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Album Review: P!nk - All I Know So Far

Album Review: Maroon 5 - Beautiful Mistakes (Ft. Megan Thee Stallion)

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

Album Review: Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia

10 Girl Power Pop Collaborations

PinkAlbum Review: P!nk - All I Know So Far

The pop singer architects her legacy with a new documentary and live album from her 2019 tour. As a performer, she’s fun and loose, even as her newest music feels more like a means to an end.

Somewhere, on some radio, a P!nk song is playing—that’s been true for the past 20 years. She opened for NSYNC, then outlasted them; she wrote a surprisingly delicate anti-Bush ballad with the Indigo Girls, and her career outlasted that presidency; she collaborated with the lead singer of the now obsolete band fun. at the height of its popularity, in a song that still gets radio play; she wore giant sunglasses and mimed jabbing a toothbrush down her throat to mock the Paris Hilton archetype of female celebrity, and stayed relevant longer than both Hilton and anti-Hilton backlash. P!nk’s music oscillates between self-destruction and self-compassion, a balance she’s struck since her breakout album M!ssndazstood in 2001. After a litany of brash statements and cries for help, optimized for shock value (“Teachers dated me/My parents hated me”), she builds to a plea: “I’m a hazard to myself/Don’t let me get me.” On an album that strained to prove how dangerous or damaged or derailed the 22-year-old singer was—all dirty socks and diamond rings, extended metaphors describing her childhood as “my Vietnam”—“Don’t Let Me Get Me” was the song that stunned. There’s always a sudden softness in her party tracks, or a raw, brazen aside in her ballads.

P!nk is architecting her legacy now, and the industry is celebrating her for sticking around. On Sunday, Billboard gave her its “Icon” award, days after Amazon released a documentary, P!nk: All I Know So Far, following the massive 2019 European tour behind her 2017 album Beautiful Trauma. In recent years, P!nk has become known as a live entertainer, performing stunts and singing through elaborate acrobatic routines. The film focuses on her decision to bring her two young kids with her as she practiced and performed; they flail in the background of her rehearsals, diaper-clad and puffing on a trumpet backstage. “I want tour to be perfect for every single person that walks through those doors with a ticket in their hand,” P!nk says at one point, “but I also want it to be perfect in my kids’ minds. And I kill myself to do both.”

That strain hovers over the film’s accompanying live album, which leaves out some of P!nk’s more potent songs and instead asserts her place in a punk-adjacent musical canon, arguing that motherhood is fundamentally compatible with her watered-down brand of rebellion. All I Know So Far: Setlist is crammed with rock covers, some more successful than others. She braids a stomping version of No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” into a performance of her 2008 track “Funhouse,” which both tamps down the absurdity of P!nk’s metaphors (“This used to be a funhouse/But now it’s filled with evil clowns”) and highlights Gwen Stefani’s clear influence. Less thrilling is her take on “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which sags under the weight of ceremony without adding much to the original.

As a performer, P!nk is fun and brash and loose. “I forget the words,” she murmurs on the recording of her Nate Ruess collaboration, the sappy mallcore duet “Just Give Me a Reason.” “Screw that,” she says, and asks for a do-over. “I like that song.” She bounces on and off the beat on “Who Knew,” spilling over the song’s boundaries, and in the disarray the lyrics become disarming—“I’ll keep you locked in my head,” she whimpers, “until we meet again.” When she belts, her usually raspy voice scrapes at the notes, sometimes quivering with emotion. “I’m alright,” she cries on “So What,” convincing herself in real time, “I’m just fiiine.” On “Just Like a Pill,” one of the best songs she’s written, the audience rushes in to fill the gaps when she pauses; the recording becomes a document of this joint need, artist and audience working in tandem to cement a narrative of endurance.

The narrative P!nk wants to tell is that she’s a “renegade,” as she cooes on the title track—a new addition for the album, rooted in female empowerment—and that she’s stayed ahead of the times. But in reality P!nk is less revolutionary; she’s updated her music and her message in ways that seem both heartfelt and primed for mass appeal. The album includes her viral 2017 acceptance speech for the MTV Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award, somewhat jarringly slotted after a series of live songs, and in it she recalls talking to her then-six-year-old daughter about the toxicity of beauty standards and the freedom in androgyny. The applause fades into the next track, a blaring EDM beat from Cash Cash thumping under snippets from P!nk’s past interviews—“I need to know my pain is helping your pain,” she says, as the beat wheezes and drops. The messaging shows up on the album’s new songs, which seem less like anthems for the downtrodden and more like vessels for the statements P!nk wants to make now. At the Billboard award show, she and her nine-year-old daughter hung suspended in the air as they performed “Cover Me in Sunshine.” Guitar played somewhere offscreen, a low, forgettable strum. They twirled above the stage and chirped about “good times.” P!nk swung toward her daughter and their foreheads pressed together. It’s one of the weakest songs of her career; it may also mean the most.

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Beautiful MistakesAlbum Review: Maroon 5 - Beautiful Mistakes (Ft. Megan Thee Stallion)

Maroon 5 continues to double down on modern pop on their first single of 2021, “Beautiful Mistakes,” featuring Megan Thee Stallion.

Sometimes, it’s not an artist’s music that gets the buzz but rather something they say.

Adam Levine, the ‘front man’ of Maroon 5 definitely got some flak for saying, “There’s no bands anymore, and I feel like they’re a dying breed”. Expectedly, he received some criticism from ‘bands’ who are continuing with their careers. Also, plenty of folks took the opportunity to criticize M5 given the fact that, in all honesty, it does sound more like an Adam Levine solo project. Regardless, controversy aside, the ‘band’ released a new single, “Beautiful Mistakes” and tapped Meghan Thee Stallion for the assist. Hmm… I’ll leave it at that.

Actually, I won’t – sorry. Let’s keep it real. Maroon 5 has been more of pop collective for years. When I hear a M5 cut these days, I don’t necessarily associate the sound with that of a band. They haven’t sounded like Songs About Jane since, well, Songs About Jane. That’s no shade or a shot at the band, but if anything, the band has embraced Top 40 pop more and more and more. “Beautiful Mistakes” further confirms his, continuing to double down on the ultra-sleek, modern pop sound. This is a record that looks to conquer playlists and radio airwaves more than the artistry of preserving the band format. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. That said, I’m not sure I leave “Beautiful Mistakes” taking much away from it.

Adam Levine sings fine, as always, though there is ample vocal processing. Melodically, “Beautiful Mistakes” is tuneful enough but not game changing. Maroon 5 does muster up a catchy chorus, again, aimed at the pop crowd – not the ‘band’ crowd. Megan Thee Stallion provides a tame but rhythmic verse that flows respectably. She also incorporates some singing, which isn’t as potent for her generally, but complements the melodic vibe of this cut. I think we all know she’s at her best when she’s sexed-up and unapologetic AF. She’s certainly NOT that particular persona here.

It’s probably unfair that I mentioned Adam Levine’s comments in tandem with reviewing “Beautiful Mistakes.” That said, I do find it interesting that this pop collective arguably has been chief amongst those moving away from the traditional band to some extent. Nonetheless, as a song, “Beautiful Mistakes” uses the usual formula Maroon 5 have employed for years. It’s enjoyable enough but not particularly innovative and certainly not transcendent. Stans will be onboard, while the more casual M5 fan like myself will still be yearning for those “This Love” days.

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

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

Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’: Album Review

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

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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