Here at The Soundboard, rock music has and will always have a special place in our hearts. That said, the pop sphere, mainstream or not, is a fascinating place to keep one eye on, acting as a cultural time capsule in real time. In 2022, pop remained well and truly in its TikTok era, artists drip-feeding singles to farm higher streams and creating a certain verse or bridge solely to cut out of the song it belongs to to start a life independently through virality. Through a less cynical lens though, the perimeters of pop are ever-widening, other, more niche genres often combining to make new subgenres and flip the genre on its head until it’s something new entirely. So without further ado, here’s our look back at 2022 through pop music in all its forms.
The first bona fide massive release of the year came in the form of The Weeknd’s Dawn FM. Save single Take My Breath (released in 2021), it was largely forgotten as a project by the masses as the months went on, but unfairly so. The Oneohtrix Point Never-produced synthwave direction this record takes is bassy and textured, grounding Abel Tesfaye’s light, ethereal vocal, while Jim Carrey’s radio host interludes tie everything together into one cohesive concept. Dawn FM might already be on its way to forgotten gem status, but it’s certainly The Weeknd’s most consistent album to date.
Elsewhere in January, FKA twigs pushed boundaries even further on CAPRISONGS. The mixtape saw Twigs experimenting with her hypnotic voice more than ever before over a constantly-widening backdrop of R&B, Afrobeats and hints of hyperpop. It doesn’t always hit, but the thought that goes into every note is always admirable. Years & Years, now the solo project of Olly Alexander, put out Night Call, a collection of lust-filled stompers that relishes in freedom in many forms—creative freedom; freedom in his queer identity; and freedom from isolation. Alexander tries new things in a way that feels completely within his means rather than really letting loose, but an album that has Starstruck on it can’t really be a dud.
There were a few pop disappointments this month, too. Fickle Friends’ Are We Gonna Be Alright? toned down the pure synthpop shimmer that made their debut record so loveable, pushing funky guitars to the forefront (on the songs that aren’t overhangs from their Weird Years EPs). It’s an admirable attempt to evolve their sound, but without their once-signature fizzing joy, it’s a bit of a letdown. Motordrome saw MØ pivot into disco-tinged club bangers, its production doing little to separate her from the countless others doing exactly the same thing. And of course, there are three constants in life: death, taxes and RuPaul churning out music for her Drag Race empire. But Mamaru’s nods to hyperpop alongside more timeless, queer culture-centric musical references work wonders for her credibility as an artist, cash-grabbing as they obviously are.
Before she’d reach number one spots worldwide alongside Sam Smith later in the year, Kim Petras showed the world her own brand of Slut Pop in February, further showcasing her creative prowess as an artist (although prudish as we sound, it’s tailor-made for dingy basement raves rather than casual weekday listening). Foxes made the always-winning pivot to full-on synthpop for The Kick, her first record in six years and undoubtedly her best to date. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but its hooks are glistening, fun and immaculately crafted, acting as the perfect vessel for her glistening vocals.
On debut album Tough Boy, Carlie Hanson laid out all her baggage and personal growth journey from pandemic isolation, funneled through her signature gritty take on pop. Jordan Stephens, of acting and former Rizzle Kicks fame, also released his debut solo record Let Me Die Inside You this month. It’s a wonderfully self-assured and creative debut that isn’t afraid to take risks, jump between ideas mid-song or completely assimilate every idea. Most importantly though, everything is laid out on this album, and you leave not only entertained, but with a full, uncompromised picture of exactly who Jordan Stephens is.
After almost quitting music just a few years ago, Mitski released Laurel Hell this month, her balance of synthpop and intimately produced organic pianos providing her classic homely feel as usual. Her lyrics are soul-bearing but never shy away from spelling out her complexities (such fascinating uniqueness necessary in pop), but her toned down delivery and palpable seriousness can make it difficult to find an entry point. Bastille faded into the background with Give Me The Future, their latest concept album about end times which treads the same ground they always have, undeniable choice cuts like Thelma + Louise saving it from total obscurity.
