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image belongs to Miley Cyrus/RCA Records

Miley Cyrus is perhaps the one popstar from the current generation nobody can pin down. We’ve all witnessed her rise from teen Disney star to worldwide pop superstar, though one could argue, it hasn’t always seemed like a seamless transition. Still, it would be remiss of anyone to shrug off Cyrus’s career to date and the impact she’s already had on pop culture. Cyrus was initially meant to have led up to her latest album with three separate EPs, coming back from the tepidly-received country era Younger Now, which would offer a pop-centric amalgamation of her previous sounds. Things took a turn when wildfires ravaged California and hit her house, and then not long after when her high-profile marriage to Liam Hemsworth fell apart and Cyrus faced scrutiny — as always — in the aftermath. One could imagine these events would have completely sidelined another pop star…but we’re talking about Miley Cyrus here. As anyone would expect, Cyrus took it as a cue for another reinvention, this time into a full-fledged rockstar.


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Image belongs to Kylie Minogue/Darenote/BMG

Disco is Kylie Minogue’s fifteenth studio album and sees Kylie Minogue returning to her longtime disco roots after flirtations with country on Dancing and modern dance-pop on Kiss Me Once. Though both of those albums were received well, both albums were seen as somewhat of a decline in quality for her after her triumphant return on 2010’s Aphrodite. Even then, to anyone familiar with her career, Disco sounds like a no brainer of an album. Minogue has traditionally always kept a toe in the worlds of dance-pop and disco, and 2020 has proven to be a big year for the revival of disco — from younger stars like Dua Lipa and Doja Cat garnering massive hits with songs in the genre to more established acts such as Jessie Ware finding a second wind, and then to longtime genre heavyweights such as Róisín Murphy coming back with the same aplomb as ever. …


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image belongs to Ariana Grande/Republic Records

Ariana Grande delivered a stunning announcement in early October: her sixth studio album was finished. Though there were signs Grande had concluded recordings, such as tweeting about delivering her final mixes, it was still a shock to fans as she had only wrapped up her last album’s era in mid-2019. That album — thank u, next — had only come about six months after her fourth studio album and received widespread critical acclaim and massive commercial success, going on to be nominated for two Grammys and having one of its singles “7 Rings” be nominated for two Grammys as well. It’s safe to say that the back-to-back releases of Sweetener and thank u, next solidified Grande as one of pop’s biggest household names and as a streaming force like few others. Quickly following her announcement, Grande announced the album would be titled positions and that the lead single would be similarly titled — with only a week separating the lead single from the album release. …


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image belongs to Astrid S/Universal Music Group

Astrid S’s debut album Leave It Beautiful has been long overdue. Norwegian pop star Astrid S first burst onto the scene in 2013 and has been steadily putting out material since then, mostly finding success in her home country. She’s done background vocals for superstar Katy Perry and recorded a duet with Shawn Mendes, and even found time for a collaboration with American country singer Brett Young. However, it’s no secret Astrid’s debut album has had a bevy of false starts, mostly due to her label pushing for international success that has proven elusive. Between 2016 and 2019, Astrid released four EPs full of new material and though the singles found success in Norway and Astrid worked with acclaimed songwriters like Charli XCX, she struggled to find an audience outside of her native Scandinavia. As a result, Astrid has worked with various producers and songwriters over the past seven years as she trotted the globe supporting various acts on tour, and though a variety of songwriters such as Amy Wadge, Caroline Ailin, and Emily Warren appear on this album, the material here is mostly the result of collaboration with Swedish producer duo Jack & Coke. Despite the troublesome journey Astrid went through to get to this point, it does feel like she and her label are working in sync this time, with Astrid exerting more control over her output than ever before, directing the music videos for the album’s singles and racking up production credits on the project.

“Marilyn Monroe” finds Astrid addressing the way people view her as a woman, pointing out how unfair people’s standards for her in contrast to their standards for men. Astrid compares the scrutiny she faces to that of Marilyn Monroe, deciding to affirm herself as an independent woman with a unique identity. The slick production features heavy synths and carefree vocalizations from Astrid meant to give the impression she doesn’t care about the criticisms. “Can’t Forget” captures a hungover Astrid who is still mesmerized with a man she met the night before, although she struggles to remember his name or much of the details of their encounter. However, Astrid insists she can’t forget him though all she remembers is his face, and she is hoping to see him again. Producers Jack & Coke blend a tropical house beat with some trap drums, and Astrid’s delivery is desperate and wistful. On “Hits Different”, Astrid relishes the confidence of being comfortable with herself despite being alone, boasting to listeners of how good it feels to be at peace with herself. However, the track’s tone blends the self-empowerment themes with Astrid’s sexuality and works as a double entendre for Astrid giving herself sexual pleasure, expressing delight at exploring her body. Jack and Coke’s production is modern and rhythmic, and Astrid utilizes her falsetto to come across as seductive. She slows things down on “It’s Ok If You Forget Me”, where she finds that her reaction to a recent breakup isn’t what she expected it would be. She reassures her ex that she’s okay with him moving on, but also struggles with not being as heartbroken over the relationship as she feels she should be, wondering if the relationship meant anything after all. The production is minimalistic yet still electronic, and Astrid sings earnestly, sounding genuinely baffled and frustrated over her confusing reactions.

