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2024 So Far In Music: Overviewing Some Of The Best

The most significant cultural moments of the year.

Kali Uchis singing
YouTube, Kali Uchis / Sahand Kadir, @snds_2003

What happened to music in the mainstream? When did it become so mundane and utterly predictable? Why are the biggest songs always the least interesting? You may be asking yourself these questions – which utter an unfair generalisation of popular music, in my opinion – understandably reminiscential for the momentous cultural events of 2018.

Inevitably, the most average pieces of junk will always sit at the top of music streaming and sales charts. They always have, though we’re seemingly reluctant to remember; after all, we contributed to their successes.

But for every plasticky disco throwback and made-for-TikTok tune there is a small glimmer of something truly exciting, which immediately rushes into focus. The therapeutic venture of Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers and the cathartic ballads off of Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher: for a moment, we forgive ourselves for pushing ‘First Class’ to No. 1.

However, in 2024, artists in the mainstream have presented an unusually consistent string of exciting releases. The online discourse around music has been reinvigorated by volatile developments across genres, and it is once more exciting to keep in touch with the mainstream.

And to illuminate this I have listed – with the help of three exceptional writers, check them out – some of the more prominent and unprecedented cultural moments of the year, including the resurgence of popular country music, the presence of queer artists and an already-iconic rap feud between two of the medium’s giants.

The album art for Kali Uchis' ORQUÍDEAS, released in 2024.
Orquídeas is Kali Uchis’ second Latin-pop record, following her 2020 release, Sin Miedo. Kali Uchis / Geffen Records.

Kali Uchis – Orquídeas

“My dad started calling me after like the second week,” recalled Kali Uchis in an interview for Fader magazine, “telling me to come home, that he was sorry, that he just didn’t know what to do with me.” Kali was only seventeen when she was practically disowned and left to the cold streets by her father.

For some months until they reconciled, she settled uncomfortably in her Subaru while working a number of jobs and attending school. Utterly alone, depressed and paranoid about the unfamiliar figures outside passing by her car windows, she found some semblance of solace in writing lyrics and poetry.

Now with a young child of her own, the Columbian-American artist likely concerns herself with her parentage; coming to terms, through her temporary isolation, with the emotional hardship of parenting and making amends with her Columbian father. The title of her recent release, Orquídeas (meaning, Orchids), bears both of these sentiments as the Columbian national flower and an emblem of fertility – the latter, apparently, was accidental.

I realized how much it hurt my dad. When you’re little, you think your parents are these strong, unbreakable people that know everything, and then you start to realize that they’re just human, that they fuck up as much as we do, that they’re going through their own shit.

Kali Uchis in The Fader magazine

As her second Latin record, Orquídeas finds Kali Uchis reconnecting with her roots without constraining herself to a particular sound or genre. ‘Muñekita’ is a dynamic reggaeton single featuring addictive performances from El Alfa and JT of City Girls. The dizzying synth-beat of ‘Pensiamentos Intrusivos’ is swept off the floor by Kali’s airy vocals. Likewise, on ‘Te Mata’ she honours the classic sound of Latin American bolero, taking it under her wing, with a layered instrumental approach.

That is ultimately Kali Uchis’ greatest strength, which she shows off on Orquídeas, that she may venture into far-off sonic landscapes without eschewing her own dreamlike, instantly recognisable style.

The cuts of the album effortlessly transition between sentimental and funky moods, retaining our attention throughout the fourteen-track run. This is particularly potent in the final two tracks. On ‘Heladito’ Kali seems, almost creepily, to channel Amy Winehouse for her soulful expression of love-longing. The theme persists in ‘Dame Beso // Muévete’ over a more colourful, two-part dance beat. Therefore, the album closes with two opposing (yet inextricable) explorations of lovesickness.

Whereas previous efforts, all excellent, necessitated Kali to take a somewhat more commercial approach to her music – to breach outside of her comfort zone and garner contributions from other artists – she is certainly her most comfortable and self-confident on her newest release. In a sense she is back inside the Subaru, but far less dejected and far less alone. “Now,” she disclosed in a recent interview, “I feel like I have my core group of people that I know, that know how to work with me.”

