Friday, January 18, 2019

Album Review: Maggie Rogers - 'Heard It In a Past Life'

Just two and a half years ago, Maggie Rogers—a small town Maryland native—was a student at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. During her senior year of high school, she had turned a broom closet into a makeshift studio and recorded her first folk album, The Echo, which she would use for her NYU application. She had initially planned on being a journalist, and during her freshman year she interned at Elle magazine for music journalist Lizzy Goodman, for whom she would transcribe and edit hundreds of hours of interviews with major musicians and journalists which would be later compiled into the book Meet Me in the Bathroom. After releasing another folk album independently in 2014, Blood Ballet, everything changed when Rogers played her song “Alaska”—which she’d written in fifteen minutes—for Pharrell Williams at an NYU masterclass in 2016, which moved him to tears. A video of the performance went viral, leading to Rogers signing a record deal with Capitol Records, and a critically acclaimed EP and North American tour followed soon after. But Rogers, just 22 years old then and 24 now, was still finding her footing as an adult and figuring out who she is—and the sudden fame and attention was immediately overwhelming. Thereafter, she generated over three million monthly listeners on Spotify and performed on both The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live. Determined to take control of her own narrative, Rogers assembled her major-label debut album, Heard It In a Past Life—out everywhere today—which has made the folksy love child of Lorde and Lana Del Rey an unstoppable force wise beyond her years.
At its core, Heard It In a Past Life is a collection of soul-searching moments, almost going from found to lost to found again, making it an exceptionally mature snapshot of young adult life. “Graduating from college and starting your life as an adult is a giant transition no matter what,” she said. “My private life became public very quickly, without me having much control over it. I was scared and overwhelmed for a really long time.” Mixing pop music sensibilities with folk, synths, soothing vocals, banjos, pianos, and acoustic guitars, Rogers isn’t so much the next Lorde or Del Rey but perhaps closer to a modern-day Joni Mitchell, with the ‘70s singer/songwriter balladry and production to back it up. Not to mention her songwriting ability to capture such powerful emotional moments and pack them into 3-minute pop songs. She nods to the past by channeling Mitchell and James Taylor, and nods to the future by resembling Lorde, Jack Antonoff, or even Taylor Swift.
One of the album’s standout moments comes in the form of “Light On”—which is incredibly catchy in a way that is hard to explain—which explores introspective lyrics of sudden attention, fame, and depression over upbeat production, now recalling the music of Alessia Cara. “Would you hear me out if I told you I was terrified for days?” she sings over swelling synths. “Oh, I couldn't stop it / Tried to slow it all down / Crying in the bathroom / Had to figure it out / With everyone around me saying / ‘You must be so happy now.’” Or the album’s final track, “Back in My Body,” whose lyrics express similar anguish: “I was stopped in Paris when I almost ran away.” Rogers explained those lyrics were inspired by her first European tour in February 2017. “I was doing so much press. It made me miserable. I remember I was in the middle of a video session in Paris and I walked outside to have a cigarette. I thought, ‘I have enough money to buy a plane ticket and I could get to the airport before people really realized where I went.’” Although the moment passed, the impulse was real. She also recounted an incident in London where someone asked her why she hadn’t performed “Alaska”—the song that made her famous—during a soundcheck, to which she said she’d grown sick of the song since she plays it all the time. Forced to play it by her management, Rogers suffered a panic attack halfway through the song and ran offstage. “Folk music usually romanticizes the road,” she said. “‘Back in My Body’ tells the opposite story.”
Mature but not glitzy, strong without comprising itself, the album’s title is an ode to surrendering to the process and letting the rest take care of itself—and separating Rogers’ story from any sense of control or agency. It’s almost an album about making an album; about getting the chance of a lifetime and how one young woman has chosen to navigate that chance. Several critics have pointed out that Heard It In a Past Life is a pop record that departs from the indie folk sounds of her previous independent releases (which has received mixed reviews; The Guardian wrote that Rogers “clearly has talent, but this album does its best to dim her light”), to which Rogers poked fun at in a recent interview with Vulture, saying that she’ll call herself a pop star as a joke because the notion is “silly” and asked the difference between a pop star and a rock star. “Is it guitars? ‘Cause I got guitars.” Whether Rogers is a pop star and whether Heard It In a Past Life is a pop album or not hardly seems to be the point, given that she has already proven with her sound and lyrics that she isn’t comparable to anyone else and doesn’t have an expiration date: Maggie Rogers is completely her own.
Since a lot of Heard It In a Past Life was recorded and released as early as 2016, the album really chronicles not only Rogers’ journey as a songwriter and performer, but as a young adult still navigating the road of growing up. A majority of the album’s songs, from the electro-folk origins of “Alaska” and “On + Off” to the ‘80s synth-influenced sounds of “The Knife” and “Retrograde,” reflect the cycle of perpetual self-change and growth that Rogers is narrating throughout—a cycle that one generally tends to face in their early twenties, and which Rogers puts into words in achingly poetic ways much older than she is.
Jeffrey’s favorites from Heard It In a Past Life: “Give A Little,” “Overnight,” “The Knife,” “Alaska,” “Light On,” “Past Life,” “Retrograde,” and “Back in My Body”

Monday, January 14, 2019

Book Review: 'This Will Only Hurt a Little' by Busy Philipps

"I'm rolling my eyes right now, but that's who I was. It's who I am. I have a hard time just existing. I always think that if only I could be somewhere else, with someone else, doing something else, then I would be happy, finally. The hole would be filled. I know that's not how life works. But it's always been the thing that drives me."

This Will Only Hurt a Little is the charming and candid memoir by Busy Philipps, the beloved B-list actress best remembered for supporting roles on Freaks and Geeks, Dawson's Creek, ER, and Cougar Town, as well as in a variety of movies including White Chicks, Made of Honor, He's Just Not That Into You, and most recently I Feel Pretty. I don't feel like this is one of those celebrity memoirs where you really have to like the celebrity whose written it, because Philipps is a really strong writer whose stories of youth, growing up, and becoming an actress in Hollywood without a handbook will resonate with just about anyone who has grown up watching TV and movies and following even the vaguest details about the people who star in them.

