I have a confession to make: I really like pop music and I always have.
I’m not ashamed of this, per se—I have just seen a decline in quality in recent years, so my fandom has felt bittersweet. For me, saying that I like pop feels like saying that I like country music—I love Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Jason Isbell, Lillie Mae, Amanda Shires, Neko Case’s early records, etc, but the term “country” connotes the utter trash of Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley, and the like. And heaven forbid anyone think I like that! I feel like listening to that music is like advertising that you voted for Trump. Maybe I’m being too harsh. Or…whatever. I’m a judgmental bitch.
Anyway, digression aside, there have been a few recent standouts in pop (other than everything Beyoncé and Rihanna do) that have (belatedly) caught my attention. While everyone is freaking out about Taylor Swift’s new (hilarious, awful) song, y’all are sleeping on these two (incredibly popular, shut up, Chelsea) albums! That’s right—I said albums. As in, complete, cohesive artworks, not a collection of singles with some filler thrown in (à la every pop album from the ’90s). Coincidentally, both of these albums came out on the same day! What?! May 12th was lit this year.
Let’s check ’em out!
Paramore, After Laughter
Hayley Williams is finally free, you guys! I always got a vibe that she was really cool and talented, but shackled to the “scene”. In the past few years, Paramore has been in transition from my guilty pleasure to a band that I have no qualms about supporting. I thought the self-titled album from 2013 was good, but it still had too many connecting threads to the pop-punk/whatever-it-is genre that Paramore came up out of. After Laughter is different. It’s catchy, fun, and bright, and owes little debt to the band’s “roots”. Quickly peruse Hayley Williams’ Instagram page and you’ll see Paramore assertively described as an “American genre-neutral band”. For a band aligned with a very specific genre, this is a bold-ass statement and I am here for it.
This is, imho, the only Paramore album that is listenable from start to finish with no eye-roll moments. These songs would make no sense at Warped Tour, for instance. Hayley’s even sporting a new lewk, with platinum blonde hair and her best fashion sense to date. And Hayley’s style isn’t the only noticeable aesthetic departure. Even the cover art and the press photos for After Laugher are elevated far beyond years past. Looks like Paramore is one of those extremely rare bands that has gotten better with each album.
This album is a joy to listen to. Put it on next time you’re in a bad mood, it’ll kick your doom-and-gloom’s ass.
Standout After Laughter moments: “No Friend” (feat. Aaron Weiss from mewithoutYou), “Tell Me How”, and the infectious lead single “Hard Times”
Harry Styles, Harry Styles
Disclaimer: I am 100 years old and therefore way too old to know anything about One Direction. I’m to old to know anything about the Jonas Brothers. I saw DNCE on the VMAs and I was like, “Oh, that kid looks familiar.” My boy-band obsessed days were 20 years ago and centered around *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys.
That being said, I don’t live under a rock, and I’ve heard a handful of 1D songs. They didn’t do a ton for me, which is why I didn’t have high hopes for Harry Styles’ solo album. That’s why his SNL performance blew me away. I’m not going to pretend that his album is changing the landscape of music or anything, but I have a ton of sudden respect for Styles. It seems like he wants to set himself apart as an artist, not just a cog in a manufactured boy band. (No shade, all of those groups are manufactured by producers or labels, it’s not an indictment).
“Sign of the Times”, the lead single, is downright soulful! I’m going to put my rose-colored glasses on and assume the title is a nod to Prince, of course. The album is tight from start to finish, and it has fun little moments sprinkled throughout (my personal fave is the intro to “Woman”: “Should we just search for romantic comedies on Netflix and see what we find?”). If this album had come out when I was a teenager, it would have totally been boning music. The kid’s got pipes. He’s also pretty easy on the eyes, but as he is younger than my little brother, I must abstain from attraction.
Standout Harry Styles moments: “Meet Me in the Hallway”, the rambunctious “Kiwi”, and “From the Dining Table”
I’m 100% buying both of these albums with real U.S. currency and you should too! What are you into these days?
P.S. I hate Lorde and you will never see her on my “Best Of” lists.