If that title is incomprehensible to you, well, it’s British slang, innit. Drug slang, to be right proper. Ecstasy and speed, which you have to be all sorted out for, when you’re off to a rave. The delightful part is that this song caused controversy when it was released as a single, with an op-ed in the Daily Mirror calling for a ban and much brow-furrowing about its alleged “pro-drug” message. Such was the outcry that Pulp actually acquiesced to to changing the design of their album art to make it appear less “pro-drug”, while reassuring the public that the message was, if you listened the song at all, decidedly anti-drug. Which just shows how the British press could still, as of 1995, happily get their own and lot of other people’s knickers all knotted up over the alleged content of an utterly innocuous pop song, something they – the British press – have a longstanding reputation for.
Don’t talk to me about how all these pop groups today all sound the same. I challenge you to pick any one of the dozens of indistinguishable pop groups of the 1960’s out of a lineup. There were, in the end, maybe four or five British Invasion groups that people still remember as separate entities. Otherwise it was a hit parade of quartet and quintets who all sounded like the Hanna-Barbera to the Beatles’ Walt Disney. Who remembers The Hollies? What were their names? What were the names of their wives, children and pets? No one cares. It’s not their fault; they weren’t a bad band. They were just good at something that a lot of other people were equally good at, and history doesn’t remember the averagely skilled. At least Graham Nash went on to distinguish himself as the fourth best-known member of C,S,N&Y.
I’ve always preferred Elton John in his campier mode, but you can’t deny that he’s a master of the weepy ballad. This could be the soundtrack of every breakup montage in every romantic comedy ever, which is generally not a compliment. But it’s Sir Elton, and he always has a way of reaching my buttons, whether he’s all manic in glitter and go-go boots or all earnest and hungover-looking alone at a piano. He speaks the truth too, of course. It’s no newsflash that there’s nothing harder to cough up than an apology, and there’s an infinite number of sad songs to be written about it.
Thanks to internet culture, and social media, and technology, and, like, the world being what it is, we now have Emo Rap. Which is exactly what you think it is; a genre that combines the fun stuff of rap, such as rapping, with the emotionally heavy stuff of emo, such as suicidal depression. Aka it’s the most post-millennial, post-cultural, post-post-everything musical genre that encapsulates what the youth of today are thinking and feeling. Hint, they’re angry and depressed. All this is exemplified here, by Hobo Johnson, a young millennial Mexican-American Californian who took his stage name from being homeless. I discovered his work because Spotify allows you to see what your friends are listening to, and a lot of them were listening to Hobo Johnson. Apparently, his best known song is about buying a Subaru, which both parodies hip-hop’s gauche obsession with luxury cars, and speaks to the lived experience of the artist and his young fans. (More about that song later.) You may not have to like it – I’m not entirely sure I do – but it’s a product of our cultural moment and fascinating as such.
This is a thing I stumbled on when I was looking for something else. I discovered Meg Myers when I was trying to research Meg Mac and I thought they were the same person. Probably happens a lot. As it is, you probably know as much about Meg Myers as I do. Which is next to nothing. But definitely check out 2015 debut album, also titled Sorry.
The disco culture wars are over, because we’ve all agreed that while most disco does suck, there’s no shame in enjoying some frivolous escapist fun and to frame it as an objective cultural divide smacks of snobbery and prejudice. And as the tides of history have run in and out, disco has left behind almost as many indelible and timelessly relevant artifacts as any other popular genre. For anyone still interested in having this argument, though, the prime exhibit in defense of disco music has always been Grace Jones. Coming from the intersection of nightlife, high fashion and art, Jones brought real cultural clout to her musical debut. She came out swinging with songs by Sondheim and Piaf, and she quickly diversified her sound with influences from her native Jamaica, and her adopted homes of Paris and New York. She never moved away from dance music entirely, but rather enriched it with the substance of her far-ranging interests and inimitable personality. Which means that if there’s any such thing as an essential disco album, it’s definitely the work of Grace Jones.
Halsey is a restless artist who moves between genres as easily as she changes her look. It seems that, for the post-millennial generation, the idea that one should stick to an easily defined musical style is as old fashioned as the idea of ‘dressing your age’ or ‘not getting into a car with a stranger’. Everyone draws from everything, and it’s perfectly normal that a record be equal parts bastardized hip-hop, electronic dance music, piano balladry, confessional songwriting, and anything else the artist and her producers may find interesting. In Halsey’s case, her emotionally raw writing holds the center of what could have been a bland smorgasbord of trendy production ideas. Trying everything to see what sticks isn’t a bad approach for a young artist, really. If she wanted to, from here on out, Halsey could easily transition herself into a Norah Jones-style career as a ‘serious adult’ singer with a repertoire of sad ballads, except that I suspect that she would find it as boring as I find Norah Jones.