The book follows Philipps' life in a chronological fashion, from her upbringing in Arizona, to her storied teenage years (how many times can one girl dislocate her knee?), to her lifelong desire to be an actress and eventually attempting to fulfill that dream. While attending college, she began going to auditions regularly and was cast in a bit of commercial work before getting cast as Kim Kelly on the short-lived NBC teen drama Freaks and Geeks, which has since become a cult classic. One of the most interesting tidbits of her memoir comes into play here, when she describes her working relationship with James Franco (who played Daniel on Freaks and Geeks, whom Kim Kelly dated). She describes Franco as a typical male star on the brink of stardom who already thinks he's the cat's meow, and therefore acted pompous and arrogant around everyone on set. Philipps said it was clear he had respect for Linda Cardellini, who played lead character Lindsay, but merely because she had somehow proven herself worthy of respect simply by being the lead star and main character. She says he was never kind to her in any way; in fact quite the opposite. Philipps also describes one incident in particular where she was instructed by the director of the episode to push Franco while saying her line ("Dammit Daniel do something!") and when she did, Franco allegedly grabbed her by her shirt, screamed in her face, and threw her to the ground. The producers were eventually notified and since Franco's outburst had occurred during filming, they made him watch his reaction before apologizing to her. When he did apologize, Philipps could sense part of it was genuine (he said he just didn't like how his character's girlfriend is always pushing him around). She writes,

"And then he smiled and hugged me, and I don't need to tell you this, but James is a fucking movie star. He was horrible to me, yes, but he's also gorgeous and charming as hell. That's where the manipulation lives. These dudes so often get away with their shitty behavior because they smile at you and stare into your eyes and for a second you're totally transfixed and you just say, 'Yeah. It's okay. I get it. You were in the moment. I'm sorry I don't understand. I'm sorry I'm not a better actor. I'm sorry I'm not a prettier girl. I'm sorry.' And you accept their apology and somehow end up apologizing to them."

I find this to be a very accurate description of what it's like for any woman whose been raised with manners and class to accept an apology from a man, especially a man in a position of power (she even describes the set of Freaks and Geeks as a boys' club, which is hardly surprising). Although while I do find this to be an important part of her memoir, Philipps almost immediately expressed disappointment with the "incessant" media coverage the passage about Franco received when her memoir was published last October, telling Andy Cohen on Watch What Happens Live that she was disappointed not only because it overshadowed the rest of her book but also because it put so much attention on a man's story rather than on the woman who wrote that story. "It really bummed me out because I felt like, I'm a woman in this industry who wrote a very personal book about my experiences in life and in this industry," she said, "and the headlines were all about a man. I was like, that was my point the whole time." So I am going to respectfully leave it at that!

The book lost a bit of steam for me after the chapters about her teenage years and time on Freaks and Geeks and Dawson's Creek, but there are still some other entertaining anecdotes from her later career including her time trying her best to pronounce medical terms correctly on ER and helping an ex-boyfriend come up for the idea for a movie that would later become Blades of Glory starring Will Ferrell...and being completely uncredited as a writer and shunned by the boyfriend (she has since received retroactive credit as a writer on the movie and was already more famous than that boyfriend ever was). She also talks about her time starring on the sitcom Cougar Town with Courteney Cox, and standing up to Steven Levitan, co-creator of Modern Family, who belittled her award when she received a Critics' Choice Award for her role on the series. She ends the book with how she suddenly became the poster child for Instagram Stories, and how she finally discovered what she was meant to be all along: a talk show host, which came true right after her memoir was published - Phillips' late-night talk show, Busy Tonight, premiered on E! last October. Overall, an entertaining celebrity memoir that will delight any fans of the beloved actress. 4/5 stars. 