In March, Crash graduated Charli XCX from edgy basement underdog into full-on main pop girl, standout tracks Baby, Good Ones and Used To Know Me harnessing her technicolour frenzies of old into something more traditionally packaged while still keeping dancefloors full. Crash is not a trailblazing atomic bomb like Pop 2 or Charli was, but it brings aspects of those records to the mainstream like a hyperpop undercover agent. Most importantly though, Crash remains fresh while never afraid to pay respects to Charli XCX (and today’s breed of pop artists in general)’s inspirations old and new—September-interpolating Rina Sawayama duet, anyone? Chewing gum memes aside, Rosalía continued to make her name as an auteur on MOTOMAMI, melding traditional Latin subgenres with Afrobeats, electronics and almost everything else under the sun, with not a moment of empty space on the entire record.
Angsty pop sensation Gayle put out her debut EP (and first of two this year) a study of the human experience volume one, proving that abcdefu is indeed the only one of her songs worth caring about. KAWALA released their debut full-length Better With You, a showcase of peppy, wholesome guitar pop that feels like a toasty campfire in the moment but does little to linger after it’s burned out. Circles added to LÉON’s growing collection of vulnerable pop songs. She’s never been one to go for pop hooks, favouring more low-key melodies that take work to commit to memory, and Circles fares best when there’s a musical driving force behind LÉON’s vocals. Guitar-backed highlights Wildest Dreams and Soaked do this particularly well, asdoes the dreamy Look Like That, whose floaty keyboards manage to lift and ground the singer at the same time. Acoustic instrumentals can make the whole song fly under the radar, something that sadly happens often on Circles.
In country, Humble Quest solidified Maren Morris as one of the genre’s best. Her first album since becoming a mother and experiencing post-partum depression, as well as the death of long term writing partner Michael Busbee, it looks inwards instead of towards spectacle (something Morris’ trademark belt is built for). Whatever your inclination towards country, something this real delivered with this much talent is impossible not to take a shine to. Elsewhere, The Shires reminded us of their ability to strike soaring country pop gold with Cut Me Loose, but their record 10 Year Plan is otherwise much less fun than their previous output. The album ticks all the boxes necessary for fans of country to rinse it for all it’s worth, plus the technical skill of Crissie Rhodes and Ben Earle is objectively ridiculous, but the lack of fire in its belly (Wild Hearts and the aforementioned Cut Me Loose aside) makes one look elsewhere for their thrills.
Camila Cabello continued to push her image away from her Fifth Harmony roots with Familia this April. Single psychofreak (featuring WILLOW) instantly became her most interestingsong to date with its hypnotic melodies and intense stream-of-consciousness vulnerability, and while much of the rest of the record doesn’t grab as much attention, Cabello’s embracing of the formative Latin pop that clearly means so much to her makes for a much more authentic and likeable project all in all. Lights continued on her pop journey, PEP being a delectable package of aesthetics, but a bit more on the predictable side when it comes to the actual sound.
Swedish House Mafia’s return felt rather muted from the off, but Paradise Again (their first record in a decade) being a total slog will surely stop whatever momentum was there in the first place. Plenty of artists kept momentum going though, like Anitta. On Versions Of Me, she brought eye twinkles to a genre often lacking a sense of humour. Aside from some Latin pop and love song moments that do take themselves too seriously, Anitta radiates main pop girl energy, selling confidence and girl power in the form of full-on anthems like Boys Don’t Cry and I’d Rather Have Sex (the latter’s hilarious bed creaking punctuation taking it to the next level).
