The past couple of months may have gone by in a blur, but the international lockdown did nothing to stop music artists from producing content and reaching out to their fanbases. With the live music industry being threatened by the pandemic, online connection and song releases are some artists' only way to stay relevant and maintain their celebrity. Staying safe at home can seem draining, but if there is one way to spice your day up it is new music, and I have plenty of new tunes for you to check out.
1. 5 Seconds of Summer
The band that once performed hit songs like “She Looks So Perfect” and “Amnesia” has certainly grown up in the past couple years. 5 Seconds of Summer’s (5SOS) sound has certainly matured from their punk rock debut to a more mature and artistic pop rock with their most recent installment, “CALM.” Released on March 27, the album brings an entirely different sound to 5SOS’s discography. Bass-heavy tracks like “Teeth” and “Easier” show the band’s deep rock influence with driving kick drums and darker lyrics. “CALM” also features more lighthearted songs like “Wildflower” and “Old Me” that serve as anthemic moments on the track list. Specifically, the track “Old Me” brings an aspect of sentimentality, as listeners can reminisce on the band’s path to fame. Of course, 5SOS shows their versatility with the stunning ballad “Best Years,” a sob-worthy love note from frontman Luke Hemmings to his long-time girlfriend. The beginning of an international lockdown may have dampened the momentous release of “CALM,” but 5 Seconds of Summer’s fourth album remains a testament to the power of musical exploration.
Does anyone else remember that old Nickelodeon Cinderella retelling “Rags”? Yeah so do I. I also remember the lead actor Max Schneider. If you remember Schneider as well, who now goes by MAX, you will recall his really unique voice and style. Early hits of his include the big-time ballad “Lights Down Low,” a romantic song about wanting to spend all your time with the one you love. Over the past four years he has redefined his musical style and on September 18 2020 dropped his sophomore album “Colour Vision.” Singles “Love Me Less” and “Checklist” established a new sound for the “Gibberish” singer early on in 2019, and MAX only continued to highlight his musical evolution with the rest of the new album. A much more mature album, “Colour Vision” features collabs with BTS, Chromeo and Hayley Kiyoko that are heavily inspired by a high-octane version of mainstream pop music; throughout the album there is a steady aesthetic of yellow, love and magic. MAX made sure to pack the album with a consistent pop presence, but with a little spice. Slower, more ballad-like tracks like “Where Am I At” and “Circles” appear next to upbeat, highly danceable songs “Working For The Weekend,” “Missed Calls” and “Blueberry Eyes.” If you are ever in need of a colorful (pun intended) pick-me-up during quarantine, “Colour Vision” by MAX certainly completes the checklist (alright, I meant that pun too).
While not nearly as recognizable as some of the acts on this list, Australia’s Mali-Koa (pronounced Ma-lee Koh) is undeniably deserving of worldwide fame. The London-based female singer has only just begun to enter the music industry, but the songs she has released are diamonds in the rough. One of Mali-Koa’s most recent tracks “Me Before You” is accompanied by both a stunning vocal performance and a rhythmic charm that tells a story of post-heartbreak healing. “Dancer” is yet another successful effort by Mali-Koa to establish herself as an indie-pop artist, with its smooth yet striking rhythms and “status-quo” challenging lyrics. Mali-Koa also released “Some Things” this year, a touching ballad about stubborn emotions; in addition to this release, Mali-Koa directed, filmed, and edited a whole music video from within her home during the pandemic. On September 18 Mali-Koa dropped single “Revolution” ahead of her debut album, which is set to release this November. The song set itself apart from the rest of her 2020 singles, and brought a fresh sound to her discography. “Revolution” is full of lively pianos, trumpets and even a gospel choir. Lyrics such as “don’t say you won’t, don’t say you can’t, if you haven’t even tried” speak an inspiring message of breaking outside of your comfort zone and changing your life for the better. If her entrancing voice and impactful lyrics do not completely draw you in, the fighting spirit that Mali-Koa has shown during the pandemic certainly will.
