Track-by-track album reviews
January 9, 2020
Walking a ‘Fine Line’
Harry Styles releases new, personal album
Last Friday at 11 p.m., former One Direction member Harry Styles dropped his sophomore album “Fine Line.” I took it upon myself as a fan to stay up all night, listen to the entire album and do a track-by-track review. Of course I was going to take up the opportunity to write my unfiltered opinions about the music. This fresh sound and era of music for Styles is like no other. With each track having its own style, “Fine Line” is what one might call a musical masterpiece, but does Styles get too lost in the music and lose sight of the overall message he’s trying to convey with his lyrics?
Unpacking each song one by one helped me reach an overall conclusion and come to terms with the fact that this might be his best (and worst) album yet.
Track no. 1: Golden
A soft and airy bop is the way to go with opening tracks. “Golden” manages to capture your attention within the first few seconds with catchy harmonies and a gentle beat that will make you tap your foot and bob your head. Although the music makes ears perk up, the message isn’t really one to boast about. Generic phrases and a repetitive chorus left me unsatisfied in terms lyrics. I know Styles has much more in him, with plenty of emotion to explain. Perhaps he was just trying to start his audience off on a basic, happy note before diving into much deeper topics.
Track no. 2: Watermelon Sugar
As Styles’ second single, this track is one to remember. The song starts with an electric guitar, and it soon introduces a soft beat. By the second chorus, though, listeners are caught by surprise when several brass instruments make an appearance. This adds a bit of a ‘70s vibe to the song, making it one that could age well with time and remain a hit years from now. “Watermelon Sugar” also has an odd metaphor (Styles sings about his lover giving him a “watermelon sugar high”) which makes it hard to dig for the deeper meaning. I guess every album needs that one song that’s there solely for dancing purposes.
Track no. 3: Adore You
This track was also a single, which was a power move for Styles, considering it sounds very similar to “Watermelon Sugar.” Almost too similar to enjoy it. The fact that they’re also right next to each other makes for a weird listening experience (that is, if you’re listening to the album in order). On a good note, though, this song is the first on the album to have deeper lyrics that connect him with his fans. The airy harmonies that rattle your soul in the chorus and the well-produced guitar riffs that play after the bridge are some of the most satisfying things this track has to offer.
Track no. 4: Lights Up
After Styles released this eccentric track as his lead single, nobody knew what to do with their lives. It was unlike any of his previous songs. It’s one of those tracks that leaves listeners on edge, waiting for more. It perfectly sets up the tone for the album and overall gives fans an insight to Styles’ more mature writing style. The lyrics will resonate with you and make your heart warm. Perfect for driving the roads at night, “Lights Up” features spine-chilling melodies and harmonies that will make you eager to hear what’s to come.
Track no. 5: Cherry
Contrary to how the instrumental may sound, this track is actually one of the sadder ones on the album. Styles writes about an ex and the longing he feels for them while including bits of lyrics that could almost make this song a love letter, rather than an “I’m Sad” ballad. The song never really picks up, though, leaving listeners at the same level of emotion the entire time, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The word “cherry” is ironically never mentioned in any of the lyrics, making it one of those songs that leaves fans to debunk the deeper meaning. Although I haven’t quite figured it out myself, I will say this song is one of my favorites. From the relaxing acoustic guitar to the romantic French spoken at the end, “Cherry” is definitely a song to get your in your feels.
Track no. 6: Falling
Speaking of feels, this piano ballad crosses a line in terms of sadness. “Falling” is that one sad song I never knew I needed until I heard it. The instrumentals are the last thing you are paying attention to when listening to this song because Styles pulls your attention toward the melancholy lyrics. A really unique thing I noticed is that the term “falling” is used in two different ways. Almost like the song is split into two separate parts of a story: one where he is falling and spiraling out of control and the other where he is falling for someone he can’t have once again. Beware, it can make feelings you didn’t realize you had resurface and make you miss your significant other even if you don’t have one.
Track no. 7: To Be So Lonely
This upbeat track, which has quite a different vibe compared to the song it follows, starts with a unique acoustic guitar riff that reminds me of something I’d hear getting off a cruise ship in Mexico. In terms of music, it’s very laid back, which is nice to hear after listening to several tracks before it that leave you shook to the core with their in-your-face instrumentals. This is another one of my favorites because although the lyrics might not be to most moving, the vocals and harmonies tie it all together and add an extra flare. Styles could’ve easily made this a boring track, one that fans just skip over, but instead delivered a refreshing tune that keeps listeners dancing along.
Track no. 8: She
After hearing the first seven tracks on this album, “She” is not what I was expecting. This is the best example of how Styles managed to give each song their own individual story and feeling through mature lyrics and a soul-hitting sound. The song is centered around a man who goes through his daily life while day-dreaming of “she,” though it is unclear to listeners exactly who or what “she” is. Lyrical interpretation is one of the best qualities this track features, and a track that lets you just sit back and enjoy the music is the type of song I personally vibe with. This six minute rock track takes on an entire new sound that shows just how creative artists are these days. I mean, literally the last two minutes of the song is a guitar solo that builds up emotion and takes the listener on a journey with the writers and musicians. Sadly, I found it very similar to a few of the tracks off his previous album, making it one that I may enjoy, but don’t prefer.
Track no. 9: Sunflower, Vol. 6
Taking a turn toward the happier side of the album, “Sunflower, Vol. 6” is a song that takes the listener’s mind off anything important and lets them vibe with the music and harmonies. It contains so much personality compared to other songs that it almost feels like the most intimate track. Fans get a taste of Styles’ goofy aura through his light-hearted lyrics and funky sound effects. It’s the type of song that makes you want to go for a drive along the beach with friends and just bask in the sun. Not to mention it’s probably the most fun and unique song ever released by Styles and one that will forever have me bopping along.