2020’s It Was Good Until It Wasn’t showed a Kehlani who was in the thick of toxicity, wrapped around her lover’s finger and favouring conflict over ending things. This year’s blue water road is the exact opposite, combining laidback instrumentals with swoonworthy tales of healthy intimacy, motherhood and reflection of relationships past. Their voice has an intoxicating quality which is like catnip when combined with pop melodies of old, but on highlights like wish i never and tangerine takes a new form,really enveloping listeners into her stream-of-consciousness poetry. Being more stripped down, blue water road shines a light on the most likeable qualities of Kehlani, and shows yet another musical side to the singer. Meanwhile, Let’s Eat Grandma released Two Ribbons, a career-best album this month. It deals with the weight of member Jenny Hollingworth’s partner’s death at the age of 22, along with the 18-year friendship between her and bandmate Rosa Walton drifting in the natural way relationships do, all through the medium of their ever-elevating indie pop.
Meanwhile, THE POWER IN US spoke for everyone who’s had enough of reality, Poppy Ajudha’s lyrics completely hitting the nail on the head in discussing gender roles, oppression and the emotional turmoil navigating social issues in 2022. Her soulful vocal sells every word, buildups to strings countering ugly subject matter with beauty, injections of electric guitar adding a snarl and rage Ajudha’s composed vocal can’t, tying everything together with interludes and creating a self-contained world within the album.
May was easily the most jam-packed month in 2022. High profile releases included the critically panned Come Home The Kids Miss You, on which Jack Harlow feels just as empty and cringey as everyone says. she’s all i wanna be set Tate McRae up as one of pop’s newest leading lights, but her debut full-length i used to think i could fly didn’t showcase much of a unique voice, if any.
After racking up enough accolades for three peoples’ careers, never mind one, Kendrick Lamar chose to stop striving to please people on Mr Morale and the Big Steppers. Of course, it’s Kendrick Lamar, so he doesn’t need to try, but this record is easily his most personal so far, narrowing in on every aspect of his own character from the abuse he and his family suffered in his childhood, his internalised transphobia only addressed when a family member transitioned and toxic masculinity and the part he plays in enforcing it. In true Lamar fashion, it’s all completely charted out and dramatic, every instrumental flourish, tap dance and word choice playing a specific part in each song, each song packed with things to appreciate and dissect despite the overall scope being narrowed in.
The almost hour-and-a-half long Un Verano Sin Ti helped Bad Bunny remain the world’s most streamed artist this year. The ingredient list of world-spanning genres that go into this record is hugely impressive and definitely goes towards his vast appeal, but it’s a very bloated project it’s hard to imagine being up there with out-and-out classics in years to come.
May also saw the release of Ethel Cain’s Preacher’s Daughter, a sprawling debut completely unafraid to go all-in when telling the story of a deep-South runaway teen who falls in love with a cannibal and meets a gruesome end. Exquisite storytelling stands out against folk and country canvasses, standouts including the tone-setting pop-rock of the gorgeous American Teenager and the industrial Ptolemaea, whose screams would chill anyone to the bone from the sound alone, never mind when intertwined with the narrative this song tells. Three quarters of the songs on this record surpass the five minute mark, but the package of Cain’s voice and the dissection of religious indoctrination makes it impossible to not be fully, viscerally engulfed in.
This month also saw a lot of ‘business as usual’ records; Flume’s Palaces assuring his spot atop EDM festival stages worldwide, Ella Mai showing her R&B vocal prowess on the mostly midtempo Heart On My Sleeve and cutesy guitar pop being the name of the game on flor’s Future Shine. Sigrid also took things up a notch and powered towards being one of pop’s most reliable acts with How To Let Go, her brand of poptimism sounding glorious blended with disco influences.
Even with all of this though, this was the month of Harry Styles, third album Harry’s House becoming one of the most inescapable releases of 2022. With each solo release, Styles has been trying more and more new things with compositions, sprinkling albums with moments that truly let loose (Kiwi and Treat People With Kindness immediately spring to mind), but Harry’s House is the first with that twinkle in the eye as a complete through line. Styles’ love of The Beatles and the Beach Boys is indulged more than ever, those influences marrying with creative modern instrumentation and the ex-boybander notion for irresistible pop hooks to make an album that feels truly timeless.
