By Skinny Legend
2020 may just be the worst year in living memory, but if there's one consolation in all of the chaos it is, as always, music. Although true concerts have been sorely missed in the madness of this year and many projects have faced significant delays while wide-scale lockdowns sweep the globe, that hasn't stopped certain artists from creating and releasing some masterpieces. Whether they're reflecting the mood of dread, isolation and fear prevalent in society or providing us an escape from the horrors of 2020, these ten songs have been the soundtrack of our year on PHF - and what a year it's been.
10. Little Mix - Holiday
Submitted By: @Skinny Legend
Despite their undeniable vocal prowess and incredible chemistry, Little Mix has always been a little underwhelming in my books when it comes to song choice. Their back catalogue is sprinkled with a couple of fun tracks ('Power' and 'No More Sad Songs' are both bangers), and the occasional brilliant ballad ('Secret Love Song' and their 'Falling' cover are incredible), but their singles are often cheapened by derivative production or boring rent-a-rappers. All that changed with 'Holiday', the second single from their last album as a four-piece Confetti. Leaning hard into the groups pop origins, the song served up a slice of fun, effortless, summery bubblegum pop that was just what the public needed to hear in 2020, filling a gap in the market that's been gaping open since the onslaught of R&B and indie artists in recent years. Little Mix might not look the same in a post-2020 world, but 'Holiday' will still go down as one of their best, most anthemic singles to date and a game-changer for the group. It's just a shame it didn't get as much attention as it deserved on the charts.
9. ionnalee - MACHINEE
Submitted By: @coolaideonfire
ionnalee had planned to tour North America in 2020 celebrating 10 years of iamamiwhoami (her audiovisual project launched in December 2009), but after these plans were postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic things changed course.
In quarantine she announced the KRONOLOGI playlist, a series of previously unreleased songs and alternate versions to be shared weekly as a soundtrack to our isolation, and true to her iamamiwhoami roots she also played two online concerts in the summer months. One was a lowkey affair filmed in the beautiful surroundings of her garden at home for Sweden's National Day celebrations and the other a highly produced event filmed on a remote Swedish island bearing similarities to IN CONCERT (an ambitious online concert streamed by iamamiwhoami in 2010). KONSERT featured guests such as Imogen Heap, TR/ST and Zola Jesus and culminated in the live premiere of ionnalee's latest single 'MACHINEE' - a brooding electronic number with industrial vibes and my highlight of the year.
8. Pale Waves - She's My Religion
Submitted By: @blonde-rebellion
Avril Lavigne has been my all-time favorite artist practically since birth. The early 2000s were filled with artists trying to emulate her signature pop-rock sound and punk attitude. Listening to the mainstream radio now, it may seem like that style is gone, but look no further than what the new indie girls are doing for some quality Avril-inspired bops. Artists like Snail Mail and Soccer Mommy have been outspoken about the influence Avril has had on their music, but one of the biggest Avril-influenced artists right now is British indie-pop band, Pale Waves. The second single off their upcoming sophomore album, (Who Am I?, due out in February), 'She’s My Religion' sounds like the best of Under My Skin-era Avril. The gothic pop/rock guitar-driven instrumental fits perfectly with Pale Waves’ signature confessional lyrics. The track is an authentic queer love song (made by actual LGBT artists!) with an insanely catchy chorus that features lyrics - “she’s cold, she’s dark, she’s cynical. She’s forever angry at the world” - that will make you say, "Ugh, she’s literally me". 'She’s My Religion' by Pale Waves is everything a pop-rock fan could want in the year 2020.
7. Given - Winter Story
Submitted By: @Vixen Eyes
I listened to this since October before watching the anime Given and after reading it's manga predecessor (same story events). I loved everything at first listen and not only that but the anime is my fave animation and fave series ever. The EP has five songs and three instrumental tracks (of the five previous songs). The part where the vocalist in the anime sings 'Winter Story' I C R I E D. No — I fucking S O B B E D. The lyrics are about the vocalist's ex boyfriend's suicide after they had a fight and his last words to his ex were, "Are you willing to die for me then?". Let THAT sink in.
6. Charli XCX - Party 4 U
Submitted By: @jesuswasaloser
Charli XCX announced on April 6 that she would be creating and conceiving an entire album during quarantine using only the resources she had in her LA home and the help of her fans to choose things such as artworks and lyrics. Six weeks later she released how i'm feeling now, one of her best pieces of work to date. The album was created specially for the time we all spent in quarantine and it has some amazing songs where the singer talks about her moments of love and loneliness, but one song in particular is just something else, and that song is 'party 4 u'.
This song was already a fan favourite, since it had been played many times before by A. G. Cook in many of his sets, and fans would always ask Charli to release it officially - but as she said in an interview for Apple Music, "it had never felt right before now".
