A synthesised orchestra bursts into life. And I mean bursts. If this were in a Disney movie and meant to signify the first buds of spring in some fantasy netherworld ruled by a giant and intimidatingly amiable field mouse, you’d still ask them to tone it down a bit. The orchestra repeats itself for a few bars, as if sweeping its arms across the landscape. Isn’t it beautiful?, it says, this world you believe to know? Isn’t life just idiotically charming when you don’t know any better?? Then, the orchestra stops, to be replaced by a single foreboding organ while the sounds behind it seem to be dripping out the last of their good will. Drip. Drip. Drop. Drip. The droplets seem to both become sparer and start to resemble a ticking clock, winding down to some unknown but anxiety inducing conclusion. The same music that had previously swept its hands in overt astonishment as the landscape that is now starting to melt away, now grabs you roughly by the collar and pulls you forward. It opens a hand to you containing a red pill and a blue pill. Before throwing them both in rage at the still deforming landscape.
“Nah, fuck that”, they say. “That trope has been done to death to such a point where it now somehow represents Men’s Right Activism. There aren’t just two routes anyway, there are an infinite ways to comprehend reality, let me show you them all“.
Hey! Top forty ! This is a nice, normal, manageable list isn’t it? Should I maybe have just limited 2020’s best songs to this workable and succinct top 40 list? What, and not mention Wock in Stock or I Don’t Know, Burn Stuff? I’m not sure I’d ever be able to forgive myself.
That’s all the introduction you’re getting, parts oneand two were more than enough foreplay, there are some absolute modern classics in this final countdown, and if you’re as half as surprised as me at what comes out on top…
A very ‘Fiona Apple’ Fiona Apple song, but that is obviously entirely a Good Thing. Lyrically, it’s untouchable, with Ms Apple taking issue with dinner party conversation and refusing to be silenced (“Kick me under the table all you want/I won’t shut up…I would beg to disagree/But begging disagrees with me”). Amongst the barbed and often hilarious response to tension, she also manages to squeeze in some absolutely amazing lyrical asides:
I’d like to buy you a pair of pillow-soled hiking boots
To help you with your climb
Or rather, to help the bodies that you step over, along your route
So they won’t hurt like mine
I’m going to be really noncommittal and say that Under the Table is definitely one of the best lyrics of the year. Don’t make me choose. No, seriously, don’t make me choose, you know I’d just give it to a 1993 Manics’ lyric and ruin the legitimacy of the whole operation.#
Yeah, that’s right, motherfucking double entry. Pssssshow! Did you hear that sound? That’s the sound of your tiny BRAINS being blown, yo! Don’t like it? Wanna lay down? Come at me, bro! COME AT ME!!!!
Ahem… We enter the top 80 [EIGHTY] with an artist whom I’ve long loved who has never achieved the commercial success her AMAZINGNESS deserves, and a debut album by an artist* doing a lot of Marina’s old tricks and the obvious inheritor of the Welsh/Greek Queen’s mantle of master (mistress?? No, can’t use that word, the perverts have ruined it) of pitch perfect pop music that’s unafraid to be a little weird- frequently A LOT weird- and can hide quite profound sentiments behind its bubble gum pop aesthetics, playfully ironic one second but emotionally sincere the next. Yet, rather than challenging Marina for the title of ‘Favourite Cult Alt-Pop Act Who Sells Fuck All Records’, somehow her debut album has sold 1,304,000 equivalent album units (343,000 physical sales), which, yeah, it’s no ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’ (five. Fucking. Million?!), but it’s about as much as albums sell these days, and was the biggest selling album of 2019 for a long time. It might still be. What am I, Mr. Research? Get fucked. Released a month after Eilish’s debut, Marina’s first album in four years was going to set up a brutal battle between the master and the jumped up apprentice who has managed to commercially outperform her influence more than a hundred times over. Marina officially removing the ‘…and the Diamonds’ suffix from her name was like her removing all shackles, ready to go to war. She even stylises it as ‘MARINA’, like she’s screaming her name to remind these little upstarts who the real OG is! Billie’s gonna get pwnnnnnned!! Grab your popcorn, kids, this is sure to be brutal!
This placing is perhaps a little too high for Ms. Sawayama: her debut EP probably doesn’t actually have the fifteenth greatest collection of songs of 2017. Based on solely the actual musical merits it would still feature highly on Necessary Evil 2017, don’t get me wrong. Though perhaps it’d be awkwardly bumping body parts in the crowded economy section with the likes of Andrew Bird and Ghostpoet, rather than clinking champagne glasses in first class as she spreads her legs and guffaws with Lupe Fiasco over Moses Sumney‘s droll anecdote.
But if you think pop music is 100% about the music then you’re an indefensibly dull person. Great pop music isn’t just about great music: that’s definitely a large part of it, of course, perhaps even as much as 53%, but there are so many other factors involved.
It’s those other factors, those elusive forty seven percenters, that Rina Sawayama knocks comprehensively out of the park