Why 2018 welcomed the rebirth of the protest song – from Childish Gambino to Janelle Monáe

Pop music and politics have long enjoyed a dysfunctional relationship, marked by wary trysts and embarrassed silences. For every timeless, biting political anthem – for every What’s Going On or Fight the Power – there have been a dozen unfortunately, misinformed, garbled political diatribes by celebrities with more ego than insight. Which might be why, while musicians were once held up as the voice of their generation, recent times have seen increasingly media-savvy stars sidestepping ever-further away from having an opinion on anything. Until, that is, now. It was purportedly Ancient Greeks who first decreed that desperate times call for … Continue reading Why 2018 welcomed the rebirth of the protest song – from Childish Gambino to Janelle Monáe

As I Heard it Through the Grapevine turns 50, a look back at Motown hit machine

There might have been more than a touch of bravado at play when then-aspiring music mogul Berry Gordy dubbed his new Detroit home “Hitsville, USA” – but the iconic sign he hung outside not long after the 1959 purchase would feel like a quaint understatement just a decade later. By the end of the 1960s, Gordy’s Motown hit machine had clocked an incredible 79 Billboard top ten singles, spawning not just a generation’s soundtrack – while launching the careers of icons including Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder – but presaging a landmark era of racially integrated entertainment, affording … Continue reading As I Heard it Through the Grapevine turns 50, a look back at Motown hit machine

Heavy metal turns 50? Happy birthday to popular music’s most persistent party crasher

In the history of recorded music, no genre has earned more controversy, sparked greater outrage, or scared more parents, than heavy metal. From decapitated bats and onstage self-mutilation, to offstage accusations of coded Satanic messages and devil worshipping, for five decades metal has hounded the upholders of morality across the globe – while attracting covert fascination from mainstream music fans. Because for all the gore, blood and muddle, metal’s most popular practitioners – such as Metallica and Iron Maiden – rank among the best-selling bands ever. Fans will continue to debate where hard rock ends and heavy metal begins – … Continue reading Heavy metal turns 50? Happy birthday to popular music’s most persistent party crasher

How women (finally) took over the charts (together) in 2018

It’s no great creative secret that conflict is an essential ingredient of any good narrative – and it seems that the male-dominated media once got together and decided that in the world of pop music, nothing sells like a catfight. Historically, it sometimes feels hard to find a female star that has avoided being dragged into some kind of ugly, unbecoming feud with a would-be rival. The headlines are often as legendary as they are petty: From the showdowns of Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez to the intergenerational enmity between Madonna and Lady Gaga, right up to the Taylor Swift … Continue reading How women (finally) took over the charts (together) in 2018

The Dictator’s Cut: How Stalin blocked a happy end for Romeo and Juliet in Prokofiev’s classic ballet

We probably don’t need to print a spoiler alert here warning you about the tragic turns taken in the tale Romeo and Juliet. The Shakespeare classic is, after all, the best-known love story ever written, moving millions of readers, viewers and listeners afresh every year – and inspiring countless of artists of the stage, and beyond. Away from the theatre, The Bard’s play has stimulated creatives across the arts for more than 400 years – from Romantic poetry to pop songs, opera to Bollywood and Pre-Raphaelite painting to Japanese anime. Many of these spin-off works have become household fables in … Continue reading The Dictator’s Cut: How Stalin blocked a happy end for Romeo and Juliet in Prokofiev’s classic ballet

In loving praise of Björk: Popular music’s most peerless polymath

No mainstream musician has embraced the boundless, barrier-busting 21st century with anything approaching the fever or flair of Björk, a singular sort of talent who makes the divisions between disciplines seem the most flagrant shade of passé. The Icelandic popstar-turned-multidisciplinary auteur is expected to release a new album, Utopia, next month [November], and if previous outings are anything to go by, it will be far more than a mere set of songs. Preparing her ninth studio work, the ethereal polymath has moved squarely beyond the realm of simply recording albums and performing their songs live – her previous two releases … Continue reading In loving praise of Björk: Popular music’s most peerless polymath