It's a simple song, lyrically, that speaks about how Charli only throws a party for one special person, and she hopes that the person "comes through", and hopes that the person will stick by her side through the hard times too. It's a simplistic premise, but during lockdown, where we all had no other choice but to party by ourselves, the song took a whole new meaning. With simple lyrics and production, this song really was like a present for her fans.
I know that when I look back at the time all spent locked inside, this album, and especially this song, will be the first thing I remember. And that's why I consider it one of the best songs, if not the best, from 2020.
5. Melanie C - Who I Am
Submitted By: @Whoknowsmehere
I loved this song from the first time I heard it. I tend to gravitate towards songs where the message is one that hits me right in the feels. And this song is no exception to that. The message of her no longer worrying about what others think about what she has to say - or, who she is - that is exactly how I feel about myself. She is telling people - this is who I am. Accept me or don't, I don't care. I am going to be me regardless of what others say.
I love the music that goes along with the song as well. Excellent arrangement. Very easy to listen to, and still be able to pay attention to the message behind the lyrics. Melanie C came back with an amazing overall album in my opinion.
4. BLACKPINK - Lovesick Girls
Submitted By: @Capsule
On October 2, 2020, BLACKPINK released the third single from their then-upcoming debut full-length album after four years as a group. The track is the first in the group's history to be co-written by members Jennie and Jisoo, as well as being co-produced by Jennie. The song, although being an overall pop banger, has obvious influences from country, folk and EDM. The song details the feelings of pain and heartbreak after a break up, feeling like you're "born to be alone," but also "still looking for love". It's a subject that can relate to a lot of people - we have all experienced some sort of heartbreak and felt like we would be alone forever. The topic has been done to death, yet the group somehow managed to bring a fresh perspective to the table...that is TALENT.
The song was well-received worldwide, and also helped the group to break various records through their album promotion. The single won 6 music show awards during its promotion, including three consecutive wins on Inkigayo, which lead to them receiving the Triple Crown award on that show. With help from this single, the group's album became the highest-charting album by an all-female group in the United States since 2008's Welcome to the Dollhouse by Danity Kane. BLACKPINK have proven this year that that they are still a force to be reckoned with in the K-Pop industry and that they don't plan on stopping their domination any time soon.
3. Dua Lipa - Break My Heart
Submitted By: @365MM
‘Sophomore slump’? Not a chance!
Back in the oh-so-innocent, pre-pandemic era, Dua Lipa was finally releasing her second album, Future Nostalgia. Great new singles had been dropping over the last few months. Sounded promising. Maybe pick it up when it comes out, I thought.
Old news now, but then everything was turned on its head. Crazy times.
Seemed like there was only constant; “Break My Heart” was the bop everyone was loving at the same time! It really is an amazing combination of a killer dance beat (acknowledged as similar to INXS’ "Need You Tonight"), sublime vocals, and unbelievably catchy lyrics. Great production too, but personally the writing here edges out. It might be a pop song, but the story here is a very mature. An exploration of vulnerability with heartbreak and strength of wisdom out of unsuccessful relationships while still needing to risk it all again in the pursuit of love. I think we’ve all been there. I just wish we could own it as well as Dua.
Arguably the best track on an album that proves to be both ridiculously consistent and infinitely playable. No wonder it broke into the tops of so many charts (including entered at number 6 on the UK Singles and peaking at 13 on the US Billboard Hot 100). Perfect dance-pop! And the video? The colors, the set movement, THAT DANCE? In this year with virtually no live concerts, “Break My Heart” was the performance we needed and deserved. Easily top 20 of 2020.
2. Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande - Rain On Me
Submitted By: @Skinny Legend
Released at the height of COVID-19 lockdowns across the world in May of 2020, 'Rain On Me' was the forerunner quarantine anthem of the year from the moment of its release, even if it was penned months in advance. The self-empowerment lyrics gained new meaning after the struggles that many faced in 2020, with the concept of embracing darkness and pain harkening back to Gaga's 'Marry the Night' days in a beautiful reminder of how to make it through hard times. It further helps that the song is one of Gaga's most rambunctious and high energy in recent years, making it perfect for many late-night lonesome shower disco's that took place over the year. 'Rain On Me' is an important reminder than not only does everyone go through similar struggles, but that these struggles are a lot harder to face when you can celebrate them as the important life-defining moments they are.
1. Kylie Minogue - Say Something
Submitted By: @Cypher
Released during the middle of the year and well into the global lockdown, Kylie Minogue dazzled the world with a shimmering, anthemic disco pop track. The song took on a life of its own during the pandemic with the line, "Can we all be as one again?". It would mark the beginning of her Disco era, propelling her to the #1 position in the UK, beating out Little Mix's Confetti (who she also voiced support for). With the album having 55 000 chart sales (the biggest opening week of the year), Minogue became the first female artist to score a #1 on the UK Official Albums Chart in five consecutive decades. Minogue has undeniable talent, name recognition, and a vocal prowess to appeal to multiple generations. If you love catchy bass lines and callbacks from the '70s, the song and album are definitely going to be contenders for your own year-end list!
