This to That: Pop singer-songwriters
Updated: Mar 18
Last year, Carole King was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. A song writing legend who has penned hits like ‘I Feel the Earth Move’ and ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’, her inclusion felt long overdue. Taylor Swift smartly introduced her, clad in black, covering ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, posing alongside her and effusively celebrating her through warm Instagram captions.
Its always interesting when two separate points in the progression of an industry collide, mapping the development of the genre. The mode of the popular singer songwriter has morphed from stripped back musings on a woman’s place in the world, a woman’s sense of loneliness, to highly stylised considerations on a star persona, driven by a dance beat. And there they are grinning and hugging one another, spurring the other on.
Since Taylor Swift released Midnights, there have been countless think pieces and critical considerations on the development of her career and the evolution of pop song writing sensibilities. What was once non-specific and all-encompassing – think Joni Mitchell using her observations on the natural world to channel an internal turmoil – has become hyper-specific – think Phoebe Bridger’s stream of consciousness style of writing.
This year, Regina Spektor released her album Home, before and after. It feels like the last gasp of early 2000s indie pop, textured by an ethereal sense of longing. ‘One Man’s Prayer’ combines an electronic beat with a voice that floats above the listener, light and airy. The kind of singing style that was unavoidable from indie singers between 2007 – 2010 (the ‘post-Feist period’ as I call it.)
Spektor’s album is refreshing in this sense, but it is also somewhat of an anomaly. Swift has ushered in a kind of writing that revels in naming specific details, music that sounds like scraps of diary entries left as a trail of clues. Singer girlpuppy recently released her first album, When I’m Alone - a pop album that belies fear and loss. Her lead single ‘I Missed When I Smelled Like You’ employs this recent trend of building an atmosphere through specific references with lines like “check in to Rose Garden motel…”
Rachel Chinouriri is an exciting up and coming star in this space, wielding her voice and song writing talents to confront those listening with her careful observations on love and heartbreak. ‘Thank You For Nothing’ is a haunting glimpse into the fury that propels someone into a breakup. Síomha is also using this genre to understand her own history and taste. Songs like ‘Come To Say Goodbye’ from her album Infinite Space combines her love of Irish folk music and neo-soul to reimagine what could be achieved by modern songwriters.
Singers like Rachel Chinouriri are reshaping the possibilities of this genre, as Carole King once did. As listeners, we get to sit back and observe the medium being rewritten in real time.