In the generation that birthed the #sadkid, we’ve never been more encouraged to be emotionally open. A dialogue has been started and the education has begun, but we’re still not there yet. However, as we progress and learn more about mental health issues and push to normalise them, we are still in the digital age, a platform that gives way to strong voices but also anonymity and subsequent recklessness and spite. It seems as though half the world is fighting for us to have a conversation, while the other half is fighting to shut us up. Though frustrating, this is natural – as we seek to shift the norms of what is acceptable, we’re bound to be met with some resistance.
I think a lot about Kehlani. Probably more than I would under normal circumstances, considering the first time I heard her music was a mere few months ago. She was lambasted on the internet following the speculation that she had cheated on her boyfriend, Kyrie Irving, with first love and fellow artist, PARTYNEXTDOOR, after he uploaded a photo onto Instagram. In the following days, she posted a photo of herself in hospital, linking it to the events that had occurred before signing off from social media.
After opening up about her mental health issues, in what turned out to be a lesson for all internet trolls, Kehlani has withdrawn from the public eye, understandably, until a few weeks ago. She made a fitting comeback, the only way she knew how. She released a song, ’24/7′, produced by DZL, addressing society’s unrealistic standards for us to smile and be happy all the time.
With lyrics directly tackling mental health, “I don’t know nobody who smiles at everybody 24/7” and “It’s all fine to not think you’re fine”, Kehlani is endorsing and supporting this wonderful movement of “The Anti-Pop Pop Song”, as me and my friends like to call it. The contrast of the realness of the lyrics with her sickly sweet voice and the contagious flow is the perfect ode to the feelings we all have and need to stop hiding; the fitting retort to any patronising catcalls about your “resting bitch face”.
Energised by this anthemic boost- in a daze of empowerment, befuddlement and admiration, I thought it only right to throw together a little shortlist of a couple of my favourite songs that walk the same line. Pop music with a lesson, folks, so here we go:
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Armanio is essentially a song about insecurity, written and produced by UK songwriter WEIRDO. He has opted for mystique in this solo project- so unfortunately we have no idea who he may be- but he dedicates this song to all the people in controlling relationships, or anyone in love with someone entirely wrong for them. So pretty much everyone and no one all at once.
For fans of Foals, Theme Park or perhaps even Everything Everything, dip your toes into this chilled pool of guitars, synths and drums. But don’t let the catchy riddims lull you, whilst super upbeat, this song is here to help you dance the pain away.
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Produced by 18-year-old Demo Taped from Atlanta, GA, this lullaby is inspired by his own battle with anxiety and depression that took place over several years. At a low point in his journey, he made the decision to harness that and redirect it into creating art and fighting for his peace. “Game On” is a song to put the fire in your belly on those days when you’re feeling a little cold, for whatever reason. Reminiscent of the likes of Mura Masa and Shakka, this synth-pop summer jam will be the power-soundtrack to many a mirror-dancing mantra session of my own.
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An understated gem that I had to include is one from the glowing indie-pop queen of the feels, Frankie Cosmos. With a delicate, precious, observational sweetness like an ice-cold glass of rose lemonade on a sunny Spring afternoon, “Sinister” is a teasingly short earworm about a lost love or friendship or most likely both. The sing-a-long nature of this dark, melancholic love song makes it sinister by name and by nature, but kind of in a dainty way. If you love it, check out their Bandcamp page for more lovely snippets into her soul than one could ever hope for.
Now, this one is a bit of a cheat, because it does sound a little sad, but if there’s a song in the mainstream music world about crying in public, it’s a song I’m going to share and that’s that. This is “Crying in Public” by Chairlift.
“And it’s a song from Chairlift’s fabulous comeback last year, you say?”
“Well you had me at ‘crying’ “.
So this song is the renegade of the group because even though it is about public breakdowns (as seen in title), it’s also about euphoria, loving and fully owning your emotions, because sometimes you’re happy-sad and it’s exhilarating. The video shines with magical-realist beauty and the rest of the album is worth a listen too, so check out Moth on Spotify, iTunes and the like!
A personal favourite of mine is Braid by Porches. With darkly poetic lyrics describing a feeling of disassociation, the production and dreamy voices distract you just enough to make you nod your head involuntarily to the light and airy melodies. This luxurious synth-pop band is the baby of Aaron Maine, a young NYC-based musician, and combines melancholy and optimism in a way that transports you to some idyllic David Hockney poolside painting far, far away.
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To round off in a rather cyclical way, this last song is called Love Me Crazy, by Samaria, a 20-year-old singer from Oakland, featuring Kehlani. The reverb-heavy number with slow vocals and a building backdrop seems reflective of the echoey and indecipherable layering of conflicting thoughts about past relationships and future prospects. A song for fans of Jhené Aiko, who want their emotional introspection entwined with distorted voices and a bass that won’t quit.
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Armed with these maverick pop songs, I hope with all my heart that we can conquer the club scene with sufficient sass and break down societal norms of silencing ourselves to keep up appearances. These songs are unapologetically candid in their messages and we could all use a little more of that in our lives.