Friday, March 31, 2017

Kendrick, Calvin, Selena and the rest of #NewMusicFriday

Last week's New Music Friday was so underwhelming I didn't bother writing a post (memo to Zayn and Drake: stop mumbling). This week, however, things have turned around completely. There's stonking new tunes from Kendrick Lamar, Selena Gomez and Oh Wonder, to mention just a few. Scroll down for the best - and worst - of the week's new releases.

Kendrick Lamar - Humble
"Wicked or weakness, you gotta see this," raps Kendrick on this, the first proper single from his fourth album. He's not wrong.

The track, which attacks some of hip-hop's most tiresome tropes (bragging about money, improbably proportioned video girls) while asserting Kendrick's position as the best rapper in the game. "Sit down, bitch, be humble," he says, while sitting in Jesus' position at The Last Supper. Well, quite.

A Tribe Called Quest - Dis Generation
The best track on ATCQ's recent album (it samples Pass The Dutchie!!) gets a proper single release, with a gorgeous black-and-white video that shows Q-Tip, Jarobi and Busta Rhymes trading lines, and dancing whenever the voice of the late Phife Dawg pops up. Brilliant stuff.

Calvin Harris - Heatwave (ft Pharrell, Ariana Grande and Young Thug)
Less than the sum of its parts, this star-studded single feels a bit aimless - but the loping groove and Ariana's sugar-sweet B chorus provide enough highlights to keep your attention.

Bleachers - Don't Take The Money
Jack Antonoff helped Lorde put together her new album, and she's repaid the favour by co-writing this single for his band, Bleachers (she also sings backing vocals, deep, deep down in the mix). Radio 1 are going to be all over this one.

Selena Gomez - Only You
A hauntingly sombre cover of the Yazoo classic, taken from the soundtrack to the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. I like this a lot.

Kwaye - Cool Kids
I was amazed to discover this caramel-smooth soul jam emanated from London - but there it is, Kwaye is a 22-year-old, Zimbabwe-born, London-based singer-songwriter. His debut video is a celebration and declaration of diversity. Highly recommended.

British Sea Power - International Space Station
British Sea Power said their sixth album (out today) would be their most musically direct record - and they certainly keep that promise. International Space Station is my personal highlight, with a soaring chorus and what can only be described as an indie musician's version of a cheerleader chant in the middle 8.

Becky Hill - Rude Love
Written with MNEK, this is a distinctly odd and deliberately obtuse pop single. Naturally, it is quite excellent.

Oh Wonder - Ultralife
A welcome return for DIY alt-pop duo Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West. Their doubled-up vocals are instantly recognisable on this joyous, uplifting single. Not a massive progression from their debut, but just different enough to raise interest for the new album.

Alt-J - In Cold Blood
Intricate but accessible; awkward but danceable. Alt-J at their best. Will sound great in a field near you this summer.

Billie Eilish - Bored
Another scene-grabbing slice of pop melodrama from the precociously talented teenager. An ode to boredom that manages to be anything but.

Vanessa White - Running Wild
The former Saturday has had her attempts at launching a solo career frustrated by legal problems with her old management. But with those hurdles overcome, she's back with EP2 (three years after EP1), which further exemplifies her deft touch with a classic R&B harmony. Beguiling stuff.

Catherine McGrath - When I'm Older
Imagine if Natalie Imbruglia did a country makeover of Torn, and you have a good idea of how Catherine McGrath's new single sounds. The 19-year-old, who hails from the rural outskirts of Belfast (NB: All the outskirts of Belfast are rural), grew up surrounded by music - her parents run the Fiddler's Green Festival - and cites Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift as her influences.

This song captures the joys of youth ("these are going to be the good old days some day"), with an earnest, uplifting acoustic strum. A total breath of fresh air.

Mary J Blige - Love Yourself (feat Kanye West)
After flirting with UK house on her last album, Mary J Blige's latest sees her retreating to safe ground. You've heard a hundred variations of this song before.

Cheat Codes - No Promises (feat Demi Lovato)
Totally generic Primark pop.

The Chainsmokers - The One
Not the one.

