Bop Shop: Songs From Harry Styles, Rina Sawayama, Bad Bunny, And More

From her no-holds-barred dialogue to her raspy and inspired covers, Miley Cyrus has garnered a reputation for some of the greatest live performances in the music industry, which makes her new album, Attention: Miley Live, such a gem. While unexpected mashups like “Wrecking Ball x Nothing Compares 2 U,” takes on Hannah Montana-era tracks, and a guest appearance from Anitta are certainly treats, the real showstopper is unreleased song “You,” which has become such a fan favorite Cyrus included it on the tracklist twice. Over barebones piano chords, Cyrus romantically serenades a lover prepared to take her as she is — drunken nights, tender moments, and all. “I got some baggage / Let’s do some damage / I am not made for no horsey and carriage,” she bellows, before the track builds to a sea of horns and belt notes. It’s a performance that sonically finds her in a sweet spot as a writer, performer, and personality and Miley, this is my personal plea to give us the studio version soon. —Carson Mlnarik

Charlie Hickey’s Songs About Family Love And Middle-School Enemies

Charlie Hickey’s “Seeing Things” is a delicate crusher of a song. Throughout the somber ballad, the 22-year-old artist begs for a stagnant relationship to be enlivened by friction, motion, or meaning. “I wish you’d fuck with my head, sneak up right behind me, scare me to death,” Charlie gently confesses over soft guitar strumming. It’s a plea for any kind of emotional action — because to feel something, even fear, is better than feeling nothing at all.

The tune has caught fire as Hickey’s most-streamed song on Spotify, and when it was first released in February 2021, it seemed the strongest signifier of his massive potential as a singer-songwriter. What could read as an earth-shifting breakup or a knee-bent request not to be abandoned, the track imagines the possibilities of an unrequited crush. This kind of love is fleeting, yet Hickey illustrates how massive it can feel when you’re in it. “That song is about that feeling of building something up in your head so much and going on this whole journey,” he tells MTV News, “and then realizing that nothing has even happened yet.”

While his lyrics document all-encompassing periods of love or heartbreak, they tend to emerge from observations of everyday life and casual conversations with Hickey’s friends. “How much you can feel about something that is really such a small deal — I feel like it’s kind of a theme in a lot of my music,” he says. “It’s the thoughts people have when they’re not trying to say something interesting.”

“Seeing Things” has since found its way onto Hickey’s first full-length album, Nervous at Night, out today (May 20), which is a kaleidoscope of dovetailing themes. It skates over relationships both romantic and platonic, while also engaging with the universal experience of growing up and becoming the person you’re meant to be. An overall emphasis on the transitory spans the project, as Hickey navigates the spaces between where he’s been, where he is, and where he’s going. There is anxiety, too, that he might not get there. On the apprehensive “Gold Line,” he muses: “I think feeling things is too hard / I’ve got this feeling I’m not gonna get what I want.”

“It definitely is a feeling I have a lot,” Hickey says. “Whether it’s about a romantic situation or a career situation or whatever, it’s just like, I’m putting so much on this and this could just totally just not work out at all.” Below, Hickey talks with MTV News about the process of creating his debut album and the catharsis of finally releasing it into the world.

MTV News: When did you know you finished the album?

Charlie Hickey: A few of these songs date back to before some of the songs on my EP [Count the Stairs]. So in that sense, the process has been going on for three years, but a lot of newer songs on there were finished right in time to record the album. It was sort of an untraditional process in the way that Marshall [Vore], who is the producer of the record and also did a fair amount of writing with me, would often be writing and demoing stuff as we went. I guess we knew we were done when the label was like, “All right, you guys really have to be done now!”

MTV News: What inspired the title track, “Nervous at Night”?

Hickey: I think it’s not unlike “Seeing Things” in that it sounds like it’s about some tumultuous relationship dynamic but it’s really just about having a crush. It’s like a slightly more mature cousin [to “Seeing Things”]. There’s a little bit more lightness to it, or awareness, which I think is just something I have gained as I’ve gotten older. Just a little more perspective on those feelings, even though they still come up and they’re still really big.

MTV News: The album opens with “Dandelions,” which gives this small-town nostalgia: I loved the line, “Saying sorry to my sister for taking up space with my little feelings.”

Hickey: I mean, I wrote that song during the pandemic, and I was living with my mom and my sister for the entire pandemic. So it was quite literally just what was going on. Maybe it sounds like a childhood memory, but it was two years ago.

MTV News: The song opens up the album’s themes of growing and transitioning, and the uncertainties of relationships. Was that your aim?