Did your favourite track of 2020 make the list? Sound off in the comments below! And from everyone at PHF, Happy New Years - fingers crossed things can only get better from here on out.
By Skinny Legend
The Spice Girls' Forever turns twenty years old this month, and two decades after its release there appears to be more nostalgia and appreciation of the albums musical content than ever before. Released in November 2000 after a short break from their whirlwind of success, Forever marked the first (and last, and only) album recorded by the girls as a four-piece following the surprise departure of Ginger Spice Geri Halliwell. With one member down, the four remaining members worked harder than ever to craft an album that would keep them in the spotlight and maintain relevancy with their now maturing fanbase, who had morphed from pre-teen girls into teenage rebels. It was a journey that led to an American producer, a brand new leather-clad image, and an album that shocked, alienated and even disappointed many of their fans. This is the story of Forever.
Work on the Spice Girls third album began almost immediately following the completion of Spice World in 1997; and although little time had passed since their last recording sessions, the girls had bountiful inspiration for their new songs. In just twelve months they had filmed and released a feature film, also titled Spice World; fired their manager Simon Fuller (credited by many members of the media as the key to their success) and begun to manage themselves as a five piece; and launched their first world tour, Spiceworld Tour in Europe. Early conceptions of the album were blurry; one road found the girls recording masters for a projected live album including all the songs they were performing live every night, while another found them recording and registering covers that would feature alongside original songs on a brand new album produced by frequent collaborators Richard "Biff" Stannard and Matt Rowe. These covers included The Supreme's 'Where Did Our Love Go', a solo for Emma; Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin's 'Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves', a duet between the two Mel's; and Sister Sledge's 'We Are Family', Kool and the Gang's 'Celebration' and Madonna's 'Holiday', all of which would feature the girls singing once again as a five-piece. The girls wanted to prove that they could hold their own as solo artists, and the fusion of solo songs with collaborative works was meant to introduce the public to the notion that they could come and go from the group every several years while still blending well as a five-piece. 'Goodbye', their future post-Ginger single, was also possibly in consideration for this version of the album; although the song is ostensibly about Geri's well-publicised departure from the group, an early version of the track was actually written by her and Emma while she was still a Spice Girl, and it's possible that the song in it's original incarnation was planned to announce the group's future musical hiatus to the public while the girls worked on solo material.
Of course, Geri's shock departure from the group, 54 dates into their 97-date world tour, threw a huge spanner in the works for the third album. Both the live album and the Biff-produced original and cover songs were scrapped, and the girls instead travelled to Nashville in July 1998 in the middle of the American leg of the tour to record a reworked version of 'Goodbye' as a homage to Geri's departure, alongside 'My Strongest Suit', a song for the soundtrack of Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida musical. While rumours swirled that the album would not be released until the year 2000, Mel B dismissed this by reassuring fans that a second single would be recorded as soon as she and Victoria had given birth to their first children in early 1999.
Ultimately, sessions for the album did not begin in earnest until August of that year, when the girls reunited once again with Biff alongside frequent producer Elliot Kennedy to find a musical direction for the album. With Biff, they recorded 'Treasure', 'Go, Go, Go', 'Too Hot' and fan favourite 'W.O.M.A.N.', which would be performed live on their 1999 Christmas in Spiceworld Tour but which has to do this day not seen an official release. Meanwwhile, sessions with Kennedy a few weeks later produced 'A Day In Your Life', 'Give You What You Want', 'Pain Proof' and 'Right Back At Ya'. Of these, only the latter made it onto the final tracklisting of Forever, and only in remixed form to fit in with the R&B-heavy tracks on its parent album; although all of these Kennedy-produced tracks have since leaked online.
While these demos vary in terms of genre, each find the girls experimenting with new sounds while keeping one foot firmly planted in the pop world. 'W.O.M.A.N.' is a brilliant disco throwback that wouldn't sound out of place on a Village People tribute album; 'A Day In Your Life' is a summery, light counterpart to 'Viva Forever' with it's islandy flamenco guitars; 'Give You What You Want' is pure 90s pop that sounds like a female counterpart to any Backstreet Boys song of the era; 'Pain Proof' picks up where 'Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves' left off with it's kiss-off lyrics directed to the media; and the original version of 'Right Back At Ya' is a funky take on R&B not dissimilar to some of the songs on their first album.