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Video: Louisa Johnson - Best Behaviour

Filmed in an airplane graveyard - and why not?

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Thursday, March 30, 2017

It's been a good 24 hours for LIttle Mix

All hail Little Mix, who've been totally bossing the US this week. First with an impeccably-choreographed performance on James's Corden's chat show (the 1-2-3-4 synchronised hair toss is in a class of it's own).

Then the released the (superb) new video for No More Sad Songs, any review of which is contractually obliged to reference Coyote Ugly.

And, to cap it all off, there was this.

Congratulations, girls!

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Video: Billie Eilish - Bellyache

Billie Eilish is only 15 years old, but she's already a formidable talent. Just check out last year's debut single Ocean Eyes, an astonishingly assured piece of songwriting, in which she compares falling in love to plummeting off a cliff under "napalm skies".

Her new single, Bellyache, is even more striking. I'd call it a murder ballad, except it's not a ballad: It's a shadowy, brooding pop banger that fantasises about finishing off her lover and leaving his body to rot in the gutter. Less "psycho killer, q'uest que c'est", and more "Oui oui, je suis un psycho killer, et puis quoi?"

The video picks up after the gory bits, with Billie on the run from the law, dragging a trailer of her possessions behind her, and doing a victory dance in the desert like any normal murderer would.

But, as the singer told Vice, Bellyache is actually a song "about the concept of guilt.

"When you do things in the moment because you feel so strongly about them, in the end you're left with the decision you made.

"That line: 'I thought that I'd feel better, but now I gotta bellyache' is about how you kinda know that you're the worst but you don't care. It's about a psychopath who regrets being a psychopath but doesn't really care.

The song is pretty much perfect and the video is just as riveting. Billie Eilish is a star in the making.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Video: Astrid S - Breathe

Norwegian pop star Astrid S has pulled out all the stops (and several of the pistols) in the video for her slinky pop masterpiece Breathe.

An effortlessly cool pastiche of Bond and Tarantino and classic Sunday afternoon heist movies, the video stars the singer as a gun-totin' vigilante on the run with her fella. We follow them across the decades as they evade the law and defeat the bad guys. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, a total riot.

Director Cherry Red Films (not his real name) said: "Our main inspiration for the story were retro action movies such as the cult classic James Bond films from the 60s, as well as 70s road movies, Tarantino-esque characters and Americana influences in general. [See, I told you - Ed]

"We wanted to play with pastiches in all aspects: famous movie scenes, interiors, fashion and clichéd characters." Watch below.

"This is the biggest music video I’ve done yet!" added Astrid. "I think the video manages to capture the edge and sassiness of the song, with a good mix of serious and funny."

Watch above.

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Blondie + Dev Hynes = 🔥

Blondie have been working with a whole host of amazing pop people on their new album: Sia, Charli XCX, Dave Sitek and Joan "I love rock and roll so put another dime in the jukebox, baby" Jett. (They've also been collaborating with Johnny Marr and Nick Valensi out of The Strokes, which dampens my enthusiasm somewhat - but half a good Blondie record is better than no Blondie record at all).

The latest track to be released from Pollinator is called Long Time, and it's produced by Dev Hynes, the man behind Solange's moody pop beast Losing You; Carly Rae Jepsen's moody pop beast All Yours and Sky Ferreira's moody pop beast Everything Is Embarrassing. He keeps up his phenomenal strike rate here, with a song that appends Blondie's signature disco-punk sound with a rushing swirl of synths and guitars.

It's a moody pop beast.

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Here is a remix of Chained To The Rhythm

Ever wanted to hear Katy Perry's Chained To The Rhythm slowed down with a drowsy, vocodered rap "section". Well, you're in luck because Lil Yachty and Lil Boat (but, sadly, not Lil Dinghy or Lil Canoe) have made a remix for you.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Kelis returns - and the rest of #NewMusicFriday: 17 March 2017

Here we go again...

1) TCTS - Do It Like Me (ft Kelis & Sage The Gemini)
This is an absolute monster. Kelis, as usual, turns everything she touches to gold.