Hickey: I don’t think it was really an aim. I’ve actually talked about this with Marshall, but some of the best relationship songs are not about romantic relationships, and sometimes you can’t tell or you don’t even need to know. There actually are a lot of platonic or familial love songs on this album or songs about middle school enemies. I think it can be interesting to write about, a relationship that isn’t romantic, but you don’t even necessarily need to give that away.

MTV News: Tell me about “Thirteen.”

Hickey: That song is just about being in middle school and being friends with boys who were mean to you. I’ve actually had a lot of conversations about that song with people because it’s a really mean song. I don’t know if this even comes through, but I do have this awareness that we were all just kids and it’s not that deep. But this narrator in the song is definitely working through some stuff and is maybe angry in a slightly irrational way.

MTV News: Well yeah, they’re not that big a deal now, but when you are in those spaces, those scars can be deep.

Hickey: And I think there are moments that you realize things as you get older about relationships that make it harder for you to stay angry, and then there’s sort of this letting go. It’s almost disappointing, because anger can be such a thrilling emotion in a way, or a more palatable emotion than sadness. It’s kind of hard to let go of, and I feel like, in that song, there’s sort of this struggle with grasping at the last straws of that angry feeling.

MTV News: I want to talk about “Mid-Air,” which does talk about a relationship, but I’m not sure if it’s platonic or romantic. I loved the line: “I think we’re two sides of the same coin spinning in midair / Looking for somewhere to land or some face to show.”

Hickey: That song is about my sister actually, so totally not a romantic song. I was describing this to someone recently — I think it’s about a relationship where there’s mutual caretaking.

MTV News: There’s one song I thought sounded particularly quirky in relation to the rest, and that’s “Springbreaker.” You have the bigger songs and the ballads, and this one just stands out.

Hickey: I knew you were gonna say that! I think it’s funny: that’s actually the oldest song on the album, so maybe you can tell that I wrote it in a slightly different place in my life where I was in a little bit of a different writing mode. But I do think when I hear it back, it still feels cohesive to me. It does kind of read like a wild-card song, maybe just because it’s musically a lot more complex and there’s a little bit of an R&B, soulful thing to it… which honestly, none of that was really intentional. But I really like the space that it holds on the album.

MTV News: On the song, you’re singing about having an infatuation or affection for someone who maybe has a more charmed life than you might, but also doesn’t seem to give you any attention, or the attention that you would like. Is that modeled after someone in particular?

Hickey: I think that’s another sort of crush song. It’s weird: like, a lot of these songs were written before I had experienced a lot of the relationships that I have. So they’re a little more in my imagination in some ways, but I think that one’s just a combination of different people. I think it’s more about a feeling rather than a person.

Frank Ockenfels

MTV News: Throughout the album, there are these tension points between relationships and, as a closer, “Planet with Water” feels like the one where you’re giving in to them.

Hickey: No, it totally is. It’s definitely in the same universe as “Gold Line,” but maybe it’s further down the line past that “uh-oh, what’s going on,” feeling and more like, “yeah, I’m fucking in it.” It’s definitely the folk song, or the “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.”

MTV News: Which songs on the album were the easiest and hardest to write?

Hickey: “Dandelions” came out pretty quickly. I think I wrote that song in a few hours in my bedroom, and then Marshall and I picked apart a few things about it, but that one was pretty painless. “Planet With Water” was very involved. We spent a lot of time on the lyrics. Strangely, “Nervous at Night” I remember being a really, really involved process as well.

MTV News: Why was that?

Hickey: I don’t know. Sometimes it’s just like, something doesn’t feel quite right. Marshall has the tendency to sort of be like, “OK, this is good, but you can do better,” which I really appreciate. And I’ve started to be that voice for myself a little more. It’s not good to labor over things endlessly, but I do like that feeling of being like, I think this was the best I could do.

MTV News: Are you nervous for this to finally be out?

Hickey: A hundred percent. I mean, just the fact that it’s been such a long time coming, it’s sort of like, now I’ve really put out all that I’ve got, I’ve got nothing else to give for the time being.” It’s kind of a scary thing.

MTV News: You’re just releasing it and having no idea what happens next or how it’s gonna be received.

Hickey: Yeah. I mean, I’m feeling really excited. And I have to remind myself occasionally that it’s a really good, happy thing.

There’s A Mental-Health Crisis Among Musicians. How Can We Solve It?