Friday, January 4, 2019

16 Years Later, Hilary Duff and 'The Lizzie McGuire Movie' Still Matter Culturally

When I started university, I started watching The Lizzie McGuire Movie at the end of every semester as a way to relax. It may be cliché, full of plot holes, and targeted towards millennial preteens, but very few movies have the power that the film’s most famous song has, “What Dreams Are Made Of,” and singing along with two versions of Hilary Duff at the top of your lungs is the cure for pretty much anything, if you ask me. Looking back, the film is just about as poetic and meaningful as the Spice World and Josie and the Pussycats movies (all of which are colorful and musical romps that remain endearing for those who grew up in their eras) but what remains enjoyable about The Lizzie McGuire Movie is what it continues to represent culturally—a turning point in both the Disney and music industries, retroactively making it a pop cultural touchstone that is too often overlooked. Indeed, all jokes and prepubescent awkwardness aside, The Lizzie McGuire Movie actually represents much more than one may think and, nearly 16 years later, is worthy of another look.
The main cast of Lizzie McGuire circa 2001: Lalaine as Miranda, Hilary Duff as Lizzie, and Adam Lamberg as Gordo
Around the time that former teenyboppers Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were redefining notions of what it meant to behave for the millennial teenage girl, mainstream media and culture were beginning to take notice—as some may recall, Britney was initially marketed to young girls of all ages, not just teens—and thus began a trend of sexualized toys and clothes for young girls which still continues to be met with controversy nearly two decades later. Cable outlets that these girls would watch after school and on the weekends like Disney Channel would soon begin to take notice of such trends, too, but before that happened, the world was introduced to a new teen idol named Hilary Duff on the Disney teen sitcom Lizzie McGuire, which first debuted in 2001. Unlike the Disney television series that would follow McGuire in the later half of the 2000s, such as Hannah MontanaWizards of Waverly Place, or Sonny with a ChanceLizzie McGuire was overwhelmingly simple and innocent. A typical episode followed Duff as Lizzie alongside her best friends, Miranda (Lalaine) and Gordo (Adam Lamberg), navigating middle school social situations while trying to avoid embarrassment and humiliation. Of course, Lizzie is a clumsy and accident-prone girl who tends to have her worst fears (that is, the worst fears of a preteen girl) come true, and she has to deal with the humiliating consequences all before the last commercial break. What helped to sell and invent Lizzie McGuire’s quirk and charm was an animated version of Lizzie which the camera would focus on to vocalize the character’s inner voice. Lizzie McGuire was just your average white American preteen girl who wants to find her place in the world without having her bully and frenemy Kate Sanders (Ashlie Brillault) embarrass her in front of the ditzy but dreamy skater boy she likes, Ethan Craft (Clayton Snyder). Lizzie McGuire was more influenced by the family friendly sitcoms of the ‘90s, such as BlossomBoy Meets World, or Family Matters, than it was by any other Disney series up until that point—and rather than imitate or cater to the mainstream primetime audience that ‘90s family sitcoms did, the series was aimed more towards kids no older than 12 turning on the TV when they got home from school, and the scripts represented that. Blossom might have had some jokes in there for the adults or addressed some tough issues, but Lizzie McGuire was not the place you were going to see characters deal with peer pressure or underage drinking, but rather the humiliation of having toilet paper stuck to your shoe in front of your crush. And just like that, Lizzie McGuire set a trend by catering to nobody else but the real-life audience that was the same age as its main characters.
Lizzie McGuire aired for 65 episodes between 2001 and 2004, by which point Disney had already found another comical and charming star in the form of Raven-Symoné on That’s So Raven (which would go on to become the highest-rated children’s program of all-time). But something else had started to happen behind the scenes of these Disney teen vehicles, which was the idea that if there was a market for these girls to be charming on their own television series, there was probably a market for these girls to be charming on their own albums, too. Lest we forget that, by this point in the 2000s, artists like Britney had completely revitalized and reinvented the market and demand for teen pop, which only made Disney’s ideas grow bigger. Both Hilary Duff and Raven-Symoné had recorded the theme songs for their respective series, and both stars would then record songs that would appear on accompanying soundtracks for Lizzie McGuire and That’s So Raven. The difference was, of course, that music or their singing abilities was not in any way apart of the premise of their programs, but more just sugar on top to make more money off of the brand name. Duff began recording other songs for various Disney soundtracks and when she expressed genuine interest in pursuing a music career, Disney was the first one to hop on the bandwagon—her first official studio album, Santa Claus Lane, was released by Walt Disney Records in 2002 and saw fair commercial success, going on to be certified gold. Soon thereafter, Duff signed a record deal with Andre Recke of Hollywood Records, a label owned by Disney Music Group, which had been in significant decline in years prior since its foundation by Michael Eisner of the Walt Disney Company in 1989. “There are singers like Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion and Whitney Houston, who have legendary voices,” said Jay Landers, senior vice president of artists and repertoire at Walt Disney Records at the time. “There are artists like Britney Spears with lesser voices, yet they have the ability to communicate. They all possess that unique thing we call charisma. From the moment we met Hilary, it was evident that she has that in abundance.” And just like that, Hilary Duff was on the road to becoming Disney’s first real teen star who was the whole package—charming actress, charming singer—before anyone really knew what it had started.
Promotional poster for The Lizzie McGuire Movie, with the slogan "From ordinary girl to international pop star"
Before Lizzie McGuire aired its official final episode in February 2004, Duff had already transitioned out of teen sitcom actress and into legitimate films, appearing alongside Frankie Muniz (of Frankie in the Middle, a similar counterpoint to Lizzie McGuire) in Agent Cody Banks, released in March 2003. But what would come just two months later was the theatrical major motion picture event that was The Lizzie McGuire Movie, in which the entire cast of the series reprised their roles (with the exception of Lalaine as best friend Miranda, who declined to appear in the film to focus on music—another potential teen star with a marketable opportunity). The film follows Lizzie and Gordo’s middle school graduation (where Lizzie manages to cause the entire stage to fall down and land herself an appearance on Good Morning America) and their graduation trip to Rome, accompanied by the blunt yet sassy Ms. Ungermeyer (Alex Borstein). In a twist that makes the film almost like Under the Tuscan Sun but for 12-year-olds, Lizzie is mistaken for an Italian pop star named Isabella with whom she bares a remarkable resemblance (also played by Duff, just as a brunette and with a cartoonish Italian accent) and is whisked away on an adventure by Isabella’s singing partner Paolo (Yani Gellman), who enlists Lizzie’s help to fill in for Isabella at the upcoming Italian Music Awards. Faking illness and leaving Gordo to cover for her, Lizzie (who, at the beginning of the film, is shown to be an aspiring singer performing into her hairbrush) is convinced by Paolo that Isabella lip syncs and teaches her to mouth along to their song. By the time of the awards ceremony, Gordo takes the hit for Lizzie and is about to be sent home from the trip when he runs into the real Isabella at the airport, to whom he explains the entire situation. In yet another turn of events, Isabella reveals to Lizzie moments before she is to go on stage that Paolo in fact lip syncs and only wanted to use Lizzie to embarrass “Isabella” in front of a crowd. In a now-iconic climax, Isabella turns off Paolo’s microphone (exposing his horrific vocal ability) and enters the stage alongside Lizzie saying, “Sing to me, Paolo.” Isabella and Lizzie sing the first few lines of the song “What Dreams Are Made Of” before Isabella leaves her alone to have what can now be seen as a would-be iconic pop star moment, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for young, sweet, and innocent Lizzie McGuire. That moment, and the movie itself, instantly became known for all young minds who experienced it as truly what dreams are made of.
It goes without saying that The Lizzie McGuire Movie is hopelessly glib and leaves little to no entertainment value for grown-ups who have never heard of Lizzie McGuire or Hilary Duff. But for those who grew up on the series, watching the film spin-off was the equivalent of a performance high like no other—which I really think was the entire point, given that the film (other than the first 15 minutes) bares little resemblance to the setting or situations portrayed on the series, which I also think was the entire point. Lizzie McGuire was a simple and innocent sitcom aimed at middle schoolers who could easily see themselves in Lizzie’s shoes. In the same vein, The Lizzie McGuire Movie was aimed towards fans of the series who could easily see themselves in Lizzie’s shoes—as a sudden pop star, suddenly “living the dream” in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Disney’s agenda when Lizzie McGuire started in 2001 had shifted dramatically by the time The Lizzie McGuire Movie hit theatres in 2003, and solidified the message spread across most of Disney Channel in the years following—little girls should dream of being famous, and this is a realistic and healthy dream to have.
