The Complete Collection



NOW 114: Raye ft 070 Shake – Escapism

Another 50 tracks from the end of 2022 and the first four months of 2023 show us the pulse of pop.

Disc One Track One comes from Lewis Capaldi. In April 2023, he brought out a Netflix documentary directed by the guys who gave us Bros: After The Screaming Stops and the story of Harry Potter with no mention of JK Rowling. Ed Sheeran helped Lewis write Pointless, a song which sounds exactly what Ed Sheeran writing a Lewis Capaldi ballad sounds like, including the fun zeugma of the opening line ‘I bring her coffee in the morning, she brings me inner piece’. Or is it ‘brings me in a piece’ of toast?

Three songs by blokes on Now 114 are right in the Sheeran/Capaldi tenor. Cian Ducrot’s song I’ll Be Waiting sounds like Love Island in musical form, the Kid LAROI’s Love Again is a sad acoustic ballad written with super producers Cirkut and Omer Fedi, and Dean Lewis’ How Do I Say Goodbye is about his dad, whose terminal cancer diagnosis forms the emotional core of the song and the music video, where it is revealed Dean’s dad had a stem cell transplant that saved his life. A number 23 UK hit, Dean played the Camden Roundhouse as part of a world tour.

Someone praised P!nk as an artist whose career started in the CD era, ran through the download era and is still active in the streaming age. Her so-so album Trustfall was produced with Greg Kurstin and included the fluffy lead single Never Gonna Not Dance Again, written with Max Martin. Adam Lambert took the P!nk song Whataya Want From Me into the top ten in America – it features in the musical & Juliet – and has spent the last few years touring the world with Queen in his role of the new Freddie Mercury. Lambert’s impressive album of covers called High Drama included his version of Billie Eilish’s song Getting Older. In the promo video, he ‘gets older’ with the help of prosthetics.

Raye had a number one with Escapism, a very strange track which sounded like nothing else she or anyone else had done. The narrative surrounding Raye’s single Escapism concerned Polydor Records dropping her at her public protestations in June 2021: ‘I’ve done everything they asked me. I switched genres. I worked 7 days a week…I’m done being a polite popstar. I want to make my album now…I have waited 7 years for this day and I am still waiting.’

The album My 21st Century Blues came out in early 2023 and featured Escapism, a very strange track which sounded like nothing else she or anyone else had done. It feels like a suite.  It was propelled to number one via fan goodwill and is the track that makes my Now That’s What I Call Now playlist which picks the song that best captures its moment.

In February, Raye performed the song on US television for The Late Show, starting at the piano and backed by the show’s horn section. Rapper 070 Shake, a New Jersey rapper signed to Def Jam’s GOOD imprint, joined her, as she does on the studio recording. Escapism peaked at 22 on the Hot 100, which is tremendously impressive for an independent artist.

SZA’s modern r’n’b has been compared to Sade (she’s not even close) thanks to her huge hit Kill Bill, whose hook ‘I might kill my ex’ had to be edited for radio. PinkPantheress was stuck behind Miley Cyrus’ Flowers (not on NOW 114) with her hyperpop song Boy’s a Liar, which is high up the Disc One tracklisting. Ditto Made You Look by Meghan Trainor, an ugly song which mentions brand names (Gucci, Versace, Louis Vuitton) and then boasts ‘even with nothing on, I made you look!’ Does she want expensive things or not?!

A strange trend in 2023 was the ‘bringback’, when an old song somehow came back into fashion. Die For You was the sixth single from Starboy, an album by The Weekend, and Ariana Grande’s voice was added to turn it into a hit all over again. It was in the top five at the same time as Sure Thing, a track by Miguel which was the second single from his debut album in 2010. It topped the R&B/Hiphop charts back then and was a top 40 hit in the States, but for some reason it leapt back into prominence. It may well have been engineered by his record label, which has now waited six years for a follow-up to Miguel’s fourth album. The music sync team of the Netflix hit Wednesday knew exactly what they were doing when they used Bloody Mary, a track from the Lady Gaga album Born This Way, for a dance sequence on the show. The song duly appears at the end of Disc One.

Even more strange was Creepin’, a track which reused I Don’t Wanna Know and brought together Metro Boomin, The Weeknd and 21 Savage. Grandmaster Flash’s seminal The Message is the basis for Players, a top 10 hit by 070 Shake’s fellow Jersey rapper Coi Leray that was big on TikTok thanks to its ‘girls is players too’ hook. Wouldn’t you believe it, she is a ‘nepo baby’ whose dad Ray Benzino owned rap magazine The Source and is a star of Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta.

Years & Years, meanwhile, faithfully covered the Crystal Waters dance anthem 100% Pure Love which was synced to Target’s Christmas 2022 ad campaign. Ella Henderson’s latest vocal appearance is on React, a dancefloor filler produced by Switch Disco which borrows from the late Robert Miles’ anthem Children. Central Cee must have given Passenger a nice cheque to use the hook of Let Her Go for his own song Let Go (‘I rarely get this in depth!’). We are, after all, running out of songs.

Lizzo, who headlined the O2 Arena as part of a European tour, is quite correctly on Disc One with the title track of her album Special. She has ascended to A List status in recent years, joining a major-label contingent including Lady Gaga and Lana Del Rey. The lady born Lizzie Grant continues her run of solo non-hits with the opulent title track of her ninth(!!) album Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, which includes the line ‘f— me to death’ that was scrubbed from the radio. It is strange that her own songs barely dent the Top 40 but collaborations like her Taylor Swift duet Snow on the Beach (not on a Now) do. Perhaps she considers herself more of an albums act anyhow, although it was bad form of her to complain about her initial placement on the Glastonbury poster. Equally bad was that she said she had turned them down three times.

Another performer due to play the O2 in 2023 is Sam Smith, whose disco-divaesque I’m Not Here To Make Friends was accompanied by a video that showcased Sam’s fun new direction and brought Calvin Harris and Jessie Reyes to the party. The Jonas Brothers, meanwhile, lined up a gig at the Royal Albert Hall to promote their 2023 album (called The Album). It features the bouncy two-minute vignette Wings, which was written by 10 people including The Monsters and Strangerz, who have helped make Lewis Capaldi’s sound.

Younger talent on Now 114 include Caity Baser, whose song Pretty Boys is basically a TikTok Kate Nash, and Mae Stephens, whose great pop song If We Ever Broke Up caught the attention of scrollers at the end of 2022, perhaps because it sounds like three Dua Lipa songs squished together. D4vd is a chap called David Burke who turned 18 a few weeks before Now 114 was released. His tremolo-heavy track Here with Me gave him a top 40 hit, thanks to Interscope Records signing him.

Venbee x Goddard’s equally radio-friendly drum’n’bass track Messy In Heaven leapt up the charts after the Christmas hits had dropped out of the Top 40. The original version opens with the line ‘I heard Jesus did cocaine on a night out’, which you cannot say on the BBC, so the edited version went for ‘I heard my mate lost his mind on a night out’. Oh Baby is a hyperactive dancefloor filler by Nathan Dawe and Bru-C, which features Nottingham rapper Bshp and Issey Cross. Her name became a running gag on Greg James’ Radio 1 Breakfast Show: ‘Issey Cross [is he cross]?! He’s fuming!!’

Sub Focus aka Luton-born Nicolaas Douwma took his own drum’n’bass to Wembley Arena in March, where the setlist featured Ready To Fly, which sits on Disc Two of Now 114 and will be on his album Evolve. Skrillex put out two albums in two days in February, one of which included Rumble, a typically dance-y track which is credited to him, rapper Flowdan and the man who finished second behind FLO in the BBC’s Sound of 2023 poll: Fred Again.

Then there’s the host of blokes: Niall Horan with Heaven, the perky first track from his album The Show; Tom Grennan, two-timing with his song Here and a duet with Joel Corry called Lionheart (Fearless), whose title seems to indicate a compromise and whose melody rips off at least ten other tracks; and Calum Scott, who brings his voice to Jax Jones’ recent by-numbers chart hit Whistle, which employs a whistling hook.

There is, as always, a strong contingent of black performers, many left to Disc Two. Stormzy and Debbie offer the introspective Firebabe, on which both acts sing. They performed it as part of a BBC performance at Abbey Road to help promote Stormzy’s third album This Is What I Mean; the song is on Disc One because Stormzy is an important figure in British life, never mind music.

Elsewhere, self-proclaimed ‘Afrorave’ star Rema is there with his hooky hit Calm Down, which benefitted from an appearance from the World’s Most Followed Person on Instagram Selena Gomez. Libianca appeared on The Voice in 2021 and in the UK top ten in 2023 with People, a hypnotic slice of Afrobeats which uses words like ‘paranoia’ and asks people to ‘check on’ others and ‘really know’ them.

KSI’s Wikipedia page lists him as Youtuber and boxer who also owns an energy drink, vodka brand and restaurant chain called Sides. In his spare time he puts out music on Atlantic Records; the hooky Voices featured in an Amazon documentary that he also had time to work on. Sweat that brand, JJ!! That song featured Oliver Tree, who was the lead artist in the shockingly popular Miss You, which was co-credited to producer Robin Schulz. Tiesto’s top 10 hit 10:35 was co-written with LA pop writers Scott Harris, Amy Allen and Ryan Tedder, and vocals are provided by Tate McRae.

McRae is one of many post-Eilish singers, four more of whom are present in the Now 114 tracklisting. Lizzy McAlpine offers Ceilings, a top ten hit which sounds like a three-minute number from a teen movie (and a lot like Driver’s Licence) that has the line ‘it’s not real and you don’t exist’. beabadoobee has Glue Song, which sounds like a two-minute number from the same teen movie that has the line ‘I’ve never known someone like you’.

Mimi Webb ignores plenty of Red Flags on a tune produced by Cirkut, and Sabrina Carpenter sings Nonsense, which ends with her bursting into laughter, which is relatable. Island Records are looking after her and they’ll certainly make a return on their investment, which started by pairing her with Julian Bunetta, best known for his work with One Direction, on Nonsense. John Ryan, another member of the 1D team, is also a key figure in shaping Sabrina’s sound as she leaves the familiar Disney setting and embarks on a portfolio career mixing acting and singing. Having already gone out with Ariana Grande, I think she’s a cert to open for Miley Cyrus (who, again, is not on Now 114 despite having a nine-week number one).

