Zayn Malik is using his post-One Direction life for two important things: creative capitalization and tender, R&B-inspired slow jams. Tossing aside the saccharine sound he shared with Styles & Co., Zayn (needlessly stylized as ZAYN) has embraced his standing as “the mysterious one,” as described by Harriet Gibsone in The Guardian. With this self-directed intrigue comes such heartthrob-y tunes as last week’s “BeFoUr.”
“So say what you wanna say,” Zayn croons. Say what you wanna say about One Direction’s cheesiness, their accessibility or their major label camp. “BeFoUr” reminds us why Simon Cowell assembled 1D in the first place — they’re damn talented. Zayn’s infectious vocals float delicately over the single’s sparse electronic instrumentals, wistful and distant until he takes full tonal control over the bridge.
In the self-directed music video for “Freak,” from her album Honeymoon, Lana Del Rey invites you into her oversaturated, trippy vision of California. Featuring Josh Tillman (Father John Misty), the video is supposedly inspired by his experience dropping acid at a Taylor Swift concert. “Freak” opens with Tillman and Del Rey walking in the desert before she presses a tab of acid on Tillman’s tongue, cuing the hushed chorus “Baby if you wanna leave /Come to California/ Be a freak like me too.”
Sun-drenched and hazy, the rest of the track unfolds lazily like a dream with shots of Tillman surrounded by young women in white and a surreal close-up of Kool Aid gushing down Del Rey’s chin as she drinks. A sequence of the couple slow dancing in a thick fog marks the end of the song “Freak.” The dance continues in silence for a few seconds before switching to an underwater shot and the opening notes of Debussy’s “Claire de lune.” In the rest of the 11-minute track, Del Rey, Tillman, and the young women glide in this glittering underwater place, in a continuation of a scene from her previous video for “Music To Watch Boys To.”
Those who complain about her inauthenticity forget that Lana Del Rey is a purposeful, carefully created persona that produces pop music too weird for the mainstream. Her goal is aesthetic pleasure, and in her self-aware, at times self-mocking art, she achieves it.
A new Rihanna emerges with ANTI. A black and white childhood image of the singer makes its appearance on the album cover, both striking and mysterious. This is not the first time we have seen a hip hop artist use a childhood portrait for their album art: Nas’ Illmatic and Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready to Die are iconic album covers that also engage with the symbolism of a young child. However, ANTI’s album art distinguishes itself from what any other artist has done in the past. In collaboration with Israeli artist Roy Nachum and poet Chloe Mitchell, Rihanna co-wrote a poem called “If They Let Us” and translated it into Braille.
On Feb. 15, Kendrick Lamar was unforgivably robbed of the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for his superbly produced, lyrically genius, dialogue-inspiring and arresting political concept album To Pimp A Butterfly, which will indisputably be remembered as one of the greatest American hip-hop albums of all time. Also on Feb. 15, Taylor Swift, the most popular woman in the world, deservingly walked off the stage with the Album of the Year Grammy for her immaculately crafted and super-cherished pop opus 1989, to the validation and joy of fan-people everywhere. I find both of these conclusions about what happened at the 2016 Grammy Awards to be equally plausible, and this absurdity is what I think of as the Kendrick-Taylor paradox.
In every music-happy kid’s upbringing there’s a parent who they learned about music from. You know — the one you inherited your weird decade taste-quirks, vinyl or (in my case) illegally-downloaded CD collection and general music-related perspectives from. You spent car rides exploring albums together, they shed tears of joy when you got really into their favorite old crooner and you showed them how to use Spotify (which they either never really took to, or began furiously trying to ruin your reputation as a Person with Pretty Cool taste by jacking your account and playing solely the Bee Gees and Mariah Carey). For me (and probably for most of you, although that’s another column), it was my Dad. My dad had a tremendous and hazardous impact, not just on my music taste, but on the way that I thought about music in general.
So far Andrew Taggart and Alex Pall, the duo that comprises the EDM group The Chainsmokers, are the masters of creating yearly hits. In 2014, it was the group’s song “#Selfie” that garnered them recognition. Last year, “Roses” was warbled on dance floors and blasted in cars everywhere. It was a song that bonded people with diverse musical inclinations all through summer ending, the leaves changing and our waiting for the snow that never came. Perhaps “Don’t Let Me Down” is The Chainsmokers’ triumphant 2016 single.
Over Madonna’s 25-year career, it’s always been nearly impossible to separate her music from her image; the two reflect each other so much that it’s often difficult to discern which came first. This tendency worried me, as the garishly horrific — and eerily pornographic — cover to Hard Candy suggested that the singer’s new album would be an equally atrocious listening experience. Thankfully, Madonna — for the most part — breaks from her image-equals-music tradition, as Hard Candy is a relentlessly modern, savvy collection of hip-pop that gleams with sleek, silky R&B and disco influences.