Lizzie McGuire and Isabella (both played by Duff) take the stage to perform "What Dreams Are Made Of" in The Lizzie McGuire Movie 
The implications and impact of The Lizzie McGuire Movie and “What Dreams Are Made Of” became clear not even a year after the film’s release—Isabella the Italian pop star became a foreshadow of who Hilary Duff was to become in real-life. A mere few months later, Hollywood Records released what would be billed as Duff’s debut studio album, Metamorphosis, containing songs such as “So Yesterday,” “Why Not,” and “Come Clean.” The album fell into the pop rock genre, innovating a distinct sound influenced by the pop punk success of Avril Lavigne (one of Duff’s earlier songs, “I Can’t Wait,” battled Lavigne’s “Complicated” for the top spot on Radio Disney in 2002), which would soon be copied by the likes of Lindsay Lohan and Ashlee Simpson. Duff was now living the same dream in real life that Lizzie got to live for just a few minutes before returning to her usual clumsy, accident-prone, yet charming life. She would release two more studio albums and one compilation album with the Hollywood label, including the self-titled Hilary Duff in 2004 (which was a critical failure) and Dignity in 2007, but none of them would match the instant success that Metamorphosis saw in 2003. She also remained in the public conscious and pop cultural conversation as a teen idol for most of the 2000s (even with celebrity gossip rags buzzing about a feud with Lindsay Lohan) and appeared in a string of moderately successful films, including A Cinderella StoryRaise Your Voice, and the Cheaper by the Dozen movies. Her public image at the time was even the subject of praise, with at least one critic commenting in 2005 that Duff did not use sex appeal to sell her albums or films like Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera but rather remained a strong role model that adolescent girls can relate to. Richard Huff from the New York Daily News called Duff the “2002 version of Annette Funicello” and observed that Lizzie McGuire would be both a blessing and a burden for her, predicting that her entire image would be tied to the character. She was the subject of criticism in 2007, however, when she appeared somewhat provocatively on the cover of Maxim magazine (but nowhere near as provocative as some of her peers), where she was billed as “the queen of teen to breakout sex symbol.” Thereafter, following the completion and expiration of her recording contract as well as a series of unsuccessful films, Duff entered an indefinite hiatus from music. She appeared in a few independent films, including According to Greta (2009), and even co-authored a trilogy of novels with at least one of them becoming a New York Times bestseller. It was no mystery that her time as a leading teen star had reached its inevitable end, and she quietly established herself as an adult star by her own definition. Duff has since guest starred on several television series and has starred as Kelsey Peters on the TV Land dramedy Younger since 2015. She also signed with RCA and returned to music a few years ago, releasing her exceptional but tragically underrated fifth studio album Breathe In. Breathe Out.
Hilary Duff poses "provocatively" on the cover of Maxim magazine in 2007, which makes her the inevitable subject of criticism
Hilary Duff’s transition from teen idol to adult star has been praised although is generally acknowledged as less “successful” than those who would come after her. Her appearance on the cover of Maxim magazine in 2007 was described by the Associated Press as a way to put Lizzie McGuire behind her and receive more Top 40 airplay by posing “provocatively” on a magazine cover, writing that, “Ultimately, nature, time and genetics may help Duff in a way Disney, despite all its might, cannot.” Given that posing provocatively on a magazine cover appears to be—at least in this context—the most bankable way for a young woman to sell albums, Duff appeared quite uncommitted to selling herself as an adult star in this way (given that the Maxim cover is nowhere near as provocative compared to that of Miley Cyrus or Britney Spears), which would then connect the dots as to why she did not experience the same level of adult professional success as those who came after her, despite the incredibly restrictive and no-win situation created by the media when a female child star attempts to demonstrate maturation. But by the time Duff would call it quits with Hollywood Records, Disney had already successfully replicated the formula they had used with her and Lizzie McGuire in more distinct ways, most notably with Miley Cyrus from Hannah Montana, Selena Gomez from Wizards of Waverly Place, and Demi Lovato from Camp Rock and Sonny with a Chance—all of which are either directly or indirectly influenced by Hilary Duff and what dreams appear to be made of in The Lizzie McGuire Movie.
Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez link arms at the premiere of Princess Protection Program in 2009
The implications that Disney had perhaps failed to ponder by this point was that young children—especially young girls—would immediately look up to any leading teen star on Disney Channel, regardless of whether anyone was truly cognisant of what was being fed to them. I seem to remember an extraordinary amount of time on Disney Channel circa 2009 being dedicated to presenting Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato as BFFs who were just like you, but living the dream. But what dream exactly? The pressures of stardom at a young age? Growing up too fast? Life in the fast lane is hard but no matter what, it’s worth it? Sounds like Hannah MontanaCamp Rock, and Sonny with a Chance could have benefited from listening to the song “Lucky” by Britney Spears—if there’s nothing missing in her life, why DO these tears fall at night? I’m sure if you asked Duff, Gomez, Lovato, and certainly Cyrus about the lasting negative impact these roles had on their adult careers and overall mental health, their answers wouldn’t be short ones. But as much as Duff endured the pressures of full-fledged teen stardom in the 2000s, she was able to perhaps transition the most successfully to an adult career—despite what publications say—given that she allowed herself to fall from the limelight while she somewhat silently re-established herself beyond her teen image. The same cannot be said for Gomez, however, who has been suffering the consequences of attempting to honestly mature into an adult singer and actress for the last few years (she most recently checked back into rehab late last year after suffering an emotional breakdown). The key difference between Duff and Gomez as the face of their respective Disney generations—while there are many—is perhaps the age of social media, which has made Gomez the most followed person on Instagram several years in a row. It becomes increasingly difficult to find yourself as an adult star when the pressures and eyes never seem to let up for a single moment, which is continuing to halt Gomez’s maturation. In that regard, Duff had the privilege of being on top during an era that still relied on physical CD sales and radio play, and not near-constant musical output to top charts on Spotify in the streaming era (where Gomez remains one of the top played artists despite not having released an album in over three years). Conversely, the only reason Cyrus has been able to perhaps earn her place as a potential adult singer and actress (she has yet to fully make the leap, after all) is that she acted so provocatively, outrageously, and controversially for a period of years all as a method of breaking out of her teen image and proving to the world that there was an adult woman underneath all those layers of Hannah Montana. The only one out of Duff’s successors that has been able to fully manage to create an adult career without the unnecessary pressures from a media that won’t let young female stars age is Lovato, who was perhaps aided by her decision to leave Disney Channel much earlier than her peers following a stint in rehab in 2010, beginning to mature past whatever teen image she held almost immediately thereafter.
When Hilary Duff sang the impeccably catchy and powerful anthem “What Dreams Are Made Of” in The Lizzie McGuire Movie, it’s a wonder if Disney fully understood the cultural phenomenon it was about to inspire—after all, it wasn’t only Disney Channel who took notice of the marketable idea of a teen star who could both act and sing: Nickelodeon most notably tried their hand at the same idea with Miranda Cosgrove from iCarly, who at one point was the highest-paid child star on television. The ramifications that the Hollywood Records formula would have on pop music is undeniable, and Disney has continued to try to build the same kind of teen stars (Zendaya, Sabrina Carpenter, and Bea Miller, to name a few), but nothing will ever be able to top the initial generation of Disney stars. One can only hope that those stars will all be able to successfully find their footing as successful adults.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The 10 Best Books of 2018

