Sigrid Breaks Down Her ‘Unapologetic’ Debut Album, Sucker Punch

Sigrid has delivered a knockout blow with Sucker Punch. The 22-year-old’s debut album arrived on Friday (March 8), after more than two years of hype surrounding Norway’s prized pop export. Not that she was just sitting around all that time. “When you think about it, I’ve almost released an album already with all the EPs and all the singles,” she told MTV News via email, referring to “Strangers,” “Don’t Kill My Vibe,” and the slew of other certified hits that have skyrocketed her to superstardom-in-waiting.

Whittled down from around 70 demos, Sucker Punch comprises the best of Sigrid’s catalogue of heart-on-sleeve bangers. Though she admits finalizing the tracklist was a “proper kill your darlings scenario,” the resulting project fulfills her mission of making the music she always wanted to make. “I think 16-year-old me would be really proud right now,” she said, adding that the 12 tracks really live up to the album’s evocative title.

“All of the songs are a bit of sucker punches. They’re all very in-your-face type of songs. No matter if it’s a ballad or up-tempo song, they’re all songs you need to put on full volume,” she explained. “They’re there to be heard; they’re unapologetic and they need to be listened to.”

Fans already know and love the irresistibly dancey “Strangers,” the love-smacked title track, and the searing kiss-off “Don’t Kill My Vibe.” Below, the former MTV Push artist breaks down some of Sucker Punch‘s other highlights. (Remember: Put these suckers on full volume.)

  • “Basic”

    “Basic” has become a descriptor for something boring, average, and monotonous, but Sigrid turns that idea on its head when she sings, “Let’s be real, I’m just saying / If you feel it, don’t cage it / Ooh, I wanna be basic… can I be basic with you?” She explained, “The whole flip side of that song is that you wanna be basic with someone. You wanna do all the cringe stuff; you wanna be cute and all that.”

    Written in London a couple years ago, “Basic” was originally conceived as a piano ballad before eventually being bolstered up by booming synths and a brazen “nah nah nah nah” refrain. Still, Sigrid adds an intimate touch when, two-thirds of the way through the song, the production cuts off and you hear only her demo vocals. “I wanted something special towards the end. … It was really fun and very real,” she said.

  • This punchy track finds Sigrid determined to power through a breakup positively: “Wallowing in it would be such a waste,” she declares through a wry smile. Getting those feelings on paper is admittedly “difficult,” she said, but it was worth it to “get something good out of something bad.”

    “I wanted ‘Don’t Feel Like Crying’ to be a fun song,” she said. “I wanted it to be something to distract people from the sad stuff and just dance, and then when they listen to it at a club or a party with their friends, they’ll be like, ‘Woah! This is such a tune.’ But then when they listen to it alone, maybe on their way home from the party or going for a run or just sitting at home on the couch, they’ll be like, ‘Oh, this is actually really sad.’ I love that — when you can get the song to work in different types of environments.”

  • “Level Up”

    Clocking in at just under three minutes, this is the shortest and quietest track on the album; you half-expect it to explode into a monstrous sugar-rush hook at some point, but Sigrid purposely kept this one minimal.

    “I really wanted to keep that one low-key and no fuss on it. Songs like that are a big part of me and my music taste,” she said of “Level Up,” which was written in just one afternoon and partially inspired by Nick Drake. “It was a nice, brief moment. The intention of the song was to tell something that meant a lot to me and wrap it in a beautiful melody. It was just very natural and really organic.”

  • “Sight of You”

    “Sight of You” sounds like something that could soundtrack the climactic scene of a rom-com, but it’s actually not a romantic love song at all.

    “Actually, this is a love song to my band and the people coming to our shows, because I just love touring,” Sigrid said. “There’s especially one festival in Ireland called Electric Picnic that inspired this song to be written. It’s about how you sometimes have to travel a lot to get to these gigs and it can be hard to be away from home but, ‘just the sight of you is getting the best out of me.'”

    Describing that central lyric, she continued, “I gotta admit, if I have a bad day, when I just see the band backstage, that sight of them is just the best. They make me really happy. That’s the one sight. The other sight is walking on stage and seeing people go like, ‘rahhhh!’ Like, full-on rage during our set. That is amazing and it means everything to me.”

  • “In Vain”

    This raw number has been a staple of Sigrid’s live show for a while now, and the way it builds and morphs from a ballad to a banger is truly something to behold.

    “It’s really fun to see people experience ‘In Vain’ live,” she said. “It was important to put it on the record because I know there’s a lot of fans who really like that song and it’s an important part of our set. It’s great to see the audience react to that song and it’s really fun when that beat drops.”

  • “Business Dinners”

    One of the album’s brightest and quirkiest moments is “Business Dinners,” which almost acts like a sequel to “Don’t Kill My Vibe.” “You just want me to be pictures, numbers, figures, I’m just trying to be me,” Sigrid asserts on the bouncy number, giving another middle finger to condescending industry bigwigs.