Track no. 10: Canyon Moon
Going back to acoustic roots, this upbeat track features a classic indie-pop vibe with lyrics that are easy to sing along to. It may be repetitive, which takes away from any deeper meaning, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fan favorite. The album features many harmonies, but “Canyon Moon” takes the cake. It’s boppy chorus has beautiful vocals that can make anyone smile. Yes, like I said above repetition in songs can get boring, but when Styles repeats the line “I’m going home” in such a happy and inspirational way, you can’t help but get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.
Track no. 11: Treat People With Kindness
The title of this song has been a slogan Styles’ used for almost the entirety of his solo career, so I was very excited to hear what this song had in store. First, I was surprised to hear that the track doesn’t even start with Styles singing, but rather the angelic voices of his back-up vocalists and his pianists repeating the well-known phrase in a pretty melody. This song is eclectic, to say the least, and I didn’t like it at first. It’s one of those tunes that takes a while to get used to, but once it grows on you, you find yourself jamming and clapping along while singing the uplifting lyrics. Not to mention how refreshing it is to hear a few female voices here and there.
Track no. 12: Fine Line
In terms of a closing track, Styles absolutely nailed wrapping the album together using this song. It starts out slow, with an echoy effect of his voice transporting you into a vulnerable headspace. Once the first chorus hits and a strong piano is added alongside soft trumpets, chills begin to rise. As the song builds, more harmonies and instruments are added, but thankfully never overload the heavenly mood. You almost don’t even need music in this track, for Styles’ vocals convey so much emotion themselves. By the time a drumline is introduced, it’s almost obvious to tell that emotions are about to hit full force. In the end, the song explodes with a variety of instruments, vocals and harmonies that leave you shocked in your seat. This is, in my opinion, THE best song off of this album, so it makes total sense that it is also the title track. Ending not with the line “we’ll be alright” leaves listeners shook to their core and rung with an overwhelming amount of emotion.
I was left sitting on my bed in tears. Who could blame me? “Fine Line” takes fans on an emotional journey throughout this timeline of an album and wraps it all up with a beautiful and heart-felt bow at the end, giving listeners an experience like no other. Despite the annoying repetition, making this album not as lyrically impressive as I would’ve thought, the music made up for it.
Styles incorporated a new and refreshing sound with musical elements I never expected to hear from him. I can tell just by listening it must be a very fun album to play and perform live, for the amount of creativity that went into it adds a little extra spunk and personality to the vibe. Of course, an album wouldn’t be complete without its basic dance bops, so I applaud Styles and his band for managing to make it still have that extra pizazz without straying too far from the album’s overall message.
BTS returns with a heart-stopping album
I’m sure you’ve heard of BTS and their massive fanbase known as ARMY, watched them on TV performing for award shows, but you don’t really know BTS until you’ve listened to their music. BTS released their fourth full-length studio album last Friday, “MAP OF THE SOUL: 7.” This album continues from their previous mini-album “MAP OF THE SOUL: PERSONA”, which uncovered the path of joyous discovery one travels to find out who they are. While “MOTS: PERSONA” is a lighter collection of songs, “MOTS: 7” uncovers the path of dark shadows that come with oneself as they try to find their individuality. BTS has never disappointed me and they sure didn’t start now with this album of multi-genre records that retell their journey of seven years as seven members.
Track 1: Intro: Persona
The instrumental of this track is unique and definitely stays true to RM’s sound. RM, or Kim Namjoon, the leader of BTS and one of three main rappers, begins this album with a true solo prologue about questioning one’s purpose, who one is supposed to be and what self is the truth. The underground, garage-band sound mixes well with his message by keeping it personal and raw. The rawness encompasses the entire meaning behind this album: the darkness of growth and discovery.
Track 2: Boy With Luv (feat. Halsey)
As the worldwide single from their mini-album, ‘Boy With Luv’ brings a lightness to the album that completes it. Although the sole purpose holds one of shadows, questions, doubts and failure, this track confirms that while the journey to finding one’s self is treacherous there is still happiness, companionship and love.
Track 3: Make It Right
This song comes off of their mini-album, this song remains timeless. With a funky-pop beat, this song brings a message of making things right between lovers in the depths of endless journey and struggles. It’s a love song that’s uplifting and although it’s not my go-to track, it always happens to make things right when everything feels wrong.
Track 4: Jamais Vu
This lyrical masterpiece and instrumental beauty flow gloriously from beginning to end, just like my tears when I listen to it. This song is sung by a subunit with vocalists Jeon Jungkook, Kim Seokjin and rapper J-Hope also known as Jung Hoseok. Jamais Vu means to momentarily forget something familiar in which they sing about how one’s shadows begin to alter their relationship with their lover. It’s heartfelt and healing because they sing that they will never stop running on their path despite the shadows and rocky love.
Track 5: Dionysus
“Dionysus” drastically juxtapositions its former track. This drum-based, trap, hip-hop record jumps into your bones and brings forth confidence, creating a feeling of absolute power within oneself. Dionysus is a Greek god who ravishes his followers by freeing them from social constraints, which coincides directly with BTS’ message of self-love and acceptance. It’s a toast to being your true self without apology.