From twists and turns in 
The Woman in the Window, to socially relevant novels of fiction, to powerful new memoirs by Sally Field and Tina Turner, these are my picks for the 10 best books of the year.

The Woman in the Window
 by A.J. Finn

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times…and spying on her neighbors. Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare. A standout character-driven psychological thriller with a big load of genuine twists.

The Dangerous Art of Blending In by Angelo Surmelis

Seventeen-year-old Evan Panos doesn’t know where he fits in. His strict Greek mother refuses to see him as anything but a disappointment. His quiet, workaholic father is a staunch believer in avoiding any kind of conflict. And his best friend Henry has somehow become distractingly attractive over the summer. Tired, isolated, scared—Evan’s only escape is drawing in an abandoned church that feels as lonely as he is. And, yes, he kissed one guy over the summer. But it’s his best friend Henry who’s now proving to be irresistible. It’s Henry who suddenly seems interested in being more than friends. And it’s Henry who makes him believe that he’s more than his mother’s harsh words and terrifying abuse. But as things with Henry heat up, and his mother’s abuse escalates, Evan has to decide how to find his voice in a world where he has survived so long by avoiding attention at all costs. A personal and very emotionally charged story that I recommend to anyone who likes YA and LGBTQ narratives.

I Stop Somewhere by T.E. Carter

Ellie Frias disappeared long before she vanished. Tormented throughout middle school, Ellie begins her freshman year with a new look: she doesn't need to be popular; she just needs to blend in with the wallpaper. But when the unthinkable happens, Ellie finds herself trapped after a brutal assault. She wasn't the first victim, and now she watches it happen again and again. She tries to hold on to her happier memories in order to get past the cold days, waiting for someone to find her. The problem is, no one searches for a girl they never noticed in the first place. I Stop Somewhere is not to be missed. Raw, emotional, powerful, important, and real. Please go read it, and don't skip the author's note at the end. Highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend.

Falling With Wings: A Mother’s Story by Dianna De La Garza

Before she was mother to global superstar Demi Lovato, she was just Dianna Hart, and she tells her story from the very beginning in this complete and genuinely affecting memoir. Dianna had big plans of becoming a country music star, but her life went in a different direction than her dreams. She developed an eating disorder early in life to gain a sense of control in her strict upbringing. As she continued to struggle with body image and her obsession with being perfect her entire adult life, she was also met with other difficult situations. Her husband and father of her two eldest daughters, Dallas and Demi, had his own troubles that effected the entire family. She coped with alcohol and pills, forming a long-lasting addiction. She's had terrible lows but also some great highs as she watched her daughters break out in Hollywood to become strong, empowered young women. As a mother caring for daughters with addictions while continuing to battle her own, Dianna offers a unique perspective. And as a family, they have survived everything life has thrown at them and come away from it stronger than ever. Dianna tells her story of living through and surviving adversity—with tremendous strength, love, and faith. Overall a very interesting and powerful read that will open the eyes of any Demi Lovato fan or anyone who has ever followed a child star. I can only commend Dianna De La Garza for finding a way to share her story with the world in such an open and honest way.

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

Vermont, 1950. There's a place for the girls whom no one wants—the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It's called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it's located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming—until one of them mysteriously disappears… Vermont, 2014. As much as she's tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister's death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister's boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can't shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case. When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past—and a voice that won't be silenced. A good mystery for anyone in need of a good mystery.

Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession by Alice Bolin

A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women. In her debut collection, Alice Bolin turns a critical eye to literature and pop culture, the way media consumption reflects American society, and her own place within it. From essays on Joan Didion and James Baldwin to Twin Peaks, Britney Spears, and Serial, Bolin illuminates our widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster a man’s story. From chronicling life in Los Angeles to dissecting the “Dead Girl Show” to analyzing literary witches and werewolves, this collection challenges the narratives we create and tell ourselves, delving into the hazards of toxic masculinity and those of white womanhood. Beginning with the problem of dead women in fiction, it expands to the larger problems of living women—both the persistent injustices they suffer and the oppression that white women help perpetrate. Sharp, incisive, and revelatory, Dead Girls is a much-needed dialogue on women’s role in the media and in our culture.

The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King

Fred Rogers (1928–2003) was an enormously influential figure in the history of television and in the lives of tens of millions of children. As the creator and star of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he was a champion of compassion, equality, and kindness. Rogers was fiercely devoted to children and to taking their fears, concerns, and questions about the world seriously. The Good Neighbor, the first full-length biography of Fred Rogers, tells the story of this utterly unique and enduring American icon. Drawing on original interviews, oral histories, and archival documents, Maxwell King traces Rogers’s personal, professional, and artistic life through decades of work, including a surprising decision to walk away from the show to make television for adults, only to return to the neighborhood with increasingly sophisticated episodes, written in collaboration with experts on childhood development. An engaging story, rich in detail, The Good Neighbor is the definitive portrait of a beloved figure, cherished by multiple generations.

In Pieces by Sally Field

One of the most celebrated, beloved, and enduring actresses of our time, Sally Field has an infectious charm that has captivated the nation for more than five decades, beginning with her first television role at the age of seventeen. With raw honesty and with all the humility and authenticity her fans have come to expect, Field brings readers behind-the-scenes for not only the highs and lows of her star-studded early career in Hollywood, but deep into the truth of her lifelong relationships—including her complicated love for her own mother. Powerful and unforgettable, In Pieces is an inspiring account of life as a woman in the second half of the twentieth century. The book doesn't ever lose sight of the fact that it's not only about Field's career or her life as an actress, it's about her life and all that has encompassed it. The end result is incredibly moving and powerful, and I recommend to any fan large or small of the beloved actress and icon. 

