It's clear that we often lean heavily on music when we are going through something. It has the powerful ability to lift you up, to relax your mind, or to simply let you know you're not alone in your struggle.
Of course, usually music alone is no remedy to the troubles we face, but it can be helpful nonetheless. Different people can draw out different meanings from various sets of lyrics, such is the subjective beauty of art.
The following is a selection of hand-picked lyrics that are aimed specifically at easing your worries and allaying your fears. Some may become new cri de coeurs, some may simply wash over you without having much effect. But hopefully in shining a spotlight on particularly useful lyrics, there will be at least one that will really resonate with you...
Don't you worry, don't you worry, child/See Heaven's got a plan for you
1. Swedish House Mafia, Don't You Worry Child
You don't have to believe in Heaven, or be religious at all for that matter, to appreciate this. Personally the message I gain from this is that no matter how low you are feeling, or how difficult it may be right now, in the long run you will always be okay. I have a saying that I'm always annoying my friends with - 'Even when it doesn't go to plan, it does'. This could be God's plan (shoutout Drake...), the Universe's plan, or simply your ultimate plan for your life. In the end, the struggle makes you who you are.
Oh, my darlin', put your worries on me/Can't judge you 'cause I feel the same thing
2. Ed Sheeran, Put It All On Me feat. Ella Mai
I really like this one, because it sounds fairly generic at first, but peering deeper into it reveals a significant message. For me, it's the idea that it's okay to ask someone for help when you're going through something. Don't be too prideful or too ashamed to lean on other people. There's a good chance they're going through something similar.
Have a look at my review of Ed Sheeran's 'No.6 Collaborations Project' here
Ain't in no hurry, I'd be a fool now to worry/About all those things I can't change
3. Zac Brown Band, No Hurry
This is the central Zac Brown Band mantra of 'Que sera sera', and to not let things that are out of your control get you down. If you have a problem, address it, and if there is a solution go about achieving it. If there is no solution, then leave it behind. It's irrelevant.
Check out a more detailed look at No Hurry in this Self-Help Songs post
Everything that's broke, leave it to the breeze/Why don't you be you, and I'll be me?
4. James Bay, Let It Go
This is a great quote, because it echoes the previous notion of letting things that are out of your control go. Often we can torment ourselves over what could have been, or what we should have done. "Leave it to the breeze", and don't be stuck in the past. Also, this takes on another meaning in the sense of what you might see as 'broken' parts of your personality or appearance. Just be yourself - we hear it time and time again, but it's true. Why be someone you're not, when you're awesome just the way you are (shoutout Bruno Mars...)
Today I missed my workout, but it worked out/Now I'm missing work now, but it worked out
5. Chance the Rapper, Work Out
Okay, this seems like a random quote to have included. But it resonates with me quite strongly, because I think we can overthink the details of our lives, and be too hard on ourselves when we don't match up to our expectations. It's great to be disciplined and driven, but cut yourself some slack - don't be too hard on yourself (shoutout Jess Glynne...okay, I'm going to stop with all the cross-referencing now...!). Also, remember to have fun! Charlie Hoehn wrote a great article about how 'Play' cured his anxiety, read that here.
You might also like...Self-Help Songs, 'How to Be Positive', by Chance the Rapper
Gonna to put the world away for a minute/Pretend I don't live in it/Sunshine's gonna wash my blues away
6. Zac Brown Band, Knee Deep
Yes, I know, it's ANOTHER Zac Brown Band song. Talk about biased. But this artist more than any other epitomises for me the feeling of just kicking back, relaxing, and taking the strain off of your mind. They're not talking about a literal vacation here, it's a mental one. We all carry around with us personal spas in the form of meditation. Get away for free!
Then I felt my pulse quickening/But regrets can't change anything...Joy, set my mind free/I was giving up, oh, I was giving in
7. Bastille, Joy
Another poignant lyric about letting the past be the past. Don't agonise and torment yourself over something you can't change. Also I added the second part of the lyrics, because it emphasises the positive message of the song. Just when you are thinking of giving in, don't! Relief from your pain could literally just be around the corner.
And when all broken-hearted people/Living in the world agree/There will be an answer/Let it be
8. The Beatles, Let It Be
This iconic song is probably most famous for having an amazing melody, as all The Beatles' songs do. But the lyrics really hit home, and underline what a lot of the other lyrics in this article have been saying. Don't fight against an immovable obstacle, especially if it is behind you - turn around, and let it go. Let it be.
