Sky's the limit?

SIMON SWEETMAN
Last updated 10:28 11/03/2014

I can't remember the exact wording - but recently I was asked to talk about mainstream pop acts that I enjoyed, how mainstream did I go; that sort of thing.

Hard to just list names - really. And anyway, lists of names just end up being used against you, criticism comes for both what you included and what you left out and then there's the way this information is stored away, pulled out as some trump-card when needed.

One time, I tried to defend Phil Collins via a discussion of his debut solo album, Face Value. It didn't matter that I talked about the dearth of quality material in his solo catalogue, and of his nasty personality traits, I had tried to defend Phil Collins in some way. So that must mean I'm a fan for life - and that must be a bad thing. I will be reminded of that as often as I'm currently being reminded that Lorde scooped a couple of Grammy Awards, making any criticism of her work redundant. Apparently.

So, listing names could get a bit silly. Seems I give you more than enough ammo as it is.

The other week's discussion of Pharrell was meant to be around his new album - but say any bad word and people decide there's no need to read properly. I acknowledged his contribution to a lot of great pop music, but wondered what the excitement was about with him as a solo act. I might as well have said he was the worst musician who had ever lived. Maybe chucked in a line about wishing he no longer lived.

Anyway, I'd prefer to tell you about things as I find them, as I get to them - pop music of course is a funny one. Timing - it's everything. I was mocked roundly for suggesting that no one would remember Grimes in a year or so - this was back a couple of years ago when she performed here. Hey, and I enjoyed the gig, I hadn't necessarily expected to - but it was quite alright. But the fans were up in arms. How dare I criticise. I wonder if any of those people are still listening to anything by Grimes.Night Time, My Time

My current favourite - and I have loved so much pop music over the years, pop music for the mainstream, songs that appear on mainstream radio - is Sky Ferreira's album, Night Time, My Time.

Perhaps it was a good thing to arrive at the album without anything much resembling a back-story. I mean, I knew the name, I was aware of this pop act, but I couldn't recall her earlier attempts and I didn't know about the heroin-chic thing, modelling, being chewed up and spat out by the industry, having a family connection to Michael Jackson. Hey, it's probably all good storyline-wise, but I listened to the music without considering anything about the person that made the music.

I heard the song 24 Hours and it just lit up. Such a great song. The kind of song someone like Grimes might have aimed for - but wouldn't quite hit. Same with Lorde, The Naked and Famous, and many, many others. But that's my ears telling me that. (And now, based on that, I'm telling you). Doesn't mean I'm right. Just means I like this sound and can hear something in it - a jubilation, a confidence, a crafting - that I don't get from a lot of similar-sounding songs/artists.

Now that I'm on board with the album I couldn't care less about the artist as a person - doesn't interest me at all to follow the column inches, if there even are any, about her. So in that sense I'm not into pop music - chart music - as a thing, I've no allegiance. My commitment is to music I like. And right now I like this album a lot.Sky Ferreira

I don't know if Sky Ferreira is the limit for me. I have no shame admitting what I like - nor should you. Recently, the new Beyonce album has been a favourite but, for the most part, this washed-out palette and water-colour sound within pop music is not something that draws me in.

What's the best pop album you've heard this year so far, or in the closing months of last year?

Sky Ferreira's Night Time, My Time wins that trophy easily or me. The self-titled Beyonce album would, I guess, be runner-up. Both albums are far from perfect and that's part of what makes them work for me - they're flawed, there are some dud-tracks, or nearly-dud tracks, peaks and valleys, the high moments - the hits - stand out, and shine, because we've heard something else, something that doesn't just seek to approximate a vacuous sheen (my problem with Lorde's production template and the entire career to date of The Naked & Famous, as just two examples).

But what about you? What big pop songs or pop artists have hooked you in across the last six months or so? I doubt I'll hear a better pop album than Night Time, My Time this year.

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