This summer was rough. We witnessed a lot of unpleasant tides of emotion and entitlement rise up that we often prefer to imagine are things of the past. In the midst of this turmoil, we saw a set of summer releases from both long-established and up-and-coming musical artists that addressed many of these complex social conflicts head on.
After a four-year wait, Kesha is back with her third studio album Rainbow. You’ve probably heard about Kesha’s legal battle to escape her contract with Dr. Luke, who remained backed by Sony Music despite allegations that he physically and emotionally abused her. One can only imagine the emotional toll she’s faced going through this process and ultimately losing in the courts.
Thus fans (like myself) worried that she wouldn’t be able to revive her career, but Rainbow is essentially a massive middle finger to Dr. Luke. Tracks like “Let ‘Em Talk,” “Bastards” and “Woman” give the album elements of a powerful feminist manifesto while also allowing Kesha to explore elements of country, rock and pop. This album more than lived up to the hype surrounding it and marks Kesha’s triumphant return to music.
The four years between the release of Pure Heroine in 2013 and “Green Light,” the lead single off of Melodrama, only increased fans’ desire for more of Lorde’s nuanced self-awareness and incisive observations of suburban youth.
Perhaps due to the influence of the deft pop producer Jack Antonoff, Melodrama manages to simultaneously explore new, more dynamic sonic territory than Lorde’s previous work while also feeling more cohesive lyrically.
Is Melodrama the new Odyssey? It just might be. After all, the album tells the story of a single night out, with each track describing a particular scene at a house party. Of course, taken collectively, this narrative arch can also represent the pleasures and perils of life as a teenager.
Since the days of The Blueprint, JAY-Z has been considered one of the kings of rap. Still, fans and critics weren’t sure what to expect when he released 4:44. Yet if there’s one thing we should’ve learned by now, it’s that JAY-Z and Beyoncé are chock full of surprises, and 4:44 ranks among one of JAY’s greatest.
While JAY doesn’t shy away from tackling social issues on heavy-hitters like “The Story of O.J.” and “Moonlight,” critics have lauded 4:44 as JAY-Z’s most personal, heartfelt album, particularly on the lead single “4:44.”
The track, a direct response to Beyoncé’s 2016 masterpiece, Lemonade, is nothing short of a four minute and forty-four-second-long apology letter to Beyoncé that is at once powerfully public and intensely private, carrying the full weight of JAY-Z’s long career.
After successfully releasing several mixtapes independently, SZA was signed to Top Dawg Entertainment. Since then she has taken her time carefully crafting her music, releasing only one EP, Z, in advance of her debut Ctrl. Though this is SZA’s first album, the maturity and concision found in its 14 tracks is indicative of her prodigious songwriting talent; In creating Ctrl, SZA wrote over 200 songs.
Ctrl at once expertly establishes a cohesive sound that builds on recent styles of R&B while also showcasing the diversity and flexibility of SZA’s unique musical talent. Singles like “Love Galore” with Travis Scott, “Drew Barrymore” and “Broken Clocks” are heavy and thoughtful. However, it’s the album’s more reserved tracks like “20 Something” and “Go Gina” that allow SZA’s vocals to really shine.
Tyler, the Creator has made controversy part of his brand from the start of his career. Carrying on this tradition, despite the superb quality of his newest album, Flower Boy, isn’t without its share of surprises.
In several tracks, Tyler seems to come out as gay by alluding to former relationships with boys, flying in the face of the misogyny and homophobia evident in both his previous albums and his public persona.
Some tracks like “Who Dat Boy” and “I Ain’t Got Time!” carry hints of the old Tyler, with rough and aggressive lyricism, yet Flower Boy is a cleaner and softer album than his earlier work. Highlights of this new calmer sound include “Pothole,” “November” and “Where This Flower Blooms” with Frank Ocean, whose 2016 album Blonde also notably alluded to relationships with both boys and girls.