You might also like...'Self-Help Songs, How to worry less'
Big Sean has made no secret of his mental health struggles, revealing earlier this year that he decided to start getting therapy. Despite his last album, ‘I Decided.’ being an inspiring journey through Sean’s mental struggle that ends on a positive note, it still left a feeling of there being more steps left that had to be taken.
‘Single Again’ is a celebration of his freedom from a relationship, a true break-up anthem. Now, Sean has dropped break-up tracks in the past in the form of ‘IDFWU’ and ‘Beware’, where he spits acerbic bars about his ex-girls. ‘Single Again’ is delivered in a completely different vein, with Sean poking fun at his past attitude in the lines, “Got me feeling like ‘I don’t f*** with you’/Oh nah, nah, that’s the old me”.
He goes on to muse, “Honestly, all the disrespect had damn near ruined me”. Despite being intensely introspective and soul-baring, the general mood of ‘Single Again’ seems positive, and not even in a trying to find the silver lining to the darkness kind of way, in a genuine way. It is uplifting to sense that Sean is making progress with himself - and this is his new focus.
The caption to the artwork is:
I’ve decided to take my time and get it right. Work on myself and wake up and smell the roses
Even the Detroit rapper’s delivery seems less fiery, and more peaceful. And to put your ex-girl on the actual song where you’re rapping about the break-up, that’s going to come up one of two ways. Either it’ll seem incredibly bitter and publicly ridiculing, or it’ll emphasise how accepting you are of how things worked out.
It’s definitely the latter, with photos of Sean and his old flame Jhené Aiko hanging out together surfacing on Instagram a couple of months ago. It’s a bold move, but it comes across as being 100% a good-hearted, and rather sweet, way of saying, ‘hey, we’re good’, as opposed to a mere publicity stunt. Sean’s new message is the antithesis of superficial.
So as a new album is readied, let’s hope Big Sean continues to get his mind right and place his wellbeing as the priority. I loved the old-school Sean party-starters, the tongue-in-cheek lyrics and ferocious rhymes. But I have to say I’m more excited than ever about the new Sean Don, where the maxim (knew I’d find a way to work that word in…!) at the heart of the music is way more important than the braggadocio and flexing.
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Buy Big Sean's Last Solo Album, 'I Decided.' below
George Ezra, Get Away
“It's never been this way before
Shut down by anxiety"
George Ezra acknowledged in 2018 that he had been suffering with anxiety, and ‘Get Away’ tackles this issue head on. However, the overall message is an optimistic one, and highlights how when we step back and stop for a moment, we can often realise that our worries are not as significant as we once thought.
“He's dreaming of a blacked out car, screaming: "Move over!””
This line really resonates with me, because being at Uni it often feels like we’re expected to step straight onto the treadmill of suits, chai lattes, and office desk plants without giving it a second thought. Ezra contrasts the work-based aspirations of the character driving in a tinted car, with the screaming of ‘Move over!’ hinting at the more fast-paced and stressed out lifestyle this can entail. He contrasts this with the following line,
“He’ll be flying through the sugar canes, screaming: “Move over!”
While the line is almost the same, the picture it paints is of a much more carefree person, out in nature, and the ‘Move over!’ sounds more like a child that is keen to continue their race through the fields.
“And I'm running down a mountain side when I close my eyes
And I'm a leader of a big brass band when I close my eyes”
Ezra continues to provide more fun and wide-eyed fantasies, showing us the scope of his imagination. This links back to his idea that modern generations can become ‘shut down by anxiety’. It is interesting looking at this from a student's perspective, because often I'll devote a lot of my day-to-day thinking time to degree-related worries, such as 'Am I going to get this essay finished?', 'Have I read enough?', 'Does my tutor think I'm stupid?'
But then as soon as the weekend hits, and I have a day or two off, there's a really weird feeling of confusion. During the week there's been all these small, work-related distractions, so when I stop working and these distractions disappear, all the bigger, existential questions start flooding into my head. 'What am I going to do with my life after Uni?'... 'Am I really happy studying like this?'... 'What do my friends think of me?'...
Then, because these questions are uncomfortable, I inevitably start filling my mind with the smaller distractions again, and the cycle continues.
"You better get away, boy
You better get away"
I feel like George Ezra isn't just talking about taking a vacation (although that often helps!), he means stepping back from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, and finding time to just be present, to be in the moment. It's the constant chasing our tails and finding distractions that leads to the feeling I mentioned earlier, where when all the distractions are gone, we're not really sure what to do with ourselves, and we feel a bit empty.
