Hear Hear: This is a pro-halftime show newsletter
+ Jazmine Sullivan // Julien Baker // Bartees Strange
Between The Weeknd’s nightclub-bathroom-fun-house at the Super Bowl and Phoebe Bridgers’ skeleton-suited guitar-smash on SNL, this was a fun weekend if you’ve got a soft spot for watercooler pop-culture moments. Of course, in February 2021, Twitter is the watercooler, so the conversation has been mostly hot takes and memes. And don’t get me wrong, I loved the memes, but I also enjoyed some of the deeper dives on the halftime show, all good reads on the Weeknd’s fascinating journey from mysterious mixtape prodigy to mainstream superstar:
Jillian Mapes for Pitchfork: “The hand flicks, the subtle pelvic thrusts, the world’s tiniest winks, the loving looks into the camera lens — it was as if the Weeknd was suddenly reborn as a casually coked-out Vegas lounge act.”
Craig Jenkins for Vulture: “The Weeknd has earned this moment, and watching him smirking pridefully through entertaining an audience of millions was an incredible bookend to the borderline anonymity of the mixtape trilogy days.”
Jon Caramanica for the NYT: “In a year shaped by the coronavirus, a pop star with an affection for the grandeur and sheen of the biggest 1980s pop found a way to make a large affair small.”
The sound might’ve been off at the beginning, but the songs themselves are undeniable jams. Plus, it was just nice to watch a concert together with everyone! As for Bridgers, her SNL debut was a stellar addition to a seemingly neverending stream of top-notch pandemic performances. Live music: still great!
Follow the Hear Hear playlist to stream all of the below songs + artists in one place.
What to stream
Addicting R&B jams from Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales. If you enjoyed Sullivan’s excellent pre-game anthem, make sure to give her album a listen. As Mankaprr Conteh writes for Pitchfork: “After six years between projects, Sullivan joins the ranks of today’s R&B and R&B-adjacent stars like Summer Walker and SZA, who have updated the genre with music that complicates desire with messy reality.” Heaux Tales has memorable hooks (“Pick Up Your Feelings” and “Put It Down”) and high-profile collabs (with Ari Lennox, Anderson .Paak, and H.E.R.) all complementing Sullivan’s signature voice. As Conteh writes, the album “is expansive and inclusive, embodying as many women’s insights into love and sex (read “Heaux” as “ho”) as 32 minutes could reasonably allow.” More recommended reading: Hunter Harris’ profile of Sullivan for Vulture, and Jamieson Cox on the album’s initial singles.
Big new songs from Julien Baker. Baker’s essential 2015 album Sprained Ankle was known for its sparse production and raw intimacy. But the album still felt big, with shimmering guitars always on the verge of exploding. In the years since, her sound has continued expanding — on 2017’s “Turn Out The Lights” and 2018’s boygenius EP with Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. Now, Baker is going all-in on a full-band sound, and the results are electric, with singles “Faith Healer,” “Hardline,” and “Favor” all reaching new heights. I can’t wait to hear these in a massive venue. For now, I’ll have to settle for this performance on Colbert.
What to watch
Bartees Strange’s “Boomer” was one of 2020’s best songs, and Seth Meyers agrees. After an enthusiastic intro from the Late Night host, Strange played an electrifying rendition of his album’s standout track. A few days later, he livestreamed a full concert that’s still available to watch on YouTube — crank up the volume.
Who to know
Pillow Queens. Stereogum introduced me to this “folk-tinged pop-punk” group of “four queer Irish women” from Dublin in their Band to Watch series, and I’m so glad they did. The band’s debut album In Waiting is full of insanely hooky songs, with all of my favorite things: sing-along “whoas,” hand-claps, and big choruses. There’s shades of Kings of Leon’s twangy pop-rock on “Handsome Wife,” and Lucius-style harmonies on “Child of Prague.”
Speaking of Kings of Leon, they’re back, with two solid new tracks that can instantly slot in with the best of their catalog. To celebrate the new singles, music writer Sam Donsky (aka @danceremix) listed his top 20 KoL songs, and it led me to rediscover a bunch of quality tunes.
What to read
Marcus J. Moore wrote a great piece for TIME’s package celebrating the “new Black Renaissance.” In it, he breaks down the shared impact of five definitive albums from 2016: Anderson .Paak’s Malibu, Rihanna’s ANTI, Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Frank Ocean’s Blonde, and Solange’s A Seat At The Table.
Lots of news from the Vampire Weekend Cinematic Universe: former bandmate Rostam has a lovely new song, bassist Baio has a new solo album, and the band released two 20-minute covers of their song “2021” from jazz musician Sam Gendel and jam band Goose, respectively. Baio also played a fun version of his single “Dead Hand Control” on Late Night!
Folk-rock mastermind Fruit Bats is back with a new tune.
Iconic Paramore vocalist Hayley Williams surprise-released another new solo album.
Buzzy indie-pop artist Arlo Parks released her debut full-length.
Weezer returned with an orchestral chamber-pop album.