It may have been pent-up stress from earlier in the day, it may have been the sheer power of nostalgia, it may simply have been the Red Stripe. To be perfectly honest it was probably all three. But when Natasha Bedingfield sauntered onto the stage at the Islington Assembly Hall last night to the sound of her iconic number one These Words, my eyes were – to by great surprise – fucking brimming with tears. BRIMMING! I wasn’t expecting it, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
It’s a strange experience, watching one of your teen heroes for the first time when you’re literally double the age you were when you fell in love with them. In 2004, when the Unwritten album came out, I was 15; reasonably sure there was some sort of gaydom brewing, but determined to stay besotted with the girl I sat next to in Biology. It was truly one of my Big Albums growing up: I was a sucker for the gospel choir finale of the title track, I was obsessed with the lyrics of Wild Horses without consciously linking them to my then-TBC sexuality, and I had a full music video mapped out in my head for all-time-great deep cut Silent Movie (in a display of groundbreaking creativity, it was itself… a silent movie).
Natasha continued to deliver: her second album N.B. followed in 2007 and accompanied many an 18-year-old road trip to Norfolk (I even loyally purchased its US equivalent Pocketful of Sunshine when I spent the summer in Michigan the next year), and Strip Me landed in 2010 (the UK in 2011) to see me through some relatively dark patches in my third year of uni (Can’t Fall Down? A wallow-a-long classic!!).
Now she’s back, and last night was the first time I’d ever seen her perform. She’s got a new album out this week – Roll With Me – and she shared a fair chunk of it during the 70-minute set. Brave, given that fans can’t sing along with songs that are unfamiliar, but it certainly paid off: the vast majority sounds ace. Kick It is a bona-fide bop that perfectly bridges 00s Natasha and 10s Natasha, while lead single Roller Skate actually sounds better live than it does on record.
But she absolutely delivered on the old stuff too. These Words, Unwritten, Single, Love Like This (LOVE LIKE THIS! Remember Love Like This?! What a jam), I Bruise Easily, Pocketful of Sunshine and Wild Horses were all aired; while she gamely hummed a few lines of I Wanna Have Your Babies and even added all-time classic Soulmate as an impromptu closer amid in-the-room demand.
The reason, I think, that I found it so surprisingly overwhelming was that many of my favourite artists who were at their most powerful in the 90s or 00s have either continued to make and release music on a slightly smaller scale (Avril Lavigne, Nelly Furtado, some of the Spice Girls, Hilary Duff), or kept themselves famous in other areas altogether (Ashlee Simpson, Louise, the rest of the Spice Girls, Hilary Duff again). Natasha is somewhat different in that she did, to UK audiences at least, sod off completely – and her absence from the public eye made it easier to forget just how much she meant to me in the first place. In those first moments of These Words, not to be too dramatic or slip into “hyperbowl”, but it was like I was suddenly being confronted with my 15-year-old self: I thought about how nervously unsure he was about where his life was going; how afraid he was that he wouldn’t find the love that would go on to materialise in spades; how unprepared he was for the anxiety-laden lows and complications of adulthood. All of it. And again, the Red Stripe almost definitely exacerbated all this, but the point is it was deep, and it’s really stayed with me since.
Isn’t it fucking great how music – pop music for me – can do that? Take you right back to particular moments, emotions, general ~phases of your history; sometimes by sheer stealth? I think Natasha will have that effect on a lot of people. These were the songs of MSN statuses, of CD Walkmans (Walkmen?), of being the profile tune on your MySpace page.
Now she’s back, and who knows: maybe in another 15 years I’ll hear some of this new stuff again and be similarly taken aback by memories of it soundtracking flop tweets, millennial 30-year-old anxiety, and feeling like there’s just too much fucking TV to get through. Who’s to say. The rest is still, and I cannot stress this enough, unwritten.
Roll With Me by Natasha Bedingfield is out on August 30.
Playlisted 2020, week 7: Low-tempo excellence
Sam Smith and Billie Eilish lead the charge
We’ve had Valentine’s Day, the rightful crowning of Nicola Roberts on The Masked Singer and – at last! – news from Marvel that there will be meaningful LGBTQ+ representation in The Eternals. But this weekend feels all-consumed by the Caroline Flack news, which is – above all else – just really, really sad. A complicated situation that’s sparking a lot of necessary discussions, but also…. just so fucking sad. Remember you can text SHOUT to 85258 at any time, 24/7, for crisis support in the UK.
I’ve written this week’s blog at a hasty pace because I’m not especially in the ~mood for gushing over bops, ballads and bangers; but here are some quickly cobbled-together thoughts on the five new songs I’m adding to my 2020 playlist. As ever, you can find and follow that playlist here or at the bottom of the post.