I guess for me personally, the message I receive from these lyrics is to stop trying to find distractions, and just appreciate each moment. And confront the uncomfortable questions. Don't run from them, tackle them head on and see how they can be dealt with - if there is nothing we can do about it right now, then it's irrelevant. If there is a solution, then make a plan for attaining that solution.
How to Worry Less #1 - Confront your problems, know your enemy
In 'The Art of Happiness', the Dalai Lama likens training your mind to deal with problems to preparing an army for battle. If you confront the enemy, learn their strengths, their weaknesses, and their tactics, then you are in a much better position to defeat them. By contrast, if you bury your head in the sand and simply hope the enemy will be defeated, you are in a much less advantageous position. Know your enemy - and know your problems.
"Any boy can dream, dream of anything
Just like you"
Like I said before, George Ezra's overarching message is one of optimism. It seems the way we are told to look at the world, our careers, our lives, makes us forget to open our minds to the more wondrous possibilities out there. We are told to look at the options as being A, B, and C, where for example, A is University, B is an Internship, and C is an Apprenticeship. But sometimes looking at life in this fixed way, and looking through the lens that society has nudged us in front of, we miss a whole host of possibilities.
Who says that the only routes we can take are A, B, and C. What about X, Y, and Z? Or 1, 2, and 3? I feel like George Ezra’s message here is to keep your mind open, and don’t get bogged down in worrying about the little things, like what car you’re driving or how late you are for that 9am meeting. Life is obviously about more than that.
How to Worry Less #2 - Keep your mind open
When you close your eyes, are you driving the blacked out car, or flying through the sugar canes?
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
I don’t know about you, but whenever I listen to new music, there are two voices in my head.
Considering there is usually just the one, and that one voice is more often than not preoccupied with repeating the phrase ‘I’m hungry’ all day, this struck me as odd.
When I’m there with my headphones or speaker playing out the latest track from a hip hop heavyweight, or perhaps a country megastar, the first voice is always my initial reaction.
This is ‘The Fan’ in me, who is a sucker for an electrifying beat and a blistering hook.
Preferably, if it’s hip hop, I like a good helping of auto-tuned emo-rap, or if it’s something more poppy or country, then just a simple earworm of a chorus and some warm, nostalgic lyrics will do the job nicely. ‘The Fan’ knows exactly what he likes, and can usually tell within the first few lines of a song whether it fits the bill or not.
Then there’s the second voice - ‘The Critic’.
Obviously in running this blog, and in having worked as Music Editor for various student newspapers, if I let ‘The Fan’ do all the talking, then it would result in some very biased reviews. ‘The Critic’ is that voice inside us that we all have whenever we make a decision or judgement call. It’s the voice that coughs a little disapproving ‘ahem’ whenever we reach for that tenth chocolate bar, or that sighs as we opt to watch yet another episode of Black Mirror instead of working on that essay due in for tomorrow.
It might seem strange that this voice pops up when I’m listening to music, as surely there is no real right or wrong in terms of what we listen to - if you enjoy it, go for it, if you don’t, then feel free to steer clear, right? But donning the prestigious title of ‘Music Writer’ (I swear they should give me some letters after my name for that) generally means adhering to the assumption that there is some objective standard of which music is good and which is not so good. Otherwise, why should anyone take any notice as to whether the New York Times’ top Music Writer says a new album is great, or that it’s terrible?
Having said this, personally I think music is clearly subjective, and I think most would agree with this. How else can you explain the fervent adulation given by some fanbases to Kanye West, and of others to AC/DC? Of course, certain artists such as The Beatles or Elvis Presley are generally accepted to have made ‘good music’, and few would contend with this.
So it’s a bit of a murky picture - which voice should I listen to more? ‘The Fan’ who immediately streams anything that Travis Scott so much as breathes on, or ‘The Critic’, who hears ‘The Fan’’s snap judgment, but asks, ‘You might like it, but is it actually good?’
So from now on I’m going to split some of my reviews into two sections. The first part will be ‘The Critic’ speaking, and will generally be how I would go to write a standard article. The second part will be space for ‘The Fan’ to let his opinions run wild.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide whose tastes you prefer, and whether we should generally listen to ‘The Fan’ within us, or ‘The Critic’…
Stay tuned for my next review, on Jaden’s ‘ERYS’, which will be posted in the next few days.
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
this article was originally published at phaser.com
Posthumous albums are always a tricky business. It is so difficult to get the sentiment right, to make sure the intentions are clearly to honour the artist, and not just to achieve material gain. There is even a question as to whether this music should be released at all.
