This week, Selena Gomez and Kesha make a return to the pop spotlight with very different sounds — Gomez leaning into an emotional new era, while Kesha returns to her party roots. Meanwhile, King Princess’ debut album is a strong first project from a young artist with a sound all her own. Frank Ocean feeds his fans with “DHL.” And Rex Orange County doubles down on his Gen Z style.
“Lose You to Love Me,” Selena Gomez
For a pop star, Selena Gomez has maintained an unusual amount of distance between her personal life and her music. So maybe that’s why “Lose You to Love Me,” the first official single from the singer-actor-entertainment-phenomenon heralding a new album after four years of one-off releases, feels so surprising. Sonically, it’s an emotional ballad; lyrically, it’s a breakup anthem about healing; and as far as production goes, it’s a soaring bit of pop. There were plenty of cooks in the kitchen on this one, including writers Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter and producers Mattman & Robin and Finneas, brother of Billie Eilish. Together, they’ve concocted something that is universal in its appeal, but hints at specifics that have played out in tabloids for years. We’re used to hearing Gomez twist her voice into subtle murmurs over infectious beats; here, we hear her more clearly and cleanly than we have in a long time. That’s no mistake, of course. Welcome to the new era of Selena Gomez.
“Raising Hell,” Kesha feat. Big Freedia
When we last heard from Kesha, she was clearing the air after a years-long record-label struggle; Rainbow was cathartic and emotional, with moments of self-empowerment. “Raising Hell,” her new single featuring rapper Big Freedia, promises she has plenty of party left to share. “I’m only f-cked up in my Sunday best, no walk of shame ’cause I love this dress,” she sings. “Hungover, heart of gold, holy mess, doin’ my best — b-tch, I’m blessed.” This is Kesha at her catchiest, with snappy lyrical snippets just begging for a singalong. “Raising Hell,” which takes its cues from gospel with electronic production and some rollicking “Timber”-like moments, doesn’t counteract her maturity; it just accepts that sometimes, it’s fun to be wild — a lesson Kesha has long been teaching.
“If You Think It’s Love,” King Princess
“If this is love,” King Princess sighs, her voice manipulated into an electronic echo, “I want my money back, cause I could use the check to spend it on a better heart to wear upon my sleeve.” Then there are a few plinking synths, but in the end this is just about the lyrics. King Princess (real name: Mikaela Straus) became a name to know in 2018 with “1950,” a warm, retro-R&B-feeling viral hit; she also had a Mark Ronson co-sign and earned cult-favorite status. On her debut album, out this week, the 20-year-old New York artist promises plenty more in store. “If You Think It’s Love” closes out the album — it’s more of an outro than a full track — but it still packs a punch. It’s both a meditation on change (which came to Straus shockingly fast in the wake of newfound fame) and a reflection on accepting things for what they are. Sometimes, the simplest things speak the loudest.
“DHL,” Frank Ocean
It’s always a pleasant surprise when the elusive R&B experimentalist Ocean chooses to drop something new, and “DHL” is no exception. The unhurried bass is so deep and resonant you feel it in your bones; his lyric flow is almost menacing in its low-register unbroken consistency during the middle section of the track. Ocean isn’t bothered with things like typical song structure, and the result — as heard here — is a track that reads more as a meditation and a flex, or a prelude to work yet to come.
“Face to Face,” Rex Orange County
There’s something refreshingly direct about Rex Orange County, the low-key, young English artist who’s been a Tyler the Creator collaborator and released his third album, Pony, this week. “Face to Face,” like the best of his music, is sweet and melodic, mixing a little bit of everything — gentle rap-singing, retro-feeling electronic production, chill R&B energy — into one undeniably pleasant listen, overlaid with relatable, youthful lyrics. There’s a reason Rex Orange County is racking up millions of streams and a considerable Gen Z fanbase; Pony suggests he’s just getting started.