By Max Freedman

In summer 2021, three prominent young pop musicians released albums at least partially about how existing in the public spotlight was harming their mental health. Though the theses of Billie Eilish’s Happier Than Ever, Lorde’s Solar Power, and Clairo’s Sling weren’t exactly the same, a common thread emerged: The constant attention from their large audiences was tearing down privacy barriers, resulting in the strange parasocial relationships that social media fosters between fans and their idols, and making these artists feel unable to disconnect from their music careers.

In speaking with other young musicians and mental health experts, MTV News has heard similar concerns. More importantly, there’s a growing consensus that the music industry should do more to contend with how social media can be toxic for musicians’ mental health — and that social platforms should help, too. A good place to start? Paying artists livable wages and providing better (or just more) mental health resources.

Take it from Stella Rose Bennett, the shapeshifting 22-year-old pop musician known as Benee, whose 2019 single “Supalonely” became a runaway viral hit. The attention elevated her profile, but it wasn’t an entirely pleasant ride — especially on her breakout platform, TikTok. “The comments are horrible,” Bennett tells MTV News. “People are so mean,” she adds, a notion that the international pop star Charli XCX recently echoed about her own experience on Twitter. Bennett says that, after her 2020 album Hey U X, she saw people calling her a one-hit wonder and accusing her of being a flop. “It’s been really difficult to process that people will just drop off in a second,” she says, and she doesn’t hesitate to say that these comments worsened her mental health.

She thinks social networks should “filter [comments] so it’s not just people being able to say something really horrible, that’s not even constructive criticism, to an artist.” She’s seen this blowback affect other musicians: “I’ll watch a really young artist livestream [while] crying,” she says, “and they’re saying that people are telling them really horrible things on the platform, and I’m like, ‘How do we make it so it’s not like this?’”

Even if social media miraculously transformed into a beacon of positivity, artists say that one of their biggest stressors is the amount of content they need to post for digital marketing and fan engagement to simply keep pace with their peers. The bedroom-pop-gone-hi-fi musician Chelsea Cutler articulated this problem in depth in a January 2022 Instagram post that racked up over 104,000 likes — and that musicians as prominent as electro-folk champion Maggie Rogers and OneRepublic superproducer Ryan Tedder publicly agreed with. “It feels exhausting to be constantly thinking of how to turn my daily life into ‘content,’ especially knowing that I feel best mentally when I spend less time on my phone,” reads one part of the post. “It also feels exhausting to be told by everyone in the industry that this is the only effective way to market music right now.”

“Social media is people advertising their lives, advertising themselves, and advertising what they’re doing,” Cutler, 25, tells MTV News. “It’s exhausting.” She calls the constant social-media engagement expected from artists a “burden.” “For that to be the onus so many artists are carrying is really stressful.”

Research into musician stress levels suggests that Cutler isn’t alone. In 2018, the Music Industry Research Association (MIRA), the Princeton University Study Research Center, and MusiCares — the mental health care nonprofit operated by the Recording Academy — surveyed thousands of musicians about their mental health. Half the respondents reported frequently “feeling down, depressed or hopeless.” Similarly, 11.8 percent of musicians reported feeling “better off dead or hurting yourself in some way.” The corresponding number for the general population was 3.4 percent. And in April 2019, 80 percent of independent musicians 18 to 25 years old said that their careers have caused them stress, anxiety, or depression (or more than one of these things).

The constant uncertainty around the safety of live shows — and frequent cancellations — in an age of ongoing COVID-19 concerns has only exacerbated these issues for artists. “I think the pandemic has been the major catalyst in all of this,” Cutler says. “I really hope the pandemic subsides and we’re able to make in-person connections again with fans. I think that would restore a lot of what feels missing right now.”

Laetitia Tamko began releasing music at a young age just over half a decade ago and says her experience was stressful well before the pandemic arrived. In a now-deleted tweet, Tamko, who has recorded garage rock and electronic music under the moniker Vagabon, said that the music industry is fundamentally exploitative. It’s safe to assume such an environment isn’t conducive to great mental health.

“We are the people on the front lines doing this really grueling work,” Tamko, 29, tells MTV News of musicians’ roles in the industry. She also clarifies that most people she encounters in the industry aren’t “explicitly exploitative,” but that she’s “had a lot of moments throughout the last five years or so that I’ve been making music that I’ve been like, ‘Whoa, I can ask for that.’” The implication is that record labels default to keeping artists somewhat in the dark so they can maximize their profits — at the expense of healthy working conditions for the very people creating what they sell. “A way that the music industry can be more artist-friendly is for the wages to be almost livable, so artists don’t have to be on tour constantly to make an income,” Tamko says. “And even then, artists at my level tend to make a lot less money than the people behind the scenes.”