“Dance Dance Dance” is a shimmering and somewhat reserved dance-floor anthem that sees Astrid attempting to get over her past relationship by going out, partying, and possibly hooking up with a stranger. The repetitive chorus sounds like Astrid attempting to convince herself she can distract herself from the sadness she doesn’t want to feel. The buoyant production masks the bittersweet sentiment behind the song, culminating in the album’s “tears-on-the-dancefloor” moment. Astrid is still reeling from a breakup on “Airpods”, where she takes on the role of observer recounting the story of a girl who uses music to numb the feelings after a breakup, attempting to get into clubs despite being underage. The onomatopoeic chorus details the song the girl is listening to in the hopes of distracting herself, making it apparent that the girl in question is Astrid. The beat takes cues from the rhythmic stylings of 2000s pop, complete with an acoustic guitar riff and a sample of a violin that sounds ripped off a vinyl record. Astrid slows things down again on “Good Choices”, where she is mostly accompanied by piano. She describes herself as an impulsive person here, fighting against the urges to follow through on doing things she knows aren’t good for her in the long run. She eventually concludes that while she understands it would be healthier for her if she made good choices, she can’t always fight her nature.

“Obsessed” finds Astrid relapsing into a secretive affair with an ex, inviting him over every day and questioning her sanity in the process. Astrid acknowledges that she’s aware her thinking is irrational but she is too vulnerable to her feelings for him, wondering if her lack of remorse makes her a psychopath. Astrid’s language makes it clear she understands how bad the continued relationship with her ex is for her, but chalks it up to an obsession. The frantic electropop production underscores the frustration Astrid feels with her situation, as she feels guilty for not moving on and lying to the people around her. “If I Can’t Have You” is a full-fledged lament over her past relationship, detailing how her ex’s parents didn’t think they would make it and voicing her wish that her ex doesn’t meet someone else. She finds nostalgia for the relationship coloring her view of all their past disagreements and incompatibilities. The production is built around acoustic guitar and Astrid’s beautiful vocal delivery but closes out with a trumpet solo that adds a mournful and dynamic element to the song. Album closer and the title track “Leave It Beautiful” allows Astrid to abandon the relationship finally, agreeing that she and her ex should leave the relationship in the past so they may both look back upon it fondly. She hopes she and her ex go on to find people who are right for them, not wanting to keep pushing things further and saying things they might regret. The upbeat techno-inflected production calls to mind the melancholic euphoria that permeated mid-2000s Scandipop, and Astrid’s vocal performance is undeniably gorgeous with a bright falsetto.

On Leave It Beautiful, Astrid proves she has a good ear for pop music, putting together an album that manages to sound fresh yet catchy. On the previous two EPs preceding this project, Astrid pivoted to a more stripped-down sound but she returns to the bright electropop of her earlier releases, steering it towards a clubbier and more ambient bent that helps to set the album apart from the usual pop music release. The production on the album is top-notch and pristine, and Jack & Coke’s consistent involvement allows for the project to feel like a connected and complete body of work. This isn’t necessarily a perfect record but it’s a pleasant success that shows a lot of promise from Astrid S, possibly even to follow in the footsteps of Scandinavian pop vanguards like Robyn and Agnes — but most importantly, it is good to see Astrid finally releasing a full-length project that allows some of her cheerful and optimistic personality to shine through. …


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Image belongs to Sasha Sloan/RCA Records

Sasha Sloan has had a pretty meteoric couple of years and she has been on the scene for about six years, a comparably short time for a new artist to go from a complete unknown to being on a major label with a following. Sloan was only at the Berklee College of Music for a year when she landed a publishing deal at 19 with Warner/Chappell, so she dropped out to pursue her passions by moving across the country to Los Angeles. Sloan would go on to feature on tracks with Kaskade and ODESZA before releasing her solo material and cutting her teeth by writing with artists such as Camila Cabello, Charli XCX, Dua Lipa, and Tinashe. Sloan released a handful of singles before she got signed to RCA Records and released her first EP, sad girl — which established Sloan’s honest, melancholic, and sharply written musical identity. Even since then, Sloan’s career has continued to grow — she’s landed placements with Katy Perry, Anne-Marie, and John Legend and she’s released two more EPs since then. Only Child is Sloan’s first full-length album, which sees her collaborating with her frequent collaborator King Henry — who is also incidentally her boyfriend at this point. Anyone who has listened to Sloan is aware by now of her raw writing skill and the gentle and bittersweet melodies she turns out with her collaborators, but this is a chance for her to show the world her talent and artistry with a full body of work.