    “‘Business Dinners’ is more general, how it was a bit overwhelming in the beginning with everything happening. This is a song that was written quite early on,” she explained of the synthy, Studio Ghibli-inspired song. “It’s a bit of a sassy track.”

  • “Dynamite”

    Closing the album with an emotional gut sucker punch is the tender “Dynamite,” which first appeared on Sigrid’s 2017 debut Don’t Kill My Vibe EP. A heartbreaker of a ballad, it was a fitting finale to a project so near and dear to her heart.

    “‘Dynamite’ is such a powerful song. It means so, so, so much to me and it’s always been one of my favorite songs to play live,” she said. “Touring has been such a big part of this album because I’ve been writing it for the past two years and I’ve done shit-tons of things in between, so it’s only natural that the live touring would color it. ‘Dynamite’ has always been a song that’s been close to my heart, I guess. It’s very personal.”

Sucker Punch is out now — stream it in its entirety below.

CupcakKe Dishes Out Physical And Magical Threats On ‘Bird Box’

CupcakKe‘s second new song of 2019 is “Bird Box,” a furious tune that uppercuts and follows with a haymaker. Her latest hits harder and exists outside of the aesthetic than her more recent, sexually-charged tunes have. But this is all by design because the wit, comedy, and energy are all there – it’s just been repurposed into the audio equivalent of squeezing a stress ball and letting the rage out. Once she left the studio after she recorded this, she probably let out a sigh of relief.

CupcakKe has never sounded more alive than on “Bird Box” as she brutalizes her verses with commands and threats. “Pull up to your addy, hop out of the caddy/I’m up on my bully and today I’m aggy,” she raps, starting out the song with the kind of sharp, cutting warnings that jolt you out of bed like an unnecessarily loud alarm clock. This isn’t an electric intro that cools down over the length of the verse either; CupcakKe’s continuously ups her power levels as she goes on. She’s never lacking, she casts spells, and she even threatens bodily harm. For those afraid that this gets too dark, it doesn’t, thanks to the rapper’s exceptional balance. The laughs come in when she tells people that they are fake “like Jamal off Empire” and that the “Devil tryna break me but it never work like McDonald’s ice cream machine.” Even when her brows are furrowed, there’s a whimsical element to even her harshest lines.

“Bird Box” follows the nautical, vulgar cut “Squidward’s Nose” that the rapper released in January. The underwater-themed song is one thing, but the accompanying video is another thing entirely. Squidward makes an appearance and CupcakKe cosplays as a mermaid while belting out the funny tune. With these two new songs released before a quarter of the year is over, all signs point to a new project coming out sooner than later. It’s more than reasonable to assume this since she dropped two albums – Ephorize and Eden last year.

Listen to this angry tune up above.

Watch Jonas Brothers Sing ‘Lovebug,’ ‘Year 3000,’ And More Beloved Hits On Carpool Karaoke

The newly reunited Jonas Brothers have been holding court all week long on The Late Late Show, which thankfully included their own edition of Carpool Karaoke. After being teased earlier this week, the full segment finally arrived on Thursday evening (March 7), and it definitely doesn’t disappoint. Mostly because it gives us this:

The nearly 15-minute nostalgia fest kicks off with the trio and host James Corden dusting off the cobwebs and jamming to “Burnin’ Up” and “Year 3000.” Things take a slightly serious turn when they discuss the “forced therapy” they underwent to get the band back together, with Nick admitting he was the reason they broke up in the first place. He confirmed as much when Corden made them take a lie detector test, and the discussion later turned to their Disney days and their purity rings, because of course it did.

But back to the music! Naturally, the guys busted out their new comeback single, “Sucker,” and then gave longtime fans a real treat when they harmonized on “When You Look Me In The Eyes” and “Lovebug.” Man, it’s good to have these boys back!

Your Guide To Tomorrow X Together, The K-pop Rookies All Over Your Timeline

It’s been less than a week since their debut, and rookie K-pop group Tomorrow X Together are already making waves. Their first mini album The Dream Chapter: STAR dropped on Monday (March 4), and it didn’t take long for the Korean boy band to clinch the No. 1 spot on the iTunes Top Albums chart, dominate worldwide Twitter trends, and sign a U.S. distribution deal with Republic Records. Not to mention, the music video for their debut single “Crown” racked up over 14 million views in its first 24 hours. (It’s cleared 24 million views, as of press time.)

So, who are Tomorrow X Together (read as “Tomorrow By Together”), and why are they suddenly all over your timeline?

The quintet are the first group to debut from Big Hit Entertainment since global superstars BTS bowed in 2013. So understandably, there’s a lot of hype around them. And they’re aware of it. “We’ve had worries, but we will work hard to not cause any harm to their reputation,” leader Soobin said during their debut showcase.

