Books, Films, and TV Shows of 2021

I gained so much from getting out of my rewatching rut and diving into new works last year that I had to keep going. It was so inspiring, especially for my writing. I’m still struggling to read but I did what I could. Hopefully next year will be better in that regard. And I’ve watched some great things while I haven’t been able to read. I haven’t included everything – for obvious reasons – but I wrote about my favourites, or ones that I felt like I needed to talk about. Please don’t feel that you have to read this whole thing; feel free to skim or just look at one section, if that’s what you’d prefer. Hopefully there’s something in here that you leave this post thinking, “yeah, I want to read/watch that!”

Rather than adding a spoiler alert to – let’s face it – the majority of things on this list, I’m just going to put A REALLY BIG SPOILER ALERT here. All of these works have been out for long enough now that the spoiler rule doesn’t apply in the same way. If you see the name of something you want to read or watch, just skip it so that you can remain ignorant because, chances are, I’ve mentioned something important.


Anxiety in Wonderland by Katia Oloy – After coming up with the idea to write a song about anxiety using Wonderland for a metaphor, I googled anxiety references in the Disney version of the Alice in Wonderland film (I saw it as a kid and felt, even then, that it was full of anxiety) and found this book. It’s primarily a book of art based on Alice in Wonderland but it’s arranged to tell Oloy’s experiences with anxiety and depression, accompanied by her comments about her journey. The drawings are beautiful and I found some of them especially compelling. It was really, really interesting to see how another person used Alice in Wonderland to represent their anxiety, especially as it’s very different to mine. So, although my song – my art – turned out very differently to Oloy’s book – her art – it was a really cool experience and I’m grateful to have found the book. My only quibble is that there are quite a few spelling and grammar mistakes.

You Are Helping This Great Universe Explode by Hannah Emerson – In my search for art made by autistic women, I came across Hannah Emerson’s work. I read this book and it was a very strange experience: I could see myself in almost every poem. As a writer myself, I struggled a bit with the flow of the lines but I really liked the content. Some of the poems, I just fell in love with: ‘My Name Begins Again,’ ‘I Live in the Woods of My Words,’ ‘A Blue Sound,’ ‘Musibility,’ ‘Peripheral,’ ‘The Path of Please,’ ‘Animal Ear,’ and ‘All that Spreads Out Before Us.’ Some of them resonated so powerfully that it’s like they were written from my own thoughts.

Uncommon Minds: A Collection of Poetry and Prose Created by Individuals with Autism by Cynthia Drucker – Continuing my search for work by female autistic artists, I read all of the pieces written by women and while all of them were interesting, there were definitely some stand outs for me. I loved ‘What I saw’ and ‘The Unspoken’ by Kitt McKenzie Martin, ‘A Meeting of Two Minds’ by Alis Rowe, ‘The Emotions Inside of Me’ by Sarah Rollins, and ‘My Head, My Life, My Me’ and ‘Alone’ by Cilinda Atkins. But I think my favourites were ‘Stuffed Animals’ and ‘Poetry is Dead’ by Maranda Russell; I just really resonated with her emotional response to the things she was writing about and I liked the flow of her words, smooth and comfortable. That’s always something that’s really important to me in writing, especially in lyrics and poetry. The works weren’t all about Autism but I could feel the autistic influence in all of them, although I obviously don’t know whether that’s because I’m autistic and/or because it’s an anthology specifically dedicated to work by autistic writers.

Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison – After all this time, I must’ve read the whole thing; it has been a course text for five of the last seven years of my life. I may not have read it in chronological order but I’m pretty sure I have read everything in it at least once. I have learnt so much from it and even if I don’t feel like a technique is right for me and my writing style, that’s still helpful information; the more I learn, the more clarity I have about my songwriting and about myself as a songwriter.

Feel Your Way Through by Kelsea Ballerini – I have mixed feelings about this book. I love Kelsea Ballerini’s songwriting but I wasn’t sure how her skill in one form of writing would translate to another. The thing that really jumped out at me was how much I struggled to find the rhythm of the poems; as I read them, there always seemed to be too many syllables at the end of a line, or not enough. I found that lack of flow – or my inability to find it – frustrating. And a bit odd since I’ve always loved the rhythms in her melodies. I think she covered some really important topics, like eating disorders in ‘Kangaroo’ and PTSD in ‘His Name Was Ryan’ (I kind of don’t like that ‘His Name Was Ryan’ rhymed; I just feel like something so tragic and devastating and life altering shouldn’t fit into neat lines and structured rhyme scheme but that’s me and my writing style) and I think it was really brave of her to talk about these things so openly when she has such a high profile. Sharing poetry as a poet and sharing poetry as a public figure is very different, even if the poetry itself should be judged the same; people know you as a person, not just a writer. I think the poems are a mixed bag: I found some of them quite clichéd (‘When It Rains’ and ‘Put The Camera Down’), there were some that I really liked the concept of but not so much the execution (‘Never Burn The Book,’ ‘You Are Where You’re From,’ and ‘You’ll Always Have Me’), and then there were some I really liked (my favourites were probably ‘If I Had a Sister,’ ‘You’ll Always Have Me,’ ‘Role Model,’ ‘The Right Side of History,’ ‘The Driver,’ ‘Permanent,’ ‘The Little Things,’ ‘Isn’t It Sad,’ ‘Music,’ ‘Nashville,’ ‘Aesthetically Pleasing’ (I think the concept of ‘our lives aren’t the highlight reels you see on social media’ is a bit of cliché but I love how she’s written it), ‘Showing Up’ (again, the concept is a little clichéd but the imagery she uses to discuss the idea are really compelling), ‘My Mother,’ and ‘Cheers.’) There were places where the language irritated me a bit: I find most descriptions of blood too flowery and phrases like “cotton caress” (‘Learning To Love Me’) and “peeved at the pain” (‘A Rose’) kind of made me cringe, as well as the use of words like ‘spirit’ and ‘beauty.’ But these are all personal things. I thought there were some really gorgeous lines and images too, like “catch your breath in a reality of three broken hearts” (The Cheerleading Team), “my best kept secret, my worst kept habit” (Kangaroo), “and if you think it’s wrong / to walk tall in my shoes / and won’t sing along / to those parts of me too / then maybe i’m not / the role model for you” (Role Model), “sing loud for this town, but it’s not “this town” enough” (Aesthetically Pleasing),  “if you’ve made it this far / and turn back around / you’re leaving with my heart” (If You’ve Made It This Far), “i’d watch her hate her body / fight daily with her blue jeans / yell fuck you at the mirror” (If I Had a Sister), “my roots and my wings / have grown intertwined” (Holding Me Back), “the tangled teenage atmosphere” (His Name Was Ryan), “the scrunched-nosed / faces of constellations” (Not My Age), “it was all gasoline / on my wildfire / coughing up ashes / as melodies / covered in / smokey magic” (Nashville), “the sky at golden hour when the blue becomes undressed / then bronze and untamed yellows swallow up the rest” (Put The Camera Down), and many more.

Note: There was a lot of reading for my Masters but I haven’t included that here, save for a few important books. And between all of the reading for university and my ongoing inability to get into fiction, I’ve been reading a lot of fanfiction, the familiar worlds and characters making it easier to get past whatever it is that’s making reading so hard. I’ve read some amazing work; maybe I’ll make a separate post for them one day.


Ava – What could’ve been a cliché awesome-female-assassin-grows-a-conscious film (a cliché I am NOT tired of by the way) was anything but. The characters were interesting and multi-faceted, their interactions were often complicated but never lost their sincerity, and the way the story played out was so engaging that any thoughts of cliché disappeared almost immediately. I loved Ava herself and Jessica Chastain’s performance was incredible, from the emotional, vulnerable scenes to the intense and suspenseful action sequences. As her past and difficult family dynamic are revealed, we understand her even more and I was completely invested in her story within the first half hour. I’ve since seen that it’s had mixed reviews but I really enjoyed it and loved Chastain as Ava as well as John Malkovich as her mentor and handler, Duke.

The Dig – Based on a true story, the film begins in 1939 when Edith Pretty hires Basil Brown, a skilled archeologist, to excavate the burial grounds on the land around her home in Sutton Hoo. With the war looming, Brown is strongly encouraged to work on sites deemed more important but both he and Edith believe that the mounds could be Anglo-Saxon, making anything found a significant discovery, but due to his lack of traditional education, he is ignored. Edith is also pressured to let him work on the other sites but she leaves the choice up to Brown and he chooses to stay. The story follows his discoveries, the media attention they draw, and the conflicts that arise when another team is brought in when the site is declared one of national importance, as well as Brown’s relationship with Edith, whose health is deteriorating, and her young son, Robert, who has grown very attached to him, all as the country hovers on the brink of war. I loved it. Even though it was ultimately very sad (I admit, I cried multiple times), it was also very human and there was something really life affirming about it, something that I think came largely from the characters and how they and their relationships were portrayed: I loved the respect that Edith and Basil had for one another; I loved how attached Robert got to Basil and how Basil was never anything but kind and generous towards him; I loved how Basil’s wife seemed to understand him so deeply despite his somewhat awkward and reserved nature; and I loved the care Edith showed Peggy, help without expected reciprocity, advice without judgement, and so on. The kindness we see time and again was very moving. The cinematography was also gorgeous and it had some beautiful dialogue. One of my favourite quotes was, “From the first human handprint on a cave wall, we’re part of something continuous.” I was still curious about the story when the film ended so (when I finished crying,) I did some reading about the real story: there are a handful of differences (especially as the film was based on the book of the same name by John Preston, rather than the true events themselves) but the one that really frustrated me was the misrepresentation of Peggy (Piggott, one of the archeologists): she was much more experienced than she was portrayed to be and the fictional romantic storyline felt rather insulting when we have no reason to doubt her marriage, although credit to the actress for bringing the emotional journey to life so beautifully. So that was annoying but aside from that… yeah, I loved it.

The Girl on the Train – While I wouldn’t consider this film life-changing, I was really pulled into the thriller-mystery element, especially the twist that puts the whole story in a new perspective. I loved Emily Blunt in this role; I thought she was phenomenal. The intensity – the pain, the rage, the turmoil – she brought to the character was incredible and just so compelling. But there was also the inner strength that kept her going and searching for answers despite the odds being stacked against her. As much as I enjoyed the way the story unfolded, the way we learned more about the characters and how that changed the whole picture, I think it was Emily Blunt’s commitment to the role that really brings the film to life.

A Lonely Place To Die – After a group of mountaineers find an abducted little girl hidden underground during a climbing trip, they attempt to rescue her only to become targets themselves when her captors realise she’s gone. When I randomly chose this film on BBC iPlayer, I wasn’t looking for anything more than a distraction but I ended up getting hooked. I really liked Alison, played by Melissa George, and I liked her (and the rest of the group’s) interaction with the little girl despite the fact that she didn’t speak English. It wasn’t the best film ever but it was tense and emotional and pretty well paced considering it was essentially a really long chase scene. I’ve seen some pretty negative reviews and while I can understand some of the criticisms, I disagree that there was no character exploration or growth. For some there wasn’t much because of how the story played out but I think there was a pretty remarkable amount considering the whole story took place over approximately forty eight hours. One of the guys, for example, who takes nothing seriously grows up fast, becoming cautious (to the point of life-saving paranoia), selfless, and fiercely protective. Personally, my only real criticism was that it ended very suddenly: I felt like the story wasn’t quite finished. The chase was over, yes, but the story wasn’t resolved and I found that annoying and kind of anti-climactic. Warning for some pretty graphic violence so don’t watch if that’s problematic for you (I’ve seen worse but there were some scenes that I did struggle with).

Moana – I finally watched Moana and I just fell in love. I’m sure I’ll be watching it again and again in the future. I loved the animation: it was absolutely stunning. I especially loved Te Kā and Moana’s grandmother as a manta ray; I thought they were just beautiful. The music was gorgeous and so catchy and uplifting. And the humour was brilliant (it reminded me a bit of The Emperor’s New Groove and The Road To El Dorado in that sense). The ‘David Bowie crab’ cracked me up in particular. I really loved it. It was lovely and meaningful without requiring too much emotional energy, perfect for the stressful time I was going through.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? – This film had been on my list for a while. While I felt like it was a bit slow, I found the story really interesting and I liked the main character, Lee Israel; I found it fascinating how she could so naturally slip in and out of other people’s voices and do it so realistically that, for a long time, no one had any idea. I’ve struggled with Melissa McCarthy in the past but I think that’s mostly due to the fact that I’ve really only seen her in comedy, a genre I struggle with anyway. But I thought she was great in this. I thought it was a good film but I couldn’t truly enjoy it after her beloved cat died. It was so sad and the acting was incredible but – personally – it’s one of those things that I find very difficult to watch and very difficult to forgive in a film, even if that’s not the most adult approach to take; while moments like these can be fundamental to telling a good story – like in this case – it’s just a very raw nerve for me. Despite that upsetting turn of events, I thought the end was a good one. I was glad that she was writing again and that she had a new kitten to love and her response to finding one of her forged Dorothy Parker letters for sale was a beautiful full circle moment because of course she would write to the seller as Parker to refute it’s validity. It was the perfect end. And, last but not least, I loved the inclusion of the facts about the real people (it is based on a true story after all) during the credits. Having gotten to know the fictional versions of them, which I assume the foundations of at least are true to the real people, these little facts were beautiful splashes of colour that just made them that much more real, made me feel like I understood them that bit better.

Destroyer – This wasn’t a film that I instantly fell in love with. In fact, I struggled with it for quite a long time: it felt like a pretty big stretch that a police officer who was that much of a mess (and must’ve been for a considerable period of time since the triggering traumatic event was sixteen years previous) was still on the job; the make up used to age up Nicole Kidman was somewhat extreme, making her look like a walking corpse; the somewhat repetitive ‘find one person who leads to finding the next person and repeat’ middle of the story started to feel a bit tedious. But the reason I mention it is because the performances were fantastic: Chris (played by Sebastian Stan), while only appearing in flashbacks, is warm but with an intensity to him that we see most when he interacts with main character Erin Bell (played by Nicole Kidman), a relationship that feels as important to us, the audience, as it is to the narrative; the most obvious villain, Silus, flirts with danger like it’s all a hilarious game, meaningless to someone like him who’s so high above it all; Shelby, Erin’s teenage daughter, is all sharp edges and fierce animosity but underneath all of that is just a kid who doesn’t understand why her mother won’t let her in. And, of course, there’s Nicole Kidman playing police officer, Erin, who is so clearly carrying trauma that it’s like watching a human being walk around with every bone broken. You could almost feel the weight of her guilt, how it was slowly crushing her, and how the only things that seemed to keep her pushing back were her need for vengeance and her messy attempts to keep her daughter on the right path. Despite the somewhat uneven narrative, the performances were utterly compelling, especially during the more emotional scenes. But it was the end of the film that really got me: one last powerful mother-daughter exchange, one quick and cold act of revenge, and the startling revelation that the storytelling was not, in fact, linear. We actually began at the end or, as director Karyn Kusama describes it, “what we are really seeing is that the detective is hunting herself.” (x). With all of the strings apparently tied up, the ending almost opens up before shrinking right back down. It’s an emotional minefield with no obvious finish line. Oh, and the appearances of both Tatiana Maslany and, briefly, Natalia Cordorva-Buckley were exciting surprises.

Charlie’s Angels – I really enjoyed this film. I loved the cast, especially Kristen Stewart as Sabina and Ella Balinska as Jane (oh, and Sam Caflin had me laughing out loud in almost every scene – his high pitched “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?!” was hilarious). I loved the friendship between the main three (Sabina, Jane, and Elena, played by Stewart, Balinska, and Naomi Scott respectively) and I thought their chemistry was great; all of their interactions felt really genuine and they were so funny together. It must’ve been great fun. The stunts were fantastic, especially Jane’s (the early car chase is awesome) but then I am a sucker for slick action sequences. I got a little confused by the plot at certain points but it all came together at the end. It also had a cool end sequence with some great guest appearances.

A Quiet Place – I’ve wanted to watch this film for ages and although I’m not a fan of horror films, I do love a good alien film, especially if there’s an interesting twist involving said aliens. I love these aliens (I think they’re fascinating – they kind of remind me of the future predator in Primeval) and I loved how creative the characters were when it came to adapting their lives, minimising noise and communicating soundlessly (apart from the signing – like the lights strung around the property). After a while, I got so used to the world and the silence that it was actively weird when they did talk. I thought the acting was superb and I loved the different relationships within the family, particularly between the father, Lee, and daughter, Regan. And I loved that the film ended in such a way that the sequel, while taking places in the same world, would be very different because the circumstances had dramatically changed. But I love this film just as much for what was going on behind the scenes. Director John Krasinski said that hiring a deaf actress to play Regan, a deaf character, was “non-negotiable” (which is very progressive – it’s still very rare to find a disabled character played by a disabled actor) and Millicent Simmonds was cast for the part (x). An ASL expert was hired to teach the cast to sign and then to be on set for corrections and to help when script changes were made; Simmonds also had an interpreter on set and while the cast were taught to sign for their roles, many of the crew also started to learn (x). Beyond just accommodating Simmonds, the film, and Krasinski in particular, were eager to hear Simmonds’ experiences and input and there were multiple changes made based on her suggestions, including the fight between Regan and her father (where Simmonds felt Regan should rebel against rather than submit to her father) and the addition of the father signing, “I have always loved you,” in reference to earlier events and conversations in the film (a suggestion that made Krasinski cry) (x) (x). Simmonds was also a driving force behind the authenticity of the signing, both in its fluency and the personal style of each character’s signing (the father’s being “immediate and direct,” matching his survivalist attitude and the mother’s being “more affectionate,” reflecting her warmer nature and so on) (x) (x). Having a deaf character played by a deaf actor is such important representation and her experience as a deaf person (and the film being willing to embrace her input) has added so much more depth to the film than would’ve been possible had they hired a hearing actor, something that the rest of the industry would do well to learn from. It’s not perfect but it is a big step forward in terms of representation. 

