The world right now feels topsy-turvy, filled with cancellations, closures and postponements. But for musicians, the new music releases — if not the shows themselves — must go on. Luckily, there’s one medium that anyone with an internet connection can access without walking out the front door. Tune in to The Weeknd‘s new album After Hours for his signature pensive mood, elevated with new sonic textures. Check out Jackson Wang’s mix of Chinese tales and pop-electronic production on “100 Ways.” Vibe to Giolì & Assia’s electronic groove on the new “Habibi,” or watch their weekend livestream DJ session. Live it up with Melanie C’s return on the disco-pop confection that is “Who I Am.” And revel in the pain of a crush with Perfume Genius on “On the Floor.”
“Alone Again,” The Weeknd
Here is quarantine music: moody, pensive, melancholy (as is The Weeknd’s style) and eminently introspective — and solitary. “Together we’re alone,” he sighs, and repeats. “I don’t know if I can be alone again.” The background is a layered mix of whispered electronic echoes and surreal, glittering beats with a trap heart; it’s like the song is always just about to get started, but never quite launches. That’s actually a good thing, because Abel Tesfaye revels in uncertainty and a kind of discontent. “Alone Again” is the first track off his new album After Hours, and it’s where he finds the most fresh sonic territory to explore.
“100 Ways,” Jackson Wang
Jackson Wang, of K-pop group GOT7, is positioning himself as one of the category’s breakout solo stars; his last solo album Mirrors broke through on the Billboard charts, his media presence has been refreshingly open, helping him create a fandom all his own — and his new song “100 Ways” is a pulsing electronic track with minor-key flutes that gives him a distinctive sound, too. Wang sings in English about being “the only one that you need” (the “100 Ways” can be construed as exit strategies to disentangle from a less-worthy rival), but there’s a deeper story: Wang, who’s Chinese, has said his character in the song is taken from an ancient Chinese tale about a love that transcends this lifetime. His take, however, feels thoroughly modern.
“Habibi,” Giolì & Assia
Electronic producers/singer-songwriters/musicians Giolì & Assia are Italian; they’ve been quarantined in Sicily for the last few weeks as they wait out the current global health crisis. But that hasn’t stopped them from releasing “Habibi,” their latest trance-inducing vibe track, which features Spanish and French lyrics and an Arabic instrumental influence. In other words, if you want to redefine “world music” for the next generation, it might sound a lot like what the forward-thinking duo are currently making. “Habibi” is laid-back but propulsive, an electronic song that asks for meditation and connection more than action. At the moment, that feels right. Even better: like many musicians who have had to cancel tours, they’ve decided to livestream sessions from their quarantine on YouTube. They used to broadcast these Diesis Live sessions from, say, the top of a volcano — but circumstances, for now, have changed.
“Who I Am,” Melanie C
Yes, you read that right: this is a new single from Spice Girl Melanie C. (You might remember her as Sporty Spice.) It’s pure disco-pop uplift, a bouncy confection destined for the dance floor but grounded in pathos. Melanie C has released seven albums over her lengthy career, but “Who I Am” is a clear referendum on her own personal and career history; “I was lost in the ruins of who I thought I should be; I forgot I was human, I must set my body free,” she reflects as, in the music video, she explores a museum filled with displays of her own image. Pop stars are constantly grappling with image and persona, but with maturity comes the clarity to choose which of those selves to present. It looks like Melanie C has made her choice.
“On the Floor,” Perfume Genius
Perfume Genius — the Seattle-based artist Mike Hadreas — has a way with shimmering, gentle alt-pop that teeters on the edge of pain. His last album, 2017’s No Shape, crept toward tentative joy, like a the delicate shoots of a plant in its infancy. “On the Floor,” the new single off his upcoming May album Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, is the next phase of growth: the stems are sturdy now, and he can play with having fun—musically, at least. The song is a bouncy bop of a tune with a sighing ’50s chorus. The lyrics are about an unrequited crush, however, and the physical discomfort of that solitary experience. “I shake, I promise every day to change, I cross out his name on the page,” he sings, wrestling with his feelings. It wouldn’t be Perfume Genius with the bitter to temper the sweet.