[Left] Album art for Wall of Eyes, by The Smile. [Right] Thom Yorke.
The Smile / Self Help Tapes LLP

The Smile – Wall Of Eyes

Written by Shivam Pathak, @_shivampathak1 on Instagram.

“Let us raise our glasses to what we don’t deserve,” croons Thom Yorke, on ‘Wall Of Eyes,’ the titular track on his latest project, firmly putting him past the point of no return on the road to having his music associated with anything sanguine or joyful.

Yorke, now 55, returns this year with The Smile – one of the several Radiohead side projects the Oxford-based singer-songwriter has embarked upon since his first hit single, ‘Creep,’ elevated him to star status in 1993. The music on this record – a 45-minute celebration of all things sonically progressive – could not be further from that grungy, sweaty karaoke classic.

It builds upon the first record from the trio, A Light for Attracting Attention, which hit the shelves in mid-2022 and was punky, eclectic yet still refined. Driven by fellow Radiohead member and mad scientist Jonny Greenwood and perfectly percussed by Sons of Kemet’s Tom Skinner, this LP fuses art rock with electronica, krautrock and seemingly every genre in between.

The album spans eight tracks, each treating listeners to jagged edges of cynical lyricism and complex soundscapes that underscore the trio’s unbridled desire to explore new sonic territories.

The eponymous opening track sets the tone, weaving intricate melodies with thematic explorations of introspection and the inevitability of the passage of time. Following the opener, ‘Teleharmonic’ stuns with its textured layers. Yorke’s rhythmic bass work underpins a falsetto-driven, lush post-rock ballad that wouldn’t have felt out of place on Radiohead’s last studio album, A Moon Shaped Pool.

’Read the Room’ and ‘Under Our Pillows’ hark back towards the Smile’s first album, with motoriklike potent guitar work on lengthy post-punk tracks that, dare I say, are somewhat danceable (or at least produce a firm head-bobbing). Skinner’s jazz-infused drumming comes to the fore on ‘Bending Hectic’ – the lead single from the LP, an audacious eight-minute suite which seamlessly flows from a solemn, orchestral mourn to an overdriven guitar outburst which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on OK Computer – regarded by many to be Yorke’s magnum opus.

The lyrics, including “I’m changing down the gears, slamming down the brakes, letting go of the wheel,” are another firm reminder of Yorke’s distrust of automobiles. It’s thematically similar to ‘Airbag,’ the opening track on OK Computer, where Yorke recalls the miracle of surviving a car accident.

This dazzling fusion of genres, meticulously produced by Sam Petts-Davies (who had previously worked with Frank Ocean, Hans Zimmer and Red Hot Chili Peppers), burns slowly over 45 minutes, shedding all notions that The Smile is merely a placeholder while Radiohead wait on the sidelines – it’s psychedelic, incisive and cardinally unique.

Touring currently worldwide, the three-piece band have faithfully replicated their soundscapes live. The UK leg culminated in a glorious sold-out gig at Alexandra Palace, where the three members kept their distance from one another on stage, each allowed the space to connect to their own music, which entranced a 10,000 strong crowd into sheer awe. The Smile, it would seem, are here to stay – and this album proved exactly what that’s necessary.

The rappers Drake and Kendrick Lamar over a black background.
Sahand Kadir, @snds_2003 / YouTube, Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar vs. Drake

Pusha T dropped ‘The Story Of Adidon’ in 2018, a merciless diss aimed straight at Drake’s head, and the aftermath was unfortunately mixed. Although Drake conceded to Push’s diss almost immediately, the result of his public humiliation was practically nothing.

Sure, the track remains a sore topic for the Canadian rapper – he would continue to throw sneak shots at Push, secretly knowing he would never respond (why would he?). ‘The Story of Adidon’ quickly attained myth-status among those who had heard it, persevering even in the discourse today. But Pusha also showed that Drake’s image was too immersed in the mainstream consciousness to be significantly hurt.

And today, following Kendrick Lamar’s back-to-back-to-back hits and Drake’s apparent surrender at the close of ‘The Heart Part 6,’ we must ask if history will repeat itself.

Of course, the best diss tracks in rap history do not result in career homicide – excepting a few instances – which is perhaps its best quality. Nas and Jay still write great music to this day, even if ‘Ether’ was good enough to enter the English vernacular. But the recent back-and-forth between Drake and Kendrick is, by any measure, unprecedented.