“Since we were able to see our seniors achieve so much after going through difficulties, it’s an honor and we respect them,” youngest member Hueningkai added. “We will work hard.”

Not only are they BTS’s juniors, but they’re also a huge part of Big Hit’s future global strategy — and after making history (and continuing to do so) with Bangtan, it makes sense that all eyes would be on Big Hit’s next boy group. But with their debut release, Tomorrow X Together (“TXT” for short) — consisting of members Soobin, Yeonjun, Beomgyu, Taehyun, and Hueningkai — make it clear that they’re not BTS; they’re their own unique group with a playful energy, youthful concept, and an album full of upbeat bops.

What does Tomorrow X Together mean?

As is custom in the world of K-pop, Tomorrow X Together debuted with a concept (or storyline), and this one is based around the idea of adolescence and coming of age. Their single, “Crown,” sets this story in motion: One day, a boy wakes up to find horns sprouting from his head, and these horns made him feel confused and alone, so he isolated himself, afraid of what people would say — until he met a boy with wings and he didn’t feel so alone anymore; and by connecting with another person, the boy starts to see his horns as a crown.

Big Hit Entertainment

Essentially, this is an allegory for growing up. The horns are symbolic of the physical, emotional, and mental changes that all young people face as they come of age in an increasingly uncertain world. “Wanna run away,” Soobin sings over an energetic synth-pop beat. “Wanna disappear / Far away / Who am I / I don’t know who I am.”

But true to their name, they find comfort in one another — knowing that even though they may be different, they can embark on this journey together. “Your existence changes my world like magic,” they sing. “I’m not in pain anymore.”

“Crown” ultimately speaks to the group’s intent to “come together under one dream in hopes of building a new tomorrow.” And if the TXT Universe is anything like the Bangtan Universe, then we know that there’s a lot more to this narrative, and it will continue to develop with every future release.

Who’s in the group?

Five members total, Tomorrow X Together are a group of teens who have already shown that they have great chemistry. At their showcase, oldest member Yeonjun said, “When I met the members, who have the same dream as me, I felt that I wasn’t alone.”

Big Hit Entertainment

From left to right: Hueningkai, Yeonjun, Beomgyu, Soobin, and Taehyun

Let’s get to know the individual members a bit better:

  • Soobin

    While their official roles have yet to be revealed, it has been confirmed that vocalist Soobin, 18, is the leader of TXT. Completely unrelated, but he’s also the tallest, standing at 6’1″. Because of his height, he’s earned the nickname “cucumber.” When it comes to his leadership abilities, however, Soobin has said that he’s “more of a leader that supports the members.”

    “Since my age is in the middle,” he added, “the members can approach me and talk to me more easily.” And he has the stamp of approval from oldest member Yeonjun, who says the leader is “so considerate and kind.” (Honestly, they must really love him because at one point in the “Crown” choreography Yeonjun and Beomgyu hoist him on their backs — what a supportive group!)

    Fun facts: Soobin likes bread (relatable), chocolate (very relatable), rice cakes, and BTS’s Jin. Oh, and he has very stretchy skin.

  • Yeonjun

    The eldest of the group, Yeonjun, 19, is a bit of a secret weapon. On The Dream Chapter: STAR, the teen idol exhibited his skills in singing, rapping, and dancing — and when it comes to the group’s live stages, he’s got charisma in spades. So it makes sense that Yeonjun would also have unrivaled confidence. (Not many rookies could deliver the lyric “let’s play forever, I just want to be your dog” with that much bravado.) According to his fellow members, he was a super trainee at Big Hit, excelling at everything — and he didn’t let them forget it. Yeonjun trained for four years, the longest of any of the members, and according to him, “The most difficult part was wanting to debut so much, but having to wait.”

    It’s unclear if Yeonjun is the group’s designated main rapper, but he shows off his chops throughout the album — playfully switching up his flow on the trap-pop concoction “Cat & Dog,” while taking on the only rap verse in “Crown” with a gleeful swagger.

    Fun facts: He loves to dance and cites Travis Scott as one of his favorite artists. But perhaps his most endearing quality is his affinity for dad jokes. Yeonjun also created the group’s hand logo.

    Big Hit Entertainment
  • Beomgyu

    The mood-maker of TXT, 17-year-old Beomgyu seems quiet at first, but the vocalist has got a lot of energy. According to his fellow members, he’s the most talkative one of the bunch. (He even speaks in a dialect, since he’s from Daegu.) Sentimental at heart, Beomgyu likes to collect polaroids and can play the guitar. In fact, he and youngest member Hueningkai are currently working on their songwriting in the hopes of contributing to their future albums — not unlike their seniors BTS. “We’re trying and practicing,” he said. “Hopefully we can get better and contribute to songs on future albums.”

