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Abum Review: Demi Lovato - Dancing With the Devil…The Art of Starting Over

Album Review: Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia

10 Girl Power Pop Collaborations

Single Review: Shawn Mendes & Justin Bieber – Monster

Album Review: Miley Cyrus – Plastic

Demi LovatoAlbum Review: Demi Lovato - Dancing With the Devil…The Art of Starting Over

pitchfork.com

At the 2008 American Music Awards, Demi Lovato—then Disney’s leading lady for her star turn in Camp Rock—smiled as a red-carpet reporter asked about the inspiration behind her pop-punk solo music. “Believe it or not, being 16, I’ve been through a lot,” she answered with a dignified giggle. “Come on, how much heartbreak can you have at 16?” the man insisted. “Oh, a lot,” Lovato immediately retorted.

Over the next few years, as she dutifully performed the role of a chaste pop star—albeit one fascinated by metal music—Lovato struggled under the immense pressure of the media and music industries (child stars, we so often forget, are workers). Behind the scenes, Lovato struggled with an eating disorder, self-harm, and substance use. She recently revealed that she was raped at the age of 15. After entering a treatment facility for the first time at 18, Lovato was transparent about her struggles with addiction and recovery.

Arriving alongside the documentary and a blitz of confessional interviews, Lovato’s seventh album, Dancing with the Devil…The Art of Starting Over takes control of the narrative. Across 19 songs, the 28-year-old leans into her personal struggles; the pop star who once professed a desire to “be free of all demons” has seemingly accepted the reality that she must live alongside them. On the power ballad “Anyone,” Lovato tries to find solace in her art but comes up short. “A hundred million stories/And a hundred million songs/I feel stupid when I sing/Nobody’s listening to me,” she belts. Written before her relapse, it’s a cry for help from a place of loneliness and desperation. The slinky “Dancing with the Devil” outlines the precipitous slope that led to overdose: “A little red wine” became “a little white line,” and then “a little glass pipe.” “ICU (Madison’s Lullabye)” relives the moment when Lovato woke up in the hospital, legally blind and unable to recognize her little sister.

After this somber three-song prologue, Dancing with the Devil expands to reveal the person Lovato is—or aims to be—today; there is a lot of shed skin, rewritten endings, and references to reaching heaven. While Lovato’s previous record, 2017’s Tell Me You Love Me, dabbled in pool-party R&B and electropop, here she explores an array of influences from “The Art of Starting Over”’s soft rock to a haunting cover of Gary Jules’ haunting cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World.” “Lonely People” aims for a stadium singalong with a chorus that name-drops Romeo and Juliet, undercutting the positive vibes with the starkest of closing thoughts—“Truth is we all die alone/So you better love yourself before you go.”

Lovato is certainly not the first pop star to speak out about the music industry’s perpetuation of sexual and emotional abuse; much like Kesha, her gut-wrenching disclosures refuse to be pushed under the rug for fear of bad publicity or isolating a fanbase. But even when Lovato strikes an upbeat or optimistic tone, it’s difficult to look beyond the tragedy at the album’s core. The synthy “Melon Cake” takes its name from the birthday dessert Lovato’s team served her in the years preceding her overdose: a cylinder of ripe watermelon frosted in fat-free whipped cream and topped with sprinkles and candles. Even as Lovato confidently declares that melon cakes are a thing of the past, the image is so depressing it’s difficult to focus on anything else, especially on what is intended to be a fun song. But isn’t that what so many of us do to survive? We attempt to reframe our traumas as lessons learned; we use humor as a defense mechanism; we move on because dwelling in guilt or shame furthers the destructive spiral.

One of the rare moments when Dancing With the Devil moves beyond a 1:1 recreation of Lovato’s life is “Met Him Last Night,” a slinky duet with Ariana Grande. Both artists have lived through horrific tragedy and responded with elegance and empathy, writing songs about their experiences both for themselves and anyone who might see their own trauma reflected back. But “Met Him Last Night” does not aim for catharsis, at least not explicitly. Instead, the two blasély trill about lost innocence and deception in the shadow of “him,” apparently Satan. It’s the closest thing to escapism on an album wholly focused on hard reality.

