Welcome to the Dirty Computer era of Janelle Monáe, featuring songs like “I Like That” that explore difference and self-acceptance over danceable R&B-meets-pop production. Singer-songwriter Shea Diamond also makes a play for self-love on the fun-loving, bluesy “Keisha Complexion.” Aussie artist Ruel is just 15, but somehow he’s already making heartbreak pop sure to connect with much more mature audiences. Justin Bieber’s longtime producer Poo Bear breaks out on his own with a new album of collaborations, including a Zara Larsson feature. And Aloe Blacc recalls a fading love on “Brooklyn in the Summer.”
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"I Like That," Janelle Monáe
Janelle Monáe released her visual album Dirty Computer today — and also an “emotion picture,” as she’s calling it — following the hype of early singles “Make Me Feel” and “PYNK.” “I Like That,” another music video released earlier in the week, is softer and warmer than the other singles, less dance party than self-affirmation. “I’m always left of center, and that’s right where I belong,” she sings, a reminder that being different is not a bad thing. Towards the end of the song, she breaks into a spoken reflection about growing up and being made fun of. Her voice is rich and soothing, as though the memory, painful as it might be, has softened at the edges over time, giving her strength. “But even back then, with the tears in my eyes, I always knew I was the sh-t,” she insists. Now, we’re catching up to her prescience.
"Keisha Complexion," Shea Diamond
Shea Diamond brings unregulated sass to the blues on “Keisha Complexion,” a new single with a grooving bass line and writing credits from pop mastermind Justin Tranter. Off an upcoming debut EP out in June, “Keisha Complexion” is a sultry celebration of self, sung in Diamond’s notably rich voice. This isn’t the Arkansas-born, Michigan-raised transgender artist’s first self-love anthem, either: her powerful 2016 song “I Am Her” was also a soulful ode to claiming identity. But now on “Keisha Complexion,” Diamond is ready to have some fun.
"Dazed & Confused," Ruel
If you’re looking for someone to fill the young-pop-prodigy gap in your playlist, look no further than Ruel. At just 15, the precocious Aussie multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter finds moody pop magic on “Dazed and Confused,” rather in the vein of Purpose-era Justin Bieber’s most mature and earworm-ready hits. But “Dazed and Confused,” a new release off of Ruel’s forthcoming debut EP out in June, stands apart by drawing on blues and R&B for added depth. It’s more upbeat than Ruel’s previous two popular tracks, the melancholy “Don’t Tell Me” and nostalgic “Golden Years,” and with its unexpected layers, suggests Ruel’s range is only just becoming clear.
"Brooklyn in the Summer," Aloe Blacc
Aloe Blacc is here to remind us that some sounds — classic soul ballads, for instance — are timeless. “Brooklyn in the Summer,” off an upcoming album out later this summer, is a breezy recollection of romance. Perhaps best known for hits like “I Need a Dollar,” “The Man” and his vocal contribution to the late DJ Avicii‘s inescapable “Wake Me Up,” the Grammy-nominated Blacc’s powerful voice finds a floating resonance on “Brooklyn in the Summer,” evoking the highs and lows of a love story on its final chapter.
"Either," Poo Bear feat. Zara Larsson
Producer Poo Bear — best known for his work with Justin Bieber — has decided to create an annual “Poo Bear Presents” album, starting with today’s inaugural release of Bearthday Music. This is a good thing: he has access to a diverse range of top-tier artists (on this album alone, he’s tapped everyone from Juanes to Anitta to Jennifer Lopez and, of course, Bieber) and his light, warm melodies are easy listening in a good way. On “Either,” featuring the delightfully versatile Swedish pop talent Zara Larsson, he lets Larsson’s agile voice and lyrics on romantic indecision shine over understated production.