It wasn't until later that month though, when the girls hooked up with American hitmaker Darkchild in their London studios, that work on the album seemed to really take off. Darkchild had previously crafted smash hits for the likes of J. Lo, Destiny's Child and Whitney Houston, and the girls felt that his particular brand of icy, polished R&B was just the thing to propel their sound into the new millennium. Alongside Darkchild, the girls penned several songs - future single 'Holler', criminally underrated 'If You Wanna Have Some Fun' and smooth ballad 'Oxygen' - before going their seperate ways for several months to work on solo material.
Following the success of that year's Christmas in Spiceworld Tour, which featured a soft introduction to the girl's new sound - and possibly the best performances of their career to date - the girls performed 'Holler' live at the Brit Awards in March 2000, although the performance went unaired due to "technical issues". By this point it had been fifteen months since their last single, and with a public (and record label) hungering for new music, the girls were feeling the pressure to finish the album - but scheduling was an issue. With all the girls in the midst of working on and promoting their solo projects internationally, and Darkchild being the in demand producer of the moment, getting everyone in the same room was a struggle. Ultimately, three fourths of the group travelled to Miami in April of 2000 to bunker down on the album, while Melanie C skipped writing sessions to focus on her own burgeoning solo career and added her vocals to 'Tell Me Why', 'Get Down With Me' and 'Time Goes By' at a later date. Two months later, the girls returned to London to wrap up sessions on the album with Darkchild's brother Fred Jerkins on album highlight 'Wasting My Time' (a song that Victoria was unavailable to write on and Melanie B was unavailable to record), as well as to remix Kennedy's 'Right Back At Ya'.
All four girls made time to record music videos for 'Holler' and 'Let Love Lead The Way', released as a double A-side in October of 2000, both of which hit #1 in several countries and which were generally regarded as a successful comeback by the media. But with the girls so focused on their own solo careers, little time was left to promote the album, released as Forever a month later. 'Holler' was performed live on a handful of TV shows, but it wasn't long after that the girls split up to tackle different markets, with Melanie C putting in double time promoting her own solo music and Forever throughout Europe, and Melanie B promoting her debut solo single and the Spice Girls album in Asia. Meanwhile, Victoria and Emma seemed the only ones dedicated to just the Spice Girls project, travelling to the US in a half-hearted attempt to push 'Holler' overseas.
This splintered off version of the group, first hinted at in the division of recording sessions and later cemented with segmented promotion, is perhaps symbolic of the main problem in Forever. Darkchild's production is, as per usual, near-perfect; and the girls vocals and harmonies were at their peak on this album. But there's a peculiar coldness to their vocals - perhaps because of the fact that they were recorded at different times, or perhaps simply because their hearts weren't really in the Spice Girls as a group anymore - that mars some of the finished product. Gone were the days of crowding into a recording booth to record 'Spice Up Your Life' during hurried breaks in filming for Spice World, or giggling maniacally after a twelve hour work day and two hours of sleep on English late night shows. For a group whose image had been so defined by their friendships, any crack in the veneer of solidarity was detrimental to their image - and the Forever album brought more than a couple of cracks.
Although commonly regarded as a flop by fans and the media alike, Forever performed relatively well given how little promotion it received. Pitted against Westlife's Coast To Coast in a well-publicised media battle, the album managed a peak of only #2 on the UK charts, but still mustered worldwide sales of four million and three number one singles in many territories (previous single 'Goodbye' had been tacked on to the end of the album by record label executives as a surefire selling point to fans). With further singles and a tour, the album might even have come a little closer to the 13 million copies sold by predecessor Spice World. But plans for a 2001 worldwide tour were scrapped after the girls chose to focus on their solo careers, and single releases for 'If You Wanna Have Some Fun', 'Tell Me Why' and 'Weekend Love' were cancelled after the perceived flop of the album. It seemed that by the end of the millenium, the message of "friendship never ends" had all but withered away while the girls drifted naturally apart.
That's not to say that the Spice Girls didn't give us some great moments during the Forever era. Alongside 'Holler', 'If You Wanna Have Some Fun' and 'Wasting My Time' stand out as fun, slickly produced pop-R&B tracks that all should have been hit singles at some point in time. 'Tell Me Why', a Geri Haliwell diss track, is probably the darkest thing the group has ever released, and hints at some of the anger that was manifesting in the girls during the time. And the ballads, 'Goodbye', 'Time Goes By' and 'Oxygen' - while incredibly cheesy - are sweet in their late 90s vision of love. The 'Holler' music video is debatably even the band's best, bolstered by slick choreography they never could have pulled off in 1996 and some CGI that's actually held up even in 2020. Forever may not have been the album that fans wanted from the girls, and it was certainly marred by a lack of direction and togetherness that most likely never would have happened had one-time bandleader Geri remained in the group. But taken on it's own, notwithstanding the behind-the-scenes conflict and insanely high media expectations, it remains a well-crafted, solid slice of pop from a group of girls that should have had many, many more albums to come.
Spice Girls - Forever is now out on vinyl for the first time, available on Amazon.