Musicians of all levels need to tour: A 2017 Citigroup report found that most of the music industry’s revenue comes from hitting the road. That’s exactly why touring has resumed even as the pandemic still rages, and it’s also a big reason why initiatives like Bandcamp Fridays emerged to make up for lost musician income. Less money, of course, means more stress — how can you feel OK if you can barely afford to exist? Similarly, a popularly cited Future of Music Coalition survey found that 43 percent of musicians don’t have health insurance. The picture was even worse before Obamacare — and, more recently, worsened anew as thousands of performers lost coverage during the pandemic.

Rhian Jones, the co-author of Sound Advice, a health-focused career guide for musicians, agrees with Tamko’s assertions and suggestions. “In the U.S., a 2017 study said the median musician makes around $35,000 a year, with only $21,300 of that coming from music-related sources,” Jones tells MTV News. The latter number means that only about 60 percent of an American musician’s income comes from their music. It’s also less than half the average annual salary Americans made that year. Hallie Lincoln, a licensed clinical social worker and co-founder of the musician mental health resources nonprofit Backline, says that poor mental health can pose further obstacles to maintaining a stable income for musicians, even top-tier pop acts — and for their teams. “When people have to cancel legs of tours because they’re experiencing mental health issues, that costs tens of millions of dollars in revenue” across the industry, she tells MTV News.

Lincoln partially attributes the industry’s mental health crisis to a “serious lack of [mental health] resources,” which is partly why Backline offers wellness checklists, positive-reinforcement guides, and videos detailing therapy approaches all for free.  Lincoln can’t think of a record label, management firm, or other directly artist-adjacent company that offers the same.

Lincoln also tells MTV News that the musicians with whom she’s worked often say they’ve had trouble finding a therapist or knowing how to begin the search. And while no single therapist or mental health care nonprofit can fill the music industry’s gaps, the value of a support system simply can’t be understated. Tamko provides a great example.

“Having a community of artists at various levels of their career” for “discussing each other’s deals or contracts with labels, brands, management, and booking agents,” Tamko says, has been “really important.” She also calls for “artists owning their work, as almost a standard.” (Tamko has only signed with record labels that give her full ownership of her masters, a rarity in the industry.) She says she would like to see more “sounding boards and a point of reference for [musicians] who are looking at contracts for the first time… having someone else tell you, ‘This is how it works for me. This is something you’re allowed to ask for. This is something you’re allowed to push back on.’ I think all of that serves as protection.”

Jones also stresses that “properly reading and understanding contracts before signing [them]” should become more common among musicians so they can avoid deals that leave them with way less money than the other party. “Because getting a record deal is exciting, lots of artists don’t do this,” she explains. She also says that artists could try seeking “advice from a specialist music industry lawyer [and being] wary of how long deals are for — the shorter, the better, in order to leave room for negotiation in the future — and what costs are getting charged back to the artist before they get their percentage.” She warns that some contracts “sound good on paper [but] might not be in reality once you dig into the numbers.”

Where these contractual matters can sound confusing, Jones has seen musicians’ teams take much simpler steps to protect the artists’ mental health. “I have heard quite a few examples of teams putting an artist’s health first, and I think this is becoming more prevalent due to the younger generation’s awareness of mental health,” she says. She cites “all the attention [on] this issue in recent years” as a reason behind this change: “Awareness has now translated into action.”

Bennett says her team acts in exactly this manner. “My management will sometimes make me go home early from a trip if I feel like I can’t work anymore,” she says. “I’ve had a couple of trips where I’ve been in L.A., and I just did not want to do anything else because I was depressed. My management would be like, ‘OK, let’s send you home, and you can have a couple of weeks to chill.’ That has been really helpful.”

Cutler, meanwhile, finds some comfort in so many musicians of all levels agreeing with her exhaustion about musicians feeling compelled to be content creators. But she’s less optimistic when asked what the industry could do to better protect the mental health of young musicians like herself. “I don’t think anybody has a viable call to action right now,” she says. “It’s like, OK, we all feel this way, but not one of us has a solution.” She has a point: Even though musicians are the ones most affected by the music industry’s lack of mental health support, their job is to make great music, not solve these numerous problems.

That said, Lincoln would “love to see… labels, management companies, promoters, and all other stakeholders that [run] this industry contribute to the financial backing that people need to access mental health care.” She notes that, until that day comes, musicians can turn to MusiCares and the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund for financial assistance. Sweet Relief, Lincoln explains, will “approve a certain amount of sessions [for a musician], or they will directly pay the therapist for however long the therapist wants to sign for. So if the therapist says, ‘I will do $3,000 [worth of appointments] at this rate [per appointment],’ then it allows MusiCares to fund [musicians] to get therapy.”