2) Clean Bandit ft Zara Larsson - Symphony
Speaking of Kelis, this lifts the lyrical conceit of her 2010 song ("before you, my whole life was acapella, now a symphony's the only thing to sing") and runs with it. Being Clean Bandit, there are plenty of symphonic strings to hammer the metaphor home.

Not destined to dominate the charts like Rockabye, but a barnstorming pop song nonetheless.

3) Feist - Pleasure
"I was raw and so were the takes," says Feist of her new album, Pleasure. "Our desire was to record that state without guile or go-to's and to pin the songs down with conviction and our straight up human bodies."

It cetainly comes across in this single - which is simultaneously scratchy, lo-fi and utterly thrilling. Like all the best songs, it starts as a lullaby and ends like a riot.

4) Tinashe - Flame
Things haven't really taken off for Kentucky's Tinashe Jorgenson Kachingwe so far - but this song deserves an audience. "Tell me that you've still got a flame for me and we can let it burn," she trills over a discarded Carly Rae Jepsen beat. Recommended.

5) Kasabian - You're In Love With A Psycho
This made me do a big, affectionate chuckle on the tube this morning. The lyrics are deliberately preposterous ("I'm like the taste of macaroni on a seafood stick"???) but it's nice to have Kasabian back.

6) Pond - The Weather
If Kasabian have you in the mood for a bit of psych-rock, this dreamy, kaleidoscopic track from Perth's Pond fits the bill nicely. It will not surprise you to learn it was produced by Tame Impala's Kevin Parker.

7) Mura Masa ft Charli XCX - 1 Night
Neither artist's greatest moment, but a perfectly serviceable indie-pop jam for Side B of your latest mixtape.

8) Fenne Lily - What's Good?
Self-taught songstress Fenne Lily impresses on this achingly beautiful ballad: "Tell me why good things die," she pleads, her vocals quivering over a lonely, plucked guitar. "Stay the night - because I need this more than I knew. More than I'd like to". Heartbreaking.

9) Machine Gun Kelly feat G-Eazy and Kehlani - Good Life
As mindless and insubstantial as the film it soundtracks (Fate of the Furious), this will undoubtedly be a huge hit.

10) Linkin Park - Battle Symphony
I'm still mystified by Linkin Park's attempt to become OneRepublic. I mean, they do it well - but to what end?

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Marian Hill release hypnotic video for Down

Philadelphia duo Marian Hill have been bubbling under for a couple of years now - but they received a well-deserved shot in the arm when Apple picked one of their songs to soundtrack its first AirPod commercial.

After the advert premiered in America on 14 January, Nielsen Music recorded a major increase in downloads for Down - with its figures jumping from "negligible" to 101,000, sending it into the upper reaches of the Billboard Hot 100.

The song has now racked up 31 million Spotify plays - and the band are hoping to sustain their figures with the release of an eerie, hypnotic video - in which singer Samantha Gongol and producer Jeremy Lloyd plummet to the ground in an out-of-control elevator.

It's a perfect fit for the sparse, spooky electropop of the song. If you're a fan of AlunaGeorge, this will be firmly in your ballpark.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Stormzy's new video is a gif goldmine

Stormzy has just released a video for Cold, to celebrate his debut album Gang Signs & Prayer going Gold (that's 100,000 sales!)

It's a pretty simple video based around two lyrics:

1) "I've been cold the whole season / I should call my next one "Freezing"
Stormzy performs in the snow

2) "All my young black kings rise up / Man, this is our year / And my young black queens right there / It's been a long time coming, I swear"
A bunch of cute black kids show their potential - role-playing doctors, lawyers and even the King of England

But the clip, directed by Floyd Sorietu is a gif giftshop, thanks mainly to the fact that Stormzy drips with charisma; although the kids who plays the king has the best "da fuk you lookin' at" face I have ever seen.

Here's a few of my favourite moments, followed by the video "in full".

"You've let me down, you've let your mother down and, worst of all, you've let yourself down."

"Lately, I have begun to feel the effects of the inclement weather."

Woah! Extreme close-up!