As ever, bringing up the rear at the end of Disc Two, we get a smorgasbord of elder statesmen with songs that were playlisted on Radio 2. Simply Red offer Better With You, which sounds like Rod Stewart at his most anodyne; Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds have Easy Now, which sounds like solo tracks by at least three Beatles and includes a typical bit of doggerel – ‘your destination comes without a fare’; Ellie Goulding, one of the many independently wealthy popstars locked into a recording contract, offers Like A Saviour as a teaser from her fifth album Higher Than Heaven (fun fact: the song was written with Tom Mann, who was part of the boyband Stereo Kicks in the 2014 edition of The X Factor).

Shania Twain’s song Giddy Up! was a Radio 2 Record of the Week which will slot nicely into her arena set in September alongside all the songs people pay lots of money to hear. Jessie Ware was A-Listed on Radio 2 with Pearls, a catchy yet chromatic melody which previews her fifth album That! Feels Good! That melody was written with super melodist Sarah Hudson (cousin of Kate) who wrote Levitating and Physical with Dua Lipa.

The Rock Band is represented too on Now 114. Paramore are Running Out of Time, which has one of the compilation’s best choruses, while CHVRCHES, who were nominated as Best Band in the World at the 2022 NME Awards (losing to Fontaines DC) offer Over with its meme-friendly hook ‘wake me up when it’s over!’. They wrote it with Oscar Holter, a Swede who was one of the masterminds behind Blinding Lights and has helped to sculpt the sound of The Weeknd.

Maybe Raye will put in a call to him, although I don’t think she needs him!

NOW 113: Tom Odell – Another Love

Let’s start at the end of the compilation, which was released the week that a football World Cup kicked off in a desert where you risk arrest for holding hands with someone of the same sex.

It’s a famous story in NOW lore that Queen would tell Virgin, who put out their material and the NOW CDs, to always lead off with their tracks. In a natural inversion of things, an unreleased Queen song called Face It Alone closes NOW 113; it’s fine and its very existence is greater than how it sounds. It will appear on a collector’s edition of their album The Miracle, which came out in 1989 and included the smash hit I Want It All.

With Adam Lambert replacing Freddie Mercury, Queen can headline the O2 Arena. So can Robbie Williams, whose best-of collection titled XXV copies Kylie Minogue’s idea of recording a catalogue with an orchestra, repackaging it to make money from old copyrights. Lost, a new song, is co-credited to Chris Heath, collaborator on Robbie’s memoir! Elton John can pack them into Greenwich too; he helped Britney Spears step back into the charts on a really miserable reworking of Tiny Dancer called Hold Me Closer. That song kicks off Disc Two.

Front-loading Disc One of this compilation are five of the biggest acts in the UK not called Adele. Lewis Capaldi got to number one with Forget Me; Sam Smith followed with the dull Unholy, a duet with German trans (not trance) act Kim Petras; Stormzy previewed his third album with Hide & Seek; Ed Sheeran farted out another lighter-waver called Celestial; and George Ezra crooned his way through Dance All Over Me.

The interloper at the start of Disc One is Ryan Tedder, or his band OneRepublic; knowing the name of any other member of the band will get you a Pointless answer. I Ain’t Worried was featured in Top Gun: Maverick and clambered into the UK Top 3 in autumn 2022. Lil Nas X’s next trick was Star Walkin’, the ‘World Anthem’ for video game League of Legends. KSI, who shot to fame playing video games for an enthralled public, had a big hit with Not Over Yet, featuring Tom Grennan. It sounds like pop music in 2022.

KSI, who appears with the mournful Summer Is Over, and Tom both two-time on NOW 113. Tom has All These Nights, another song which sounds like pop music in 2022, with his great voice is surrounded by music made ‘in the box’ by studio wizardry. Whooshes and woahs make it perfect for any kind of playlist. NOW’s celebrated playlist has room for Olly Murs, a Maroon 5ish tune called Die of a Broken Heart; The 1975, a piece of candy floss called I’m In Love With You, produced by Jack Antonoff; and two tracks written and produced by the great Stuart Price, Boy by The Killers and Ghost of You by Mimi Webb.

There’s also Josh Bruce aka Bru-C, a British multi-hyphenate who signed to Def Jam and put out the melodic drum’n’bass track No Excuses, and the London trio FLO, who performed their song Cardboard Box on TV shows as diverse as Jimmy Kimmel Live and Later with Jools Holland. A clue to their success is the presence of MNEK, who wrote and produced a break-up song that sounds good next to Go by Cat Burns. Cat is also on NOW 113 with the quirky People Pleaser, which begins with the line ‘I hate confrontation’.

In autumn 2022 I had a go broadcasting in the weekday mid-morning slot on Vibe 107.6. The playlist (which I sometimes ignored) was full of Top 40 hits, many of which make it on to this compilation. I joked that we were never too far away from Joel Corry and Becky Hill, whose song History was bouncy and good to exercise to; ditto Hot In It by Tiesto and Charli XCX. I also rotated Ferrari by James Hype and Miggy Dela Rosa; I Like You (A Happier Song) from Post Malone’s woeful album which featured some purring from Doja Cat; and the latest poolside jam from Calvin Harris, whose Funk Wav Bounces Volume 2 project was led by a slinky song called Stay With Me featuring Halsey AND Pharrell Williams AND Justin Timberlake. ‘Four for the price of one’ was my regular line.

For some reason, we didn’t have the US number one hit Bad Habit by Steve Lacy on the system, which takes its place on NOW 113. We did have a pair of UK number one singles that were popular in the clubs and on radio. Eiffel 65’s Blue was brought back by David Guetta and Bebe Rexha and retitled I’m Good (Blue), while Eliza Rose and Interplanetary Criminal were the Baddest of Them All.

Aitch joined Anne-Marie on a Hallowe’en-friendly tune with a five-note riff called Psycho, which borrowed heavily from Mambo Number 5. The 20-Year Cycle strikes again, as the tunes by Lou Bega and Eiffel 65 were both huge hits in 1999, two years before Aitch was born. He Wasn’t Man Enough by Toni Braxton came out in 2000 and includes a lovely quivering riff that anchors Last Last, a song by Burna Boy that ruled summer 2022. Big City Life was a number 15 hit by Mattafix in 2005 written by Mabel’s half-brother Marlon Roudette (ie they share a father); Luude picked that song to give the same treatment he gave Down Under and people still like the shtick enough to push it into the top ten.

I joked on air that we’re running out of songs, but thank goodness for Ed Sheeran, who sings the hook on My G, a song about Aitch’s sister, and who takes a verse on a remix of Peru, the Afrobeats anthem by Fireboy DML, and who appears on a Burna Boy song called For My Hand. Four-timing is as rare as scoring an albatross on the golf course but such is Ed’s dominance that he doesn’t need to sing the whole track to get a hit song in 2022.

NOW 113 was released the same day as Nothing But Space, Man, the debut album by Sam Ryder. In an environment where new stars are hard to come by unless you sound like Ed Sheeran, Sam tweaks the Sheeran formula. A falsetto voice and love of hard rock makes Sam the breakout star of 2022: following Space Man’s success in spring, his unity anthem Somebody was a great song to play on air during the autumn. He also provides pitch-shifted vocals on Living Without You, a plodding tie-up between DJs Sigala and David Guetta.

His TikTok followers will know his talent but this year has been spent germinating songs as if Sam is a lab experiment for how to grow a popstar via Eurovision exposure and a decent social media following. He will be the star performer in Liverpool for the 2023 Contest and I suggest he sings an Ed Sheeran song as the UK entry. Who else is available: James Blunt?! Three-timing on NOW 113 will push people to Nothing But Space, Man, before Stormzy dominates the narrative the week afterwards. We will hear and see Sam Ryder an awful lot, perhaps more than ‘Big Mike’ (aka Stormzy) in 2023.

Rosa Linn finished 20th for Armenia at Eurovision 2022 with her song Snap, but she enjoyed a bounce after the competition and finds a way on to a cosmopolitan Disc Two. As well as Burna Boy, his Nigerian compatriot Oxlade makes it with his song Ku Lo Sa (A Colors Show). Benzz, a teenager from West London of Moroccan descent, is the latest star of the streets to get on to a NOW compilation with Je M’Appelle, which is driven by the Calabria horn riff, which was also used on 21 Reasons by Nathan Dawe.

Ella Henderson featured on that track and joins Cian Ducrot on the piano ballad All For You. Rita Ora (who, remember, broke lockdown rules twice and was sent to Australia to escape tabloid disdain) is the vocalist on Barricades, a dance-pop song written by Stargate and credited to her and Netsky. Pink returns with a politically charged song called Irrelevant, written with Ian Fitchuk and filled with rage for the Supreme Court justices who allowed the Roe v Wade ruling on abortion to be struck down in several states. It didn’t chart in the UK or the USA but songs don’t have to be hits to hit home in 2022. The song Never Gonna Not Dance Again was released in November 2022, written with Max Martin and Shellback, proving that she does still want hit songs after all.

From Texas there’s Lizzo, whose song 2 Be Loved (Am I Ready) was co-written by the great Swede himself (Maz) and features a hilariously euphoric key change, plus the lyric ‘he call me Melly, he squeeze my belly’. LF System represent Scotland with their follow up to Afraid To Feel, which is called Hungry (For Love). Dermot Kennedy from Ireland offers Kiss Me; like Tom Grennan, he has added a contemporary beat to his Sheeranesque voice.

From LA, Billie Eilish returns with TV, another song with her trademark quiver which was quietly released over summer, while Panic! At The Disco have – really has because Brendon Urie is the only member of the group with any profile – enlisted pop genius Mike Viola on their/his new album Viva Las Vengeance. The magnificent single Don’t Let The Light Go Out was playlisted on Radio 2; the title track is perhaps my song of the year. Naturally it missed the UK and US charts. Not that Brendon minds; he’s booked for the O2 Arena in March 2023 the week of Country2Country.

So, with all these new tunes, why have I picked a Tom Odell song that was a hit in 2013 to go forward into the playlist of songs that are the most important on any given NOW? TikTok, of course.