4. Anthony Ramos
Few people could say they were unaware of Disney+’s release of the “Hamilfilm,” the long-awaited filmed performance of the Broadway juggernaut “Hamilton.” With the release of the “Hamilfilm” came immense recognition of its original actors, such as Anthony Ramos. Following the Disney+ premiere, Ramos, who played the roles of John Laurens and Phillip Schuyler, skyrocketed in fame as a much wider audience discovered his original music. Preceding the film’s debut, Ramos released his debut album “The Good and the Bad,” a collection of catchy R&B tracks including “Isabella,” “Relationship” and “Mind Over Matter.” Now with this added attention Ramos was able to release his newest song “Stop” during the pandemic to remind his audience to stop, breathe and look at the world around them. These highly danceable tracks are sure to draw in even the most downtrodden of listeners. Ramos is maintaining the steady and uplifting message of savoring the good moments and learning from the bad throughout this entire year, and his music proudly showcases that.
5. Niall Horan
Possibly the most notable artist on this list, the former One Direction star truly came into his own with his second album “Heartbreak Weather,” which debuted on March 13. This album, a more experimental project compared to Horan’s previous “Flicker,” features much less folk sound in favor of more British inspired alternative rock and piano-driven ballads. While music critics are quick to discredit the album for its “overall messiness,” the variety and story behind the songs of “Heartbreak Weather” are what makes it such an impactful quarantine release. The entire album centers around one relationship, but rather than focus on Horan’s own sadness and pain, the singer explores the topic from all perspectives including the other person, mutual friends and strangers, which is reflected by the mix of genres present on the album. “Black and White,” an upbeat song about falling in love too fast and wanting to immediately settle down, contrasts with ballad “Put A Little Love On Me,” which reminisces about a failed relationship. Opposite sounding tracks like “Nice To Meet Ya” and “San Francisco” showcase Horan’s vocal, lyrical and instrumental abilities. “Heartbreak Weather” was certainly the best way to kick off a global pandemic. Oh, and he also collaborated with singer Ashe on the radio-hit “Moral of the Story”...you may cry.
6. Selena Gomez
A Disney darling breaking back into the music scene during quarantine, Selena Gomez (or Alex Russo if you remember her Wizards of Waverly Place days) had yet to release another full-length album after 2015’s “Revival.” However in January 2020 she dropped “Rare,” followed by the deluxe edition in April. The newest version of “Rare” features four unreleased songs, including the latest radio sensation “Boyfriend.” Gomez ended her five year musical absence, although she did fill that time with many worthwhile projects, with a stunning collection of sounds so far unheard from her. “Rare” brings a lyrical vulnerability to Gomez’s discography and in the time of this pandemic, we all can relate to those confusing and scary emotions. “Lose You To Love Me,” another song off the album that dominated the airwaves, sees Gomez opening up about her struggle to maintain her identity in a past relationship. So spread the word, because after a long hiatus the world’s favorite wizard is back and better than ever.
7. The Driver Era
Next on the list is alternative duo The Driver Era, composed of siblings Rocky and Ross Lynch. If you are old enough, you will recall the two brothers were once a part of a larger Disney-promoted sibling act R5. Since then though Ross and Rocky have widely departed from their old image, trading in their classic pop sound for a more loose and “vibey” style; the release of “Preacher Man” stunned old and new fans alike. In summer 2019, The Driver Era released their debut album “X” which officially broke them into the alternative scene. Songs “Nobody Knows,” “Natural” and “Feel You Now” quickly became notable favorites. Since the pandemic hit though, the duo has not stopped making waves. This past summer they released singles “A Kiss,” “Take Me Away” and “Places” along with homemade music videos. Their most recent single "Fade" debuted on alternative charts. The song brought even more attention to the duo, and now they are successfully riding the wave of alt-rock fame, providing unique and interesting music that disrupts the monotony of radio-pop songs.
8. Taylor Swift
Rounding out this list is none other than the icon herself, Taylor Swift. Following her momentous release of “Lover” and the accompanying Netflix documentary “Miss Americana,” Swift quite literally surprised her fanbase with an album entirely written during quarantine. Famous for revamping her image with every album, Swift adopts a style fit for quaint cottages, tea and petting cats with “folklore.” The seventeen song album includes a feature from Bon Iver, dropped with absolutely no previous promotion and completely fits the tone of being stuck at home with nothing to do but think. Now thirty years old, Swift has reminded the world that yes she is still here, and she is ready to dominate the industry yet again, although with immense maturity and style. Songs like “cardigan,” “betty” and “hoax” have wasted no time in becoming fan-favorites. No wonder, considering they contain some of the most bewitching lyrics, cutting deep into emotions surely many of us are experiencing nowadays. There is certainly no better way to end this list than with the beginning of perhaps the most successful era of Taylor Swift.