In June, Alanis Morissette looked to provide some much needed calm to offset the summery bops the month seeks to produce with The Storm Before The Calm, a beautifully produced but ultimately confusing, seemingly endless ‘meditation album’. A house-inspired direction didn’t do much for Drake when Honestly, Nevermind is in the same overly-long, overly-boring format as ever. Hard reinforced Tove Styrke as a pop artist with potential and good ideas (highlight Cool Me Down in particular), but does little to really set her apart from the numerous others with exactly the same qualities.
Regina Spektor remained a kooky theatre kid delight on Home, before and after, still unbeliveably finding new ways to experiment with her vocal delivery and draw new parallels with composition and storytelling. Up the Mountain immediately inducts itself into the Regina Spektor Madness Hall Of Fame, while elsewhere Spacetime Fairytale and Coin paint the most vivid pictures, pictures no one else could ever dream to make with just a voice and a piano. Crafting his songs from the bright and chirpy musical palette that TikTok laps up (his own Be Around Me having had this fate before now), Will Joseph Cook went for the feelgood jugular on Every Single Thing. There are mixed results – the aforementioned Be Around Me is sweet and Kisses is insanely catchy, the lyrics of both skipping along like a twitterpated heartbeat, while Gummy’s concept is a little too corny to take seriously, especially when compared to this album’s better cuts. This record is a sugar rush that would probably be much easier to love when in the thick of early days of love feelings, but otherwise there’s not too much that truly stands out from the crowd.
MUNA’s self-titled third album felt like a triumphant culmination of years of buzzy whispers, their joyous pop feeling more anthemic than ever and especially fresh with their constant pushing of their own musical boundaries. The storming Runner’s High, masterclass in self-confidence Anything But Me and gorgeous rose-tinted Silk Chiffon are all totally different but capture the exact same feeling of euphoria, which feels super special. And Staying At Tamara’s sunshine radio pop made 2018’s the summer of George Ezra, but this year’s Gold Rush Kid put the onus on less organic production, making songs that often veered on the side of cheesy that isn’t the undeniable one. Ezra’s lyrical introspection when it comes to addressing his mental health struggles are completely admirable which it’s on such a huge scale, but the music it’s paired with doesn’t do it any justice.
The return of Lizzo happened in July, and although not much widespread interest appeared to be taken past viral single About Damn Time, Special furthered the singer’s brand of complete joy, self-love always being the name of the game and by proxy being impossible to take points away from. emails i can’t send was a milestone for Sabrina Carpenter, a small portion addressing the Olivia Rodrigo / Joshua Bassett situation she found herself in the middle of last year, the rest showing off slick pop helmed by her slinky, delicate vocal. More importantly, though, the record shows who Sabrina Carpenter is as an artist, hopefully making that the first thing that comes to people’s minds instead of mindless gossip.
Rae Morris retreated into a dreamworld (that looks suspiciously like her hometown of Blackpool) on Rachel@Fairyland, scrapbooking her takes on love, politics, feminism and everything else through her eclectic, cinematic pop. King Princess took their tongue firmly out of their cheek on second record Hold On Baby, enlisting the help of The National’s Dessner brothers and the late Taylor Hawkins (amongst others) to take the emotions of fighting for a long-term relationship to another, more visceral level. While not as exciting a journey as debut Cheap Queen, those who fell in love with King Princess’ personality there would easily make the transition to rooting for the singer with everything they have here, guitars helping songs like Little Bother and Let Us Die be cathartic in every way possible.
While Surrender wasn’t necessarily the most traditional example of ‘feral joy’ (the descriptor Maggie Rogers to describe her latest album) ever heard, the singer added more heft to her indie folk with bites of guitar and an insane vocal level-up. Adding this power to a more creative sound and she’d be onto a winner. PANORAMA was a disappointing second record for Hayley Kiyoko. Her attempt to go full sleek, serious pop star could have been a winner, and the backdrops these songs provide should work perfectly as to not swamp Kiyoko’s thinner, flightier vocals, but for some reason the personality she’s had no problem showing off in the past is nowhere to be seen, even on songs like for the girls that should scream ‘party time’.