This dude can throw some serious shade


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Lorde's SNL appearance goes without a hitch

There were two excellent performances and one dodgy sketch from Lorde on this weekend's Saturday Night Live. The New Zealander delivered pitch perfect renditions of Green Light and Liability from her forthcoming second album, Melodrama, the latter performed while drowning in a merenguey wedding dress ("I wanted to look like an attic moth, no sparkle, swaddled and floating. something so sad about white," she wrote on Twitter).

Watch below.

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Frank Ocean likes the smell of Chanel

Almost 60 years ago, Soprano Elisabeth Schwartzkopf was pilloried for her appearance on Desert Island Discs - when seven of the eight records she chose were her own recordings (the eighth was the instrumental prelude to an opera recording in which she was the star.)

So imagine what people will say about Frank Ocean - who used his own radio show on Beats 1 to premiere his new single, Chanel 18 times in a row. Yes, eighteen.

While the song doesn't quite justify that level of exposure (and let's not forget, Frank will receive royalties for all 18 of those plays) it's still a fantastic listen - all muffled beats and lazy, looping piano figures. Lyrically, Frank continues to explore duality and gender fluidity, opening with the line: "My guy pretty like a girl / he got fight stories to tell / I see both sides like Chanel."

But the chorus does nothing to dispel the notion he's become a little bit pleased with himself, as he sings: "I got new money / And it's all cash / I got new bags / And they all collabs / I rubber band thousand dollar Delta gift cards."

Well done, Frank. We're all terrifically pleased for you.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Lorde, Louisa and the rest of New Music Friday: 10 March 2017

Here we are again. In a post-Ed Sheeran landscape, none of these songs have a hope in hell of charting but what are the charts really for any more? Just listen to this stuff on Spotify and get on with your life.

Louisa Johnson - Best Behaviour
It starts off with a Curtis Mayfield bassline and a distorted vocal sample. Then Louisa summons in a chorus of handclaps (never not a good thing), then the hook is played on a panpipe. One of the most unusual and brilliant songs ever released by an X Factor winner. 10/10

Lorde - Liability
A sombre piano ballad inspired by Rihanna's Higher - and which really highlights Bowie's influence on Lorde's new album. Contains the lyric "he made the big mistake of dancing in my storm". Amazing.

Nicki Minaj ft Drake and Lil Waybe - No Faults
Nicki is on fire in this rapidly-recorded response to a Remy Ma diss track. "Soon as I wake up keep an eye out for the snakes," she spits on the single, which precedes her fourth album later this year.

Steps - Scared Of The Dark
Astonishingly good. Imagine if this was our Eurovision entry.

Alt-J - 3WW
If you can imagine Fleet Foxes covering Massive Attack's Teardrop, you're well on your way to imagining Alt-J's new single. Complete with choir chants, strings from the London Metropolitan Orchestra and guest vocals from Wolf Alice’s Ellie Rowsell, it's "quite the thing".

Astrid S - Breathe
A 100 carat electro-pop anthem, mined from the jagged fjords of Norway. Contains my favourite lyrics of the week: "Did you slip me a magic pill? You got me lifted like an astronaut, no helmet on and my lungs just stop. I forget to breathe when I'm with you".

Laura Marling - Wildfire
Laura's sixth (sixth!) album, Semper Femina, is out today and it's possibly the best thing she's done. Wild Fire is one of the standouts, but you should also investigate the jazz-infused Soothing and the gorgeous Nouel.

Charli XCX - Babygirl (ft Uffie)
Today sees the release of Charli's long-awaited Number 1 Angel. It might be a mixtape, but most artists would kill to have these 10 tracks as a single. Babygirl is a highlight - all chunky mid-80s Madonna basslines, with a funky rap verse from Uffie.

Stargate ft Sia and Pink - Waterfall
Stargate are the Swedish team behind Beyonce's Irreplaceable, Rihanna's Rudeboy, and the majority of Coldplay's last album. Sia is a songwriter of some repute. Pink is a pop star turned trapeze artist. Together, they have turned in a song that sounds exactly like you would expect based on their standard operating parameters. Not bad, just so-so.

