As the holidays grow nearer, pop music shows no sign of slowing down. After months’ worth of entries in this column, Zayn finally dropped his long-awaited sophomore solo album, Icarus Falls, on Friday. Ariana Grande, the fastest writer in all of pop, released an excellent follow up single to “Thank U, Next.” (Even without a rom-com inspired music video, “Imagine” is already massive.) Miley and Allie X brought out some Christmas covers to get us in the spirit, and although Maggie Rogers‘ cover of “Tim McGraw” technically isn’t a holiday cover, it seems like a gift tailor made for me. (I promise I didn’t mean to make that Swift pun.)
Every Monday, Uproxx will round out the very best pop releases from the week. If you’re feeling like a Grinch in that pre-holidays crunch, let the sweet boys of PrettyMuch and the whistle-y optimism of Ariana Grande warm your heart.
Ariana Grande, “Imagine”
The queen of love songs is back with another one. Sweetener was a lovely, optimistic record about the healing power of love — and despite her much-publicized 2018 break-ups, fans know Ari is still a romantic at heart. “Imagine” is a soaring ballad about a love that’s so amazing and encompassing it might be unattainable. Grande asks us to imagine a love where normal couple things — ordering pad thai and sleeping in and posting Instagram pictures — are the stuff that makes a grandiose, fairy-tale, cinematic romance. When she asks us to “imagine a world like that,” she sounds almost like she has resigned herself to its impossibility, but not all the way. This song (and Ari herself) are full of hope and joy.
Miley Cyrus And Mark Ronson, Feat. Sean Ono Lennon, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”
After Cyrus and Ronson’s frenetic disco-pop collaboration, “Nothing Breaks Like A Heart,” the singer and DJ’s second team-up is a mellower track. Cyrus and Ronson are joined by Sean Ono Lennon for a spirited cover of “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).” We already knew Miley has a great voice for country and pop, but she uses her lower register to great effect here, and sounds like a legit rock star. Cyrus, Ronson, and Lennon add an intriguing synth-y beat, making the holiday classic all their own.
Zayn, “Back To Life”
Icarus Falls is a mammoth of an album. At 27 songs, Zayn’s sophomore solo album is an hour-and-a-half-long dive into the highs and lows of relationships, the comfort of having someone who understands you and the hurt of being betrayed by someone you cared about. Like Mind Of Mine, it’s alternately horny and vengeful, but at 27 songs Icarus Falls is hard to sum up in a neat couple of paragraphs.
After a few listens through, “Back To Life” is my early favorite song on the record. It’s a dense and sexy electro-pop banger about the kind of love that saves your life. Zayn tosses off a million what-ifs and imagined disasters, but one he loves is there for him through everything, giving him “oxygen when it gets hard to breathe” and assuaging his anxiety with her steady comfort. Zayn is too often painted as the moody, broody bad boy in press and other narratives, but his music shows that he is actually a dedicated romantic. Also, the bass on this one is just really hot.