23/09/2020

As the pop star behind ‘All About That Bass’ prepares to release her new album, she opens up to Kate Solomon about the repercussions of overnight fame, being a judge on ‘The Voice’, and why she’s changed her view on feminism

Before were even introduced, Meghan Trainor sweeps me up into a hug. Sorry, she says as if its she whos just spent a fraught half hour on the Underground frantically emailing apologies for being late. I was peeing. Theres a table full of snacks, a room full of entourage and a dictaphone already between us. In a split second, Ive constructed a narrative in which the Trainor team is recording the interview in order to dispute anything vaguely interesting, turning the whole thing into a nightmare. Its not a huge assumption to leap to given the trouble Trainors casual, unfiltered interview style has got her into in the past. Oh wait, is that the last guys recorder? Trainor calls to her PR person. Maybe Ive been taking this too seriously.
Though semi-supervised by a team that includes her own mother, the 26-year-old American singer-songwriter seems at home on the promo trail. Best known for the 2014 smash hit All About That Bass, Trainor at first seemed in danger of being a one-hit wonder. Her albums dont tend to be works considered worthy of much critical attention, even by the new Pop-with-a-capital-P chin strokers. Her entire team seem surprised that Ive listened closely to her forthcoming album, Treat Myself, or come to the interview armed with notes. Shes somehow become the kind of celebrity you use as the butt of a joke on Twitter a byword for a certain kind of superficial pop star, an image of ditsiness. When she sang live on Radio One last week, the reaction was overwhelmingly surprise that she can actually sing. Though she has to defer to her team for almost every name she drops (Whats her name, from Harry Potter? Julia… who was she that lost her voice… Julia Andrews? Mom?) and our chat is sprinkled with malapropisms, shes far from stupid. When she talks candidly about the pressures of basically being the CEO of the Meghan Trainor brand, she gets her phone out to show me the two options for where a sticker can go on the CD cover of the new record. Shes not exaggerating when she says she has final sign-off on everything.
While the woman is derided and dismissed, some of her lyrics have been subject to near-academic scrutiny. Trainor first shimmied her way into public consciousness with All About That Bass, on the surface a novelty body-positive retro bop that became near-inescapable in the summer of 2014. It was a time when pop culture was just beginning to reckon with the changing state of feminism and the blurring of gender lines. All About That Bass, which declared Yeah its pretty clear, I aint no size two, lambasted Photoshopped images and deemed every inch of us all perfect from the bottom to the top. It also went on to refer to skinny bitches and declare that it doesnt matter what shape you are because men will want to sleep with you anyway. It was the fourth-best selling single of 2014 worldwide, shifting more than 11 million copies.
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1/50 50) Kim Gordon No Home Record
The debut solo album of the art-punk pioneer was never going to be predictable, easy-listening. No Home Record channels the dissonance and avant-garde vibe of New Yorks experimental no-wave movement in a nine-song, genre-defiant collection that jumps between industrial, minimal electro-rock and abrasive art punk. Uniting the tracks is their creators restlessly questing, non-conformist spirit. Its great to have her back. (EB)
2/50 49) Nilüfer Yanya Miss Universe
Nilüfer Yanya isnt down with the wellness industry. On her debut album, Miss Universe, the singer-songwriter makes this perfectly clear, tearing into all those improve yourself schemes littered across social media and parcelling up that angst as cerebral, skewed alt-rock. Synths and saxophone play their part on the smoother, more soulful Paradise and Baby Blu. Listen to the driving groove of Heat Rises, meanwhile, and youll be instantly reminded of Kelis and Andre 3000s Millionaire. That said, Yanya is very much her own artist: original and bold. (PS)
3/50 48) The Black Keys Let’s Rock
Five years since their last album, the Ohioan duo have gone back to basics. Gone are the subtle inflections and lacquered psychedelia of Turn Blue; Lets Rock is all about simple hooks and nagging choruses, an homage, in the words of drummer Patrick Carney, to the electric guitar. Get past the terrible title, and youll be rewarded with a viscerally entertaining album that never lingers for more than four minutes per song. If this is genre pastiche, its genre pastiche done with skill and savvy. (PS)
4/50 47) Bat for Lashes Lost Girls
Musically, Lost Girls couldnt be more Eighties if it were playing a Commodore 64 while eating Angel Delight. Like Stranger Things, everything about it is unashamedly nostalgic: the power drums, the moody atmospherics, the arpeggiated synths. Close your eyes and you can practically see Jason Patric on the Santa Cruz boardwalk in The Lost Boys. Yes, nostalgia is a fairly generic formula. But listened to as a whole, the album positively thrums with sonic invention, managing to feel both fresh and full of intrigue. Khan once again demonstrates a knack for uncanny storytelling. (PS)
5/50 46) Collard Unholy
On his debut album, the 24-year-old mixes sultry jams that recall the electronic funk of MGMT with nods to the greats: Prince, James Brown, Led Zeppelin and Marvin Gaye. Throughout, Collard exhibits his extraordinary voice, which swoops to a devilishly low murmur or soars to an ecstatic falsetto. On the lustful Hell Song he sings less is more but more is good. Youre inclined to agree with him. (RO)
6/50 45) Angel Olsen All Mirrors
When the Missouri singer broke out in 2014, she became known for her lo-fi, introspective sound and the staggering range and power of her voice. On All Mirrors, she dials things up even further than 2016s Sixties-leaning My Woman, and turns her focus outwards it is an album, she says, about losing empathy, trust, love for destructive people and owning up to your darkest side. It is also balletic and haywire, refusing to follow traditional rules of song structure. Listening to it feels like accidentally pressing play on two songs at once, and finding the combination strangely inebriating. (AP)
7/50 44) Lizzo Cuz I Love You
This is a polished, playful album, though it has a DIY edge to it: S**t, f**k, I didnt know it was ending right there, she chuckles in the final few moments of Like a Girl. Girl, run this s**t back, she says after a vivacious flute solo on Tempo a song featuring a guest verse from Missy Elliott, the person who, Lizzo said on Twitter, made this chubby, weird, black girl believe that ANYTHING was possible. (AP)
8/50 43) Skepta Ignorance is Bliss
Theres no attempt to chase someone elses wave here; no token drill, afroswing or trap beats to satisfy playlist algorithms. Instead, his cold grime sonics are rendered down to their no-frills essentials brutalist blocks of sad angular melodies and hard, spacious drums. The result is a quintessentially London record, as dark and moody as it is brash and innovative. We used to do young and stupid, Skepta concludes on Gangsta. Now we do grown. (IM)
9/50 42) Ariana Grande Thank U, Next
It lacks a centrepiece to match the arresting depth and space of Sweeteners God Is A Woman, but Grande handles its shifting moods and cast of producers (including pop machines Max Martin and Tommy Brown) with engaging class and momentum. One minute youre skanking along to the party brass of Bloodline; the next floating into the semi-detached, heartbreak of Ghostin, which appears to address Grandes guilt at being with Davidson while pining for Miller. She sings of the late rapper as a wingless angel with featherlight high notes that will drop the sternest jaw. (HB)
10/50 41) Ezra Furman Twelve Nudes
