It’s strange that music feels different to me depending on where I am, or whether I’m walking, lying or sitting. Now I’m living in a different place, it’s really easy for me to associate new music I listen to strongly with my current life and surroundings; when I’m back at home, that music simply makes me think of my new home back at university. I particularly think of the leafy and often chilly walk down the road towards uni, passing people of all ages and thinking of the lecture or seminar to come. Similarly, after a good day at uni, music reinforces that feeling of fulfilment as I’m walking back. There’s something about being on the move, but simultaneously inside your own mind with just the music and the path ahead, that provides you with a certain sort of peace.
As I’ve grown up I’ve listened to many different artists. It’s probably true of everyone that they’ve gone through various phases. I had an angsty My Chemical Romance and You Me At Six phase in year nine, or that innocent time when I memorised all the lyrics on Taylor Swift’s album Speak Now. It’s often influenced by who you’re surrounded by; my older sister liked a lot of rock bands and still does, so I felt inclined to try them (probably in an attempt to be as cool as her). But another strange thing about music you like is that as you experience new things and new people, it can be shelved in your brain to make space for a whole new range of artists.
Most of us know that in 2013 Beyoncé dropped an album out of nowhere, quite poignantly just called BEYONCÉ. This was an unblushing statement of her identity as a grown woman (this being the name of one of the tracks), and now Lemonade has been released in 2016, it becomes even more apparent that the self-titled album was also championing black female sensuality.
While it’s impossible for me to identify with the race aspect of Beyoncé’s music, this and the general theme of female empowerment still caught my attention. I personally love the unapologetic way in which she slips in explicit, in-your-face lyrics amongst flirty and fun instrumentals. Beyoncé gives a better lesson on sex positivity for women than any school does (and with D*nald Tr*mp now in office, this will most likely continue to be true).
But it wasn’t just the themes in this album that I loved. It was these combined with the experimental R&B and pop beats, which until then I’d pushed to the side in favour of more indie rock. It made me want to sing, to dance and be friends with Beyoncé.
After a few listens, I literally couldn’t stop I enjoyed it so much. I began to revisit her previous discography, where I realised that while she has always been socially conscious, this album showed her growth in confidence and artistic power to show this.
I also really believe the artist as a person should reflect their work. The fifth album is ‘a mature but still mischievous opus that makes monogamy cool and stability sexy’, says Apple Music. I think this not only perfectly describes the BEYONCÉ album, but Beyoncé herself.
I really think this album paved the way for a new, big branch in my music taste. While I’d always enjoyed R&B anyway – I’ve been obsessed with Michael Jackson since I was small – this time it was brought to the forefront. I started regularly listening to artists like Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Drake and Frank Ocean. It gave life a different spin, a new flavour. But when I returned to more alternative rock genres, they didn’t sound any more diluted than when I first heard them. I love that different styles of music bring out different feelings and views about the world around you. Sometimes I just want to listen to something emotional and have a think about life… But, other times, I really don’t care for deep lyricism. Instead I just want to let all that go and work work work work work work.
Playlist for January 2017: My top picks
Recently I’ve been delving into a lot of 80s R&B, and I’ve actually discovered a lot of songs that are the original samples of many popular songs produced later. Forget Me Nots by Patrice Rushen is the original song later developed into Men In Black by Will Smith. Having done a tragic dance routine to the latter song in a school dance club performance when I was eleven, consequently having the song stuck in my head for weeks, I found this a significant discovery. My mum has always listened to 80s music, since her teenage years began in the pinnacle of the decade, 1985. This has definitely influenced me in listening to more of the era, too. With this in mind, here are my top picks for Jan 2017.
1. Sade – The Ultimate Collection (Remastered) (2011)
Sade is my absolute favourite new discovery in the turn of the new year. Her music style is exactly what I need when I’m happy and chilled out, but equally when I’m an emotional mess, to actually induce this sense of relaxation. A mix of 80s R&B, jazz and soul accompanied by a beautifully unique voice, this album is my go-to. It’s amazing on a late afternoon walk or that relaxing time in bed before sleep. Sade sings of love, passion and heartbreak, but in a way that I found honest, open and simply magical.