    In addition to his musical talents, Beomgyu has an abundance of aegyo (or, cute expressions), which really makes his members flustered.

    Fun facts: Of the members, he trained the least amount of time (two years), he has a pet parrot, and he created his own heart gesture for fans. (We told you he was a master of aegyo.)

  • Taehyun

    Physically, Taehyun is the smallest member, but he’s got powerhouse vocals. Just one listen of guitar ballad “Nap of a Star” and you’ll see what we mean. (Also, that’s him and Hueningkai on the explosive “Crown” hook.) At 16, Taehyun is part of the group’s maknae (youngest member) line, but he’s considered to be the most calm and mature. His nickname is “cutie” — because he’s cute and he knows it — and his members like to comment on his striking facial features. According to the rest of the group, Taehyun is easily the most quotable member, as he often likes to make up his own inspirational sayings, like, “Leave tomorrow’s worries for tomorrow — then you can sleep well and worry tomorrow.”

    Fun facts: He’s a fan of Bruno Mars and Shawn Mendes. And their performance of “Nap of a Star” is less of a fun fact and more of a must-watch:

  • Hueningkai

    As the youngest member of the group, 16-year-old vocalist Hueningkai knows how to get what he wants from his hyungs (older brothers). “My charm, which the hyungs all fell for, is my cuteness,” he said. In addition to his charms, the burgeoning lyricist also has the distinction of being Big Hit’s only Korean-American idol. Born in the U.S. and raised in China — where his American father launched a successful singing career of his own — Hueningkai was destined for the stage, but adjusting to life in Korea as a young teen wasn’t easy.

    “At first, my family worried a lot, but I got used to Korean culture and the Korean language,” he said at the group’s showcase. “I became more comfortable and liked it more. My members all take good care of me also because I am the maknae, and I am charming.”

    Fun facts: What he lacks in flexibility, he makes up for in musical talent. He plays several instruments, including the piano

What should I watch next?

Their five-song debut album is available to stream, and the group has been promoting their single “Crown” on South Korean music shows, performing the title song as well as album opener “Blue Orangeade” with complete choreography — and those fan chants are on point. “Blue Orangeade” in particular is a fresh swingbeat song that highlight’s TXT’s loud, playful dynamic.

Overall, The Dream Chapter: STAR is a solid debut because it gives you a little bit of everything — from sticky pop (“Our Summer”) to mumbly rap (“Cat & Dog”) to airy harmonies (“Nap of a Star”) — and showcases the rookie group’s versatility.

Whether Tomorrow X Together can translate that to lasting success is still anyone’s guess — after all, they’ve been an official group for less than a full week, so let’s calm down — but they’re having a lot fun, and it shows. And for now, that’s all that really matters.

Jonas Brothers’ ‘Sucker’ Video: 9 Behind-The-Scenes Secrets From Director Anthony Mandler

After spending the early-aughts collaborating with everyone from Rihanna and Taylor Swift to Jay-Z and Drake, director Anthony Mandler had been in music video retirement. But when he got a call from Roc Nation about helming a video for the newly reunited Jonas Brothers — the band’s first one in six years — it was enough to get the veteran fantasist back in action.

“It was about helping reimagine this polarizing group with this great new music, and following the evolution of them as boys to men, essentially. It was exciting,” Mandler told MTV News over the phone.

The brothers approached him with a rough concept in mind: They wanted to do a video with their significant others, and they wanted it to have a Wes Anderson vibe. “They gave me the basis and foundation to work with,” Mandler explained, “and then I just sort of ramped it up and turned it into full-blown chaos.”

The resulting visual feast for “Sucker” is a peppy, vibrant affair that reintroduces Jonas Brothers in spectacular fashion. Below, Mandler tells us nine behind-the-scenes secrets from their epic comeback vid.

  1. The Hatfield House was as lavish as it looked

    “Once we figured out we were going to be in London, we started looking for the biggest house we could find and the most over-the-top place,” Mandler said about filming at the grand country estate, which was also the setting for 2018’s The Favourite. It proved the perfect backdrop for the JoBros’ high-fashion debauchery, even if shooting there required careful footing.

    “It’s overwhelming, it really is,” Mandler continued. “It’s very, very dramatic, over-the-top, like something from another age and era come to life. You have $200 million of art in one room. So it’s a little worrisome at times, but every frame looks beautiful.”

  2. The bros and their girls had chemistry to boot

    “You learn a lot about people’s relationships very quickly,” Mandler said about filming with the real-life couples. “And what I learned was that these three couples have great relationships. They just have a lot of fun together and as a group. They absolutely love being playful and not taking themselves too seriously. All of the attention that the world puts on famous people sort of disappears when you have good people who love being around each other. And that’s what you really feel, is a lot of love and a lot of that energy.”

