This week has brought great anxiety to many, as the realities of a global pandemic hit home, events are canceled and many who are able to work from home are doing so. A good time, it follows, for the soothing, uplifting, connecting power of music. And artists have delivered: Australia’s Tones and I follows up smash surprise hit “Dance Monkey” with more peerless pop. Margo Price sings of the elusive nature of fame on “Twinkle Twinkle.” Jack Harlow’s latest rap project Sweet Action is sharp and catchy. Teen grunge-pop artist renforshort plays with sadness in Teenage Angst. And Anderson .Paak contributes to the Trolls sequel’s soundtrack, with a funky, bright result.
“Bad Child,” Tones and I
Tones and I — Australian musician and singer Toni Watson— was a busker in Melbourne and around her home country before she was discovered on the street. She blew up soon after. Her single “Dance Monkey” is one of the great breakout musical stories of the past year, launching her meteoric rise from an unknown to a ubiquitous radio voice with one record-breaking song. (It also hit number one in 30 countries). That voice — idiosyncratic, feathery yet cutting — comes across loud and clear on her new song, “Bad Child.” She says it’s written from the perspective of someone else, which tracks; after all, all this success makes her anything but a “Bad Child.”
“Twinkle Twinkle,” Margo Price
For her new album That’s How Rumors Get Started, Nashville favorite Margo Price veered beyond her country comfort zone to explore some more classic rock ‘n’ roll territory. “Twinkle Twinkle” is a bold foot-stomper with plenty of nostalgia baked in, foregrounded by heavy guitars and sass to spare. It’s about fame — and particularly its pitfalls, despite its sparkling appeal — and she sings it all with hard-earned knowledge and a wink. “If it don’t break you, it just might make you rich,” she reflects: “You might not get there, and on the way it’s a b-tch.” Price knows this journey personally; this is her third album, following her 2016 debut, a 2019 Best New Artist Grammy nomination and plenty of time on the road as a musician, navigating the challenges of a cutthroat industry. It’s clear that experience gave her plenty new material to work with.
“2STYLISH,” Jack Harlow
Louisville’s Harlow, freshly 22, is the artist behind a rising rap banger called “What’s Poppin’.” (Listen once, and you’ll have it on repeat for the day.) On his new project Sweet Action he proves he’s got range, too: “2STYLISH” is moody and slick, an appropriately stylish track over echoey beats. “Now I’m in my element,” he insists: “Y’all boys irrelevant.” Confidence sounds good on him — and he’s just getting started.
Renforshort, 17, has an appropriate title for her new EP: Teenage Angst. The young singer-songwriter makes intimate, catchy bedroom pop with a punk edge: “There are times I wish that I was somebody else / Pretending I’m okay but, sh-t, I’m hating myself,” she sighs in a deceptively angelic voice on new song “Bummer.” “Maybe I’m like everybody else / In between the smiles, I’m here in hell, I’m hating myself.” There’s a nonchalance to her acceptance of less-than-lovely feelings that’s very much of a piece with the Gen Z mentality. But her sound is all her own.
“Don’t Slack,” Anderson .Paak, Justin Timberlake
Perhaps it was inevitable that the Trolls universe would produce music that feels like it wasn’t actually destined for an animated kids’ movie. All it took was the inclusion of Anderson .Paak, whose groovy, warm style and just-the-right-kind-of-scratchy voice add funk and fun to “Don’t Slack,” with Justin Timberlake taking a back seat. First Trolls gave us “Can’t Stop the Feeling” which became a wedding dance floor mainstay; this year, the forthcoming sequel Trolls Wold Tour has given us a 20-track soundtrack including collaborations with the likes SZA, HAIM, Anthony Ramos and Dierks Bentley. This one, it’s already clear, will be a standout.