songwriting influence is Taylor Swift, and it definitely shows.

Alanis Morisette – Smiling

Originally I was planning on writing about another song called Reasons I Drink but fuck my life, I thought, as I realised it was actually released in December last year, which would be cheating. Smiling is a song off Alanis’ upcoming album Such Pretty Forks in the Road. Brutally honest, written with signature Alanis style of realisation and self-assessment, Smiling is a good introduction to what’s still to come. Very nice guitar in the lead here, catchy but dreamy and not distracting from Alanis’ vocal performance. We stan.

Celeste – Stop This Flame

I first discovered Celeste at the beginning of this year. Later, when I saw her performance at the BRIT Awards I fell in love completely. This USA-born, UK-raised pop-soul singer won the Rising Star award that night and performed her gorgeous 2019 ballad Strange. The song I’m writing about today is showing her more radio-friendly approach, as the single is up-tempo, jazzy, but also catchy and poppy. If Adele’s I’ll be waiting had a twin sister, this would be it. Celeste’s vocal performance, as well as really enjoyable pop instrumental makes it a perfect radio song and displays the singer’s massive potential.

Tame Impala – Breathe Deeper

At this point, Kevin Parker could autotune the recording of him snoring and I’d still be able to find an excuse to put it on the list of best tracks. Breathe Deeper is the fifth single from the new Tame Impala album The Slow Rush. This enjoyable, polished and beautifully produced funky rollercoaster is exactly what we need from Tame Impala in these dark and uncertain times.

And if you’re looking for a good, fun album to remind you how fun partying is while all the clubs are closed – I recommend High Road by Kesha. Stay healthy!

Madonna “Madame X” – Review

Madame X is a dog’s dinner, but delicious! Annoyingly, Madonna somehow managed to become a joke, at least within my circle of friends. That is not because of her age as many would assume, but her rather desperate efforts to follow the trends and appear “on top of the music world”.

The last few albums from Madge could be described as good pop, but nothing groundbreaking. As mentioned before, Madonna started following the trends (often poorly) instead of setting them. That is not the case with Madame X, her best album in over a decade. To be honest, I felt Madonna would start making deeper material as soon as I heard she relocated to Portugal. She’s a very influence-sensitive artist, with the effective ability to absorb the unknown into the zeitgeist. The album includes elements of Latino, African instruments, acoustic sounds, bits of disco, singing in Portuguese and intentional overuse of vocoder (often annoying).

Medellin is a great lead single and album opener. I’m a fan of the composition, the combination of dreamy verses with catchy Latino Pop hooks.

Bohemian Rhapsody-structured Dark Ballet is a real mess. What starts as a piano ballad later turns into a Daft Punky, vocodery, psychedelic bedtime story. Lyrically starts strong, ends a bit cringeworthy (“Can’t you see outside of your Supreme hoodie?”)

God Control isn’t much different in terms of the structure. Gun control-related lyrics sang monotonously with a choir of monks in the background later transform into a strange Daft Punk extravaganza.

Then we have Future, in my personal opinion the worst track on the album, but it might be the matter of me highly disliking both Quavo and reggae music.

Batuka offers crazy percussion and ends beautifully with a violin outro.

Killers who are partying is yet another story. From my observation, fans love this kind of Madonna – an indie-acoustic pretentious witch. Most critics do hate it though. I will be gay if the gay are burnt, I will be Africa if Africa is shot down – Madge lists everyone she feels sorry for with very interesting instrumentation. A bit of an eyebrow-raising moment but I don’t care, it’s Madonna, after all. She lost the plot ages ago.

Crave could have been great without Swae Lee and his moany vocal efforts. The song itself is an interesting combination of acoustic guitar and a trippy beat, so it’s nothing more but a wasted chance.

Crazy isn’t very interesting either but it’s a good introduction to Come Alive. Acoustic percussion, some sick, melted strings in the background and subtle vocals make a good combination yet again.

If you’ve been blessed with a deluxe edition, you can listen to Extreme Occident which includes a lovely melody with vulnerable vocals and oriental instruments. It’s one of my personal favourites.

Faz Gostoso is a true bop with one of the catchiest hooks on the album. Rapper Anitta is featured on this godly bop and together with Madonna, they created one of the best up-tempo songs in Madonna’s discography.

Bitch, I’m Loca is a second collaboration with Maluma. Must be a nice listen for fans of this type of music, however, its location on the tracklist confuses me as the song doesn’t hold as strong artistic value as the ones behind and after it.

I don’t search I find could easily be played in Studio 54. With an addictive beat, disco era-inspired dance track reminds me a bit of I Feel Love by Donna Summer and something you could hear in London’s Vauxhall at 6 am, high on ****, drinking Stella in the smoking area. And this kind of Madonna I want to listen to.

A few words about Eurovision 2019

We all know what Eurovision is like – sparkly, camp, colourful, over the top competition in which (mostly) European countries compete with each other to win a trophy that gives the winner nothing but fame (by which I understand being remembered in competition’s history).

The extravagant contest is responsible for introducing some really good recording artists to the general public (us!), whether it’s the A class ABBA in the 1970s or artists-phenomenons such as Conchita Wurst, Salvador Sobral or Netta.