    The director added that his favorite scenes to shoot were the vignettes of each couple: Priyanka stripping for Nick, the “cat-and-mouse” dynamic between Danielle and Kevin, and the bondage scene with Sophie and Joe. Which brings us to…

  3. Joe really was all tied up

    “Full, Japanese-style, erotic bondage,” Mandler described the scene, which involved a tied-up Joe hanging from the ceiling as his fiancée watched with devilish amusement. He was up there for “probably 25, 30 minutes — enough to leave the marks,” the director added. “There’s a playfulness between the two of them that I thought would be nice and unexpected.”

  4. Dogs and bunnies weren’t the only animals originally intended for the vid

    “Sucker” features the girls surrounded by bunnies and Danielle walking a pack of corgis, but the original treatment also included camels. “We had two camels we were going to use,” Mandler revealed. “We just wanted to mix the exotic into it, but it didn’t work out because of the weather.”

  5. The family that bathes together, stays together

    Speaking about those memorable outdoor bath scenes, Mandler said, “I wanted to do this idea of six people living like one big family and this sort of funny take on something that’s very common and traditional: taking a bath. And then we found these royal gardens and we decided we should do it out there.” It was a cold day, he admitted, but don’t worry: “The baths were hot!”

  6. Kevin knows his way around a sword

    The oldest JoBro is a man of many talents, as he proved in the fencing scene. “That was him. He fenced in high school,” Mandler dished. “We had some stand-ins, but he said he wanted to do it.”

  7. Nick really did work out on set

    The zany styles worn by the three women were something to behold — the director says they aimed for “haute couture, over-the-top fashion, completely ridiculous, as far as we can go.” And even though the guys’ looks were a little less dramatic, they still tried to keep themselves looking sharp — which is perhaps why Nick was doing push-ups between scenes. “Ah, people like to look good when they’re wearing sleeveless shirts,” Mandler laughed. “Why not?!”

  8. It was something of a miracle that nothing leaked from the set

    The band’s reunion is already one of the biggest pop culture moments of the year, and maintaining a level of privacy and secrecy while shooting the “Sucker” video was a monumental task.

    “We did it very quickly,” Mandler said about the project’s tight turnaround. “We shot it two and a half weeks ago and we were behind a lot of barriers and walls. Either way, I thought for sure that we were going to get photo leaks, but it didn’t happen. I was very surprised, to be fair. I’d seen drones and helicopters and tall ladders and anything you could imagine, and I really was surprised that nothing came out. We got lucky, I guess.”

  9. That portrait in the final scene actually exists

    The guys snuck one of their old album covers into the video as a little easter egg — they shared a peek of it on Instagram — and that inspired the final scene, in which the three couples pose for a new pic.

    “We wanted to recreate a new family portrait, which is what you see at the end,” Mandler explained. “And sort of in response to that, they threw out the idea about doing an old family portrait, like a previous record cover portrait.”

    Mandler added that the in-progress portrait was an actual painting they had done, but he doesn’t know where the finished piece of art is. “I don’t know. It’s in their archives, I assume,” he said. Here’s hoping the guys share a look at it one day!

Migos And DJ Mustard Take Over A Warehouse For a Paintball War In ‘Pure Water’ Video

What do water and paint have in common? Besides both being wet, nothing. That’s apparently enough to string them together because DJ Mustard and Migos‘ new video, “Pure Water” is about fast and furious painting action. This isn’t your regular easel-in-a-studio-apartment kind of painting. This is a gigantic warehouse, wartime painting. The video, that came out today, isn’t concerned with how much sense it makes –if any. It’s all about the experience, and, in usual DJ Mustard fashion, how much energy his presence (whether in person or as the producer of a track) can bring to any environment.

Thick buckets of colored paint splash in sloshes on the ground continuously in “Pure Water.” We’re placed directly on the battlefield following two teams of women holding opaque balloons. These balloons are thrown in the air and pop on the skin of others at fierce speeds, bringing exploding rivers of reds, blues, and yellows, into the air and onto the goggles of smiling and grimacing paint soldiers. The entire scene is blindingly bright and beautiful, its cinematography enabling us to see the individual pores of everyone involved –especially the smiling trio of Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff and producer who are clearly enjoying themselves. The ending segment involves a two-step routine that is at once nostalgic and very in line with what kind of energy that Mustard brings – a jovial fire that brings the laughs in tandem with the hype.

If you’re curious about the level of energy that these performers bring, be sure to check out Migos at Rolling Loud in May. Last month, Offset released his debut solo album Father of 4 and the trio dropped a new record, “Position To Win.” Both Quavo and Takeoff released their respective solo albums Quavo Huncho and The Last Rocket in 2018.