Once the industry steps in more actively, Lincoln says, “ultimately, it would be saving lives.” Social media, digital marketing, parasocial relationships, low incomes, and lopsided contracts might not immediately go away, but at least artists would finally have the support they’d need from an industry that has long neglected to provide it. In the meantime, Tamko has a solid way to deal with the industry when she’s faced with especially tough circumstances. “If I’m able to sleep at night based on the decisions I make,” she says, “then I can surrender a bit.”

My Chemical Romance Lay ‘The Foundations Of Decay’ In Debut Live Performance

Emo has risen. My Chemical Romance welcomed fans back to the Black Parade on Monday (May 16) with the kick-off performance of their long-awaited reunion tour at the Eden Project in Cornwall, England.

The legendary band debuted a live performance of their newest single, “The Foundations of Decay,” the first of their music since their 2013 breakup. Fan-captured footage from the show reveals that they also delivered two surprise debut performances of other older songs “Surrender the Night” and “Boy Division” from their 2013 compilation album Conventional Weapons.

MCR also killed it, according to fan reactions on social media, with other favorite hits and classics like “Helena,” “This Is How I Disappear,” “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na),” “Teenagers,” “I Don’t Love You,”  and “Sleep.” The band never seemed to have lost the edge that captured the hearts of emo kids in the early part of the new millennium.

They closed the concert with a three-song encore with “Boy Division,” “I’m Not Okay (I Promise),” and “The Kids From Yesterday.”

Merch was flying around the venue with shirts printed with the text “SWARM” over an insect fly design. Could this possibly tease an upcoming album? Because if so, new and old fans would definitely swarm through. Speculation about an impending full album has reached a fever pitch.

Lead singer Gerard Way concluded the concert with a heartfelt statement. “This is a really special and amazing night for us,” he told the audience. “I hope it was for you too.”

My Chemical Romance announced their reunion tour in fall 2019 and played a one-off show in Los Angeles that December, but the COVIDS-19 pandemic forced them to postpone their plans. Tour dates were rescheduled in 2021 but were pushed back again due to ongoing pandemic concerns. The emo band is expected to perform in several cities in the United Kingdom and Europe until mid-June, and their North American tour is expected to hit the scene from August through October. They are also scheduled to perform in Australia and New Zealand in 2023. All current tour dates and tickets can be found on their website.

Bad Bunny’s Spanish-Language Songs Have Broken A Chart Record

Bad Bunny is hopping up and making history on the Billboard charts. This week, the Puerto Rican superstar boasts four songs in the Top 10 of the Hot 100 — all in Spanish, marking the first time two or more all-Spanish-language songs have simultaneously ranked together on that chart.

Billboard announced the news today (May 16), along with the revelation that seven of his songs from his latest album, Un Verano Sin Ti, are simultaneously charting on the Global 200. That album is also, naturally, currently sitting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart.

On the Hot 100, Bad Bunny’s highest-charting song, “Moscow Mule,” ranked No. 4. “Tití Me Preguntó” followed at No. 5, with “Después De La Playa” at No. 6. “Me Porto Bonito,” a collaboration with Chencho Corleone of Puerto Rican duo Plan B, charted at No. 10.

Un Verano Sin Ti also broke historic records upon its release on May 6. It debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 with 274,000 units, making it both 2022’s and Bag Bunny’s biggest week for an album. Totaling 356.66 million streams, it also accumulated the biggest streaming week ever for both a Latin album and any album since Drake’s Certified Lover Boy in September 2021.

Un Verano Sin Ti even became the second all-Spanish-speaking album to reach No. 1 on the chart, the first being his 2020 album, El Último Tour Del Mundo. Lead single “Dakiti” made history in becoming the first song to simultaneously debut No. 1 at both the Top 10 on the Hot 100 and Hot Latin Songs charts. In 2021, El Último became the best selling Latin album in the United States and was the most streamed album in Mexico, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina.