Track 6: Interlude Shadow
Rapper SUGA, also known as Min Yoongi, wrote and sang this track. It’s a transition from the mini-album tracks into the new tracks solely belonging to this release. I have cried endlessly to this song. In the beginning, RM was exhilarated about his journey, but SUGA contradicts that energy with a melancholy begging. He is where he is supposed to be and wanted to be, but it isn’t happiness he has found. He sings about his shadows following him and drowning him in loneliness, fear and his two personas – SUGA and Yoongi.
Track 7: Black Swan
This was the lead single from the album. “Black Swan” utilizes beautiful overlapping vocals, strings accompanied by electric beats and a melancholy overlay of airy harmonies. It contrasts with their previous records, which encourage self-expression. Instead, they ask what they’re to do. They plead for guidance and they beg to not lose their love, muse, passion and dedication for music. “Black Swan” expresses how more people are hearing of them but not hearing them.
Track 8: Filter
One of the main vocalists, Park Jimin, comes onto the album with this solo track. The instrumental has a heavy staccato acoustic guitar and Hispanic-esque sound. Despite the seemingly happy sound, the lyrics juxtapose its music by explaining Jimin as a filter. You can pick and choose what you want to see of him, which persona you want from him, and he will conform. The sound mixed with the lyrics creates a sense of gritty frustration toward the unrealistic entertainment standards.
Track 9: My Time
This track is sung by Jeon Jungkook and is gorgeously produced. Jungkook recounts his emotions from a K-Pop trainee to a member of BTS to now seven years later. Although he’s had hardships and was not able to grow up ‘normally’ due to his idol title, he grew up with BTS and ensures that their journey together is forever.
Track 10: Louder than bombs
This track is very special to me and is ultimately one of my favorite BTS songs. The dark trap, low vocals, light harmonies and rough rap brings forth a powerful track about the love and support from BTS to ARMY’s. Addressed to ARMY, the song describes how despite being consistently drowned by the horrors of society and destruction of the world, BTS’ music and their bond with fans is and always will be stronger than all the background noise.
Track 11: ON
This song dropped as a single the day the album was released and the hip-hop funk beat immediately calls for dancing. It’s a track about the power within oneself and expresses no matter what tries to kill them, they will never succumb and will welcome the pain (hence the repeated lyric “bring the pain on”) because they will continue to conquer without hesitation. The bridge is sung by Jungkook and is a beautiful juxtaposition of soft, airy head voice compared to the rest of the track. Overall, it’s a stunningly unique, upbeat track but nevertheless has meaningful lyrics.
Track 12: UGH!
This cypher is a subunit between the rap line consisting of J-Hope, RM and SUGA. “UGH!” is angry, intense, beat-heavy and has sound effects that completely enrapture the song’s message about hate comments. BTS may be flooded with love, but they also drown in hate. The rappers are notorious for classically clapping back through their music and this song conveys their journey of love and hate from society.
Track 13: 00:00 (Zero O’Clock)
The vocal line’s subunit songs never fail to make me emotional. Kim Taehyung/V, Jimin, Jin and Jungkook speak directly to ARMY. Accompanied by guitar, drums and electronic beats, the vocal line sings about how although you may be going through a rough time or having a bad day, it will end and restart at 00:00. They never fail to make me feel loved and they make me believe that “I’m gonna be happy.”
Track 14: Inner Child
Taehyung’s solo track of “MOTS:7” refers to his reflections of his past self going through hardships. His journey has been ridden by struggles and his younger self is “gon’ change” as he grows and discovers happiness. BTS, especially Taehyung because he’s my bias, never fails to make me feel enlightened and joyous. This song brings a hopeful light that shines upon one on their journey of self-discovery.
Track 15: Friends
“Friends” retells and describes the blooming friendship between vocalist Taehyung and Jimin. The song shows a perspective about the journey to discover who one’s soul is by highlighting the friendly soulmates we make that help us through. The instrumental is dreamy and light and Taehyung’s deep baritone with Jimin’s airy head voice contrast gorgeously.
Track 16: Moon
Track 16 of “MOTS:7” is sung by Jin and is an honest appreciation song to ARMY. He personifies the moon to be himself and ARMY to be the plants he orbits around. His voice is unique and extraordinary in vocal range which makes this track so pleasing to listen to. This song really touches me and truly communicates how important we are to BTS and them to us.
Track 17: Respect
This subunit song between Namjoon and Yoongi brings a 90’s hip-hop beat to the album’s already genre-diverse tracklist. Respect in Korea is very important and I like how that influences this song. They question what respect really is and reflect on the disrespect we see emerging among society. It’s an adorable song between them and shows their playfully energized friendship.
Track 18: We are Bulletproof: the Eternal
BTS has two parts to the song “We are Bulletproof” and track name infers this is the last installment. BTS stands for Bangtan Sonyeondan, which roughly translates to Bulletproof Boy Scouts. The entire group sings about how it was just the seven of them but now they have ARMY and together we are eternal. Our bond is forever and it’s bulletproof. Although they have been afraid to fly or been too overwhelmed by hatred or overcome by hardships, they have reached “heaven” through ARMY. They have us as we have them. Our love is forever. Our love is bulletproof. Our love sings to BTS as they sing to us. We are complete only with each other.
Track 19: Outro: Ego
This ending track is a solo rap by Hoseok. His rap style is a coalition of styles completely unique to him and this song really closes this album out thoroughly and completely. J-Hope raps about his overcoming thoughts about flying and living as an idol in the spotlight. It is the epilogue to their shadows but never to their journey. They will continue to grow and hold tight their pasts. We all have an ego and yours will grow and flourish as you become yourself – as you accept and find your soul.