On the other end of the spectrum is the music video for “Dancing With the Devil,” which recreates the night of Lovato’s overdose and the subsequent battle for her life in the ICU in startling detail. There’s the machine that cleaned her blood through a vein in her neck, the duffle bag presumably full of drugs, and the sponge bath that softly traces over the “survivor” tattoo on her neck. Even though Lovato co-directed the video, stating that sharing her lived experiences is part of her healing process, the visual feels almost unnecessarily voyeuristic: an artist recreating their worst moment with the assumption that it speaks for itself.

Dancing With the Devil asks you to trust that what Demi Lovato went through is enough. The music will undoubtedly reach listeners who struggle with their own burdens and look to Lovato as a role model, just as they have since she was that teenager on the red carpet, forced to justify the depths of her lived experience. This taking-off-the-makeup moment brings us closer to her than ever before: the four-part documentary rollout, the multiple album editions, the no-holds-barred press tour. But the diaristic nature of the music, and the blunt force with which it is delivered, showcases Demi Lovato the person and sidelines Demi Lovato the artist. It is an unenviable position: to have a story so harrowing that the emotional catharsis we feel in real life overshadows what she wanted to create on the album.

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Dua LipaAlbum Review: Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia

Variety.com

Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’: Album Review

Variety.com

Is it wrong, right now, to be as happy as Dua Lipa’s second album makes you? Is this any time to celebrate pop music at its most ebullient, when we should be bullish on meditation? Shouldn’t we be focusing our attention on weightier matters than how to all guiltlessly throw ourselves a solo disco party?

Yet, as she sings here: “I know that I seem a little stressed out… I wanna feel a different kinda tension — yeah you guessed it, the kind that’s fun.” To which we may respond: TELL US ABOUT IT, DUA.

“Future Nostalgia” seems like the exact right record at the exact wrong time —which maybe makes it the right time after all. It will make you nostalgic for a time when humans gathered in groups of two or more, to dance or even to do things which, when briefly invoked in lyrics, earn an otherwise innocent album an explicit language label. But the record is awfully enjoyable in our weird post-nightclub world, too — and maybe best listened to on corded headphones to keep you tethered from dancing out the door.

It’s an impeccably crafted, gleefully executed half-hour-plus of pop perfection that does meet the moment, maybe, in just reminding you how good it feels to be human. And to be in love. And to be in Studio 54.

Some of us may be a bit too young to establish actual nostalgia pangs for that. Miss Lipa, at 24, certainly is. Yet the free-range loudness of an actual funk bass guitar as the dominant instrumental element in about half the songs here — combined with, on top of that, frequent swirls of real strings — makes this one of the best disco albums to hit the streets since the time when Donna Summer stopped being a bad girl and started working hard for the money.

But those elements aren’t the whole of the album’s self-pronounced nostalgia. The title track, which opens the record, is in a different vein entirely, or almost entirely. “Future Nostalgia,” the song, feels like an all-out tribute to the kind of records Prince was producing when he threatened to have an endless array of artist-clients in the ‘80s. On this one, the thick bass that dominates other parts of the album gives way to retro-electro synth stylization and a cooing chorus line — “I know you ain’t a female alpha” — that you can easily imagine coming out of the mouths of babes like Vanity 6 or Sheila E.

In that track, she gives a shout-out to producer Jeff Bhasker (“I know you like this beat, ‘cause Jeff been doin’ the damn thing”), and it may be at that point that you start to worry just a little, as you realize that it’s the only credit Bhasker has on the album. With a lot of other hands on deck, can the remaining songs live up to that opener? Actually, you know at least some of them will, as the song that comes next in the running order, “Don’t Start Now,” has been out for quite some time and has been No 1 at Top 40 radio for the last six weeks. It’s the single that has already acted as a spoiler for the album’s organically bottom-end-heavy giddiness. “Don’t Start Now” may be remembered by kids as the feel-good song that weirdly cushioned their transition into a feel-not-so-good era and, one hopes, back again soon. For those of us with longer musical and institutional memories, we may remember it as a tune that brought a certain kind of deep groove and attitudinal buoyancy back onto the radio at a time we needed it most, which is anytime at all.

