Upon writing this article I did wonder if was problematic of me to make this an all-female list as I don’t want to inadvertently uphold a gender binary in which I do not believe, or unconsciously perpetuate the idea that what men do it normative by talking of “female artists” implying that artists are otherwise male. However, I do still want to celebrate and empower women for their creativity, and so decided to do so regardless but do think these points are important to consider.
‘Did you know there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd’ – Lana Del Rey
The lengthy title is indicative of the album’s general length, totalling 1hour and 17minutes, which does make the process of becoming acquainted with this work relatively tiring at first. However, once familiar, the album’s length is a blessing as it prolongs the time in which you can dwell in Lana’s mesmeric sound world, being characteristically sad and sultry as ever.
My favourite track on the album, and indeed one of my favourites of the year, is ‘Paris, Texas (feat. SYML)’, simply due to the atmosphere she invokes with her airy, etherial vocals inducing a sense of being lulled to sleep, an effect fortified by the muted piano accompaniment and light chimes appearing in the background. It is rare for me to enjoy a song simply for its sound, regardless of its lyrics, but in this case it is just so beautiful that it is enough. Another standout track is ‘Margaret (feat. Bleachers)’, with this song being an ode to her producer, Jack Antanoff, and her friend, Margaret Qualley’s (star of Netflix’s MAID) relationship and marriage. I find this to be such a unique sentiment as so rarely is art a tribute to somebody else’s relationship as often we only think of ourselves and the beauty that stems from our own experiences and not in others’. This is precisely why I like Lana’s music as a whole; she writes from such a specific perspective, observing things that I would never think to, which is so refreshing as too often lyrics abide by overdone cliches and abstractions that have no real meaning. I find this particularly applies to the subject of love, a theme that humanity has been seemingly infatuated with since we could express ourselves, thus making the task of saying something new about it almost impossible, but something that Lana, yet again, does not fail to do.
Quarter Life Crisis (Deluxe) – Baby Queen
This is another considerably long album with there being 21 songs and 2 discs, and so if I were to give any direction on how to approach it initially, it would be to begin with the first, and in my opinion the best, song ‘We Can Be Anything’, and then to skip to the second disc comprised of only 7 tracks. This first song is my favourite simply due to the cynically humorous way in which she approaches such existential and intellectual themes; she details how at a party she had an existential breakthrough realising that “a life devoid of meaning is a life of total freedom”, which explains she came to realise that nihilism could be a force for optimism, but in a setting totally incongruous to her mind. This captures the general POV of Baby Queen; while she is deeply angsty, her music is also equally upbeat as her heavy sentiments are set to a colourful electro-pop sound. I also think the album art is very successful in capturing the album’s essence as it pictures Baby Queen sitting apathetically on her bed in what appears to be her messy childhood bedroom with bras and toys strewn across the floor, and pale pink walls, all this pointing to the generally pessimistic, chaotic and unabashedly girly feel of her music.
‘Messy’ – Olivia Dean
I first discovered Olivia Dean around July from a video of a live performance of her song ‘Danger’ and was immediately beguiled; she emanates such a clear sense of fun and comfortability in herself, which is reflected in the sexy style of this RnB soul album. These energies make the album feel as though it is best suited to summertime listening, with the tracks ‘Dive’, ‘Ladies Room’ and ‘The Hardest Part’ particularly emanating this sense of playfulness.
Nevertheless, Dean’s music is by no means vacuous and is full of heart. Generally speaking, the album’s thematic focus is on the ‘mess[iness]’ and teething pains that growing into adulthood involves with all the self-discovery and romances, which of course speaks a great deal to the predicament of university students such as ourselves. However, the final track, being my favourite and what I think of as the most sentimental, is ‘Carmen’, and seems to be disparate from the others. It opens with a soundbite of her grandmother telling of her fears being on a plane for the first time when she came to the UK from the Caribbean as part of the Windrush generation. The song that follows is an apostrophe to her grandmother, namely ‘Carmen’, in which she details her veneration and affection for her as indicated by her name being the title and lyrics like: ‘you transplanted a family tree, and a part of it grew into me’. This natural imagery continues as she sings of how she feels a responsibility to ‘carefully carry the seeds’ brought over by her grandmother, being a metaphor for how she aspires to preserve her cultural heritage, which is of course a deeply personal and moving sentiment communicated in such a delicate and beautiful way. Hence, the album is able to speak to the theme of soul-searching and identity in such a variety of ways such as through love, friendship, and indeed family.