It’s no secret that pop is having an interesting moment right now. Just the fact that “Chromatica,” Lady Gaga’s hotly anticipated sixth studio album, is coming would be enough to keep the music charts busy, but so many of pop’s biggest (and rising) female stars have also been releasing incredibly relevant singles and albums, all to critical and commercial acclaim.
Since we at Preen.ph are huge pop heads who are feeling™ right now, we had a huge (and virtual) huddle to share our thoughts.
Zofiya Acosta (associate editor): I’ll start: Lady Gaga’s “Rain On Me” featuring Ariana Grande just came out. I think we all accepted for the past half-decade that Gaga isn’t interested anymore in making the kind of dancehall-ready bops she made during her earlier eras (and I mean, it’s Lady Gaga. She, out of anyone, is allowed to experiment with her sound), but from what we’ve heard so far of “Chromatica” (no leaks, please), it feels like a return to form for her.
Now on the song itself, I think it’s great she chose fellow Italian Ariana Grande—I’m about to start a “for your consideration” campaign with Italy to replace their anthem—for this. Grande has her fair share of controversies, but she’s a pop star whose personal life and trauma has been so public during the past couple of years that it actually lends her legitimacy when singing about getting through heartbreak. “I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive”? I felt that. I’ll stop myself here to give y’all a chance to weigh in, haha. Thoughts?
Tricia Guevara (junior designer): Chromatica was originally supposed to be released on Apr. 10. By now, we should have already been fully immersed in Chromatica–visuals, dramatics, feelings and all. All things considered, the May 22 release of “Rain On Me” is waaaay behind schedule, but somehow all the pieces fit perfectly. Grande and Gaga released a power track right when everyone is feeling a little at the peak of their quarantine blues, yearning to go out and have fun. I mentioned this to my friends a few nights ago while we were having our “Dedicated: Side B” listening party, and I think it’s sort of amazing how the current era of pop music is so distinctly nostalgic. Everything feels very “so close, yet so far” because pop is so embedded in the feeling of human, physical connection and that’s something that a lot of us are missing really bad right now. Does that make sense? Hahaha
Amrie Cruz (junior content creator): It does! Pop culture right now is definitely heavy on nostalgia. “When does nostalgia paralyze and when does it usher progress?” is a conversation on its own for another day. But right now we’re all nostalgic for our not-so-distant pasts. Nostalgia pop is hitting different when the last time a lot of us went out with friends was months ago. Dancing my pants off to “Rain on Me” and “Dedicated: Side B” has made me feel the most alive in a long time.
“Rain on Me” had similar elements to a lot of late ‘90s and early 2000s electronic dance tracks like Square Heads’ “Happy” and Kaskade’s “It’s You, It’s Me.” As a fan of the genre, I was stoked. I have nothing against “Joanne’s” soft country rock or experimental “ARTPOP” but sometimes I just want to dance with abandon and not have to dissect a song too much. My favorite part in the song is when Lady Gaga says the line “Rain on me.” in that low tone she used often in her Fame era. I was also feeling that Italian pride. Did you see Ariana’s sweet tweet about Lady Gaga?
Zofiya: The one where she talks about wine and pasta? That was so cute. Actually, this whole collab is really cute and wholesome—Gaga was talking about their newfound friendship in her Apple Music video, and she was complimenting Grande a lot. Ari x Gaga has not exactly been the music tag-team I was expecting, but it’s content that we all desperately need right now. I’m so tired of female artists tearing each other down (don’t get me started on the Lana del Rey drama), it’s so refreshing just hearing them say nice things about each other. Enough with the pop infighting, more Gaga and Grande falling in love, I say.
Speaking of falling in love, Amrie and Tricia mentioned “Dedicated: Side B,” which also came out last week. What did you think about it? How does it hold up to “Dedicated” and “Emotion: Side B” (since those are the easiest comparisons)?
Nadine Halili (junior content creator): Not gonna lie, I just listened to “Dedicated: Side B” and “Emotion: Side B” for the first time the other day (don’t kill me haha). Carly Rae, as usual, doesn’t disappoint when it comes to pop music and her emotional lyrics. “Emotion: Side B” felt like a continuation to “Emotion” that brings back all the feels, but somehow I couldn’t say the same for “Dedicated: Side B.” In my honest opinion, “Dedication: Side B” felt like an answer to “Dedication” but with more honeymoon stage type of love songs.
