Reviews by mars
The best of New Music Friday's releases featuring the return of a pop prince, a heartbreak anthem, and a live album from one of music's reigning chameleons
In what feels like the first true New Music Friday “event” in months, this week’s new music releases will meet music fans with arms wide open. Drops are ranging across a massive mixture of sounds - from former teen superstars now fully-fledged pop titans to intriguing tastes of forthcoming studio efforts from some of music’s most mesmerizing. Two early tastes of sad boy summer join pop-rock’s leading icon on this week's Mars' picks of the week.
"As It Was" - Harry Styles
Since his solo debut in 2017, Harry Styles has structured his sound as a bridge between the old and the new - ranging from both his ‘70s inspired sound and his boundary-pushing fashion statements. Styles’ self-titled debut battled to balance both classic rock and singer-songwriter stylings while his exquisite Fine Line marked Styles’ first true entry into the pop sphere with the Grammy Award-winning “Watermelon Sugar” and the inescapable “Adore You.” On the surface of his latest release, Styles seemingly finds his way back to the days of his pop past. Dig a little deeper to uncover how radically different things are this go around for the pop prince.
“As It Was,” the lead single off of his upcoming third album, Harry’s House, is a synth-pop summer hit in the making while also serving as one of the most emotionally revealing songs he’s crafted so far. It’s a strong entry into untouched genre ground for Styles, wisely tapping into the synth revival of recent years. It may appear that Styles is borrowing from The Weeknd’s recent successes (Billboard named the electrifying “Blinding Lights” the top Hot 100 song of all time), yet “As It Was” is uniquely Harry. The single expertly taps into the “dancing through the tears” trend in pop as Harry laments over the past and feelings of isolation over a hook reminiscent of a-ha’s “Take On Me.”
“Nothing to say / When everything gets in the way / Seems you cannot be replaced / And I’m the one who will stay,” Styles admits along with tales of loss and loneliness. There’s a taste of forgone romance here, making for a fascinating juxtaposition: some of the most sorrowful lyrics written by Styles to date wrapped in a splashy, infectious dance-inspiring exterior. Styles’ vocal performance softens in the single’s verses, peaking in a spiraling bridge. “Go home, get ahead, light-speed internet / I don’t wanna talk about the way that it was / Leave America, two kids follow her / I don’t wanna talk about who’s doing it first,” Styles rapidly rambles, referencing his new relationship and inching closer and closer to a jubilant release.
As the colorful music video wraps up, Styles breaks free of the perpetual game of cat and mouse and embraces newfound freedom. The final 30 seconds of the video effortlessly portray Harry Styles as both an artist and personality. He’s running rampant, sliding across the room, throwing his body into the air, embracing pure euphoria. It’s a magical moment to witness the singer-songwriter exude the confidence of a fully realized artist ready for a brighter future beyond the gates that once held him back.
ATTENTION: MILEY LIVE - Miley Cyrus
There is a very short list of artists whose live vocal performance surpasses that on a studio recording - one of those names is Miley Cyrus. Her most recent studio effort, 2020’s Plastic Hearts, redefined Cyrus for the umpteenth time. This go around, Cyrus finally found a match made in heaven by tapping into the rock influences she grew up admiring. Artistic discovery hasn’t always been the easiest for Cyrus (see - or don’t see - 2017’s country-infused Younger Now), but she is the perfect vessel to steer pop-rock into a mainstream audience. Part of what makes Plastic Hearts so engrossing is Cyrus’ gritty, yet glossy vocal performance. Both her rasp and vocal control allow Cyrus to captivate live audiences - and this is where her newest album shines brightest.
ATTENTION: MILEY LIVE is the pop star’s first live album (not counting 2008’s Best of Both Worlds Concert from Cyrus’ Disney days), recorded during her performance last month at the Super Bowl Music Fest in Los Angeles. The setlist spans across Cyrus’ entire discography, pulling out classics from her Hannah Montana era to her experimental 2015 album Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz to covers of Dolly Parton, Blondie, Prince, Cher, The Chantels, and Pixies classics.
Attention also includes a brand new song, “You.” Written by Cyrus, Caitlyn Smith, and Jennifer Decilveo, “You” debuted on New Year’s Eve and tells the story of craving rebellious love only from a particularly memorable flame. “I got some baggage, let’s do some damage / I am not made for no horse and carriage,” Cyrus admits while acknowledging she isn’t living a cookie-cutter, princess life. “I want that late night sweet magic/ That forever lasting love / But only if it’s with you.”
There’s just something so engaging about Cyrus’ live persona. The stage gives her a platform to put her radiant artistry on full display and is where the singer-songwriter truly is meant to be. Throughout the live album, she consistently checks in with her audience, makes self-effacing jokes, and humanizes herself to over 70,000 fans. Talking to her crowd as if she's in a one-on-one therapy session, Cyrus admits her fears of returning to normalcy, her re-energized passion for performing, and her life-long desire to entertain. She effortlessly navigates each and every song while transforming her poppiest past moments and genre-spanning covers into versions so uniquely Miley, it’s shocking they weren’t always crafted for this moment. Attention: Miley Live is Cyrus at her best: a loud, colorful tribute to Miley’s past, present, and future.
“When You’re Gone” - Shawn Mendes
Following 2021’s piano-heavy “It’ll Be Okay,” released just weeks after he announced his split from fellow pop star Camila Cabello, Shawn Mendes is back for another heartbreak anthem. This time around, Mendes goes for a more uptempo approach to a familiar theme. Packed with a punchy hook and electric guitar, Mendes wisely taps into instrumentation courtesy of today’s pop-punk revival on “When You’re Gone.”
Despite the single’s infectious build, Mendes’ songwriting explores feelings of regret, dependence, and coping with a false sense of permanence. “You never know how good you have it, oh / Until you’re starin’ at a picture of the only girl that matters,” Mendes laments in the song’s opening moments. “I need to learn how to cope without you / I’m tryna protect myself but only you know how to, yeah.”
The single’s lyrics tell of Mendes’ struggle to “hold on,” a message also explored on his Kings of Leon-inspired “In My Blood.” At times, “Gone” strives to mirror the sound of another recent rock-infused hit - Tate McRae’s “she’s all i wanna be” - but ultimately fails to match the latter’s angst. “When You’re Gone” may not necessarily be the biggest hit of Mendes’ career in the making, but it’s both a strong early contender for song of the summer and a worthwhile addition to a familiar catalog.
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NY-based, 26-year-old, music-obsessed and loves to write about it.