This Friday is International Women's Day, and it comes with a full slate of great songs from female artists. Consider Maren Morris's sophomore album, aptly titled Girl, and its sassy ode to independence, "Flavor." Then there's Norwegian pop star Sigrid, with debut album Sucker Punch stocked with dancefloor favorites — and a few sly, elegant ballads like "Level Up." Prolific Ariana Grande collaborator Tayla Parx makes a mark on her own in the extremely catchy "I Want You." And it's not just the women; this week, the label behind K-pop group BTS launched a new group, TXT, with a promising debut. And Louis Tomlinson, of One Direction fame, has an emotional new solo ballad that remembers his mother, who he lost to cancer.
"Flavor," Maren Morris
On her sophomore album Girl, versatile country singer Maren Morris proves she has plenty still to say. "Flavor" is perhaps the spiciest of the new offerings. "If you don't like the heat, then get out of the kitchen," she warns, all sass. The song has a boot-stomping country backbone, but gets a bluesy boost with electric guitar riffs and a bit of pop gloss from Morris's own idiosyncratic vocal stylings. And she even pays homage to the Dixie Chicks: "Shut up and sing? Well hell no, I won't."
"Level Up," Sigrid
Norway's rising pop talent Sigrid is best known for dance-worthy tracks like the effervescent "Don't Kill My Vibe" and triumphant "Strangers." But her debut album Sucker Punch also features a few delicate ballads, like the startlingly intimate "Level Up," that let her voice shine with clarity over only the simplest of backup production. Her Norwegian lilt and range makes for an affecting listen in this sing-song melody: "All the problems that we dance around are hanging in the midnight air; I know you're tempted to just leave 'em there," she sings, a lovely little lullaby of an almost-breakup tune. And yet: "When we get through the struggle, that's when we level up," she insists, all sweet optimism.
"I Want You," Tayla Parx
Now would be a good time to get familiar with the name Tayla Parx. So far, Parx has been one of the close-knit collaborators behind Ariana Grande, contributing to that pop star's ongoing successes with hits like "7 Rings" and "thank u, next." But Parx also has her own past as a child actor and dancer — and now she's ready to break out on her own, with an upcoming solo project this spring. "I Want You" is a nimble, effective track, hitting that sweet spot of R&B-infused pop with a light touch. It's bright without being bouncy, playful without being sugar-sweet. And it will get stuck in your head instantly.
"Two of Us," Louis Tomlinson
Two years ago, it seemed Louis Tomlinson was on top of the world: as one of the members of supergroup One Direction, which had just gone on hiatus, he was free to pursue a solo career with an already-passionate fanbase. Then, he tragically lost his mother to leukemia. "Two Of Us" is his self-professed message to his mom, a song that radiates with sadness even as it looks forward. It will take One Direction fans back to the sound of some of that group's most affecting ballads, starting out with spare piano before building to a cathartic pop chorus. "I'll be living one life for the two of us," Tomlinson sings. "Even when I'm on my own, I know I won't be alone."
"CROWN," TOMORROW X TOGETHER
From the K-pop shop that brought you global sensation BTS now comes the five-member group TOMORROW X TOGETHER (or TXT for short), debuting this week with a five-song project called Dream Chapter: Star. "CROWN" is the single of the bunch, a bubbly and upbeat addition to the K-pop universe. Don't expect TXT to reinvent the wheel sonically here; they're capably mixing hip-hop, pop and EDM elements in the familiar formula, sung in Korean with an inevitably infectious beat. But if you dig deeper into the lyrics, you'll discover a message of self-doubt and loneliness that they work to banish with a little help from a friend.