It is clear from reading interviews with the likes of Vargas & Lagola, Aloe Blacc, and Carl Falk, all of whom worked together to complete Avicii’s TIM, just how much they cared about their late Swedish superstar and friend. Songs from TIM are difficult to listen to now, they say, and the nature of the songs on the new album make it evident why this is so.
It would be easy to read TIM as heavily foreshadowing the DJ’s passing. It is pervaded by darkness, with the first track, ‘Peace of Mind’, opening with the lyrics,
Bad Reputation tells the tragic story of someone hiding their depression (“I don't want to be seen in this shape I'm in/I don't want you to see how depressed I've been”), while ‘SOS’ pleads for a lover to come save them from their insomnia (“I get robbed of all my sleep/As my thoughts begin to bleed”).
Having said this, it’s strange reading through the lyrics of TIM, because on the basis of them alone it’s hard to view the album as anything but a suicide note from Avicii. However, listening to the album is an entirely different experience. The melodies are often tinged with sadness, and Carl Falk explains that Avicii would combine major and minor chords in the same line, the latter giving the songs a feeling of wistfulness. But there is an energy about each track, a sense that Avicii hadn’t lost his feeling of wonder and inspiration that shines through so prominently on his Stories hit, ‘The Nights’.
‘Never Leave Me’ is a boisterous, euphoric ode to a loved one, continuing the theme from SOS with the lyrics,
She knows how I’m feeling,
'Heaven’, his collaboration with Chris Martin, is undoubtedly the standout track, and one that fans have been waiting for since it was teased in 2014. It is overwhelmingly uplifting and positive, and initially it seems a little odd that it is positioned as the second track on TIM, as it could have provided a concluding note of happiness as the album closer. But then you remember the most tragic aspect of this album - it’s a tribute to a story that didn’t end happily.
The track that was chosen to finish TIM, ‘Fades Away’, epitomises how perfectly the sentiment of the album was judged. It references the ‘troubled times’ and the ‘trials to find somewhere we belong’ that have coloured the preceding eleven songs, but ends on a note of optimism,
All I know is that with you I’m moving on
This album carries such an emotional weight with it, that it was always going to be tough to find the balance between tones of positivity and regret. TIM finds this middle ground in a way that few other posthumous albums succeed in doing, and in my view, this is Avicii’s best work to date. His collaborators spoke with sadness about how it felt like he was on the brink of something massive musically, and how he would never get to execute this vision. TIM is as close as we can get to the perfect tribute, and the perfect reminder of how influential and talented Avicii was.
I think it is easy to underestimate the impact Avicii has had on music, and people, around the world. The testimonial message board on his website is evidence of this, with tributes being posted from a whole range of nationalities - there are few artists whose music has touched so many people. We all remember when ‘Levels’ broke into the charts back in 2011, and essentially set the tempo for a decade that would be dominated by House/Pop fusions from EDM titans such as Calvin Harris, David Guetta, Martin Garrix and The Chainsmokers. Avicii’s crossovers into Folk, Rock and Country music broke down genre walls and introduced many new artists to fans that would not normally be interested in these kinds of music.
On a more personal note, it seems apt that I’m writing this review in the lead-up to Father’s Day. Zac Brown Band is my father and I’s favourite band, and we always have one of their CDs loaded into the car stereo, ready for our road trip sing-a-longs. The paths of our music tastes don’t often meet, but this is a great instance where we can really share our love of music with one another. And the only reason I ever heard about Zac Brown Band, was because they were featured on the Avicii song ‘Broken Arrows’, and I thought hey, why not give them a try.
Equally, I remember playing my dad Avicii’s ‘The Nights’, and he fell in love with the carpe diem spirit of the hook,
He said, one day you’ll leave this world behind,
Before any big event in my life, my dad will still text me the words, ‘Remember, these are the nights!’, just as a reminder to make the most of every moment. It seems a bit trivial to call an EDM song my favourite song, but because of the meaning associated with it, ‘The Nights’ is definitely up there for me.
Avicii has had a much bigger impact on me that I would have ever imagined. While the album is heavily tinged with grief, TIM is also the perfect celebration of Avicii’s talent in creating music that resonates with his listeners. Despite the pained lyrics and the tragic context, TIM has at its heart the message Avicii always tried his best to convey - one of hope.
Get this amazing album on CD or Vinyl below
Hey Guys! This is a Guest Post, written by my super-talented best friend,
David Dawson, who's in his final year studying Music at University (so he probably has more of a right to judge music than I do!). Hope you like his piece!