The Chicago-born singers ninth album is a furious reaction to the social and political events of 2018 over 11 breathless tracks, he turns that anger into a howl of resistance. Each song feels personal yet relatable the deep-rooted despair felt on Trauma at the sight of wealthy bullies rising to power is a universal one, as is the sense of liberation in just letting go on What Can You Do But Rock n Roll. Twelve Nudes is Furmans most urgent and cathartic record. (RO)
11/50 40) YBN Cordae The Lost Boy
On his studio debut, YBN shows off his versatility, but not to the point that it distracts from the underlying message of each song. You have the menacing Broke as F***, where the beats and stark piano hook contrasts with Cordaes rags-to-riches rap. Aged 21, the North Carolina artist flecks songs such as the Anderson .Paak-featuring RNP with an endearing kind of nonchalance; over the woozy, psychedelic soul of opener Wintertime, meanwhile, he wonders how Corretta Scott King felt upon learning Martin Luther had cheated on her. Its by no means a perfect album in the grand sense of the term, but it is a perfect demonstration of everything Cordae is capable of. (RO)
12/50 39) Big Thief UFOF
Big Thiefs frontwoman Adrianne Lenker has an uncanny ability to make you feel like youre in on a secret. Her whispering, spectral delivery and deeply personal lyrics are the key to this. Even on the bands third album UFOF, with an audience that has grown exponentially in the past few years, the songs are still immensely intimate affairs. The albums deathly intrigue is drawn from her own personal traumas, which she successfully spins into something that feels universal. But you dont come away from this record feeling downcast. Its more a reminder of how fleeting yet beautiful life is, and an appeal to make the most of it. (RO)
13/50 38) Jenny Lewis On the Line
Here, Lewis does what she does best: adds the glossy sparkle of Hollywood and a sunny Californian sheen to melancholy and nostalgia, with her most luxuriantly orchestrated album yet. Even when shes singing, Ive wasted my youth, its in that sweet voice, with carefree doo doo doo doo doo doos, and at a pace thats so upbeat that it masks the sentiment. Its a bittersweet mourning of her past. (EB)
14/50 37) Billie Eilish When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Few people have had as big a year as Billie Eilish. The first and currently only artist born in the Noughties to have a US number one single, she also released her double platinum debut album, the innovative and multifarious, if irksomely titled, When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? There are some missteps Wish You Were Gay being one of them but for the most part this is an album as full of charm and bite as Eilish herself. And with a melody that ducks and dives in between the beat like a bank robber dodging lasers, the dark, dank pop-trap masterpiece Bad Guy is surely a contender for song of the year. (AP)
15/50 36) AJ Tracey AJ Tracey
One of the biggest new rap stars to emerge in 2019, AJ Traceys variety and the scale of his ambition on this album is breathtaking. Fans will be surprised to discover he sings almost as much as he raps, in pleasingly gruff tones. Each track is a standout, none more so than Ladbroke Grove, a hat-tip to classic garage in which Tracey switches up his flow to emulate a Nineties MC. Its a thrilling work. (RO)
16/50 35) Caroline Polachek Pang
The former Chairlift frontwomans solo debut (at least, her first under her own name) is an eccentric, experimental delight PC music by way of classical pop. The product of a divorce and a series of adrenal rushes she refers to as pangs, the album is musically agile and often lyrically stark: Sometimes I wonder/ Do I love you too much? Then I tell myself Caroline, shut up, she sings on Caroline Shut Up. Polacheks voice is her secret weapon so jolting and elastic she had to prove it wasnt autotuned in an astonishing Twitter video. (AP)
17/50 34) Sturgill Simpson Sound & Fury
Simpson recently said he wanted Sound & Fury to hit like a Wu-Tang record, so each intro is like a one-two punch loaded with brilliant hooks. Then theres the rollicking A Good Look and Last Man Standing its pure rock and roll: sleazy, slick and lots of fun. Sound & Fury marks another milestone for a remarkable artist. (RO)
18/50 33) Fontaines DC Dogrel
Of all the excellent bands to emerge out of Dublins booming music scene over the past few years, Fontaines DC are the best of them. Perhaps its the fact that theyre technically outsiders, having grown up on the borders of the city (or in their guitarist Carlos OConnells case, between there and Spain). Frontman Grian Chatten eschews punks tradition of valuing shock value over songcraft and instead offers searing, literary observations of a city with which he has a love/hate relationship. (RO)
19/50 32) Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride
Already subject to manic shifts in style and tempo, this hour-long LP roams in lounge pants from Deadhead jams to Zombies-catchy hooks, infectiously kitsch prog, highlife samples and on Sunflower a scat breakdown. An unfashionable record, then, and that may be its best asset. With such low stakes and barely any emotional intensity, Father of the Bride wont cement Vampire Weekends legacy. But after a highly strung decade on the indie-rock A-list, it gives them room to breathe. (JM)
20/50 31) FKA twigs MAGDALENE
Making this album has allowed me, for the first time, to find compassion when I have been at my most ungraceful, confused and fractured, FKA twigs writes in the albums press notes. I stopped judging myself, and at that moment found hope in MAGDALENE. At times, MAGDALENE is just as ungraceful, confused and fractured as its creator was a rush of baroque electronics, industrial noise, opera, synths, autotune and precarious falsetto. The follow-up to 2014s LP1 is the sound of a woman teetering on the brink of collapse, gathering herself, and then erupting into a kind of defiance. (AP)
21/50 30) Bill Callahan Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest
Bill Callahan returns after six years with this homely, career-best album in which he sings of his own contentment. The panic room is now a nursery, he observes on Son of the Sea. Death still looms often in the form of a black dog that follows Callahan around various tracks but its inevitability seems more of a comfort than something to be feared: Everybody must walk the lonesome valley, he sings firmly. Yeah, they must walk it by themselves. (RO)
22/50 29) Shura Forevher
Arriving three years after the release of her debut, Nothings Real, Shuras excellent second record is camp and theatrical, pivoting between a big, poppy sensibility and a minimalist, lo-fi one sometimes on the same track. Lead single Religion (U Can Lay Your Hands On Me) is a slinky shoulder roll of a song, laden with passionate blasphemy: I wanna consecrate your body, turn the water to wine, I know youre thinking about kissing, too. Its laced, too, with piano an instrument shed always been allergic to before this record and opulent orchestral strings. (AP)
23/50 28) Cage the Elephant Social Cues
On Cage the Elephants fifth album, Social Cues, frontman Matt Shultz reacts to the breakdown of his marriage and the loss of three close friends. He undergoes a kind of Jekyll and Hyde transition through the 13 tracks, the result of which is the bands best work to date. Single Ready to let Go is by far the most explicit a moody swamp-rock jam where Shultz comes to terms with his impending divorce. He bares his soul on Social Cues, and apparently shakes off a few demons in the process. (RO)
24/50 27) Brittany Howard Jaime
Howard listened to Brazilian artist Jorge Ben where theres literally, like, 18 different things happening in the song while she was making the album, and it shows. 13th Century Metal builds like an alarm, while Baby is scatty and scattered, like something off The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Sometimes, there is one instrument too many, but usually the components crash together well. (AP)
25/50 26) Sharon Van Etten Remind Me Tomorrow