In the end, after calling it a great disco record, we might also call “Future Nostalgia” a great MTV-era album that just happens to be not of the MTV era. What Lipa and her collaborators have borrowed more than the distinct sounds of the ‘80s and ‘90s is the carefree attitude that could produce a smash like “I Want to Dance With Somebody Who Loves Me,” a song that might get eaten alive in today’s harder-edged pop climate.

Pretty much the whole of “Future Nostalgia” is just so damn happy, befitting her relationship change from “It’s complicated” or “It sucks” on her 2017 debut to “It rocks” in the intervening time frame. Previously, she described her style as “dance-crying” (maybe taking a cue from Robyn, with that). On “Future Nostalgia,” as in baseball, there is no crying.

The rest of her production collaborators probably deserve the same shout-out that Bhasker gets in the opener. They include Ian Kirkpatrick, TMS, Stuart Price, Jason Evigan, Koz, SG Lewis, Andrew Watt (get well soon), the Monsters & Strangerz, Lindgren and Take A Daytrip — all working together in bizarrely congruous enough a fashion that the 11 songs all strangely and wonderfully share the same sensibility.

Well, nine of the 11 do. It’s probably easier to think of the album ending at track 9 with “Break My Heart,” and then the two that follow and end the record as highly enjoyable but slightly outlier bonus tracks. “Good in Bed” has the feel of a Lily Allen song, with its cleverly humorous take on how the things that completely don’t work in a couple’s upright hours can fuel the passion that feels like reason enough to stay together. It’s not exactly as aspirational as all the more earnest love songs that preceded it, but it’s a bit of a hoot. And then the closer, “Boys Will Be Boys,” is a feminist call to arms — or at least a call to voices — with some smart things to say to the young sistren about not settling for a world in which toxic masculinity goes unquestioned. Even here, she throws in a slight bit of levity: “I’m sure if there’s something that I can’t find the words to say / I know that there will be a man around to save the day / And that was sarcasm in case you needed it mansplained / I should have stuck to ballet.”

As a side note, it might be worth pointing out that, if you have any Anglophile tendencies, it’s a pleasure to hear such a distinct British accent in the many moments where, for the length of a pre-chorus or bridge, Lipa lapses into a kind of speak-singing (not to be confused with hip-hop) that makes the music’s point of origin very clear. And you know, this won’t be the first time that a Brit, or Brits, has come along to make Americans feel better in a time of crisis. It’d be overstating it by a mile to say that “Future Nostalgia” will inspire great waves of Lipa-mania — we are far too into a fractured post-MTV world for that. But it’s an album to at least bring cooped-up families together, if noting else. Because pretty difficult to imagine anyone under 80 who is not a folk-or-die person not getting some enjoyment out of this record. (Not to count out octogenarians, either.)

In other words: If you find yourself having to share the Sonos right now, Lipa’s album is the elation-maker that may go viral with the whole household.

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10 Girl Power Pop Collaborations

Popcrush.com

Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX, "Fancy"

No song was more inescapable in the summer of 2014 than "Fancy," Aussie star Iggy Azalea's electro-pop rap behemoth featuring pop wunderkind Charli XCX. Thanks to its mega-catchy hook and '90s nostalgia-bait Clueless-themed music video, "Fancy" skyrocketed to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming both women's first No. 1 hit. Girl power!

 

Christina Aguilera, Mya, Lil' Kim and Pink, "Lady Marmalade"

In 2001, "soul sisters" Christina Aguilera, Mya, Lil' Kim and Pink came together for a sultry, sexy cover of Labelle's 1974 boudoir hit, "Lady Marmalade," for Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! soundtrack. The R&B-fueled update shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, while its sexually-charged hip-hop cabaret video remains one of pop's most memorable collaborations.