The album begins with “Matter to You”, a pensive soft rock banger where Sloan paints herself as an introvert and confesses her feelings of being invisible, especially in situations with large groups of people. However, Sloan has found someone who acknowledges and appreciates her. Sloan finds comfort in this, lingering while singing “you” as she relishes the fact that she has someone who cares for her. “Only Child”, the album’s title track, is a piano-led song that sees Sloan fantasizing about having a sibling or two, bemoaning the loneliness that comes with having grown up as an only child. Sloan imagines a sister she could relate to who has experienced the same childhood events she did, and with whom she could share her heartbreaks. She also imagines a protective brother who would also deal with their father, hinting towards the effects her parents’ troubled marriage has had on her. The almost-acoustic “House With No Mirrors” is another outing in fantasy as Sloan imagines living in a house with no mirrors, though this is also figurative. Sloan is expressing a wish that she could be more confident and that she would not find herself prone to her insecurities. She details how her faults with her appearance have also affected her personality, making her more reserved and distant where she might have been more outgoing and sociable. Sloan picks up the pace with the light synthpop of “Lie”, though Sloan’s lyrics paint a tragic picture as she recognizes the fractures in the relationship with her partner. She pleads with them to salvage the relationship, asking that they pretend things between them are better than they are and to deny the truth of their impending breakup.

“Hypochondriac” relies on acoustic guitar and Sloan’s reverb-affected vocals to sell the ode’s sentiment towards her partner. Sloan reflects on how she lived recklessly in the past, neglecting her health and uncaring of what the effects were. She contemplates on how this has changed, and how her partner has given her a reason to live for resulting in her new fear of ill health and injury, not wanting anything to jeopardize the time she has with them and fearful that if something were to happen to her, she would never find someone like them again. “Is It Just Me?” finds Sloan voicing all the questions she secretly ponders, wondering if other people have the same questions or if her line of thinking is unusual. Sloan has some genuinely interesting opinions to consider and the messaging of the song is relatable, as we all often have unusual questions we think about but are too insecure or cautious to ask aloud. Sloan also sings over a rhythmic guitar track and the song highlights the organic cynicism and authenticity of her writing, allowing listeners to get insight into Sloan’s personality. “Santa’s Real” is a revisit to Sloan’s fantasy-based side of writing as she recounts the unrealistic beliefs she held when she was younger. Sloan laments the loss of her innocence, expressing her wish to live in an idealistic world where none of the problems of reality exist, relating this desire to listeners through familiar concepts such as Santa Claus and superheroes. The production adds a synth that sounds ripped straight from a 1980s Christmas song, riffing on the title and the concepts in the lyrics.

“Someone You Hate” is a lively soft rock tale of one of Sloan’s past breakups. She recalls how she promised her partner’s mother she would take care of them but found that they were outgrowing each other. She marvels at how she was someone they loved and how that completely flipped into her being the object of hatred. Sloan sounds remorseful as she tells of how she realized she would have to break her ex’s heart, but resolute in the finality of their relationship, toeing but never crossing the line towards appearing unlikable as she takes on the role of a heartbreaker. Sloan examines the differences between sympathy and empathy, specifically how they relate to grief on “Until It Happens to You”. She reasons that although one may be able to express their condolences to someone they love who has experienced loss, they cannot comprehend how much it hurts until something similar happens to them. It is a melancholic and angst-filled pop-rock tune that Sloan sings with a mix of wistfulness and bitterness that illuminates the difficulties of navigating grief. “High School Me”, the album’s closing track is another synthpop ode Sloan dedicates to her younger self. She considers how much she has grown since her adolescence and how she wishes she could reassure her teenage self that things would turn out better than she ever dreamed they would. Sloan is realistic as she reflects on her past and her present, noting that everything does not all get better but that the troubles that mattered to her then pale in comparison to her present circumstances.