Overall, this album leaves me speechless despite my commentary. BTS means the world to me. They have saved my life and I am eternally in love with their music, passion, dedication and character. They sing about real issues and they never fail to bring happiness and joy to my life, even when my own shadows distract my path to finding my soul. When I can’t read my map in the pitch dark, they guide me back home to the light. Forever, “We are Bulletproof”.
A ‘Lover’ like no other
Taylor Swift comes back with refreshing new album
This past Friday, Taylor Swift released her seventh album, “Lover”, a romantic and mystical collection of songs about relationships, family and self-love. As a die hard Taylor fan, I made sure I stayed up till midnight on Thursday to be one of the first people to hear the album. While on the phone with a friend, we both listened to the 18-track album, without stopping or falling asleep, and dove head first into the meaning behind every word.
Here’s the rundown of every song from start to finish and the captivating messages behind them.
Track 1: I Forgot That You Existed
As an opening track, this song perfectly captures the new sound Taylor is going for with an upbeat and pop-driven chorus, along with classic song-writing techniques that effortlessly describe a past relationship/friendship that didn’t seem to end well. The song features a giggles and vocal inflections that add a flare of personality, which can be hard to find in pop songs nowadays. Considering it was the first song I heard, not including past singles that were dropped before the albums release, I wasn’t surprised that I became fully intrigued and was left hopeful to what I was going to hear next.
Track 2: Cruel Summer
In terms of pop music, Taylor slays the game yet again with this track. Boppy verses with a synthy beat builds into smooth and chirpy chorus that contains a catchy tune. After hearing the first track and then immediately turning over to this one, I was a little taken aback with the busy and overcrowded music. In the end, though, it definitely grew on me. “Cruel Summer” is the type of song you’d play while driving along the west coast with friends during spring break. Not necessarily a party song, but rather something that would make even shy people sing along to.
Track 3: Lover
This was the third single Swift released just a week before her album dropped. Not only is it the title track, but it’s also a song that perfectly depicts just how much the theme of love is present in this album. It’s the song my parents listen to the most on repeat, and it’s one I’m sure couples wouldn’t mind dancing to at their weddings. The echoey effect on her voice makes it feel as if she is singing to an empty arena and leaves me with chills, despite having heard it a million times. “Lover” is definitely one of THE best love songs I think Taylor has ever written, and continues to make me smile everytime it plays.
Track 4: The Man
The experimental synth-driven sound that was executed in Taylor’s last album, “reputation” is brought back yet again, this time with an even stronger message. Personally, I didn’t enjoy the music of this track as much as I did the others, but the lyrics and underlying connotation makes up for it. She sings about gender equality in the music industry and how her life as a pop star might’ve ended a lot differently if she were to be a man rather than a woman. The bridge is probably this song’s best feature, consisting of a catchy tune and some lyrics that will make your jaw drop.
Track 5: The Archer
Swift released this song a few weeks before the album came out not as a single, but rather as a gift to her fans. It’s common for her to include some of her most passionate and emotional songs as track 5 in her albums, and after her two upbeat singles were released, Taylor decided she wanted to present this song as well to show the “other side of the album”. This song is a personal dive into relationship anxiety and fears about growing up and failing the people she loves. An airy beat and synth piano that continuously plays in the background leaves listeners refreshed, while also managing to make a few tears drop every now and then.
Track 6: I Think He Knows
Similarly to “I Forgot That You Existed”, this song contains an upbeat and pop sound that can make anyone start dancing in their seat and vocal inflections that add unique personality. It’s also one of the few songs on the album that comes across as mature, in the sense that Taylor sings about making someone fall in love with her while also falling herself. She takes listeners through the feelings you get when a relationship is full of fun and laughter. One of the features I enjoyed the most was the snaps that play on beat. Surely it could make you snap along too and turn any bad mood into a good one.
Track 7: Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince
This song is one of my personal favorites off the album, with a mysterious vibe and mystical chord progression. The entire song is written as one giant metaphor, comparing her fears about a relationship to a highschool experience. One of the most interesting elements in this song was pointed out to me by my friend, which is the samples of cheerleaders screaming the words “go”, “fight” and “win” during the bridge and ending chorus. Swift writes a message around those words, which just adds to the metaphorical highschool football game she is playing. Along with the ominous feeling listeners get when first hearing the music, the spine-chilling message Taylor manages to write also leaves a substantial impact.
Track 8: Paper Rings
The first verse of things song IMMEDIATELY pulls listeners in with a distorted effect on Swift’s vocals and deep bass that give it almost a retro vibe. That shifts into a more fairytale feeling when the chorus rolls around. This is one of the best tracks on here, becoming the ultimate romance song for anybody who feels head-over-heels in love with their significant other. She sings about being so infatuated with someone that she’d “marry them with paper rings,” which is one of the cutest lyrics I’ve ever heard. It’s the type of song that can make someone feel in love even if they aren’t even in a relationship. 10/10 recommend. Would listen again.
Track 9: Cornelia Street
At first, this song seemed like it was going to be on the sadder side of love, but I quickly realized that’s not at all what Swift had in mind when producing this track. This 5-minute long romantic, soft pop ballad goes in detail about the ups and downs experienced through a long-term relationship and how in the end, it all ends well. By the time the second verse hits, she’s already pulled you in with loving lyrics that makes it feel as if you’re dancing under the stars with your soulmate. In fact, this is one of the songs Taylor said she was most excited for people to hear when doing interviews before the albums release, and now I can totally understand why.