A Quiet Place Part II – I loved this film just as much as the first one. I loved that we got to see how it all began (and it was nice to see John Krasinski in it again, even if just for that scene) but I also really liked how they managed to move the story along. I liked the way they managed to bring in a new character without him feeling new – Emmett, a friend from before the creatures arrived – and how natural all of the relationships felt. Given how much of the first film was about the parents trying to protect the children, I liked the contrast here where the kids were more autonomous and were more active in the plot: Regan leaving to find the working radio station so that she could broadcast the signal from her cochlear implant and Marcus protecting their mother and the new baby. And I was also really moved by the relationship between Emmett and Regan – particularly given that he’s a father who’s lost his children and she’s a daughter who’s just recently lost her father – as they try to reach the radio station; it felt very complex and emotional, which was fitting given the story. The tension in the second half of the film was almost unbearable, with everyone in precarious situations, and the finale was amazing: the whole sequence was stunning – the acting, the direction, the music, the editing. I loved it. And again, the film has ended with them in an entirely different situation to how it began, giving them another opportunity to tell a new story in this world. I’m particularly intrigued by the creatures, given that they seem to kill everything that makes a sound but they don’t eat everything they kill. So, is sound painful to them or are they – as someone on Tumblr put it – “just arseholes”?


Spinning Out (Season 1) – I really, really liked this show. Figure skating isn’t something I’m familiar with but it was beautiful to watch and I really enjoyed seeing what goes into a routine. I instantly connected with Kat, considering her mental health issues – how they affect her life and the lives of those around her, how she attempts to manage her life, how they keep her constantly questioning herself and her instincts and her future – and although, it was a somewhat obvious storyline for her to descend into a manic episode, I could relate to how it happened: how the pressure to perform prompted her to start cutting down her medication (I’ve been there, although for different reasons). And not only did she have her mental illness to manage, she had the PTSD from her previous fall to contend with: I really liked how they showed her working through that, although it was probably a bit straightforward and simplistic. The show definitely emphasised the pressure of a career in these sports, the intensity of the training leaving the skaters with very little normal life to fall back on. I also thought the family relationships, romantic relationships, and professional relationships made for interesting, thought-provoking, and emotive storylines, as did ongoing issues of race and poverty. There were multiple twists that I didn’t see coming and I also loved the music choices throughout the season. So, yeah, I really enjoyed it and I’m gutted that it was cancelled; I feel like there was still a lot of potential for the storylines and character arcs.

The Wilds (Season 1) – If you’ve seen this show, you know how complex and layered and confusing it is. A basic synopsis is that, when a plane crashes into the ocean, a group of teenage girls headed to a retreat are stranded on a deserted island. Despite very different backgrounds and clashing personalities, they have to work together to survive long enough for rescue to arrive. But when certain implausible things start to happen, some of the girls start to get suspicious that there may be more going on than they originally thought. While the main storyline revolves around the girls’ time on the island, we also witness flashbacks to what led to them boarding that plane and flashforwards to the investigation after the girls are rescued. I thought the island storyline was the strongest, although the flashbacks were very emotionally powerful. My frustration with it was that even though more and more questions arose, very few were ever definitively answered. Thankfully there’s a second season coming so hopefully some of those questions will be answered.

New Amsterdam (Seasons 1 and 2) – Despite the fairly unrealistic speed at which they manage to get significant changes made, I really enjoyed the show. It was just the right mix of drama and restoring-my-faith-in-humanity, perfect for the headspace I was in at the time. I loved Max for his boundless optimism and drive to help in whatever way he could; I loved Helen, loved the way she handles Max and the evolution of her character throughout the show; I loved Lauren and how competent and self aware she was despite a lifetime of trauma… I loved the through line about Luna, in its various different forms. Although, as a drama, there’s a lot of sad and hard moments, it’s really uplifting and I really enjoy the experience of watching it.

The One (Season 1) – I really can’t say much about this show without giving away something really important but oh my god. It’s based around a matchmaking service that has completely changed society in just a few years, created by two scientists who discovered a way of determining a person’s one true love, their ‘match,’ through DNA. Now CEO, the fierce and charismatic Rebecca Webb, seems to have it all, that is until the body of a friend she reported missing is found in a river. It took me a couple of episodes to really get into it but then I was hooked, mostly, I think, due to the constantly zigzagging plot and the incredible performances from the cast, especially those of Hannah Ware, who played Rebecca, and Zoë Tapper, who played Kate Saunders, the police officer investigating the death of Rebecca’s friend. I have so many thoughts about this show, from how interesting the effect of this matchmaking service on society is to how different and layered and flawed the female characters were; the most powerful scenes were often between the women. Or at least I thought so. I also found the scientific aspect of it fascinating, although I admit I have no idea how much of it is scientifically accurate or not (this statement will make more sense if you watch it, I promise). Definitely recommend.

Unforgotten (Series 4) – I was so excited for the return of Unforgotten. I love Nicola Walker and I love her as Cassie Stuart. I also love Sanjeev Bhaskar as her partner, Sunny Khan. So, as I said, I was really excited for the new series. But I have to admit, I really struggled with it: Cassie was so angry about being forced back to work and hurting over everything going on at home. It was upsetting to watch. I found the case fascinating and I was starting to feel like everything might be okay, like Cassie might be okay, and then, suddenly, she was gone. I was utterly heartbroken and it actually triggered a period of depression. What can I say? My favourite fictional characters mean a lot to me. The show has been renewed for another series but, as much as I love Sunny, I don’t know if I’ll be able to watch it without Cassie. I was (and still am) really upset about how brutal that final episode was; killing Cassie (at all, but especially the way they did) honestly feels like an unnecessarily cruel way to end her story and I just don’t know if I can get over it. It’s already turned a show I loved and a show that brought me comfort into something that feels upsetting and painful. So I really don’t know.

Quantico (Season 3) – After rewatching Seasons 1 and 2, I decided to try Season 3 (I hadn’t previously watched it because I’d really liked the end of Season 2 and hadn’t really wanted any more). I have to admit that, for the first few episodes, I really wasn’t sure whether I’d made the right decision: I wasn’t convinced by Ryan and Shelby as a couple, the single story per episode format, Mike McQuigg as a character, etc. But gradually, I got into the swing of it and started to really enjoy it. I found myself really rooting for Ryan and Shelby and I ended up loving McQuigg. I really liked the series of stand-alone stories that turned into a longer story arc (although I found Timothy Murphy playing almost exactly the same character as he did in Criminal Minds surreal and somewhat confusing – part of me wondered if they took (a little too much) inspiration from that story); I thought the shift played out very smoothly. I liked the new team and their dynamic; I loved their loft; and I thought Priyanka Chopra’s acting in particular was just stunning throughout the series. The one thing that just didn’t make sense to me though was Jocelyn Turner as a deaf FBI field agent. I really liked her as a character and having her teach at Quantico and even consult on cases where her prior work could provide invaluable insight seems possible but as an agent in the field, it seemed unlikely and unrealistic. I’m not deaf or hard of hearing so I can’t and don’t want to speak for the community but the portrayal of her deafness seemed fairly simplistic. For example, other than one group argument where she stops them because she can’t keep up with them, it’s never addressed again, even when similar situations occur at least once an episode. And it seems unlikely that she wouldn’t notice when a team of men smash through the glass ceiling and start a gunfight using automatic weapons while her back was turned. The writing felt somewhat lazy in this regard. Overall though, I found it enjoyable and I am really glad I gave it a chance. I don’t know how I feel about the show being cancelled – whether I think it should’ve gone on longer or if it feels like the right place to have ended it – but I’m sad we didn’t get closure on the strings left untied.

Lucifer (Season 5: Part 2) – I loved the second half of the season. Everyone’s reaction to God was freaking hilarious (Trixie and God were just adorable) and I just loved the family dynamics of the celestials; it was so dysfunctional and childish but with powers that could easily cause natural disasters if they weren’t careful. The musical episode was bonkers but utterly hilarious. I think my favourite song was ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ – Lucifer/Tom Ellis is such an incredible singer – and the performance was just so incredible and so sad. ‘Wicked Game’ was really good too and although I didn’t particularly like the songs chosen for the mash up, having a mash up with Ella and Maze was very cool. I’m glad they made ‘Every Breath You Take’ creepy because it really, really is (although the Denmark + Winter version is even creepier) but the revelation that Lucifer thought he wasn’t capable of love was so sad. Maze had a really interesting story line with the revelation that she could grow a soul and the idea that she could be the Queen of Hell – go, girl! I found the idea of Chloe leaving the police weird and kind of jarring but the whole final arc of the season was incredible (having said that, I found the episode, Daniel Espinosa: Naked and Afraid, kind of tedious but to be fair, the ending was fucking hysterical). And on that note, I never thought I would love Dan so much, never thought I’d be so sad to see him die. His fight for his life was incredible and for a moment, I really thought it would be enough. But of course it wasn’t. The scene in the hospital with Chloe and Trixie and Maze and Lucifer was just heartbreaking. I was in tears; it brought up a lot of personal stuff and I haven’t been able to watch it since. I know Amenadiel said he wasn’t in Heaven but I’m not convinced that that means he’s in Hell; I think that’s a story coming for us in the next season. The funeral had me in tears again: Amenadiel’s speech and Ella and Lucifer singing was so emotional. And to have that mixed in with Maze and Lucifer ruthlessly taking out the men responsible, Maze clearing Lucifer’s path like they were nothing, was kind of breathtaking. I don’t quite know what I was expecting Lucifer to do but simply whisper something in the killer’s ear and walk away, leaving him sobbing on the floor, was not it. I’m desperate to know what he said but not knowing is probably more powerful than anything they could reveal. And so Lucifer’s going to war against his siblings to become god. The resulting final sequence was amazing, somehow managing to move through the whole spectrum of emotions. There were hilarious moments, like Michael dramatically declaring himself god and nothing happening and our team doing a weird little dance to give Maze more time. And there were the epic moments, like Chloe – having been gifted one of Maze’s knives – shooting out the angels’ wings with bullets made from the melted down knife and Maze’s shriek-worthy dramatic entrance. And while the acting has been incredible throughout the season, from the moment Azriel appears, every performance is just stellar: Lucifer’s heartbreaking despair and Maze’s fury pushing her beyond even Amenadiel’s reasoning, just as a couple of examples. The whole sequence in Heaven – Lee showing up again (!) with his big revelations, Chloe getting to see her Dad, Lucifer finally telling Chloe that he loves her, the story of Lilith’s ring coming full circle – is fantastic. The final scene is epic and I’m desperate to know what happens next.

Cruel Summer (Season 1) – Cruel Summer wasn’t exactly a relaxing watch; for the most part, I think I ended up watching just to find out the answers that wouldn’t come until the finale episode. While I think the jumping between three timelines was a very effective storytelling technique for a show about truth, lies, and the perception of both, I struggled with it as a viewer. At first it annoyed me because I kept getting confused about what was happening and why (I don’t think that was helped by all of the subplots throughout the show) but what really bothered me about it was that it was impossible to form your own opinions about the characters because you didn’t have all of the information you needed in order to do so; how you felt about the characters was determined by the show itself and the specific moments it allowed you to see. I didn’t like that; I didn’t like feeling manipulated. And I think that fed into one of my biggest issues with the show: I didn’t really like any of the characters that much and some of them, I deeply disliked. Something always felt really off about Jeanette (her obsession with Kate just got more and more creepy); I did not like her mother, but then I didn’t like Sarah Drew in Grey’s Anatomy and separating them wasn’t exactly easy given that they weren’t that different personality wise but seriously, she just abandoned her family when things got tough; Kate’s mother was a complete horror show; Martin Harris was obviously horrifying, although I wonder if he would’ve seemed so creepy had we not known that he was Kate’s kidnapper from episode one; and I thought Mallory was a bitch in 1993, still annoying in 1994, and I was only starting to like her in 1995, mainly because of everything she did to help Kate, like being her buffer on her birthday to insure she had a good day. I liked Vince but we didn’t see much of him and I felt for Jamie in the 1995 timeline. I guess I liked Kate the best although, having said that, I still can’t get over how, in the early days, she was perfectly content to stay at Harris’ house, regardless of how worried she must’ve known her family and friends would be. I know he manipulated and groomed her (a story that was really important to tell and one I think they told really well) but she didn’t seem to care or even think about how devastated they would be by her disappearance. But despite that, I found her the most likeable and her storyline the most engaging: she went through so much trauma and watching her cope with and work through it (with all of the ups and downs) got me invested in her, making her final scene so joyful and satisfying.

I think the final twist was very interesting. My initial reaction was “Oh my god! What an amazing end, what an amazing twist!” and yes, it was a massive twist to find out that Jeanette had known where Kate was even though she’d technically never lied – it was true that she’d never seen Kate. But after thinking about it and thinking about it in the context of the show, I’m actually kind of disappointed by it and how it changed the story. I think ending with neither of them intentionally lying but telling the truth according to the information they had made a really important statement about truth and our personal interpretations of it, a huge theme of the show. There were no villains (in that situation – Martin Harris was obviously a villain), just fallible, emotional human beings. And revealing that Jeanette was actually lying all along ruined that. Instead she’s a heartless villain, manipulating everyone around her to get attention, to be seen as the victim (after Kate’s accusations) and then as the kind, forgiving, and admired survivor (after her appearance on TV); after all, she forgave Kate and chose not to take her family’s money… Up until that final scene, she was unpleasant and creepy but the twist scene seemed to be the show implying something much worse. I don’t know if I’ll watch Season 2. I think it will massively depend on what story they choose to tell and how that story is set up.

The Chair (Season 1) – I love Sandra Oh. She’s just fantastic (and I have massive hair envy). I’ve loved her in everything I’ve seen her in and this was no exception. For the most part, I thought the show was great: the acting was brilliant, the humour was great, and it dealt with some really important issues. Having said that, I did feel like it tried to tackle a few too many issues and stories in just six half-hour episodes; even ten half-hour episodes would have allowed it to explore and pace the stories a little better. It was just a lot and a lot very fast. But it was very enjoyable with some great performances and unravelling of stories. Also I think it has one of the best opening scenes of any TV show I’ve ever seen:

Believe (Season 1) – This isn’t quite a new watch because I watched it back in 2016 when it first aired but I could barely remember any of it so, apart from a handful of scenes, it felt like a new watch. I just remember really enjoying it so I wanted to see it again and it was great to basically experience it as a new story despite having seen it before. The story revolves around Bo Adams, a ten year old girl with psychic abilities that are still relatively unexplored that she only has a certain amount of control over. On the run from the organisation, Orchestra, that raised her just to exploit her abilities and protected by a small but dedicated team, Bo is reunited with her father (although neither of them are aware of this fact upon meeting) and, as they continue to dodge Orchestra, she learns more about the scope of her abilities and how to control them. Her frequent visions often get them into trouble: Bo is determined to help the people she sees, regardless of the danger it might put her in, which results in her meeting some interesting people. There was definitely potential set up for a bigger story, one that included those characters, but then the show was cancelled after one season. It didn’t get particularly high ratings (I think it would’ve done a lot better if it hadn’t been scheduled opposite Game of Thrones – it didn’t really stand a chance) but I really enjoyed it. I loved Bo and I loved her relationship with Tate, before and after they found out he was her father; they were completely adorable. It still makes me sad that we didn’t get more of what could’ve been a really interesting story.

Vigil (Series 1) – I love Suranne Jones and having loved her as Rachel Bailey in Scott & Bailey, it made me very happy to see her as a DCI (Rachel’s dream) in this show. Her character on this show, DCI Amy Silva, is sent to investigate a murder on a Navy submarine. While navigating (no pun intended) an uncooperative and secretive crew, she’s also trying to manage some pretty traumatic personal issues, which have only become more difficult given that she’s been so suddenly cut off from her coping mechanisms. She’s tough and fierce as hell when she needs to be but she’s also hanging on by a thread, trying to keep everything together. I was deeply attached to her by the end of episode one and I found the storyline of her coping with and working through her trauma the most impactful of the show. While it was somewhat extreme (I know many felt the show could be ridiculous at times – personally, I’m just happy to get lost in the story and suspend my disbelief), seeing her trapped in the torpedo tube, reliving her biggest trauma, and thinking of her daughter and ex-girlfriend in what she thought were her last moments was very powerful emotionally, which I think was mostly down to Suranne Jones’ superb acting. It was a great relief to see her rescued and the takedown of the true villain was very satisfying; I liked that we got to see how personally the crew took the betrayal and how unified they were during the takedown sequence. And while I was never super passionate about Amy and Kirsten as a couple, I did like them together and I thought the scene where they finally got to talk and Amy was finally able to say the words “I love you” was really powerful; I thought it was beautiful writing and really stunning acting. And I loved the moment when Amy and her daughter, Poppy, were reunited; I will admit to getting a bit emotional over that scene. No doubt, Amy thought she’d never see her again so it was all the more emotional; they were just so adorable and you could just see how much they loved each other. I would happily watch a show where the three of them are just a cute little domestic unit. I also thought the larger ending – the political and societal ending – was very fitting. So, to sum up my thoughts, while the story might’ve been somewhat overdramatic at certain points, I really, really enjoyed it and I think that was largely down to Suranne Jones and her incredible acting. Yes, I am a fangirl. But I really do think she was great in this role and I can’t wait to see what she does next; and in the meantime, I’m going to go back and watch the things she’s been in that I haven’t already seen (and probably some I have too).

Girls5Eva (Season 1) – I have to admit, I found this show pretty weird. I always want to love everything Sara Bareilles is involved in but I can’t say that I loved this (although that doesn’t come as a huge surprise since comedy isn’t generally my thing). There were things that I liked: I found all of the digs at the music industry and all of the examples of how shitty it can be hilarious (because, damn, someone needs to call them on it). And of the four main characters, Dawn (Sara’s character) was my favourite and I sometimes liked Wickie (played by Renée Elise Goldsberry) but mostly, I found them too outlandish and caricatured. I did find some of it really funny but then some of it really made me cringe so it was a bit of a mixed bag. Having said that, I did love the end where they performed at the Jingle Ball and how the young rapper that brought their hit back to prominence kept security from kicking them out at least until they’d finished their song. I really enjoyed the song, ‘4 Stars,’ and I also found Dawn’s first attempt at writing – ‘I’m Afraid’ – utterly hysterical. I’m not sure if I’d watch another season or not (I saw that they’ve been renewed for a second season): it was just a bit ridiculous for me as much as I loved the main concept and love Sara Bareilles.