Written during her recent pregnancy and the birth of her first child, Remind Me Tomorrow shows Van Etten dimming her spotlight on toxicity and instead casting a warm glow behind the records psychic overview. As well as expectations of confessional singers, she subverts folk musics focus on bare-bones songwriting. But the daintiest composition Stay is her most perfectly realised yet, over music box chimes and heel-clicking percussion she coos: You wont let me go astray/ You will let me find my way. After years of making peace with drift and uncertainty, shes never sounded more sure of anything. (JM)
26/50 25) Floating Points Crush
Inspired by the improvisations he was creating while on tour with The xx in 2017, Sam Shepherd found himself making some of the most obtuse and aggressive music Ive ever made. This newfound drive can be heard in singles such as LesAlpx, a mind-melting track that climbs breathlessly towards its summit with a pounding bass beat and high, whistling chirps that punctuate the tension. Its an insight into his brilliant mind and such is the sheer variety of the album a way to inspire ones own imagination. (RO)
27/50 24) Stormzy Heavy is the Head
There are three themes that run through the record: his defiance in the face of doubt; the pressure of high expectations; and his efforts to lift others up as his success continues to grow. He reminds himself constantly of who he is beneath the gloss that fame has brought: hes Rachaels Little Brother, Big Michael, a guy who likes to watch Avengers and Game of Thrones. All of his best traits are present and correct: sincerity, a smooth flow and forensic-like analysis of societal ills, laced with pathos and humour. The lasting impression is of an artist whose only way is up. (RO)
28/50 23) Marika Hackman Any Human Friend
A blunt, bold album on which Hackmans beatific voice sits atop methodically messy instrumentals. Songs such as All Night are so candidly carnal it feels inappropriate to listen to them in public; notes of riot grrrl, pop and rock come together throughout the record to create something that is, at times, quite striking. (AP)
29/50 22) Solange When I Get Home
The decades second great Solange album churns several deformed, jazzy aesthetics including Brainfeeders gloopy electro-funk and the concoctions of DJ Screw into a lustrous cloud of R&B. The result hints at Seventies soul voyagers like Stevie Wonder yet retains its future-shock, celebrating Houston futurism without pandering to fans of its explicitly political predecessor. (JM)
30/50 21) Cate Le Bon Reward
For her fifth studio album, Cate Le Bon went to live in a secluded cottage in the Lake District, where she sang to an empty house and took lessons in wood-carving. Yet her compositions on Reward are lush, warm and whimsical; opener Miami is resplendent with stately horns and percussion that reminds you of childhood. Theres a fantastic sense of space, too, spun from diaphanous arrangements such as The Light, where she meanders delightfully from a clear, lilting call to a deep vocal rumble. Its an album by an artist intent on readdressing her relationship with her own existence. (RO)
31/50 20) Sam Fender Hypersonic Missiles
Fender drew plenty of early comparisons to Bruce Springsteen on Hypersonic Missiles theyre entirely warranted, as much for the instrumentation as the lyricism and his vignettes of working-class struggle. There are sax solos (more than one), and pounding rhythms that make you want to jump in a car and drive down a highway at sunset, and blistering electric guitars next to classic troubadour acoustics. He has Springsteens rousing holler, and the early indications of someone who could be the voice of a generation not because he wants to be, but because he sees things and understands. (RO)
32/50 19) Taylor Swift Lover
Swifts sixth album Reputation was camp and melodramatic, killing off the old Taylor and waging war on anyone and everyone who dared to criticise her. It was sincerity veiled as self-parody, insecurity veiled as breeziness and all the better for that uneasy paradox. But Lover, her new, seventh album, feels like a partial resurrection of the Swift of old: moony romance and earnest earworms abound. Its the sound of a singer excited to be earnest again. Taylor Swift is dead. Long live Taylor Swift. (AP)
33/50 18) Michael Kiwanuka Kiwanuka
The record is an introspective mix of psychey soul, blues, rock and funk, which skips and strolls and swaggers through its 13 tracks but it is not simply an exercise in nostalgia. Its influences span decades; Gil Scott-Heron, Fela Kuti, Kendrick Lamar and Bobby Womack are all recalled. Im not going to have an alter ego, or becomes Sasha Fierce or Ziggy Stardust, says Kiwanuka. I can just be Michael Kiwanuka. With an album this good, its hard to argue with that. (AP)
34/50 17) Kano Hoodies All Summer
On his sixth album, Kanos powers of observation are at their peak. Home has always been at the heart of his music, so he maintains the close-quarters perspective of his 2005 debut Home Sweet Home; the swaggering confidence of that record, though, is replaced by a more thoughtful gravitas. Hes an elder statesman of grime, and you can almost see his furrowed brow and shake of his head on Trouble, while the frenetic Class of Deja, starring fellow veterans D Double E and Ghetts, reminds the listener how he lit the path for future generations. (RO)
35/50 16) Hot Chip A Bath Full of Ecstasy
Lyrically, the band offer up some of their most poignant phrases to date on this their seventh and best record. Second single Hungry Child, a trance-y floor-filler, contains the plaintive, Dreaming never felt so bad/ Lonely never felt so wrong before while, over the shuffling beats of Echo, Alexis Taylor sings of leaving your regrets behind while seeming to understand the effort required to achieve this. For all its glimmering synths and the robotic pathos of Taylors idiosyncratic vocals, this is a record with both heart and soul. (RO)
36/50 15) MUNA Saves the World
Saves the World should see MUNA joining the ranks of those who have brazenly borrowed their sound. Lead single Number One Fan banishes intrusive thoughts Nobody likes me and Im gonna die just in time for a lavish, self-celebratory chorus, one part earnest, one part tongue-in-cheek. Elsewhere, they are downright defeatist, laments the inevitable pull back to a recent ex (Stayaway) or reflecting on a lovers similarity to an adulterous father (Taken). Hands Off, meanwhile, toys with temptation before slamming the door shut. It is fierce and forthright. (AP)
37/50 14) Slipknot We Are Not Your Kind
Fans have already drawn comparisons between We Are Not Your Kind and Slipknots seminal 2001 album Iowa. While the latter was even heavier (it would be difficult if not impossible to outdo), the sheer ambition on We Are Not Your Kind is just as staggering. If anything, the dynamic created by placing a bigger emphasis on melody allows you to consider everything without being engulfed by noise. Critics may question how relevant Slipknot are in 2019. The pummelling force of We Are Not Your Kind should be enough to silence them this may be one of the bands most personal records, but the rage they capture is universally felt. (RO)
38/50 13) Rapsody Eve
Each song is titled after a black woman Rapsody admires: Serena Williams, Sojourner Truth, Maya Angelou, Aaliyah, Oprah Winfrey and for each one she explores these womens traits, successes and strife. As on Lailas Wisdom, Eve conveys Rapsodys natural feel for funk Michelle (Obama) bounces in on a jaunty piano riff but other tracks, such as Afeni, are pure soul. Nina Simone said an artists duty, as far as Im concerned, is to reflect the times. This is precisely what Rapsody has done, in the most resonant way possible. (RO)
39/50 12) Julia Jacklin Crushing
Theres a deeper sense of personal connection to anchor Julia Jacklins lyrical and melodic smarts. That snare drum on Pressure to Party keeps a relentless, nerve-snapping pulse throughout, while Dont Know How to Keep Loving You nails a depth of intimacy while acknowledging relationship ennui. Grunge-rinsed, feminist-flipped, upcycled Fifties guitar an all: Crushing is a triumph. (HB)
40/50 11) Foals Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1