 

Madonna feat. Nicki Minaj, M.I.A., "Give Me All Your Luvin'"

No combination of pop players could be more unexpected, but in 2012, just ahead of her explosive Super Bowl XLVI performance, Madonna dropped her Nicki Minaj- and M.I.A.-featuring comeback single, "Give Me All Your Luvin'." The wacky, glittery electro-pop banger was an unusual team-up, but a memorable one, despite only moderate chart success. (The song did, however, hit No. 1 on the U.S. Dance Club Songs chart.)

 

Lady Gaga feat. Beyonce, "Telephone"

Perhaps no girl power team-up on this list is as wild as Grammy-nominated dance-pop banger "Telephone." The 2010 smash single, which saw Lady Gaga and Beyonce teaming up just a year after collaborating on Bey's own "Video Phone," was everywhere upon its release off Gaga's The Fame Monster—and for good reason. Accompanied by a now-iconic Quentin Tarantino-themed music video, the track moved a whopping 7.4 million digital sales in 2010 alone, becoming one of Gaga's best-selling singles and one of the most well-known pop collabs of all time.

 

Ariana Grande, Jessie J and Nicki Minaj, "Bang Bang"

In 2014, Ariana Grande, Jessie J and Nicki Minaj joined forces on "Bang Bang," an explosive, hand clap-heavy pop anthem that was included on both Jessie's and Ariana's albums the same year. The track became a massive hit, reaching the Top 10 in the U.S. and earning a 2015 Grammy nomination for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.

 

Britney Spears feat. Madonna, "Me Against the Music"

Princess of Pop, meet Queen of Pop: Just months after the two locked lips at the much-talked about 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, Britney and Madonna teamed up for this funky, rowdy dance-pop collaboration off Britney's album In the Zone.

 

Beyonce and Shakira, "Beautiful Liar"

Dropped as the lead single off the re-release of B'Day in 2007, "Beautiful Liar" saw two pop titans—Beyonce and Shakira—joining forces for the ultimate solidarity anthem. Over steamy Latin- and Middle Eastern-inspired mid-tempo R&B, the women sing about getting over a man who cheated on each of them with the other, instead of fighting over him. The song was nominated for Best Pop Collaboration at the 50th Grammy Awards.

Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, "When You Believe"

Though critics were polarized upon the release of "When You Believe" back in 1998, the very fact that Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston—two of the most talented and iconic voices in music history—had once come together for a duet is truly a miracle. The track, a sweeping ballad off The Prince of Egypt soundtrack, took home the Academy Award for Best Original Song at the 71st annual ceremony in 1999.

 

Christina Aguilera feat. Lil' Kim, "Can't Hold Us Down"

An anthem against gender double standards wrapped up in funky hip-hop, "Can't Hold Us Down," off Xtina's 2002 album Stripped, saw Christina Aguilera and Lil' Kim joining forces again for yet another girl power romp on the pop charts. Featuring scathing lyrics about misogyny—"So what am I not supposed to have an opinion / Should I keep quiet just because I'm a woman / Call me a b---h 'cause I speak what's on my mind"—the song was a moderate chart success (it peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100), but its fierce feminist message has withstood the test of time.

 

Grimes feat. Janelle Monae, "Venus Fly"

In 2015, Grimes and Janelle Monae teamed up as futuristic warriors in the surreal, self-directed video for "Venus Fly," off Grime's critically acclaimed Art Angels. The two genre- and boundary-pushing artists—both musicians who have spoken out about the unfair expectations placed on women in the industry—achieved a special kind of sonic alchemy on the fierce tough-girl manifesto.

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Single Review: Shawn Mendes & Justin Bieber – Monster

abitofpopmusic.com

Single Review: Shawn Mendes & Justin Bieber – Monster

Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber sing about life in the spotlight on ‘Monster’

The world’s favourite Canadian pop stars united! Shawn Mendes recorded a duet with Justin Bieber for his new album Wonder, out on the 4th of December. The collaboration, titled ‘Monster’, is the follow up to the wonderful lead single ‘Wonder’, which was released in the first week of October. For Bieber it is another new single after collaborations with Ariana Grande and Chance the Rapper and the highly personal single ‘Lonely’ he dropped last month. Is this the dream collaboration we expected it to be?