‘Sweet But Psycho’ Singer Ava Max Is Making Off-Kilter Pop For The Outcasts

By Erica Russell

Ava Max has been “working her butt off.” As she phones from Italy on a Sunday afternoon, she makes it clear that, despite my immediate assumption, Milan isn’t so glamorous after all — at least, not when she’s hustling so hard in the studio and pouring so much of herself into a global promotional tour that she can’t even steal away for a little sightseeing and shopping in one of the world’s most decadent fashion capitals. Sure, it’s a bummer for a style obsessee like Max, but somehow, the promise of pending pop superstardom makes it well worth the compromise.

Back in the U.S. where Max is from, the 25-year-old performer born Amanda Koci is in the midst of a bona fide breakout. Released in 2018, her addictive single “Sweet But Psycho” has become one of those “Wait, who sings this?” phenomenons, driving nearly 400 million streams on Spotify to date and charting on the Billboard Dance Club Songs (No. 1), Top 40 (No. 10), and Hot 100 (No. 29) charts. Across Europe, the song is already a No. 1 smash in multiple countries.

Despite what may appear like an overnight ascent, Max’s success is anything but sudden. Rather, it’s the result of “10 years of grinding.” When the singer was 14, she and her mom left their home in Virginia so Max could pursue a music career in Los Angeles. They returned just a year later. “It was crazy. No one wanted to sign a teenage girl. I guess they thought I was a liability, but it also felt shady… they didn’t want my parents around.” While things didn’t work out for a long time — she found herself working as a hostess, a waitress, and a model in the interim — Max “couldn’t stop thinking about making music.”

Eventually, serendipity (and a second West Coast migration) led her to Cirkut, the producer behind some of Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Miley Cyrus’ biggest hits. Together, the pair concocted “Sweet But Psycho,” a poisonously sweet bop with a seriously relentless chorus; the song exploded instantly after being uploaded to SoundCloud. On its surface, the track may seem like it plays into the classic, and arguably problematic, “crazy” girlfriend narrative, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find a subversive statement on gaslighting and how we stigmatize emotional expression, especially for women.

“I love it when people find out about it after they listen and really think about it,” Max muses. “I love it when they can relate, like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been in this situation!’ For me, pop music is a song that you can relate to but also makes you wanna dance. True, pure pop music is something people are missing in their lives. At the time, I didn’t realize what I was putting out in the world. But then everybody kept messaging me, saying, ‘I missed this!’ I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ They said, ‘We missed having a message in pop.’”

Social messaging is an integral part of Max’s M.O. Previous songs, like “Not Your Barbie Girl” (a riff on the Aqua bubblegum classic) and “My Way,” tackled feminist issues like bodily autonomy and gender roles. Similarly, her new single, “So Am I,” is a big, melodic pop anthem that celebrates individuality and embracing one’s unique flaws and quirks in the same vein as Katy Perry’s “Firework” or Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” The catchy, radio-friendly track is “very important” to the singer-songwriter, who was inspired to write it after grappling with the “unhealthy” way social media compels us to constantly compare ourselves to others.

Right on theme, the high-gloss music video for “So Am I” finds Max letting her freak flag fly as she frantically dances around a high school (“The same one they filmed Teen Wolf at,” she proudly gushes), beckoning a diverse group of “misfit” students to join her in her mission. The treatment for the video, as she explains, hits very close to home. “I was bullied as a kid. I was actually kicked out of seventh grade because I stood up for myself against a bully. And, of course, I was the one who got in trouble, which is so crazy. My video is about a dream high school, a fantasy of what we all want school to be.”

Max, who grew up as the daughter of Albanian immigrants, knows a thing or two about feeling like an outsider. Her upbringing is one of the reasons she hopes to be a “role model” for young people. “I saw my parents struggle and stress out a lot. My mom would roll up a pair of jeans just to make a pillow. I saw them work three jobs each, speak another language, and work really hard for what they wanted. Seeing that made me super passionate about what I believe in. I want more people to speak up about issues, like equal pay. I’m not interested in singing about sex and drugs.”

But Max’s parents weren’t her only source of inspiration: The performer also credits her drive towards pop stardom to the incredible women artists she grew up listening to, from Britney Spears (“She was a big inspiration to me growing up”) to “big, passionate vocalists” like Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Céline Dion. It’s clear just how important girl power is to the promising upstart, who has coincidentally joined a growing sorority of wildly talented, chart-topping Albanian women in pop. In January, Bebe Rexha tweeted at Max, Rita Ora, and Dua Lipa asking to collaborate, to which Max enthusiastically suggested they all team up on a 2019 version of “Lady Marmalade.”

The jury is still out on what, if anything, the four ladies might eventually cook up together — Max says she has talked with both Rexha and Ora, but hasn’t met Lipa just yet — but the performer admits that music is deeply embedded in and important to Albanian culture. “My family is very musical. Growing up, my dad took me to the opera. Both my uncles were in bands, my grandpa was a comedian who wore clown makeup on stage. They all worked in entertainment. Everybody loves music over there.”