Philippakiss voice is shrouded in the smoke from societys wreckage. Lead single Exits, six scintillating minutes of Eighties sledgehammer pop that lumbers into view like a heavy artillery vehicle covered in sequins, concerns the one percenters building underground cities to escape global warming. Syrups has Yannis howling a passionate post-apocalyptic vision of robot invasions and sand-clogged towns over a corroded Gorillaz dub that builds to a motoric charge as global panic sets in. An inspired album of scorched earth music. (MB)
41/50 10) Dave Psychodrama
A talented pianist as well as a rapper and singer, Dave often spits over discordant chords to amplify the urgency of his chosen subject, or else raps in gruff, assertive tones across an emotional sequence that complements his stoic intensity. On Environment, he talks about the conflict between what people see of his apparently glamorous life, and the reality behind the scenes where the blood and sweat is drawn out of him. Hes put everything into this album. (RO)
42/50 9) Weyes Blood Titanic Rising
Weyes Blood, whose real name is Natalie Mering, accompanies her instrumental idiosyncrasies with strong, luscious melodies and unfussy lyrics. No ones ever gonna give you a trophy for all the pain and the things youve been through, she sings on Mirror Forever. No one knows but you.And then theres that voice at once warm and haunting, controlled and untethered. Its no wonder shes lent it to the likes of Perfume Genius, Drugdealer and Ariel Pink: it adds a touch of profundity to everything it meets. (AP)
43/50 8) James Blake Assume Form
The warm splashes of piano that washed over that song also break through the anxious rattle of dance beats on the albums eponymous opener, the singer so regularly reviewed as vaporous promises to leave the ether, assume form and be touchable, be reachable. His own sharpest critic, he winks at the journalists whove called him glacial as he drops from remote, icy falsetto into a richly grained, deeper tone to ask: Doesnt it seem much warmer? (HB)
44/50 7) Nick Cave Ghosteen
Following the traumatised chaos of 2016s Skeleton Tree, Ghosteen is a warm cloud of ambient solace a sonic evocation of the communion he has experienced through his newly porous relationship with his audience. He sounds buoyed, not weakened, by exposing his wounds. (HB)
45/50 6) Tyler, the Creator IGOR
The production here is superb. Tyler has never been one for traditional song structure, but on IGOR, which is undoubtedly a break-up album, hes like the Minotaur luring you through a maze that twists and turns around seemingly impossible corners, drawing you into the thrilling unknown. Its lack of resolution at the close surely the most torturous element of a great love lost makes it all the more powerful. (RO)
46/50 5) Big Thief Two Hands
The indie-rock bands second album in the space of five months (the first being UFOF), was described as the earth twin and, indeed, they sound utterly grounded to each other, and to their surroundings in the arid Chihuahuan Desert of Texas, near the Mexico border. In contrast to her fragile performance on UFOF, here Adrianne Lenker sings in lusty whoops and calls on Forgotten Eyes, while Not, the records dark, brooding soul, caterwauls with feedback screeches and a merciless, two-minute guitar solo that leaves you simultaneously devastated and enthralled. (RO)
47/50 4) Bruce Springsteen Western Stars
Bruce Springsteen seems to have told almost every tale in the grand old storybook of American mythologies, except perhaps one: a wide-eyed Californian dreamer finds the Golden State turns sour and flees back east, to some romantic speck of a town, to pine and rehabilitate. Its the classic pop plotline of Bacharach and Davids Do You Know the Way to San Jose?, and its a tale Springsteen taps repeatedly here, on his sumptuous, cinematic 19th album, which is nothing short of a late-period masterpiece. (MB)
48/50 3) Little Simz GREY Area
Few albums in 2019 have been as eclectic, or with as singular a vision, as Simzs GREY Area. She flips between two tones: formidable and reflective. On tracks such as Offence and Boss she drips with venom; delivering lines in a low, deadly buzz over killer bass hooks and punk distortion. On Selfish and Flowers shes softer allowing herself to be vulnerable because she knows she doesnt have to ditch all sentiment to compete with her male peers. Shes better because she embraces every facet of herself, and offers it to the listener in as clear a statement as possible. (RO)
49/50 2) Lana Del Rey Norman F***ing Rockwell!
Lana Del Rey has always been obsessed with the past. Hers is a sound rooted in nostalgia, a paean to everything she was born too late to live through: old Hollywood, Sinatra, beat poetry, Sylvia Plath and Fifties Americana. At her best, she mines something fresh from it all. At her worst, she wallows in it. Her new album Norman F**king Rockwell!, named after a 20th-century American artist, does both. (AP)
50/50 1) Aldous Harding Designer
When Aldous Harding performed in London this month, an enamoured fan cried out that they loved her. I appreciate that, she replied softly. But, Im busy. The response is Harding to a T wry, weird, introspective, focused. Her spectacular, singular third album, Designer, is all of those things. Taking the left-field folk that made her name and splashing post-psych pop and jittery orchestral flourishes onto the canvas, the New Zealander harbours secrets while beckoning you in.
It’s better to live with melody and have an honest time/ Isn’t that right? she asks on Fixture Picture, before wearily concluding that you can’t be pure and in love. On Zoo Eyes, on which her voice plummets to its lowest register, she asks two questions in succession, as if theyre of equal import: What am I doing in Dubai in the prime of my life? Do you love me? It is an exquisite, enigmatic record. (AP)
1/50 50) Kim Gordon No Home Record
The debut solo album of the art-punk pioneer was never going to be predictable, easy-listening. No Home Record channels the dissonance and avant-garde vibe of New Yorks experimental no-wave movement in a nine-song, genre-defiant collection that jumps between industrial, minimal electro-rock and abrasive art punk. Uniting the tracks is their creators restlessly questing, non-conformist spirit. Its great to have her back. (EB)
2/50 49) Nilüfer Yanya Miss Universe
Nilüfer Yanya isnt down with the wellness industry. On her debut album, Miss Universe, the singer-songwriter makes this perfectly clear, tearing into all those improve yourself schemes littered across social media and parcelling up that angst as cerebral, skewed alt-rock. Synths and saxophone play their part on the smoother, more soulful Paradise and Baby Blu. Listen to the driving groove of Heat Rises, meanwhile, and youll be instantly reminded of Kelis and Andre 3000s Millionaire. That said, Yanya is very much her own artist: original and bold. (PS)
3/50 48) The Black Keys Let’s Rock
Five years since their last album, the Ohioan duo have gone back to basics. Gone are the subtle inflections and lacquered psychedelia of Turn Blue; Lets Rock is all about simple hooks and nagging choruses, an homage, in the words of drummer Patrick Carney, to the electric guitar. Get past the terrible title, and youll be rewarded with a viscerally entertaining album that never lingers for more than four minutes per song. If this is genre pastiche, its genre pastiche done with skill and savvy. (PS)
4/50 47) Bat for Lashes Lost Girls
Musically, Lost Girls couldnt be more Eighties if it were playing a Commodore 64 while eating Angel Delight. Like Stranger Things, everything about it is unashamedly nostalgic: the power drums, the moody atmospherics, the arpeggiated synths. Close your eyes and you can practically see Jason Patric on the Santa Cruz boardwalk in The Lost Boys. Yes, nostalgia is a fairly generic formula. But listened to as a whole, the album positively thrums with sonic invention, managing to feel both fresh and full of intrigue. Khan once again demonstrates a knack for uncanny storytelling. (PS)
5/50 46) Collard Unholy