To Die For – Sam Smith
After some horizon-broadening bops last year (Dancing With A Stranger? One of 2019’s best!!), Sam is back on familiar territory with the Stargate-produced To Die For. But why do I like this more than I liked much of their previous balladry? Is it the soft, slightly muted percussion, which I’m a sucker for? Is it the vocal production, which I also think is fab? Or is it just that, now Sam is living as their authentic best self, I feel like I have a slightly better handle on them as an artist? Maybe it’s all of the above! I really like it.
No Time To Die – Billie Eilish
As far as meeting its brief is concerned, this new 007 movie theme is a slam dunk: the little Bondy flourishes are superb (the sweeping orchestra, the building drama, the final strum) and it’s also a fantastic Billie song in its own right. Not the most exciting of tracks, granted, but as Bond themes go I think it’s really, really good.
Never Let You Go – RAC, Matthew Koma, Hilary Duff
Matthew Koma wrote a lot of my favourite deep cuts of 2015 (mainly for Kelly Clarkson and Hilary Duff), and here he actually sings with Duff – now his wife – on this cover of a recognisable Third Eye Blind song from 20 years ago. The wheel isn’t reinvented, obviously, but what a nice little listen, and a likeable return to the mic for Duff.
Meltdown – Jake Shears
Fresh from his Unicorn escapades on The Masked Singer, Jake Shears is back with a pleasingly gay banger with a gargantuan chorus. But it does make me think more than ever: when will the Scissor Sisters return from war?
Boy, You Can Keep It – Alex Newell
Packed with character, nifty little production flourishes (is that a flute I can hear?) and some very impressive vocals, Boy, You Can Keep It is a fun, feisty way to spend two-and-a-half minutes. In a busier week of new music, I’m not sure it would have stood out to me – but with Sam and Billie’s ballads dominating, this is a welcome palate-cleanser.
Playlisted 2020, week 6: In which Carly, PCD, Marina et al are all trumped by 5SOS
New stuff from Dagny, RAYE and Chris too
Eight days into February and it’s already blasting by much quicker than January, huh?
A lot of big names released new material this week, and I’ve picked out seven above-average songs to be added to the rolling 2020 playlist. Anne-Marie and Niall nearly made the cut, but – to be frank! – I couldn’t be arsed to write about nine. Follow said playlist here, or at the bottom of the post.
No Shame – 5 Seconds of Summer
I’ve been saying for a while that 5SOS have been quietly, underappreciatedly (is that a word?) amazing for a few years now; the Youngblood era in particular marking a big turning point. While it was disappointing to see Easier get largely slept-on in 2019, hopefully No Shame will send them back to the correct end of the charts.
I’m ADDICTED to the chorus on this narcissismbanger (“Got no shame / I love the way you’re screaming my name”), which seems to reference the ways we ~perform ‘irl’ and on social media for attention and validation. Song of the week? You betcha.
Come Over – Dagny
After we all re-remembered how incredible Love You Like That was last year (thanks, Katy Perry!!), Dagny is properly back with a new uplifting, glittery electrobop. I was wondering what it reminded me of, until Popjustice’s NMF round-up pointed out that it’s Mine Right Now by Sigrid. That song wasn’t quite a hit, so maybe this one can be instead?!
React – Pussycat Dolls
400 years after being ‘teased’ on The X Factor, PCD finally release the finished cut of React – which doesn’t quite slap as hard as it perhaps could (a little money note from Nicole at the end wouldn’t have gone amiss), but it’s still addictive enough to keep me listening and re-listening and re-listening on a continual loop. Ashley, Kimberly, Carmit and Jessica are, of course, barely on the record at all (in fact the only difference I can notice between this and the leaked demo is the addition of their quiet backing vocals), but Business As Usual is a wise strategy for the first single – and that video? WHEW!!
About Love – MARINA
OK so this sounds a lot like it was made for a specific brief (in this case, ‘cute love song for Netflix teen film’), with the likes of Never Really Over as its inspiration. But!!! Even with that in mind, I find this really lovely, and actually a nice Marina palate-cleanser after last year’s very good but heavy-going Love And Fear album. Her voice is still one of my favourite things in music, and this is pleasant enough to tide me over.
Let’s Be Friends – Carly Rae Jepsen
This isn’t the start of a new album campaign, is it? It’s just a one-off special lil’ something? You know what, I dismissed Let’s Be Friends out of hand the first time I heard it yesterday, but 24 hours later it’s growing on me a tiny bit. It would sound good over the opening titles of a low-key romantic comedy; over shots of New York City first thing in the morning, you know? The spoken bit in the middle is a quirky little touch, the chorus is nice and easy… it’s unchallenging, fine-for-now pop, like 80% of The Saturdays’ discography. It’ll do!
