Pop music is ever-changing. Tastes shift so swiftly and completely that it can be hard to keep up. I love pop music and its many iterations. From grunge pop to hyperpop, bubblegum pop to indie pop, I listen to it all. So when I stumbled across a song titled “On The Ground,” featured in one of the many Spotify playlists I follow, I found myself surprised and a little dumbstruck. I couldn’t place it neatly into any of these pop categories. It was something new and something wonderful.
“On the Ground” begins with a hushed phrase, “Hold it,” that gives way to a buzzy, electric beat. The lyrics are dreamy, “I feel the air, it’s like the rush of the first time.” The instrumental layers are enthralling. The vocals rise and fall, bubbling behind the beat and soaring above it. I was entranced. I hadn’t heard anything quite like it. As soon as my first listen of “On the Ground” was over, I clicked on the artist’s profile.
Grace Ives is a 27-year-old singer-songwriter from New York. As a small artist, her life is kept fairly private. Her Spotify bio, however, gives a humorous glimpse into her personality: “Grace Ives makes music. She is good at it. She writes short songs.” And for now, that’s all I, and you, need to know.
Following her 2019 full length debut, “2nd,” Ives released “Janky Star” this summer. The day it released, Pitchfork — the music outlet famous for its ability to dictate an album’s success with a succinct 1-10 rating — reviewed it. They gave it an 8.4, an eye-popping feat for any artist, high enough to earn the crown of “Best New Music.”
And boy, does “Janky Star” deserve it.
My Favorite Songs
“Burn Bridges” is one of the most biting songs on the album. It may also be my favorite. A soft-spoken verse leads into the stifled yet stinging chorus, “I don’t wanna burn bridges, but/I wanna get the f**k out of here.” An electric buzzing bolsters the song, giving it weight and letting the listener experience the simultaneous frustration and empowerment that comes from getting out of an ugly relationship.
The next song, “Angel of Business,” is a complete 180, this switch is characteristic with the album’s constantly morphing identity. A mellow synth is quickly undercut by a glitchy, metallic beat. Ives’ voice is even softer, the lyrics even more abstract. She is speaking to a secret lover, criticizing their failed attempt to find satisfaction in her, “Told you bet a million bucks/I’m not your antidote.”
If there is one word to describe the beats on “Janky Star,” it is addictive. “Loose” is quick and pulsing, brimming with dreamy, expressive lyrics like, “I need some respite, please/Slumber under swollen trees.” The chorus is deep, dense, and soaring. “Lazy Day” fits the name, its haziness perfect for relaxed listening. The beat is mellow and laid-back. So are its lyrics, which are struck with a healthy dose of Ives’s characteristic lightheartedness, “Lazy day, it feels OK to repeat it/Slip into something just a little more revealing.”
The final song, “Lullaby,” is another one of my favorites. Yet again with an entrancing beat, the song sees Grace peering forward, looking back, and living in the present, “What a mess, what a lovely mess.”
For an album only 27 minutes long, “Janky Star” is a glimmering jewel, versatile and multifaceted.
Jennie Matos, a fellow VOXer and music enthusiast, also appreciates Ives’s distinctive and differentiated style: “She has such a unique voice and her production is just top tier. I absolutely adored the production on ‘Burn Bridges.’ Her sound is so much fun and I cannot wait to see what she does next.”
Short and Sweet
Ives’s brevity is part of a larger trend in mainstream pop music. According to data scientist Mark Bannister, “the average duration of number one singles has declined in recent years.”
This shift can be controversial. Upon the release of her album “To Hell with It” last year, UK singer-songwriter PinkPantheress received criticism over the 19-minute runtime. One viral Tweet gently teases PinkPantheress, saying “Pinkpantheress concert would be 6 min long.”
I asked Jennie what she thought of music getting shorter, and she responded with a bit of understandable disappointment: “I’m not really a fan. There are so many songs from the past couple years that I absolutely loved but I just wished were longer and that kind of sucks. I understand we’re living in the streaming era where songs are getting shorter is kinda inevitable.”
I can echo this disappointment. When the melody of a short song catches my ear and sticks, I wish it would keep going — that I could listen to it the first time again. But that’s part of why I like shorter music, and shorter albums in general. It allows us to savor an artist’s idea — quick, powerful — for a bit, then continue on. Sometimes songs don’t need to be sprawling, 7-minute epics. A minute or two of carefully crafted, intensely engaging music – like PinkPantheress’s one minute 57 second “Just for Me” – can reach perfection.
Flitting in a Fast World
In a fast world, sped up by the interconnectedness of people through social media and streaming, shorter song lengths are more suitable, if not necessary. People can flit from artist to artist, all within a few minutes. Tastes can expand, playlists can fill with many different voices and styles, and listeners don’t have to worry about losing focus.
Shorter music can allow for so much more to be packed into so much less. “Janky Star,” a half hour experience, showcases all the faces Ives can wear — from lovestruck onlooker to fed up partner — and epitomizes the age old saying of “quality over quantity.”
Every song is a story ripe with emotion and flair, the entire album lush and filled to the brim with layers, effects, and vocal inflections that make it an instantly intriguing listen.
As the faces of pop continue to shift, I see Ives as someone who deserves to be a central figure. She can do it all and more, from outlandish and playful to muted and dangerous, she can transform a beat — and herself — to whatever she pleases.
Just like the wild makeshift stars she wears on “Janky Star’s” cover art, Grace Ives is a little out there, surprisingly inventive, and someone that deserves to shine.