Now that the doldrums of the holidays are behind us, it’s time to concentrate on the great new music that might be coming our way in 2019.
Below are three worthwhile releases and one hot single to start your year off right.
Ariana Grande – “7 Rings”
Has Ariana Grande elevated to gay diva status yet? I think yes, but for those of you still on the fence, here is her second standalone single in the last month. The first, “Thank U, Next,” was a summing up of all the loves she had and lost, and the good things left behind. (Note to Taylor Swift: might want to approach your next breakup the same way.)
“7 Rings” feeds off an interpolation of “My Favorite Things” (gay catnip for musical queer people) before switching to a soft R&B vibe that breaks down all the new material items she’s seeking to fill up the loneliness in the wake of her recent breakup.
Is there anything gay men love more than musical theater and shiny new things (boys included)? Well, here is Ariana’s philosophy of life, right now at least: “I want it. I got it.” Gay diva status must be officially confirmed.
James Blake – Assume Form
This sensitive electronic musician’s fourth release is a return to form after the sprawl of 2016’s The Colour in Anything. Here, Blake balances his experimental electro-R&B side with some guest flow from the likes of André 3000 and Travis Scott and Moses Sumney, making this his most contemporary and accessible record yet.
Granted, this form of glitch-y soul was created by Blake on his mesmerizing eponymous debut and has become embedded in the structures of indie pop worldwide. So it’s time for him to take center spotlight for the thing he created, which he does with the desirous “Mile High (feat. Metro Boomin & Travis Scott)” and the joyfully amorous “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow.”
It’s possible that the form he means us to assume here is sexual in nature, but this mysteriously buoyant collection feels more celebratory of another type of form: love.
Cub Sport – Cup Sport
My favorite of this week’s releases comes from this Brisbane indie pop quartet, whose third release shoots them to the top ranks of gay-fronted artists. Having started the process of coming out prior to the release of 2017’s BATS, vocalist Tim Nelson went and fell in love with bandmate Sam Netterfield. They are husbands now, and whatever was hinted at in their previous releases is front and center here.
From a sheer pop perspective, the 15 tracks on Cub Sport outrank, hands down, the last releases from both Troye Sivan (which, as we all know, was very strong) and Years & Years (also worthwhile).
A pop record that opens with an a cappella track, “Unwinding Myself (Intro),” better damn well be compelling, and Nelson’s plaintive, seeking introduction lays out the soul-baring to come. He pledges his undying love on current single “Party Pill” and espouses the joys of less permanent arrangements on “Summer Lover.”
Yet where the band really comes into their own is on the stunning “Sometimes,” a deceptively simple tune that breaks down Nelson’s relationship to fame in a way that doesn’t scream “first-world problems” and then goes deeper into the daily struggles of a pop star who happens to be a gay man with the joys and pains that all human beings experience. “Every day is a revelation,” he sings. “I’m learning things about myself.” By sharing them honestly with the world, we do, too.
Maggie Rogers – Heard It in a Past Life
This Maryland native has come quite some way since the independent release of her first two records. A 2017 EP, Now That the Light Is Fading, brought her to the mainstream consciousness and generated expectations for Heard It in a Past Life, her major label debut.
Of course, hipsters are already worried that the big bad corporation will dull the homey side of Rogers’ more artisanal work, but Heard It in a Past Life is the perfect combination of her quiet, reflective side and the demands of the indie pop marketplace. I’ve heard a lot of indie pop records not dissimilar to Rogers’, and I usually hit reject within 10 minutes. Yet between the clean tone of her vocals (which might possibly be overly processed here) and the modest ambitions of 12 clear-eyed and catchy tunes, I haven’t skipped through anything yet.
“Light On,” the single, is the template here, and if you spark to its ebullient vibe, this might be your new favorite artist.