‘Monster’ was written by Mendes, Bieber, Ashton Simmonds, Adam King Feeney and Mustafa Ahmed and produced by Frank Dukes, Matthew Tavares and Kaan Gunesberk. The track is a contemporary sounding mid tempo tune with the main focus on the vocals and lyrics. Mendes opens the track, while Bieber jumps on the second verse. Both sing about the dark side that comes with their lives in the spotlights. In the verses they talk about how people build them up only to tear them down and the pressure of being put on a pedestal. In the chorus they ask if making mistakes in the public eye does make them monsters in the eyes of others.

Their vocals complement each other perfectly and the chorus is well written and radio friendly. If you ask me, ‘Monster’ is not up their with either of their best or most memorable work. Still, they found common ground on a tune with hit potential that will definitely please both their huge fan bases.

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Kelly ClarksonAlbum Review: Miley Cyrus – Plastic

abitofpopmusic.com

It feels like a lifetime ago that Miley Cyrus last released an album. When Younger Now came out in 2017, Cyrus was in a completely different phase of her personal life and career. A couple of break ups later, she started to play around with an eighties pop sound with heavy rock influences. She served one of the best singles of the year with ‘Midnight Sky’, but does the rest of the record live up to the excellence of this tune? A Bit of Pop Music reviews Miley’s new album Plastic Hearts track by track!

01. WTF Do I Know

For everyone still in doubt of the direction of this record, Cyrus decided to load up the first tune with an explosive, guitar heavy, rock sound. The upbeat and outspoken ‘WTF Do I Know’ has an early noughties punk pop vibe to it and Cyrus pulls it off so well vocally. The rawer sound she has been pushing lately is made for in-your-face songs like this. In the lyrics (written by Cyrus, Ali Tamposi, Andrew Wotman, Louis Bell and Ryan Tedder, a team that penned quite a few tunes on the record) Cyrus is unapologetic about moving on after a break up and not wanting to be with someone else. The chorus is an absolute banger. What a way to kick off an album!

02. Plastic Hearts

Next up is the title track ‘Plastic Hearts’, written and produced by the same team as the album opener. The sound of the intro seems to be a nod to The Rolling Stones’ sixties hit ‘Sympathy For The Devil’, while the lyrics reference ‘California Dreamin’ by the Mamas and the Papas. The rhythm of ‘Plastic Hearts’ is swinging throughout and the chorus is another properly explosive moment. I am a sucker for a good post-chorus and this tune has an outstanding one with a soaring melody line. It contrasts with the guitar solo of the middle-eight and both turn up the track another notch, as if it even needed that!

03. Angels Like You

With ‘Angels Like You’, which is the song pushed on the New Music Friday playlists of Spotify, Miley serves an actual rock power ballad. Even after hearing it only a few times, it already sounds like a classic that could have been released in the nineties. That chorus is absolutely impeccable. I can already picture a full arena singing along with her. The raw edge on her vocals makes the emotions in the lyrics even more tangible as Cyrus sings to a former lover how they are better off without her as ‘angels like you can’t fly down here with me’. This is easily one of the absolute best ballads of her career so far.

04. Prisoner (with Dua Lipa)

‘Prisoner’, featuring British pop star Dua Lipa, was released as the second single of the album last week. The eighties inspired pop anthem is a total earworm and echoes the vibe of Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Physical’ in the chorus, but adds a more rock oriented sound with a filthy bass line. The husky tones in their voices melt perfectly and this is one of those collaborations that fit both artists involved like a glove. Sure, the chorus might sound a bit one-dimensional, but it is catchy enough to make me want to come back for more.