Harrow (Series 1-3) – I love Ioan Grufford so I was very excited to discover this show. I watched all three seasons one after another and have rewatched it multiple times since; it’s become one of my comfort shows, a safe world to escape into when the world feels too overwhelming. Set in Brisbane, Australia, Dr Daniel Harrow is a workaholic pathologist, irreverent, highly intelligent, and always sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. The whole cast is excellent and the relationships between the characters are great: Harrow and trainee-pathologist, Simon, make a hilarious double act; Scenes of Crime Officer, Soroya Dass, and Harrow have great chemistry; and Harrow’s relationship with his troubled daughter, Fern, is deeply compelling to watch. Fern’s relationship with her boyfriend, Callan, is incredibly sweet and I love that he calls her ‘Fish,’ that it’s never explained why. The acting was excellent (the standout moments for me were always the ones between Harrow and Fern) and I really liked the episodic nature but with an ongoing, bigger arc. Series 1 follows the case of a mysterious set of bones pulled from the ocean that Harrow is somehow involved with, the tension only increasing as we get closer to the answer. The climax of the series is fantastic and, again, the performances are just incredible. Series 2 picks up where Series 1 left off and we discover that someone is after Harrow, determined to take apart his life as an act of revenge. Part of the fallout from the finale of Series 1 is the relationship between Harrow and Soroya and with her gone, a new character is introduced, a Dr Grace Molyneaux. While I prefer Soroya, I did warm to her and she was definitely a breath of fresh air in the pathology department. The stakes get higher and higher, especially as Harrow’s friends and colleagues doubt his theory as to who is after him, leading to a very intense final episode. But again, the real star is the relationship between Harrow and Fern; their scenes together, especially in that finale episode, just take my breath away. Between a new, business focussed boss and the appearance of Harrow’s son from a long ago relationship, Series 3 does have a different feel to it. A lot has changed. Of the three series, it was probably my least favourite (although that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it): Harrow’s son is a pathological liar and drags everyone into the mess he’s made. Fern is possibly the most frustrating example of this, given how smart she’s been up to this point, and yet, she keeps letting him get away with it. The final episode is incredibly tense but has a great pay off and if it has to end there, I’d be okay with that, although I would, of course, love more from this cast. They’re all consistently great and the interactions feel so natural and real and there are some really fantastic moments throughout the series (one of my favourite episodes involves a camping trip that is just one disaster after another). As I said, it’s become one of my favourite shows and one that I consistently return to when I want something that feels familiar and safe and good.

Annika (Series 1) – [So I have a confession to make: I accidentally started watching this in reverse order. Because it was airing over the most stressful part of my Masters, I’d recorded it and when I went to the My Shows menu, I didn’t realise that the episodes were listed in reverse order (I mean, what? Nowhere else do they list things in any order but chronological, do they?) and I got through the last and the penultimate episodes before I figured out why it was kind of confusing. It didn’t not work though so I stand by it not being completely ridiculous (but yes, still pretty ridiculous). So, having seen those last two episodes, I went back and started from the beginning but it did change my watching experience of it so I feel like it was important to mention.] Initially, I found the format of Nicola Walker / Annika talking to the camera kind of weird and jarring (I did feel like, with her detailed knowledge of certain literary works, frequent awkward moments, and jokes that didn’t land, she was autistic coded). I still found her engaging and funny though; I’m not sure I could dislike her in anything. But over time, I got used to it and ended up really enjoying what it added to the show. The references to different pieces of literature, her internal monologue, a pointed statement here and there… it all added to the fabric of the show, making it quite different to anything else I’ve seen. And while the team was super awkward at the beginning (understandably as they’re a brand new unit) and Annika wasn’t exactly a natural boss, they found their rhythm and they became a really solid unit with a really great dynamic. It resulted in some really fun moments, like Annika buying them all candy floss after an arrest at a fairground (resulting in jokes about arranging arrests in other places good for gifts, such as the zoo so that they could all get a penguin) and using desk objects to represent suspects (“My money’s on the stapler.”) during a discussion – the script writers must have had so much fun. Their interactions felt very natural and funny, as was the relationship between Annika and her daughter, Morgan: they were very cute and even though they had their ups and downs, they were really lovely to watch. The final episode was great (and features possibly my favourite line of the series, where Annika says to one of her colleagues, “I’m going to need you constantly available to put that kind of spin on all of my neuroses,” after he explains away her vertigo as a survival instinct) and leaves us with a twist that will certainly affect a second series should it be renewed. I felt it was a somewhat obvious way to take the story but it’s all in the storytelling so we’ll just have to see how they tell it.

Lucifer (Season 6) – I have mixed feelings about this season: it was special because it brought the whole show full circle but it was a bit chaotic and the story didn’t feel as streamlined as it has in previous seasons, with the characters all having pretty separate arcs: Lucifer’s attempts to be worthy of being God; Ella figuring out about the celestials on her own; Dan’s quest to reach heaven (his last conversation with Trixie made me cry); Amendial’s struggle with being a police officer, seeing and experiencing racism everyday; Maze and Eve getting married with the bumps in the road of Adam reappearing (an “absolute pancake of a human,” according to Maze) and Maze’s issues with her family. Lucifer and Chloe’s daughter from the future, Rory, is obviously the biggest storyline and while it did feel a bit rushed, I think it so important to one of the core foundations of the show: Lucifer’s anger at being abandoned by his father. And here, he’s discovering that one day he’ll disappear and never come back. Following that storyline through gives us a lot of emotional and special moments: we get to see Lucifer and Chloe as a real couple (they’re adorable) and see Lucifer and Rory really get to know each other. The tension of the penultimate episode was almost unbearable and as the moment where Lucifer disappears forever bears down on them, Lucifer has some very emotional moments with all of the people important to him. And we finally learn why Lucifer disappears and why he can’t change it, because it’s so much bigger than just them. Chloe and Lucifer’s goodbye is utterly heartbreaking; the acting was amazing (and it was even more emotional, knowing that it was also the two actors saying goodbye to each other and the show, all of the tears genuine). And the music choices were perfect: one I was hoping they’d bring back (yes, I screamed) and one that I’d long given up hoping they’d use. The final episode wasn’t as cohesive as I would’ve liked but then they did have a lot of stories to wrap up but it meant we got to see all of the important moments so I can’t be annoyed about it. I loved that we got to see how everything played out, where everyone ended up (I actually shrieked when it was revealed that Dan and Charlotte were together in heaven, having waffles and pudding – that made me very happy). I thought the final scene(s) was both hilarious and perfect and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (Season 22) – This season felt very tense and raw, moreso than it has in a while; the stories they told were so powerful. The COVID-based stories were gut wrenching: the episode, ‘In The Year We All Fell Down’ – with the restaurant owner taking hostages out of desperation when, after losing pretty much everything, she’s about to lose her restaurant too – was devastating and, I think, one of their best episodes. They really didn’t pull punches in their stories involving racism either, challenging their own biases and the biases of others, encouraging us as viewers to do the same. That’s something that I’ve always admired and respected about SVU: they may not always do things perfectly but they never shy away from stories that are important to tell. The personal stories of the characters were also really compelling and moving. Of course, a big part of the season revolved around Elliot’s reappearance after disappearing from their lives ten years prior. That damaged his relationship with Olivia – the scene where they talk about how he left was heartbreaking and Mariska Hargitay’s acting, particularly in the moment where she says, “You were the single most important person in my life and you just… disappeared,” was incredible – and it’s only complicated further when his wife is murdered. I know he’s been through a lot but I find Elliot endlessly frustrating: he has so many issues that he refuses to deal with, which often results in dragging the people he cares about into the mess with him, and he never learns that lesson. I really don’t like the way he treats Olivia, the way he messes with her emotions and her life: he tells her how important she is to him and then disappears (repeatedly), forces her to clean up after him and make the hard choices, does whatever he wants without regard for how it affects her… And do not get me started on the letter he gave her – that said what they’d meant to each other hadn’t been real – that was actually written by his wife but he still slipped in “But in a parallel universe, it will always be you and I.” He demands too much of her without giving anywhere near enough back. But even though their story took up a lot of time, the other characters are great too. Carisi and Rollins are adorable (I loved the scene where he told her about how bad his parents are at Zoom to cheer her up) and Fin and Phoebe are cute too. I love Kat and don’t think we saw enough of her. I already knew the character was leaving but I couldn’t imagine her lasting long in SVU when every injustice made her so angry; I get it but you can’t die on every single hill. And some of the cases this season were really great too: the death of Olivia’s half brother, Simon, is investigated, which brings up a lot of stuff for Olivia; a child they’d had institutionalised years ago is released and goes on a killing spree (Rollins is awesome in this episode); and, as I mentioned earlier, ‘In The Year We All Fell Down’ are just some that spring to mind. The season ends in a nice place, with the endings of old stories and beginnings of new ones.

New Amsterdam (Season 3) – Beginning the series with a montage of their experiences during the height of COVID, accompanied by ‘What A Wonderful World,’ had me in tears. I’d somehow forgotten how this show reduces me to tears at least once an episode. Their reactions during the height of COVID and then later on when things were better was really emotional (everyone coming together to clap for essential workers always did and still does make me cry) and I thought Helen’s comment about being “scared of normal” – handshakes and hugs and so on – was very relatable. There were a lot of different storylines and arcs going on over the season: I loved Lauren and Leyla’s friendship and then relationship, from Lauren sneaking Leyla in to use the hospital showers to confessing all of her secrets; Max’s tireless attempts to make things better could be a bit over the top but he does usually manage to make good change, even if it isn’t as much change as he or others would like; I found the storyline following Iggy’s eating disorder very triggering (at one point, he says, “It’s the thing about myself that feels most true. How do you stop believing that?” in reference to the connection that has been forged between his weight and his self worth and I really felt that, about a number of things); Luna was adorable but I found myself hating her grandparents and how overly critical they were of Max and I thought the speech he made about how he’ll always fight for Luna was really moving; I thought they played out the story of Iggy’s patient turned stalker really well because it had you feeling so many different emotions throughout the season. And that’s just a handful of them. I love a lot of the main characters (I think Floyd is the only one that irritates me – he’s so fixated on his dream scenario that he won’t accept anything else, even if it has the potential to be just as good) and I love their relationships. I love Lauren and Casey’s relationship in particular: one of my favourite moments was when Casey was hanging out in Lauren’s room while she recovered from chemical exposure, how she woke up and gave him a hug, telling him that he can’t leave because she can’t do this without him. And he just smiles and says he’s not going anywhere but maybe they can dial back the excitement a bit. They’re very cute. I think my favourite episode was ‘Things Fall Apart,’ where there was a chemical spill in the hospital: of course, Lauren didn’t say anything until she actually went blind (temporarily); the scene with Helen and Max in the decontamination shower – silent – was really powerful; and their reunion was acted beautifully too. I loved how the season ended, with Max panicking about his lost wedding ring (I found it very funny – and deeply relatable – when another character tells him to come out from under the table where he’s been looking for it and he says, “Do I have to?”) and the realisation that that leads him to about his life, past and future.

WandaVision – I’m still not sure what I think of WandaVision. I really loved the concept – how, in her grief, Wanda brought Vision back and created a bubble for them to live in, inspired by the TV shows she found comfort in as a child (but accidentally holding the town hostage in order to keep up the illusion) – but I struggled with the different TV show styles; as cute as I thought Wanda and Vision were, I found a lot of it very cringy. I don’t think I started to properly enjoy it until about episode eight, although I thought witches was a bit of a left field concept for Marvel – they’re usually much more science-y. But I thought it was an interesting twist to have another powerful being in the town. I loved learning more about Wanda and seeing the things that have made her who she is: her childhood, her time with Hydra, the aftermath of Endgame. And I was very relieved when she started using her powers again (I love the way she moves when she uses her powers) and her original accent returned; it felt weird without them. I thought the penultimate and final episodes were amazing: Wanda reliving her memories (I loved Wanda and Vision’s conversation about grief and the famed quote – “What is grief if not love persevering?” – still hit hard, even though I knew it was coming), discovering what she’s done to everyone in the town, realising that letting them go will mean she loses everything all over again. The finale is powerful and emotional and heartbreaking, and it really made the show for me. I thought the whole thing was a compelling, moving depiction of grief that I think a lot of people relate to; I know I did.


Creating The Queen’s Gambit – I loved getting a look behind the scenes of The Queen’s Gambit; it was utterly fascinating. They managed to cover a lot in just fourteen minutes. They talked about the show as a whole, about the main themes: “It’s not about a game. It’s about the cost of genius.” Anya Taylor-Joy – the actress who played the central character, Beth – describes it similarly: “It’s a story about how you survive in a world when you have a very specific gift that makes you harder to understand.” I loved how they really dug into the characters, giving some great insights, especially with Beth (unsurprisingly given that she is the main character). I loved just how much Taylor-Joy loved Beth, just how passionate she was about every little detail that made her who she was: “I fell in love with Beth immediately, and there was a really strong kinship.” One of my favourite things she said about her was about her approach to both the world of chess and the world in general: “She just automatically assumes that she is equal.” It’s so true and I found it really powerful; imagine if we all did that? Anyway. Writer and Director Scott Frank was similarly passionate about the character, describing her as “her own antagonist,” which he found fascinating; He said he’d “never read a character like this before. Somebody who is so brilliant and so self-destructive, and in a world that she was already kind of not a part of.” They talked about her addictions, to tranquillisers and later alcohol, but also to winning. Taylor-Joy said she’s “also addicted to winning. She’s addicted to feeling like she is in control,” and Frank concurs, saying, “Chess is the one thing she feels like she can control, that on that board, she’s in charge. Whenever she’s moving those pieces around, she’s at home.” Taylor-Joy also made what I thought was a very astute comment about Beth and the tightrope she’s constantly walking: “Beth is very obsessive, full stop. Like, I think that is just something that is intrinsic to her. When your brain works that quickly, it can drive you a bit mad. But I also think that she is aware that her gift makes her special. I do think she’s, like, consistently worried that she’s a bit crazy… She’s juggling a very fine line of, like, ‘Am I insane or am I a genius?'” I also loved how much thought went into the visuals, from the characters appearances to the sets and so on. When it came to Beth’s appearance, they discussed in depth the hair, make up, and costume details and development, how to show her growing up, and these decisions were ultimately determined by where Beth was in each moment of the story. Taylor-Joy and the hair-and-make-up artist both strongly and individually felt that Beth should be a red head and that was that; they wanted her to stand out, even when she didn’t want to. Taylor-Joy said she would’ve dyed her hair but shooting multiple ages and styles in a day made that just too impractical so it was a series of wigs. Beth goes through a series of different styles, something that was a deliberate choice: Taylor-Joy commented that “What’s fascinating about watching her grow up is that she puts on all of these different personas. It is incredibly sad, because it’s basically just saying that she just doesn’t like she’s enough without them. It’s not a physical loneliness that she’s suffering from. It’s an emotional and intellectual one,” and the costume designer agreed, saying, “her search for cool is actually her search for herself.” They also talked about the final scene with Beth, “finally comfortable in the world of chess,” walking through Moscow in her long white coat and hat, looking just like the white queen. I loved that scene so I loved hearing more about it. And on the topic of visuals, the director described how it was basically impossible to make the chess itself cinematic so they focussed on the stakes of the game and the reactions of the players. They kept the cameras on the characters faces so that the audience, even if they didn’t understand what was happening on the board, would see the way they responded to the moves, feel their emotions in that moment based on their facial expressions and movements. As for the other parts of the show, they talked about how beautiful the sets were and how incredible the attention to detail was. Apparently the entire cast and crew would come to see every set because they were so amazing and so rich in detail. The director said that, after seeing a set, he would often change the scenes in order to incorporate different aspects that the set designers had added because they were just so interesting or cool. I just think that’s amazing (I think, in another life, I could be happy working in this kind of world). The end is really sweet, with Taylor-Joy expressing her great affection for Beth: “Having the opportunity to spend time with Beth in this way, and not just see all of the wins but of the hard work with the sacrifices that it takes to get the wins. I think, hopefully, that just builds a lot of empathy for somebody who I, selfishly, really, really care about.” I love it when actors get really emotionally invested in their characters.

Amidst the Chaos – Live (Again) from the Hollywood Bowl (Sara Bareilles) – I’d wanted to see this tour so badly so I was so happy to see any part of it in any way possible. And I absolutely loved it. Of course. The ‘Orpheus’ opening was utterly perfect and it was so emotional to see Sara perform again, even if it wasn’t in real life. She was hilarious, pretending it was a real show (or, more precisely, a normal show) and talking to the empty seats as if there was an audience there. She can be such an adorable dork. It made me miss seeing her live and she was clearly missing normal shows: “It’s really all about you.” But they – she and her band – still clearly managed to have a good time and that was so fun to watch. I cracked up when Emily King came on and Sara sang, “If you thought there’d be applause, you were wrong, dun, dun.” I love her. Her performances were fantastic but her performance of ‘She Used To Be Mine’ was truly incredible; she really has an extraordinary voice. I find it so amazing that it was the first song she wrote for Waitress: it’s so perfect and so telling of the whole show and yet it was written, presumably, when she was least familiar with the show. While I can’t fully articulate it, I feel like that really says something about both her empathy and her songwriting skill. Anyway, moving on: it was so cool to see her perform with the other women from Girls5Eva and I just loved ‘4 Stars,’ which I hadn’t yet heard. And ‘Brave’ felt like a very fitting end to the show. When she was thanking everyone who made the show possible, she said, “It was a mountain and it was amazing to move mountains with you,” and I just thought that was a beautiful sentiment. It really stuck with me. It was a really special experience to have, especially as I don’t know at this moment in time when I’ll next get to see her perform, so I’m really grateful to her for doing it and to everyone who helped make it a reality.