Track 10: Death By A Thousand Cuts
At first glance, the title made me think this was going to be a darker and more fierce song with back-stabbing messages, but just like “Cornelia Street”, I was surprised. The song starts with layered angelic harmonies, which were nothing like I was expecting. Not only that, but the chorus of this remenisant track has a heavenly piano sample and an electric guitar riff that takes me back to early 2000’s music. Taylor shows off her song-writing skills yet again by comparing the heartbreak of missing a partner to the feeling of “death by a thousand cuts”, a metaphor that highlights just how much pain she feels. I mean, distance is said to make the heart grow stronger, right?
Track 11: London Boy
The attention of a listener is captured by two men with british accents speaking in the first 7 seconds of this track. No one knows exactly WHO the men speaking are, but Taylor doesn’t let you question that for long because she almost immediately comes in with a bass beat and killer vocals. This song is basically a 3-minute long, upbeat poem dedicated to her boasting about how in love she is with her “London boy”. It’s also a song that features more of Taylor’s giggly personality that leaves her audience smiling and fans dancing.
Track 12: Soon You’ll Get Better (feat. Dixie Chicks)
After hearing Taylor say in an interview that she can’t sing this song live yet because it still makes her too emotional, I wasn’t really looking forward to listening to it. Not that I thought it was going to be a bad song, but rather a song that was probably going to probably make me cry. In this acoustic, soft-spoken ballad, Taylor sings about the emotions and experiences she dealt with during her mom’s long battle with cancer. She is joined by the Dixie Chicks to make for a beautifully harmonized chorus that leaves chills. The lyrics of this song is probably what it makes it the saddest track on this album, so if you listen to it pay close attention. And make sure you have some tissues nearby.
Track 13: False God
After getting through the emotional frenzy the last song throws you in, Swift awards you with a mature and intimate track led by a steady bass and husky saxophone. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Taylor Swift song with a saxophone in it, so it was refreshing and something I’d definitely want to hear again in the future. As another favorite of mine, “False God” is basically a song in which Taylor reminds herself and her fans that she’s not a little girl anymore and has experienced such strong feelings toward someone that she felt the need to compare it to religion. Afterall, she is the queen of metaphors in her songwriting, as we’ve witnessed earlier in the album.
Track 14: You Need To Calm Down
This was Taylor’s second single, so I listened to it beforehand instead of with the rest of the album. It has a boppy beat that is reminiscent of the 70’s and gives off a lot of hippie vibes. As most of us already know, this track is basically a massive gay anthem and a song people can sing to when they’re feeling down. It’s a song that I never want to skip whenever it comes on shuffle, or one that makes me want to change the station whenever it comes on the radio. Overall, it might forever be a classic Taylor Swift bop.
Track 15: Afterglow
A deep base starts off this track as Taylor’s romantic vocals intertwine with the beat and automatically makes a fan want to listen more. This might be the most underrated love song on this album, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one you don’t want to pay attention to. She sings in a pleading tone to her lover not to leave her and to stay despite their flaws. Considering it’s closer to the end, this track is a great example of the character development Taylor as an artist experiences throughout the album. It’s a bit on the longer side, but always seems to end too soon, with the mystical instrumentals drawing out time and making you wish you could listen to it for hours on end.
Track 16: ME! (feat. Brendon Urie of Panic! At the Disco)
As the first track to be released as a single, it was supposed to convey the sound Taylor was shriving for in this new era. I was a little disappointed with it when I heard it for the first time, but eventually it grew on me. Overall, it’s just a song to get people dancing and singing along, and every album needs one of those! Was it overproduced? Slightly, but I still don’t think the album would’ve felt complete without it.
Track 17: Nice To Have A Friend
Playing the highschool metaphor again, Swift writes this song in a unique pattern that eloquently tells the love story of two strangers throughout their childhood. Comparing it to the rest of the album, this song has a one-of-a-kind sound she’s never really experimented with, showing just how much her songwriting has evolved and how versatile she can be with her music. This song also has a fairytale feel to it, similar to “Paper Rings”, but with production like no other. It’s definitely one of my top three favorites.
Track 18: Daylight
Finally, we’ve reached the end of the album with this daydreamy closing song in which Swift sings about putting her past behind her and looking toward the future. It has a similar vibe to “Cornelia Street”, with more acoustic based sounds and a bigger focus on lyrics. It’s the perfect way to close an album, I think, with Swift managing to almost reinvent her songwriting in a way that’s never been done before. “Daylight” serves as the only song on the album anybody and everybody can take something away from. Revisiting her past and the lessons she’s learned, Swift leaves her listeners with a small, spoken letter in the last minute of the song, speaking out on things like love and remembrance.
If you were to take the first line she sings at the beginning of this album and compare it to the last line she says at the end, you would be able to fully comprehend the growth Taylor Swift has experienced as a singer-songwriter. This album goes through and manages to tell a complete story she’s experienced as a growing adult who lives in the spotlight, is known for her reputation and is totally and completely in love.
Not as ‘Rare’ as you’d think
After an extended absence from the music world, well known pop artist Selena Gomez dropped her latest album, “Rare” Jan. 10. Her fourth album encompasses her break from music, coming to terms with herself and the importance of loving yourself. The album echoes most of her earlier music in terms of sound, but her lyrics and the emotions that drove her to write have evolved and she now presents, like any artist who’s grown from being a teenager to adulthood, a more personal project. However, the project is overshadowed by her over-repetitive music that individually is noticeable, but when listening to the album as a whole makes the process more grueling than enjoyable. Although Gomez managed to bare her soul on this album and her content has matured, her music hasn’t.