Gemini Nights, while also being home to de facto song of the summer Bad Habit, showed Steve Lacy’s auteur prowess in glorious musical tapestry form. Songs are often one core idea allowed to evolve and expand in one runtime, always sounding cool or beachy or dreamy or all three at once. Mabel followed the Future Nostalgia dancefloor-ready, concept-forward sophomore album plan, …About Last Night marrying all forms of dance music across one night out. It all plays out like an Instagram story though, all fun and games as it’s happening, but entirely forgotten afterwards.
But of course, Beyoncé staked her claim for July right as it was ending with RENAISSANCE. After the eclectic and scandal-fuelled visual album Lemonade, dropping a sample-packed, house-inspired record with no visual accompaniments at all seems like a surprise, but Beyoncé owns this new persona with the self-assured conviction of anything else she’s ever done. She’s the emcee of the ballroom and the star of the show all at once, curating her chosen inspirational pieces of black and queer history and creating her own historical entries with her own stamp. There’s lots to respect on RENAISSANCE but perhaps not as much to revisit in a casual setting, though in the party environment it’s designed for, that’s sure to change.
Fans have long begged Demi Lovato to take the plunge into rock music, and that dream was brought to life with HOLY FVCK this August. Much like fellow Disney alum Miley Cyrus with her Plastic Hearts album, Lovato fits this persona to a tee, having the power both vocally and lyrically to work alongside instrumentals with a bit more bite. There are a few times on the record where their trademark belt tries to do much of the heavy lifting instead of making sure the messaging in each song is strong enough, but when the elements are all working in each other’s favour, the potential is undeniable.
The long-awaited Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2 also dropped this month, Calvin Harris continuing on his funk-dance revival quest with the help of his star-studded phonebook. On it though, he fails to capture the electricity of Vol. 1, many voices feelings restrained (like Dua Lipa on Potion) or phoned in (like Justin Timberlake on Stay With Me). Often, the mostly midtempo songs just fail to go hard enough or lack a fire in the belly, the five year gap between the two volumes making everything all the more disappointing. Someone else relying on his famous friends was DJ Khaled, who recruited more than 30 artists to contribute to GOD DID. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a DJ Khaled album, a completely forgettable, overly long tracklist, stock catchphrases shouted VERY LOUDLY just in case you forget whose album this is and an everything-but-the-kitchen sink approach to production and curation that doesn’t justify the sheer amount of personnel involved to make it.
Megan Thee Stallion let loose on TRAUMAZINE, a record which swaps the TikTok dances for unmerciful takedowns of anyone who’s scorned her. Legal adversaries; Roe vs. Wade; fake friends; no one is safe from her razor-sharp aim, and rightfully so. Aitch’s debut album Close To Home put aside his Jack-the-lad persona in favour of something more straightlaced, but intensely personal lyrics aside, it goes for easy crowd-pleasing tactics rather than anything that really stands out. And Lauv went confessional on this month’s All 4 Nothing, thankfully swapping his irritating hooks of old for something with a tad more meat on its bones. While he’s still not mastered the art of being a true auteur with his own signature stamp on things, it’s at least a step in the right direction.
September was another packed month this year, with plenty of artists fighting it out every week to have the most high-profile release. A step further into the glitzy pop stratosphere is the expected move for someone who’s accumulated the streaming numbers Nina Nesbitt has, but she toned things down for her third album Älskar, looking closer to home for inspiration. The songs on this record are all deeply personal but relatable on the bottom line, Nesbitt the big sister with sage advice but still very much the main character of her own rich story. Fletcher’s debut album Girl Of My Dreams is sometimes given personality with endearing specificity in its lyrics, really placing you alongside the singer on her birthday, pining for an ex who happens to share the same special day. Often though, the opposite is true, vagueness and hiding behind cringe, wannabe Instagram caption lyrics (“she flame emoji, wow”, anyone?) seemingly a necessary pullback from the singer sharing too much at other points.
