It’s a brilliant May summer’s day, one of those perfect English afternoons with blue skies and a Goldilocks temperature.
My face mask – an optional social accessory these days – is firmly fixed over my nose and mouth. While I’m no longer legally required to wear it in public, it’s ideal for the job at hand: gardening.
I’m round the back, and I don’t know if it’s because the garden hasn’t been tended in ages or if the rain a couple of days ago has made the grass more pliable, but the lawn mower is making uncharacteristic light work of everything.
My headphones, (inherited from my son), has fantastic noise cancelling: I can’t even hear the lawn mower right in front of me. Ariana Grande comes on (shout out to my ‘Pop It’ Spotify playlist).
There’s something about the song that feels vaguely familiar, but it’s not the music.
It’s not even her vocals. The song ends before I can put my finger on whatever the thing is, replaced by something by Maria Civetz.
Weirdly enough, that same feeling is still there – this song has it, too. Why would that be?
Then it hits me: it’s the storytelling and – more specifically – the vulnerability written into the specific songs I’m listening to.
Pop music in general (and huge Pop hits in particular), are very strong on story: you’re transported to a different world, taken on an emotional journey, shown the depths of someone’s hopes and fears, traversing an entirely new universe in the space of 3 minutes and 30 seconds.
Matter of the heart
And while great production and vocals are staples of the genre it’s the matters of the heart, and the story vignettes woven in those hooky melodies and catchy riffs that make the songs stay with you.
I suddenly realise why Ariana and Malia’s songs sounded familiar: there’s a similar story sensibility in songs by a few of my favourite UK Gospel artists.
So I thought I’d point you in the direction of a few creatives whose writing and storytelling I admire, using popular artists as a broad reference point – a gateway, if you will…
Love These? Check These Too!
Fan of Malia Civetz and Ariana Grande?
Listen to this if you like: big Poppy vibes, hooky melodies, strong and transparent emotional stories
Try: Routine, Enough, Galaxies (Sharyn), Nights Like This, Serve (this has over 1 million Spotify streams at the time of writing this), New Me, All In (Asha Elia)
Have Anthony Hamilton and Gregory Porter on your playlist?
Listen to this if you like: they-don’t-make-them-like-this-anymore Soul music, heartfelt lyrics and intelligent social commentary
Try: Peaceful Waters, Change is Gonna Come, Nowhere (Lain), More Than One, This Hotel is Closed, No Man is an Island (Gavin Holligan)
If you have an RnB playlist that starts in the 90s and ends up in the 2020s (especially if some of the contemporary stuff has a sprinkling of Afrobeats over it), you’ll definitely want to give Mark Asari and Ryan Hylton a go.
Try: Welcome Home, Jesus, Grace (Mark Asari) Purify, No Other, Holy Water (Ryan Hilton)
Try: the Country-influenced Two Left Feet, Back in Time (WIlson & Smokin’ Jack Hill Remix), Golden ft S.O. (LZ7) (these three tracks alone are pushing a combined 3 million Spotify streams), Covered in Gold, Down and Reaching Out (OTC),
So there you have it – I won’t promise to make this a series, so if this sounds like something you’re interested in seeing more of, leave a comment and let me know…