Who remembers the good old days when you would log onto iTunes and buy a song for 99p, or when you’d rip all your cd music onto your Sony Ericsson with the slide up screen to then sit on the back of the bus eagerly Bluetoothing them all to your mates? To say this was still happening less than ten years ago is pretty crazy, especially in comparison with how most of us consume music these days. I am one of the millions of people who pay monthly for the pleasure of accessing all of my favourite tracks in one place and in one convenient app.
I imagine that most of the people who read this will have some use or experience of Apple Music, Spotify or any other streaming service, whether it’s using seven different email addresses to push your 30-day trial to the max, having a free membership at the sacrifice of adverts or paying a full subscription. My question is, should we? Obviously, as a consumer the benefits seem logical, why wouldn’t we want all the music we could think of, and more, all playable from your tinny mobile speaker? Streaming services allow us to access music in a way we have never experienced before, giving us the chance to not only enjoy the same tunes we know and love, but to find new music quicker than ever. Obscure music for me used to mean Track 10 from an album only known for the title song, but with streaming services you can pick yourself a band no one has heard of and shove it in the faces of your mates hoping to get discovery rights - should they hit fame.
So, what is my big issue with streaming? Well, it’s not exactly a secret, thanks to Taylor Swift and Jay-Z, that artists don’t get much money from streams. In fact, one single stream normally amounts to a fraction of a fraction of a penny being paid out to the artist. Of that tiny pie, the record label eats most of the good stuff, leaving only the accidental fruit seed and that little bit that got dropped on the floor for the artists. A look into the proper figures would tell us that labels actually do pretty well from our extensive use of streaming, with the three major labels making a combined $6.93 billion in 2018, and that this is up ten per cent from the figure in 2017 and will probably rise again for 2019. This for me causes an issue with our perception, as we all know a tiny piece of a near $7 billion dollar-sized pie is actually pretty big, but does that make it fair?
When Taylor Swift decided to effectively boycott streaming services, removing her music initially in 2012 and refusing to release her new album at the time, Red, on their services, I, as I imagine many people did, scoffed at the news. The thought of someone like Taylor Swift complaining about how much she was being paid seemed almost laughable to me, and I certainly wasn’t going to make a wooden sign and start marching in her support.
But should we have all done more to get on her side? Yes, Taylor Swift doesn’t exactly need more money, but the reality is that streaming services don’t get artists the money they deserve for the hard work they put into their music, and this is what she was protesting. Whatever job you do, and however much you earn, I’d say it’s fair for anyone to ask for an acceptable amount of payment. Of course, Taylor was brought around once some terms were put in place, but the picture hasn’t much changed since.
The issue for me seems to be that streaming services have the monopoly. Even for a huge artist, if your music is not on all the major streaming sites it is a fact that the exposure you and your music gains will be smaller, and as streaming counts for charts these days, your chances of hitting higher in the Top 40 is significantly reduced. This still may be hard for most people to relate to, so the issue I would raise, and the main issue as far as I am concerned, is how this affects smaller artists and new music. Being a user of Spotify I know how great it is for discovering new music, as is Apple Music and other streaming services. I can easily find playlists to match my exact needs or mood, or that fit into a particular genre that I enjoy, and within these playlists, while I may find some of my old favourites there is almost always one or two new tunes that really catch my attention. Therefore, for an artist that is just starting out, or even on the way up, is not being on the popular streaming services really an option? The priority for these artists at this stage is obviously to gain as much exposure as they possibly can and to find an audience for their music, which streaming allows.
However, artists like this often don’t have huge backings of record labels and to continue recording music and trying to expand revenue is a requirement. When we consider these artists, instead of millionaire popstars, we start to realise how unfair payments for music are a big issue, which is why I questioned whether we should have offered more support, or at least approval, when Swift tried to make a point. Similarly to how Swift threw her own weight around to make some progress, other larger artists are actually able to use their popularity and streaming figures to negotiate more favourable terms for themselves. However, this is a luxury that smaller artists do not enjoy, meaning that while established and rich artists may be able to make some extra money, those with smaller followings and less financial backing are only able to make the minimum, supporting that age old saying about the rich getting richer whilst the poor get poorer.
Jay-Z was another big name who recognised the injustice, setting up his own streaming site, Tidal, and moving all his music across. Despite Tidal paying more, it is still significantly small amounts per stream, which still means that artists would have to get thousands of listeners to make any significant amount, which for most artists starting out is not a reality.