Only Child is a strong showcase of Sasha Sloan’s songwriting ability and her unique brand of narrative and creative artistic voice. Across the album, Sloan flaunts different aspects of her writing style but retains a keen sense of language, tackling different subjects but constantly finding ways to present them in a relatable yet fresh approach for listeners. Sloan’s sound focuses on intimacy and though she does not push her boundaries musically, this is not a flaw in any way but rather a feature that allows her lyricism to shine. Sloan has a naturally pretty and crystalline voice which she is adept at using to convey the emotions and stories she succeeds in relating to listeners. The production is resonant and clean throughout, capturing the rawness of Sloan’s artistry and emotional authenticity that functions as the album’s backbone. …


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Image belongs to Róisín Murphy/Skint Records/BMG

Róisín Murphy is constantly one of the most eccentric and interesting female artists of our time. First breaking out onto the scene as one half of the alternative dance duo Moloko. Murphy’s breakup with her partner Mark Brydon led her to pursue a solo career, which began with an electronic-jazz fusion debut Ruby Blue and even ended up in what was supposed to be a blockbuster dance-pop record Overpowered. Murphy has released two albums since then — Hairless Toys and Take Her Up to Monto, both of which saw her adopting more experimental styles and continuing to allow her to express her vanguard artistic sensibilities. Though Murphy has never found the consistent commercial success she so justifiably deserves, the time has been nothing but kind to her art, which continues to stand as a testament as to how ahead of the curve she has always been. By her admission, Róisín Machine has been about ten years in the making, having been assembled with her longtime collaborator Richard Barratt, also known under monikers as DJ Parrot and Crooked Man. …


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Image belongs to Ava Max/Atlantic Records

Ava Max first gained worldwide momentum in 2018 with her surprise breakout hit “Sweet But Psycho”, but it wasn’t her first stab at becoming a pop star. Max tried releasing music on her own to no avail when she was 19, but it wasn’t until she met producer Cirkut at a party that things picked up traction. Max and Cirkut began writing material together, eventually putting out a song on SoundCloud that garnered attention from labels until Max finally signed with Atlantic Records. During that time, Max began figuring out her artistic identity and adopted the surname Max as she felt it was a good balance between masculine and feminine. During this time, Max found herself experimenting with her image, including her hair color and hairstyle to find something that visually represented her. One day, while cutting her hair and having to stop in the midst of it to rescue cookies from the oven, Max ended up cutting her hair into a bob on one side and found herself feeling comfortable with the resulting bob on one side, long hair on the other — a style Max deemed “the Max-Cut” and would become a trademark for the burgeoning pop star. Heaven & Hell, Max’s debut album, has been a long time in the making and though she had a major hit with “Sweet but Psycho”, her label’s insistence on chasing another hit ended up extending the album cycle longer than anyone imagined — at the time her album arrives, Max will have been promoting her debut for over two years. …


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Image belongs to Dua Lipa/Warner Records

It’s only been 6 months since Dua Lipa put an indelible stamp on pop culture and established herself as a superstar to watch with her second studio album Future Nostalgia. However, the COVID-19 pandemic largely paused Lipa’s plans to heavily promote the album as likely intended. Inspired by her fans’ enjoyment, Lipa connected with American DJ The Blessed Madonna to create a mixtape that would “take the party up a notch”. …


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Image belongs to Capitol Records/Katy Perry

It’s no secret to anyone that Katy Perry’s career has taken somewhat of a downward turn, including Perry herself. Perry racked up hit after hit during her first three album campaigns, including a notable hot streak during Teenage Dream that established her as a hitmaker. However, during her last album Witness, Perry struggled to land another hit after its lead single “Chained to The Rhythm” and encountered the backlash (some of it warranted, most of it undeserved) that comes when society decides a female pop star’s viability is over. Following that album, Perry experienced depression, prompting her to check into the Hoffman Institute for treatment. Perry also took on a role on American Idol as a judge and mentor, rekindled her romance with Orlando Bloom and getting engaged and eventually, announcing her first pregnancy. Smile is Perry’s first album to launch without a top 10 hit, but interviews leading up to the album’s release established Perry’s nonchalance towards obtaining future hits. Despite this, Perry has promoted the album as best any pop star could under the circumstances of COVID-19, filming performances for American Idol & Good Morning America and connecting with fans during a weekly livestream on Sundays, previewing the album and answering burning questions. …


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Image belongs to PVRIS/Warner Records

Just days before this album releases, PVRIS is dealing with the sudden and necessary departure of Alex Babinski, the band’s guitarist who is under fire for sexual misconduct allegations. This is the latest development in a difficult rollout for the band’s third album Use Me. Initially slated for a May release, the album was delayed to July due to the COVID-19 pandemic and then again to August 28th, despite the album leaking nearly a month in advance due to some albums shipping out on the July date — but Gunn felt it was important not to distract from the Black Lives Matter movement and the conversations about racism that needed to take place. Furthermore, having already teased three of the album’s songs on an EP last year as well as having released two more singles by April left PVRIS with little else to promote before the album’s release. …

About

Addy Lune

26 year old avid music listener, breaking down new music releases sporadically. twitter: @addylune

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