A little bit of shameless euphoria for your week.
DUNCAN SHEIK – “Barely Breathing” – as described by ned hardy
I recently saw the Stanford TAPS production of Spring Awakening, which blew my mind. Then I got home and did some Wikipedia sleuthing, only to have my mind blown once again upon discovering that the musical was composed by Duncan Sheik, famous (in my mind) for his perfect 1996 single “Barely Breathing.”
Can you still call someone a one-hit wonder if they win two Tonys and a Grammy? Idk, I don’t know anything about musical theater. What I do know is that “Barely Breathing” spent a record-shattering 55 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, and that it’s comforting in the way that only the best pop music can be — it sounds like something you’ve known your whole life (see also: “Closer”) while still managing to sound totally unique.
THE FOUR SEASONS – “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” – as described by carlos valladares
The crazy swoons of an orgasmic violin fling us into an soaring arrangement of a standard Frank Sinatra number, sung by that pleading big boy with the glass-shattering pitch, one Frankie Valli. The revved-up anxiety of a love-struck teenager (circa junior year, Pacific Palisades High School) is the aim of a ballad whose mini-man singer shifts messily between mania, anger, lust, and a softly masculine romanticism. This also has one of my favorite gimmicks of 60s pop: the false-ending. (Cf. The Four Tops’ “Bernadette”, the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the Young Rascals’ “Good Lovin'”)
NATALIA LAFOURCADE – “Hasta la Raíz” – as described by ena alvarado
The first time I listened to (and fell in love with) a Natalia Lafourcade song I was seven. There are terribly embarrassing videos of my sisters and I dancing to her music, and to this day, I hum along her melodies in the shower. She is, in my opinion, the greatest pop-rock Latin American songwriter alive. “Hasta la Raíz” is her latest album’s title track. It is also one of the most personal and deeply affecting songs she has ever written. To the non-Spanish speakers, I promise finding a translation to her lyrics will be worth the effort and time.
TERRI WALKER – “Skin I’m In” – as described by tess michaelson
I would say a very sunny song, something you would want to bounce down the sidewalk to or drive a yellow car with the top down. Listening to it reminds me of the scene in 500 Days of Summer when our little lover is strutting downtown talking to the blue birds, dancing with the people. The people! Hello neighbor!
REGINA SPEKTOR – “The Calculation” – as described by shannon daniels
It’s classic Spektor: a piano-heavy pop melody paired with quirky lyrics that turn real questions into fantasy. If it were possible to calculate the perfect love, what would it look like? Is what she feels in fact unnameable? And do we (literally) look inside ourselves to figure this out? Uncertainty never sounded so sweet. It’s impossible not to add a little spring to your step when you listen to it.
BLOOD ORANGE – “Best to You” – as described by jazzmin williams
This track is from Blood Orange’s latest pop/r&b album Freetown Sound. Lyrically, the song’s theme centers on the identity loss that often occurs during a toxic relationship. The majority of the vocals are from New York-based artist Empress Of. Her voice is bright and vibrant, and the percussion is quick and strong. So despite the dark lyrics, the listener takes away a sense of hope and optimism.
R. KELLY (feat. USHER) – “Same Girl” – as described by phill giliver
Pop music gets a bad wrap. “It’s too simplistic” people say. “1-4-5 chord progressions aren’t real music.” Guess what, cynics: all of these criticisms melt away when you listen to the magnum opus that is “Same Girl” by R. Kelly and Usher. Does it have a musical sketch prelude in the beginning YES IT DOES. Is the music video a rollercoaster of emotion YOU BET YOUR BUTT IT IS. iTunes is telling me I’ve listen to this song 978 times, and that isn’t even counting the number of plays on my Zune.
TEGAN AND SARA – “Stop Desire” — as described by som-mai nguyen
A making-poor-choices song, but a few degrees of separation away from actual mischief: it feels more like a Girls’ Night In, reminiscing about said choices — pruning the hookup retelling down to just Fun, not Fun + Feelings. Onesies. White wine. Conspiratorial giggling. All the trappings of a Taylor-Swift-in-hiding Instagramissive.
JON BELLION – “Maybe IDK” – as described by tish johnston
So maybe you don’t know how to get though this week, or how to write that paper, and maybe that’s okay. In fact, it is definitely okay.
RIHANNA – “Consideration” – as described by angelica jopling
Feeling the crash of post-midterm, pre-thanksgiving illness start to wave over you, you hear a jagged yet familiar opening beat. As you crank up the volume, your lips naturally mouth their way through the first 57 seconds with you, unaware you even knew all the lyrics. You then find that your body has a similar reaction, shoulders twisting to the disjointed bass and eyes squeezed shut as you silently belt ‘I can’t get no peace of mind’. Revisit the song that you couldn’t get out of your head all summer and shake off those coughing, headachy midterm blues.
LADY GAGA – “Paparazzi” – as described by sophia laurenzi
The Fame and The Fame Monster are iconic pop albums that began an era of Lady Gaga queendom that, frankly, will never end because she’s so committed to her art and new endeavors. A duet album with Tony, 1950s pop icon still thriving in his 90s? The masterpiece that is the Telephone video with partner in crime Beyonce and references to Thelma and Louis and Kill Bill? The stripped down, portrait of family life and death album that is Joanne? What can’t she do. “Paparazzi” is Gaga in her original dance pop, artsy concept video prime. Gaga, I’ll follow you until you love me.
SOLANGE – “Would’ve Been the One” – as described by nikki tran
I still can’t fathom that Solange came to campus a few weeks ago. Now, the closest I’ll ever get to her is having her running through my ears. Besides playing A Seat At The Table on repeat, this playful, early Solo track has been re-appearing on my queue. So it’s not technically a pop song, but there’s something cheeky to it–a dash of sass.
SIA – “Reaper” – as described by anthony milki
Sia is behind everything, and sometimes we’re lucky enough that the superstars she fattens off her pop sensibilities have a lapse in judgement and pass up on something brilliant – but then she gets to sing it, and it’s often even more exhilarating that way.
BELINDA CARLISLE – “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” – as described by alejandra salazar
Shout out to 2016’s best hour of television: Black Mirror’s “San Junipero” episode, a sublime homage to youth, love, extensive music budgets (Charlie Booker has some deeeeeep pockets), VR tech, and the synthy bubblegum perfection of 80s pop.
BRITNEY SPEARS – “Piece Of Me” – as described by katie nesser
I was an extremely sheltered child, to the point where in kindergarten, when I saw my friend’s Britney Spears lunchbox, I asked if this Britney girl went to our school. I like to think I’ve make up for lost time, and am now a Blackout-era Britney devotee. Made in her darkest moment, the singles from this album have a sort of eerie, chaotic undercurrent I find massively compelling. Side note: this song is basically all one note, so it’s perfect for karaoke.
Image from here.