At the moment, however, Max, who’s currently putting the finishing touches on her debut album (“The album is straight pop and it’ll be out sooner than you think,” she teases) isn’t concerned with borders, traditions, or labels. Her goal is loftier than that: She just wants to reach “every single” person. “I want to make music for the younger generations, but also for all ages. It’s funny when people ask me, ‘What demographic are you going for?’ I’m going for everyone. I want it to be an experience for everyone, especially anyone who’s ever felt different.” After all, so is she.

Louis Tomlinson Fondly Reflects On His Mother’s Love On Sweet ‘Two Of Us’

In 2016, One Direction‘s Louis Tomlinson lost his mother after her fierce battle with Leukemia. Today, almost three years later, the singer has released “Two Of Us,” a somber, reflective ode to her, his star in the nighttime sky. It moves slow and can be heartbreaking, but this masterful, emotional, three-minute capsule of memories offers the singer catharsis. It also enables listeners to get an understanding of the emotional journey that he’s gone through since her death because the pain never leaves; the griever must first cope, learn acceptance, and find peace in the solace of memories.

Through slow piano plucks and a soft, just out of distance atmosphere, Tomlinson creates a simple, heart-stirring, and ethereal reflective space. In this dimension of solitude, Tomlinson sings softly of his mother and the enormous love that grows for her every passing day. “This morning I woke up still dreaming/With memories playing through my head/You’ll never know how much I miss you/The day that they took you, I wish it was me instead,” he sings gently at the beginning. These words are heavy and the imagery creates an evergreen pasture in your head, one where your fondest memories of your parents play over and over. Once eternal separation happens, those slightly hazy moments become seared into the brain because they never come back.

Tomlinson confronts this realization softly, giving a solution to bring the flag of his mother with him for the rest of his days. “I’ll be living one life for the two of us/I will be the best of me, always keep you next to me,” he pantomimes, the bleeding affection sending chills down your spine. The singer’s commitment is inspiring to all – both who have suffered close losses and those that have yet to – because it gives a blueprint to moving on. Offering the dead solace in the confines of one’s daily drive and activities is perhaps the biggest, boldest, gesture that can honor their memory.

With the release of the song comes a stirring lyric video that goes farther then typed words in Arial font fading in and out of the screen. In the camera lens is a top-down view of a coffee table, drenched in mahogany. On it, hands frantically scribble these lyrics, the sharpie bleeding and the letters resembling chicken-scratch. These are symbols of emotion. The video is simplistic, but it adds an extra thematic level to an already emotional number. If the video can have this kind of bone-chilling effect, we can only imagine what the actual video will look like.

Listen to the heartfelt song up above as you check out the lyric video.

This Is Only the Beginning of R. Kelly’s End

By Michael Arceneaux

After reportedly initially struggling to pay the $100,000 bail needed to free himself as he awaits trial on 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse, R. Kelly was eventually released from Cook County jail last Monday evening (February 25).

Among those who waited outside the jailhouse for Kelly was a 25-year-old man named Omar Bey, a “lifelong fan” of the singer, per Chicago Tribune reporters Megan Crepeau and Jason Meisner, who admittedly stood there for a dubious cause. “I’m just trying to get some footage for my Snapchat,” Bey revealed. His motive notwithstanding, Bey sounded like a devoted R. Kelly fan when he added, “I’m not too sure if he did it or not, but I know he’ll beat the case.”

Kelly’s supposed invulnerability is a popular sentiment held not only by Bey, but also those currently posting in the unfortunate Facebook group “R. KELLY’S SINGLE LADIES” and others — fans and skeptics alike — who have echoed it across Twitter in recent days. I’ve also had the displeasure of hearing this viewpoint expressed at the barbershop, a place I go to for fades to boost my mood but often leave frustrated, stirred by asinine musings such as “R. Kelly finna get off again, boy.”

Following Kelly’s CBS This Morning interview with Gayle King yesterday (March 6), this chorus remained strong. Despite Kelly’s on-camera outburst, and the desperate assertions he made in his own defense, his fans are still out here proclaiming “innocent until proven guilty” and painting his accusers as liars and fame-seekers.

The notion that R. Kelly will skirt these charges the way he did previous ones — most notably in 2008 after his six-year trial centered on child pornography — is also a stance seemingly held by Valencia Love, who ultimately posted the $100,000 to secure Kelly’s release on February 25.

Love, who owns a Chicago childcare facility, the Lord and Child Christian Day Care, reportedly befriended Kelly on a cruise five months ago. Don Russell, a friend and adviser to Kelly, told the Chicago Sun-Times that Love decided to pay the sum because “she wanted Rob to have a chance at justice, and she thought he’d have a better chance outside of jail than inside.”