I’m not here to tell the history of the contest or any funny anecdotes(15 things you didn’t know about Eurovision Song Contest!) but to mention few things that caught my attention while watching this year’s circuses (with bread).

Netta from Israel won the contest last year. Her success, surrounded by an aura of controversy, resulted in dozens of news publications around the world. She was accused of cultural appropriation, banal composition and lyrics and (that’s actually ridiculous in this day and age) criticised for her weight. The artist herself stated her song “Toy” was inspired by the #MeToo movement. I personally enjoyed it to the fullest and felt incredibly happy when she won. Toy is definitely one of the best songs in Eurovision history, in my opinion.

Israel’s conflict with Palestine is one of the reasons why a lot of (important) people decided to boycott this year’s Eurovision.

Hatari, who represented Iceland this year, held a Palestinian flag in front of the cameras. They got booed by the people in the arena.

Surprise, surprise! It didn’t stop Israel from creating an amazing show, filled with self-promotion, guest performances and… scandals, of course!

This year’s contestants couldn’t get close to last year’s artists in terms of performance and compositions, but the competition was still very interesting and some songs are, without a doubt, worth listening to on streaming platforms.

Young gentleman Mahmood was definitely my favourite performance of the night. Introduced by Graham Norton as an internet sensation, with over 83 million views of his video, the young artist didn’t disappoint. He delivered a magnetic performance of a great, modern, smartly produced song called “Soldi”. He brought sexy back just like Justin Timberlake did in 2006. Australian entry sounded like Kate Bush impersonation and looked like college student’s experiments with green screen, but still managed to sound weirdly interesting.

UK’s Michael Rice came last, which is harsh, but I think anyone who wins a singing competition (Rice won a show called All Together Now) and spends the money on opening a waffle and crepe place in their home town deserves the worst in the music industry after that. And, of course, there is Brexit.

The Spanish Guy was really cute and staging was amazing. He came last, together with Michael Rice, but definitely deserved better.

And of course – there’s Iceland. Holding a Palestinian flag wasn’t the only thing they did that caused controversy that night. There was also their Rammstein inspired, BDSM performance. Thank God no one ended up being penetrated by a dildo. On a serious note, I do think it takes massive balls to do what they did…. (Palestinian flag in Israel, not the performance).

Oh, and there was Madonna. Pop music’s legendary superstar appeared as a special guest to promote her new album Madame X. Wearing her signature (for this era) eyepatch and accompanied by Quavo she performed, in my opinion, the worst single in her career so far, with ridiculous staging and disappointing vocals during “Like a prayer”.

Perhaps, we should just stick to Duncan Laurence from the Netherlands who won this year. I’ve listened to his song at least five times while writing this and I still don’t remember any of it. It sounds a bit like Heal by Tom Odell.

For now – good morning Europe and good night Australia!

Lizzo: “Cuz I love you”

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This Detroit-born flute-handling singer-songwriter and her major-label debut “Cuz I love you” cuzed a little stir in the music industry due to the loud, body-positive image and often genreless (technically confusing?) tunes. Her newest album is full of musical influences, energetic beats and obviously confident phrases – sung, rapped, yelled…

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The record opens with a title track. Cuz I love you, according to Lizzo herself is a big, brassy, orchestral moment. Indeed, it does sound like some show-opening, Beyoncé-inspired, monumental high school drama audition. Soulful, powerful vocals appear now and again, in between of rappy verses. As the record ends with its powerful and dramatic title verse, another song starts. Like a girl is a pleasant, entertaining and sweetly naive anthem, with lyrics referencing Serena Williams and personal independence. That could have been one of the modern feminist anthems. Well, I think Kesha did it better a couple years ago on her “Rainbow” album.

Juice, the lead single off the album, which to me sounds Motown inspired(in a very lovely way!) is the quintessence of Lizzo’s style(both musically and lyrically) and the best song on the record. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, don’t say it cuz I know I’m cute!” – even the first few seconds of this bop prove the banger-ability this girl has and the reason why she got signed to Atlantic Records. Such a shame that the next track, Soulmate, is a totally predictable, tired to death bore full of industry tricks. Jerome shows the amazing vocal ability of the singer, and despite sounding a bit like Rihanna’s Love on the brain and using the “open letter to the guy who hurt me” formula is still one of my favourites. Cry Baby and Tempo are also worth listening to. The first one has a great instrumental and first-class, heartfelt, vocal performance. The second one, with an instrumentally confusing intro, is a duet with Missy Elliot and proper ping pong, mind fuck piece. Exactly how I feel is a squeaky collab with Gucci Mane, Better in color shows off her true ones, with production again being a mix of vocal-showing retro and “these today’s rappers” style. After brilliantly written Heaven Help Me, the album ends with a stripped-down Lingerie.

Lizzo is definitely a desperately needed figure in today’s music, and a great inspiration for artists who don’t want to be locked inside a one genre drawer, despite the suggestions of their record label. Hopefully, for Lizzo it’s the beginning of something big. Is the album worth listening to? Yes. Is it going to be iconic one day? No.