And the hits keep coming. Last month, Sony announced that he’ll lead an upcoming film set in the Spider-Man universe called El Muerto. He’s also made multiple appearances at WWE events. How does he find the time? Perhaps like another famous rabbit, he is also powered by an oversized battery. Watch him keep going (and going, and going)…

Bop Shop: Songs From Kendrick Lamar, B.I, My Chemical Romance, And More

At the mention of vehicular escape, Kendrick Lamar‘s face morphs into O.J. Simpson’s. When he raps, “Friends bipolar, grab you by your pockets,” he becomes Kanye West. And then Jussie Smollett, Will Smith, Kobe Bryant, and finally, his departed friend Nipsey Hussle. Between these, in the show-stopping one-shot video for “The Heart Part 5,” Kendrick reverts back to his original face to keep rhyming. It’s a startling spectacle, and it takes repeated viewings to catch every nuance. But nothing is more potent than when he takes on Hussle’s visage, then once again his own, to state plainly: “To the killer that sped up my demise, I forgive you / Just know your soul’s in question.” —Patrick Hosken

Mallrat Goes Deeper Into The Machine

By Gabriel Aikins

The ascension of Mallrat has been a long time coming. The Australian pop songwriter born Grace Shaw honed her work religiously over three EPs in the late 2010s. With each of these projects — 2016’s Uninvited, 2018’s In the Sky, and 2019’s Driving Music — the scope of her ambition and skill grew, as Shaw evolved as a producer, expanded her own musical tastes, and matured as a songwriter. Her first single of 2022, “Your Love,” represented a higher level to her art, a biting mix of hip-hop and pop unlike anything she’s created before. The result of this refinement is her long-awaited debut album Butterfly Blue, which incorporates new sounds into Shaw’s pop framework. This is the exact album she wanted to make, and no one was going to stop her.

Butterfly Blue began to take shape around the release of In the Sky, on which Shaw added more complex and overlapping synths into her production on tracks like the sonically packed “Groceries.” After Driving Music was released, Shaw buckled down and spent the next several years largely in Melbourne crafting her debut, a lengthy process she’s grateful for in that it allowed her to craft and tinker to bring her vision to life. “It meant that I didn’t have to compromise anything about the album. I had lots and lots of time to make it exactly how I wanted,” she tells MTV News.

Shaw wanted to explore more sounds, so she did. “Your Love” combines blaring synths with snares and hi-hats and includes a sample from Memphis rapper Gangsta Pat’s 1995 track “Killa, Part 2.” Shaw introduces guitar riffs with plenty of chunky distortion, like on the aptly named “Rockstar.” In order not to limit herself in the directions her songs may go, Shaw enters into the writing process with an open mind. “I don’t usually have things that I want to achieve before I write a song. I just start the song and then make it as good as it can be,” she says. Instead, she notes more general musical ideas and textures she enjoys as elements she wants to incorporate during production. She became interested in the contrast between “really distorted, aggressive sounds, and really beautiful vocal samples,” as found on the hook of “Heart Guitar,” which combines a gently sung melody with a gruff looping guitar riff.

Butterfly Blue is both cohesive based on the pop elements Shaw has used as Mallrat before, but unrestrained by any idea of what a pop song can or cannot be. Single “Teeth” is a growling punk track with vicious riffs and chaotic climaxes, and “I’m Not My Body, It’s Mine” shifts from piano and guitar to billowing vocal harmonies and electronic distortion in the blink of an eye. Being able to take her music wherever her mind wanders is the point. “I don’t think I could do it if I had to compromise even a little bit,” Shaw says. Since Butterfly Blue is her debut album, she doesn’t feel the weight of expectations about what she’s supposed to sound like, something she’s grateful for. “I hate being told what to do,” she summarizes with a laugh.

As such, the album fits snugly into the present moment as pop becomes increasingly experimental while standing on its own merits. This was a key focus for Shaw, who says she wants to keep her music “timeless.” She stays up to date on trends and new production techniques, but always with an ear towards making them her own, like on the exhilarating waves of electronically enhanced vocal harmonies and fuzzy electro-pop of “To You.” “I don’t pull up a recent popular song that we like and say, ‘How can we recreate this?’ We just make something that’s cool,” she says.

Her collaborators help keep the energy exciting. She points to fellow Australian producer Styalz Fuego — who has worked with a range of artists from Imagine Dragons to Tinashe — as someone whose artistic meticulousness matches her own. This also extends to singular, often controversial rapper Azealia Banks, who joins Shaw on “Surprise Me.” As another creative with an unshakable vision of their work, Banks served as a natural partner. “She put so much care into her verse,” Shaw says. “She recorded it several times, like, ‘This can be better.’ And then she’s kind of become a little bit of a mentor to me in the process.”

Shaw’s meticulous approach to writing follows her into her production, an area she maintained a constant presence in during the recording of Butterfly Blue. “If I’m not involved in production on a song, I get very bored,” she says. One of her favorite production choices that she added to the record was the huge number of vocal harmonies and the integration of her main vocals into the instrumental mix in a way that complements both. This is heard perfectly on “Obsessed,” where Shaw’s sung melody and instrumental backing weave in past each other at the top of the mix. Shaw says listeners (including her) identify with voices instinctively based on human nature. Part of it comes from a preference in her demoing process: Her early general vocalizations and gibberish often morph into vocal backings on the finished songs. “I don’t usually record lyrics that I hate,” she states plainly.