Friends: The Reunion – I have no problem admitting that I had a big, stupid grin on my face for the whole thing. It just made me so happy. It was super nostalgic to see the six of them come together on these familiar sets and reminisce about specific moments, recreating the scenes, and telling funny stories that even other members of the group didn’t necessarily know. The episode readings were great too: Lisa Kudrow reenacting the “My eyes!” scene was hilarious and it was oddly emotional to watch Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer read the scene where Ross and Rachel first kiss. And it was so lovely to see them all in that living room, playing a real life version of the quiz, watching the bloopers (Matt LeBlanc running into Central Perk only to fall flat on his face and then Matthew Perry copying him on the next take to make everyone laugh, the whole lot of them breaking and cracking up over one of Ben Stiller’s scenes, everyone absolutely losing it over David Schwimmer screaming ‘Pivot!’ over and over again), and taking the piss out of each other. It was also really cool to see the behind-the-scenes footage, especially as someone who started watching Friends after it finished airing, when it had already been established as a cultural moment. It was kind of surreal, seeing them so young and just hanging out on the set and then suddenly there’s all these red carpets and flashing cameras. I can’t quite believe they actually showed the footage of Matt LeBlanc injuring his shoulder but the process of making that episode was really interesting. And the footage from the final episode and the after party is kind of amazing given what a big deal the show was and, to a degree, still is. It’s like a time capsule: how they all hugged long after they said ‘cut,’ celebrating together even as the sets were being dismantled around them, signing the backs of the walls. I also loved hearing from the creators of the show: how the show was based around “that one time in your life when your friends are your family” and how they became family in real life; how the audience’s response to Monica and Chandler getting together in London changed their plan for the story; how they came to the decision that Ross and Rachel would get together in the final episode. They really pulled out all the stops with all of the guests and features, including Tom Selleck, Maggie Wheeler (I loved hearing the story behind Janice’s laugh), Reese Witherspoon, and both Elliott Gould and Christina Pickles, who played Ross and Monica’s parents (the story they told was so sweet: how the cast would say “the parents are here” and how they did feel like their parents, how they worried about them when they weren’t there). And those are just some of the people who appeared on the actual show. Initially, I wasn’t sure about the section where they all sat on a couch, interviewed by James Corden in front of an audience and while the fashion show felt unnecessary (apart from Matt LeBlanc wearing all of Chandler’s clothes again – that was great), it did also facilitate some interesting discussions and revelations that we might not have had otherwise. It was kind of hilarious to hear, after all this time, that they’re all in agreement that Ross and Rachel were on a break. And it was really, really nice to hear where they all thought their characters would be: they’d all have families and Joey would’ve opened a sandwich shop. I know a movie was what everyone was expecting but I don’t think a movie could’ve lived up to expectations. A special like this was just perfect. It ended with them in a huddle, just like they began every episode, just like they ended the show. It was perfect.

Love on the Spectrum (Season 1)(Since the creator/director refers to it as more of a documentary than a reality show, I’m going to do the same, something which makes more sense anyway as the only intervention was the setting up of the dates and the whole point was to document the dating experience of young autistic adults). I watched this as part of my research for my final Masters project, as an example of how real autistic experiences (rather than fictional ones) are represented in media. I’d heard that it had been positively received but knew little about it. I ended up watching the whole thing in one day just to get it over with. I hated it. I appreciated that it wasn’t all about causing drama and that the team had good intentions but ultimately, it was made by neurotypical people for neurotypical people. As one review put it: “For all it’s intent to break stigmas, in observing autistic people rather than putting them in control of the narrative, it falls short.” Watching it, I felt like it was made for neurotypicals to “aww” over whereas every date had me cringing; I found it deeply patronising and infantilising. They’re weirdly reluctant to say ‘autistic person’ or use identity-first language and spend (in my opinion) too much time talking to the parents of autistic adults (something that would not happen with a neurotypical individual and further infantilises autistic adults). It’s also too white and too straight; yes, there is one date shared by two autistic young women but given the growing evidence that a high proportion of the autistic community identify as non-heterosexual, that one date isn’t exactly representative. It spreads misinformation (Olivia states that 95% people on the spectrum don’t find love and it’s framed as a fact when it’s not true at all), reinforces the ‘othering’ of autistic people (treating autistic people as separate from the rest of society), and encourages harmful behaviour in autistic individuals, such as masking: the tutoring and classes (all done by neurotypical people it’s worth noting) all taught these young autistic people how to act neurotypically (while also confusingly telling them to be themselves), something that seemed somewhat pointless when they were only set up with other autistic individuals to date. That was another frustrating aspect: only dates between autistic individuals were set up because, according to them it seems, autistic people only date autistic people, which only intensified the othering factor. It wasn’t exactly encouraging that none of the dates worked out; only couples who were already together were together at the end of the season. Therein was the one bright spot for me: Sharnae and Jimmy. They were just so lovely together and I particularly appreciated the scene where, together, they navigated Jimmy’s near meltdown over having the wrong colour of socks: Sharnae is patient and understanding, they come up with a new plan that involves a detour to get the right coloured socks, and then they go on to have a really special evening. That little moment meant a lot to me, seeing such a healthy and supportive response to problem which helped to prevent it from becoming a bigger problem and ultimately made the day smoother for both of them. But that was the only positive moment for me; everything else about it was a pretty distressing experience. It just made me feel even less hopeful about the possibility of a relationship, pointing out every reason dating feels hard (or even impossible) in harsh, painful detail. Watching the show triggered an episode of depression so, as you can imagine, I have little desire to watch the second season. “What Love on the Spectrum has shown autistic people need, more than anything, is the opportunity to tell our own stories, to not be observed and fetishised. I hope other producers will learn from their mistakes and put us in charge – we understand ourselves, and each other, better than anyone.” (x)

Halsey’s If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power (Moment House Online Show) – Given the impossibility of a real concert or tour at the moment, between COVID and Halsey only just having had her baby, this was a really great alternative and a really cool way to celebrate the album. They sounded incredible and the amount of thought and work that went into creating each different performance look and space was amazing. I loved her look for ‘The Tradition,’ with the intricate shirt and collar, and her make up was so striking; with the camera just focussing on her face, it’s a very different, very intimate experience. Her performance of Lilith was equally compelling but I did find myself getting distracted by how uncomfortable it must’ve been, lying in that bath. I loved the simplicity of the look for ‘Easier Than Lying,’ the simple black dress in contrast to the white screens; this performance was just so energetic – very Halsey-on-tour vibes, especially since they weren’t visibly pregnant in this one – which was only heightened by the flashing white and red walls of the corridor. It was somewhat chaotic to watch but in a way that really matched the song. I was intrigued by the inclusion of ‘You should be sad’ but she sounded amazing and the visuals of her inside the box (or coffin perhaps) were oddly beautiful. The look for ‘Girl is a Gun’ is really cool: the big, black cape which is cast off to reveal a lace bodysuit. Her pregnancy is very obvious here and yet she’s still her performance is as energetic and compelling as ever; the space might be big and empty but she absolutely owns it, just like she does the stage on tour. ‘Nightmare’ is equally energetic but this performance looks more like a music video, with the dark forest set and group of dancers, and the lace bodysuit from ‘Girl is a Gun,’ which she continues to wear for ‘You asked for this.’ I struggled with this one a bit due to the combination of flashing lights and twisty camera angles; it was a bit much for me, a bit close to sensory chaos. But that was beautifully reduced a moment later. I think the performance of ‘Darling’ was my favourite: Halsey in a whimsical garden in a pink, puffy dress, offset by black combat boots and almost steampunk-style jewellery. She looked stunning and the way she looked into the camera really made you feel like she was really looking at you. I loved the look for ‘honey’ – the white, peasant-style dress with the warm, golden light – but, while I can understand the artistic choice of spreading honey over her hair, face, neck, and chest, watching it made me cringe a little because I could almost feel the sensation of the honey on my skin and that’s the sort of sensory thing that I really, really don’t like. So I get it but not for me. I thought ‘I am not a woman, I’m a god’ was really powerful: the contrast of the white, toga-like dress and the dramatic black eye make up was stunning and the moving light vs the flashes of red light was almost hypnotic. Seeing just their head and shoulders was, again, very effective: I love the way they move when performing but, as I said earlier, this different approach gives us a very different experience of the song (although having said that, I really hope to see them perform this live one day). It was pretty shocking when she’s suddenly spattered with what looks like blood, with more and more until she’s all but covered. But, as I said, it was very powerful. And finally there was ‘Gasoline,’ another of my favourites: I loved the big open space, lit only by the fire-filled barrels; Halsey looks great in a big, loose white dress with her make up smeared; the whole think looks so desolate, which is fitting for the song, I think. It was a really cool show and I was super inspired by all of the thought and creativity that went into it.

The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52 – I love the legend of The Loneliest Whale so I was both really excited for this documentary and really nervous, nervous that it would reveal something that would take away from this story that is so special to so many people. But it was really good: it had light, fun moments (such as when one of the team said, “They say you know you’re doing Oceanography when what you have is too heavy to lift and too expensive to lose and then you throw it in the ocean anyways,” and then threw said equipment overboard) and it had really powerful, emotional moments: they talked in depth about how whales navigate and communicate and how the noise from ships and shipping lanes is so disruptive that it’s essentially creating a world of lonely whales. I found that very distressing, both for the whales and also because I realised the similarities to my autistic experience in trying to cope with the world; that was quite an upsetting parallel to draw. But it was, overall, a great documentary. The whale footage was absolutely stunning and they were all so passionate about whales and the work they were doing; you couldn’t help feeling that you wouldn’t want anyone else to find this whale. I’d desperately avoided spoilers so the end was a total surprise; they’d set out to find the 52-Hertz Whale but what they find is completely unexpected. My one complaint about it was that, when they were discussing the history of human and whale interaction and talked about the killing of whales, there were far too many traumatic images and much too much detail included. It was incredibly graphic and, personally, I found it very distressing.

If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power – I have really mixed feelings about this film, if I’m honest. I wasn’t sure if it was something I’d enjoy, given the warnings for it, but I am glad that I’ve seen it. The cinematography, the sets, the costumes, the make up… it was beautiful. It was art. But I have to say that I really struggled to make sense of the story beyond the basic narrative; yes, she did this and did that but I felt like I was missing out on so much of the nuance that makes stories/films great. I’ve read every interpretation I can find and while I can see what they’re saying, I never would’ve made those connections by myself. It made me feel kind of stupid, which wasn’t particularly enjoyable. So, yeah, I have really mixed feelings about it.

This was long and, at this point, I have no idea if it flows or not. But it’s done. I’ve had the brain of a goldfish recently due to the ADHD meds I’ve been trying so writing has been hard. This post was a real struggle but I am really pleased to have finished it at all, to have this record of the stories and art that I loved this year.

2021 in Songs

This is one of my favourite posts of the year, as hard as it is to narrow it down to one song a month (or sometimes two, if I really can’t choose). It’s so easy for time to make things blurry and for songs to transcend time that I love being able to see exactly when songs impacted my life and what they meant to me. I kind of love the idea of looking back one day – sometime in the future – and knowing which exact songs I connected to, rather than just having a vague sense of which artists and albums I loved.

So, here is my soundtrack for 2021. I’ve made a playlist on Spotify so you can listen along here if you’d like to.

1. it’s time to go by Taylor Swift

The bonus tracks from Taylor’s album, evermore, started to circulate at the end of 2020 when people began to receive their physical copies but they weren’t released ‘officially’ until the beginning of 2021. It was a really hard choice between ‘right where you left me’ and ‘it’s time to go’ because they’re both such stunning songs but in the end, ‘it’s time to go’ won by a hair. The instrumentation is so delicate and vulnerable, just like the emotions she describes in the song. And the stories she’s telling are heartbreakingly sad with lyrics that may be some of her most poignant, including, “When the words of a sister come back in whispers that prove she was not,” “That old familiar body ache, the snaps from the same little breaks in your soul,” “Fifteen years, fifteen million tears, beggin’ ’til my knees bled,” “I gave it my all, he gave me nothing at all, then wondered why I left,” “He’s got my past frozen behind glass but I’ve got me,” and “Sometimes givin’ up is the strong thing, sometimes to run is the brave thing, sometimes walkin’ out is the one thing, that will find you the right thing.” It’s Taylor at her most vulnerable, something that is such an honour to be allowed access to, and it brings me to tears almost every time I listen to it.

Favourite Lyrics: “That old familiar body ache / The snaps from the same little breaks in your soul / You know when it’s time to go” AND “He’s got my past frozen behind glass / But I’ve got me”

2. Skyscraper by Demi Lovato // Forgive Or Forget by Sarah Close

I stumbled upon this song again when I was doing research for my Daisy Johnson song. I spent a lot of time watching fan videos on YouTube, listening to the songs that other people associated with her: the style of music, the instrumentation, the lyrics in the songs, the emotional undercurrents. And one of those videos used this song. It’s been years since I last listened to it and I’d forgotten how powerful and emotive it is. I love how it acknowledges the pain, whatever pain you find yourself hearing in it, but is ultimately empowering and uplifting, putting the real focus on overcoming that pain. Just listening to it makes me feel stronger; it definitely a good song to listen to before trying to do something difficult or painful.

Favourite Lyrics: “You can take everything I have / You can break everything I am / Like I’m made of glass / Like I’m made of paper / Go on and try to tear me down / I will be rising from the ground / Like a skyscraper”

I fell in love with this song from the first listen. I’ve listened to Sarah on and off for several years (she actually went to the same university as me) and I love her writing. Her lyrics and melodies are just gorgeous: rich but light, catchy without driving you absolutely bananas. It’s so good. I love the imagery, like “Just like in a film, now I’m standing outside your door, in the pouring rain, with a speech that I wrote between watching movies on the plane” and “So now I’ve shown up at your door, will my key work like it did before? And when I look inside, will your love be just the same?” They’re so vivid, like you’re right there in that moment she’s singing about. I loved it straight away and couldn’t stop singing it. I even did a little cover of it on Instagram…

Favourite Lyrics: “Should I forgive or forget, relive or regret? / I know I’m willing to change / So tell me, do you feel the same? / ‘Cause I won’t retrace all the mistakes / If you’re willing to change / I’m telling you, I feel the same” AND “So now I’ve shown up at your door, will my key work like it did before? / And when I look inside, will your love be just the same?”

3. Riser By Dierks Bentley (written by Travis Meadows) // Plan For Paris by Betsy Lane

I know that this would be considered a Dierks Bentley song since he released it but, to me, it will always be a Travis Meadows song. I first heard it when I saw him play at a Tin Pan South show while in Nashville for the first time and it was one of those moments that just sticks with you, one of those memories that somehow remains in perfect condition, like it’s been frozen in amber. The room seemed to be holding it’s breath, completely enraptured by his voice and his lyrics. And when he finished, the room seemed to snap out of its trance and gave him a standing ovation.

This song has meant a lot to me ever since but it was in March that I learned about the extensive surgery Travis Meadows had (at the time) recently gone through and the recovery he was working towards. A gofundme, A FundRiser, had been set up to support him and his family, which I immediately donated to and shared on all of my socials. He’s an incredible songwriter and just an incredible spirit. His music has given me so much that, although I wish these weren’t the circumstances, I’m grateful for the opportunity to give something back.

Favourite Lyrics: “I’m a riser / I’m a get up off the ground, don’t run and hider / When pushin’ comes to shovin’ / Hey, I’m a fighter / When darkness comes to town, I’m a lighter / A get-out-alive-r, of the fire, survivor”

I’ve loved Betsy’s music for a long time, so long that I can’t actually remember when I first heard a song of hers. But she’s a gorgeous writer and it was very cool to finally meet her when she came to the UK on a mini-tour in 2018 after years of listening to her music. She’s just the loveliest and the EP she was releasing at the time was great. But this song, although a step in a new direction, is on a whole new level: it’s a beautiful combination of her warm, intimate storytelling and exciting, new pop production. It’s feel-good and catchy and I absolutely love it.

Favourite Lyrics: “…I wish we could just / Go back to Paris / Catch a train through the south of France / Cross the border into Spain / Learn how to dance / Under the sky of the Spanish moon / Baby, hold my hand, I’m following you”

Note: My friend and frequent collaborator, Richard Marc, released his first single, ‘Put It In A Postcard,’ at the beginning of March but given that I cowrote the song, it felt weird to put it on this list when that isn’t the point of this list.

4. Mr Perfectly Fine (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault) by Taylor Swift // Love and Great Buildings by Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness

As excited as I was for Taylor re-recording her albums, I didn’t feel a hundred percent good about it until Taylor herself made it clear that it’s been really rewarding and fulfilling – so far, at least. I hated the idea that it might be upsetting or taint her feelings about her previous work since it was something she was ultimately forced to do if she wanted to own her back catalogue. So I’m really glad that it doesn’t feel like that. It’s amazing and kind of surreal how she can sound just like her teenage self, how the album sounds so close to the original release. There are multiple songs I could choose from for ‘the one’ but ultimately ‘Mr Perfectly Fine’ came out on top (although ‘We Were Happy’ was a close second). Not only is it super catchy and has this really great, dynamic energy, but I love the balance of heartbreaking and then absolutely scathing lyrics, like, “‘Cause I hear he’s got his arm ’round a brand new girl / I’ve been pickin’ up my heart, he’s been pickin’ up her / And I never got past what you put me through / But it’s wonderful to see that it never phased you.” It’s emotionally complex, like the situation, but still such a jam. And the final chorus, with the switch from “Hello Mr. ‘Perfectly Fine'” to “Goodbye Mr. ‘Perfectly Fine'” and the key change, it’s a hugely satisfying end, lyrically, musically, and emotionally. I love it and played it over and over again.