The genre-bending of SAWAYAMA was still present in this year’s Hold The Girl, but Rina Sawayama honed her focus in, making her bid for the mainstream. While the out-and-out madness of old is sanded down, the edge is still off the scale for the pop heights the singer is shooting for, her encyclopedic music knowledge and fandom admirably informing things above all else. 5 Seconds Of Summer continued on their pop journey on 5S0S5, still often taking a more by-the-numbers songwriting approach rather than trying to push their medium at all. Songs like Best Friends show they can still write a soaring hit when their albums really need one, but the highs are vastly outnumbered by filler on this 19(!) song monster. Shygirl’s Nymph was one of the more compelling listening experiences of the year. You’re never really sure of what out-there sounds are around the next corner, or where exactly the initial idea of a song will end up (apart from the definitive answer of ‘not the same place’). Nothing ever quite tops the inebriating effect of lead single Firefly, but Nymph start to finish is a half hour well spent.
Maya Hawke, Stranger Things star and daughter of Hollywood royalty, also released her second solo album Moss. Her delicate folk and sweet vocalS are pleasant enough, the mass of lowkey tracks making standout Sweet Tooth feel like a true anthem in comparison. Noah Cyrus released The Hardest Part this month, her pivot towards the country style so tethered to her family name. Her vocal chops are definitely well-showcased here and the songs are obviously very personal (Mr. Percocet a lovely little showcase of everything the project wants to do); there are nothing but signs towards a blossoming country career.
And SUBJECT TO CHANGE was probably as much of a comfort food album for Kelsea Ballerini to make as it was to listen to, the singer being in the middle of divorce proceedings when the album dropped this month. It hits all the familiar beats country fans want, packaged up in a pretty pop package.
October was the month of pop this year, fans being fed with sparkle and earworm hooks until their jeans were fit to burst. On Charlie, Charlie Puth abandoned the funk direction that made previous record Voicenotes so undeniable, opting to incorporate half-baked nods to alt-rock bands that don’t feel as natural or joyful as you’d expect. Single Light Switch is far and away the best thing about the album with its witty, quick-stepping delivery, but not much else here is too noteworthy, a shame considering how likeable music nerd Puth is. Betty Who had an ‘80s makeover this year on BIG!, and she sounds glorious drenched in reverb. While it can sometimes veer into cheesy territory (particularly on the slower tracks), Who’s effervescence comes through more than ever on this record. BIG! might not be one for stuffy music connoisseurs, but anthems like BLOW OUT MY CANDLE and WEEKEND are some of the best lose-all-inhibitions pop of the year.
Harking back to her doo-wop origins, Meghan Trainor oozes confidence and pep on Takin’ It Back; it might not have too much screaming at you to return to, but her huge success on TikTok thanks to single Made You Look will have her more than set for years. The bright florals on Mercurial’s cover sums up the shift Vera Blue has made since her last album, ‘80s synths transforming lyrics about the singer’s various mental health diagnoses into call-to-arms anthems. It’s a disappointingly top-heavy album, getting bogged down with balladry and less than interesting instrumentation after the first three songs, but the vocals at the helm of the record are always so stunning that there’s always some kind of in to whatever’s happening. Tove Lo’s Dirt Femme also lacked the sparkle her previous releases had, lots of these songs aiming for cinematics but oddly lacking in production oomph for the most part.
After the synthpop euphoria of her last two releases, The Loneliest Time marked an exercise in restraint for Carly Rae Jepsen. Serenity is a new inductee to her emotional arsenal, more lowkey tracks that don’t go for the jugular in a traditional way peppered among the bangers. It all culminates in the triumphant disco title track that shows that above all, fun is always the name of the game.