As Butterfly Blue arrives and more of the world begins to discover Mallrat, it’s with the knowledge that the music they’re discovering was made on her own terms. The drive to create exactly what’s in her head has led to her working hard to always make sure she’s putting out the best possible work she can be proud of. “That is an attitude that I think has carried through much of the album,” she says, “and it’s something that I’m going to take with me.”

Ethel Cain, Raised In A Bubble, Stays Isolated For Her Art

By Danielle Chelosky

Listening to Ethel Cain’s songs can feel imminent and intense, like being struck with a revelation or watching a massive hurricane roll in. There’s a sense that nothing will be the same afterward. Hayden Silas Anhedönia — the eccentric artist who brings a country twang and a sharp, emo-rap edge to the indie-pop project — has a knack for stretching ephemeral moments of awe into large sensory experiences. She takes that to the next level with Preacher’s Daughter, which despite being her debut full-length, can’t be described as anything but her opus. Over an hour long, it is as cinematic and visceral as a horror film. The album focuses on a teenage runaway, an idea Anhedönia compares to Thelma & Louise because it has an “all-American tale vibe with some fables and proverbs along the way,” she says over Zoom about a month before the release.

Anhedönia’s art is a complicated reckoning. The 24-year-old grew up in a religious family in Florida. Her dad was a deacon, and she and her siblings were homeschooled. She came out as gay at age 12, left to live on her own after turning 18, and began to accept her identity as a transgender woman around 20. The music she began making during this period of self-discovery turned her alienation into power. Wicca Phase Springs Eternal — the emo-rap project of Adam McIlwee, who founded the music collective Goth Boi Clique that nurtured Lil Tracy and the late icon Lil Peep — stumbled upon her work and was immediately pulled in.

“I saw Ethel’s name on a Nicole Dollangager flyer in 2019 and decided to listen to her music, probably because I thought she had a good name,” McIlwee shares via email. “I couldn’t believe how mature of an artist she seemed at such an early stage in her career — her voice and lyrics were already very good, and her branding and aesthetic already seemed to be fully formed, which is so rare for an artist with only a handful of songs.”

He introduced her to fellow emo-rap prodigy Lil Aaron, who runs the label Hazheart Records, and he helped her out with releasing the music to a new audience. Since then, she has released two EPs, 2019’s Golden Age and last year’s Inbred. Reverberating, spectral sounds and poetic lyricism imbued the collections with hypnotic atmospheres. Both featured two collaborators: Inbred invited Wicca Phase onto the sprawling eight-minute track “God’s Country” and Lil Aaron on the coruscating ballad “Michelle Pfeiffer.” After being laid off from her job at a nail salon due to financial hardships caused by the pandemic, Anhedönia signed a record deal in August 2020 with Prescription Songs.

In the midst of all this, Anhedönia was building Preacher’s Daughter, which features no one but herself. “I started working on it when I was like 19,” she says. “It seems like forever ago, but I would just kind of work on it here and there.” It’s set in 1991, when “my mom was the same age that I am now,” she explains. “I really wanted to explore ’90s nostalgia with her and work my way back up through the decades for the future albums as we go back up the family tree.” This album is a part of a trilogy that follows three generations of women, but chronologically it’s not the first — it’s the last, centering on the youngest of the bunch. “I’ve always had a love for the ’90s even though I was barely present for it. All the TVs in my house are old box TVs. I only watch VHS tapes and some DVDs. I think I’m just permanently stuck in the past because childhood is, you know, the purest time of your life.”

Helen Kirbo

“I remember being a kid and being very sheltered, very Christian, very closed off to the outside world. I remember I would go to my grandparents’ house and see a crime show on TV or I would see a scandalous movie poster on the side of the Movie Gallery,” she says. “We would drive through downtown and I remember those little glimpses into the real world through this very sheltered bubble that I was in. They were life-changing.” The Ethel Cain character is reclusive. Though she uses social media, her posts are cryptic and brief, never giving too much of herself away. She refuses to move to a city, or really anywhere beyond the rural South; as we Zoom, she sits in her Alabama home, which she describes as “completely isolated.” But she still fantasizes about disappearing even more: “I really look forward to building a house somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, and I might not even put Wi-Fi in it,” she contemplates aloud.