My Love Story by Tina Turner

Tina Turner—the long-reigning queen of rock & roll and living legend—sets the record straight about her illustrious career and complicated personal life in this eye-opening and compelling memoir. From her early years in Nutbush, Tennessee to her rise to fame alongside Ike Turner to her phenomenal success in the 1980s and beyond, Tina candidly examines her personal history, from her darkest hours to her happiest moments and everything in between. My Love Story is an explosive and inspiring story of a woman who dared to break any barriers put in her way. Emphatically showcasing Tina’s signature blend of strength, energy, heart, and soul, this is a gorgeously wrought memoir as enthralling and moving as any of her greatest hits.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

I know this book didn’t come out in 2018 but I read it in 2018 and loved it very much so I figured it deserved a spot on this list (also, did I need one last book to bring this list to 10 and couldn’t find one? Yes.) Sometimes you just have to laugh, even when life is a dumpster fire. With We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, “bitches gotta eat” blogger and comedian Samantha Irby turns the serio-comic essay into an art form. Whether talking about how her difficult childhood has led to a problem in making “adult” budgets, explaining why she should be the new Bachelorette—she's “35-ish, but could easily pass for 60-something”—detailing a disastrous pilgrimage-slash-romantic-vacation to Nashville to scatter her estranged father's ashes, sharing awkward sexual encounters, or dispensing advice on how to navigate friendships with former drinking buddies who are now suburban moms—hang in there for the Costco loot—she's as deft at poking fun at the ghosts of her past self as she is at capturing powerful emotional truths. Highly recommend for anyone who needs a good, relatable chuckle.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The 10 Best Movies of 2018

From the message of believing in the power within yourself in A Wrinkle in Time, to the horrifying truth behind conversion therapy in Boy Erased, to the overt campiness in A Simple Favor—these are our picks for the 10 best movies of the year.

A Wrinkle in Time
Ava DuVernay’s ambitious adaption of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic children’s book opened to largely mixed reviews in March—mostly on the negative side—with several critics commenting that the film’s emotional and spiritual message was lost in its colorful and extensive special effects. A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorite books when I was in elementary school and while I haven’t read it since and I can admit this was a bit of a loose adaptation, the story itself is strange—and it’s supposed to be. I struggle to come up with a more difficult story to translate from page to screen than A Wrinkle in Time, and I think Ava DuVernay did an excellent and imaginative job with it. I also think this adaptation will have a lasting effect on the innocent minds who experience it, especially of what it’s like to grow up as a black girl. It’s also worth mentioning that while the film lost more money than it made, A Wrinkle in Time became the first live-action film with a nine-digit budget to be directed by a woman of color

I Feel Pretty
It may not be Amy Schumer’s best movie, but the questions that I Feel Pretty asks are ones that we are often afraid to face in our world that continues to be obsessed with looks and thin bodies. The film’s strongest point, however, is Michelle Williams’ impeccable comedic timing—people need to start casting that woman in more comedies.

Life of the Party
Ever since Melissa McCarthy became one of the biggest breakout film stars of the 2010s, starring in a string of hit comedies following her appearance in Bridesmaids, she has been exploring other routes: 2014’s Tammy and St. Vincent were heartfelt dramedies, and 2015’s Spy failed to live up to the comedic timing of 2013’s Identity Thief and The Heat. 2016’s The Boss and Ghostbusters boosted McCarthy up again, but this year’s Life of the Party is definitely her best work in years—McCarthy stars as a middle-aged mom whose husband leaves her after their daughter enters college. Faced with the reality that she’s devoted too much of herself to her family at the expense of finishing her education, she decides to return to school…alongside her daughter. Maya Rudolph and Debby Ryan also appear in strong supporting roles.

Ocean’s 8
The script might have been a bit underwhelming and left something to be desired in the form of cleverness, but Ocean’s 8 is memorable for the performances of its badass female cast—Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, and Awkwafina and Rihanna in breakout supporting roles.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
I don’t trust anyone who got through the Mister Rogers documentary with dry eyes. That is all.

Incredibles 2
The long-awaited sequel to the first installment was worth the 14-year wait—although it’s definitely a wonder why it took so long—and excels simply by picking up right where the first one left off. A fun and action-packed storyline is enough to satisfy anyone who waited those 14 years to see these characters again.

A Simple Favor
Big Little Lies meets The Girl on the Train meets I Know What You Did Last Summer. Just as you might predict, the story becomes a bit far-fetched by a certain point and the ending is messy, but Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively’s breathtaking performances make you want to overlook any and all discretions.

A Star is Born
Where to even begin—from Bradley Cooper’s impeccable direction and deep vocal ability, to Lady Gaga’s indescribable performance as a true star on the rise that paralleled her own beginnings in the industry, to the excellent but tragically overhyped soundtrack… a true masterpiece. Also, just a friendly reminder going into award season where A Star is Born is bound to see some attention—it’s okay to not like popular things or dislike what others love, but it’s not okay to endlessly rant about how you don’t understand why everyone loves them and/or why they are winning accolades. Believe me when I say, hating popular things does not make you an interesting person.

Boy Erased
Joel Edgerton’s haunting adaption of Garrard Conley’s memoir of the same name (which I reviewed here) won’t soon leave your mind after you see it. Boy Erased tells the fictionalized account of Jarred Eamons (Lucas Hedges) who, after being outed to his Baptist parents in Arkansas at the age of 19, is forced to either attend conversion therapy, or be permanently disowned by his family. The film chronicles the disturbing beliefs of those who run conversion therapy programs, so riddled by internalized homophobia that they mask it with religion and call it love, as well as the devastatingly traumatic effects on those who take part in it. Nicole Kidman also co-stars as Jarred’s mother and, predictably, seals the deal. I highly recommend Boy Erased, considering conversion therapy is still legal in too many states as well as other parts of the world.

Mary Poppins Returns
I will admit to groaning when this project was first announced, as it was made to sound that they were remaking 1964’s Mary Poppins, which was ultimately not the case—Mary Poppins Returns is the long-awaited sequel to the classic live-action Disney musical, and it does not disappoint. While Emily Blunt’s portrayal of the world’s most famous nanny is definitely a caricature of Julie Andrews’ iconic portrayal, she also puts her own spin on the character, which is very satisfying. Something else that took me by surprise is how much Mary Poppins Returns is closely based on the other books in the Mary Poppins book series by P.L. Travers on which the original film was based. While the original film was always extraordinary, it was very out of touch with the characters in the book—but Mary Poppins Returns definitely brought the books more to mind. Several reviewers have even commented that Emily Blunt’s Mary Poppins is much more vein and short-tempered than Julie Andrews’ Mary Poppins, which is a clear reflection of the character in the books (which would make sense, given that Emily Blunt has stated that she read the books several times in preparation for the film). Lin-Manuel Miranda also shines as Jack, a cockney lamplighter and former apprentice of Bert from the original film, and the music and soundtrack is also just as heartfelt and memorable as you’d want it to be. All in all, this lifelong Mary Poppins fan was very satisfied with Mary Poppins Returns

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The 50 Best Songs of 2018

From Camila Cabello’s whispery register on “Never Be the Same” to Carly Rae Jepsen reminding us all how to dance with ourselves on “Party For One,” these are my picks for the 50 best songs of 2018. This year was a mixed bag for most pop songs, with a long list of refreshing and catchy jams as well as songs with honest lyrics about mental health and the realities of everyday life. It may be getting harder and harder to make songs that stick with people, but these artists have accomplished that much and more. Here’s to another year of great music.
“Never Be the Same” – Camila Cabello

