With last year’s release of Blonde, listeners found a liberated Frank Ocean flaunting his freedom from the constraints and demands of his record label, Def Jam. Under Def Jam’s supervision, Ocean’s openly bisexual status would only be hinted at on Channel Orange‘s “Thinkin’ of You” and a coming out letter on his Tumblr account. While writing Blonde, Ocean sought inspiration from his own turbulent past, with songs such as “Self Control,” and “Good Guy” allowing for a deeper self-expression of his bisexuality.
On his 2017 single, “Chanel,” Ocean continues to fuel the public’s perception of him as an ambassador for LGBTQ artistry within the relatively hostile domain of R&B and Hip-Hop. Ocean opens with the assertive declaration:”My guy pretty like a girl and he got fight stories to tell/ I see both sides like Chanel, I see on both sides like Chanel.” Later on, Ocean details an intimate encounter with another man, whose “straight-acting” persona soon gives way to a malleable, “dirty plastic” sense of identity. Both encounters highlight the dichotomies that have become a motif throughout Ocean’s catalog; the allure of “Chanel” relies on such observations concerning the binaries inherent in his “post-breakout” experience: sexuality, gender norms, and status.
The musical arrangement of “Chanel” recalls the hazy, ambiguous production of Blonde, with programmed drums setting the pace for the slow piano progression, and vague synth leads that loop throughout the song. The subtle instrumentals, however, bow to Ocean’s rapping, which holds most of the song’s conflict and appeal. With its social commentary and avant-garde production, “Chanel” reflects the newfound artistic freedom of the
With its social commentary and avant-garde production, “Chanel” reflects the newfound artistic freedom of the Blonde sessions; Ocean’s empathetic confessionalism, however, hasn’t been lost in the experimentation, making for another raw hit that we’ve come to expect from him.
2014 seemed more concerned with Nick Jonas’s body than with the pop-singer’s actual career. After releasing 2010’s surprisingly mature debut with “The Administration” (his back-up band made up of Prince’s New Power Generation, a.k.a. something meant to rival Selena Gomez’s “The Scene”), Nick took on Broadway in “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” before returning to the studio. Free of the Administration (and the Elvis Costello comparisons) and the stage-make up, Nick has returned to the pop scene with a slew of singles from his forthcoming album.
Barely reaching the Top 40, Jonas’s second single, “Jealous delivers the most out of these buzz singles with pop hooks a la white-boy-Billy Ocean/Lionel Ritchie. The song is a typical 22-year old boy–er, man’s (I mean, c’mon. Have you seen those pictures yet!?) attempt at “puffing his chest” for that night’s girl (Olivia Culpo?). Falsetto-ridden, current, and simply catchy, “Jealous” does its job well as 3-minutes of radio airtime filler.
Nick’s underestimated voice, however, sounds confined on his return to the studio after hearing his recordings from Succeed. True, the demands of Broadway/theatre singing aren’t always appreciated by the Top 40. The strong tone, control, and pacing found in Broadway performers, however, would serve any singer well. Jonas (whose impressive performance as J. Pierrepont Finch took many off-guard) could learn a lot from Idina Menzel. Perhaps the most overplayed song of the year, “Let It Go” nevertheless shows a seasoned Broadway singer able to bring her expertise to the Top 40.
Don’t get me wrong. For an ex-boy band member, Nick is in a good place with “Jealous.” — in other words, he’s everything Jesse McCartney wasn’t when he was crooning 2004’s “Beautiful Soul.”
“Buzz single” is an adequate term for iTunes Festival opener, MNEK’s latest single, “Every Little Word.” Within the first seconds of the intro, the listener is immersed within a sound scape of hiccuping synths and bleeping samples, before the British vocalist asks the very question you weren’t expecting: “Do you f*ck to this shit?” MNEK’s penchants for blending electronic and R&B/mild Hip-Hop elements, and curt sexuality are immediately reminiscent of Prince’s New Revolution Days and early 90’s R&B groups.
Besides a provocative refrain, however, “Every Little Word” lyrics lack any of Prince’s ingenuity; MNEK’s vocals ultimately prove to be the track’s saving grace. MNEK’s smooth singing conjures images of an underground Ne-Yo, opting for richer vocals and a grittier presence than the latter’s radio-friendly career. Furthermore, MNEK’s vocals weave seamlessly into electronic music, a characteristic reinforced by the singer’s previous features on club tracks from Gorgon City and Rudimental. Between MNEK’s intuitive command of electronic music, retro high-top hair, and sensual vocals, “Every Little Word,” may be the most refreshing treat offered so far at this year’s iTunes Festival.
After witnessing Miley Cyrus’ intense bout of media spectatorship this past year (centered primarily on a fickle engagement to Liam Hemsworth), one might hope that the Disney alumnus would take the opportunity to defend her openly criticized affairs in her much anticipated summer release.
“We Can’t Stop,” however, not only fails to invoke the personal but also reinforces the same philosophy that jeopardized her career with “Can’t Be Tamed”: conformity. Lines such as “To my homegirls here with the big butts/Shaking it like we at a strip club” and the rampant Red Solo cups littering the single cover capitalize on college party-scene consumers. Despite assertions of a maturing musical direction, “We Can’t Stop” shows Cyrus resorting to targeting the now-collegiate generation that first brought her fame in her Hannah Montana days.
Aligned with the electronic minimalist leanings of her previous album’s cuts, “We Can’t Stop” also offers flashes of the hip-hop promised in Cyrus’ recent CNN interview. Released a year after her country Youtube performances entitled Backyard Sessions, “We Can’t Stop” shows Cyrus swapping intimate performances for generic productions meant to cater to —rather than move— an already loyal fan base.
As the followup to 2008’s folksy Kingdom Underground, Matt Duke’s One Day Die shows the promising musician’s ventures into harder, more experimental rock. In songs like “Kangaroo Court”, a speedy rocker with distorted vocals akin to Lindsey Buckingham’s solo work, and the Eagles-esque “Shangri-La”, Duke’s writing promises more texture while still showcasing his talent for irresistible hooks. Duke’s religious undertones are still in full force on the single “Needle & Thread”, and the eerie, small-town commentary “M.L.T.” As a comfortable blend of familiar and radical, One Day Die solidifies Matt Duke as contender for King of The Underground.