One of the many great things about listening to really good pop music is the way it can capture with three-minute eloquence and searingly honest insight what you’re feeling, what your life experiences have been or the state of your life.
All those words you’ve been struggling to frame into meaningful coherence are suddenly there right in front of you, set to music that either matches the mood of the lyrics or arrestingly counterbalances it, and which often gives extra volume and sense to what you’re feeling or thinking.
We are blessed to have artists like these five (six really, if you count the collaboration) who have taken all kinds of life experiences, given them music and words, and released them into the world to give us a chance to processn how we’re feeling about many of the same things.
It’s a gift and in these wonderful cases, one that keeps on giving over and over …
“Numb Little Bug” by Em Beihold
Hearing a truly revelatory song from a talented artist is a real gift.
Em Beihold is a singer-songwriter, once known as Em whose debut EP Infrared dropped in 2017, is the creator of the gem that is “Numb Little Bug” which, apart from going viral on TikTok in the long ago heady days of 2022, wears its heart very much on its sleeve, addressing the fact that the cure (antidepressants) can sometimes be worse than the ailment (anxiety).
“Do you ever get a little bit tired of life / Like you’re not really happy but you don’t wanna die / Like you’re hanging by a thread but you gotta survive / ‘Cause you gotta survive / Like your body’s in the room but you’re not really there / Like you have empathy inside but you don’t really care / Like you’re fresh outta love but it’s been in the air / Am I past repair” (courtesy Billboard)
If you’ve ever lived with anxiety, this song really resonates about which Beihold has said:
“Last year, all of my dreams were coming true. Everything I wanted was happening, but somehow I didn’t feel anything. I was struggling with some heavy anxiety and I was on antidepressants. Songs weren’t really coming to me the way they used to. I felt numb. The antidepressants sucked the soul and energy out of me a little bit. I wrote ‘Numb Little Bug’ about the feeling.” (courtesy Melodic Mag)
A bouncy slice of effervescently upbeat pop, “Numb Little Bug” marries dark and light together, its reassuring insightfulness, which feel very raw and real, going perfectly together with its more upbeat musical accompaniment, making this therapy with undeniable pep.
“Naked in Manhattan” by Chappell Roan
It should be said at the start that I have never been naked in Manhattan but then I suspect never has Chappell Roan who is all about the metaphor and the giddy joyfulness of falling for someone and feeling like the whole world is “cicadas in summertime”.
Her first single, according to NPR, “after two years of silence”, “Naked in Manhattan” is a gloriously upbeat song that is all vivacity, hope, light and happiness, the excitement of finding that special someone resonating through every lyric and highy-danceable note.
If you think all that floating bounciness comes without some nuance and raw, emotional humanity, you’d be wrong as NPR points out.
“With tender, nostalgic lyrics — ‘The rush of slumber party kissing / Don’t touch, I’ll never cross the line’ — that evolve into a soaring melody — ‘Oh, I’ve never done it, let’s make it cinematic’ — the track is flirty yet uncertain. Roan’s contrasting lyrics are supplemented with delicate, yearning synths and floating falsetto that transition into a unbridled, beat-heavy release.”
As emotional openness goes, “Naked in Manhattan” has it in hugely appealing spades, honest and alive with a joyfulness that can’t help elevate your own day.
“Follow Me” (feat. Rina Sawayama) by Pabllo Vittar
Musical collaborations are always the stuff of buoyant expectation.
While that expectation isn’t always realised as wished, it definitely finds its sweet spot with “Follow Me” (feat. Rina Sawayama) by Pabllo Vittar which sees the two artists – “Brazilian singer-songwriter and world-renowned drag queen Pabllo Vittar” (NME) and British singer-songwriter and model Nina Sawayama – creating some exuberantly danceable, beat-punctuated pop, the kind that will have sashaying down that runaway in our minds we all have.
Oh, come on, of course you do, and if you do, which you totally do, then “Follow Me” is the deliciously vibrant song that you need to make it all come gloriously to light.
With each artist reportedly calling each other “iconic”, this is one song that proves two is definitely better than one, with Vitta calling their musical marriage “perfect”.
And you know what? That is not even remotely hyperbolic with the song surging and surging on the back of an insistent dance-ready melody and vocals that are not going to take any prisoners.
“Yo Yo” by MIKA
Fresh from being one of the three boisterous hosts of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest where he performed a grand final worthy medley of his greatest hits, Lebanese-born British singer-songwriter is back firmly in the pop zeitgeist with new song “Yo Yo”.
A song that NME quotes the artist as saying is meant to get you feeling and moving all at once – “I wanted to write a song that could make you cry and dance at the same time” (NME) – “Yo YO’ really dives deep into the idea of being with someone who only seems to make you feel wanted when they’re in the mood.
It’s no real way to live and Mika captures it perfectly in a song that is all melodic light and lyrically sober dark, but which ultimately is meant to make you feel good things only:
“It’s a song to make the world, in all its harshness, feel better. Something that will always be there to comfort you. I wrote this for you, as you listen in your room, or in a club: it doesn’t matter it’s just about you.” (NME)
“As It Once Was” by Harry Styles
Is it possible to like Harry Styles any more?
Defier of gender stereotypes and a seemingly all-round nice guy, the British singer-songwriter-actor – he’s next up in the film Don’t Worry Darling – is also the creator and deliverer of impossibly wonderful pop such as his single “As It Was”, a pop song percolating with sunnily melancholic music and introspectively honest lyrics.
“In this world, it’s just us / You know it’s not the same as it was / In this world, it’s just us / You know it’s not the same as it was / As it was, as it was / You know it’s not the same.”
Drawn from new album Harry’s House whose title has some very cool inspiration – “the album is named after Haruomi Hosono, he had an album in the ’70s called Hosono’s House [sic], and I spent that chunk in Japan; I heard that record and I was like ‘I love that. It’d be really fun to make a record called Harry’s House'” – “As It Was” is a blissful mix of the upbeat and the reflective, a song that gets you up and dancing even as your soul is thinking about some very deep stuff.
It’s sublimely good, moving in every possible way and a gem from an album of similarly excellent pop which grabs the heart, moves the body and engages the mind, all to overwhelmingly good effect.