For some reason, the algorithm has decreed that Another Love is worth bringing back in a big way. Tom released a poor album in October 2022 while his biggest copyright returned into the popular sphere. His gig at the British Country Music Festival ended with Another Love, which a drunken young person jumped around to. Tom, once heralded as an Elton John in the making, may well end up as a cultural footnote.

It’s how pop culture works today: whether the melody was written in 1999 or 2013, it can still influence people in 2022. I handed in my notice at Vibe the week that NOW 113 was released. It’s for the best.

NOW 112: Kalush Orchestra – Stefania

Music doesn’t matter as much as safety does. In the Hierarchy of Needs, I would put music as a Need rather than a Want, but when it comes to food, shelter and a right to enfranchisement, for most people, life can continue without it. In the modern world of symbols and statues and flags, music can cross borders and languages and make the world a better place for three minutes. Remember the little Ukrainian girl who sang Let It Go and hammered home the point that war, to quote Boy George, is stupid.

Such is the role of Eurovision, which was won by a folk-rap act from Ukraine who weren’t even the original entrants for the 2022 iteration, held in Turin. Sam Ryder, helped by his label BMG and writers including Ed Sheeran’s friend Amy Wadge, did brilliantly to come in second with SPACE MAN (all caps), a proper pop song brilliantly sung and staged on the night. A win for Ukraine, however, was never in doubt. Had Russia not invaded, perhaps they would have come in the top ten, but the public vote pushed Kalush Orchestra into the lead at the last.

NOW 112 was released in summer 2022 at a time when UK politics was fractured too. A combination of former bankers and career politicians were gunning for the leadership of the ruling party while inflation soared and petrol hit £2 per litre (back in the days of 2000, it was around £1/litre). Paul McCartney headlined Glastonbury, the Rolling Stones and Elton John played stadiums or parks and Kate Bush ran up to number one with a song from 1985 brought back by a TV series which sold the idea of the 1980s around the world.

There is no place for Kate on the compilation, which packs in 48 tunes including those two Eurovision entrants, plus 2021 winner Maneskin’s odd tune Supermodel, written with Max Martin and 100% Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana. They are booked into the O2 Arena as part of their European tour in 2023, which I hope they can fill.  

New names on the compilation include Cian Ducrot, whose heartbreak ballad All For You fills in the gap before Lewis Capaldi returns with new music, and Benson Boone. Having appeared on American Idol, he was spotted by the bloke from Imagine Dragons. In The Stars is produced by Jason Evigan, a big player in the LA pop scene. Benson has a superb voice which will serve him well as his label tries to turn him into the next global superstar targeted at people born after the year 2000 who scroll through TikTok all day when they aren’t watching Netflix. They may well be fans of Hearstopper, a drama whose soundtrack includes Colours of You by Baby Queen.

These days, half the acts are placed on a NOW tracklist and then the songtitle is added when it comes out. Thus we have the usual perfunctory appearances from Steps (Hard 2 Forget, which is 100% yaas queen), Sigala (Stay The Night, with vocals from Talia Mar) and James Arthur, who lends his voice to the Lost Frequencies track Questions, which was written by Dan from Bastille and sounds like James is singing over the demo.

Mabel, Jax Jones & Galantis ALL contribute to Good Luck, which has a top line written by both Camille Purcell and MNEK for maximum hit potential. Mabel’s second album is a priority Q3 release, as is the Sigrid album How To Let Go, which features the anthemic Bad Life (‘it’s just a bad day, not a bad life’) with, of all people, British rockers Bring Me The Horizon. Elsewhere, we get Diplo & Miguel asking Don’t Forget My Love, and Camila Cabello offering what most people think Latin music sounds like on Bam Bam. Bad Bunny, the real Latin superstar of the era, is absent.

Another Q3 release is the second volume of Calvin Harris’s series Funk Wav Bounces. Once again, he has recruited plenty of talent: Halsey, Offset, Busta Rhymes and, on Potion, both Dua Lipa and rapper Young Thug. Five years on from the success of volume one, volume two will soundtrack plenty of pool parties this summer and beyond.

Like Calvin, David (Pierre!) Guetta is ageing gracefully, an elder statesman of commercial dance music. He unites both Becky Hill AND Ella Henderson on Crazy What Love Can Do, another slice of dance-pop with a nagging hook that is basically Head and Heart redux. The tunes share a writer in Rob Harvey. Ella also appears on her hit 21 Reasons, where the lead artist is Nathan Dawe, while Becky exercises her larynx on Run, produced by Galantis. Dance Bloke + Female Singer still equals hit.

The Big Movie Theme kicks off Disc Two. Lady Gaga must have recorded Hold My Hand, a song of companionship, in 2019 when Top Gun: Maverick was being made. After two years in the can, Tom Cruise finally got to do his own stunts while a ballad played on the radio to implore people to see him do it. It’s very 1998.

In order to free up space on NOW 112, there are no Harry Styles songs, probably due to the same metric that kept Adele tracks off several compilations: everyone owns them already. Instead we get The Joker & The Queen by Ed Sheeran and Something To Someone by his Irish equivalent Dermot Kennedy. There is also When You’re Gone by Shawn Mendes, a song with beige in every aspect.

Far more exciting is Maybe You’re The Problem by Ava Max, which is VERY CLOSE INDEED to As It Was by Harry Styles, and Big Energy by Latto, a massive American hit that was co-opted by Mariah Carey, who had herself co-opted Tom Tom Club’s Genius of Love. We’re now so far into pop music as a cultural entity that acts are sampling the samplers.

We’re also getting a new trend of Women Singing The Hook, as three songs demonstrate. Jack Harlow takes Fergie’s Glamorous and turns it into a Drake pastiche called First Class. Aitch borrows Ashanti on Baby and Tion Wayne enlists La Roux on IFTK, which samples In For The Kill. The woman adds the hooky bit while a bloke raps nonsense over the top. Is this the future of pop music, or just an easy way to make money? Nicking from Lambada, Tion two-times on Night Away (Dance) by A1 x J1, which at least does something new with the sample.

Interestingly, a straight cover gets a place on Disc One. Miley Cyrus’s take on Madonna’s Like A Prayer leaps out of the Attention show that she released on disc in spring 2022. She also covers songs by Fleetwood Mac, Pixies, Blondie, Prince (via Sinead O’Connor) and her godmum Dolly Parton. No longer trying to have hits, Miley is a proper Artist now. I wonder if Harry Styles is modelling his career on hers.

Paolo Nutini, who is still known as a quirky popstar from the James Blunt era, has also turned into an Artist. Through The Echoes comes from his first album in eight years, which topped the UK charts. Album acts with perfunctory singles on NOW 112 include Florence + The Machine (My Love, written with Dave Bayley from Glass Animals), Sam Smith (Love Me More, a smooth Stargate production) and Sam Fender, who is Getting Started. Tom Grennan’s song Remind Me has mighty production to match his vocal delivery, while Chase & Status, today an album act, offer Mixed Emotions.

It is weird to see Take That members turn 50. Gary Barlow is taking a one-man show across the UK in 2022, while at a mere 48 Robbie Williams is putting out yet another greatest hits set (incredibly, his third), this one a series of reworkings with the famous Metropole Orkest. He tours in the autumn. Mark Owen, who turned 50 a year after Gaz did, is targeting his music at a Radio 2 audience who want to hear their teen idols grow into lovely middle-aged men. Knowingly, Mark launched his new album with You Only Want Me (‘for my good looks’), another song in the key of bland.

Liam Gallagher, 50 in September and needing a new hip, sang of Better Days on his third solo album which he promoted by going back to Knebworth. George Ezra, born in summer 1993 when Take That were dancing on the beach in the video to Pray and Oasis were feeling Supersonic, takes prime position on the compilation with a song he performed for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. Green Green Grass has a buoyant major-key feel but a chorus, edited for the show, which told people to ‘throw a party on the day that I die’.

Take That had broken up for the first time by the time Cat Burns, Mimi Webb and Lauren Spencer-Smith came into the world. Go, Goodbye (a piano ballad written with the great Ross Golan) and Flowers are their respective offerings on NOW 112. Cat’s single was the little engine that could, kept off the top by Harry Styles but charting at number two. The song that overtook Kate Bush was a twist on I Can’t Stop (Turning You On) by Silk, sped up then slowed down then sped up again by two blokes from Glasgow who will forever be the Afraid To Feel guys even if LF SYSTEM do happen to repeat their trick.

Youth music is here in the form of BMW by Bad Boy Chiller Crew, Cooped Up by Post Malone & Roddy Ricch and Thousand Miles by The Kid LAROI (with two megaproducers, Louis Bell and Andrew Watt, involved). Justin Bieber was in the news in 2022 for cancelling a tour due to a health issue, but he still had a hit called Honest with Don Toliver, which comprises a boring beat with some chuntering over the top of it.

For no reason at all (I can guess, but I’ll hold judgement), N-Dubz come back with the autotune-tastic Charmer. On a more solemn tack, The Wanted mark the passing of their member Tom Parker with Gold Forever, written by A-List trio Claude Kelly, Steve Mac and Wayne Hector. It hit number 74 in the charts but that’s not the point. The song is an I’ll Be Missing You for 2022 which will have consoled his family, bandmates and fans. Tom died of cancer at the end of March at the age of 33. He was six months younger than me.

Music doesn’t matter but it can really give catharsis and make you think about life and stuff.

NOW 111: The Cast of Encanto – We Don’t Talk About Bruno

Spring 2022 brought war, rising energy costs and the end of the Kermode & Mayo Film Programme on BBC 5Live, which was first broadcast in 2001 around the time of NOW 50. 20 years before NOW 111 came out, Coldplay were beginning to have hits, Billie Eilish was a foetus in her mummy’s tummy and we couldn’t get Kylie Minogue out of our heads. There was also war in Afghanistan and high petrol prices. History just repeats itself over and over again.