2. Wham! – The Final (Deluxe Edition) (2011)
With the extremely sad passing of George Michael on Christmas Day, this has been a significant body of work that I’ve been replaying. It’s important to appreciate George Michael’s other artistic achievements from his time in Wham!, not just Last Christmas, although that was definitely heavily played before and after the news of his death. This album is quite simply a party, and would be all you needed if you decided to throw one. It wouldn’t even have to be 80s themed; it deserves to survive outside the realm of 80s appreciation! There are classics such as Careless Whisper and Club Tropicana, but Everything She Wants is a firm favourite for me. George’s vocals are amazing on this song, and I adore the mix between funky beat and honest emotion.
3. Michael Jackson – Off the Wall (1979)
When talking about the 80s it would be disrespectful not to include Michael Jackson’s solo breakthrough. Admittedly released in 1979, but still marking the transition into the next floorfilling decade, this album never fails to make me happy. Every track is simply perfect and full of funk, and kind of makes me wish they’d just play the whole album in a club to shake things up a bit. My favourite, although barely overshadowing the more upbeat songs, has to be I Can’t Help It. The background instrumentals throw you into a wonderful jazzy dream, making you appreciate life’s good times and the people around you a little bit more. Also, don’t we all have a lowkey crush on young Michael?
4. Solange Knowles – A Seat at the Table (2016)
Fast forwarding to the present, this is one of the best albums released this year. Solange Knowles has that artistic integrity that is dazzling and unchallenged. She has produced stunningly unique music videos for two singles on the album, Cranes in the Sky and Don’t Touch My Hair, which show Solange experimenting with fashion and visuals in a way that I’ve never seen before. The videos are so simple in concept, yet you cannot turn away. The album is a social commentary on being black in America, but is on a different plane to Beyoncé’s Lemonade; their styles simply cannot be compared or pitted against each other. Solange is her own woman and fiercely proves this with this irresistible, soulful album. She reveals more about the making of A Seat at the Table in Interview magazine, interviewed by her very own sister.
A Seat at the Table: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/a-seat-at-the-table/id1159507212
Cranes in the Sky video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0qrinhNnOM
Don’t Touch My Hair video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTtrnDbOQAU
Solange for Interview magazine by Beyoncé: http://www.interviewmagazine.com/music/solange/
5. Bruno Mars – 24K Magic (2016)
We needed this from Bruno. Released in November 2016 but with undoubted vibes of 1980s Thriller-era Michael Jackson, this album made me unexplainably happy on the first listen. It’s a bonus if you’re already in a great mood, because every song – apart from perhaps the last, which takes a more emotional and heartfelt turn – just hits the spot. With the song 24K Magic, we already knew this album was going to blow our minds. But the build up into Chunky, the second track on the album, was unprecedented for me; its reminiscence of 80s funk is exactly what I need as a pick-me-up. Bruno definitely came through with this one. My personal favourite is Calling All My Lovelies, which features Halle Berry in a little voicemail interlude (you can just sense Bruno’s smugness through your headphones as soon as this part finishes), and has a skilfully smooth beat that just takes you away into Bruno’s Versace-filled wonderland. A lot of awful things happened in 2016, but this wasn’t one of them.
6. Tinashe – singles Superlove and Company & album Nightride (2016)
I think Tinashe has really broken through with her new music this year. I enjoyed a couple of songs on Aquarius, her debut album, but at that time there was not enough to hook me. My uncertainty was recently turned around first by Tinashe’s single Superlove earlier in 2016 (which is helped by a very cool Baywatch-inspired video), and second by her album Nightride, which definitely exceeded my expectations of her. It’s full of experimental, dark, FKA Twigs-esque sounds and catchy beats. It’s also the prequel to Joyride, which is expected to drop early 2017 and have a lighter, bouncier feel. I love that, like Beyoncé, Tinashe wows with the effort she puts into performance as well as vocals. You only need to watch the video for Company, which appears to be one single shot in which Tinashe kills it with the dance moves all the way through. She’s also another artist who is unapologetically sexual, challenging the balance of power in R&B between men and women. I listen to Tinashe to make me feel good, and it’s as simple as that.
Superlove video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hv44srAsAo4
Company video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwpj9_hrK_A