How the New Pop Stars Revived Adult Contemporary Music in 2022

sophomore album hold the girl, British breakout artist Rina Sawayama, known for her mashup style (Y2K pop meets nu-metal meets ’90s R&B) on her 2020 debut, doubles down on her sonic signature. This time, she’s focused on her early 2000s adult sounds on her contemporary radio, drums the size of stadiums, updated with her fills and stomping club beats, and parenting herself. tells the story of

From the acrobatic “ay-ee-ay-ee-ay” choruses of “Catch Me in the Air” and “Forgiveness” to the acoustic country-pop sweetness of “Send My Love to John” and the sheen of piano power. to a glossy sheen. Closing ballad “To Be Alive” hold the girl creates a world of vintage pop songs for emotionally literate millennials seeking to recapture the musical joys of childhood in the 2000s with an adult perspective on a decade-old medical condition.

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Rina Sawayama – Catch Me In The Air (Official Visualizer)

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If 2021 brought pop-punk back into the mainstream with albums from artists like Olivia Rodrigo and Willow, 2022 saw adult contemporary make a glorious, glorious comeback. It’s exactly the music I remember from my childhood. I was sitting on the backmost bench of my mom’s ’96 Town and Country on the driver’s side of her seat. It’s a vocal flourish that swoons from overdubs. This is deceptive music, its acoustic guitar and piano driven pop laying the foundation for a powerful voice that drives a sense of challenge to new beginnings (“I’m going to tell everyone to lighten up”), Guess fortune in love (“Baby, isn’t that how love should be?), or completely surrender to it (“And for your love I take my last breath”) to the brink of complete saturation.

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Like the romantic comedies of the decade before it, the adult-contemporary genre is home to music that delves deeply into female emotions, leaving soap operas to frankly feel-good Hot 100 pop hits. It lasts as long as the song does, but it doesn’t. Every song on adult contemporary radio was about emotional leftovers. Torn and unable to let it go, a woman falls in love again with the shadow of her past creeping over her shoulders, far beyond the point of anyone else caring. Explore the emotional clarity that comes after a personal disaster. Ultimately, it begs the question: Who am I now that I know I can make it through this?

This year’s album from new trailblazers of pop musicians Sawayama, Maggie Rogers and LA’s three-piece MUNA uses adult contemporary as the basis for its sound, with its own set of influences on top of it. Sawayama added a futuristic vision of 80’s arena rock and early Max Martin. Rogers embraced the lifeblood of New York New Wave and threw himself into a twisted male-dominated territory during his growing up years. MUNA kept the dark nightclub heartthrob from their previous albums for electronic and heartfelt effect.

All three acts are on track from arena openers to high ticket bills, supporting the likes of Taylor Swift, Lorde and Kacey Musgraves, as well as filling those seats in the years to come. All of their albums are products of space-ordered introspection, stemming from the onset of the pandemic and reacting to the whims of fame and success.

Maggie Rogers

For Sawayama, it manifested as going back to her childhood and using the popular music of the time (particularly Shania Twain’s country pop) to free herself from old traumas and create something she never grew up queer. . , an Asian girl living under section 28 in the UK. “If I could heal people around me or people I didn’t know with the songs I wrote, I was given the opportunity to do so,” she told ELLE in June. “

For Rodgers, crushed by intense pressure to make her debut and the years of non-stop touring that followed, her retreat to Maine in the early days of the pandemic was rooted in her creative process. It was my chance to come back. The way she is rather than serving an industry that expects something from her.

The genre of adult contemporary was home to music that explored the sincerity of women.

“I think I’m coming back to songwriting with the same vulnerable, intimate feeling that I had when I was writing songs just for myself in high school and college,” she told earlier this year.

Surrender, her sophomore album, released in July, is a full-throttle offering that pushes everything to the brink of emotion. Production, a stretched contrast between the slowed-down, Vanessa Carlton-esque opener “Overdrive” and New Wave’s frenetic “Shutter.” And that sentiment is self-possessed on “That’s Where I Am,” and subconsciously optimistic on the acoustic slow-burn “Begging for Rain,” and closer “Different Kind of World.”