You’ve got your Coldplay, your Eilish and your Kylie on NOW 111 but Disc One track one is notable as the song with the most vocalists to have ever been credited to any UK chart-topper. As well as the cast of Encanto, there are solos for Stephanie Beatriz (Mirabel), Carolina Gaitan aka La Gaita (Aunt Pepa), Mauro Castillo (Uncle Felix), Adassa (cousin Dolores), Rhenzy Feliz (cousin Camilo) and Diane Guerrero (sister Isabella). Incredibly, the song about anti-hero Bruno whom ‘we don’t talk about, no no no!’, was a bigger hit than the movie’s intro song The Family Madrigal and Surface Pressure, Jessica Darrow’s aria as sister Luisa.

All three were UK Top 10 hits and brought Disney back into the charts for the first time since The Greatest Showman had a lock on culture in 2018. Smart speakers being ordered to PLAY ENCANTO! were probably behind the popularity of the soundtrack. For anyone who hadn’t seen the film, which came to Disney+ over Christmas 2021, a Latin pop song outlining the mysterious nature of Bruno, who predicts the future whether it is good or bad, was a strange song to break out from the movie. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genius was to tie together four vocal strands in an operatic style and, having triumphed on Broadway with Hamilton, his work finally hit the top of the UK charts too. There must be an Encanto sequel in the works.

Otherwise, winter 2021/22 was a familiar story. Ed Sheeran fought a court case while Shivers (Disc One track two) hung around after more or less replacing Bad Habits at number one. Justin Bieber (Ghost), Jax Jones & MNEK (the No Mercy homage Where Did You Go?) and Joel Corry & Mabel (the itchily addictive I Wish) kept up their hot hit streaks. Lost Frequencies got into the top five with Where Are You Now, a boring dance-pop tune about a girl who is like a dance-pop tune ‘going round and round my head’ sung by Calum Scott.

The Weeknd three-times on NOW 111, with his own hit Sacrifice, Post Malone collaboration One Right Now (for the streaming numbers rather than to make great art) and a vocal on Moth To A Flame, the comeback smash for Swedish House Mafia, who have houses to afford. Otherwise the blokes are back: fresh from a BRIT Award, Silk Sonic (aka Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak) are Smokin Out The Window; George Ezra’s perky first taster of his third album Anyone But You is the third track on Disc One; and Shawn Mendes laments his break-up with ballad It’ll Be Okay.

Liam Gallagher, who is 50 years old later in 2022, readies his third solo album Cmon You Know with a Dave Grohl co-write called Everything’s Electric. Liam backs up his old mate Richard Ashcroft from The Verve on a new version of Richard’s solo track C’mon People (We’re Making It Now), which was playlisted on Radio 2, as was the dull track Let Somebody Go by Coldplay and Selena Gomez, who were put together for the streaming numbers rather than to make great art.

The BBC’s home of Adult Contemporary music has also spun songs by Tears for Fears (Break The Man), Westlife (My Hero, their take on drill music…nope, it’s another ballad, written by Ed Sheeran), Michael Buble (I’ll Never Not Love You) and Elton John & Stevie Wonder, from Elton’s lockdown collaborations album (Finish Line). Elton turned 75 years old on March 25, while Stevie is 72 in May; as they ease into retirement, their legacy will only grow. We still hear Your Song and Superstition two generations after they were written, and we’ll hear them in 2070 too.

I reckon Yola has a chance of being played then; notionally a country act, the Bristol-born singer is now based in Nashville and has Radio 2 supporting her second album Stand For Myself, which features the wonderful single Dancing Away In Tears. If anyone hasn’t yet heard of Yola, they soon will as she’s in the Elvis biopic which finally gets a release this summer.

It seems unfair to ask if, in 2070, we will hear NOW 111 selections by Bastille (Shut Off The Lights), Ella Henderson (Brave), Foals (Wake Me Up) and Doja Cat (Woman), which are all key releases by major labels in Q1-Q2 2022. Summer Walker and SZA are paired up on the dull, beat-driven No Love while Craig David and MNEK join forces on the far more melodic Who You Are, which had regular rotation on Radio 2 even though MNEK is more usually found on Radio 1. I think they could put on a great show together and I would commission an album if I were an executive.

In the Faceless Dance Act section are Tiesto with The Motto, featuring the bored vocals of Ava Max, and Sigala with the song Melody. This is a bit of fluff with lyrics delivered by a nameless vocalist in the modern triplet-y cadence and it should really be called Nirvana because that seems to be the key word in the chorus. Alesso borrows Katy Perry from her gig hosting American Idol while raising a young baby on When I’m Gone, and Meduza ropes in Hozier on Tell It To My Heart, which is a waste of the talents of the Irish vocalist who was last heard on a version of the Maren Morris ballad The Bones.

Two club-friendly Top 10 hits are high up the tracklist. ACRAZE sample Cherish’s r’n’b number Do It To It, speed it up and stick a beat underneath it to have a hit, while Colin Hay’s vocal is set to a drum’n’bass loop by Luude to bring Down Under back into the charts. Irish dance duo Belters Only use the voice of Jazzy, who sidles up to a guy in the club and asks her to Make Me Feel Good. The song is two minutes too long.

There are certain pop songs from the start of 2022 that should have been much bigger hits. Charli XCX and Rina Sawayama combine on Beg For You, which peaked at 29, and Charlie Puth’s Light Switch (number 31!) is almost a present to his fans, who have been clamouring for him to put out the song that uses the switch sound as a hook. The man is a genius and he’ll make a lot of money, even as he may never again have a top 10 hit.

Since 1999, Muse have been doing what they do, guitar-saturated synthpop, to a core fanbase who buy their albums and fill stadia to see their spectacles. Those who are still interested will enjoy Won’t Stand Down, which is track 25 on Disc One. Track 23 is Enemy, by Imagine Dragons and JID, from the series Arcane League of Legends, proving that video games are helping bands sell concert tickets too. Interscope Records know where the wind is blowing.

Interscope also run the career of Billie Eilish, whose Bond theme No Time To Die finally makes it onto a NOW compilation. Aptly, there are songs from the young ladies who get major-label funding to make hay (and return on investment) where Eilish’s sun shines. There’s Lauren Spencer-Smith (Fingers Crossed), Mimi Webb (the pulsating House On Fire), Gayle (who had a number one with abc) and Tate McRae (the electro-pop rush of She’s All I Wanna Be); good luck telling them apart in a police line-up.

Britain’s answer to Eilish or to Olivia Rodrigo, who spent 2022 preparing for a world tour, is Holly Humberstone, whose song London Is Lonely is so close to Driver’s License that Olivia may take her to court. Willow Smith, recording as Willow, teams up with The Anxiety and Tyler Cole on the quirky, hook-laden Meet Me At Our Spot. I wouldn’t have put money on Will Smith’s daughter leading the pop-punk revival, but nothing is predictable about modern life any more.

The most interesting song by any of these young women is Go by Cat Burns, a kiss-off with an acoustic guitar bed. Cat is a dark-skinned black woman who came through the BRIT School with a strong voice and a big TikTok following who is, according to her online bio, ‘helping you get through shit one song at a time’. There’s a lot of swearing on Go, which is cleaned up on NOW 111, and Sony Music should throw money at Cat Burns to make her the same sort of superstar as Arlo Parks and Little Simz, who are critical darlings with the same sort of independent spirit.

The BBC Sound of 2022 is PinkPantheress, the daughter of a Kenyan carer and an English stats professor. Through a combination of Soundcloud and TikTok, the buzz behind her led to a record deal with Elektra Records. Just For Me, which sounds like 2022, makes it onto NOW 111, which does not contain any of these promising British rappers or rapper crews: Kojey Radical, Bad Boy Chiller Crew, Hazey, Central Cee, A1 & J1, Aitch, Dave, Stormzy or D-Block Europe. Representing them all is Brighton rapper ArrDee, whose song Flowers (Say My Name) samples the 2000 hit by Sweet Female Attitude which, significantly, purchasers of the compilation may know.

Years & Years, now an Olly Alexander solo project akin to Bon Iver or The Divine Comedy, team up with Galantis for the phenomenal sugar rush of Sweet Talker. The fact that it only got to number 26 is a travesty, but Olly can still sell out Wembley Arena. Olly himself two-times on NOW 111 with Hallucination, another hit from Kosovo’s top DJ Regard, while his mate Kylie in turn uses the talents of Jessie Ware on her disco-funk throwback Kiss of Life.

Kylie’s career stretches back to 1988, and she has outlasted the soap opera where she first came to prominence. Neighbours ends later in 2022 having not found a network to broadcast on. Maybe Netflix will pick it up…

NOW 110: Elton John & Dua Lipa – Cold Heart (PNAU remix)

Do we need 49 tracks on a NOW compilation?

With streaming and even vinyl having displaced CD sales, NOW decide to make the 110th edition the biggest yet. Even without Adele, whose album 30 hit physical and digital shelves the same day NOW 110 was released – November 19, International Men’s Day – and even without anything from ABBA’s Voyage LP, the compilation is still full of big hitters.

Easy On Me, an Adele song for Adele fans, ruled the radio at the end of 2021, a time when music venues were praying for a decent winter and when the UK Top 10 was almost entirely British for the whole month. This is an odd state of affairs, perhaps borne out of a smaller budget for international promotion, but it’s only a good thing for UK music as a whole.

Among those Top 10 tunes was Bad Habits by Ed Sheeran, the ten-week number one which opens NOW 110. ‘My bad habits lead to you, ooh-ooh ooh-ooh’ mixes an irresistible melody and Ed’s documented problems with the high life (‘Ed: My Drink Hell’ in tabloidspeak). His 2022/23 tour will include a live band for the first time and will be a hot ticket across the world in a time when UK acts are finding it harder to tour abroad due to Brexit paperwork.

As if trying to protect their profit margins in a year without live music, the big labels have reached back to Heritage Acts. Elton John, who DJs on Apple Music and used to work in a record shop, made some calls to his friends and put together The Lockdown Sessions in lieu of his farewell tour. For the first time since Tupac sampled Indian Sunset on his number one Ghetto Gospel, Elton was at the top of the singles chart with Cold Heart. It helped that he’d roped in Dua Lipa to sing some of the chorus of Rocket Man and Australian duo PNAU to weave Sacrifice and elements of two other songs into a new creature. It points to the future of pop, resurrecting copyrights and putting new twists on them.