On his debut album, the 24-year-old mixes sultry jams that recall the electronic funk of MGMT with nods to the greats: Prince, James Brown, Led Zeppelin and Marvin Gaye. Throughout, Collard exhibits his extraordinary voice, which swoops to a devilishly low murmur or soars to an ecstatic falsetto. On the lustful Hell Song he sings less is more but more is good. Youre inclined to agree with him. (RO)
6/50 45) Angel Olsen All Mirrors
When the Missouri singer broke out in 2014, she became known for her lo-fi, introspective sound and the staggering range and power of her voice. On All Mirrors, she dials things up even further than 2016s Sixties-leaning My Woman, and turns her focus outwards it is an album, she says, about losing empathy, trust, love for destructive people and owning up to your darkest side. It is also balletic and haywire, refusing to follow traditional rules of song structure. Listening to it feels like accidentally pressing play on two songs at once, and finding the combination strangely inebriating. (AP)
7/50 44) Lizzo Cuz I Love You
This is a polished, playful album, though it has a DIY edge to it: S**t, f**k, I didnt know it was ending right there, she chuckles in the final few moments of Like a Girl. Girl, run this s**t back, she says after a vivacious flute solo on Tempo a song featuring a guest verse from Missy Elliott, the person who, Lizzo said on Twitter, made this chubby, weird, black girl believe that ANYTHING was possible. (AP)
8/50 43) Skepta Ignorance is Bliss
Theres no attempt to chase someone elses wave here; no token drill, afroswing or trap beats to satisfy playlist algorithms. Instead, his cold grime sonics are rendered down to their no-frills essentials brutalist blocks of sad angular melodies and hard, spacious drums. The result is a quintessentially London record, as dark and moody as it is brash and innovative. We used to do young and stupid, Skepta concludes on Gangsta. Now we do grown. (IM)
9/50 42) Ariana Grande Thank U, Next
It lacks a centrepiece to match the arresting depth and space of Sweeteners God Is A Woman, but Grande handles its shifting moods and cast of producers (including pop machines Max Martin and Tommy Brown) with engaging class and momentum. One minute youre skanking along to the party brass of Bloodline; the next floating into the semi-detached, heartbreak of Ghostin, which appears to address Grandes guilt at being with Davidson while pining for Miller. She sings of the late rapper as a wingless angel with featherlight high notes that will drop the sternest jaw. (HB)
10/50 41) Ezra Furman Twelve Nudes
The Chicago-born singers ninth album is a furious reaction to the social and political events of 2018 over 11 breathless tracks, he turns that anger into a howl of resistance. Each song feels personal yet relatable the deep-rooted despair felt on Trauma at the sight of wealthy bullies rising to power is a universal one, as is the sense of liberation in just letting go on What Can You Do But Rock n Roll. Twelve Nudes is Furmans most urgent and cathartic record. (RO)
11/50 40) YBN Cordae The Lost Boy
On his studio debut, YBN shows off his versatility, but not to the point that it distracts from the underlying message of each song. You have the menacing Broke as F***, where the beats and stark piano hook contrasts with Cordaes rags-to-riches rap. Aged 21, the North Carolina artist flecks songs such as the Anderson .Paak-featuring RNP with an endearing kind of nonchalance; over the woozy, psychedelic soul of opener Wintertime, meanwhile, he wonders how Corretta Scott King felt upon learning Martin Luther had cheated on her. Its by no means a perfect album in the grand sense of the term, but it is a perfect demonstration of everything Cordae is capable of. (RO)
12/50 39) Big Thief UFOF
Big Thiefs frontwoman Adrianne Lenker has an uncanny ability to make you feel like youre in on a secret. Her whispering, spectral delivery and deeply personal lyrics are the key to this. Even on the bands third album UFOF, with an audience that has grown exponentially in the past few years, the songs are still immensely intimate affairs. The albums deathly intrigue is drawn from her own personal traumas, which she successfully spins into something that feels universal. But you dont come away from this record feeling downcast. Its more a reminder of how fleeting yet beautiful life is, and an appeal to make the most of it. (RO)
13/50 38) Jenny Lewis On the Line
Here, Lewis does what she does best: adds the glossy sparkle of Hollywood and a sunny Californian sheen to melancholy and nostalgia, with her most luxuriantly orchestrated album yet. Even when shes singing, Ive wasted my youth, its in that sweet voice, with carefree doo doo doo doo doo doos, and at a pace thats so upbeat that it masks the sentiment. Its a bittersweet mourning of her past. (EB)
14/50 37) Billie Eilish When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Few people have had as big a year as Billie Eilish. The first and currently only artist born in the Noughties to have a US number one single, she also released her double platinum debut album, the innovative and multifarious, if irksomely titled, When We All Fall Asleep Where Do We Go? There are some missteps Wish You Were Gay being one of them but for the most part this is an album as full of charm and bite as Eilish herself. And with a melody that ducks and dives in between the beat like a bank robber dodging lasers, the dark, dank pop-trap masterpiece Bad Guy is surely a contender for song of the year. (AP)
15/50 36) AJ Tracey AJ Tracey
One of the biggest new rap stars to emerge in 2019, AJ Traceys variety and the scale of his ambition on this album is breathtaking. Fans will be surprised to discover he sings almost as much as he raps, in pleasingly gruff tones. Each track is a standout, none more so than Ladbroke Grove, a hat-tip to classic garage in which Tracey switches up his flow to emulate a Nineties MC. Its a thrilling work. (RO)
16/50 35) Caroline Polachek Pang
The former Chairlift frontwomans solo debut (at least, her first under her own name) is an eccentric, experimental delight PC music by way of classical pop. The product of a divorce and a series of adrenal rushes she refers to as pangs, the album is musically agile and often lyrically stark: Sometimes I wonder/ Do I love you too much? Then I tell myself Caroline, shut up, she sings on Caroline Shut Up. Polacheks voice is her secret weapon so jolting and elastic she had to prove it wasnt autotuned in an astonishing Twitter video. (AP)
17/50 34) Sturgill Simpson Sound & Fury
Simpson recently said he wanted Sound & Fury to hit like a Wu-Tang record, so each intro is like a one-two punch loaded with brilliant hooks. Then theres the rollicking A Good Look and Last Man Standing its pure rock and roll: sleazy, slick and lots of fun. Sound & Fury marks another milestone for a remarkable artist. (RO)
18/50 33) Fontaines DC Dogrel
Of all the excellent bands to emerge out of Dublins booming music scene over the past few years, Fontaines DC are the best of them. Perhaps its the fact that theyre technically outsiders, having grown up on the borders of the city (or in their guitarist Carlos OConnells case, between there and Spain). Frontman Grian Chatten eschews punks tradition of valuing shock value over songcraft and instead offers searing, literary observations of a city with which he has a love/hate relationship. (RO)
19/50 32) Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride
Already subject to manic shifts in style and tempo, this hour-long LP roams in lounge pants from Deadhead jams to Zombies-catchy hooks, infectiously kitsch prog, highlife samples and on Sunflower a scat breakdown. An unfashionable record, then, and that may be its best asset. With such low stakes and barely any emotional intensity, Father of the Bride wont cement Vampire Weekends legacy. But after a highly strung decade on the indie-rock A-list, it gives them room to breathe. (JM)
20/50 31) FKA twigs MAGDALENE