All Of My Love – RAYE and Young Adz
I’m getting VERY FRUSTRATED with the fact that neither of RAYE’s 10/10 sadpop masterpieces from 2019 did the business commercially: Please Don’t Touch in particular is two months old now, and I’m sad that it hasn’t completely taken over the goddamn world. All Of My Love is great too; an extremely likeable, effortlessly slick midtempo jam that’s not quite an ASSAULT ON THE EMOTIONS like Love Me Again and PDT, but a very worthy addition to the RAYE discography. Stunning artwork, too.
People, I’ve Been Sad – Christine and the Queens
Oh here she is! We’re coming up for two years since the excellent Chris era so it’s about time Christine and the Queens launched their next phase: People, I’ve Been Sad is one of those songs I can recognise as objectively good, but it hasn’t quite hit me in the heart just yet. The “you know the feeling” bits are divine, though, and I love the incorporation of both French and English. I’m extremely excited to see where Chris takes us this year.
Playlisted 2020, week 5: Come on, come on, come onnnnnn
Dua Lipa headlines, plus Taylor, Fleur and more
Of course there’s only one new song people are talking at length about this week… and it’s not Meghan Trainor feat. The Pussycat Dolls.
Dua has been everywhere over the last few days – at least for anyone whose social timelines are mainly populated by homosexuals – and rightly so; but there’s been some other good stuff out too.
Here are the songs I’ve added to my rolling 2020 playlist this weekend.
Physical – Dua Lipa
When I first heard of Dua – via Hotter Than Hell – my interest was piqued, but I never reaaaally connected with her on a ‘true fan’ level. She obviously had some good songs (Be The One and Electricity espesh!) but I couldn’t quite throw myself into being a Full Stan. But now? In big ol’ 2020 after Don’t Start Now has become a certified banger and she’s come out in unequivocal support of the Labour party? I’m very much open to reconsidering my stance, and I’m happy to confirm that Physical is the song that has truly – truly!!!! – given me no choice but to formally endorse her as one of our best pop girls.
There are a lot of “it sounds like X!” comparisons floating around (fwiw, the intro gives me big Gimme Gimme Gimme energy) but I don’t think that’s to the song’s detriment at all. The chorus gets better and better every time I hear it, there are so many smart little lyrics in there, and the video UGH the video does it full justice. This is the biggest-sounding pop song of the year so far and I hope it’s as big as New Rules. It really makes me want to run on the spot?!
Tonight – Kesha
The new Kesha album isn’t as relentlessly ~fun as I think it’s been built to be, but it is fantastic; a nice middle ground between the energy of, say, Warrior and the emotional introspection of Rainbow. This latest single encapsulates that balance, at least sonically: starting as a lighters-in-the-air piano ballad before caving into the kind of half-spoken, half-sung anthem that made Kesha famous more than a whole decade ago. I like.
Invisible – Grace Davies
I am/was a massive X Factor stan but even I didn’t quite keep up with the season Grace was on in 2017 (the one won by Rak-Su) – although I was very much aware of her potential as a pop powerhouse, and I’ve been excited to hear what she’s been cooking up since signing with Syco. Invisible is a promising start: the lyrics are clearly very personal (“It’s hard to show you something invisible/No tears, no scars, no bruises, it’s not physical”), and the bit at 2:41 when it finally all kicks off is a real Moment. It’s a gorgeous song, and I’m really excited to hear what else she has up her sleeve.
Anyone – Demi Lovato
18 months on from her near-fatal hospitalisation, Demi has returned with the song she recorded just four days before that happened. But unlike, say, Skyscraper (recorded shortly before her first rehab stint in 2011), this feels incredibly, uncomfortably raw. Phenomenally sung, of course, but I can’t help but hope she’s got a strong team around her now who will yank her right back out of the limelight should the need arise.
Lucky – Fleur East
Fleur has an album and tour planned for the first half of 2020, and this is a wise choice of single to get that momentum going. A simple catchy chorus, a ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ sample in the middle-8… it’s an infectious, unchallenging listen; and her best since last January’s Favourite Thing.
Only The Young – Taylor Swift
Released in support of the Miss Americana doc on Netflix, Only The Young matches-up well with the political awakening we see Taylor go through on screen; hopeful that the next generation of voters will pull the White House out of its current hardline conservativism: “They aren’t gonna help us/Too busy helping themselves”. The lyrics are a little on the… wet side in places, truth be told, but actually it’s grown on me the more I’ve heard it over the weekend, and I really like the production. I remain more excited for the rumoured remix of The Man, though.
Lemonade – Hannah Jane Lewis
You can always count on HJL for a good bop, and Lemonade joins Aftershock, Raincheck and Last Night Every Night as one of her more irresistibly effervescent efforts. The central lyric (“You hit me like the first sip of lemonade”) is fun, and the high pitching of the chorus gives things a real sugar rush feel. A tasty little treat.