Favourite Lyrics: “It takes everything in me just to get up each day / But it’s wonderful to see that you’re okay // Hello Mr. ‘Perfectly Fine’ / How’s your heart after breaking mine?” AND “‘Cause I hear he’s got his arm ’round a brand new girl / I’ve been pickin’ up my heart, he’s been pickin’ up her / And I never got past what you put me through / But it’s wonderful to see that it never phased you”

I heard this song on a TV show (I can’t remember which one now) and just fell in love with the concept. The imagery is gorgeous (with phrases like, “My heart is an apartment building on the verse,” “The market shifts can cause storm systems to converge,” and “Brick and plaster, beams and broken windows”) and I love the production, both for the sounds used and for the energetic, almost euphoric feeling it evokes. I spent many days with it basically on repeat because I just really needed that energy. My only quibble with it is that almost every single rhyme is a perfect rhyme (‘verge’ and ‘converge,’ ‘optimistic’ and ‘realistic,’ ‘endure’ and ‘cure,’ etc) and having just spent a semester learning about, discussing, and experimenting with techniques like different types of rhyme, that really stuck out to me. It felt a little clunky and I thought there could’ve been some stronger, more interesting rhyming in what is otherwise a really cool song.

Favourite Lyrics: “Love and great buildings will survive / Strong hearts and concrete stay alive / Through the great depressions / Yeah, the best things are designed to stand the test of time // Love and great buildings will endure / Blue skies and bloodlines are the cure / For the great deceptions in a world that’s such a blur / We’ll stand the test of time”

5. Coming Up For Air by Signals In Smoke // A Love Song by Ladyhawke

There’s something about this song that I just can’t quite explain. It’s so beautifully simple. I love lyrically dense songs, songs that you could turn into a feature length film, but what I love about this song is that it doesn’t need to do that. The lyrics are uncluttered, guiding the emotion but leaving you to fill in the details yourself. But they’re intimate and uplifting, enhanced by a deeply emotive and beautiful melody. The production is rich and atmospheric and enveloping; and the colours and textures I feel in it are just gorgeous (I don’t know if that response to music is part of being autistic or some form of synesthesia or something else entirely). It’s just stunning.

Favourite Lyrics: “It ain’t over, love / This I swear / We’re coming up for air”

I freaking love this song. I listened to so much Ladyhawke during the last semester of my Masters but this song won the top spot with ease. I love the energy (and the colours) of the arrangement and the production –  there’s something so pleasing to my ears about synth-pop music – and I love the story it tells, or at least the story that I interpret from the lyrics. To me, it reflects the contradiction of what real love is, that it is both easy and hard to truly love someone. With lyrics like, “You’ve opened my eyes to the oldest tale of time,” alongside the gleaming production, the song embodies the ease of love, proven by the fact that we have been falling in love as long as we have existed. The song is a celebration of that love. But then it also contains lyrics like “I’m falling down, too much to drink again / You pull me up and tell me how it could end” because sometimes love is having the tough conversations and making the hard choices. And we always come back to the same line: “This is what a love song sounds like.” Both of these instances are expressions of love, of the love stories we write and the love songs we sing to one another. That’s what I love about this song, that it allows these two ideas to coexist (just as they can and do in real life) in such a beautiful way.

Favourite Lyrics: “This could be my life, but it’s only words / To make me feel right when the meaning’s blurred / You’ve opened my eyes to the oldest tale of time / This what a love song, love song sounds like // I’m falling down, too much to drink again / You pull me up and tell me how it could end / This is what a love song sounds like”

Note: My friend and frequent collaborator, Richard Marc, released his second single, ‘Close To You,’ at the beginning of May. I cowrote it so I’m not officially including it on this list but you guys should check it out because Richard is really awesome. 

6. good 4 u by Olivia Rodrigo

This song is such a jam. As I said in a post a little while back, I struggled to get into Sour, I think just because she was everywhere and everyone was talking about her and I just felt a bit like it was being forced down my throat and my natural reaction to that is to be perverse and do the exact opposite of what I’m being pushed to do. Maybe that’s a bit childish but I think it worked out in the end because if I’d listened to the album then, I don’t think I would’ve liked it. After giving it some time, I did listen to it and I do like it; I think it being my choice made all of the difference. I like a good handful of the songs (most of them album tracks, which isn’t unusual for me) but this one is just irresistibly fun. I love how it toes the line between righteous anger over being treated badly (“It’s like we never even happened / Baby, what the fuck is up with that?”) and pettiness (“Remember when you swore to god I was the only / Person who ever got you? / Well, screw that and screw you”) – because, let’s face it, we’ve all been there in some way or another. We’re allowed to be angry and call people out for their bad behaviour (I’m talking on an emotional level – society often has other opinions) but we’re also not always our most mature selves when we’ve been hurt by someone and I think this song reflects those two states of emotion well. I also love the swearing but I think it only works because it feels natural and emotional and not at all affected. It’s hugely relatable (I can definitely see a significant relationship of mine in it) and very cathartic to sing along to. I’m a fan of the arrangement and production too. I love the rhythm of the bass, the arrangement of the backing vocals (they’re fantastic, album wide), and her vocal delivery is fantastic: she’s so expressive in her singing and there isn’t a line where it feels like she’s ‘just’ singing.

Favourite Lyrics: “And good for you, it’s like you never even met me / Remember when you swore to God I was the only / Person who ever got you? / Well, screw that and screw you / You will never have to hurt the way you know that I do” AND “Well, good for you, you look happy and healthy / Not me, if you ever cared to ask / Good for you, you’re doing great out there without me, baby / Like a damn sociopath / I’ve lost my mind, I’ve spent the night / Crying on the floor of my bathroom”

7. Way Out by Richard Marc & Jaz Beeson // Renegade (feat. Taylor Swift) by Big Red Machine

This song is so freaking catchy that every time I hear it, it’s stuck in my head for days afterwards; ever since I first heard it, I’ve been waiting impatiently for it to come out so that when people ask me what I’m singing or humming or whatever, I can actually point them to it. The melody is just perfect, smooth and rich and beautifully matches the moody production. It’s a hard call but it may be my favourite production from Richard’s EP. The different elements just work together so well and I love how it builds, especially in the bridge with more and more layers of backing vocals. It’s just so atmospheric. By the time we land in the final chorus and that building tension falls away, it’s like breaking the surface and taking a deep breath after being underwater for too long. I love both Richard and Jaz as singers but there’s something about the tone of their voices in this song that just gets me every time. They sound so good together; their voices really compliment each others.

Usually, I like detail in lyrics but there are definitely exceptions and this is one of them. There’s something really cool about the way it sounds like you’re listening in on a conversation between two people and, because it’s their conversation, they don’t need to explain the details to each other because they both already know. So, even if we’re left out of the narrative loop a little, there’s a really gorgeous sense of intimacy about this song that I don’t think could’ve been achieved if it hadn’t been a duet.

Favourite Lyrics: “Leave me in the fallout, tell me when you come down, can you find a way out, way out?”

This song leaves me feeling very raw. I really relate to this song but in lots of different and confusing ways. Sometimes I feel kind of called out by it; I can imagine a relationship coming to this (given everything I deal with, I’m sure I’d be difficult to love). But I can also see my relationship with myself in the song. “There was nowhere for me to stay, but I stayed anyway” reminds me of how many times I could’ve given up but haven’t; “And if I would’ve known how many pieces you had crumbled into / I might have let them lay” and “And if I would’ve known / how sharp the pieces were you crumbled into / I might have let them lay” makes me think about how this journey (with my mental health and the discovery that I’m neurodivergent and managing all of these things) always seems to get harder and what it would’ve been like if I’d known where I’d be a year, two years, five years down the line when everything started to unravel, back when I was a teenager; “Is it insensitive for me to say / ‘get your shit together, so I can love you?'” and “Is it really your anxiety that stops you from givin’ me everythin’ / Or do you just not want to?” make me wonder what it is that makes it so hard to treat myself with kindness and patience, why I’m so hard on myself; “You fire off missiles ’cause you hate yourself / But do you know you’re demolishing me?” reminds me – painfully – of how much damage I’m doing to myself, some unwillingly but some willingly. And so on and so on. It’s a lot. It makes me very emotional but, even though it’s hard, it’s important to me too; songs that describe how you feel, especially when those feelings are complicated, are so rare and so special. It’s a beautifully written song and despite the heaviness of the lyrics, it’s very soothing to listen to. The melodies are exquisite and Taylor’s voice sounds incredible. Justin Vernon is definitely my favourite of her duet partners. Their voices sound gorgeous together.

Favourite Lyrics: “There was nowhere for me to stay, but I stayed anyway” OR “Are you really gonna talk about timin’ in times like these? / And let all your damage damage me? / And carry your baggage up my street? / And make me your future history?” AND “Is it insensitive for me to say / ‘Get your shit together, so I can love you?’ / Is it really your anxiety that stops you from givin’ me everythin’ / Or do you just not want to?”

8. Alibi by Kalie Shorr // Darling by Halsey

While the whole of Kalie’s EP, I Got Here By Accident, is fantastic, ‘Alibi’ is such a vibe. The arrangement and production – the warm tone of the guitars and the bass, the satisfying punch of the drums, Kalie’s soft but striking vocals – creates this fantastic energy and the melodies are so catchy; the song is frequently on repeat in my brain and I’m not complaining one bit. I love it. And I relate to it so much: I would do anything for my friends (grand theft auto, arson, and accessory to murder may be a bit far but hopefully you get my point). “If someone’s breaking your heart / Hold my beer, I’ll fight ’em” is a situation I’ve been in and I’ve absolutely said both “Tell me who to hate, yeah / You don’t have to worry / I don’t have to meet ’em / I believe your story” and “If you’re in trouble, make it mine,” although probably less eloquently. So this is definitely my friendship anthem. I was even writing a song along a similar theme when it came out.

Favourite Lyrics: “Anyone can be your best friend at a party / But if you dig a hole, then I’ll bury the body / No questions, I won’t ask why / I’ll be your alibi” AND “If you asked / I’d pick you up when you’re drunk downtown / Or go burn down your ex’s house / It’s like that / Completely unconditional” AND “Tell me who to hate, yeah / You don’t have to worry / I don’t have to meet ’em / I believe your story” AND “If it’s for you, it’s not a lie / If you’re in trouble, make it mine”

There were multiple songs I could’ve chosen from Halsey’s newest album: I love every song but I do love ‘Bells in Santa Fe,’ ‘Darling,’ ‘1121,’ ‘The Lighthouse,’ and ‘Ya’aburnee’ in particular. But in the end, ‘Darling’ is the one that just gets me every single time. It sounds beautiful, with the delicate guitar and heartfelt vocals (as well as gorgeous backing vocals), and the lyrics are stunning, with – I have no doubt carefully chosen – really emotive imagery, like “Really can’t remember where I left my spine / Carrying my body in a bag for dimes / hidden in the pages of the New York Times at home” and “I’ll kidnap all the stars and I will keep them in your eyes / I’ll wrap them up in velvet twine / And hang ’em from a fishin’ line / So I can see them any time I’d like.” Making sense of our mortality and our place in the world is a massive subject and very personal for a lot of people, myself included, but listening to this song always eases my anxieties a little, even if I still don’t have the answers I want.

Favourite Lyrics: “Ever since a little girl, I found it sweet / Drivin’ past a graveyard on a lonesome street / All the little flowers gave me somethin’ to believe in” ANDCouldn’t really tell you where they’d leave a stone / To visit me when I am dead and gone” AND “I’ll kidnap all the stars and I will keep them in your eyes / I’ll wrap them up in velvet twine / And hang ’em from a fishin’ line / So I can see them any time I’d like”

9. Radio Silence by Natalie Hemby

I had fallen in love with this song before I’d even finished listening to it that first time and I just love it more with every listen. The lyrics, the vocals, the arrangement, and the production… they’re all so incredibly beautiful, so perfectly matched to convey the emotion of the song. Trying to hold onto something, like a friendship or relationship, even as you can feel it slipping away from you is so deeply sad and so painful and even though you know you should let it go, you can’t help longing for what it once was. I can relate to this song on so many levels, to so many people and experiences in my life. It frequently brings me to tears but usually it’s more a relief cry, down to listening to a song that so perfectly describes a feeling I’ve had so many times.

Favourite Lyrics: “I tried to reach you through the growin’ static / I tried to replicate the fading magic / Did everything to keep the signal from dyin’ / All I got was radio silence / I tried to tell you that it’s gonna get better / I tried to put the pieces back together / Did everything to keep the signal from dyin’ / All I got was radio silence”

Note: My friend and frequent collaborator, Richard Marc, released his fourth single, Nashville, on the 1st September. I cowrote it so I’m not officially including it on this list but you guys should check it (and his previous tracks) out because he is absolutely awesome. 

10. Like A River Runs by Bleachers 

I absolutely love this song; I think it may be my favourite Bleachers song, which is saying something given how much I love ‘Wild Heart,’ ‘I Wanna Get Better,’ and ‘What’d I Do With All This Faith?’ to name a few. I just feel it so deeply and I really relate to many of the things that Jack Antonoff has said about it. As I said in my post for National Album Day 2021, “it just resonates so strongly in all the right ways.” The production is fantastic and fits so beautifully with the emotion and with the lyrics. And the vocals are exquisite. Listening to it, it feels like Antonoff’s voice is coming from inside my own head somewhere, which only makes it feel more personal, like he’s speaking my feelings into life. Lyrics like “The summer’s gone and I’m alone / And I get the feeling that you’re somewhere close,” “The rhythm of your wild heart / It beats, been beating since you’ve gone,” “And I know you’re gone but still / I will remember your light,” and “And if you see me in the darkness / I hope you know I’m not alone / I carry you with every breath I take” all hit really close to home. The chorus is especially stunning, uplifting and deeply emotional at the same time: “When I fall asleep, I can see your face / What I lost in you, I will not replace / And I could run away, I could let them down / But I will remember your light.”

Favourite Lyrics:When I fall asleep I can see your face / What I lost in you I will not replace / And I could run away, I could let them down / But I will remember your light” AND “The summer’s gone and I’m alone / And I get the feeling that you’re somewhere close” AND “And if you see me in the darkness / I hope you know I’m not alone”

11. All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault) by Taylor Swift

‘All Too Well’ has always been at the top of my list of favourite Taylor Swift songs and while I loved the idea of the ten minute version, I don’t think I ever really thought we’d hear it. So while I don’t like the circumstances that brought us to the rerecordings, I am grateful for the positives that have come out of the whole mess. Like the ten minute version of ‘All Too Well,’ not that it feels like ten minutes when you’re listening to it. As much as I love the production of the 2012 version, I think it was important that they were different because they have very different emotional undercurrents and the production for the ten minute version matches the feel of the longer story, in my opinion at least. I’m also very pleased that it was Jack Antonoff who produced it since he is my favourite of Taylor’s collaborators.

I could talk about this song forever but I’ll try to be concise. The lyrics are beautiful, some of her best, and they tell us so much more of the story than the original cut. It connects to so many songs on the album, even more than it did before, and really broadens our understanding of both that time and what came after. I also love how naturally it flows through different phases of emotion (the fondness, the longing, the loss, the confusion, the shame, the anger, the pain, the invalidation, the grief…) without losing its way. And I think part of why it means so much to me (apart from my original attachment to the song and the album) is because of how, emotionally, it mirrors an experience I had. Lyrics like “And I was thinking on the drive down, any time now / He’s gonna say it’s love, you never called it what it was / ‘Til we were dead and gone and buried / Check the pulse and come back swearing it’s the same,” “You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath,” “You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine / And that made me want to die / The idea you had of me, who was she? / A never-needy, ever-lovely jewel whose shine reflects on you,” and “Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it / I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it” all bring back memories of that person and that time and while it was heartbreaking and traumatic, it is part of who I am. I think being able to pour all of that emotion into a song – and a song that good – is an incredible feat.

(‘All Too Well (10 Minute Version)’ was pretty much always a shoo-in for the top spot but I also really love ‘Nothing New.’ I love that we finally have a female-female duet and it’s such a beautiful song. The lyrics “I’ve had too much to drink tonight / And I know it’s sad / But this is what I think about,” “How long will it be cute / All this crying in my room / When you can’t blame it on my youth,” “How did I go from growing up / To breaking down,” “I know someday I’m gonna meet her / It’s a fever dream / The kind of radiance you only have at seventeen / She’ll know the way and then she’ll say she got the map from me / I’ll say I’m happy for her then I’ll cry myself to sleep,” and, of course, “And will you still want me when I’m nothing new?” all hit so hard. I definitely relate to it, both on a personal level and on a working-in-music level. I am kind of grateful that she didn’t release it on the original album because I think it would’ve been devastating, knowing that Taylor was feeling that way. I found ‘The Lucky One’ upsetting enough.)

Favourite Lyrics: [buckle in, folks!] “Oh, your sweet disposition and my wide-eyed gaze / We’re singing in the car, getting lost upstate” AND “I might be okay, but I’m not fine at all” AND “Wind in my hair, I was there / I remember it all too well” AND “You taught me ’bout your past, thinking your future was me” AND “And you were tossing me the car keys, ‘fuck the patriarchy’ / Key chain on the ground, we were always skipping town / And I was thinking on the drive down, any time now / He’s gonna say it’s love, you never called it what it was / ‘Til we were dead and gone and buried / Check the pulse and come back swearing it’s the same / After three months in the grave” AND “And I forget about you long enough to forget why I needed to” AND “‘Cause there we are again in the middle of the night / We’re dancing ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light” AND “You kept me like a secret, but I kept you like an oath / Sacred prayer and we’d swear / To remember it all too well” AND “Well, maybe we got lost in translation / Maybe I asked for too much / But maybe this thing was a masterpiece / ‘Til you tore it all up / Running scared, I was there / I remember it all too well / And you call me up again just to break me like a promise / So casually cruel in the name of being honest / I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lying here / ‘Cause I remember it all, all, all / They say all’s well that ends well, but I’m in a new Hell / Every time you double-cross my mind / You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine / And that made me want to die / The idea you had of me, who was she? / A never-needy, ever-lovely jewel whose shine reflects on you / Not weeping in a party bathroom / Some actress asking me what happened, you / That’s what happened, you” AND “Time won’t fly, it’s like I’m paralyzed by it / I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it / After plaid shirt days and nights when you made me your own / Now you mail back my things and I walk home alone” AND “I’m a soldier who’s returning half her weight” AND “Just between us, did the love affair maim you, too?” AND “Just between us, did the love affair maim you all too well? / Just between us, do you remember it all too well? / Just between us, I remember it all too well”

Note: My friend and frequent collaborator, Richard Marc, released his fifth single, ‘I Don’t Know,’ at the start of the month. Again, I worked on the song with him so, again, it’s not officially on this list but I love it and it’s a great song; you guys should definitely check it out (along with his now complete EP) because Richard is just awesome. 