Making this album has allowed me, for the first time, to find compassion when I have been at my most ungraceful, confused and fractured, FKA twigs writes in the albums press notes. I stopped judging myself, and at that moment found hope in MAGDALENE. At times, MAGDALENE is just as ungraceful, confused and fractured as its creator was a rush of baroque electronics, industrial noise, opera, synths, autotune and precarious falsetto. The follow-up to 2014s LP1 is the sound of a woman teetering on the brink of collapse, gathering herself, and then erupting into a kind of defiance. (AP)
21/50 30) Bill Callahan Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest
Bill Callahan returns after six years with this homely, career-best album in which he sings of his own contentment. The panic room is now a nursery, he observes on Son of the Sea. Death still looms often in the form of a black dog that follows Callahan around various tracks but its inevitability seems more of a comfort than something to be feared: Everybody must walk the lonesome valley, he sings firmly. Yeah, they must walk it by themselves. (RO)
22/50 29) Shura Forevher
Arriving three years after the release of her debut, Nothings Real, Shuras excellent second record is camp and theatrical, pivoting between a big, poppy sensibility and a minimalist, lo-fi one sometimes on the same track. Lead single Religion (U Can Lay Your Hands On Me) is a slinky shoulder roll of a song, laden with passionate blasphemy: I wanna consecrate your body, turn the water to wine, I know youre thinking about kissing, too. Its laced, too, with piano an instrument shed always been allergic to before this record and opulent orchestral strings. (AP)
23/50 28) Cage the Elephant Social Cues
On Cage the Elephants fifth album, Social Cues, frontman Matt Shultz reacts to the breakdown of his marriage and the loss of three close friends. He undergoes a kind of Jekyll and Hyde transition through the 13 tracks, the result of which is the bands best work to date. Single Ready to let Go is by far the most explicit a moody swamp-rock jam where Shultz comes to terms with his impending divorce. He bares his soul on Social Cues, and apparently shakes off a few demons in the process. (RO)
24/50 27) Brittany Howard Jaime
Howard listened to Brazilian artist Jorge Ben where theres literally, like, 18 different things happening in the song while she was making the album, and it shows. 13th Century Metal builds like an alarm, while Baby is scatty and scattered, like something off The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Sometimes, there is one instrument too many, but usually the components crash together well. (AP)
25/50 26) Sharon Van Etten Remind Me Tomorrow
Written during her recent pregnancy and the birth of her first child, Remind Me Tomorrow shows Van Etten dimming her spotlight on toxicity and instead casting a warm glow behind the records psychic overview. As well as expectations of confessional singers, she subverts folk musics focus on bare-bones songwriting. But the daintiest composition Stay is her most perfectly realised yet, over music box chimes and heel-clicking percussion she coos: You wont let me go astray/ You will let me find my way. After years of making peace with drift and uncertainty, shes never sounded more sure of anything. (JM)
26/50 25) Floating Points Crush
Inspired by the improvisations he was creating while on tour with The xx in 2017, Sam Shepherd found himself making some of the most obtuse and aggressive music Ive ever made. This newfound drive can be heard in singles such as LesAlpx, a mind-melting track that climbs breathlessly towards its summit with a pounding bass beat and high, whistling chirps that punctuate the tension. Its an insight into his brilliant mind and such is the sheer variety of the album a way to inspire ones own imagination. (RO)
27/50 24) Stormzy Heavy is the Head
There are three themes that run through the record: his defiance in the face of doubt; the pressure of high expectations; and his efforts to lift others up as his success continues to grow. He reminds himself constantly of who he is beneath the gloss that fame has brought: hes Rachaels Little Brother, Big Michael, a guy who likes to watch Avengers and Game of Thrones. All of his best traits are present and correct: sincerity, a smooth flow and forensic-like analysis of societal ills, laced with pathos and humour. The lasting impression is of an artist whose only way is up. (RO)
28/50 23) Marika Hackman Any Human Friend
A blunt, bold album on which Hackmans beatific voice sits atop methodically messy instrumentals. Songs such as All Night are so candidly carnal it feels inappropriate to listen to them in public; notes of riot grrrl, pop and rock come together throughout the record to create something that is, at times, quite striking. (AP)
29/50 22) Solange When I Get Home
The decades second great Solange album churns several deformed, jazzy aesthetics including Brainfeeders gloopy electro-funk and the concoctions of DJ Screw into a lustrous cloud of R&B. The result hints at Seventies soul voyagers like Stevie Wonder yet retains its future-shock, celebrating Houston futurism without pandering to fans of its explicitly political predecessor. (JM)
30/50 21) Cate Le Bon Reward
For her fifth studio album, Cate Le Bon went to live in a secluded cottage in the Lake District, where she sang to an empty house and took lessons in wood-carving. Yet her compositions on Reward are lush, warm and whimsical; opener Miami is resplendent with stately horns and percussion that reminds you of childhood. Theres a fantastic sense of space, too, spun from diaphanous arrangements such as The Light, where she meanders delightfully from a clear, lilting call to a deep vocal rumble. Its an album by an artist intent on readdressing her relationship with her own existence. (RO)
31/50 20) Sam Fender Hypersonic Missiles
Fender drew plenty of early comparisons to Bruce Springsteen on Hypersonic Missiles theyre entirely warranted, as much for the instrumentation as the lyricism and his vignettes of working-class struggle. There are sax solos (more than one), and pounding rhythms that make you want to jump in a car and drive down a highway at sunset, and blistering electric guitars next to classic troubadour acoustics. He has Springsteens rousing holler, and the early indications of someone who could be the voice of a generation not because he wants to be, but because he sees things and understands. (RO)
32/50 19) Taylor Swift Lover
Swifts sixth album Reputation was camp and melodramatic, killing off the old Taylor and waging war on anyone and everyone who dared to criticise her. It was sincerity veiled as self-parody, insecurity veiled as breeziness and all the better for that uneasy paradox. But Lover, her new, seventh album, feels like a partial resurrection of the Swift of old: moony romance and earnest earworms abound. Its the sound of a singer excited to be earnest again. Taylor Swift is dead. Long live Taylor Swift. (AP)
33/50 18) Michael Kiwanuka Kiwanuka
The record is an introspective mix of psychey soul, blues, rock and funk, which skips and strolls and swaggers through its 13 tracks but it is not simply an exercise in nostalgia. Its influences span decades; Gil Scott-Heron, Fela Kuti, Kendrick Lamar and Bobby Womack are all recalled. Im not going to have an alter ego, or becomes Sasha Fierce or Ziggy Stardust, says Kiwanuka. I can just be Michael Kiwanuka. With an album this good, its hard to argue with that. (AP)
34/50 17) Kano Hoodies All Summer
On his sixth album, Kanos powers of observation are at their peak. Home has always been at the heart of his music, so he maintains the close-quarters perspective of his 2005 debut Home Sweet Home; the swaggering confidence of that record, though, is replaced by a more thoughtful gravitas. Hes an elder statesman of grime, and you can almost see his furrowed brow and shake of his head on Trouble, while the frenetic Class of Deja, starring fellow veterans D Double E and Ghetts, reminds the listener how he lit the path for future generations. (RO)
35/50 16) Hot Chip A Bath Full of Ecstasy