“He told me he was innocent,” Love said to Fox 32 News anchor Tia Ewing during a phone interview. “If he did it, he is wrong. I wasn’t there, you wasn’t there, give him the chance and allow him to prove his innocence. He’s not a monster.”

The people who still pledge allegiance to R. Kelly after long-standing allegations of sexual abuse, sexual assault, and pedophilia bewilder me. After a certain point, one would hope that a discography cannot overshadow the abusive behavior so many young girls and women have accused Kelly of subjecting them to.

As infuriating as it’s been to see Kelly continue to enjoy success in spite of decades-long accusations that he is a predator who targets underage girls, it should be undeniable that times have changed.

With the rise of the #MeToo movement, founded by Tarana Burke, the #MuteRKelly campaign, launched by Oronike Odeleye and Kenyette Barnes, and the wide viewership of the Lifetime docu-series Surviving R. Kelly, helmed by dream hampton, there is greater attention to Kelly’s alleged misconduct than ever before. Through his successful music career, R. Kelly was able to amass the fame and fortune that allowed him to create an ecosystem to commit his accused crimes without consequence. Thanks to the efforts of these whistleblowers, that ecosystem is crumbling and there is a greater urgency in seeking justice for his accusers.

And it looks as though it’s only the beginning.

Jim DeRogatis, who first reported on allegations against Kelly in December 2000 and more recently published a story on his accused “sex cult” for Buzzfeed in 2017, made the legal peril facing R. Kelly abundantly clear in a recent piece for the New Yorker. In it, DeRogatis notes that in addition to the state of Illinois targeting Kelly, the Department of Homeland Security, which investigates sex trafficking, has “formed a squad with roughly two dozen members, which is devoted to compiling evidence about a wide range of alleged crimes by Kelly.” That squad is specifically looking at “charges that Kelly transported girls across state lines ‘for immoral purposes,’ in violation of the White-Slave Traffic Act, from 1910, which is more commonly known as the Mann Act.”

Additionally, a “second grand jury has been convened in the Southern District of New York, based on investigations by the F.B.I. and the I.R.S.” Not to be outdone, officials in Fulton County, Georgia have reactivated what was previously considered a stalled investigation spurred by the parents of women who are allegedly being held against their will by Kelly. Then there is Michael Avenatti, who, may not be everyone’s favorite esquire, but for all intents and purposes, has already been effective in helping bring R. Kelly to heel as he claims to have provided law enforcement with evidence of Kelly engaging in sexual acts with a minor. Avenatti says he is currently representing seven clients — three alleged victims, two parents and two “whistleblowers.”

I am not a betting man — I have too much student loan debt to play like that — but if you asked me if R. Kelly can beat Cook County, Illinois, Fulton County, Georgia, the Southern District of New York, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and an eager celebrity lawyer actively seeking Kelly and his handlers’ imprisonment, I would go with no.

Not with his current attorney, Steven Greenberg, who appears quite unfit for the legal battle ahead. Not with public opinion continuing to rise against him. Not with the current climate in which people want to see predators brought to justice — particularly those of us who have wanted him put away for ages. Not after his immediately infamous sit-down with King. And not with his crumbling finances — which landed him back in jail last night (March 6) after he failed to pay $161,000 in child support, reportedly leaving his fans scrambling to gather more bail money.

It may have taken far too long for R. Kelly’s reckoning to come, but the moment seems to have finally arrived. His fans may not be able to accept that, but thankfully, his supporters can’t save him anymore.

Rae Sremmurd Knows It’s Time To Drop New Bangers

Rae Sremmurd have had their fair share of recent brotherly quarrels, but it looks like there’s been no lasting damage to the group dynamic. That’s great news because there’s something special about the duo’s ability to create chart-topping music that comes from how Swae Lee and Jxmmi connect their styles – Lee’s feathery, simmering voice and Jxmmi’s sharp raspiness spurred by jolts of electricity. It looks like we’ll get the chance to hear that synergy at least one more time. In a recent interview with Essence, the brothers unveiled that a new album will be coming before the year is up.

In the discussion, Lee had all good things to say about the duo’s past bodies of work that spurred hits like “No Flex Zone” (Sremmlife), Black Beatles” (Sremmlife 2), and “Guatemala” (SR3MM). “As for Rae Sremmurd, we dropped three classic albums already; it’s time for the fourth,” Lee said. “The fans have been patient. It’s time to give them what they want.” The rapper then made another surprising announcement. “And I’m about to drop a solo album, composed of all original music.”

New music from the Sremm brothers is always good news. In December, they surprised fans with Christmas themed tunes, “Christmas at Swae’s” and “Nothing for Christmas.” That month, they also performed at the Snowglobe Music Festival along with G-Eazy, Goldlink, Kaskade, Tyga, and other artists.