I definitely agree with pop music [now] being nostalgic. Lots of people have noticed how many artists are bringing back the 80’s sound like Dua Lipa and Carly Rae. I do gotta say Gaga and Ari’s “Rain On Me” sounds like an old pop anthem that would’ve hit the radios back in the early 2000s.
Amrie: I like how you described the tracks from “Dedicated: Side B” as honeymoon stage love songs, Nadine. Not to be too on the nose but what came to mind was the line “Oh, you took my clothes off, said, ‘It’s gettin’ hotter’” from “Fake Mona Lisa.” One of my favorite songs on the album was “This Love Isn’t Crazy” which was like an ode to the highs of romance. Listening to it makes me feel like I’m submerged in the feeling of falling in love. (I have to add that I also felt this while blasting Dua Lipa’s “Physical.”) Isn’t that what all the best pop songs long to accomplish? While Carly Rae Jepsen isn’t as well-known as some of her contemporaries, it’s undeniable that she is a master of the pop genre.
Since Aya brought up Lana del Rey a while ago, I feel like we have to mention how awesome it is to see that the top two tracks on the Billboard Hot 100 are by women of color. The remixes for “Savage” and “Say So” have been topping the charts for a while. For songs from relatively new black artists to be able to do this is something to be celebrated. Even POC queer artists are also having their time under the spotlight. Rina Sawayama for example released such a strong album this year. “Sawayama” may have been her way of satirizing pop but it still sounded like one of the best love letters to the genre.
Zofiya: My girl Rina is on a really good streak. I was initially wary of “Sawayama” before it came out (an ode to…nü metal? I know we’re all on a nostalgia train right now but when musicians explore the 90s and 2000s sound, they tend to steer clear from that genre, and with good reason), but Rina’s debut album assuaged all my worries. It’s such a sonically interesting album, and Sawayama has a razor sharp understanding of the pop music of her childhood. (Y’all, her references are so good. Kylie Minogue? TATU? Limp Bizkit?)
Also, big kudos to her for tapping into the deeply white nü metal genre in “STFU,” a song about being sick and tired of racial microaggressions. The genre’s influence on the album seemed more like a weird experiment on the songs preceding it (“Dynasty” and “XS” specifically), but it truly clicked once “STFU” came on. Nü metal’s greatest sin was that all of its aggro energy quickly turned whiney once their frontmen ran out of topics to angst over. With “STFU,” Sawayama expertly channels this rage.
I really wanted to talk about how pop music is bringing back the synthesizer, too. Everything’s so synth-heavy now. It makes sense considering how everyone’s trafficking in nostalgia currently (what would Dua Lipa’s disco tribute be without a synth?), but it’s so interesting when you consider how synth-averse the pop music-listening public was just five or ten years ago. And just like, remember when this kind of pop was unheard of? And the only people who would maybe do it were just Sky Ferreira and the PC Music kids? Crazy how PC Music’s “nerdy, inaccessible” brand of indie pop just became pop.
Nadine: Rina Sawayama is a goddess!! A true songwriting queen!!! She really experimented with her style in “Sawayama” with outliers like “STFU” and “Snakeskin” which really sound different from the other songs, but she made it work! I also love how she took on her different experiences growing up like those racial microaggressions and having conflicting cultural influences in this album. And how she handled consumerism in “XS?” Ugh, genius!!
I agree with what you mentioned about the synthesizer, Aya! Although this isn’t usually the type of music I listen to, recent pop releases are definitely bringing back synth and I can’t help but think of how today’s artists will elevate the sound even further. Especially now that people have been receiving it so well.
Amrie: The evolution of the pop sound is like the ebb and flow of a tide. Sometimes it is elevated by elements that are totally new and sometimes it owes it heavily from hits of the past. I don’t think that pop music is always good. Maybe it’s because of heavy gate-keeping in the past, a time when it was most likely a circle jerk between select music labels and artists. I assume there’s less prejudice in the industry now. I mean, a few years ago there weren’t many “non-conventional looking” musicians such as Lizzo on the mainstream. Aya mentioned indie-pop and I feel like since the lines between genres are getting blurred, pop is now embracing the atypical sans the indie label. I think that more than evolution in sound, pop music is relevant because through it we can gauge what types of narratives people value right now and who we want to hear from. I don’t think I will ever get tired of the women of pop. In fact, I will always be hoping for more of them to rise from obscurity.