Indeed, on If You Really Love Me we have an old chorus inserted into a new tune: David Guetta and MistaJam work on the production and recruit John Newman to purr the lyrics of How Will I Know and turn it into a new song. MistaJam was a Radio 1 DJ who is now a commercial radio DJ; I wonder if his BBC contract forbade him from doing this sort of thing. There’s also a quirky sample of a mid-period Nelly Furtado tune on Talk About, a tune from Rain Radio and Irish DJ Craig Gorman.

Who is more glam than Elton? Diana Ross! The title track of her album Thank You is at the end of Disc One and promotes her delayed live shows which will include the Glastonbury Legends slot, which not even Elton has played (although the rumour mill has been working overtime this year). Meanwhile, less glam but still boasting multiplatinum album sales, Sting and Rod Stewart (combined age 146!) both offer new music in the form of If It’s Love and One More Time respectively, which build upon their million-selling catalogues and introduce more new stuff to their greatest hits sets.

The announcement of the death of photographer Mick Rock the week of NOW 110’s release brought to a close the life of the man who ‘shot the seventies’, with Queen album covers and David Bowie concert stills among his portfolio. Rock music, which captured the imagination of young people as far back as 1956, is now coming up to 70 years old. Like pop, it can still be twisted into innovative forms using amplified melodies and hard beats.

Sam Fender hit the top 10 with Seventeen Going Under, a tune that recalls Sam’s upbringing in North Shields near Newcastle. Maneskin’s version of Beggin’ by The Four Seasons gained traction across the world and kept the Eurovision winners in conversation for their full fifteen minutes of fame. Coldplay, whose 20-year career has seen them join U2 as the hottest ticket in any city they stop by, call upon both Max Martin and BTS on My Universe, a song with a marvellous chorus (‘You! You are! My universe!’) and a solo for each member of the Korean boyband. Talking of Max, his latest muse The Weeknd continues his hit streak with the invasively catchy Take My Breath.

Elsewhere on NOW 110, all the usual faces turn up to add to their catalogue of poppy dance tunes that kickstart a party, in a way which becomes a version of Dem Bones, such is the way one act is connected to another. David Guetta also brings us the poppy Remember, with a neat vocal from Becky Hill who wraps her tongue around lyrics like ‘occasionally I lose composure’.

Becky also appears on the number 11 smash My Heart Goes (La Di Da) with Topic (which is his real surname), who also appears with Clean Bandit and Wes Nelson on the forgettable Drive. Far better is the debut from German newcomer Jonasu who had a smash with Black Magic (‘you work your voodoo on me’) that is perfect for Love Island montages.

Joel Corry and Jax Jones deliver Out Out, a song about partying which namechecks Uber and features vocals from Charli XCX and Saweetie. Harlee was the uncredited vocalist on Lonely by Joel Corry and she gets the credit she deserves on Lonely, a tune produced by St Helens native Navos. The song’s chorus includes the line ‘we can learn to love ourselves’, which is very current.

For some reason Rita Ora still has a career, even as she now lives in Australia, and Sigala pull her in on You For Me, co-written by AG Cook from the PC Music collective and Charli XCX. Along with MNEK, I think Charli is one of the big top-line melodists of pop music today. She’ll get her due even if she doesn’t get the mainstream acclaim.

Conversely, two tracks offer dancefloor patrons the chance to dance their cares away. Nathan Dawe offers Goodbye (‘you don’t know a thing about love’) along with T Matthias, while on Riton’s song I Don’t Want You RAYE fires off a rapid kiss-off; ‘you only see me in my IG pictures’ is a good line.

The true sound of Britain is drill, the latest incarnation of folk talking over a beat. Superstars include Digga D from Ladbroke Grove and ArrDee from Brighton, who team up on Wasted, as well as Central Cee from Shepherd’s Bush, who had a hit with Obsessed With You. Another big top ten hit was Love Nwantiti (ah ah ah), an addictive piece of Afrobeats from CKay, a Nigerian who is signed to Warner South Africa.

As seems customary on modern NOW sets, Steps and Kylie Minogue offer escapist disco-pop in the form of Take Me For A Ride and A Second To Midnight (where Kylie pulls in Years & Years), while Sigrid prepares for the arrival of her second album with fist-pumper Burning Bridges. Little Mix celebrate ten years since their X Factor win with a packed greatest hits set with new songs No and Kiss Me (Uh Oh), which both adorn NOW 110; the latter brings in both Anne-Marie and the Lumidee classic Never Leave You (Uh Oh). Ex-Mixer Jesy Nelson launches her solo career with Boyz (with a Z), featuring a Puff Daddy sample and a Nicki Minaj guest vocal. All sorts of beef and cultural criticism ensued, which isn’t the ideal way for Jesy (who talked of suicide attempts and depression) to stay in the conversation.

In the Pretty Princess category, we’ve got Mabel – Let Them Know, co-written by SG Lewis, MNEK and RAYE and featuring a namecheck for Khaleesi from Game of Thrones – Billie Eilish (the caterwauling Happier Than Ever), Olivia Rodrigo (the morose Traitor) and Mimi Webb (Dumb Love, with a killer chorus). Tones & I proves that she isn’t a one-hit wonder by bringing in a choir on the euphoric Fly Away.

In the Hot Guy category, Shawn Mendes’ latest hit is the anaemic Summer of Love, produced by the Puerto Rican DJ Tainy. Dermot Kennedy (Better Days), Tom Grennan (Don’t Break The Heart) and Rag’n’Bone Man (heartstring-tugger Alone) all continue their careers with more emotive vocals and processed beats, while Columbia Records newcomer Clinton Kane, of Filipino descent, begins his own with I Guess I’m In Love. It’s a stately self-composed piano ballad about love and stuff with the vulnerability of the modern man (‘I’m a mess’). Hey, if it sells, they’ll sell it to us.

Although he hasn’t had a hit since 2018, Liam Payne offers the perky song Sunshine (‘what really matters is the journey that we’re on’) from the movie Ron’s Gone Wrong. The vocals are processed in parts, and it could be anyone. Sam Smith and Summer Walker, meanwhile, team up for a version of You Will Be Found, the showstopper from Dear Evan Hansen which came to cinemas after a successful few years on the stage.

The hottest young thing is The Kid LAROI, who is being marketed as an Australian Bieber and thus it’s perfect casting that the pair combine on huge hit STAY, which is basically Blinding Lights by The Weeknd with a bit of emo. Far better is the insistent That’s What I Want by Lil Nas X, who produces his best chorus and delivery, even as the radio edit removes some offending F-words. His 2022/23 tour will also astound.

Over in the US, Lil Nas is accompanying Doja Cat and Ed Sheeran on the Jingle Bell Ball tour in December. Doja appears on NOW 110 with the trap banger Need To Know, hot on the heels of fellow females Lizzo and Cardi B with a dull track called Rumors that serves to reintroduce Lizzo to market. After the belated success of Truth Hurts and Good As Hell, it is her first entirely new music since 2018. Millions of dollars will be pumped into her new album and tour, and we’ll know about it.

Bruno Mars is at the stage of his career, post-Uptown Funk, where he can do anything because he doesn’t need to do anything. His collaboration with Anderson .Paak as Silk Sonic sees them reach back to the Philly Soul of 1974. Skate is an immaculate, fully realised production and it’s no wonder that they have the blessing of Bootsy Collins, James Brown’s bassist, who appears on the album the track comes from.

Westlife are booked into Wembley Stadium in August 2022 to promote their twelfth album (!) and might play newer tunes like Starlight, written with Tom Grennan – yes, there’s a key change – even as they know people are there for You Raise Me Up and Flying Without Wings. The Script face the same problem, even as new songs like I Want It All will pepper their greatest hits setlist. Even The Wanted are back together after a benefit gig for their member Tom. Rule The World, which shares the euphoria of Glad You Came, promotes their own Greatest Hits called, brilliantly, Most Wanted.

With JLS touring again as well, the boyband era is not going the way of rock any time soon.

NOW 109: Russ Millions & Tion Wayne – Body

England’s football team beat Germany in a tournament for the first time in 55 years. Sir Andy Murray forgot about his recent injury troubles and won a five-setter on Centre Court. Manxman Mark Cavendish won a stage of the Tour de France. British athletes prepared for the delayed Tokyo Olympics.

A sporting summer helped assuage the disappointment of red lists, PCR tests and the inability of politicians to be decent but, to paraphrase the Gogglebox narration, we heard LOADS of GREAT MUSIC. Much of the music would have been plotted during the pandemic, with release schedules and promotion timelines unable to be supplemented by live music. On NOW 109, there are 48 (forty-eight!!) tracks.

The big UK music genre that the kids love is drill, a music formed in Chicago which spread to the UK via smartphones in tower blocks and on streets where kids rap over hard beats. It’s like grime but more menacing. ArrDee does it on Oliver Twist, A1 & J1 do it on Latest Trends (‘Clap for the NHS’) and Central Cee does it on Commitment Issues. It sounds like punk music, scaring off adults and made to be heard on headphones on a nightbus. Also significant is the delivery, which emphasises the singer’s local area, be it Shepherd’s Bush for Central Cee or Brighton for ArrDee.

Russ Millions and Tion Wayne scored a UK number one with Body, which is driven by the hook ‘English girl named Fiona, African girl Abiola’ (at least in the clean version). When it comes to the most musically, culturally and lyrically relevant of NOW 109, Body is the clear winner. The fact that it’s not aimed at 33-year-old men like me only makes it more zeitgeisty.

The breakout star of 2021, Olivia Rodrigo, topped the UK charts for five weeks with good 4 u, a kiss-off which sounds like Avril Lavigne, and had a two-chord top five hit with déjà vu, where she sings high up in her range. Unsurprisingly, Mimi Webb was launched as a clone, though Good Without has a strong melody. It’s great to hear melody back in the top ten.

With Save Your Tears, The Weeknd and Ariana Grande tried to get Max Martin another number one and fell just short. Talking of Max, whoever saw Coldplay working with him, on the suitably anthemic Higher Power (‘got me singing every second, dancing every hour’)?

Justin Bieber’s ‘political’ album Justice drew scorn for segueing a Martin Luther King speech into Peaches, which featured the r’n’b vocals of both Daniel Caesar and Giveon. Lil Nas X uses his given forename for his big number one smash MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name); his Saturday Night Live poledance-assisted performance was so hot that he split his costume.