Lyrically, the band offer up some of their most poignant phrases to date on this their seventh and best record. Second single Hungry Child, a trance-y floor-filler, contains the plaintive, Dreaming never felt so bad/ Lonely never felt so wrong before while, over the shuffling beats of Echo, Alexis Taylor sings of leaving your regrets behind while seeming to understand the effort required to achieve this. For all its glimmering synths and the robotic pathos of Taylors idiosyncratic vocals, this is a record with both heart and soul. (RO)
36/50 15) MUNA Saves the World
Saves the World should see MUNA joining the ranks of those who have brazenly borrowed their sound. Lead single Number One Fan banishes intrusive thoughts Nobody likes me and Im gonna die just in time for a lavish, self-celebratory chorus, one part earnest, one part tongue-in-cheek. Elsewhere, they are downright defeatist, laments the inevitable pull back to a recent ex (Stayaway) or reflecting on a lovers similarity to an adulterous father (Taken). Hands Off, meanwhile, toys with temptation before slamming the door shut. It is fierce and forthright. (AP)
37/50 14) Slipknot We Are Not Your Kind
Fans have already drawn comparisons between We Are Not Your Kind and Slipknots seminal 2001 album Iowa. While the latter was even heavier (it would be difficult if not impossible to outdo), the sheer ambition on We Are Not Your Kind is just as staggering. If anything, the dynamic created by placing a bigger emphasis on melody allows you to consider everything without being engulfed by noise. Critics may question how relevant Slipknot are in 2019. The pummelling force of We Are Not Your Kind should be enough to silence them this may be one of the bands most personal records, but the rage they capture is universally felt. (RO)
38/50 13) Rapsody Eve
Each song is titled after a black woman Rapsody admires: Serena Williams, Sojourner Truth, Maya Angelou, Aaliyah, Oprah Winfrey and for each one she explores these womens traits, successes and strife. As on Lailas Wisdom, Eve conveys Rapsodys natural feel for funk Michelle (Obama) bounces in on a jaunty piano riff but other tracks, such as Afeni, are pure soul. Nina Simone said an artists duty, as far as Im concerned, is to reflect the times. This is precisely what Rapsody has done, in the most resonant way possible. (RO)
39/50 12) Julia Jacklin Crushing
Theres a deeper sense of personal connection to anchor Julia Jacklins lyrical and melodic smarts. That snare drum on Pressure to Party keeps a relentless, nerve-snapping pulse throughout, while Dont Know How to Keep Loving You nails a depth of intimacy while acknowledging relationship ennui. Grunge-rinsed, feminist-flipped, upcycled Fifties guitar an all: Crushing is a triumph. (HB)
40/50 11) Foals Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1
Philippakiss voice is shrouded in the smoke from societys wreckage. Lead single Exits, six scintillating minutes of Eighties sledgehammer pop that lumbers into view like a heavy artillery vehicle covered in sequins, concerns the one percenters building underground cities to escape global warming. Syrups has Yannis howling a passionate post-apocalyptic vision of robot invasions and sand-clogged towns over a corroded Gorillaz dub that builds to a motoric charge as global panic sets in. An inspired album of scorched earth music. (MB)
41/50 10) Dave Psychodrama
A talented pianist as well as a rapper and singer, Dave often spits over discordant chords to amplify the urgency of his chosen subject, or else raps in gruff, assertive tones across an emotional sequence that complements his stoic intensity. On Environment, he talks about the conflict between what people see of his apparently glamorous life, and the reality behind the scenes where the blood and sweat is drawn out of him. Hes put everything into this album. (RO)
42/50 9) Weyes Blood Titanic Rising
Weyes Blood, whose real name is Natalie Mering, accompanies her instrumental idiosyncrasies with strong, luscious melodies and unfussy lyrics. No ones ever gonna give you a trophy for all the pain and the things youve been through, she sings on Mirror Forever. No one knows but you.And then theres that voice at once warm and haunting, controlled and untethered. Its no wonder shes lent it to the likes of Perfume Genius, Drugdealer and Ariel Pink: it adds a touch of profundity to everything it meets. (AP)
43/50 8) James Blake Assume Form
The warm splashes of piano that washed over that song also break through the anxious rattle of dance beats on the albums eponymous opener, the singer so regularly reviewed as vaporous promises to leave the ether, assume form and be touchable, be reachable. His own sharpest critic, he winks at the journalists whove called him glacial as he drops from remote, icy falsetto into a richly grained, deeper tone to ask: Doesnt it seem much warmer? (HB)
44/50 7) Nick Cave Ghosteen
Following the traumatised chaos of 2016s Skeleton Tree, Ghosteen is a warm cloud of ambient solace a sonic evocation of the communion he has experienced through his newly porous relationship with his audience. He sounds buoyed, not weakened, by exposing his wounds. (HB)
45/50 6) Tyler, the Creator IGOR
The production here is superb. Tyler has never been one for traditional song structure, but on IGOR, which is undoubtedly a break-up album, hes like the Minotaur luring you through a maze that twists and turns around seemingly impossible corners, drawing you into the thrilling unknown. Its lack of resolution at the close surely the most torturous element of a great love lost makes it all the more powerful. (RO)
46/50 5) Big Thief Two Hands
The indie-rock bands second album in the space of five months (the first being UFOF), was described as the earth twin and, indeed, they sound utterly grounded to each other, and to their surroundings in the arid Chihuahuan Desert of Texas, near the Mexico border. In contrast to her fragile performance on UFOF, here Adrianne Lenker sings in lusty whoops and calls on Forgotten Eyes, while Not, the records dark, brooding soul, caterwauls with feedback screeches and a merciless, two-minute guitar solo that leaves you simultaneously devastated and enthralled. (RO)
47/50 4) Bruce Springsteen Western Stars
Bruce Springsteen seems to have told almost every tale in the grand old storybook of American mythologies, except perhaps one: a wide-eyed Californian dreamer finds the Golden State turns sour and flees back east, to some romantic speck of a town, to pine and rehabilitate. Its the classic pop plotline of Bacharach and Davids Do You Know the Way to San Jose?, and its a tale Springsteen taps repeatedly here, on his sumptuous, cinematic 19th album, which is nothing short of a late-period masterpiece. (MB)
48/50 3) Little Simz GREY Area
Few albums in 2019 have been as eclectic, or with as singular a vision, as Simzs GREY Area. She flips between two tones: formidable and reflective. On tracks such as Offence and Boss she drips with venom; delivering lines in a low, deadly buzz over killer bass hooks and punk distortion. On Selfish and Flowers shes softer allowing herself to be vulnerable because she knows she doesnt have to ditch all sentiment to compete with her male peers. Shes better because she embraces every facet of herself, and offers it to the listener in as clear a statement as possible. (RO)
49/50 2) Lana Del Rey Norman F***ing Rockwell!
Lana Del Rey has always been obsessed with the past. Hers is a sound rooted in nostalgia, a paean to everything she was born too late to live through: old Hollywood, Sinatra, beat poetry, Sylvia Plath and Fifties Americana. At her best, she mines something fresh from it all. At her worst, she wallows in it. Her new album Norman F**king Rockwell!, named after a 20th-century American artist, does both. (AP)
50/50 1) Aldous Harding Designer
When Aldous Harding performed in London this month, an enamoured fan cried out that they loved her. I appreciate that, she replied softly. But, Im busy. The response is Harding to a T wry, weird, introspective, focused. Her spectacular, singular third album, Designer, is all of those things. Taking the left-field folk that made her name and splashing post-psych pop and jittery orchestral flourishes onto the canvas, the New Zealander harbours secrets while beckoning you in.