The ultimate point that I am trying to make, therefore, is that as much as we use or enjoy streaming services, maybe we should have been marching with Taylor and supporting the progress she was trying to make, and that now we should still be scrutinising these big streaming services and trying to generate change. As was the problem with Swift’s actions, it is hard to get people to empathise or sympathise with a millionaire expecting more money. But I would emphasise to people that no matter what their vocation or salary, if they were not paid a fair amount for their honest labour, they too would feel a lack of justice, and that when we consider the smaller artists attempting to make a career for themselves, is it fair that they have to accept tiny payments in exchange for their exposure and advancement? After all, there would be little point in having a great platform to enjoy music on, if there was no new music for us to enjoy.
There was a time when an offer to perform on the Grammys stage was one of the most coveted honours in music, where if the Grammys adjudicators deemed you an artist worthy of showcasing, then you’d made it. It was the seal of approval most musicians pined for.
But today’s awards ceremony is very different to how it once was. Two of the biggest artists of the day, Kendrick Lamar and Drake, both rejected opportunities to perform; Song of the Year and Music Video of the Year winner Childish Gambino didn’t turn up; and neither did the industry’s power couple Jay-Z and Beyoncé.
Notably, most of the artists that continually turn their noses up at the Grammys operate in the Hip Hop arena. This is partly because the genre has quickly become the biggest in the US, with Nielsen Music’s report suggesting 8 out of the 10 most streamed artists in the world are rappers. However, this surge has arguably not been mirrored by the genre’s award tallies, with the Grammys coming under fire for its problem acknowledging artists of colour, as well as consistently under-representing women. Clear attempts were made this year to shine the spotlight on female artists, with Kacey Musgraves winning Best Album and Dua Lipa winning Best New Artist.
But Hip Hop continued its troubled relationship with the industry’s most prestigious awards ceremony, with the biggest incident of the night arriving during Drake’s acceptance speech for Best Song. Instead of thanking the adjudicators (whoever those mysterious people are) for choosing ‘God’s Plan’ as the winner, he criticised the very existence of the Grammys. He addressed the crowd, “I want to let you know we're playing in an opinion-based sport, not a factual-based sport”, before elaborating, “Look, if there's people who have regular jobs who are coming out in the rain, in the snow, spending their hard earned money to buy tickets to come to your shows, you don't need this right here. I promise you, you already won.”
Half of this speech was ‘accidentally’ cut off, so that viewers didn’t get to see it, but it seems like Drake had a point. Although it may appear a little paradoxical for a music critic to claim that we are wrong to judge music, I think the Canadian rapper is right in that we cannot really take an objective approach, and the eclecticism that expresses itself through people’s music tastes highlights this. You’d be hard-pressed to sit a Heavy Metal fanatic opposite a Jazz connoisseur and get them to agree as to which is the ‘better’ form of art. By the same token, it seems futile for some unbiased umpire to conclude Jazz as superior to Heavy Metal, or vice versa. They’re just different, not necessarily better or worse. You could argue that the charts are this independent referee, so to speak, as the more popular a song is, the better it must be. But how come critics so frequently give an album a very bleak review, yet it subsequently leaps to number one in the charts? Whose opinion should we trust more? We can only really talk in terms of preference, rather than quality, and this is the notion Drake was trying to convey.
Can we compare Travis Scott’s Sicko Mode to Mozart’s 21st Symphony? Can we rate Tracey Emin’s ‘Unmade Bed’ higher or lower than Dali’s ‘Lobster Telephone’? Can we even judge songs within the same genre to be better than others, or is it always going to be a matter of personal palate? Some Hip Hop heads might be obsessed with the Migos, while others will complain they are garbage compared to the old guard of 2pac and the Notorious B.I.G.
So really, who are the Grammys to say that Childish Gambino had a ‘better’ song than Lady Gaga, or Shawn Mendes? How can they profess such insight as to be able to do what nobody else seems able to do, and rank music, not only within genres, but across genres. Perhaps Drake summed it up perfectly in saying, "This is a business where sometimes it's up to a bunch of people who might not understand what a mixed race kid from Canada has to say or a fly Spanish girl from New York or anybody else, or a brother from Houston right there, my brother Travis [Scott]. But my point is you've already won if you have people singing your songs word for word, if you're a hero in your hometown.”
Music is made for the public and for the fans, it’s not aimed at critics or Grammys adjudicators. By the same token, for me to talk of ‘good music’, it should really just be interchangeable with ‘music that I like’. This isn’t a fact-based sport, it’s an opinion-based one - your playlist is your pantheon of Grammy winners.
