Image credit: Ella-Mae Earnshaw
New year, new music - ON REPEAT is back with with a roundup of music-world news, an in-depth introduction to William J Healey and Fleur's February playlist.
1) Recap of 2020
With 2020 being over, it is interesting to study the musical trends of the past year, especially given the context of the pandemic and its effect on our music streaming habits.
The most streamed artist of the year on Spotify was Bad Bunny (8.3 billion streams), followed by Drake, J Balvin, Juice WRLD and The Weeknd. The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” was the most streamed song on Spotify worldwide, which is unsurprising given its popularity on Tik Tok.
In 2020, Spotify saw a 1,400% increase in playlists made for working from home as work began to move online. Users listened 180% more to health and wellbeing podcasts this year, possibly reflecting a need to exercise from being less active at home. In general, people listened to artists they already knew rather than discovering new music.
Vinyl sales have been continually growing since 2007 and carried on growing in 2020, with 4.8 million LPs sold in the United Kingdom, 10% more than in 2019, according to the British Phonographic Industry. In 2016, the number had “only” reached 3 million. What is possibly even more impressive is that for the first time in 40 years, there were more vinyls sold in a year than CDs, which is clear evidence that we are living a real and somewhat nostalgic vinyl revival.
2) The Weeknd Super Bowl performance
This year’s Super Bowl half-time show was staged by none other than the Weeknd. The Canadian pop singer performed to an unusual audience, half of which was made up of cardboard cutouts and half of which was actual people, respecting the coronavirus guidelines. Despite the reduced attendance, Abel Tesfaye managed to put on an uplifting and high-energy show, the highlights of which were the songs Can’t Feel My Face, where he filmed himself singing in a golden fun house behind the stage surrounded by his 55 back-up dancers chaotically bumping into each other, and Blinding Lights in which the back-up dancers took up the whole stadium, Abel singing in the middle. His choreographers’ faces were bandaged, recalling the After Hours album cover and storyline. His most recent album was released in March 2020, was the second most streamed album on Spotify last year, and won him Favourite Album in Soul/R&B at the 2020 American Music Awards as well as various other nominations. Abel himself was wearing a red sparkly suit and black gloves, a nod to the album’s 80s-inspired sounds.
3) Spotify could analyse your voice to play music based on your mood
On 12th January, Spotify, the audio streaming giant, was granted a patent enabling the app to suggest music based on a user’s current emotional state and environment using voice and sound recognition. The app could potentially gather information about a user’s mood at a specific time by listening to the tone of their voice, or perceiving laughter or sadness for example. Simply by listening to and recognising the sounds around them the app could also identify their social setting and environment: birds chirping if they are in a forest, an engine revving if they are in a bus, casual language if they are with friends, etc. All of these combined vocal perceptions would give specific song or tailored playlist suggestions for each situation. Having been granted a patent does not necessarily mean that Spotify will choose to implement it, but if they do they plan to abide by strict ethical regulations to protect their users’ privacy.
Image credit: Yala!
In Depth - Willie J Healey
While often compared to the melancholy and nostalgic sounds of Elliot Smith and Neil Young, Willie J Healey brings refreshing experimentation to the sounds of the 70’s, borrowing also from the likes of The Beatles, David Bowie, and so on.
Born and raised in Oxfordshire, he was an artist from a child, saying that “playing music or painting just feels like a childish, innocent thing to do”, and that he’s “always enjoyed being imaginative”. On top of music, he found himself also being a dedicated boxer in his teens and was only convinced to pursue music by his career advisor.
His career truly started in 2015 when he released ‘HD Malibu’, a surf-style EP displaying his youthful creativity and energy. ‘Greys’ (a personal favourite of mine) is a rollercoaster of a song. It starts off quiet, matched by the clean sound of a guitar and a soft voice, but builds up perfectly by adding distortion and vocal layers to eventually reach a head-banging climax. The slinky, ethereal guitar part of ‘Subterraneans’ on the other hand gently carries you away to a wistful dream of bygone days and stands as a fan-favourite. These two songs would go on to find themselves on Will’s first full-length 2017 album ‘People and Their Dogs’. As stated in an interview for ‘Pond Magazine’, he felt too restricted and had less creative input than he would have liked while signed to Columbia Records. He subsequently switched to a smaller label ‘Yala!’ for his 2017 album, which allowed him much more musical freedom. Sticking to this label, he released his most recent album ‘Twin Heavy’ in August 2020. The opening track ‘Fashun’ is a Beatles-inspired theatrical Christmas opening, throwing ironic punches at stardom. ‘Big Nothing’ is a tribute to Elliot Smith, who heavily inspired his writing, and he tells us that he doesn’t “usually pick favourites but [he was] proud of Big Nothing”, particularly liking “how the recording turned out”. He sings of reminiscing his teenage years, a theme which is highlighted by a powerfully melancholic riff. ‘Songs for Joanna’ follows suit, providing more nostalgia for the curiosity of youth, this time in the style of Lou Reed’s clumsy vocal lines.
As seen by in Behind the Scenes cut for the ‘Songs for Joanna’ music video, where he depicts a “lousy British cricket dream” in a single shot whilst his band played the song live, it’s clear that while being a natural at making music Will also has a knack for making music videos. He explains that his inspiration is found by walking around “seeing things & watching things all the time”, and that he “usually has played a pretty big part in imagining [the videos] early on”.
Currently, Willie J Healey resides in Oxfordshire, “writing and using music to avoid the pandemic”. He is currently set to tour the UK, with a gig on 4th May in London, but with uncertainty due to the pandemic, it’s unclear as to whether he will be able to go ahead with it. However, with Spring just around the corner, so too is hope that the vaccines will allow music venues to reopen, and life to return back to normal.
Fleur’s February Playlist:
The Bay, Metronomy
Tap out, The Strokes
Long Distance Love, Keziah Jones
Veridis Quo, Daft Punk
3000 Miles (Baby Baby), Yeek
New Day, Night Beats
Te Extraño (Miss You), Rodrigo and Gabriela
Herringbone, Topaz Jones
Hold you down, Rhye
Atlantic, The Weather Station
Peur des Filles, L'Impératrice
News was written by Fleur Colson, who also curated the playlists. In Depth - William J Healey was written by Rowan Adeya. Edited by Emma Short, Music Editor.