While I may not be a die-hard Selena Gomez fan, any Gen Z kid has grown up listening to her music and so naturally I was excited to see where she would go with this newest album and to listen to every song in depth.
Track 1: Rare
This first track is an upbeat song that encompasses the meaning behind Gomez’s whole album and dives into her budding relationship with self-love. The track follows along with girl power icons Arianna Grande and Taylor Swift with it’s upbeat, dance feel to it and self-proclaimed “rareness.”
Track 2: Dance Again
“Dance Again” is just how it sounds. It’s a song that’s meant to be danced to, with the heavy beat of a club dance song that strongly echoes Gomez’s earlier music, especially songs in her previous album “Stars Dance.” The track reflects the artist’s newfound self-love in a different way than the first song due to its repetitiveness, and its seemingly freeing ode to dance, which Gomez has repeatedly said in interviews she’s missed while being offstage.
Track 3: Look At Her Now
A personal favorite of mine, this track addresses a common theme for the album: discovering the importance of loving yourself and transcending after having your heart broken. While the lyrics start slow, laying out a storyline for the listener, the chorus takes on the sound of the previous track “Dance Again,” and I found myself tapping my feet in my chair as I listened to it. When Gomez sings in her second verse, “what a thing to be human,” it hit me how invested she is in this album and its story.
Track 4: Loose You To Love Me
To be honest, I cried the first time I heard this song, which was released before the album back in October and is what drove me to anticipate the whole album. “Loose You To Love Me” is a demonstration of Gomez’s talent at its height and is my favorite song on the album. It’s profound and personal, written when the artist was in a rough place she tells the media. The lyrics are incredibly clever. They perfectly describe what it means to let someone go, even when you love them, because, like she sings in every song, loving yourself is more important.
Track 5: Ring
In sharp contrast with the track before it, this song has a very catchy, playful tune and represents a different side of Gomez. The song echoes the kind of music she’s released in the past two years as singles, from the sound to the ignorant tone, which will probably make it a favorite among her fans. It also has similarities to Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings” and “thank you, next,” which is hard to listen to on an album that celebrates the importance of loving yourself, not another person and their music.
Track 6: Vulnerable
Like the title indicates, this song is the story of a girl being vulnerable and of letting herself go. This song flows through its melody and is perfectly tailored for Gomez’s voice, but its style is similar to that her younger self favored. The bridge is beautiful and sounds strangely similar to the music of Bollywood movies, but as the song closes it becomes repetitive.
Track 7: People You Know
This song cleverly turns up the autotune in the intro, but again, like “Vulnerable,” it’s repetitive. While the lyrics are clever, Gomez can’t seem to think of anything new to add to the song beyond her chorus. This track would be fun to turn up loud and drown out your thoughts to, but it seems like a filler.
Track 8: Let Me Get Me
Another dance track, “Let Me Get Me,” gets to the heart of the song from the moment you press play. In fact, the best part of the track is the beginning, before the lyrics devolve and the beat becomes annoyingly monotonous. It’s a self-care song, meant to emphasize understanding yourself, especially your limits which is a double edged sword given that this song might be Gomez’s limit. Gomez takes on an airy tone throughout this song, almost as if the focus is the music, and her voice is only a background element.
Track 9: Crowded Room (feat. 6LACK)
As the first of Gomez’s two tracks featuring other artists, the music takes on the feeling of trap, which fits with the rap 6LACK is known for. It’s a refreshing break from the tracks before it and Gomez sounds almost like Ariana Grande. This track isn’t unique just because of it’s other artist, but because of its view on a relationship, which Gomez hasn’t mentioned in a positive way until now.
Track 10: Kinda Crazy
The metaphors Gomez includes in this song structure its light feeling as she sings about candy and lets her voice float through the melody. The beat had me tapping my feet and as she comes to the end of the track, her voice is layered as she harmonizes with herself and for more than twenty seconds she creates a miniature wonderland within the song. It’s a track to remember, if only for its ethereal feel.
Track 11: Fun
Within ten seconds of this upbeat, pop-infused track, Gomez has addressed the root of her lapse from the music scene, and already moved on to create a storyline following a basic loose crush, or “Fun.” This is a track to dance with your girlfriends to. It’s about an innocent flirtation, making it clear that Gomez doesn’t want anything too serious in this song, and the beat reflects that.
Track 12: Cut You Off
Once again, Gomez addresses her mental health issues, almost comically this time, by chronic falling cutting her hair, which she did during her break from singing. She launches into this track which features a heavy beat, and right off the bat has a few choice words to say, which is a first for the artist who was created in the Disney scene and continually kept her music clean. This track also features a brief instrumental in the middle, before Gomez launches into a repetitive end, which for once highlights a hard stop where her last lyric is an unfinished thought. “Cut You Off” is a metaphor in which Gomez cleverly draws parallels between a struggling relationship and her personal struggles with mental health, presenting them as one and the same.
Track 13: A Sweeter Place (feat. Kid Cudi)
Strikingly different from every song on this album, Gomez and Kid Cudi have created a masterpiece with a little something for everyone from the beat, to the lyrics sung by an airy Gomez. The song seems to reflect a conclusion Gomez has come too in the process of creating “Rare,” that maybe the way this album sees the world isn’t possible and so she sings of “A Sweeter Place” she could hideaway in. Kid Cudi complements this track well, without drawing from Gomez, and his lines don’t seem awkwardly placed and predictable like 6LACK’s were in track nine. This song’s beat is beautiful and entrancing, closing Gomez’s album by looking forward to how things could be for the artist mentally.