Fresh off the success of her breakout hit “Havana,” Camila Cabello continued to showcase her remarkable vocal ability on her debut solo album (among other things), and proved to us on “Never Be the Same” with her whispery register that she can handle just about anything—and we were truly never the same again.
“My My My!” – Troye Sivan

2018 very well might have been the year of Troye Sivan—when people said he released one of the best pop songs of the year 11 days into January, they really weren’t wrong. “My My My!” is a dance-pop song like no other, with electro-synths and everything in between to strongly and freely convey the feelings of liberation in every sense of the word.
“Dancing” – Kylie Minogue

Some groaned when Kylie flipped on her cowgirl hat and released the lead single off her latest album Golden, but there are just enough dance and disco vibes to make anyone get on their feet and snap their fingers to this catchy country pop hit.
“Heart to Break” – Kim Petras

Kim Petras may be problematic, but she sure knows how to make an all-too-perfect pop song that’s an earworm you never want to leave—seriously, I’m still waiting for the day I’m sick of this song.
“WOW” – Victoria Duffield

After a few years away, Canadian pop star Victoria Duffield returned to the scene this year—without a label this time, but wow—she knows what she’s doing on her own as far as making perfect and refreshing pop songs.
“Make Me Feel” – Janelle Monáe

Legions of artists have cited Prince and Michael Jackson as influences, but no one has quite taken their vibe and put their own unique, empowering spin on it quite like Janelle Monáe. On “Make Me Feel,” she creates her own new, electric energy that makes lines like “no one does it better” seem thrillingly refreshing.
“Stop Me From Falling” – Kylie Minogue

Kylie may have tipped her cowgirl hat and led us onto the dancefloor for some country pop on “Dancing,” but that was only the beginning—with “Stop Me From Falling,” the crowning achievement from her latest album, Minogue confirms she is talented to experiment with whatever genres she pleases.

“Magic” – Sia

It may be a soundtrack song from A Wrinkle in Time, but Sia continues to deliver powerful pop songs laced with deep, emotional meanings that have me in my feelings every time.

“High Horse” – Kacey Musgraves

Kylie Minogue wasn’t the only one who brought together country and disco this year—Kacey Musgraves slipped on her bellbottoms and broke out of her country confines to perfectly balance sweet and sassy on a catchy, feel-good, happy-hour vibe that brings together the collective sigh for everyone who knows someone who kills the buzz every time they open up their mouth.

“Lost In Japan” – Shawn Mendes

Shawn Mendes achieved a great deal of praise this year for expressing feelings of anxiety on his latest self-titled third album, but the song that always stood out to me was “Lost In Japan”—the original version showcases an incredibly groovy acoustic pop tune, while the Zedd remix from this fall is even better when you need to dance it out.

“Flames” – David Guetta & Sia

Not one David Guetta and Sia collaboration has ever proven to be bad, and on “Flames,” they provide just the right amount of high energy mixed with confronting feelings of hopelessness—but don’t stop, tomorrow’s another day.

“Get Me High” – Victoria Duffield

From the killer EDM vibes, to the showcase of Duffield’s continued vocal ability, “Get Me High” truly does make me feel higher.

“2002” – Anne-Marie

If people weren’t so busy complaining that pop music is dead, they would have noticed that Anne-Marie’s “2002” had the potential to be the next Teenage Dream—on a throwback track to her youth, British pop sensation Anne-Marie sings oops, she’s got 99 problems, singing bye bye bye, and you better hit her, baby, one more time—none of these songs are from 2002 per-say, of course, but it’s just cute and catchy enough to not leave your head, signaling a grand pop music achievement.

“No Tears Left to Cry” – Ariana Grande

If Ariana Grande would’ve had a crystal ball when she recorded “No Tears Left to Cry,” I’d be willing to bet that there would be more tears to come based on how much unnecessary time she spent in headlines this year for reasons beyond her control—but she still managed to release a strong lead single from her fourth album Sweetener about letting go and dancing it out.

“Ferrari” – Bebe Rexha

If you had told me a year ago that one of the most deep and personal songs I would hear in a long time would be by Bebe Rexha, I would have gladly laughed in your face—but on “Ferrari,” and on her full-length debut album Expectations, Rexha gladly proves that she has the depth and songwriting ability to back up her list of Top 40 hits. It’s a shame the Grammys spends so much time gushing about how poetic Lorde songs are when they should be looking at ones like these.

“I’ll Be There” – Jess Glynne

With the success of “I’ll Be There,” the lead single off Jess Glynne’s sophomore album Always In Between, she achieved her seventh number-one hit on the UK Singles Chart—more than any other artist in history. And it isn’t any mystery how she got there: she may not have changed or progressed stylistically since her first studio album, but Jess Glynne knows exactly what works for her and she’s sticking to it—because it’s very satisfying.

“If You’re Over Me” – Years & Years

The best song from British group Years & Years’ second album, Palo Santo. Most of their music either falls into synth-pop or indie pop, but on “If You’re Over Me,” they show that they’re not afraid to conquer pure bubblegum pop.

“Back to You” – Selena Gomez

Part of me wishes this was the lead single from a new Selena Gomez album, but until that day comes, “Back to You” is a summery bop with strong production to hold us over.

“Bloom” – Troye Sivan

Both an empowering queer coming-of-age tale and a classically catchy love song, everyone should be playing Troye Sivan like a love song, every time he comes on, because we got that sweet desire.

“Fall In Line” – Christina Aguilera feat. Demi Lovato

If there’s any two pop girls who have never fallen in line, musically or personally, it’s definitely Christina Aguilera and Demi Lovato. How did the universe not implode when two of their respective generations’ strongest vocalists collaborated on one track?

“Solo” – Clean Bandit feat. Demi Lovato

Carefree pop songs with lyrics about partying might have been one of the warning signs that Demi was headed back down a dangerous path (we’ll get to that soon enough), but her standout collaboration with Clean Bandit remains as unique and as catchy as the day it came out.

“Colour” – MNEK feat. Hailee Steinfeld

And the award for most underrated song of 2018 goes to…surely anything by MNEK or Hailee Steinfeld, or in this case, both. Hailee manages to bring such a great vibe to every song she’s in, and with MNEK, they created the perfect song for summer—and any season, for that matter.