12. All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault) by Taylor Swift

Yes, I’m still absolutely in love with this song. It’s been on repeat – in real life and in my head – ever since it came out. I’m not surprised at all.

Will there ever be a year when I actually keep to the twelve songs a year rule? Probably not. It keeps expanding every year, both in songs and in favourite lyrics. I’m not complaining; I’ll never complain about finding more music to fall in love with. Having said that, I am aware that these posts can get long! But I hope it was fun or interesting or both and, again, here is the playlist link if you’d like to listen to the songs I’ve talked about.

National Album Day 2021

Today is National Album Day and this annual blog post is one of my very favourites to write. Over the year – since National Album Day last year – I’ve written about my favourite albums or the albums that have given me a lot to think about. Albums are so important to me – both as a listener and as a singersongwriter – and once I get lost in the world of an album, that world just gets bigger and bigger. I find more and more layers, more and more things to think and talk about.

This year, the day has a theme and that theme is celebrating women. Most of the albums I’ve written about in this post are the works of women but there are a few albums written and recorded by men, partly because I started writing this post before I knew that there would even be a theme and partly because I really wanted to talk about their work – as I said, I get very excited and enthusiastic about songwriting and albums and music. These posts just get longer and longer as I listen to more music, as I learn more about music and songwriting and what goes into each album. Sometimes my enthusiasm just gets away from me and suddenly I’ve written an essay where I meant to write a paragraph…

Apart Together by Tim Minchin (November 2020) – I was very curious about what this album would be like, given that 99% of what I’ve heard of his has been comedy. But one of the things that makes this album so fascinating and so clever is how he incorporates humour into the songs: through wickedly funny lyrics in the middle of otherwise serious songs, like, “And wake up in four hours or so / Soaked in relief to find I am alone / With the wrappers of Pringles and Snickers / For which to atone” in ‘I’ll Take Lonely Tonight,’ a song about staying committed even when you’re lonely (or as Minchin himself says, “trying not to have sex with other people,” in his typical irreverent style); through exploring pretty profound emotions but in fairly ridiculous scenarios, such as the plane crash he sings about in ‘If This Plane Goes Down’ where he examines the shallow and the deep parts of himself (“If this plane goes down / Remember me as someone who tried / To find a balance between self-loathing and pride / Dug too hard for love at times,” for example); and via wry, self-deprecating self-reflection throughout ‘Talked Too Much, Stayed Too Long,’ where he sings about where he’s come from and where he thinks he’s headed, but always coming to the conclusion that he’ll ultimately be known for his tendency to ‘talk too much and stay too long.’ This mix of humour and depth makes the album very unique, in my music library at least; I think it’s a hard skill to master. And he has such a unique voice as a writer that, even when he abandons all humour and leans deeply and sincerely into raw emotion, as he does in the final track, ‘Carry You,’ the lyrics are absolutely identifiable as his. I also felt that the instrumentation and production were both extremely cohesive with each song’s lyrics and as an album as a whole. It’s a great album and I can’t wait to hear him perform some of them when I see him live in a few weeks.

Favourite Tracks: ‘Absence of You,’ ‘I Can’t Save You,’ ‘Talked Too Much, Stayed Too Long,’ ‘Leaving LA,’ ‘I’ll Take Lonely Tonight,’ ‘If This Plane Goes Down,’ and ‘Carry You.’

Open Book: Unabridged by Kalie Shorr (December 2020) – I was really surprised when I saw that I hadn’t included the original version of Open Book in last year’s National Album Day post when it’s one of my favourite albums ever, but then I realised that I’d written about it in my post about my favourite albums of the 2010s. I’m also in the middle of writing a post about the whole album, like I did with folklore (although hopefully not quite as long as that one turned out to be). So, that being said, I’ll leave you to read my previous post and await my upcoming post. However, I do want to briefly talk about the tracks that were added to the album for the Unabridged edition: ‘My Voice,’ ‘Eighteen,’ ‘Out of It,’ and ‘Lying To Myself.’ I love all four of these songs and I love how they all bring something different to the album.

‘My Voice’ is full of defiance and self-empowerment, a call to be yourself in an industry that’s constantly trying to make you into something else. If there’s such a thing as a ‘Kalie Shorr lyric,’ then “The only time I’m gonna be boxed in / Is when I’m six feet under in a coffin” is most definitely one. ‘Eighteen’ is heartbreakingly vulnerable (the bridge in particular – “I see you out with younger versions of me / While I’m trying to find who I used to be / I’m terrified that you and I will always be / Chasing eighteen” – gets me every time) and it almost always brings a lump to my throat: I can’t help but think of my own messy relationship and break up from around that age. ‘Out of It’ echoes back to the Awake EP and its title track but this time, Kalie isn’t getting sucked back in to her ex’s drama and it was so cool to see that growth. That’s something I love about songwriters who write autobiographically (for the most part at least): as a listener, you get to see then grow in so many ways, as a writer, as an artist, and as a person. And that feels like a real privilege. And finally, there’s ‘Lying to Myself,’ which questions a past relationship and whether it (and everything that came with it) was ever real, simply and perfectly summed up with the chorus line of “Wеre you lying to me or was I lying to myself?” They’re all stunning lyrically but this one has truly gorgeous descriptions, like “I pickеd out all my favourite things you said / Then like a delusional architect / I built you up like a house of cards” and the evolution of “And I helped you up on that pedestal / Damn, you looked incredible” into “You liked it up on that pedestal / ‘Cause damn, you looked incredible” (goddamn, if that doesn’t take the wind out of me every time I hear it – she could be describing my own relationship). The production of these songs fits in beautifully with the production of the original album songs but there was also something… more about them. Now that her next project is out, I feel like you can hear how those songs were trying to reach for that sound even though they stayed inside the sonic universe of Open Book.

The one thing that I’m not sure about – even now – is how the tracks are inserted throughout the original tracklist. I felt like that original tracklist was so perfect that adding the other songs into that was a bit jarring for me. But having said that, I’m not sure that having all four of them at the end would’ve been the right approach either so I’m not sure what the right thing would’ve been. I think it’s a really interesting way of doing an album re-release or deluxe edition; I think it’s just something that’s stuck with me because I thought the tracklist for the original version of the album was just so good.

Since I haven’t had the opportunity to specify which of the songs on the album are my favourites, I couldn’t help myself and included all of my favourites, even though I’ve only talked about the added ones.

Favourite Tracks: ‘My Voice,’ ‘Messy,’ ‘The One,’ ‘F U Forever,’ ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘Eighteen,’ ‘The World Keeps Spinning,’ ‘Big Houses,’ ‘Out of It,’ ‘Gatsby,’ ‘Lying To Myself,’ ‘Vices,’ ‘Lullaby,’ and ‘Angry Butterfly.’

evermore by Taylor Swift (December 2020) – This album obviously came as a complete surprise given that folklore (a pretty massive surprise in itself) had only been out about six months and describing it as folklore‘s sister album feels very fitting. And it definitely felt like a winter album somehow, in my opinion at least. I read one review that said while folklore is the better album, the strong songs on evermore are stronger and I think, in general, that holds true; folklore is definitely more cohesive but there are more songs that I love on evermore. But then evermore is a lot more experimental: less common time signatures (like in ‘tolerate it’ and ‘closure’), less common song structures (‘ivy,’ and ‘marjorie,’ for example), less conventional production choices (such as the very different sections within ‘gold rush,’ the choice to include a sample of her grandmother’s singing on ‘marjorie,’ and the percussion in ‘closure’), and so on. Some of these choices I really liked and some of them kind of knocked me out of the song because they felt jarring. But then that’s bound to happen when an artist starts exploring new territory.

While I think I’m still adjusting to these fictional songs, I loved the stories Taylor was telling: the heartbreakingly refused proposal and all of the history that led to that moment in ‘champagne problems,’ avenging a murdered friend and getting away with it in ‘no body, no crime (feat. HAIM),’ the complicated process of moving past a relationship in ‘happiness,’ the lessons she learned from her grandmother in ‘marjorie,’ learning to walk away in ‘it’s time to go,’ and so on. They’re all so rich and beautiful and totally absorbing. I still believe, as I did with folklore, that there are personal details and elements and feelings within many of these songs, even if the narratives aren’t true to her own life. Most of us are familiar with feelings of longing (”tis the damn season’), wanting someone you shouldn’t (‘ivy’), the non-linear processing of a broken relationship (‘happiness’), feeling under-appreciated no matter how hard you try to make a person happy (‘tolerate it’), having to make the hard choice (‘champagne problems’), and feeling like you’re in your own little world with someone (‘cowboy like me’). In my mind, exploring these emotions through fictional stories allows Taylor to go deeper into those feelings than she could if people were dissecting them through the lens of her personal life. There are songs that could be interpreted to be about Taylor’s experiences, such as ‘ivy’ and ‘cowboy like me’ being about a special relationship that she’s desperately trying to keep to herself and protect and the possible references to previous relationships in ‘coney island’ (lyrics alluding to moments in her relationships with Jake Gyllenhaal, John Mayer, Harry Styles, and Calvin Harris) but then there are songs that are clearly about her own life, including lyrics that refer explicitly to events we know about or detailing moments she’s talked about in the past: ‘long story short’ reflects on the events of 2016 and finding Joe Alwyn; ‘marjorie’ is, of course, about and a tribute to her grandmother; and there are clear references to Scott Borchetta in ‘it’s time to go.’ But whether truthful, fictional, or a mixture of both, she tells the stories beautifully and the lyrics are stunning.

Favourite Tracks: ‘champagne problems,’ ”tis the damn season,’ ‘tolerate it,’ ‘no body, no crime (feat. HAIM),’ ‘happiness,’ ‘ivy,’ ‘cowboy like me,’ ‘long story short,’ ‘marjorie,’ ‘evermore,’ ‘right where you left me,’ and ‘it’s time to go.’

Crossroads by Roseanna (December 2020) – I love this album and not just because it’s my friend’s debut release (although I love that about it too). Between the beautiful lyrics and catchy melodies, her gorgeous vocals, and the glossy, polished production, I feel wrapped up in this little world she’d created. It kicks my Synesthesia-like responses into high gear: it feels deep purple and some of the songs just shimmer. It reminds me of autumn evenings, heartbeats, and the Northern Lights. I love it and I highly recommend it.

Favourite Tracks: ‘Shell,’ ‘3rd August,’ ‘You,’ and ‘How Does It Feel.’

Fearless (Taylor’s Version) by Taylor Swift (April 2021) – While I was excited for the re-recordings, a part of me was a bit anxious about them too; the idea that it might’ve been a distressing experience (given that it was something she felt she had no choice but to do) was upsetting so I couldn’t feel completely good about it until Taylor herself made it clear that it has, so far, been a really positive and rewarding experience. I’m really, really glad that that’s how she feels about it; I was and am much more excited for them now that I know that she feels that way.

I had a bit of a mixed reaction to this album on first listen. I’m super sensitive to sound (a part-gift-part-curse of my Autism Spectrum Disorder) so, to begin with, all I could hear were the differences. They were tiny differences, yes, but still overwhelming: some of the songs (‘Fearless (Taylor’s Version)’ and ‘You Belong With Me (Taylor’s Version),’ in particular) felt faster even though they weren’t (I counted); the levels of the instruments felt different even though, when I played them one after another, I couldn’t figure out how they were different; I could’ve sworn that there were different emphases in the vocals but, in reality, there didn’t seem to be. The vocals in particular were difficult to process initially: my Synesthesia-like response (I see – and feel – colours, feel textures, and some other sensory stuff that I’m still trying to figure out) to them was very different to my response to the original album vocals and that was quite startling. It was very confusing and for a while I felt like my hearing had gotten all screwed up. It took a few listens before it all started to even out (although I can still hear all of those things). And I can hear differences: as fantastic a job as Taylor does of re-creating her teenage voice, there are still moments when she sounds distinctly adult (I felt like this was actually most prominent in ‘The Best Day (Taylor’s Version)’); some of the instruments have a slightly different sound, or even just tone, to their original counterparts, like the piano in ‘Forever & Always (Piano Version) [Taylor’s Version]’; while ‘You Belong With Me (Taylor’s Version)’ is the same tempo as the original, I noticed that there’s an extra string pluck in the guitar/banjo part, which I think is what makes it sound faster; and I also noticed that there were a few backing vocal changes (I miss the repeat of “silence” in ‘Forever & Always (Taylor’s Version)’ – somewhat disproportionately, I think). I’m not trying to nitpick – I just notice these things and tend to notice them straight away. And now that I’ve had time to listen to it and absorb it, I love it and think it’s incredible (and somewhat surreal) how Taylor and her team have managed to recreate an album so similar to the original, over ten years later. The production is gorgeous and I love sifting through all of the layers that make up each song because so much goes into each track. Her vocals are just lovely and I’ve found myself enjoying songs that I hadn’t liked as much before a lot more because of that. My favourites on each album are actually quite different and given how sensitive my ears are, I think that’s valid because they don’t quite sound the same. But that’s given me the opportunity to love some of the other songs and that’s something I really didn’t expect.

While I do feel it listening to the songs I already know, hearing the ‘new’ songs – the Fearless era songs that we haven’t yet heard (apart from a leaked demo or snippet on YouTube here and there – really reminds me of what an amazing songwriter Taylor always was. It’s easy to say at this point in time but these songs were written when she was between sixteen and eighteen years old (approximately – I believe some of them she wrote even younger). The melodies are so natural and satisfying and her lyric writing was already so sophisticated. Some of the lines are just breathtaking. And there’s something really cool about the production: they absolutely fit into the Fearless sound but they feel more polished somehow, a little glossier. They actually kind of remind of the Red album’s country sound.

So, my first experience of the re-recordings was a bit rocky but I’m hopeful that, now I have some idea of what to expect, the next one (Red (Taylor’s Version), historically my favourite Taylor Swift album – although she does make having a favourite extremely difficult) won’t feel quite so… chaotic, I guess. Hopefully, my first listen will be a lot smoother.

Favourite Tracks: ‘Hey Stephen (Taylor’s Version),’ ‘White Horse (Taylor’s Version),’ ‘Breathe (Taylor’s Version),’ ‘Tell Me Why (Taylor’s Version),’ ‘You’re Not Sorry (Taylor’s Version),’ ‘Forever & Always (Piano Version) [Taylor’s Version],’ ‘The Other Side Of The Door (Taylor’s Version),’ ‘You All Over Me (Taylor’s Version) [From The Vault],’ ‘Mr. Perfectly Fine (Taylor’s Version) [From The Vault],’ ‘We Were Happy (Taylor’s Version) [From The Vault],’ and ‘Bye Bye Baby (Taylor’s Version) [From The Vault].’

Wilds Things by Ladyhawke (June 2016) – I listened through Ladyhawke’s whole discography during my Masters project but this album was my favourite. I was hooked from ‘A Love Song,’ which is still my favourite song on the album. I also loved the production, although I do think the electronic style didn’t quite work for a few of the songs; sometimes it was just perfection and I utterly adored it but, on certain songs, it felt a bit incongruent. The only song I actively didn’t like was ‘Let It Roll’ but I’m pretty sure that that’s because it was in an advert or something that I heard over and over again until pure overexposure made me dislike it. But other than that, I really enjoyed the album. It’s uplifting and energetic and, if nothing else, I’m grateful to the introduction to ‘A Love Song’ because I absolutely adore that song.

Favourite Tracks: ‘A Love Song,’ ‘The River,’ ‘Wild Things,’ ‘Chills,’ and ‘Wonderland.’

And Now, We’re Shining by Sarah Close (March 2020) – The thing that always pulls me right into Sarah Close songs is the catchiness of the melodies. I swear, she could turn the phone book into an earworm. That, and the detail of some of her lyrics, are my favourite things about her music. She’s so good at balancing a more abstract statement, like “If it was me, I’d be kinder” or “Why is everyone trying so hard to be so cool?” with beautifully detailed lyrics that make you feel like you’re right there in that moment, like, “In your car fighting tears on the roadside, remember drives we used to take to nowhere,” “Now you’re backtracking like I’m keys that you forgot,” or “Thursday morning, I’m sat in the window seat, facing the exit ’cause I’m nervous we’re ’bout to meet.” I also love the pop production. It’s not that different to what I’ve been leaning towards so it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s part of why I like it so much, because it’s the way I hear my music too.

Favourite Tracks: ‘If It Was Me,’ ‘You Say,’ ‘Almost,’ and ‘Stay.’

Sour by Olivia Rodrigo (May 2021) – I’ll admit, I find the extreme hype around Olivia Rodrigo and other young artists releasing their first albums kind of tiring: I don’t particularly like having music essentially forced on me by the music industry and/or pop culture. It’s not really about the artist themselves, it’s about the way the world instantly insists that they’re the best thing since sliced bread. So I didn’t listen to Sour for quite a while. I felt kind of overexposed before I’d even heard it so I waited to listen to it until I could listen with an open mind. There were bits I liked: the relatability of ‘brutal’ (I mean, “Where’s my fucking teenage dream?” is painfully real; had I heard it as a teenager, it probably would’ve hit me like a fucking train); the rawness of ‘traitor,’ evident in the lyrics, vocals, and production; how much she swears; ‘good 4 u’ is an absolute jam (and the “goddamn sociopath” lyric is such a ruthless shot to the jugular, which I just love); some of the details in the lyrics are beautifully real; ‘jealousy, jealousy’ is super powerful and probably even more so for listeners younger than me; and the harmonies are just gorgeous. But there were, of course, some things I didn’t like, mostly stylistic: the production could be awesome but there were several occasions where I thought it sounded kind of muddy, like in ‘brutal’ for example; her songwriting style is consistently super wordy even in the softer songs, which I found a bit exhausting after a while; and she has a tendency to do what a songwriting tutor of mine calls ‘Yoda-lyrics,’ where the writer twists a lyric to make it fit, like “your apathy’s like a wound in salt” from ‘good 4 u’ (the non-Yoda-lyric being “your apathy’s like salt in the wound”). So, yeah, mixed feelings but I like it for the most part.