05. Gimme What I Want

‘Gimme What I Want’, echoing Nine Inch Nails tune ‘Closer’, has an absolutely seductive vibe with a chorus that immediately draws you all the way in on first listen. There is something sexy yet ominous about this slightly more electronic twist in the record, on which she once again declares her independence, while admitting to needing a lover for the night. The loud drums when the chorus kicks in, the deep bass that runs throughout the track, it is all produced so well (by Andrew Watt and Louis Bell)! I just wish that chorus would come around one last time at the end instead of finishing so abruptly.

06. Night Crawling (with Billy Idol)

For ‘Night Crawling’, Cyrus worked together with the one and only Billy Idol. On the Happy Perez and Andrew Watt produced tune, they dive deep into the irresistible synth pop of the eighties, while maintaining the rock edge that most of this record proudly possesses. The chorus is another strong one, but the instrumental post-chorus is what fully pops off and makes the track all the more memorable. I never really thought about what a Miley and Billy collaboration should sound like, but ‘Night Crawling’ is exactly it!

07. Midnight Sky

Miley kicked off the whole Plastic Hearts campaign over the summer with the nothing short of brilliant lead single ‘Midnight Sky’. The track saw her flirting with the synth pop of the eighties, even interpolating the melody of Stevie Nicks’ ‘Edge of Seventeen’ in the chorus. The production is outstanding, but what makes this one of the best singles of the year is the incredible melody progressions throughout the tune. The hooks are everywhere and Miley performs the hell out of them with lyrics that take her own narrative back and declare her freedom and independence. An anthem in every sense!

08. High

On ‘High’, co-written by Cyrus, Jennifer Decilveo and Caitlyn Smith and produced by Watt, Mark Ronson and Take A Daytrip, Cyrus slows down the tempo once more. It is probably the tune on here that flirts the most with her country beginnings. The guitar driven ballad is simple in instrumentation and melodies, but that makes it all the more more effective in conveying the emotion of having said goodbye to a lover, but still feeling high when thinking about them. She belts for her life here, but it never gets out of hand, which has happened with Miley before. A classy ballad moment!

09. Hate Me

We have already heard eight tracks and ‘Hate Me’ was the first one that did not sound memorable on first listen to these ears. A couple of repeated spins made me appreciate the noughties pop rock vibe of the tune and the catchiness of the main hook a little more, but in comparison to everything we have heard thus far, Plastic Hearts as an album could have done without this tune if you ask me. It is not a moment I will skip per se, but it does not do the impeccable tracklist run so far justice.

10. Bad Karma (with Joan Jett)

‘Bad Karma’, featuring Joan Jett, written with Ilsey Juber and produced by Ronson, seems to have all the elements needed to be another highlight on this record, but something just doesn’t click. The production is somewhat bare and could have done with a bit more oomph. The track delivers in the middle-eight and it is quite the moment, but it seems a bit too late to save this song about not thinking of the consequences of cheating until later. Just like ‘Hate Me’, the tune is nothing awful, but it just can’t keep up with the brilliance of the first two-thirds of Plastic Hearts.

11. Never Be Me

Where Cyrus was unapologetically celebrating her freedom and independence after several break ups in the past few years on this album, she shows a more vulnerable side on ‘Never Be Me’. On this painfully honest ballad, she admits she would like to try to be more stable and faithful, but warns her lovers that in the end, that will never be her. Vocally, she approaches this tune with more restraint than she does on most other tracks, which is a nice change and makes it even more of a vulnerable and fragile moment.

12. Golden G String

Closing track (other than the covers and live versions) ‘Golden G String’ was produced by Andrew Wyatt and Emile Haynie and is one of the few songs Cyrus saved from sessions before she decided to turn the whole project around. In terms of both sound and lyrics, it does not really match with the rest of Plastic Hearts, which makes you wonder why she kept it and ended the album with it. A decent enough mid tempo track, but not really the note this album should have ended on.

Plastic Hearts might well be Miley Cyrus’s strongest and most cohesive album to date. The run of the first eight tracks, drenched in rock and eighties pop, is one of the strongest I have heard this year. After that, the album loses some steam, but there is no song weak enough to skip altogether. Cyrus shows growth, maturity and above all, proves herself to be today’s chameleon of pop music once more!

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