So I guess that leaves me awarding Travis Scott the Best Metal Performance, Drake the Best New Age Album, and Future the Best Jazz Vocal Album. Who knew Hip Hop was so versatile?
Yours sincerely, but not too seriously,
Avicii, 'The Nights'
“He said, one day you'll leave this world behind
So live a life you will remember
My father told me when I was just a child
These are the nights that never die”
I think it’s a testament to the selflessness that pervades the late Swedish DJ’s music, that he wove a constant theme of ‘Carpe Dium’ throughout his catalogue, despite clearly struggling to overcome his own struggles to find happiness. Maybe this is what motivated him so fervently to provide his listeners with an approach to help them find their own joy. Either way, Avicii’s ‘The Nights’ is the epitome of what my Self-Help Songs series is all about.
“One day my father he told me
Son, don't let it slip away
He took me in his arms, I heard him say
When you get older
Your wild heart will live for younger days
Think of me if ever you're afraid”
It may sound corny to call an EDM track my favourite song of all time, especially considering my overwhelming love for Hip Hop, but ‘The Nights’ is a definite contender for my personal top spot. Its tale of a father telling his son not to waste his life and to chase his dreams reminds me of the mentality my dad has always tried to instil in me. I remember playing this song to him a few years back, and he immediately fell in love with it too - despite in no way being a fan of Electronic Dance Music. The music video only serves to drive home the valuable message, with professional life-liver Rory Kramer giving us a snapshot into the rip-roaring adventures he has always been inspired to embark on. My dad still sends me texts at University saying ‘Remember - these are the Nights!’, (admittedly usually accompanied by a few random emojis!). But sometimes I feel like I do need this reminder to try and make the most of this moment. It seems adults spend half their time telling us that ‘Oh, life does go by quickly, and before you know it you’ll be old and wishing you’d made more of your youth’. Ugh, whatever, is the standard response, occasionally followed by a roll of the eyes.
It’s true though, and I think we all know this deep down. I mean, it feels like I only started my Oxford journey last month, but already I’m going to Halfway Hall, signifying I’ve officially made it through half of my three year degree. Time does fly by, and one day we will leave this world behind, despite my childhood attempts to reject this notion and believe in the possibility of immortality (part of me is still tempted to go and freeze myself for a few centuries until a cure for death has been made, but I guess I’ll need to commit a little more than part of myself in order for that to work!). I’m as guilty as anyone of looking forward all the time, planning ahead, thinking of where I want to be in five, ten years. I think this is partly a symptom of our education system, and how there is always an objective, a goal we are preparing for, whether this be GCSEs, A-Levels, Prelims or Finals, and we believe that once we get past the next target we can start living as we want to. But life is one long string of targets, and I feel like it’s easy to focus so hard on that next deadline, that upcoming holiday, and that job promotion that’s a couple of years off, that you eventually find that you’ve wished years of your life away.
So following on from my last Self-Help Songs post on Zac Brown Band, I think that while it’s important and inspiring to set goals, at the same time we have to remember to just appreciate this night, this day, this moment, without thinking of what comes next. It’s that cheesy old slogan that’s now emblazoned across every iPhone case, laptop screensaver and River Island t shirt - 'Carpe Dium'. It’s a painfully overused cliche - but at the same time, it’s undoubtedly true. Because in reality, we only ever experience life in the present, so I guess you could say that the future never arrives. So why put your emphasis on something uncertain, when you could be putting your energy into making the most of the what is right in front of you? After all, these are ‘The Nights’ (unless you’re in Australia, in which case - these are ‘The Days’!)
“When thunderclouds start pouring down
Light a fire they can't put out
Carve your name into those shining stars”
How to Live Without Regrets #1 - Seize the Day
How to De-Stress #1 - Slow Down
So you’ve heard it a million times. Yes, ok, we get it. The world we live in moves at too fast a pace. But quite frankly, what are we supposed to do about it. I’ve got an essay in for tomorrow, an internship application to sort out and lots of baying blog followers to please with a steady flow of posts. Well, maybe the last one was a bit of an exaggeration, but still, it seems easy to just tell people they’ve got too much going on without providing an actual solution to it.