Halsey takes on new songwriting technique with conceptual album
Halfway through the month of January, Halsey announced the release of her third studio album, “Manic.” This is the first studio album Halsey has produced through Capitol Records, with her first two produced through Astralwerks. Already, there’s a sign this album will have a different sound, considering switching labels in the middle of an artist’s career is creatively a big deal. During my first listen, I immediately heard not only a style shift but also a shift in songwriting and a fresh, mature approach to music production. As I listened more, I noticed Halsey had created a conceptual album, with each song connecting to a larger theme.
I’m going to unpack “Manic” track-by-track to reveal hidden messages left behind by the songwriter and the new structural format Halsey is taking as a powerful woman in the music industry.
Track 1: Ashley
The first track starts listeners off with an echoey, synth-based instrumental that picks up once the first verse starts with a deep base. Halsey mentioned in a tweet before the album dropped that “Manic” is supposed to be listened to front to back (the order she wrote the songs in) to pick up on the full story. The reason “Ashley” is such a fitting opener is because it’s a song that explains the split personality Halsey experiences as a pop star. Ashley is her birth name, the one she goes by with personal family and close friends when she’s not toying with her stage persona. The biggest idea introduced with this track is the sense that the entire album was written from Ashley’s perspective, rather than Halsey’s.
Track 2: clementine
It’s a bold move, making this song appear so early in the album because sadder tracks usually don’t come up until later on. “clementine” has a very soft, romantic vibe, but the lyrics contradict its airy, piano sound. When looked at closer, it’s clear this song isn’t about being in love with someone, but rather reminiscing about a past relationship (or a relationship that has yet to come). It’s written quite beautifully and sets up just how much Halsey has grown as a songwriter. Although the song never really picks up musically, there’s a layer in her voice that arises after the second verse that adds a level of emotion the actual lyrics could never convey. It’s a cute song, sure, but it’s also one of the most heartbreaking moments on this album.
Track 3: Graveyard
This was Hasley’s second song to hit pop radio from “Manic,” and it’s obvious this was written for the sole purpose of being a single. It has the repetitive beats all pop songs these days seem to have, which take away from the album’s uniqueness. But despite it sounding like every other pop song on the radio, “Graveyard” does contain a deeper message about a relationship in which the singer felt like she was constantly chasing after her lover. It sets up this abusive ex character Hasley sings about more later on in the album. Overall, “Graveyard” is a solid song, but it lacks variety and a build-up in production.
Track 4: You should be sad
The start of this song was surprising because it had country music inspired acoustic riff, which was not what I expected to hear in on a Halsey album. The music doesn’t really build until the instrumental break after the first chorus when point a gain-infused electric guitar is introduced. Honestly, every instrument involved in this track adds to the sassy story Halsey is attempting to tell. This song is one of my favorites for several reasons, one being the fact that it successfully tells a story not only with lyrics but also with music. As the music intensifies, the story reaches its climax. As it fades away in the last few seconds, the story comes to a close and leads in perfectly to the next track.
Track 5: Forever … (is a long time)
Speaking of songs that tell stories with the music, this simplistic track does so effortlessly. As someone who geeks out easily over anything music-related, this track grabs my attention the most with the way it manages to COMPLETELY switch keys. Halsey starts off with a cute introduction of the story with simple piano chords. Then, about halfway through, the piano shifts into a minor key to convey a shift in the story. Once the key switch happens, a background effect of rain plays through the rest of the song. Why the artist decided to include this feature is unclear to me, but it definitely adds to the imagery. At the very end, a line sets up the storyline of the next song (again, the formatting of this album is such a masterpiece, I can’t even wrap my head around it).
Track 6: Dominic’s Interlude
This is the first collaboration and interlude featured on the album, with indie star Dominic Fike taking most of the vocals in this song. The track starts with the classic click of a tape recorder while Fike begins to sing in effect with sharp piano accompanying him the background. The song soon shifts to an orchestral element with extra harmonies. This song is on the short side, but its length does not take away from the experience. It connects to “Forever …(is a long time)” because there is a line at the end of it that is repeated throughout “Dominic’s Interlude.” And as if a listener thought the musical roller coaster was over, Halsey includes an almost seamless transition from the melody at the end of this track to the start of the next one.
Track 7: I HATE EVERYBODY
Following the last song, it is in the same the key, except now Halsey has now taken control of vocals. “I HATE EVERYBODY” has a very simplistic instrumental played with it, but her lyrics yet again tell a bigger story. This is one of the only songs on this album that gives listeners a happier vibe. Although the music and melody sound happy, when you listen closely, it’s clear to see Halsey was definitely struggling with self-confidence issues when writing this song. In the end, drums are introduced to give the track almost an “I-played-for-the-high-school-band” feel, with its chords resembling what you would hear here at a high school football game when the student section is trying to get hyped up.
Track 8: 3am
Now, for the banger we have all been waiting for. “3am” digs back to the sound pop-rock songs had in the early 2000s. Halsey begins with singing a fast-paced first verse to introduce the story of a girl who is drunkenly stumbling around in the middle of the night trying to find people to talk to about her problems. Honestly, this track is one of the most nostalgic songs I’ve heard in a while because it takes me back to the days where I’d walk around middle school in black, ripped jeans and an edgy band T-shirt. The upbeat vibe Halsey gave this song gives listeners a break from the emotional story she’s told so far with the previous tracks and allows them to just rock out for a minute. The best part about this song, though, is the very end when a person who sounds like they are speaking over the phone starts talking about Halsey’s “best song” and how it’s playing on the radio and will soon be a massive hit. Funnily enough, that ties in perfectly to “Manic”s next song…
Track 9: Without Me
As Halsey’s first single debuted off of this album, “Without Me” became her first top-five single since “Bad at Love” on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song starts listeners off easy with a simple, melancholy verse that has smooth trap beats that drop off once the beginning of the chorus hits. This is probably a perfect example of a cliche pop single, with its repetitive lyrics catching the attention of pop music enthusiasts. Thankfully, the repetition does not take away from the overall message this song has to offer, as the pop star sings about a toxic relationship that has previously ended and left her with some scars.