Favourite Tracks: ‘traitor,’ ‘1 step forward, 3 steps back,’ ‘good 4 u,’ ‘enough for you,’ ‘favorite crime,’ and ‘hope ur ok.’

Evolve by Imagine Dragons (June 2017) – I hadn’t listened to Imagine Dragons for a while; somehow they just fell off my playlist. But then, when I was looking through Agents of Shield fan videos earlier in the year – I was trying to write a song from Daisy Johnson’s point of view and was trying to get a sense of the songs people were associating with her – Imagine Dragons songs kept coming up and I got hooked again. I love the epic sound of the songs and the intensity of Dan Reynolds’ vocals. Between those two things, they give the songs so much conviction and emotion, regardless of the subject matter. I feel like they always deliver with songs that make you feel like a goddamn superhero – something we all need from time to time, I think.

Favourite Tracks: ‘Whatever It Takes,’ ‘Believer,’ ‘Walking the Wire,’ ‘Mouth of the River,’ and ‘Start Over.’

Amidst the Chaos: Live from the Hollywood Bowl by Sara Bareilles (May 2021) – I was so gutted that I never got to see this show live so when this album (and the show in the empty venue) were announced, I was so excited. It was the next best thing and would keep me going until a real show was a possibility again. And it really does feel like listening to a concert; if you close your eyes and turn up the volume, you can almost imagine yourself there.

I feel like opening with a snippet of ‘Orpheus,’ with the section that emphases the lyrics, “We will not give up on love now” and “We did not give up on love today,” is like an opening statement for the show. I really love that: that that was the atmosphere, that that was what she wanted people to be feeling going into and during the show. Maybe I’m reading too much into it but I think that’s a really cool way of starting a concert. ‘Fire’ feels like the actual opening song and it’s so big and bold and full; it’s a good opener. Sara’s vocals sound incredible and the strings are just gorgeous. Her exclamation of “Holy shit, we’re at the Hollywood Bowl!” is just so Sara and made me laugh out loud. ‘Poetry By Dead Men’ has such a beautiful arrangement and melody and Sara just sounds so amazing. Again, I snorted with laughter when, between songs, she announces, “This is what I look like standing up!” She’s just so giddy about performing and about performing at The Hollywood Bowl; it’s really quite adorable.’Eyes On You’ has such a great energy live; all of the songs do. There’s something about live music that is so vibrant and while the instruments all sound great and the sound engineer is clearly doing an excellent job, the energy of performing live just adds such a special magic to a song. I wish I could explain it better than that. I love ‘I Choose You’ and it was so cute that there was a proposal during the song; I can’t believe something like that – people getting engaged at your concerts or using your songs for really big occasions like first dances and so on – ever gets old (I can only hope that I get to experience something like that someday). It was cool to hear her talk about her experience at the Women’s March and the thought process that led to the writing of ‘Armor’; hearing both that introduction and the song itself must’ve been amazing to hear live. And it was lovely to hear her talk about falling in love. When the audience cheered, she was like, “I knowwww!” That was very cute and made me smile. And I loved how much everyone cheered when she talked about Waitress; I love how invested everyone is in it because it means so much to her (I mean, that’s not the only reason – it’s a fantastic musical – but I think it has a special meaning to her fans because it’s special to her, because musical theatre is something she’s wanted to do her whole life). Her performance of ‘She Used To Be Mine’ was incredible and the crowd was absolutely silent, like they were so absorbed that they’d forgotten to breathe. It’s an amazing song and she sings it so beautifully; it gives me shivers. Then the spell is broken and the audience erupts into applause, applause that goes on so long that Sara is clearly very touched by the reaction. I was so happy to see that ‘Uncharted’ had been included in the show since the song means so much to me and I love this performance of it: I love that you can hear her smiling as she sings; I love how everyone sings the first chorus so loudly that Sara doesn’t need to sing; and I love how joyful a performance it is. I wish I could’ve been there; I wish I could’ve seen her face when everyone sang that first chorus. I bet that’s not something that ever gets old either. ‘No Such Thing’ is such a gorgeous song and it transitions so beautifully into ‘Satellite Call.’ It’s a mash-up that never would’ve occurred to me but it really works, thematically, musically, and emotionally. I absolutely love her introduction to ‘Brave,’ especially when she said, “As a songwriter, the greatest thing you could ever hope for is that your song kind of becomes part of… that it belongs to everybody else and that’s how this song feels to me and I couldn’t be more proud.” I think that’s very true. Performing ‘Brave,’ she sounds absolutely amazing; she truly has a one-of-a-kind voice. And that’s again highlighted in her performance of ‘Gravity.’ There’s something about the way she sings that song that shows off how incredible and unique her voice is: when she sings it, her voice just sounds so beautiful and so atmospheric – you can feel every little shift, every little flicker of emotion in her voice – and I really can’t imagine a time when it doesn’t hit hard. And just when I think she can’t sound better, she closes the show with ‘Saint Honesty’ with off-the-charts incredible vocals. She’s an amazing performer and my only sadness is that there isn’t a visual to go alongside it, as there was with Brave Enough: Live at the Variety Playhouse.

I really love it as an album: I love that she gave us all a chance to experience the Amidst The Chaos Tour; I love that she included songs from so many different albums and projects; I love that we get to hear her incredible performances; and I love that the song introductions and audience interactions weren’t cut out. She’s so personable and she balances the funny and dorky moments with the more serious and sincere ones so well. Those moments at concerts, when the artist stops to talk to the crowd and you can’t help but feel like they’re talking to you alone… They’re so special and leaving those parts in allows us to have a little bit of that experiences, even if we couldn’t go to a show, whether that was due to COVID or not. It’s a beautiful album and I love listening to her sing, listening to her talk to her audience, listening to her love every second of performing. It’s another project that makes me so proud to be a fan, so proud to look up to her.

I could easily justify including every track in my list of favourites because it’s like listening to a whole concert and the whole thing is just fantastic but I will try to follow my own rules (for once) and pick out just the stand out tracks (based on the performances rather than the songs themselves as this is a live album, although it’s probably unlikely that I can keep my feelings about the songs out of it entirely).

Favourite Tracks: ‘Orpheus / Fire,’ ‘I Choose You,’ ‘Armor,’ ‘She Used To Be Mine,’ ‘Uncharted,’ ‘No Such Thing / Satellite Call,’ ‘Let The Rain,’ ‘King of Anything,’ ‘Brave,’ ‘Orpheus,’ ‘Gravity,’ and ‘Saint Honesty.’

Strange Desire by Bleachers (July 2015) – I’ve heard various tracks from this album over the years but I’ve never sat down and really listened to it. So, before Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night came out, that’s what I did. And I just loved it, almost every single song. I loved the epic-ness of ‘Wild Heart,’ the production (it’s very much the sound I’ve always associated with Bleachers: big, emotive sounds, bright colours, and huge, open spaces), the vocals and the vocal effects, the big yet so eloquently stated message and then all of the little details in the lyrics, like “So put the shotgun back in the glove / Come on and wait another year for the / Dream far away / To come home, to be brave” and “They boarded up the windows / And the doors to my house / No one will ever read the letters / Or the lies that I told / From the years I was changed / By crooked hearts.” I love it and it was stuck in my head on a loop for days afterwards. ‘Rollercoaster’ really showed off how gorgeous Jack Antonoff’s voice is, although I did think the bridge felt very similar to ‘Closer’ by Tegan and Sara. I loved the concept for ‘Shadow’: “The song is about a New Yorker article I read about how everyone has a shadow, or a lesser version of themselves that only they can see,” but ultimately, that there will always be people who will love you, shadow and all. I’ve always loved ‘I Wanna Get Better’: I love how big and epic it sounds, I love the chaotic production that matches the tumbling emotions, and I love all of the imagery and the depth of each line (“And I’ve trained myself to give up on the past ’cause / I froze in time between hearses and caskets,” representing a very bleak time in his life: “There was 9/11, my sister died (of brain cancer in 2002 at age 13) and my cousin died in the Iraq War (in 2003). So a lot happened in a short span of time. It was an end to an age of innocence. I had PTSD and rarely left the house, and I disassociated from everyone for a long time,” for example). And what he’s said about the song only made me love it more, such as, “It had to be perfect because I was condensing all of me into one song,” and “The message is heavy, it’s not dumbed down… I didn’t write this song thinking to myself, ‘Well this is what I wanna say, but this is what people can handle.’ I just wrote the song and recorded the song. And I didn’t say to myself, ‘Well I want to have all this distortion in my vocal, but on mainstream radio that’s not really what people are doing right now.’ I did it anyway and thought, ‘Well, if the radio plays it, then I can be really proud of it, ’cause then I can feel like I’m a part of something that is pushing things into a different place.‘” I love the slightly mellower sound of ‘Wake Me,’ and the simplicity and sincerity of the lyric. I love the lyrics in ‘Reckless Love’ (like “I keep finding my way to the harshest words,” “I would burn my dreams away,” and “If you don’t let go you’re gonna break me”), especially the bridge. As much as I love ‘I Wanna Get Better,’ I think ‘Like a River Runs’ has to be my absolute favourite; I just really, really feel it, both in the song and what Antonoff has said about it. It just resonates so strongly in all the right ways. I love the production, I love the sentiment, I think the chorus is great, and I just love the lyrics: “When I fall asleep I can see your face / What I lost in you I will not replace / And I could run away, I could let them down / But I will remember your light,” “The summer’s gone and I’m alone / And I get the feeling that you’re somewhere close,” “The rhythm of your wild heart / It beats, been beating since you’ve gone,” “And I know you’re gone but still / I will remember your light,” and “And if you see me in the darkness / I hope you know I’m not alone / I carry you with every breath I take.” It’s a stunning song and I absolutely love it. The only song that didn’t really do anything for me was ‘I’m Ready To Move On / Wild Heart Reprise.’ I just found it a bit too weird and I don’t really understand what the purpose of it is. And then I loved the inclusion of the live versions of ‘I Wanna Get Better’ and ‘Rollercoaster’; they were a really cool addition and just make me want to go a Bleachers show so badly. The energy is almost tangible, even as recordings. 

Favourite Tracks: ‘Wild Heart,’ ‘I Wanna Get Better,’ ‘Wake Me,’ ‘Reckless Love,’ ‘Like a River Runs,’ ‘I Wanna Get Better (Live in Boston),’ and ‘Rollercoaster (Live in Boston).’

Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night by Bleachers (July 2021) – I really like this album even though it’s a bit left field of my usual tastes. Arrangement and production wise, I loved the sounds he chose: the horns and saxophones were a gorgeous addition and an interesting choice since they aren’t an obvious choice in anything that even vaguely resembles pop music. There was a real warmth to every track; they had a lovely velvety sound. I was reminded of rich, warm colours like burgundy, purple, navy, and gold. What I do find frustrating is how difficult it is to make sense of what he’s singing, a combination, I think, of his style of singing and the production choices made around his vocals; he’s almost unintelligible at various points. I had to look them up just to understand what he was saying. After that, I had a clearer sense of the songs and they all started to grow on me, not just the ones I’d felt naturally connected to. He has some gorgeous lyrics and explores some really interesting ideas but, just from listening to it, I doubt I would’ve got that and if I hadn’t wanted to like it, I don’t know if I would’ve tried so hard to. So I think it’s a shame that the lyrics aren’t clearer because some of them are really beautiful – like, “So I rip floorboards from our place, black out all our windows and then I kick them from their frames,” “These steps toward faith, I can’t imagine it, pack my suitcase up ’til I can’t bear it, who am I without this weight on my shoulder?” “Just don’t go dark on me,” “Are my hopes finally gonna waste me? Am I the worst compass I could know?” and “I don’t know what to do with this faith” – and I wouldn’t be surprised if people move onto something else that’s easier to absorb.

Favourite Tracks: ’91,’ ‘How Dare You Want More,’ ‘Stop Making This Hurt,’ ‘Don’t Go Dark,’ and ‘What’d I Do With All This Faith?’

I Got Here By Accident by Kalie Shorr (August 2021) – I don’t usually include EPs in this list but I love Kalie’s music so I couldn’t leave it out. I’d heard ‘Amy,’ ‘I Heard You Got A Girl,’ and ‘Love Child’ before the EP came out but hearing them with full production and in the context of the other songs was a completely new and gorgeous experience; they all fit together so well. As expected, the songs are full of fantastic lyrics: “Do you want the other half of my sandwich, ’cause I know how much you love my leftovers, you love my leftovers,” “I heard you got a girl, she’s everything you need, sort of funny how, she kinda looks like me,” “I’m afraid that you’ll leave, I’m scared that you’ll stay, and I don’t know which one would be worse,” “Where I heard Rhiannon for the first time, my sister singing along for the last, now she lives in the sky with the radio waves, comes down when I play Fleetwood Mac… 1975 on speed dial, and Rumours in my blood,” “Tell me who to hate, yeah, you don’t have to worry, I don’t have to meet ’em, I believe your story,” and so many more. Her songs are so characteristically her: the stories she tells, the details in the lyrics, the plot twists, THE MULTIPLE PLOT TWISTS, the melodies… I could keep going; she just has such a distinctive voice as a songwriter. Also, as I said on Twitter when the EP came out, I have huge respect for Butch Walker and his production on the project. It’s so cohesive. The guitars in particular are just utterly gorgeous. They just make my autistic brain so happy, so calm in the chaos of everything around me: they have the same frequencies as magic and joy, orange skies and tears of relief. It’s a strange thing to try and explain.

Favourite Tracks: I don’t think I actually have any specific favourites (although ‘Alibi’ is an absolute jam); I just really love the project as a whole. It’s so cohesive, lyrically and musically, and although I have my favourite lyrics, I don’t feel able to pick any song above another because they’re all really good and all consistently really good. And they’re just so Kalie, something that the ‘Love Child’ visualiser shows in such a beautiful way…

If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power by Halsey (August 2021) – (This one is going to be long because I have a lot of thoughts so please bear with me.) As one YouTube comment reads: “It’s the kind of album a queen sings while she declares war.” It’s a very apt description. It’s so cohesive (yes, it’s a concept album but not all concept albums feel cohesive) and so lyrically complex, deep and thoughtful and powerful. I have to admit that, despite the album being out for several months now, I still don’t feel like I fully understand it; I still feel like I have so many layers to peel back.

During her interview with Zane Lowe, she says that feels like she’s finally perfected the concept album – she considers all of her albums to be concept albums – even if it’s to a lesser degree like Manic, which she describes more as having a motif but still fundamentally being a concept album. Lowe comments that all of their albums sound like they’re a complete thought, rather than a selection of random songs thrown together, something Halsey said they would never do: their albums will always have some sort of central theme or throughline to them (I thoroughly appreciate this since I’m the same when creating music projects). The concept for this album was described as “the joys and horrors of pregnancy and childbirth” and “the dichotomy of the Madonna and the Whore,” the societal idea that you can be sexually desirable but not a mother or maternal but not sexually desirable – an idea that Halsey addressed when announcing the album, “…me as a sexual being and my body as a vessel and gift to my child are two concepts that can co-exist peacefully and powerfully…“; it’s not a pregnancy album but an album she wrote while pregnant about her experience of pregnancy and the related issues of womanhood, motherhood, and so on. It could have easily been a girl power/female empowerment album but Halsey is crystal clear in their Zane Lowe interview that it isn’t, pointing out that the only times they talk about femininity, it’s in a negative context: describing the girl as a weapon in ‘Girl Is a Gun’; telling herself to “be a big girl” in ‘You asked for this,’ something that is often said condescendingly, to invalidate a female opinion; ‘honey’ describes a turbulent relationship, detailing the positive and negative qualities of both parties; ‘Whispers’ sees her cruelly list the reasons why she wants to be loved but never will be; in ‘The Lighthouse’ she plays the part of a siren, luring men to their deaths and revelling in the power she has over them, and so on. It’s only a ‘girl power album’ in that she, Halsey, made it but it’s ultimately too nuanced a concept – with lyrics delving into themes including feminism, bodily autonomy, the patriarchy, institutional misogyny, as well as Halsey’s more personal experiences – to be portrayed in a way that could be described as neatly as ‘girl power.’ There is so much to this concept that I feel like, while I like and appreciate the songs as songs, I’m still making sense of them in their wider context. This is something I love about Halsey – how thoughtful and thought-provoking their writing is, whether that’s through lyrics or poetry – but it’s something that I do, at times, find challenging: as an autistic person, I do have a tendency to take things literally and so sometimes I feel kind of stupid for not understanding themes or ideas that other listeners immediately pick up on. That’s something that I really liked about Manic, I think: the songs were still held together by a central idea but it was a bit more… straightforward, if that makes sense. The idea of ‘finding Ashley again after being Halsey for so long’ felt easier to understand and, in some ways, feel a part of. I’ve found that the more complex the concept or narrative that Halsey works with (hopeless fountain kingdom and If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power being the biggest examples of this), the more separate I feel from their music and from the fandom, kind of like, ‘well, if you don’t understand it, you don’t deserve to be here.’ It’s confusing and more than a bit draining sometimes.

