Dirty computers, cowboys and Trump’s America: 2018 in music

Literature student and music journalist Joëlle Koorneef looks back on the musical and political landscape of 2018.

Although I love writing about music, there is a little demon nagging in the back of my head that tells me that music journalism will always be subjective, that you can never truly give a good review without having your prejudices shine through… So when I was asked to write about my favourite releases of 2018, I did not want it to be predictable (predictable Joëlle would instantly drop Father John Misty and DeWolff in that list). Instead, I wanted to argue why the albums on my list fit perfectly into the musical and political landscape of 2018. So here they are: the most relevant and recommendable records of the year…

Janelle Monaé – ‘Dirty Computer’


It’s unusual for me to write about pop music, but Janelle Monaé’s ‘Dirty Computer’ showed me that songs can be political and commercial, and top the pop charts. The influence of Prince is easily spotted on this record, especially Make Me Feel could have been ghostwritten by the late pop prince. And much like him, Janelle Monaé radiates this androgynous charisma. Just like Christine and the Queen’s new record ‘Chris’ (which almost made my list too) ‘Dirty Computer’ celebrates queerness and the expression of female sexuality without that doomed male gaze. I think the music video for Pynk illustrates this perfectly. It’s dripping with sexual energy (pay attention to the vagina pants) but also exudes this careless energy of a girl’s night out. The funk will liberate you.

Shame – ‘Songs of Praise’


I see two interesting trends in post-punk: 1. bands that are getting more and more political (no surprise when Brexit and the Trump presidency give us so many reasons to be angry) and 2. a rise of silliness and ugliness. Bands that fit the second trend are The Chats and Amyl & The Sniffers: they wear their hair in incredibly ugly mullets and sing about alcohol, drugs and STDs. While these are great bands to see live, I want to endorse bands such as Shame, IDLES, and Parquet Courts for releasing records that overflow with political messages and also sound ace. Shame’s older single ‘Tasteless’, which is also on ‘Songs of Praise’ is about “protesting against people’s constant acceptance and indifference towards deeply troubling issues within society”, as said by the band’s frontman Charlie Steen in an interview. In my opinion, ‘Songs of Praise’ embodies our generation’s frustrations in this post-Brexit world. A great debut from this young band.

Courtney Barnett – ‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’


Ever since her 2015 album dropped, I’ve been a big fan of Courtney Barnett. Her almost disinterested, nasal singing voice paired with her amazing lyrics keep me hooked on her music. Luckily I loved her new album ‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’ too. With song titles like  ‘Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence’ you really can’t go wrong in my book, but the song I want to highlight is ‘Nameless, Faceless. This is a classically catchy indie rock song that portrays such a key part of being a woman in the chorus: “I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Men are scared that women will laugh at them / I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Women are scared that men will kill them”. This is an indirect quote of Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, a book that was adapted into a successful television series and shocked us all in terms of its political relevance in 2018. The current political landscape is turning into more and more of a dystopia for women. Courtney Barnett doesn’t make too much of a political statement with ‘Nameless, Faceless’, but just shows that, hey, it sucks to have to hold your keys between your fingers when you walk alone in the dark, expecting cat calls or worse. This is a reality for women, so why not write a song about it so we can dance off our frustration?

Childish Gambino – ‘This Is America’


Childish Gambino’s This is America struck a political cord this year. I remember overhearing conversations of fellow students who were analyzing the lyrics and the video. We’ve globally acquired this attention span of six seconds and the daily stream of new releases only makes it worse, but I think this song hit us like a meteorite. Watching it, the viewer gets distracted by Childish Gambino’s performatory dancing while chaos unfolds in the background. Everytime Gambino’s character shoots down his victims, the guns are quickly taken away and placed on a red piece of cloth, illustrating that the second amendment is prioritized over the lives of (specifically African-American) victims of gun violence in America. There are amazing analyses of the video out there that I can’t do justice in a single paragraph. ‘This is America’ is the highest ranking hit in my list concerning Spotify streams and YouTube views. I think it did so well not only because of Childish Gambino’s undeniable talent and popularity, but also because the world was collectively stunned by this haunting portrayal of Trump’s America.

Mitski – ‘Be the Cowboy’


I go to about three or four concerts every month, so when I say that Mitski absolutely blew my mind when I saw her live is quite special. Never had I seen an indie rock songstress commit to a performance like Mitski, who was rolling across the floor in interpretive dance. In this genre I feel like generally concerts can be quite bland: no crazy mosh pits, but no real tearjerkers either… you basically go to a concert a band’s album played live. With Mitski I feel like her music was brought to live by this visual aspect of her dance and her facial expressions, and now everytime I listen to her music I visualize her on that stage of Paradiso Noord. I had previously known Mitski only from Your Best American Girl, an absolute bomb of a song, but her 2018 album ‘Be the Cowboy’ contains ten of those bangers. You can find me belting out to the grungier songs Geyser and A Pearl on the daily, but I fully understand why Nobody is the most popular song on the album. When Mitski wrote this song she must have known that her fans want to have a little dance party while lamenting their loneliness from time to time. I’ve had this album on repeat for the last month and I’m sure I will come back to this album in the next year too.

Khruangbin – ‘Con Todo El Mundo’


Yeah, I really don’t have anything substantial to say about this record. It’s just so damn funky and I wanted to leave you on a happy note. Just look at the dancing grandma in the video for Evan Finds The Third Room and try to convince me that you don’t feel it too!

By Joëlle Koorneef

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