I feel like this song gets to the crux of the matter in a really simple, convincing way. ‘No Hurry’ is about (spoiler alert) slowing down, and just taking a moment to breathe. Because in this day and age, we do have a million things to think about. Certainly at University, any moment you take off essay reading, or essay writing, or essay checking (pfft, like anyone actually does that), you feel kind of guilty for not spending it on work. But this shouldn’t be how we feel, life isn’t just about work. It’s just as important to stop and chill every once in a while, otherwise the bundle of impending deadlines and doom pile up in your mind until you reach breaking point. Personally, my mind often feels like its moving too fast for me to keep up, so that when I’m sat working on my CV I’m thinking that I should be working on my degree, but when I’m writing an essay I’m thinking I should be working on my CV.
This may seem like the least relevant question I could possibly ask, given that over the past five years Hip Hop has surged up the charts to become the leading genre across all streaming platforms. It is currently in the purplest of patches, with Drake and Kendrick Lamar now consistently leading the nominations across the biggest award shows.
However, the increase in rattling hi-hats and booming bass streaming down our headphones is partly due to Hip Hop’s malleability as a genre. Pop songs frequently feature a verse from a rapper, and have done since the early 2000s, while the introduction of Auto-Tune has led numerous Hip Hop artists to lend their vocals or a production credit to Alternative, Electronic, Rock and World songs.
But is this genre blurring specific only to Hip Hop, or is this something that can be seen across all genres? It is certainly not exclusively applicable to Hip Hop, with plenty of novel cross genre collaborations hitting the top of the charts, such as Country and EDM. But undoubtedly the most prominent of these, as well as perhaps the most unusual, involve Hip Hop. Who would have foreseen that Essex’s Charlie-Charmer Olly Murs would come together with West Coast gangster rapper Snoop Dogg on their recent hit Moves? Or that Stevie Wonder would agree to play the flute on Travis Scott’s Stop Trying to Be God?
A lot of these partnerships can be put down to record label manoeuvring, with the two artists often recording their pieces separately and never actually meeting. Certainly in the case of more commercial pop hits, this seems to nearly always be the case. However, Hip Hop seems to spark unlikely but genuine friendships. Elton John, for example, is a self-professed Young Thug superfan, combining forces with the Atlanta warbler on his recent High remix of John’s Rocket Man. Stevie Wonder and Travis Scott did actually meet, as proven in a very staged ‘Oh look who I bumped into’ photo on the latter’s Instagram. But they met, nonetheless.
The success of James Blake’s new album, Assume Form, was partly propelled by features from Hip Hop super-producer Metro Boomin and the aforementioned Travis Scott. Blake’s style tiptoes around the fringes of alternative and electronic music, his sound distinguishable by its contrasting ambient warmth and falsetto chills. Scott wades into Blake’s sonic universe with ease, providing a clear, downcast anchor in amongst the whirling, euphonic fog surrounding him. Personally, I think Blake often lacks this lucidity to counter the wavering, fleeting melodies that permeate his other works, and perhaps this is why Hip Hop comes into its element when complimenting an artist from another genre. Its directness and ferocity often lights up a track that is otherwise in need of a lift. Tranquil synths and dreamy pop vocals are the taste of the day, with Ariana Grande, Swae Lee, Halsey and newcomer Summer Walker all perpetuating this style. This works brilliantly on isolated tracks and brief chart-toppers, but this ambience can often struggle, in my view, to sustain the listener’s interest over an entire album. It works if you are on the right vibe, but the truth is you rarely stay in the mood for the hour it takes to digest an album of this ilk. A rap verse keeps the listener guessing, and gives hardcore fans of the featured artist a reason to stick with the song through to the end.
So now that Hip Hop has clambered to the top of the musical pedestal, albeit partly through a few helpful leg-ups from cross-genre features and the odd guest verse, can we expect it to stay there? Or will it be usurped by another mercenary genre leapfrogging its way to the top? Perhaps Country stars Florida Georgia Line’s collaboration with Pop’s Bebe Rexha, and Zac Brown Band’s venture into EDM with the late Avicii, are precursors to a Top 40 dominated by Nashville?
In reality, I think Hip Hop is here to stay for the next couple of years. Young Thug, Travis Scott and, most recently, Future, have all honed a sound that perfectly combines the spacey with the hard-hitting and fierce. If they can just add a little more depth to their lyrics, I think their armoury will be very difficult to defeat. But nonetheless, I’ll keep my checked shirt and cowboy hat at the ready, just in case…
Originally published at www.phasermagazine.com
Hello! I'm currently studying Philosophy & Theology at Oxford University, UK. Having always loved writing and music in equal measure, and having always hated decision-making, I figured hey, why do I need to choose between the two?