Rodgers made the kind of album she wished she’d heard live in her absence from shows, but felt confident about her place in the music industry and her vision for the future as a more central figure. “I think that’s the essence of creativity, right?” she told in July. “When you create the world you want to see, these acts of imagination inevitably become very hopeful,” she says.

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Maggie Rogers – Horses (Official Video)

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For MUNA, the self-titled third album was a professional sea change that sent Katie Gavin, Josette Musquin, and Naomi McPherson back to the drawing board and questioned their unexpected departure from major label RCA in early 2020. was the result of What it’s like to make music like they’re a ‘huge dyke boy band’.

Gavin, the group’s lead singer, said on Zoom in December:

“It would have really meant something to me at age 12, 13 to see a band like ours,” McPherson told in June.

“The record we made sounds like an early 2000s record, but it’s definitely more queer than an early 2000s record.”

When MUNA dressed up as Lindsay Lohan’s band, The Pink Slip, for the film, it led to a certain amount of fun irony. freaky friday For a hometown show at the end of the tour at the end of October. For someone like me who started making memories and searching for my own musical interests at the turn of the century, it seemed like the only band that didn’t have it. Any The cis men in them (where members play instruments, unlike pop girl groups like the Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child) are like Pink Slips and Josie and the Pussycats. It was fictional. Arguably, for the non-binary McPherson, those times were more devastating. But even Musquin, who recalls going to see Hart’s band play while growing up, says there was something reductive and tokenized about the way rock bands were talked about at the time. She finds MUNA oversimplifications to be similar.

“It wasn’t like a woman playing rock music. girl band‘ she says. “I always felt like some kind of token girl band…and Hart was very sexualized.”


MUNA’s Naomi McPherson, Katie Gavin, and Josette Musquin.

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Gavin has expressed similar trepidation about what he has internalized about the music industry and how likely he is to succeed when he grows up.

“I was convinced that the keys to the kingdom were held by powerful men and only given to women who wanted to have sex,” she says.

Let’s be clear: MUNA can do it. But those who are mad about the band’s chemistry on stage were able to make or break an artist’s career based on their liking for cis male record executives in the 2000s. Recently, MUNA came under the umbrella of fellow queer musician Phoebe Bridgers and her label Saddest Factory, abandoning the emotional intimacy, the lyrical and lived experience of queer existence. created a sparkling pop music record without abandoning the more adventurous electronic. impulse.Their self-titled album, released this summer, features his teenage rom-coms of the 2000s (and eventually of one this year), you can sit right beside the full-throated “What I Want” and the downtempo country-pop ballad “Kind of Girl.”

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MUNA – Kind of Girl (Official Video)

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“There is something beautiful about trying to honor that legacy by revisiting the sound of our elders and striving to fill it with our own version. [as possible]’ says Gavin. “The record we made he sounds like an early 2000s record, but it’s definitely more queer than an early 2000s record.”

Many artists who might have felt excluded by the essentialism of gender and sexuality in the 2000s, such as Rina Sawayama, Maggie Rogers, and MUNA, have grown up to rise above the adult contemporary tradition of acoustic guitar and piano this year. Built to make great music. Music that was popular in an era with a completely different attitude. iLe explored the world’s socio-political landscape and her place within it as a Puerto Rican woman depicted in her Cubist self-portrait. NakarileBritish Connie Constance analyzed interpersonal dynamics as a black woman. miss power; SZA turned on the acoustic turn SOS. Be more realistic about your romantic impulses without anxiety or flattery.

Outside the world of music, youthful nostalgia began to seep into the mainstream this year, with young TikTok viewers thrilled by the aesthetic of miniskirts and low-rise jeans, and how those styles came about. I will tell you. An era when impossible beauty standards were emphasized Around thinness and whiteness and femininity. Did you grow up in the 2000s? That 10 years of her was pure brain poisoning. But if we can resist oversimplification of the past, like Rina Sawayama, Maggie Rogers and MUNA did in 2022, we can deconstruct the past and build it anew in ways that serve our adult selves. If you can, vintage sounds can be fertile soil to plant. garden inside.

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