This week, English pop supergroup Little Mix released their long-awaited fifth LP, LM5. The album is a triumph of infectious, confident pop, and if there is any justice in this world, this will finally be the album that makes Little Mix break out in the US. (And do a headlining tour here, please?)
Along with Little Mix, we’ve also got some great new music from Normani, Zayn (shout out to Perrie’s ex), Betty Who, Rita Ora, and more. King Princess covered The Velvet Underground, and indie up-and-comers Maggie Lindemann and Banoffee released excellent new singles. Every Monday, Uproxx will round out the very best pop releases from the week. Listen to LM5! And be sure to check out everything else on this list, too.
Normani, Feat. 6LACK, “Waves”
Normani just released a mini-EP with Calvin Harris a few weeks ago, but she’s already got a follow up in “Waves,” a sultry, dramatic R&B jam featuring fellow rising star 6LACK. The former Fifth Harmony singer is still conquering the charts with the low-key “Love Lies” — seriously, that song has spent the majority of this year on the Billboard Hot 100 — but “Waves” shows her versatility. It’s the moodiest we’ve seen Normani, as she describes the undulating of on-and-off relationships (they come in waves).
Rita Ora, “Velvet Rope”
Rita Ora is the queen of dancing on the middle ground between club beats and melancholy. Her voice always sounds just a little bit sad and nostalgic, like she’s the last one left on the dance floor, like she’s heartbroken and trying to move her way through it. On “Velvet Rope,” Ora laments a fame-obsessed lover who left her to climb higher. Listening to the song, you can imagine crowds at concerts singing along to the “doo-doo-doo”s in the chorus. Speaking of Little Mix and how they should tour in the US — Rita! We’d love to sing along with you here.
Phoenix, Ora’s first LP since her 2012 debut, is finally out next Friday. If “Velvet Rope” is any indication, this album is gonna be a special one.
ZAYN, Feat. Nicki Minaj, “No Candle No Light”
Former One Direction member (and pop’s favorite introvert) Zayn Malik is joined by Nicki Minaj on his new single “No Candle No Light.” It’s a tropical house banger with a killer electronic beat. The song is club-ready as, Minaj always is, but it marks a new direction (heh) for Zayn. In most of his solo stuff, Zayn prefers a chiller and more introspective sound, but he proves that he can also make music fans can dance to. (Zayn, we’d love for you to play some live shows, too!)
“No Candle No Light” is full of unexpected flourishes. Minaj closes out the song with a rap verse, and if this were a normal pop song, you’d expect Zayn to pop back in and join her for one more round of the banging chorus. But the song ends with Minaj calling out for her collaborator, apparently rapping to an empty room: “This one here, it ah Nicki and Zayn, ZAYN, ZAYN???” The ghost ghosted again.
King Princess, “Femme Fatale”
Frequent Velvet Underground collaborator Nico has one of the most unique and evocative voices in rock history, and it’s put to great use on “Femme Fatale,” a beguiling and enigmatic classic. There’s a lot of chatter about who might be the subject of “Femme Fatale.” Some believe it’s Edie Sedgwick, written into the song at the request of Andy Warhol, and others believe it to be Nico herself, singing about herself in an uncanny twist of self-awareness. Others, like me, don’t really care what a song is actually about, and prefer to leave it open to interpretation and performance. Anything can mean anything.
For Spotify’s RISE series, King Princess remakes “Femme Fatale” into a lesbian anthem. The instrumentals are gorgeous, twinkling, and gentle, and King Princess trades optimism and longing for Nico’s melancholy. It’s nothing like the VU version, but it’s brilliant. Mikaela Straus finds desire in the ambiguous lyrics, making this classic song all her own.
Maggie Lindemann, “Would I”
Maggie Lindemann is only 20 years old, but the young singer is introspective and insightful beyond her years. After gaining a following on Instagram and the (now defunct) social app Keek, Lindemann experienced a meteoric rise in recognition. Thousands of followers became tens of thousands, and managers and record labels started to take notice. “Would I” is quiet, vulnerable electro-pop, inspired by all the young singer has experienced in the last few years. Lindemann ponders the state of her mind, distracted by work, friends, and any substances she can use to keep it all quiet. Her voice is airy and lovely, providing some lightness to the dark, contemplative lyrics of the song. Lindemann has said she’s inspired by artists like Lana Del Rey and Halsey, “anti-pop” stars who don’t shy away from melancholy or vulnerability. “Would I” is impressive, and puts Lindemann firmly in that lineage of contemplative indie pop icons.
Little Mix, “Wasabi”
Just last week, I said that Little Mix’s slower ballad songs are their most gorgeous, but I forgot how incredible Little Mix is when they lean into fun. “Wasabi” is a wildly unexpected and strange, at once a Pussycat Dolls-esque dance banger and kind of a rock anthem. (The electronic drums sometimes dip out for an electric guitar solo. It makes no sense, but it’s great.)
On “Wasabi,” the band embraces the dichotomy at the center of their image. They’re sweet like toffee, hot like wasabi, salty and impossible and full of contradictions. They hear the ugly things people are saying about them, and confront the pettiness head-on: “Oh-oh, like, ‘She ain’t wearing no clothes’ / ‘Oh-oh, “When she goin’ solo?’ / ‘Oh-oh, “I bet they gonna break up’ / Oh-oh, but what the hell do you know?” LM5 is an excellent showcase of everything Little Mix can do as a band — they rock out, they dance, they fight back, and they have fun doing it. “Wasabi” is all of that condensed into two and a half frenetic minutes. It’s incredible.
Betty Who, “Between You And Me”
After parting from RCA last year, Betty Who is an independent artist, and more confident than ever. Singer Jessica Anne Newham has been prolific this year, releasing an EP (Betty, Pt. 1), a couple new singles, and soundtrack cuts for Sierra Burgess Is A Loser and Queer Eye. “Between You And Me” is a low-key, acoustic bop, where Who thinks herself in circles about a crush. In a press release for the song, Who said that she was thinking of a 15-year-old version of herself when she was writing the song. More than describing how she actually felt around a crush, the song is like “a voice in your head narrating your time with them.” Who’s first LP as an independent artist is forthcoming, and if her singles and EP are any indication, it’s gonna be great.
Australian pop singer Banoffee (real name Martha Brown) has had an incredible year. She joined Charli XCX‘s live band, playing intimate club shows around the country and was also alongside Charli on Taylor Swift’s smash Reputation tour. “Bubble” is an excellent solo single, Charli-esque danceable electro-pop but with a personal spin. Banoffee’s diction pops — everything she sings sounds punctuated and energetic. “Bubble” is three and a half minutes of pop euphoria.