As you would expect, the big record labels keep the Dance Act + Vocalist formula that saves them a lot of hassle. The public don’t care if the music is by Joel, Nathan, Jonas, Calvin or David; they just want something to bop along to in the car. Marshmello (whose real name is Christopher) brings The Jonas Brothers in for Leave Before You Love Me, which sounds an awful lot like The Weeknd; Jonas Blue is a student of Swedish pop and his club-ready Hear Me Say features terrific vocals by Swedish singer Leon; Calvin Harris returns with By Your Side, three minutes of blah featuring the voice of Tom Grennan; Nathan Dawe brings in Anne-Marie and (interestingly) MoStack on Way Too Long, with a bouncy melody co-written by MNEK, one of the best in the ‘top-line’ business.

Meanwhile, Regard’s track You has both Troye Sivan and Tate McRae, which sounds very contemporary but blends into the background of whichever clothes shop you might browse in, except for the bit which sounds like the first line of The Middle by Zedd (lawyers assemble). Joel Corry has his fourth smash in four years with Bed (‘I got a bed but I’d rather be in yours tonight’), which features RAYE and David Guetta. Raye has written some big hits but still, to her public irritation, has not been allowed to put an album out by her label Polydor.

Galantis and David Guetta drag in Little Mix for Heartbreak Anthem (‘hello, it’s me, your ex’) which with 14 (fourteen) writers wins the prize for the most hands in a formulaic dance-pop track (2012 edition) while, like Guetta, the trio two-time with freedom jam Confetti (‘all eyes on me’). Kamille and MNEK are found in the credits of the title track of their sixth album, while rapper Saweetie (whose given name is Diamonte Harper) is on hand for a remix which I imagine is to help push the song to an international audience. Little Mix do seem to love the kiss-off, after Shout Out to My Ex and No Time For Tears brought them success.

Dance music is also represented by the piano house throwback of Summer 91 (Looking Back) by Noizu. It won’t remind teenage listeners of Go by Moby (‘Yeaaah’) and, thanks to its spoken line about memories, The Orb’s Little Fluffy Clouds, but older listeners can enjoy the allusions. Tom Zanetti once had an affair with Katie Price, which I Didn’t Know, to quote the title of his ploddy dance-pop hit.

The other formula is Big Act + Big Act duet. KSI, Yungblud & Polo G all have Patience (which needed 12 writers) which is another one for the H&M store playlist; Anne-Marie and Niall Horan sing the happy-sad breakup song Our Song (‘on the radio’); and Rag’n’Bone Man and P!nk want to get Anywhere Away From Here in a torch-ballad sort of way. Ella Henderson and Tom Grennan harmonise Let’s Go Home Together, an anodyne song whose best line is the opener: ‘I’d never have given you a second look, but I like the way you don’t give a…damn’.

Unsurprisingly Rag’n’Bone Man and Tom Grennan two-time on NOW 109 with the supercharged All You Ever Wanted and the hooky shoutalong Little Bit of Love respectively. So does KSI, a schoolfriend of Roman Kemp who grew up in Watford who is turning into the Craig David of the modern era; his song Holiday is a feelgood three-chord summer jam that will sound great by the pool.

P!nk two-times too, with an interesting new track from her live film written with the incredibly hot Broadway songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. All I Know So Far contains all the ingredients from their Greatest Showman compositions and proves that pop and musical theatre might not be far apart in the next decade, especially given the prevalence of teen-targeted musicals like Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Dear Evan Hansen (music by Pasek & Paul) coming to streaming services the autumn.

The big radio hit of 2021 in the US was Leave The Door Open, a collaboration between Bruno Mars and Anderson.Paak released under the name Silk Sonic. It sounds like every Philly soul song released in 1973 and is obviously a sex jam. The compilers put Jessie Ware’s similarly spectral Remember Where You Are just after it, an immaculate production that may well win some big awards. Doja Cat’s ‘concept album’ didn’t impress me but the single Kiss Me More, with SZA on the hook, is extraordinary and one of the best songs on the compilation.

TikTok once again drives some hits. Polo G’s Rapstar had a Drake-type delivery and a ukulele sample that drove the kids wild and the song to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. AURORA is an underrated act whose song Runaway came back in a big way thanks to a ‘filter trend’ (don’t ask me) and is evidence again of recurrent songs coming back into fashion. The song is one of the select few to have been profiled by the Song Exploder podcast. It has had an incredible journey to over 500m streams: the songwriter said it was about the benefits of sharing one’s inner pain while ‘listening to the ocean’, a very contemporary phenomenon. Written in 2007, the song helped secure her a record deal; it was recorded as a piano demo in 2013, and AURORA wanted the ‘coldness’ of Norway to be heard in the song and its production. She advises us to hear ‘trolls in the mountains’ and airborne flight in parts of the song, which in its finished form is basically AURORA’s voice and some Bjorkish drum patterns. (I would love to see young people reappraise the music of Bjork, who is one of the geniuses of popular music in the last 40 years.)

The Majestic remix of Boney M’s tribute to Rasputin returns to public consciousness after four decades, again thanks to TikTok. Astronaut in the Ocean, by the Greek-Australian rapper/singer Masked Wolf, was a global hit thanks to a dance trend on TikTok. It sounds like 2021, digital cymbals and monotone vocals make it come across like Drake and Lil Nas X teaming up, and I like the line ‘I believe in G-O-D, don’t believe in T-H-O-T’ (aka ‘that hottie over there’).

As for new artists, away from TikTok, Griff was heralded as the Rising Star at the BRIT Awards: half-Jamaican and half-Chinese her image is striking and so was her song Black Hole (‘where my heart used to be’). Delivered with a slight quiver, the sound is contemporary and the melody strong. She is immediately followed on Disc One by Billie Eilish (the moody Your Power) and Sigrid, with her song Mirror (‘I love who I see looking at me’), which has a delicious descending bridge. Don’t forget Celeste, whose rollout in 2020 was kyboshed by the pandemic; Tonight Tonight was the impact track to promote her album Not Your Muse, which she still hasn’t been able to tour. If Stop This Flame doesn’t end up soundtracking Olympics montages, I will eat my swimming cap.

James Arthur and Becky Hill will keep making music to satisfy their label investment, regardless of whether anyone can remember tracks like Medicine (James) and Last Time (Becky) a year after they have been released. Becky, by the way, is on Polydor, so I hope she has words of solidarity for her label mate Raye. Years & Years are on Polydor too and got Starstruck in a disco manner. Their vocalist Olly Alexander spent summer 2021 in negotiations to be the next Doctor Who following his remarkable performance in the TV series It’s A Sin. Smartly, Olly and Elton John took on that Pet Shop Boys song of that title, which itself was played on TV as part of the BRIT Awards.

For mature listeners, the man born Giovanni (but goes by Jack) Savoretti turned up the funk on his Europia album which was launched with Who’s Hurting Who. Even without the credit you can tell Nile Rodgers helped write it. London Grammar returned with an album of modern rock, led by single How Does It Feel, while Royal Blood did the same with the pulverising Typhoons.

Astonishingly, Eurovision 2021 was won by Italian act Måneskin, who had two top ten hits in the aftermath of the show including the kickdrum-driven top ten hit I Wanna Be Your Slave, which ends Disc Two. Next year in Torino!!

Now 108: Olivia Rodrigo – drivers license

I would love to say a TikTok trend started by Scottish musician Nathan Evans, which led to the major-label release of his take on the sea shanty Wellerman, is the most culturally significant song on this spring compilation.

Instead, it’s the nine-week number one that was only denied a tenth week because of Standard Chart Ratios, which are too nerdy even for this column.

Firstly, note the lower case songtitle, just like Billie Eilish does. Secondly, hear the vocal, which has the same quavering lilt that Billie Eilish’s voice does. Thirdly, hear the quiet yet loud production, like Billie Eilish’s songs have. Then acknowledge that Olivia Rodrigo is a global megastar before she turns 18. Like Billie Eilish became. The one difference is that Olivia is on Geffen and Billie is on Republic.

Olivia had the top song in the world in early 2021, where death was higher than the first peaks and Donald Trump was back to being a failed businessman and ex-NBC TV host. As the UK relaxed its lockdown by baby steps, so as not to screw up for a third time, even Saturday Night Live were swaying to the track in one of the best skits of the 2020/21 season. It was the week where Rege-Jean Page, the breakout star of Netflix show Bridgerton, hosted and the male cast members were playing pool in a bar.

Rege-Jean put on Olivia’s song on the jukebox. ‘Sounds lie it’s just some teenage girl singing in her room to the piano’, said Pete Davidson’s character, while others analyse the song like cultural critics – ‘this is giving me Billie Eilish vibes…but the verses are starting to say Taylor’. They also reference to the Disney stars who inspired the lyrics (including Sabrina Carpenter, whose far inferior ‘answer song’ Skin, released on Island Records, is also on NOW 108).

‘Pain can be creatively generative’ is the takeaway, as the chaps sing into their pool cues or lock arms to sing the middle eight (‘red lights, stop signs’). It’s a ballad for sad teenage girls, and has been listened to by millions of them, although the point of the SNL skit is that men in their thirties can enjoy the song as well and use it as catharsis for their own breakups.

Ultimately, it’s a ballad in the tradition of Adele and Taylor Swift which didn’t sound like anything else on the radio (apart from Billie Eilish, whose so-so Therefore I Am makes the compilation) and seems to suggest the birth of a star who, like Ariana Grande or Miley Cyrus, has brand recognition from her TV work. She’s just the first to find fame in this new era.

Talking of Miley, she adopted a classic rock sound for her album Plastic Hearts, produced by a guy called Watt, who won a production GRAMMY Award and is only 30. The lead single Midnight Sky was so influenced by the Stevie Nicks song Edge of Seventeen that they duetted on a mashup. Harry Styles took on a similar sound with Golden, a track from the album Fine Line that coronavirus meant could not be promoted. Harry is becoming the popstar of the era without really trying.

Miley and Dua Lipa duet, much to the delight of record executives, on their song Prisoner, which I always sing ‘Physical!’ over. Ariana Grande, meanwhile, alludes to a sex position with the slow jam 34+35, which is a very contemporary song and one of many in recent year which references coffee. Cardi B and Doja Cat, who are offering a very similar product, return with Up and Streets respectively, which are nowhere near as good as WAP and Say So but keep their name in the pop game.

