“Good Days” by SZA
Melancholic and heartfelt, “Good Days” by R&B star SZA serves an unapologetic message of her determination to move forward from a relationship. Released on Christmas Day of last year, the track is the second single from her highly anticipated sophomore album. The song begins with the sounds of children and slowly builds up to a wave of guitar sounds that evoke a sense of nostalgia. Jacob Collier’s background vocals are intricately woven in through the chorus and complement SZA’s painful narrative while still holding on to hope for better days. She recognizes her uncertain thoughts of the future that lead her and others to focus on memories of the past with the lyrics, “Half of us chasin’ fountains of youth and it’s in the present now.” The mix of electronic and acoustic sounds creates an intoxicating effect that cannot help but bring a sense of peace of mind, even as the fading background vocals repeat, “Always in my mind.” Overall, the song diverges from anything the songstress has created in the past, but it still represents her honest and vulnerable self that we can look forward to seeing more of on her upcoming album. – Rachel Lim
“Cherry Plum” by Astronauts, etc.
Anthony Ferraro takes listeners for a ride as he lifts off into space under his well-suited moniker, Astronauts, etc. Ferraro creates a zero-gravity atmosphere yet again in “Cherry Plum,” released on Jan. 13, with velvet-soft melodies and a lazy tempo. The track closely follows the artist’s musical archetype, which entails a full ensemble of rock instruments dipped in ever-so-slightly warped synthesizers. He also has a penchant for lyrics that dance around romantic subjects and almost always delivers them in either a soothing falsetto or a low-pitched croon. Beyond the song’s beauty, “Cherry Plum” is a great starting point to launch into the rest of Astronauts, etc.’s discography. With each new track, Ferraro’s original sound proves ahead of its time. – Shereen Mohammedzadeh
“New Tank” by Playboi Carti
With the delivery of Playboi Carti’s long-awaited album “Whole Lotta Red” at the tail end of last December, fans were left with a newly abrasive and punk style of Carti, which took time to digest. The pinnacle of this rawness is in the track “New Tank.” Carti’s music has never been about making sense — rather, in this one-and-a-half minute burst of energy, Carti’s raspy, repetitive refrains become earworms propelled forward by an equally rough instrumental. Fans are fully conscious of this absurd yet irresistible sound, rallying around the project on online forums. With each added catchphrase, Carti almost comes off as a preacher, beseeching his fans (so-called “Vamps”) to join him in his lifestyle that can only be described as sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
Listening to “New Tank” during a worldwide pandemic seems like a crime — it’s apparent that Carti wanted this album to be performed in concert, with his fans moshing and raging along with him. “New Tank” is the only next logical step in the evolution of Playboi Carti’s “hype” songs, from his SoundCloud-famous “Magnolia” to his Lil Uzi Vert collaboration “Shoota,” and then to this novel punk-trap anger. – Jadon Bienz & Evan Gonzalez
“Drivers License” by Olivia Rodrigo
17-year-old Olivia Rodrigo has entranced social media platforms and has dominated music charts with her debut single, “Drivers License.” The song first gained traction on TikTok, where Rodrigo uploaded an unfinished acoustic version, and has quickly become the ultimate breakup anthem of 2021 (so far). The track instantly broke many streaming records, including the most streams on Spotify in one day for a non-holiday song, the most requested song on Alexa in one day and the biggest weekly debut on both Amazon Music and Spotify. With soulful and captivating vocals accompanied by simple piano instrumentals, Rodrigo’s musical talent isn’t the only reason the record has completely taken over the world. Rodrigo’s lyrics are quite bluntly painting a picture of a love triangle between herself, Joshua Bassett — her co-star on “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” — and former Disney star Sabrina Carpenter. While nothing has been confirmed by either parties, all three of them have released new music this month, benefitting from the surge of rumors and fans dissecting their lyrics for more information. Aside from the attention of millions of fans, Rodrigo has also gained the support of many well-known artists, including one of her favorite artists, pop superstar Taylor Swift. The song went platinum in only two weeks and has been considered “one of the most dominant No. 1s of the last 30 years” by Billboard. The question remains: Will Rodrigo be able to sustain her newfound fame, or will she succumb to being a one-hit wonder? – Arielle Bitton
“FIX URSELF!” by JPEGMAFIA
The first track released from JPEGMAFIA’s upcoming EP, “EP2!,” “FIX URSELF!” is a melodic, almost ballad-like track that stands in contrast to the rapper’s discography of experimental hip-hop, hinting at a possible shift in sound for his new EP. The Brooklyn-born rapper trades his stylistic and energetic rapping for mournful rap-singing assisted by auto-tune. Along with the unique use of horns and synthesizers, the production creates a moody atmosphere accompanied by lyrics about loneliness and those who treat you poorly. He nonetheless maintains his confidence by being overtly political in his music and slides in a more comical lyric: “I love my baby like Trump loves Putin, in the deepest way.” “FIX URSELF!” is a successful venture into a new style and only further demonstrates JPEGMAFIA’s versatility as both a musician and a producer. – Marisol Cruz