Track 10: Finally // beautiful stranger
This next song completely juxtaposes “Without Me,” by taking on a softer, acoustic sound where Halsey sings about a brand new relationship that makes her start to believe in love again. The track never picks up past a simple rhythm played on the guitar with some echoey synths and a drum beat that will make your head bob along with the music. This is also one of my favorite tracks because it has some of Halsey’s most beautiful lyrics. The singer totally strips her voice down to show raw emotion behind the love story she’s singing about and manages to paint love in a positive light for the first time on this album. It’s another example of how this album can be perceived as conceptual because it shows the progression of her trust with relationships as the album plays on.
Track 11: Alanis’ Interlude
As the second interlude on the album, it sets up a shift in the story with a hard-hitting collaboration with Alanis Morissette. The pair sing about a scandalous love affair that is seen as one of the more impactful experiences in Halsey’s love life, while also including an important message about sexual identity and labels on gay relationships in the chorus. It’s one of the simpler tracks in terms of music, but it carries a heavy message and is focused more on the lyrics rather than the instrumental.
Track 12: killing boys
This track is probably the most savage song on this entire album, in my opinion. Halsey sings about getting revenge on a past lover after they made her feel her lowest. It’s the only song after the second interlude, showing that Halsey didn’t want to dwell on the emotions mentioned in this section of the album for too long. It’s also on the shorter side, so it’s hard to pick apart in terms of an overall message that adds to the theme of the album. The sound she writes continues with this track, having deep, synthy beats keep a steady rhythm in the background while a catchy clap-beat is introduced with the first verse. It’s honestly not the most groundbreaking song on this album and is probably very underrated, but that’s what happens when artists include insignificant tracks to their albums.
Track 13: SUGA’s Interlude
Immediately following, this third and final interlude has BTS star SUGA featured on it. He may not sing in English, but he still plays an influential part in the story behind this song. This interlude perfectly sets up the vibe for the rest of the album because it introduces a deeper, darker side of Halsey as she and SUGA sing about the feelings she has with stardom and how fame has heavily affected not only the morals she sets for herself but also the future this stage character has created for her. I highly suggest reading the translated lyrics before fully deciding whether or not you appreciate this song, because after I read all the lyrics in English the entire meaning of the song shifted and left a bigger impact on the opinions I have on Halsey as a person. Not to mention having a song that’s not entirely in English is a big creative step and shows variety in the overall sound of this album.
Track 14: More
This track is yet another example of Halsey’s growth as a songwriter. It’s a very dark themed love song written about a soulmate she has yet to meet and how she’s in love with them despite never having an encounter with them yet. Again, this track strips her voice down to show raw emotion behind the lyrics she is singing and adds echoey harmonies in the chorus to send chills down your spine when listening to it with headphones plugged in at full volume. It really shows the vibe Halsey is planning on ending this album on and gives her fans insight to how she handles strong emotions like love and acceptance. This is the type of song to play when you’re feeling down in the dumps but not sad enough to cry.
Track 15: Still Learning
With a shift in the sound, “Still Learning” takes on the theme of hardship and the difficulties a famous person can experience when they’ve been in a spotlight during the most vital years of their life. Unlike the previous track, this talks about the sadness behind growing up and having to learn to love yourself rather than the sadness behind an abusive relationship. The catchy beats make this song have less of a depressing vibe compared to the past songs on this album where troubling and deep concepts are discussed. The lyrics and sound of this track definitely juxtapose each other, but that’s a feature in Halsey’s songwriting I admire. She’s able to sing about some of her worst fears without thinking her fans or other listeners won’t appreciate it.
Track 16: 929
This song is one of the most impactful closing tracks I’ve ever heard as a music fanatic, which is saying a lot because I’ve listened to many conceptual albums. It perfectly sums up basically every topic she’s written about in the 15 tracks above with her practically free-styling a poem with a simple guitar riff tacked on behind. The first time I heard this song I was sitting in my bed, alone and will have to admit it brought several tears to my eyes. It’s one of those songs that anyone can relate to because there’s at least one line that will make your heart stutter, whether it be about a love encounter or a mental health issue. As a songwriter myself, I admire this song because it not only acts as a seamless closing track to a conceptual album but also depicts such important issues that don’t get much attention in the music industry (especially pop music).
Overall, “Manic” is probably one of the best albums Halsey has ever written since her first single was dropped in 2014. The fact that as an artist she felt courageous enough to take her fans on such an emotional journey with her through these songs is inspirational. It’s albums like this that give me hope for women in the music industry. Halsey has been able to fully turn her fame into an outlet to touch on important topics, regardless of if they’re controversial or not.
It is refreshing to know there is still talent out there able to create such influential material in the form of a conceptual album. Halsey is still a new female face in the music industry, and I’m sure many young girls look up to her in the same way I look up to Taylor Swift and Kacey Musgraves. Creating an album like “Manic” was probably difficult, considering tackling new structural patterns in songwriting can be tough, but Halsey handled it like a boss and definitely left her mark on the music industry.