Dua Lipa got round the restrictions on live music with a spangly live show funded by her record label, which seemed to recoup the cost. Extending the life of the Future Nostalgia album with extra tracks, she tacked on the B-side-sounding We’re Good (written by the super hit-making pair of Emily Warren and Scott Harris) which makes it to NOW 108 along with her appearance on the Kylie Minogue song Real Groove. That song is listed as the Studio 2054 Remix and takes its name from the title of Dua’s show.

Kylie launched her Disco album with a similar gig to Dua’s, while Sophie Ellis-Bextor would shush her kids while she entertained social media users with her own ‘Kitchen Disco’. Her top-notch cover of Alcazar’s Crying At The Discotheque, which samples the CHIC production Spacer by Sheila and B Devotion, makes the compilation too. In fact, like Kylie, Sophie re-recorded her songs with an orchestra, so expect her to go full disco with her next album. It is 20 years since Murder on the Dancefloor!

In hard times, people want to dance their cares away and thus Steps step up with the gay disco stomp of To The Beat Of My Heart, which has forgettable verses but a chorus which is 100 percent Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Soundtracking Russell T Davies’ AIDS-era drama starring Olly Alexander, Olly’s band Years & Years cover It’s A Sin, proving that catalogue can reintroduce itself to a new audience. Olly has become a solo artist for his next project, which is something Adam Levine has probably wanted to do for ten years. Without looking, name one other Maroon 5 member.

Meanwhile, on the topic of old music, catalogue is all over NOW 108, reminding me of the glory days of the mid-1990s compilations. Such tracks are ripe for plunder in 2021. Ava Max steals the hook of Around The World by ATC on My Head & My Heart, and Rudimental and RAYE borrow the ‘la-la’ from Iio’s song Rapture on Regardless, which is 100 percent Dua Lipa even down to the title (or is Dua Lipa 100 percent RAYE?)

Riton do the same with Push The Feeling On by The Nightcrawlers, adding Mufasa and Hypeman for good measure, on the re-edit of the song Friday. No lads were able to bellow the hook – ‘It’s Friday then it’s Saturday Sunday WHAT!’ – in a licensed venue because nightclubs have been shut for a year. Maybe student bubbles have made this song the lockdown anthem. As catalogue eats itself, ATB reworks his own number one 9PM (Til I Come) as Your Love, teaming up with the folks who brought us Breaking Me, Topic & A7S.

In another triumph for catalogue, Becky Hill’s cover of Alphaville’s Forever Young is the sort of trick John Lewis would pull. Instead, the tune puts the idea into people’s heads that eating a Big Mac at McDonalds was the true meaning of a pandemic Christmas. In a time of an obesity epidemic, fast food was considered fair game. Brexit Britain QED.

The Superbowl, won by superstar quarterback Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, included a performance from The Weeknd, who spent many months in the upper echelons of various charts with Blinding Lights. Max Martin was in the room for Save Your Tears, a very contemporary pop song with a strong structure, melody and production that helped promote something rather throwback: The Weeknd’s Greatest Hits. Max turned 50 a few weeks before the release of NOW 108; at 50 years of age Paul McCartney was finally launching the first of his jaunts playing the hits of The Beatles to a global audience. Paul and his mate John Lennon are Max’s only competition when it comes to Billboard Hot 100 hits.

Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber whine about being a monster on the track Monster. It’ll make their record labels some money but nobody will remember it – or much of either of their new albums – at the end of the year. Jason Derulo (who is five years older than Justin Bieber) and, proving my point from earlier, Adam Levine team up on Lifestyle, which was playlisted on Radio 2. Nobody will remember it at the end of the year.

Derulo two-times with the same formula as Savage Love on a song called Love Not War (The Tampa Beat), where the role of Jawsh 685 is played by Nuka. Nuka may well be another moniker of Jawsh 685 and nobody except the collecting society will care. James Hype and HARLEE bring us Afraid (‘I’m afraid of myself’) which, like its musical twin Head & Heart, was co-written by former The Music frontman Rob Harvey. James Hype may well be another moniker of Joel Corry and nobody except the collecting society will care.

Dance-pop by anonymous unit-shifts pepper NOW 108: Shane Codd from Dublin had a top 10 smash with the irresistible Get Out My Head; Navos is a chap called Ross Harrington who gets an uncredited singer to offer vocals on Believe Me; Digital Farm Animals make the track on top of which Anne-Marie and KSI blether for Don’t Play; Nathan Dawe, whose remix of Wellerman helped take a sea shanty to the upper reaches of the charts, had songwriting help from MNEK on the track No Time For Tears, a ‘you go girl!!!’ jam on which Little Mix sing about a breakup not being a ‘pity party’.

Tiesto, the 52-year-old Dutch version of the 53-year-old Frenchman David Guetta, went top 5 in the UK with The Business, a song which cries out for a busy dancefloor. Over in Spain, HVME (pronounced ‘Hume’ like the philosopher) is making a name for himself with the portentous tune Goosebumps, originally by Travis Scott who has since added new vocals to the track. House music has eaten trap and this will probably start a trend.

At least Clean Bandit distinguish themselves by performing with a cellist, Grace Chatto. Higher was written with Dan Smith from Bastille whom you would ordinarily expect to turn up. Perhaps he’ll add it to the Bastille set at Latitude 2021, should it go ahead. What philanthropy to give newcomer iann dior, coming off his appearance on Mood, another hit with a Clean Bandit by Numbers tune. The brand is strong, however, and it’s another winner.

Old blokes on NOW 108 include Liam Gallagher, whose Christmas offering All You’re Dreaming Of makes the end of Disc One, and The Killers, who may well return to headlining stadiums as they play five recent songs and the evergreen hits. My Own Soul’s Warning, the opening track of their 2020 album Imploding The Mirage, is one of the former. Like all their songs, it is 100 percent Bruce Springsteen (though sadly nothing from Bruce’s album Letter To You is on NOW 108).

UK band Glass Animals offer the quirky Heat Waves, which became an enormous hit, while number one album act YUNGBLUD (aka Dom from Doncaster) teams up with manchild Machine Gun Kelly on the teenager-in-the-moshpit song acting like that (all lower case). It was produced by Travis Barker off of Blink-182, who is now going out with a Kardashian sister. Also on NOW 108 is a young Post Malone wannabe called The Kid LAROI with the execrable Without You. It’s horrible, but then again I’m not pubescent and I keep my room tidy.

P!nk’s daughter Willow Sage Hart (‘Yer only nine!!’ as Louis Walsh would say) provides harmonies and a couple of solo lines on the fluffy acoustic love song Cover Me in Sunshine, written by Wrecking Ball songwriter Mozella and Berklee graduate Amy Allen. In recent years Amy has delivered smashes for Halsey (Without Me), Harry Styles (Adore You) and Selena Gomez (Back To You) and appeared on Ross Golan’s And The Writer Is… podcast. She also has a cut on Justin Bieber’s album Justice and co-wrote Lifestyle, which you might remember from earlier on in this article.

Like P!nk, Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga are A-Listers who are both in the legacy artist category; that is, they can sell out arenas but people go to see them for the hits of yesteryear, not for the Adult Contemporary tunes which prolong their career. Jenny from the Block sings the instantly forgettable In The Morning, which was debuted on ABC television in the US on New Year’s Eve. Gaga’s song 911 (‘my biggest enemy is me’) is from her Chromatica album; as well as being 100 percent Ru Paul’s Drag Race, it was accompanied by a five-minute short film viewed 56m times on her Youtube channel. NOW’s compilers are to be commended for putting both acts on a compilation alongside the pop stars of 2021. J-Lo’s first hit was in the last millennium!

Perhaps the desirable ‘time-poor mum’ audience for Radio 2, effectively the audience for country radio in the US, will approve of this. Passenger’s moment in the sun began and ended with Let Her Go, but he has an impressive catalogue and in 2021 offered Sword From The Stone. It went straight onto the Radio 2 playlist because it is 100 percent Radio 2 playlist, complete with gorgeous up-and-down melody and adult-contemporary production. The NOW 108 version is listed as the Gingerbread Mix because Ed Sheeran produced it. Ed, now a father, just can’t stop working.

Lana Del Rey remains popular thanks to sparse songs like Let Me Love You Like A Woman (‘let me hold you like a baby’), written with and produced by Jack Antonoff, who is close to completing the set of strong female singers (Dixie Chicks, Lorde, Taylor Swift and so on). Ditto the gender-fluid Sam Smith, with a song written with four A-Listers: Post Malone producer Louis Bell, Ali Tamposi, Andrew Watt and Ryan Tedder. Like Olivia Rodrigo’s song, Kids Again a ballad about lost love sung to a boy. It is the final track on Love Goes, an album that was unfortunate to come out right in the middle of a global pandemic where people had other things to contend with than listening to the new Sam Smith album. It will get its due.

James Arthur continues his renaissance, despite awful homophobia for which he has apologised. A song from his 2016 comeback album, Train Wreck, was revived over TikTok and shot back into the UK charts. He sings too many notes per word and I prefer other emotive blokes. But there’s an emotive bloke for everyone.

The TiKTok trend of dancing to an irritating song continues with Calling My Phone, where Lil Tjay and 6LACK (pronounced ‘black’, not ‘six-lack’) mumble over a beat before a pitch-shifted vocal comes in singing about how ‘I can’t get you off my mind’. Otherwise there is shockingly little ‘melodic rap’ (as the GRAMMY category calls this sort of music), possibly because drivers license is dominating TikTok and the Christmas rush meant a lot of airtime for A Little Love. This is the original composition written for the John Lewis campaign by the BBC Sound of 2020 winner Celeste. Her album Not Your Muse finally came into the world at the start of 2021. Will it get lost in the mess?

On the topic of long-playing records: as you would expect in a time when the song (or TikTok tune) is on top, the album chart is a mess. Fans of cult acts like Mogwai and Architects can see an album hit number one then sink back down the Top 40, or slip out of it entirely. In fact, the biggest selling album of 2020 was a repackaged version of 2021 Latitude headliner Lewis Capaldi’s debut album. He will surely follow it up by the time the year ends, at which point he may well have Adele for company.