Having said that, I do really like the songs, even if I’m still figuring out all of the layers and connections. The lyrics and melodies are as impactful as ever. Listing all of my favourites would take far too long but there are a good handful that just take my breath away every time I hear them: I think ‘Bells of Santa Fe’ is beautifully written, from “Don’t call me by my name / All of this is temporary” to “Jesus needed a three day weekend / To sort out all his bullshit, figure out the treason” to “Don’t wait for me, don’t wait for me, wait / It’s not a happy ending”; I love the verses of ‘Easier Than Lying,’ especially the first with the lyric, “I’m only whatever you make me / And you make me more and more a villain every day” and how that idea is developed through that section; ‘Lilith’ is super interesting and I love the power behind the lyric, “And by now, I don’t need a fuckin’ introduction,” something I also love about the lyric, “I come loaded with the safety switched off” in ‘Girl Is a Gun’; I love pretty much everything about ‘Darling’ but the bridge absolutely gets me every time, especially the lyrics, “I’ll kidnap all the stars and I will keep them in your eyes / I’ll wrap them up in velvet twine / And hang ’em from a fishin’ line / So I can see them anytime I like,” which I think is such an excellent example of what a fantastic songwriter Halsey is; I feel similarly about ‘1121’ in that I just love every lyric and how emotionally raw it makes me feel; ‘honey’ took a while to grow on me but the melody is just incredible and I will probably have it stuck in my head somewhere forever, or at least until she writes something even catchier; the chorus of ‘I am not a woman, I’m a god’ – “I am not a woman, I’m a god / I am not a martyr, I’m a problem / I am not a legend, I’m a fraud / Keep your heart ’cause I already got one” – is so explicit and unapologetic that I can’t help but feel drawn in by it and the verse lyrics only add to that feeling; I absolutely love ‘The Lighthouse,’ the character that Halsey embodies, and the way they weaves the lyrics to create such visceral emotion in a song (to the point where I could probably write a whole blog post on it but I won’t); and ‘Ya’aburnee’ feels like the perfect closer, in its structure, its stripped back production, and the profoundly beautiful lyrics, like “I think we could live forever / In each other’s faces,” “And if we don’t live forever / Maybe one day, we’ll trade places / Darling, you will bury me / Before I bury you,” “So take my pockets, take me whole / Take my life and take my soul / Wrap me in a wedding ring / You know I swear I’d give you anything,” and so on (in her Zane Lowe interview, she talks about how this song contains some of her favourite lyrics and how it’s both a love song to their partner and their child, something Lowe had pointed out previously: the impressive and intriguing way Halsey can write a lyric that could be addressed to themself, their partner, their child, or their listener and that that distinction is left open to interpretation). 

Having said all of this, I do think their lyrical style has shifted slightly since Manic, most notably in the way that they seem to be favouring metaphors over detail. There are very few lyrics like the vivid “Your eyes, so crisp, so green / Sour apple baby, but you taste so sweet / You got hips like Jagger and two left feet / And I wonder if you’d like to meet” and “I grab your hand and then we run to the car / Singing in the street and playing air guitar” in ‘Finally // beautiful stranger’ or the anxious chorus of ‘3am’ or the heart-achingly raw “And I remember this girl with pink hair in Detroit / Well, she told me / She said, ‘Ashley, you gotta promise us that you won’t die / ‘Cause we need you,’ and honestly, I think that she lied / And I remember the names of every single kid I’ve met / But I forget half the people who I’ve gotten in bed / And I’ve stared at the sky in Milwaukee / And hoped that my father would finally call me / And it’s just these things that I’m thinkin’ for hours / And I’m pickin’ my hair out in clumps in the shower / Lost the love of my life to an ivory powder / But then I realize that I’m no higher power / That I wasn’t in love then, and I’m still not now / And I’m so happy I figured that out / I’ve got a long way to go until self-preservation / Think my moral compass is on a vacation / And I can’t believe I still feed my fucking temptation / I’m still looking for my salvation.” This isn’t a criticism per se because every artist grows and develops and each project requires a slightly different approach but there was something so raw and real about the writing on Manic that I do miss on this album (although, of course, it also has things that I love that weren’t present on Manic). And while I think I preferred the production style on Manic (just a stylistic preference), I think the production of this album is fantastic. ‘The Tradition’ and ‘Bells of Santa Fe’ are cinematic and ominous; there’s a heaviness and dread to ‘You Asked for This’; ‘Girl Is a Gun’ and ‘honey’ are wild and energetic; ‘1121’ feels very vulnerable; there’s a confidence and swagger to ‘The Lighthouse’; and ‘Darling’ and ‘Ya’aburnee’ are gentle and intimate. All these songs sound very different but they somehow manage to exist in the same sonically cohesive bubble.

She says something really interesting during the Zane Lowe interview that I’m still thinking about all of this time later. Lowe commented on how their four albums feel reflective of their growth: out of the  deeply conceptual albums of Badlands and hopeless fountain kingdom came Manic, where they seemed to find a real sense of their identity, and now we have If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, which he said felt like the final step before being able to share your truth and your story and your life with another person, a sentiment that Halsey agreed with. Halsey herself goes on to say that, while it isn’t true and is antithetical to the album (but as a real thought it deserves it’s own space), they felt like they had to say everything that they wouldn’t be able to say once they became someone’s mother; they had to get rid of all of the stories of guilt and insecurity and self sabotage and so on before starting over in this new chapter of their life. They say that they had a moment of panic at about six weeks pregnant about whether they had to be or were going to be boring now, given that so many things that they self identified with aren’t traditionally compatible with being a mother. They talk about a realisation about themselves and their future growth: “Oh, I’m holding on to my trauma because it’s part of how I define myself and I’m never really gonna grow unless I really let go of that trauma.” Lowe suggests that the album is a purging of sorts and Halsey agrees. That whole discussion – about identity and growth and purging oneself of certain parts of the past and certain things that inform who we are – has been really thought-provoking.

And finally, I also really liked the discussion of the title, ‘If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power,’ given how interesting it is and how it isn’t directly referenced within the album itself. Lowe and Halsey talk about how it isn’t a ‘likeable’ title – this idea that if she can’t have a relationship, she’ll work and she’ll be ruthless and hardened and so on – but that it’s more of a starting point, something steadfast that she ends up developing away from because suddenly there’s this baby to consider; ultimately, she chooses love. She says that, “The irony is that the most power I’ve ever had is in the agency I have in that I chose love. That’s what’s given me the most power.” And that statement kind of takes my breath away because we know from what they’ve shared about their life that they’ve been through a lot and it hasn’t been easy; it would be much easier to abandon the idea of love out of a warped sense of self preservation but here they are, working through their shit and choosing love anyway despite the difficult things that they have experienced. They’ve found the comfort and power of taking their life back, making it their own, and putting themselves first, and that feels like an incredible process of growth that we’ve been given the honour of witnessing.

So, to end this incredibly long section on just one album, I feel like I didn’t fall in love with If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power in the same way that I did with Manic (which is totally fine – different albums resonate differently with each of us) but there’s a lot I love about it. It’s grown on me steadily and I think it will continue as I unravel more of the stories and ideas that makes this album so complex and thought-provoking. There’s a lot to admire about it and about Halsey and as much as I love listening to the work they’ve already put out, I also can’t help but look forward to whatever they choose to explore next because I know it will be completely unexpected and completely incredible.

Favourite Tracks: ‘Bells in Sante Fe,’ ‘Girl is a Gun,’ ‘Darling,’ ‘1121,’ ‘Whispers,’ ‘I am not a woman, I’m a god,’ ‘The Lighthouse,’ and ‘Ya’aburnee.’

Human by OneRepublic (August 2021) – While there were songs I liked on Oh My My, I much preferred the more classic soundscape of Native and their previous albums so when Ryan Tedder said that this would be their “most OneRepublic album” up to now, I was really excited and I can absolutely hear that; sonically, it’s definitely reminiscent of Native and Waking Up in particular, although it does incorporate some more electronic sounds (it reminded me of 1989 by Taylor Swift in that sense). The songs (‘Distance’ and ‘Savior,’ for example) are big and epic, which really reminded me of Native; that was something I always really loved about that album. And I think the newer electronic sounds were worked into the arrangements well. The melodies are just ridiculously catchy – if Tedder should be known for anything, it should be his ability to craft a melody so catchy that you’ll most likely remember it for the rest of your life – and Tedder’s vocals are as flawless and emotive as ever. But having said all of that, I was a little disappointed in the lyrics. There were some great lines but I felt like the majority of the album was made up of broader, more general statements. For example, “I’ll keep a message of you if you call, of you if you call / And choke on the memories” in ‘Choke’ from Oh My My or “Heart still beating but it’s not working / It’s like a hundred thousand voices that just can’t sing” in ‘Feel Again’ and “I’ll light your fire till my last day / I’ll let your fields burn around me, around me” in ‘What You Wanted’ from Native all feel deeply emotional with very distinct imagery whereas I didn’t get that same feeling with this album. I really enjoy listening to it but I don’t get that emotional lift that I get from some of their other albums, Native in particular.

Favourite Tracks: ‘Distance,’ ‘Rescue Me,’ ‘Savior,’ ‘Wanted,’ ‘Better Days,’ and ‘Ships + Tides.’

star-crossed by Kacey Musgraves (September 2021) – While I loved a lot of Golden Hour, I can’t help but feel like Kacey Musgraves has been slowly losing the thing that made her so unique back in the days of ‘Merry Go Round’ and Same Trailer Different Park. That feels like a very negative note to start on, which I don’t like doing, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking for a while and it’s something that makes me really sad. I’ve loved songs from all of her albums: nine on Same Trailer Different Park (I loved ‘Silver Lining,’ ‘Keep It to Yourself,’ ‘Stupid,’ and ‘Follow Your Arrow’ especially), five on Pageant Material (I think ‘Family Is Family’ and ‘Cup of Tea’ were my favourites), and seven on Golden Hour (I loved ‘Oh, What a World,’ ‘Love Is a Wild Thing,’ ‘Space Cowboy’ – although the grammatical error in the title still really annoys me… – and ‘Rainbow’). When I liked Golden Hour so much more than I’d liked Pageant Material, I’d hoped that it was just the difficulty of writing a second album after writing such a great (and wildly successful) first one so I was looking forward to this one: Golden Hour was a great third album, she’d had a lot of time to write new material (apparently she’d written forty songs to choose from), and she’d lived a lot of life so I felt like the chances of a strong album were good. But personally, I do feel kind of underwhelmed.

She’s described it as more country than Golden Hour multiple times but I don’t hear that at all – it’ just too shimmery, if that makes any sense at all. To me, it sounds much more like a glossy pop album that occasionally dips it’s toe into country; how it was actually possible to classify it as a country album, I don’t know. I’ve also seen her talk about Greek tragedies and a three act structure to the album, neither of which I would’ve naturally heard in the album: the three act description only made sense once I heard her break down the tracklist. I’m not trying to undermine what she’s saying or how she perceives the album but it just kind of reminds me of when the concept in a concept album isn’t clear enough so that, even if the songs are really good, that overall connecting theme gets lost.

When it comes to the songs, I have pretty mixed feelings. I liked how ‘star-crossed’ very effectively sets the scene for the rest of the album but then ‘good wife’ feels like an odd blend of Christian-pop and RnB. I really liked the imagery in ‘cherry blossom’ but the lyrics still felt a little simplistic compared to her usual writing; the lyrics to ‘simple times’ just felt like a stereotype of the 90s and they kind of made me cringe; and I liked ‘justified,’ mostly because it felt like there was more emotional depth and the lyrics felt stronger. I was kind of put off by the production of ‘breadwinner’ and then the chorus just made me cringe, particularly the lyric, “He wants your dinner.” I don’t know; it just makes me feel weird and uncomfortable. I really liked ‘camera roll,’ even though I don’t generally like songs with such technologically up to date language; I find it tends to date a song. But there were some lovely lyrics in this one, like “Chronological order and nothing but torture / Scroll too far back, that’s what you get / I don’t wanna see ’em, but I can’t delete ’em / It just doesn’t feel right yet, not yet” and “All the best, that’s all that’s left / Cruel evidence,” and it just felt much more Kacey than so many of the other songs. I really liked the chorus of ‘what doesn’t kill me.’ But then I really didn’t get on with ‘there is a light.’ I couldn’t work out what the arrangement was trying to do, the metaphor wasn’t one of her best, and the lyrics just got too repetitive. And while I like what Kacey has said about ‘gracias a la vida,’ I’m not convinced that including it on the album was a good decision. Given that it’s all in Spanish, the production is constantly changing, and that it’s unclear why it belongs on the album without her explanation, I don’t think it’s a strong closing track.

So, while I like the songs I like, I just feel a bit disappointed because we know what a great writer she is. Back in her Same Trailer Different Park days, I considered her one of my favourite artists but I just don’t enjoy her music the way I did back then. I’m not jumping ship as a fan but this album just hasn’t got me in the way some of her previous have. Mainly I’m just a bit sad because I was looking forward to it and looking forward to seeing her tour again but I’m not sure if there are enough songs that I like and if I like them enough to justify the cost of a ticket.

Favourite Tracks: ‘star-crossed,’ ‘cherry blossom,’ ‘justified,’ ‘camera roll,’ ‘hookup scene,’ ‘keep lookin’ up,’ and ‘what doesn’t kill me.’

Pins And Needles by Natalie Hemby (October 2021) – Since this album has barely been out a week, these are very much my first impressions of it; I haven’t had time to have a really thorough listen and really explore it yet. But I couldn’t not mention it on National Album Day when it’s an album I’ve been looking forward to for so long. There’s a lot I like about it. ‘Heroes’ has a great power chorus. ‘New Madrid’ has a catchy, emotive melody  and I love the imagery in the lyrics: “And a heart that hasn’t moved in years,” “Remember when we made the Mississippi River run backwards,” “Shifting pieces, pretending we can’t feel the rift between us,” “And the ground we tread will bury us someday,” and so on. They’re just stunning. The only thing that bothers me is the way the emphasis is on the wrong syllable of ‘Madrid’ (on ‘Ma,’ instead of ‘drid’). I love the imagery and the metaphors in ‘Pins and Needles’ and the internal rhyming in the chorus is so satisfying: “You got my number, my thunder / And it’s your thumb that I’m under.” Ugh, so good! Again, I love the imagery in ‘Lake Air’ – “We were silhouettes / Ghosts in the rain / And we almost froze / When we left our clothes / By the water bank,” “I breathe you in / And kept you there,” and “There’s a certain sound / When the world disappears / And your heart is beating / So hard it’s all you can hear,” for example – it’s all so vivid, like you can see it playing out in front of you. I like the twist in the final chorus of ‘Banshee.’ I LOVE ‘Radio Silence.’ It’s easily my favourite song on the album and possibly my favourite Natalie Hemby song. It’s so sad but so, so beautiful and there’s such wistful longing there; I find it so deeply relatable. The main electric guitar sounds so sad, so lonely; it was the perfect choice of instrumentation for the song. The chorus is one of the most emotive choruses I’ve heard in a long time: “I tried to reach you through the growing static / I tried to replicate the fading magic / Did everything to keep the signal from dying / All I got was radio silence.” It captures the feeling of a friendship or relationship slipping away so perfectly and I just love the metaphor of reaching out only to get radio silence in return; it’s as lonely an image as the feeling of someone you care about fading from your life. The lyrics are gorgeous – “I wasn’t ready for / The way you shut the door / And left me standing in the frame” is one of my favourites – and the lift into the chorus hits in just the right way that it takes my breath away every time. The final chorus, doubled with different lyrics – “I tried to reach you through the growing static / I tried to replicate the fading magic / Did everything to keep the signal from dying / All I got was radio silence / I tried to tell you that it’s gonna get better / I tried to put the pieces back together / Did everything to keep the signal from dying / All I got was radio silence” – adds a new layer of emotional intensity and ends the song beautifully. And her vocals are just perfect. It’s a stunning song. I love the imagery in the lyrics of ‘Pinwheel’: “Pinwheel, my head’s spinning / Tilting all the world in a colourful collision / Pinwheel, visions always blurry / Everything’s a wash, like pictures in a hurry,” “Carried all my dreams by the handle / Heavy as an anvil,” and “Maybe I’m a ten cent amusement / And maybe I’m a weapon and you don’t wanna use it,” and so on. And although I can’t quite explain how, the production sounds like a funfair: all the bright colours; the loud, strange noises; and overly sweet or salty smells and tastes. I can’t explain it; that’s just the sensory experience that comes to mind when I listen to it. And I really like ‘Last Resort,’ for the most part. I loved the guitar; it was such a gentle, soothing sound. And again, I loved the imagery in the lyrics (she’s an incredible lyricist): “When you’re wandering / Lost in your own land / I’ll clear a long road / That you can follow / Lead you to right where I am,” “Caught in the storm / When the shelters you build / Fall without warning,” and “In desperation / Please remember me / When hell burns brighter / I’ll put out the fire / That burns in the bad memories” are my favourites. And the instrumentation is gorgeous too. I particularly love the electric guitar between the second chorus and the bridge; it’s just such a beautiful sound and it’s so emotive. My only issue with it is that, as far as I can tell, this is a song about how you’ll always be there for someone, steadfast when all else fails. But the chorus line of “I’ll be your last resort” sounds more like the narrator is saying that they’re happy to be the other person’s last choice and that doesn’t really jive with the rest of the song as far as I can tell. I feel like it should either be saying something like, ‘I’ll always be here, you never need to ask’ (or ‘I’ll always pick up when you call,’ if you want something that fits with the rhyme scheme) or the song needs to explore why the narrator is okay with being this other person’s last choice, why they’re still always there if that’s the case. Other than that, it’s a beautiful closer.

Favourite Tracks: ‘New Madrid,’ ‘Pins and Needles,’ ‘Radio Silence,’ ‘Pinwheel,’ and ‘Last Resort.’

I like to listen to albums as full albums – from start to finish and in one go, if possible – but I don’t always have the time to do that when life gets busy. So I do have a bit of a backlog on my list of albums to listen to, plus the upcoming albums that I’m looking forward to hearing. Some of these are:

  • It’s Hard To Be Human by Kina Grannis
  • At War With The Silver Fish by Laura Jane Grace
  • Petals For Armor by Hayley Williams
  • Mercury – Act 1 by Imagine Dragons
  • Hurts 2B Human by P!nk
  • Thrive by Cassadee Pope
  • Red (Taylor’s Version) by Taylor Swift
  • 30 by Adele
  • The Shires’ upcoming fifth album
  • Maren Morris’ upcoming third album

But I like having a new album to look forward to and fortunately, there are always more.