Admittedly, my most recent playlist “16 Songs For Sweaters (And The People Wearing Them)” was a bit of a downer. My 2015 summer playlist was sprinkled with angst, far more appropriate for daydreaming in the shadows than prancing through sprinklers in the sunlight. Upon coming to this realization, I began to project my real-life “wet blanket syndrome” onto my online presence. “Nobody is ever going to listen to your playlists!” I shouted inside my brain with a hint of frantic anxiety. “Because they are the aural equivalent of Eeyore suffering from a bad case of lost tail.”
So, naturally, I got a new attitude! The solution was to turn the beat around. When I heard an upbeat, inspiring pop anthem, I made my best effort to tilt my head back and say “YES” like Shonda Rhimes, Grace and Frankie and Michelle Williams featuring Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland. These were my fight songs! My take back my life songs! And I needed to embrace them with open arms and an open heart.
Except, well, this started to feel disingenuous.
I wasn’t ready to have shots with Jussie Smollett, play the lottery with Michelle Chamuel or even venture to contemplate the sugary mall-pop sound of Eden xo‘s latest release. It was midway through yet another October – traditionally one of my least favorite times of the year – and I was trying to force-feed myself medicine that left a horrible taste in my mouth and, even worse, didn’t make me feel any better.
The trust was, I just felt okay… And I was okay with that.
Those are all the fascinating details behind my new playlist “12 Songs For Feeling Okay“, a collection of songs that make me feel good (without making me feel guilty for not feeling even better). Within this set, there are sprinklings of hope, romance and empowerment, yet overall, the unifying theme is a sense of urgency. These twelve selections drive you forward with the music, and if I do say so myself, they’re also pretty great for driving.
At this point, you’re welcome to hit the play button now or save that step for later. Meanwhile, I’m going to get back to the roots of It’s The Money Shot and give a painfully long track-by-track explanation for each songs’ presence on this list. Feel free to join me on this journey or abandon me to do something much cooler. It’s okay! I don’t mind.
1. GRIMES – Flesh without Blood: In her excellent review of Art Angels, New York Magazine pop critic Lindsay Zoladz nailed it with her description of the album’s lead single “Flesh without Blood”, writing that it “sounds like ‘Since U Been Gone‘, had it been recorded by the Cocteau Twins”. The Kelly Clarkson comparison is apparent enough that it’s happened more than once, which means Grimes has single-handedly written, performed, produced and played instruments on a song that’s both inventive and reminiscent of pop industry royalty… Um, that’s pretty bad-ass?
2. THRILLERS – Can’t Get Enough: You’ve got verses that call to mind Prince, a chorus that sounds like Chromeo and a sing-along post-chorus chant akin to Zedd and Foxes’ 2012 collaboration “Clarity“. You should, at the very least, be body rolling inside your mind by the time this song ends, and hello, that’s coming from a self-described wet blanket like me!
3. KATHARINE MCPHEE – Only One: Look, I laughed out loud at every single joke made at the expense of Smash and Katharine McPhee on Hulu’s Difficult People. I never understood the reverence paid toward “Open Toes“, I couldn’t hum a single line from McPhee’s radio hit “Over It“, I completely forgot that she even released a second album, and frankly, I felt like something was missing on her latest single “Lick My Lips“. The good news is, these harsh remarks are leading to a compliment! I threw my skepticism aside to give her new album a spin, and lo and behold, I struck gold ten tracks in with the R&B-tinged “Only One”.
4. MOTION CNTRL – You Got Me: My first instinct was to compare Motion Ctrl‘s self-titled debut EP to The xx. It’s a flimsy comparison when you take into consideration the smooth, ’80s-inspired saxophone solo on “You Got Me”, which would sooner find a home alongside Chromatics and Electric Youth on the Drive soundtrack.
5. SCOOTER ISLAND & JUNGLEPUSSY – #NOTYOURS: Despite the fact that I’ve watched the “Knockoffs” episode of Broad City ten times, I had never actually noticed the song that follows Abbi’s triumphant moment with Jeremy. That song, if you have not gathered by now, is Scooter Island’s “#NOTYOURS”, a feel-good jam aided by a memorable verse from Brooklyn rapper Junglepussy. Let’s just say that this GIF captures my feelings about this track.
6. POSTILJONEN – Go!: That crazy “GO!” scream! The dreamy M83-like instrumental! That guitar solo! Everything adds up to greatness here, and then you throw in a legitimately touching note accompanying this song on the Swedish trio’s SoundCloud page: “There are times when you feel stuck, trapped, without a clue of what to do. Wherever you are in life, in whatever place or age, you need a little kick to release yourself, take your life back. You can do whatever you want, you are beautiful. Remember our souls are burning with love and life, the road is in our hands, there is no other way out, just Go!”
7. LEONA LEWIS – Ladders: It’s an absolute crime that “Ladders” hasn’t been released as a single from Leona Lewis’ fifth studio album I Am. Around every corner of this track, you expect a full gospel choir to bust out from behind the curtains and sing along with Lewis. They never show up – aside from maybe a muted “mmm mmm mmm” at the 2:34 mark – and that’s the genius of this entire production. Leona Lewis holds her own as a one-woman gospel choir, taking us higher and higher with each new note.
8. DUNGEONESSE – Shucks: Whenever I went through this playlist, I had the sneaking suspicion that I’d heard “Shucks” before. Was it in a commercial for some TV show? Did it just sound familiar, or did it remind me of some other song? I never found the answer, until today when I found out it came out in 2013 (and I probably heard it back then). Oh well! Consider this a throwback, best served with some fresh, buttered body rolls.
9. CHAIRLIFT – Always Crashing in the Same Car: Much attention has been paid to Chairlift’s “Ch-Ching“, but uh, I couldn’t find a single person talking about how “Always Crashing in the Same Car” finds Caroline Polachek channeling David Bowie on the Labyrinth soundtrack? Someone called this similarity out back in 2012. It’s almost as if she read that and took it to the next level.
10. CHVRCHES – Keep You On My Side: Building up to the release of CHVRCHES’s new album, nothing was hitting me as hard as the first time I heard “Recover“, “Gun” or “Now Is Not The Time“. Inexplicably, I would feel pangs of guilt whenever I tried to listen to “Leave A Trace“, “Never Ending Circles” and “Clearest Blue“, as if I were somehow obligated to love these songs for the sake of the band. This was pretty ridiculous, and thankfully, it all went away when the album came out. Shortly after, I fell in love with “Keep You On My Side”, and we lived happily ever after.
11. ANNIE – Out of Reach: For me, there hasn’t been enough convincing Robyn-esque, “crying on the dance floor” pop music in 2015. Annie accomplishes this and more on her Endless Vacation offering “Out of Reach”, which proves that absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. It just makes the heart grow sadder… But, hey, at least she’s able to convey this over a beat that sounds like Ace of Base remixing a Pure Moods compilation!
12. OPEN MIKE EAGLE & GOLD PANDA – Ziggy Starfish (Anxiety Raps): I recently made the terrible choice to use Twitter polls to live my life as a Choose Your Own Adventure book for a week. As I struggled to locate the last song for this playlist, I posted a poll with the secret hope that the people of the world would grant me permission to give up on this mission. They did not! Because the people of the world know better than me, and they knew this Open Mike Eagle track would make for a perfect finale. Thank you, people of the world! You have all been so great to me.