Steel Banglez - Money
While Stormzy and Skepta make great strides in broadening Grime's horizons, this single relies on the same old stale tropes we've heard a million times. It's a shame, because the production - from one of London's hottest young musicians - is on point.

Goldfrapp - Ocean
"We wanted to sort of bring the synths again," Alison Goldfrapp told Billboard about this new track. And, oh boy, are the synths back. This is huge - recalling the tougher moments of Black Cherry and Supernature, with a shade of Depeche Mode darkness. Not a single, but a stunning song nonetheless.

There's also a Clean Bandit single due out today, but it hasn't appeared yet. It'll probably turn up on Greg James or Zane Lowe's show later this afternoon. Radio, eh?

Update: The Clean Bandit single is out next week. As you were.

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Video: Anne-Marie - Ciao Adios

Not unwisely, this rips off references Major Lazer's video for Lean On, with its primary-coloured choreography and exotic locations (looks like the Riads of Morocco, if I'm not mistaken).

The song remains fantastic, as 8 million Spotify streamers can attest.

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Video: The Weeknd - I Feel It Coming

"Daft Punk dress up as Darth Vader" is essentially all you need to know about this one.

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Perfect pop from Fickle Friends

Brighton band Fickle Friends are officially a good pop thing™. Formed in 2013, they almost instantly wrote a classic - Swim - all cascading guitar riffs and shimmering vocals from the memorably-monikered Natassja Shiner.

The song floated to the top of the Hype Machine charts, gaining over a million streams on Soundcloud and helping the band onto 23 festival bills, despite having no manager and no label. They've since signed to Polydor, which has an impeccable track record with pop artists, from Girls Aloud to Ellie Goulding via Take That and Haim.

Amazingly, they owe everything to Jamie Oliver - who liked the band so much, he forked out the cash for them to record Swim.

"He caught us at the beginning and that song helped us a lot. We love Jamie — he's great," Natassja told The Sun. (As someone who has eaten at Jamie's Italian approximately twice, I would like to claim 0.0000000000000000043% credit for the band's career.)

Anyway, fast forward to 2017 and the band are preparing to release their debut album. In time honoured tradition, they are issuing a single to promote it, and that single is called Hello Hello - which means it's twice as good as that Adele song.

If you like Dragonette or Metronomy or songs you can sing along to, then this will be right up your proverbial alley.

Fans of handwritten lyrics will appreciate this Instagram post the band shared last night.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Charli XCX says she has enough songs for three mixtapes!

"My record was supposed to come out a while ago, and I know some of my fans were upset at that," said Charli XCX, as she unveiled her new mixtape live on BBC Radio 1. "So I really wanted to do this for them."

She premiered three songs from Number 1 Angel, which is out on Friday. First up was 3 AM (aka Pull Up), a giddy love song co-starring everyone's favourite featured artist, . It was by far the most chart-bound of the songs we heard.

Next out of the gates was the EP's opening track, Dreamer, a drawling, trap-pop collaboration with BBC Sound of 2017 appointee (and After the Afterparty co-writer) Raye. Finally, Lipgloss was a glitchy 16-bit bubblegum tune featuring a guest appearance from Chicago MC Cupcakke.

"I write all the time," Charli told Mistajam. "What's great about the mixtape [is] I got to work with so many artists that I love. It was cool to come together and be able to write really quickly with girls who I am so in love with, as artists, and put it all out.

"We did so many more songs, there could kind of be three mixtapes. But that might be excessive."

Would it, Charli? Would it?

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Video: Julia Michaels - Issues

Julia Michaels has arrived with the hazy video for her debut single, Issues - a dreamy proto-ballad about codependency (it's much better than that makes it sound, apols).

If you haven't heard her name before, you've certainly heard her music. The songs she's written for other artists, including Selena Gomez's Good For You and Hailee Steinfeld's Love Myself, have clocked up more than 8 billion streams worldwide.

Issues is already adding to that statistic... It's up to 96 million plays on Spotify already and, hopefully, the video will give it another shot in the arm.