Apparently instigated by Kendrick’s astonishing ‘Like That’ verse, the entertainment of watching Drake take on several rappers at once – from A$AP Rocky to his former idol, Rick Ross – had, at least initially, kept many of us watching. “What the fuck is this,” Drake asserts on ‘Push Ups,’ “a twenty-v-one?” One track after another: the moment divulged a sense of hatred towards him across the industry, which flattered his image as an underdog in the hip-hop scene.

For most Drake fans, their interest in Drake will not falter after the battle has settled; he will likely keep a prominent position in mainstream hip-hop for himself. But whether rappers would strive for a Drake collaboration as much in the future is a difficult question to answer. Recently, 4batz released his debut album u made me a st4r and included the original rendition of ‘act ii: date @ 8,’ without the Drake feature.

This is not to say that I want Drake to fail, for his quick responsiveness to Kendrick’s singles make up half of the entertainment. In ‘Push Ups’ he quite capably returns fire to his attackers, suggesting that their team-up is motivated by envy and a sense of emasculation: “Your first number one, I had to put it in your hand,” he raps and (taunting Kendrick) “how the fuck you big steppin’ with a size-seven men’s on?”

The less said about ‘Taylor Made Freestyle’ the better. ‘Family Matters’ is a far stronger showcase of Drake’s ability to humiliate and belittle his opponents, while bringing in domestic-abuse allegations targeted at Kendrick. “When you put your hands on your girl,” he prods, “is it self-defence ’cause she bigger than you?”

As a response to Kendrick’s ‘euphoria’ single, ‘Family Matters’ is surely respectable. However, Kendrick comes across as noticeably more vehement and hateful; he hates Drake more than words can even express. His anaphoric hook alone – “I hate the way that you walk, the way that you talk, I hate the way that you dress, I hate the way that you sneak diss” – is catchier than Drake’s disses, which is a recurring characteristic of the Compton rapper’s diss tracks.

‘6:16 in LA,’ ‘meet the grahams’ and ‘Not Like Us’ were released hours apart from one another, Kendrick revealing new information about Drake in each record. The second, released half an hour after ‘Family Matters,’ is a particularly incisive diss in a series of letters addressed to his family. “Dear Adonis,” he raps, bridging his own feud to Pusha T’s single from six years ago, “I’m sorry that that man is your father, let me be honest.”

And ‘Not Like Us,’ the final nail in the coffin, brings to light Drake’s historically creepy behaviour with younger women. The number of quotables from this track – “certified pedophile,” “OV-hoe” – will make Drake’s association with such allegations difficult (if not impossible) to untangle. ‘The Heart Part 6’ was far from a satisfying conclusion, but for many it signified a victory for Kendrick, and the battle appears to be over.

Whether or not much will arise out of this significant cultural beat we have yet to see, but for reinvigorating the online attention to hip hop, it will surely persevere in the cultural consciousness for years to come. This is far from an adequate analysis of the Kendrick-Drake conflict – I haven’t even talked about ‘BBL Drizzy’ – but, if you haven’t already, involve yourself in this small fragment of hip-hop culture and learn about it on your own. That is the excitement of it.

Single cover art for 'I like the way you kiss me' by Artemas (2024).
The single cover art for Artemas’ ‘i like the way you kiss me.’ Artemas

Artemas – ‘i like the way you kiss me’

Written by Daniel Hunwick, @dan_hunwick1 on Instagram.

Lo-fi bedroom pop has entered the zeitgeist and holds prominence in the pop charts, just when country and folk reinvigorated the world with American spirit, a new brooding e-boy has crashed the campfire with a series of synthetic bop. ‘I like the way you kiss me’ – a formulaic, derivative tune that sounds like the favourite of a goth orgy full of recent transitions from System Of A Down to overt satanism.

Many comments under the accompanying video on YouTube describe how the song feels like an old familiar hit that they’ve heard many times. This is truly a testament to Artemas’ prowess in creating classic hooks that were all over clubs in the late 2010s. The lyrics beat rapturously, as if humping the listener’s ears. The selzuric tempo, altered pitch, and intensely echoed vocals are addictive and (I dare say) euphonic.

