Camila Cabello’s new album presents an existential threat to songwriting

It is always interesting to observe the ways in which pop stars try to negotiate first growing up, and then growing old. From teen scream to respected mainstay to elder states(wo)man is not an easy path to walk without a few stumbles. At certain times, it requires making some blatantly strategic moves. Cabello wants so badly to grow up that she evolves from a past incarnation practically into thin air Few readers will remember that the first solo single George Michael released after dissolving Wham! was called ‘I Want Your Sex’, a forgettable bump-and-grind with a steamy video designed purely to shift audience expectations away from all things teenybopper and

Enthralling and unusual – even if you don’t care about Kanye: Netflix’s Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy reviewed

The most disappointing pop performance I’ve ever seen – and in the course of my 15-odd years as a music critic I saw an awful lot – was Kanye West at Glastonbury in 2015. Perhaps he was making some kind of ironic statement on the nature of celebrity and fan expectation: blinding lights all focused on himself; no attempts to engage with the crowd; relentless, mechanical rapping but with most of the amusing samples and catchy hooks removed, the better to punish us all by ordeal with loud, righteous verbiage. But I still admire this irritating genius hugely because besides making often very addictive albums he refuses to play the

For all its absurdity, it delivers the goods: BBC2’s Louis Theroux’s Forbidden America reviewed

In the latest episode of Louis Theroux’s Forbidden America, Louis asked a rapper called Broke Baby if ‘it’s important to keep it real’. ‘You have to play your role,’ replied Broke by way of apparent agreement. Given how stoned he was, this neat paradox — that you keep it real by pretending to — mightn’t have been wholly intended. Either way, however, it was hard not to apply it to Louis himself. More than 20 years into his TV career, does anybody know for sure whether his familiar schtick is genuine or faked? Certainly not, I’d suggest, Louis — whose elaborate stage-English courtesy, wide-eyed bemusement and spectacular naivety are now

Repetitive, spiritless, god-bothering music: Kanye West’s Donda reviewed

Grade: C– The nicest thing one can say is that this is a marginally better album than we would have got from either of the other two presidential candidates. Just about. But sheesh, it’s still nearly two hours of the most repetitive, spiritless, god-bothering music you will ever hear, full of portentousness and self-pity and utterly devoid of any insight or humour. Rap, trap, snap, all the tiresome bases covered. Decent tunes and memorable rhythms are few and far between. I like West, the man, for his stoic refusal to kowtow to the stupid liberal orthodoxies demanded by the music business. But his self-importance is now so bloated he resembles

What a genuine delight to be among people: Gorillaz, at the O2, reviewed

The new music economy relies on cross-promotion and artists reaching out to different scenes. And the rise of streaming means everyone can hop between audiences with ease, hence those singles apparently by one person but with a cricket team’s worth of other names credited. As the Beach Boys once sang, ‘you need a mess of help to stand alone’. Alongside the featured artist sausage factory there are musical patrons. Take Damon Albarn, who has spent much of the past 20 years elevating the work of other artists, using the strength of his own name — made, of course, as the frontman of Blur — to promote music that might otherwise

You won’t be able to look away: Shirley reviewed

This week, two electrifying performances in two excellent films rather than two mediocre performances in the one mediocre film — see: Rebecca — so things are looking up. Firstly, Mogul Mowgli, starring Riz Ahmed, directed by Bassam Tariq and co-written by the pair. Ahmed plays Zed, a British-Pakistani rapper who has lived in New York for two years and is on the brink of stardom when he returns home to his family in London. It’s intended as a brief visit but then he is struck down by an autoimmune disease that is never named but is something like multiple sclerosis. The point is, I think, even his body doesn’t recognise

In defence of Prince’s late style

In 1992 Prince released a single called ‘My Name Is Prince’. On first hearing it seemed appropriately regal. Cocky, even. Only in hindsight did it appear somewhat needy, a litany not of what Prince was going to do, but of the things he had already done. On it, he pulled rank on his status — ‘I’ve seen the top and it’s just a dream / Big cars and women and fancy clothes’ — called out young rappers for their potty mouths, and declared himself ‘fresh and funky for the 90s’. Context is everything. By 1992, Prince was still funky – but fresh? He had been, indisputably, pop’s premier agitator throughout