It’s better to live with melody and have an honest time/ Isn’t that right? she asks on Fixture Picture, before wearily concluding that you can’t be pure and in love. On Zoo Eyes, on which her voice plummets to its lowest register, she asks two questions in succession, as if theyre of equal import: What am I doing in Dubai in the prime of my life? Do you love me? It is an exquisite, enigmatic record. (AP)
Despite the fact that the ubiquitous Blurred Lines had dominated the year before derided more for plagiarising Marvin Gaye than for being, essentially, a date rape anthem the backlash to All About That Bass was swift and occasionally vicious. While much of the mainstream media effectively shrugged and dismissed it as just a pop song, websites such as Feministing and Jezebel criticised it not just for the skinny bitches comment, but for basing its message of self-acceptance on whether or not men find you attractive. The wave of thinkpieces led to a social media pile-on that culminated in Trainor telling an interviewer that she was not a feminist.
I was just, like, stupid and young, she sighs now. Though she looked older, Trainor was 20 when All About That Bass came out and she had gone from unknown songwriter to famous pop star almost overnight. My mom was like, Whatever happens in interviews, if you dont know what the word is, dont just say, Im this. So I was like, Well, I couldnt tell you the full definition of feminist. And there were a lot of Twitter accounts feminist accounts that attacked me hard for All About That Bass. So in my head, thats what that word meant, like, Oh, those people that hate me. And so I was like, No, I’m not… And then I got the most attacked ever for that. It seems to me that there should have been people around her guiding a very young artist through what was clearly a horrible time. Did she get enough support? After the backlash, she says, they put me in one class of a mediation class no, she stops and corrects herself, media training. Every answer I gave, she was like, No, dont talk about that!
During the course of that year many high-profile women set about reclaiming the word feminist. Beyoncé included a definition on her self-titled album and performed in front of the word at the 2014 VMAs, but it wasnt until she watched Emma Watsons HeForShe speech at the UN that she fully got it. With her newfound knowledge, did she understand the criticisms levelled at All About That Bass, and songs like Dear Future Husband that cast her as a submissive, 1950s style housewife? Yeah, I can hear, like… she begins, picking at some imaginary sleeve fluff on her Balenciaga fleece and adopts the air of someone being tested. People were picking apart everything. It showed me that with any success youll get picked out, youll get ripped apart. When I wrote it, I didnt know Id be the artist singing it, and I didnt know billions of people would hear it over and over again. Thats not really the point, I try to cut in, but she cant be stopped. It was just meant to be a fun pop song about all womens bodies being beautiful. Its so ridiculous to think that Im coming out here being like, I hate skinny people its just, like, so absurd. I really was bummed about it.
Meghan Trainor in the video for Dear Future Husband (YouTube)
Its clear that Trainor sometimes speaks first and thinks later, asserting herself but lacking the knowledge or maybe the self-belief to back it up. She lights up when I correctly interpret her words back to her, much more confident in my phrasing than her own. This could be partly down to a bizarre period of her education during which she missed a lot of school. It sounds so dumb, but I was allergic to the school that I was going to for middle school. This is classic Trainor in that it was a very serious situation but sounds like a joke. I got sent home every day for coughing. It was such a dark thing in hospital they were like, we can give you an inhaler but theres not much else we can do. It turned out, eventually, that she was allergic to certain types of mould that were present throughout the old school buildings. Growing up on Nantucket a tiny island just off the coast of Massachusetts Trainor wasnt exactly overwhelmed with alternative school options. At around 14, she and her dad moved to Cape Cod for two years so Trainor could attend a school where she could breathe, while her mum and brothers stayed in Nantucket, where the family business was. My parents were living like divorced parents, but theyre madly in love. It was very difficult for all of us and I missed a good few years of school. Every time I say something stupid, my brothers are like, Sorry, she didnt go to school. She laughs. You miss out on a lot.
This crack of insecurity runs through the veneer of self-empowerment that covers most of her songs. Though she describes Treat Myself as the usual Meghan Trainor empowering anthems and love yourself moments, it features songs where she blames relationship missteps on an evil twin (Evil Twin), pushes back against media misconceptions (Nice to Meet Ya) and assures us that all this tricky life stuff well, shes working on it (Workin On It). Im your biggest fan, she sings on the Norah Jones-esque ballad Here to Stay, following it with the decidedly less enthusiastic, You like me as I am.
Trainor during a live concert (Getty)
Its tough, she says. Everyones like, Youre so powerful and believe in yourself and youre so confident. Im like, What? No, Im not. Im working on it all the time. She feels lonely with very few people able to relate to exactly what her life is like. Therapy hasnt stuck and its difficult to talk to friends, she says. [They]ll say, I know how you feel. You dont know how I feel because youre not a pop star. Youre not doing the interviews Im doing, not sitting in the chair. I want an idol like Kelly Clarkson to talk to me about [it all], but… well, shes busy, obviously. You need a pop star WhatsApp support group, I say. She beams. Dude, my moms been saying we need to do like a summer party for like female pop stars and get together and be like, Lets talk about how we had to figure out the budget for lighting, and how bizarre this s**t is and like, why are we paying for cubes for dancers to stand on at $9,000 apiece! But um, yeah. Its hard to be friends with them, you know?
Offering that level of support to up-and-coming artists is one of the reasons she was desperate to be a judge on the latest series of The Voice UK, giving a heart-felt presentation and roping her four dogs into the process. I brought them to my home and I gave each person a dog. Like, this is what I am. And it worked! On the show as she is in person Trainor is warm and instantly likeable. Running on stage to hug a crying contestant and liberal with the standing ovations, shes definitely not from the Simon Cowell school of talent show judging.
Though shes clearly having a lot of fun on TV, the album has been quite a struggle. In 2017, Trainor had vocal surgery and for a while she thought she might never be able to sing again, a very dark time that left her feeling like half a person. Writing a song and then singing it… thats what I live for, you know? It was also a stressful time to maintain a career. Ive had radio people threaten me, like if you dont do this half hour set well never play Meghan Trainor on our stations again. And youre, OK, so thats what it is. A combination of lip syncing (I was absolutely terrified and wanted to cry forever) and vocal rest got her through it.
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But then there was the record itself. Her label sent at least three iterations back, telling her she could do better. At one point it was a reggae record inspired by her Trinidadian uncle, which perhaps we can all be grateful to her label for putting the kibosh on. The final result is a very loud mish-mash of reference points Ariana Grande meets Pink meets Christina Aguilera via tyre squeals from the weirder end of pop. It is, quite frankly, a lot for your ears to deal with. For a while it was almost all gushing love songs because, in her personal life, Trainor is deliriously happy. Shes head-over-heels for her husband of one year, Daryl Sabara. Thankfully she turned to her brother, whose romantic exploits tended to be more varied. I was like, Whats your love life like? He was like, Terrible. I was like, Great. Both her brothers were involved in the making of the record, which she sees as a family affair. I love my sisters but if I worked closely with them on anything, I think wed end up killing each other, I tell her. Theyll be very honest, she cackles. Like, theyll just say, No, that sucks. And Im like Who has the Grammy here?
She won the Grammy in question for best new artist in 2016, but shes not striving for more, particularly. Im not a person thats like, I need 50 Grammys. I got mine, Ive done that. For now, shes working on selling out arenas, and working on herself. There are moments where, like yesterday, I cried a couple of times. But then theres other days where its all just so incredible. All my dreams have come true. Youre like, I would never do anything else. As she finishes speaking, she gets up to say goodbye and another classic Meghan Trainor moment immediately falls over. Her foots gone to sleep. She laughs, unembarrassed, throwing herself into another hug. Meghan Trainor is fully herself. And shes not pretending to be anything else.
Treat Myself is out on 31 January