The song seems to progress in an unusual structure, from chorus to post-chorus to bridge, to chorus, to bridge, to chorus. A switch-up made me realise that I had been listening to the same verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus format for pretty much every pop song for the past 10-15 years. Artemas is no Beethoven but I respect the diversity.

Renee Rapp singing on stage.
Reneé Rapp performing her song ‘Pretty Girls’ at AT&T Block Party. YouTube / Reneé Rapp

Queer Women in Music

Written by Holly Turner, @hollyturner330 on Instagram.

If 2023 was the year of the woman, then 2024 is the year of the queer woman.

The start of 2024 brought us the modern remake of Mean Girls, starring the effervescent Reneé Rapp. Whatever you might think about the movie, you cannot deny the astronomic rise of Rapp as a result. From that iconic SNL performance with Megan Thee Stallion to her recent Coachella performance, Rapp has certainly made a name for herself. Her unapologetic attitude and tendency to make her PR team shit themselves with every interview she does has made her an unavoidable queer icon for 2024. And Reneé Rapp is not the only one who has seen much success this year.

Chappell Roan, with her recent release of ‘Good Luck, Babe!’ has also received quite a bit of attention recently. Her music is full of bops perfectly suited for the gay club, and I for one have loved to see the outrage that has stemmed from her performing ‘Casual’ at the GUTS tour this year (google the lyrics if you’re unsure what I mean by that…).

And who could forget The Last Dinner Party, the all female band who recently released their debut album? ‘Prelude to Ecstasy’, with its classical imagery and beautiful vocals, quickly became one of my favourites. Also securing a slot at Coachella, it’s safe to say that TLDP have achieved masses already. And it’s only just the beginning.

two back covers for the vinyl edition of Cowboy Carter by Beyoncé
Beyoncé / Parkwood Entertainment

Beyoncé – Cowboy Carter

In the Instagram post announcing her upcoming album, the second act of a trilogy, Beyoncé revealed that the concept (a foray into southern, country music) began to develop after a humiliating public experience years prior. Specifically, her country-esque performance of ‘Daddy Lessons’ in 2016, which inadvertently drew criticism for her supposed appropriation of the genre. “I did not feel welcomed,” she writes in the caption, “and it was very clear that I wasn’t.”

Announcing Cowboy Carter unfortunately incited the same recycled criticisms, showing that the issue of the artist’s identity as a Black southerner ran deep. It didn’t truly begin with the 2016 show, nor with Beyoncé, but with the substantial and under-appreciated history of Black country music. The roots are slowly untangled in Cowboy Carter, from the secondary meaning of the title to the appearances of Linda Martell (sometimes recalled as the first Black woman in country).

The record is a scrapbook of diary entries and family photographs, animated by a lavish, experimental, undeniably country sound – it serves almost as a testimony to Beyoncé’s personal attachment to the genre.

In ’16 Carriages’ Beyoncé meticulously presents her early entry into the music industry with an undercurrent of traditional western motifs: “Sixteen carriages drivin’ away … to the summer sunset on a holy night.” Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus perform a gorgeously romantic and bittersweet duet on ‘II Most Wanted’ – perhaps a tribute to her mother-in-law, Gloria Carter, and her marriage to Roxanne Wiltshire.

And although I feel as if the final section of ‘Honey ★ Sweet ★ Buckiin’ disrupts the natural progression of the track, the dreamlike and moody buildup is nonetheless a highlight of Cowboy Carter, which seems to reintroduce (unusually) the electronic strokes of the first act of her trilogy, Renaissance.

“Genres are a funny little concept, aren’t they?” asks the aforementioned Linda Martell at the beginning of ‘Spaghettii.’ The sense of confinement and stagnation she elucidates later on reflects a particular area of insecurity in Cowboy Carter. That is, the question of what Beyoncé can and can’t do as a musician, and the issue of whom certain genres belong to.

Cowboy Carter is a welcome entry into the conceptual trilogy, promising that the final instalment (likely a rock-inspired vision) will be as vigorously thoughtful and energetic as its predecessors, in order to properly conclude Beyoncé’s personal affirmation of her artistry and heritage.

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