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29 December 2018

The best of the New Statesman 2018: music

From Tyler Swift and Lily Allen to Sade, Shaggy and Sting.

By New Statesman

The New Statesman delved deep into the music world in 2018, with everyone from Sting to Lily Allen, from Taylor Swift to Mark E. Smith and the return of Sade, from Scientology on Planet Beck to the race against time to save the music of the victims of the Holocaust. Here’s a selection of some of the top pieces of music coverage from the last year.

“I call him the Pope of Jamaica”: An encounter with Shaggy and Sting

Kate Mossman interviews rock’s oddest couple about Trump, Brexit, privilege and the perils of the public laundromat, and finds that they’re not as different as you might think: Shaggy and Sting are the twin poles of masculine libido – one pursuing bikinied booty on a beach like a sniffer dog; the other a paragon of psychosexual stamina, who’d mastered the practice of tantric yoga.

The queen of “quiet storm”: Tracey Thorn on the return of Sade

Sade mixed slick soul with social realism to create a unique sound. A goddess, a queen. Yet of course, behind all that she’s a real person: Helen Folasade Adu, born in Nigeria in 1959 to a Nigerian academic and an English nurse. When her parents separated she moved back to England with her mother and brother, growing up in Essex listening to Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway and Bill Withers. Now, after eight years, she’s back.

Mark E Smith: A sudden end to forty years of prole art threat

“The great thing about rock and roll is, any idiot can play it. The bad thing about rock and roll is, any idiot can play it.” Many personal recollections of Mark E Smith bubbled up on social media when the death of this singular figure – tyrannical owner-operator and sole permanent component of The Fall, most curmudgeonly man in pop, and possibly the last member of the punk generation still engaged in intellectual jihad against sonic acceptability – was announced on January 24. But these lines, half-remembered by ex-WYNU DJ Hugh Foley from his interview with Smith in the 1980s, said it best, Andrew Harrison writes.

How Ariana Grande floated free

Grande is the model of a modern pop star – her child fans appreciate her most for her “relatability”; she tweets them directly and says empowering things, writes Kate Mossman. But One Love was an exercise in saying nothing, powerfully. The new album is an exercise in restraint, too. After her concert in Manchester was victim to the terrible bomb attack, an artist reinvents herself and comes of age.

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The long, political career of Taylor Swift

After Swift broke her political silence to endorse a Democratic candidate in November’s midterm elections, Anna Leszkiewicz charts the course of pop’s brightest star as she navigates a changing political climate with considerable, if decreasing, deftness.

Steve Perry of Journey: “Things happened to me as a child. There was nowhere to talk it out, so I sang it out instead”

Journey wrote “Don’t Stop Believin’”, the most downloaded song from the 20th century. When their lead singer quit, the band spent years trying to replace him. Finally out of hibernation, he tells his strange story to Kate Mossman over chocolate muffins in a Whitehall hotel.

Lily Allen: why #MeToo hasn’t hit the music industry

“Things have become so sanitised,” says Allen, now 33. “A lot of my honesty, and wanting to be as authentic as possible, came from coming out of bands like S Club 7 – things that felt glossy, you know? And with the rise of social media there was an initial backlash against that glossiness, too. And then, I don’t know, somehow it managed to get lost again. For anyone who wants to express themselves, there is a platform for people to criticise that expression. People would rather their timeline was full of ‘You’re brilliant’ and ‘You look amazing’ than ‘fuck you’.”

“Some women will shag anything to get anywhere”: Lisa Stansfield on fame, Weinstein and the problem with Jeremy Corbyn

She was the biggest British female soul star of the Nineties. At 51, she’s back and ready to let loose. “You’ve got people with no integrity whatsoever who will look at a person like me, fresh off the boat and go: ‘Yeah, I can have a bit of that, I can fuck that right up. I’ll make as much money out of it as I can, and than I’ll shove it to one side’,” she tells the New Statesman in this candid interview.

One man’s race to bring the forgotten music of the Holocaust to life

Francesco Lotoro knows time is short. “It is an emergency,” he tells me. “These people are 96, 97, 100 years old.” Julia Rampen speaks to a man on a mission: to save the music of the Holocaust. He first learned of the music of prisoners in 1988, and has been collecting it ever since. The 8,000 musical scores he has uncovered over the ensuing years are written on everything from postcards to lavatory paper, or learned by heart. More than 10,000 items, Lotoro believes, are still waiting to be deciphered. “The Imperial War Museum is full, full, full, full of music,” he says. “I went there – it was a mess. The music’s there but nobody can listen to it.”

“I miss people. I have a longing for connection and human contact”: life on Planet Beck

Beck’s voice is level and rather quiet, sometimes little more than a crack. He is 5ft 6in and wears a grey herringbone blazer, grey V-neck and jeans. He has two staff present, but no one objects when I ask them to leave. His eyes are big and blue. This, perhaps, is a Scientologist’s famous stare in the flesh. It is not confrontational – more, if anything, like being looked through, passive and slightly hypnotic. You instinctively find yourself returning it, from politeness, or from some inbuilt desire not to “flunk” and lose the match. As the afternoon wears on, the effect of looking so hard at Beck in the fading light is slightly hallucinogenic. At times, he goes fuzzy at the edges, reports Kate Mossman.

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