A star is born?

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Video: The xx - Say Something Loving

The xx take a trip down memory lane on the video Say Something Loving, one of the stand-out tracks from their number one album, I See You.

"We wanted to celebrate our home town and revisit some of the places that reminds us of our friendship when we were growing up," said the band of the clip, which was directed by photographer Alasdair McLellan.

As you may already know, Say Something Loving is a brooding song about fractured friendships that samples 70s soft rock duo The Alessi Brothers. It's amongst the band's most "pop" moments, which is a bit like calling One For Sorrow one of Steps' most downbeat songs. Context is everything.

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Video: Jax Jones - You Don't Know Me

You Don't Know Me is currently on heavy rotation at Discopop Towers - where my seven-year-old has spent several furrow-browed hours attempting to nail Raye's rap-speak section ("see your iPhone camera flashing, etc, etc").

So it's nice to see our domestic situation reflected in the video, where a young girl bounces around the house singing the song at the top of her voice. It's a joy to watch.

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Ray BLK's Patience video was worth the wait

Ray BLK is a solid platinum star. The unexpected winner of the BBC's Sound of 2017 (everyone assumed it'd be Rag "'n'"' Bone Man) she's cut from the same cloth as Lauryn Hill - from her big-hearted soul melodies to the socially conscious raps.

A day before she topped the BBC poll, Ray released a pointedly-titled new song: Patience (Freestyle). An ode to biding your time, it criticises the fame hungry "now generation", explaining she'd only bother us when she had something to say. "They're runni. Just to get in first place," she sings in that dusky voice, "I'm walking - going at my own pace."

Appropriately enough, she's just uploaded the video - a mere nine weeks after the song was released. It's worth the wait, though. Sitting in a hair salon (the same one as her 50/50 video), Ray holds the camera's gaze, delivering the lyrics like she's having a conversation. It feels like you're hanging out with her - but you'll still be in awe of her presence and charisma.

Like I said, solid platinum.

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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Praise the Lorde

Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor (that's Lorde to you and me) is back with a new single, and it's something of a corker.

Called Green Light, it's slightly disorientating on your first listen - the shift from the sadballad verse to the house piano bridge to the arms-akimbo glitter cannon chorus is somewhat odd. But stick with it, you'll be honking your horn every time it comes on the radio.

I've written extensively about the song over on the BBC, so I won't bang on about it here any more. Here's the video. Don't try this at home, kids.

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Lucy Rose returns with Floral Dresses

Very good folk singer Lucy Rose has teamed up with very good folk trio The Staves for a new single Floral Dresses, her first material since 2015's very good album Work It Out. It might surprise you to discover that the result is very good.

A simply-strummed acoustic lament, it's a biting riposte to a lover who showers Lucy with gifts, but is somewhat lacking when it comes to basic respect.

I don't want to wear your floral dresses
And my lips won't be coloured
I don't want your diamond necklace
Your disapproval cuts through

"When I wrote Floral Dresses it really reminded me about who I was, and I always think that some of the best songs are the ones which can stand on their own with just one instrument," says Lucy, via press release. "The message is pretty clear and I hope other people will find comfort in it, and realise they are different but also the same as many people."

The video brings that to life - with various women singing Lucy's lines, hopefully ending with the same resolve to get up and leave.

Watch below.

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VIDEO: Bruno Mars - That's What I Like

Personally, I think Bruno Mars' has over-estimated the public's affection for cheesy R&B sex ballads. But then, the US was always kinder to the likes of Keith Sweat and Bobby Brown than we were in the buttoned-up, Thatcherite 1980s - so maybe this new single makes more sense to the home crowd.

The video for That's What I Like focuses on Bruno's charismatic choreography and delivery. And, in case you lose attention, someone has scribbled lines all over him, like he's the living embodiment of the cover art for Janet Jackson's Control (which, coincidentally, features an amazing R&B sex ballad called Funny How Time Flies).

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Video: Ariana Grande - Everyday

I know people sit on top of their washing machine for a thrill, but doing it in a laundromat takes a certain amount of audacity.

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