This elusiveness heightens the impact of her music, lending the songs the texture of a prophecy.  It brings to mind the resonance of Neutral Milk Hotel’s 1998 masterwork In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, which was increasingly cult-followed and adored as bandleader Jeff Mangum, who’s also a masterful storyteller, went into hiding afterward. She is unafraid to carve out space in music for herself and go all in with what she creates. It isn’t the kind of music that’s easy to forget. It lingers and haunts like a ghost. The sound is often brooding and hallucinogenic; sometimes it’s flat-out scary, with bone-chilling instrumentals that sound like floating through the ether untethered, until Anhedönia’s shimmering vocals come back in as a guiding force. Other times, like in “Sun Bleached Flies” or “American Teenager,” a blinding brightness soars through the songs among celebratory synths and bouncy rhythms. Epiphanies flicker within vivid scenes and unbridled emotions regardless of the sonic palette.

In grappling with her Southern upbringing, she doesn’t hesitate to dig into the lows. Drugs, violence, and death animate her lyrics, though not without criticism. “I’ve been accused of being a white nationalist, racist, Republican, right-winger, redneck, the whole slew of it,” she says. But she knows her vision is on the right track. “You have a lot of backward-thinking, ignorant people in the South, that’s very true,” she admits. “But you also have some of the most diverse cultures that never get any spotlight. I’m not trying to glorify the racist, violent aspects of the South that it’s known for. I want to tell the tales of people who are suffering from that, because there are a lot of people here who don’t agree with that and don’t believe in that and you never really hear about them.” She aims to dive into the “dark side of patriotism,” and the power that the American dream holds over people despite the fact that it will likely “do nothing but get you killed, leave a hole in your family, and put money in [the government’s] pocket,” she says.

But the misunderstanding and misconstruing of her art are inevitable, only contributing to her drive to get further off the grid. She’s continuing to grow, cultivating a devoted fanbase — or, more accurately speaking, stanbase — on Twitter. She is on the aforementioned Prescription Songs, the major label founded by disgraced producer Dr. Luke, about which she has said: “I am completely oblivious to most things in the industry […] All I can say is I stay in my bubble and do my work.” Sacrifice was necessary to bring Preacher’s Daughter to life, though, judging by the music, it’s surprising that it wasn’t something more intense and ritualistic like human sacrifice. But it has all been paying off.

“Everything has its pros and cons,” she expounds. “I’m very neurotic about my vision. I really want it to be as close to what I see in my head as possible. Otherwise, you know, why bother trying? I’m gonna go for what my original vision was, and a lot of times that requires a lot of money. And the only way to make a lot of money as an artist is to become successful. So I just bit that bullet and was like, it’s going to be hard and it’s going to be stressful. But it’s all for the art.”

Bop Shop: Songs From Lady Gaga, Tove Lo, Chappell Roan, And More

Chappell Roan has given us a steady supply of triumphant pop cuts, but her latest track is much less of a party anthem; in fact, it is decidedly bitter. With a thumping beat and an axe to grind, she reflects on a romance that’s soured and an ex whose life is falling apart in the aftermath. Perhaps closure is reaching a point of indifference, though there’s something sumptuous about watching someone get exactly what they deserve. “It’s hot when you’re going through hell / And you’re hating yourself,” she confesses before slyly admitting, “People say I’m jealous / But my kink is karma.” There’s no healing going on here, but Chappell shows us that, sometimes, there’s nothing more satisfying than staying mad. —Carson Mlnarik

Bop Shop: Songs From Zolita, Giveon, Dove Cameron, And More

Alt-pop singer Zolita has captivated the internet with her viral lesbian romance trilogy. It starts with a high-school coming-out story in “Somebody I F*cked Once,” weaving its way to a college breakup with “Single in September,” and comes to an epic conclusion with new single “I F*cking Love You.” The track itself is a vivacious and triumphant anthem about fully giving into love, with its sticky chorus playing out like a synthy stream of consciousness: “What if I let it slip, tell you that / You’re the only one I’m seeing?” The infatuation in her voice is palpable, as if we’re hearing her come to an earth-shattering realization in real-time: “Oh my god, I fucking love you.” “The song itself is one of the first true love songs I’ve ever released, and I think it perfectly encapsulates the euphoric, terrifying feeling of falling in love, both sonically and lyrically,” she explained in a statement. As for its colorful, larger-than-life visual, which imagines Zolita as a massive pop star in the near future who finds herself reacquainted with the artsy outsider who stole her heart? You’ll have to watch the video to find out if the ending is as jubilant as the song scoring it. —Carson Mlnarik