In a detour from her victory lap of previous albums, Taylor Swift’s Midnights marked a return to traditional pop. The record is 1989’s big sister with the badassery of reputation and the eloquence of folklore and evermore, a sister who’s more self-aware of her own shortcomings, even better at getting points across with the most vivid of imagery, eager to try new things and make them her own. It’s all delivered with poise while still keeping a sense of fun, a balance other artists probably wouldn’t be able to strike in order to keep these songs so loveable.
This month, Christine and the Queens dropped Redcar les adorables étoiles, his first project under the Redcar moniker, veering away from the pop choruses of old to sing almost entirely in his native French atop eerie, atmospheric synths. It could pave the way for an interesting sonic journey, but feels very much like a starting point for now. Joji kept things lowkey with Smithereens, a 24-minute release that plods along with emotional lyrics at the forefront. As novel and admirable the committed expression of heartbreak from a male perspective is, it (and the odd moment of beat or fast-paced vocal delivery) doesn’t do much to keep a listener hooked.
Sonder redelivered the emotional vocal powerhouse sound already established on Dermot Kennedy’s debut record, but it suffers badly from a lack of punch to counteract the twee piano backdrops. Former One Directioner Louis Tomlinson forged ahead with his indie-inspired solo career, his record Faith In The Future just feeling like a wannabe Gallagher brother effort that (obviously) never comes up to par with the originals. Thrill Of The Chase was business as usual for Kygo. Having a signature style when it comes to instrumentation makes verse-chorus-drop EDM feel somewhat shiny and new at first, but if the melodies and unique guest vocalists aren’t there to carry it, like with this record, then it’s a non-starter.
BROCKHAMPTON bid a final farewell with albums The Family (primarily helmed by Kevin Abstract) and TM, both of which feel phoned-in and unfinished, an upset for their dedicated fanbase. Stormzy got vulnerable at the end of the month, his heart firmly on his sleeve and his singing voice warmed up. Love songs are as commonplace as Stormzy lifting up fellow black voices and calling out Conservative politicians; church choirs, guest vocalists and warm beats accompanying his trademark candour, making This Is What I Mean feel like an intimate family affair rather than a huge call to arms.
National hero Sam Ryder put out his debut album There’s Nothing But Space, Man! in the last few weeks of the year. It’s exactly the kind of album you’d expect an earnest British Eurovision entry to drop, Ryder belting and falsetto-ing anywhere he can, completely unafraid to turn up the cheese factor. Anyone who hadn’t nearly won us Eurovision would have this record swept under the carpet, but Ryder deserves the world no matter what he puts out. Olly Murs’ first record in four years being a competition-light December release spoke volumes about the suits’ faith in its ability to perform in, say, May of this year, and one listen to Marry Me proves it. His vocals sound sterile, the production cheap and the references odd (reggae-flavoured opener Die Of A Broken Heart says it all). The only track here that could have been a dead-cert for fun factor is a song all about Murs wanting to ruin his partner’s night out because he thinks she looks silly singing Whitney Houston and doesn’t want to buy her champagne. Marry Me isn’t a project that feels necessary in the year 2022, but those who know that already know without listening to it.
As a final surprise after her Mercury Prize-winning year, Little Simz surprise dropped NO THANK YOU this month. After listening though, this record feels more like a cathartic release than something agonised over, unrelenting rap flows over orchestral flourishes or choir climaxes providing a welcome extra taste of Simz for 2022. Five years after her momentous CTRL, SZA finally dropped follow-up SOS this month (just a week after announcing it). 23 songs is almost always going to be too long, but SZA has such an ear for melody and covers so much musical ground that the hour+ runtime isn’t really felt. She goes toe-to-toe with Ol’ Dirty Bastard, sounds glorious alongside Phoebe Bridgers and tries her hand at a pop punk anthem, and while SOS’ late release date might do it a disservice in letting fans have enough time to get familiar before the end of 2022, even just one listen will open them up to what a statement the record is.
Words by Georgia Jackson