“My Mistake” – Victoria Duffield

Making every single one of your new songs catchy and refreshing isn’t easy—but Victoria Duffield reminds us in just two minutes and thirty-seven seconds that she will always be an underappreciated gem.

“Dance to This” – Troye Sivan feat. Ariana Grande

Two artists sounding so perfect together on one song doesn’t happen every day, certainly making “Dance to This” an achievement to dance to.

“Just Thought You Should You Know” – Betty Who

We should be more grateful for Betty Who, a.k.a. one of the only pop singers keeping ‘80s synth-pop alive. It will be interesting to see what she does next, given that she is free of her record deal with RCA and on her own again, which in Betty Who’s case, has always allowed for more creative freedom—just thought you should know.

“Growing Pains” – Alessia Cara

Did I ever recover from the way Alessia Cara just came up in here and put the horrible reality of entering adulthood into beautifully poetic words like only she can on the lead single from her second album? The answer is no.

“I’m a Mess” – Bebe Rexha

It’s easy to make a pop song about boy problems or a relationship gone wrong, but it’s another thing altogether to make catchy pop songs about feeling down and being a mess, which are apart of reality just as much as happy times. She may be a mess, but Bebe Rexha reminds us that it’s okay to not be okay.

“Sober” – Demi Lovato

Where were you when Demi announced she was releasing a surprise new song and then you pressed play and found out she had broken her sobriety after six years and you never stopped crying? All tears aside—it takes an unbelievable amount of strength and bravery to write and record a song about the fact that you’ve fallen off the wagon with the future uncertain, and for that Lovato deserves more praise than we can ever give her.

“God is a Woman” – Ariana Grande

During the early stages of creating Grande’s next studio album, her manager Scooter Braun stated that it was finally time for Ariana to “have her song”… well, she found it, and it confirms what everyone knew to be true in their hearts—god has always been a woman.

“Remember You” – Victoria Duffield feat. Sebastian Olzanski

Duffield even shows us that she can experiment with a Latin pop song—is there anything she can’t do? We need the full album in 2019!

“Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” – Cher

Cher’s version of this ABBA classic will always be one thousand times better than the original. There. I said it.

“All I Am” – Jess Glynne

One of the catchiest songs of the year? Possibly. One of the catchiest songs of the decade? Very well might be.

“Sweet But Psycho” – Ava Max

In a perfect world, this song should have hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100. One of my personal favorites from this year. Pop newbie Ava Max needs an album ASAP.

“I Don’t Exist” – Olivia O’Brien

She’s only 19, but Olivia O’Brien has mastered her own deep and raspy trip-hop voice to continue singing about not fitting in, falling apart, and feeling empty—three things that, again, we must also include in our pop songs.

“Breathin” – Ariana Grande

A catchy tune about anxiety and remembering to keep on breathin’ with an infectious beat that never gets old? Yes please!

“Head Above Water” – Avril Lavigne

Five years since her last album, Avril Lavigne finally rose from the ashes with new music this year—after saying it was coming soon on social media for literally years—and remains just as talented as the day we first met her. Few artists can deliver emotional ballads like Avril, especially with scenic music videos.

“Dance With Me” – Nile Rodgers & Chic feat. Hailee Steinfeld

Do we really have the privilege of being alive at the same time as when Hailee Steinfeld has a disco funk song with Chic? The answer is YES.

“Sucker Punch” – Sigrid

Norwegian pop star Sigrid truly hit us with a sucker punch with this one, so hopefully we won’t kill her vibe.

“Trust My Lonely” – Alessia Cara

A flawlessly blended R&B and pop song that seems to be about a toxic relationship with someone but is really about a toxic relationship with yourself and your own bad habits? Now that’s what I like to see.

“1999” – Charli XCX & Troye Sivan

Charli XCX and Troye Sivan were both under the age of 10 in 1999 but that doesn’t mean we don’t all want to go back, take a ride through our old neighborhood, and sing hit me baby, one more time.

“I’m Still Here” – Sia

Sia doesn’t even have to be recording songs for her own albums and she still manages to deliver such emotionally charged songs about depression and anxiety. I’m not crying you’re crying.

“Ruin My Life” – Zara Larsson

Did Zara Larsson ruin my life when she released this extremely satisfying song that I still haven’t stopped listening to on repeat? Yes. Yes she did.

“Expectations” – Lauren Jauregui

I was hesitant to listen to any of the solo music of former Fifth Harmony members after they announced a hiatus to focus on solo projects—which appeared all too hypocritical following their public bashing of Camila Cabello in 2017 after she left the group to launch a high-profile solo career. But hypocrisy aside, Lauren Jauregui is a talented girl (not to mention her voice and high notes are easily recognizable in any number of Fifth Harmony hits), and her debut solo single “Expectations” has a sexy, mellow vibe somewhat reminiscent of Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, or even Avril Lavigne, and I’m now invested in her solo music because I think she’ll do well. I’m still working on excusing the hypocrisy of it all, but I’ll enjoy what she’s offering until then.

“Party For One” – Carly Rae Jepsen

Did Carly Rae Jepsen really wait until November to release the ultimate emergency dance party anthem about being by yourself and loving it? She DID. Not to mention it is so unbelievably refreshing to hear Jepsen’s beautiful voice with new production that isn’t ‘80s synth and dance-pop.

“Baby” – Clean Bandit feat. Marina and the Diamonds & Luis Fonsi

Studies have shown that life gets better when you listen to Marina’s flawless high notes. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.

“Back to Life” – Hailee Steinfeld

It’s only a soundtrack single from her latest major motion picture Bumblebee, but it’s good enough to distract us until Hailee finally releases her debut studio album which better be coming in 2019 or I am officially filing a lawsuit.

“Voices in My Head” – Ashley Tisdale

Ashley Tisdale releases her first song in 9 years and it’s an energetic bop about anxiety and depression? Sign me up. She also has a new album called Symptoms coming soon.

“Not Today” – Alessia Cara

Will I ever be over how Alessia Cara did it again and put feelings of hopelessness and depression into words to make us all feel a little bit better about not being up to the challenge some days? Surely not today.

“Forget You Not” – Little Mix

The best song from Little Mix’s new album, LM5. Don’t @ me.

“Tell Me It’s Over” – Avril Lavigne

Did Avril really release this exceptionally mature song with exceptionally beautiful production and lyrics and set the stage for 2019 with her upcoming and highly anticipated sixth studio album Head Above Water? You bet your sweet behind she did!
And, as always, you can listen to this entire playlist on Spotify and let me know your favorite songs from this year!