Back to our regular programming! In my first regular episode of the year, I got to discuss with Miki Hellerbach and Tyler Jones how Dua Lipa willed Future Nostalgia to become the iconic pop album of the pandemic, the winding and endless life cycle of Japanese City Pop and the cultural implications, and Odeal — a UK artist blending R&B and Afrobeats inspirations to forward a trend known as Alté.
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On This Episode:
What I've been listening to
- 1997 by Chester Watson
- End of the Earth by Mavi
- Japanese City Pop and Jazz-Funk Vinyl Set compilation by My Analog Journal
- My Winter 2021 playlist
"Dancing in the Dark: How Dua Lipa ignored the trends, turned herself into a 'female alpha,' and delivered the modern disco classic we didn’t know we needed" by Alex Morris, Rolling Stone (Jan 14, 2021)
If you had a pop album ready for release in 2020... no you didn't. The year's restrictive gathering and overall gloomy energy made for one of the seemingly least receptive climates for the bright and cheerful ambiance of pop stardom. But while peers were pulling potential projects left and right, Dua Lipa's upcoming album was leaked early, leaving her no choice but to go forward with an uncertain release time. As Alex Morris writes, "Maybe none of us knew that this was the music we wanted to hear right then, but Lipa showed us that it was."
Lipa manifesting her success through mantra is a running theme of Morris' cover story profile. Future Nostalgia opens with the pop star claiming the spot of "female alpha," but Lipa says it's not something she believed herself right away. In a similar way to how she willed Future Nostalgia to acclaim, it was repetition of the mantra that carried the power to shape her reality.
Morris uses the Rolling Stone staple gonzo style of journalism to really draw a portrait of this person who finds herself at the pinnacle of pop stardom, catching up to her own empowerment as she spreads it to others in real-time. Morris shapes the story in a way that the interview itself even becomes part of the story and not just a vehicle to tell it.
"The Endless Life Cycle of Japanese City Pop" by Cat Zhang, Pitchfork (Feb. 24, 2021)
I went into this piece expecting to read about the recent uptick of a particular genre of music and got so much more. Zhang certainly starts off the piece with the enigma of Japanese pop music from the '70s and '80s suddenly climbing charts again, but soon delves into a complex story of cultures intertiwing across decades.
During the '70s and '80s, Japan was going through an economic and technilogical boom. Directly nspired by the parell American funk and disco scenes, Japanese musicians tried to capture their culture's burgeoning optimism about the promisises of building wealth and freedom of consumption. At the same time as this cultural explosion in the East, the West felt threatened by the booming industrialization in Japan — in particular in the tech sectors. While Japanese culture was outputting this bright and cheery music, America struck back with a pop culture narrative of rampant robots, uncrollable AI and dystopian futures at the hands of rapid tech advancement. Thus, America never caught on to the conflicting perspective provided by city pop, and when the Japanese economy crashed in the '90s, the visions of bright futures in the streets of Tokyo sold by the genre became less prevalent.
ironicallyFast forward to today and, ironicaly, the Silicon Valley tech takeover is bringing city pop back to life. The popularity of lo-fi music on platforms like YouTube and TikTok lead algorthims to direct listeners from even vaguely adjacent sounds to the city pop niche. As Zhang writes, even the algorithms miss the nuance. For Western listeners, the genre captures an optimistic view of a future that never was and never will be.
"Odeal wants to be the UK’s first Alté renaissance man" by Kyann-Sian Williams (Feb. 8, 2021)
My favorite aspect of this article is that — even knowing nothing about Odeal — I left the piece with ample knowledge about the cultural background and significance Alté, a growing sub genre that blends contemporary R&B with Afrobeats. In Odeal's case, also with a touch of UK grime confidence.
Writing about multicultural intersections is always an incredibly difficult thing to do. Williams came prepped to the interview with a plethora of background questions that not only help to characterize Odeal, but characterized him in context to the influence of his own heritage as a British-Nigerian.
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