Pop music used to be great didn’t it? You just can’t deny that warm, fuzzy feeling that you got when Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys asked us if we thought he was sexual, and we all rose together in unison and cried “you’re goddamn right Nick!”. Or when Christina Aguilera told us we had to rub her “the right way” and we were still too young to know what that really meant.
I’m not alone when I say that 21st century pop music seems to have lost its way.
I do not doubt that image has always been a factor but the overreliance on sex selling records seems to have taken precedence over, you know, the music ACTUALLY being good. Baring skin to shift units is not a new thing, everyone ranging from Madonna and Kylie Minogue to Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj have all sacrificed clothing in exchange for record sales. I think it all stems from growing up in the 90s and seeing artists like Hanson and Babylon Zoo explode onto the scene with an absolute megalodon of a track. Also, if you don’t think Hanson’s “Mmm Bop” was the height of cool when you were growing up then you can’t be much fun at parties.
That’s why we need someone to stand up and take pop music back to its peak. Back to when it was more than just “about that bass,” but actual music with substance, music that didn’t have to look good to sound good.
Well that someone is here my friends, in the shape of Manchester born pop vixen Shura.
In Layman’s terms, Shura has had an eventful 2016 thus far. With slots at Primavera and Sound City as well as the release of some stellar pop exploits in “The Space Tapes’” and “What’s It Gonna Be?” this has been the year when Shura really went for the jugular and set the stage for what could potentially be the biggest breakthrough act the pop genre has ever seen.
Shura (real name Alexandra Lilah Denton) has spent much of her career largely under the radar, initially collaborating with other musicians before focussing on writing her own songs in 2014. A steady release of solo efforts followed, all with a steady increase in production quality. That isn’t to take anything away from how good the tracks actually are though because from 2014’s “Touch” to the aforementioned “What’s It Gonna Be?” there is a solid pop core, centred on gentle synth harmonics and Shura’s softly spoken vocal style. A bit like if 80’s Madonna was singing in her bedroom instead of a packed arena.
80’s really is the name of the game here too because almost all of Shura’s immediate discography is a throwback.
It’s a blessing that she chose to be influenced by the cooler side of the 80s, more “When Doves Cry” than “Final Countdown.” What Shura has done well though is not overdo it. Even though there is an obvious 80’s vibe in her music, it still sounds like it was produced in this decade which is important because pop music should always look to move forward. If you’re going to copy 80’s music ethics note for note and sample for sample then you make your own music redundant. Yet if it sounds fresh but also vaguely familiar then you are on to a winner and for getting that balance right Shura deserves a ton of credit.
The only real anomaly thus far is the 9 minute mind-fuck ‘The Space Tapes’. For me to put this track into words is impossible, it can’t be done. Listening to this track in its entirety is like having an out of body experience, walking down the tunnel towards the white light and taking a glimpse of the other side. It’s absolutely bonkers but the sampling is incredible, as is the video. Featuring various distorted images of rocket launches, the moon and a single solitary Space Invader, the combination of video and track will have you involuntarily twitching for hours after.
On the subject of music videos, Shura has repeatedly showed her prowess in her visual representation.
Take the video for “Touch” for example; nothing more than a group of people of all genders and sexuality kissing in a colourless room, but then that in itself is such a powerful art form. There’s no subject padding at all, just 100% abstract presentation based around a common core element.
“What’s It Gonna Be” absolutely shines in relation to its video and is probably the happiest I’ve been when watching a music video for years. The song relates to Shura’s own personal experiences of love as a kid and how we usually tend to fall in love with someone completely unexpected, however the video follows various archetypal high school characters and their pursuit of their crush. The twist at the end of the video is great, as is Shura’s NASA t-shirt. The cinematography, outfits and colours all accentuate Shura’s of the 80’s and the video was rightfully acclaimed upon its release.
More women than ever are looking for strong, female role models to give them a voice and bring some much needed gender equality to a male dominated medium; Naturally Beyoncé has been given a lot of credit no less for her recent musical grandioso Lemonade, but I can’t stress enough that musicians like Shura deserve just as much if not more credit for their services to music as a female solo artist. For a woman to almost single-handedly reach meteoric heights in the music business is no mean feat.
The next chapter in Shura’s career is perhaps the biggest to date; July 8th marks the release of her widely anticipated debut album Nothing’s Real and boy oh boy am I excited for it. The wave of popularity that has followed Shura is threatening to reach fever point and there is no doubt in my mind that her album will be a hit. More importantly though it will undoubtedly succeed in pushing pop music to a new level and prove that pop musicians can actually write great music.
If Shura is the future of pop music then count me in.
Nothing’s Real will be released on July 8th.
Freelance writer still stuck in the 90’s.
Favourite albums; Young Americans, Hours, Out From The Vein, In Utero.