In 2020, Queen, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, ABBA and Bob Marley also had ‘top 20 albums’ and, four years after its release, Ed Sheeran’s album Divide is ‘selling’ well thanks to stream-equivalent sales. In the same way that NOW CDs were banished to the compilation chart, surely we need to send heritage acts to their own chart and promote an ‘indie record shop’-type current chart which focuses on releases in the past 12 months or touring cycle.

Or invent some Standard Chart Ratios for legacy songs and artists.

NOW 107: Cardi B ft. Megan Thee Stallion – WAP

In 2020, the NOW series has thrown up a cover of a Broadway showtune sung by a centenarian and a TV personality’s song about carbohydrate. Released in the middle of a four-week ‘circuit break’, NOW 107 will soundtrack any school runs, Christmas shopping dashes and year-end broadcasts.

In a year without summer blockbusters, pub crawls, birthday banquets in restaurant function rooms, crowds to witness Liverpool’s record-breaking run at Anfield and no clear resolution to whether or not black lives matter (they do), what music was being pushed to people?

‘Wet Wet Wet’ was what radio listeners heard on a number one song from 2020 by the two exciting stars of US rap who aren’t called Lizzo. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion say all sorts of filth involving genitalia and liquid secretion thereof on a song which launched a thousand thinkpieces. The Telegraph went for ‘Pornography or Feminist Triumph’ and LA Times quotes Megan’s song Savage by calling it a ‘savage, nasty, sex-positive triumph’. Set to a sample from Frank Ski’s Whores In This House, Cardi calls herself a ‘certified freak, seven days a week’ while Megan implores her man to ‘pay my tuition just to kiss me’. Sex still sells.

In autumn 2020 Little Mix were trying to find their replacement girl band and the final show of their Search on BBC One was timed to coincide with the release of sixth album Confetti. It’s fine but what was less good was Jesy having to take a break for unspecified medical conditions. As well as their bouncy non-summer holiday hit Holiday, Sweet Melody – written with MNEK and Tayla Parx and featuring the line ‘he would cheat over syncopated beats’ – rose to the top three where it was stuck behind Positions by Ariana Grande.

That track, with a pizzicato riff and a drum loop, was accompanied by a video where Ariana played a president of a cabinet full of ethnically diverse people, inserting herself into the chatter about whether Donald Trump would be defeated at the ballot box (reader: he was). It sounds like a record executive yelled at some songwriters to come up with the most contemporary production and something about being in the kitchen or bedroom. Feminism sells.

So do bangers and bops, with which NOW 107 is frontloaded: Take You Dancing (Jason Derulo, very much on brand), Rain On Me (the phenomenal blockbuster duet between Ariana and Lady Gaga) and Tick Tock, which brought together three record company cash cows (with apologies to their talent): Clean Bandit, Mabel and 24kGoldn. Levitating means that Dua Lipa and DaBaby, who appears on a remix of the track, two-time on the compilation, as Dua’s track Hallucinate is here too.

Watford-based personality KSI goes one better: Really Love is produced by Digital Farm Animals and features the man who was ‘born to do it’, Craig David; Lighter is a euphoric dance-pop song in the modern vein by Nathan Dawe on which KSI takes a verse; and he also appears on Loose with S1mba, who was born in Zimbabwe and follows up Rover with another Afrobeats hit which namechecks the G-Funk song Gin & Juice. Later on in the compilation Wes Nelson, from Love Island, mumbles his way through See Nobody, which borrows Hardy Caprio who goes ‘skrrt’ over some bragging about ‘cash fam’ and Batman and Santan (the rapper Dave). The one redeeming feature is the chorus, which is irresistible. Melodicism sells.

Faceless dance acts were still popular on radio even though their music couldn’t be heard in clubs. Sigala two-time on NOW 107. They borrow the stylophone riff of Time To Pretend by MGMT and use James Arthur for Lasting Lover (it all rhymes!!). They also appear with Becky Hill on Heaven on my Mind.

Looking For Me was designed to be a song for lairy lads or ladies to approach someone in da club with the line, ‘Heard you been looking for me…’ Well done to Paul Woolford and Kareen Lomax and Diplo. German DJ Topic and Swedish singer A7S follow their uber-successful smash Breaking Me with Why Do You Lie To Me, with a helping hand from Lil Baby. It seems Europop has a new king.

Over in the UK Calvin Harris uses The Weeknd on the slinky Over Now and Rudimental borrow Anne-Marie and Tion Wayne for Come Over, which brings back the two-step sound brought into the mainstream in 2000 by Artful Dodger.

In pop, you should not fix an unbroken gasket. Kygo updates What’s Love Got To Do With It by using the same formula he used on Higher Love. AJ Tracey repeats his Ladbroke Grove trick almost entirely, naming West Ten after a London postcode and drafting in Mabel to sing a fun chorus after which he shouts his catchphrase: ‘Live and direct!!’. MEDUZA keep on scoring hits, this time with the song Paradise, with vocals from the Irish version of Ed Sheeran, Dermot Kennedy (although Ed Sheeran is the English version of Damien Rice). Dermot’s big hit Giants also features on NOW 107 with its line ‘it’s all in the science’ proving very apt.

Marshmello (who is a bloke called Christopher from Philadelphia) uses Demi Lovato, who has been very open about her mental health issues and fluid sexuality in recent years, on the anthemic OK Not To Be OK. Sam Smith, the gender-fluid popstar, released their (sic) delayed third album which included Diamonds, a death metal jam which bemoans the treatment of Armenians in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Of course it isn’t: it’s a heartbreak ballad with a funky chorus to throw me off the scent.

Other songs which did well on Radio 2 during the latter half of 2020 are Magic by Kylie Minogue (Disco Kylie is BACK!) and Too Many Nights, a grown-up clubbers’ song credited to 220 KID and JC Stewart. Three swarthy blokes are brought together on Elita: Gary Barlow, Michael Buble and Sebastian Yatra (Colombian, 25m Instagram followers) are all the same product, all hot sexy guys from different continents with lovely voices. Elita is what happens when Gary Barlow tries to write Latin pop. It sounds like a marketing meeting.

Interestingly, ‘country star’ Keith Urban had a Top 40 hit, albeit at number 40, with P!nk. The pop song One Too Many (which sounds like a marketing meeting) has Keith drinking the day away while P!nk has to put up with it. Kenny Chesney had a hit duet with P!nk a few years ago, so both artists know what they are doing (it involves school fees for their kids).

The BBC are on hand for the final track of Disc One, a tune comprising four notes by Paul Harvey arranged for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra by Daniel Whibley. A dementia sufferer, Paul is still able to connect with music and after his son Nick gave him the notes – F, A, D and B – he was able to improvise a tune on a piano. What a good idea to put some instrumental classical music on a NOW.

Disc Two begins, naturally, with some of the most successful tracks of lockdown year, both on TikTok and on radio: Rockstar by DaBaby and Roddy Ricch, which is very straightforward but danceable; Lemonade, the pileup which is credited to (deep breath) Internet Money & Gunna ft. Don Toliver and NAV; and the Transatlantic TikTok hit Mood by 24kGoldn and Iann Dior. All three successfully marry melody, harmony and lyric, which the best rap music does. Popsmoke, the Brooklyn rapper who was shot dead at the age of 20 in February 2020, spent two months high up the chart with What You Know Bout Love, which came from his posthumous chart-topping album.

Cheekily, the compilers place you broke me first (in lower case) just before Billie Eilish’s hit my future (in lower case) to make the point that Tate McRae has wholesale nicked Billie’s act, even down to the vocal inflections and lower-case songtitles.

Conan Gray is signed to Republic Records, who are throwing money at making Heather a hit. Over a simple chord progression on an acoustic guitar, Conan sings very breathily about ‘a sweater’ and  is joined by a mass of Conans doing harmonies. He is the third party, unable to inveigle his way into Heather’s life. As well as TikTokkers, Elton John is a massive fan, and he likes that Heather is a song which has music and lyrics by C. Gray, which makes him an outlier on the Top 40.

Heather is placed next to Wonder by Shawn Mendes, who releases a new album of the same name just in time for Christmas. It is being showcased with a Bieber duet called Monster and this masterful ballad written with, among others, Kid Harpoon who helped Harry Styles create his last album. Shawn has a better voice than Harry, though, and the song is all about self-fulfilment and love. The production is wonderful too.

Ashnikko is a blue-haired singer-songwriter whose swear-laden track Daisy gained traction in late 2020. After the first chorus she cackles with laughter and admits that she is ‘no Cinderella but she likes the shoes’. Excitingly, before lockdown forced her back to the States, she was based in London. I expect we’ll hear more of her and, given that Doja Cat is sliding into irrelevance, I think 2021 will be the year of Ashnikko who already has 1.6m TikTok fans.

With Katy Perry settling down with kids, husband and TV money, there is a vacancy for an outrageous popstar. Ava Max, Halsey and Dua Lipa seem too safe, while Cardi and Megan and Lizzo are global superstars who can play the game and keep black and white fans happy (I call this the Whitney Houston Line). Mabel will move into that bracket soon.

RAYE is not outrageous but she lets her music do the talking. She rather stands in Dua Lipa’s shadow but is probably more talented and criminally underrated. Her song Natalie Don’t promotes her nine-track album Euphoric Sad Songs, which rounds up her singles from the last year including big hit Secrets. The song nods to Nothing Compares 2 U with its sparse synth and I’m wild about a syncopated and interesting vocal. The production is wicked here too.

RAYE’s old friend from NOW 96, Jax Jones, has Au/Ra on his track I Miss You, which landed on the Radio 1 Playlist. The lyric is brilliant, as Au/Ra seems to miss her old flame wherever she goes: ‘I open my eyes and I breathe…I’m closing my eyes, trying to sleep.’ The descending chords in the chorus are a good touch and it’s yet another winner from Jax Jones.

There is so little rock’n’roll on NOW compilations these days that it’s pleasant to hear boys with guitars. Machine Gun Kelly & blackbear offer My Ex’s Best Friend, which is loud and melodic and keeps the flame of pop-punk alive. Fun fact: Travis Barker from Blink-182 co-wrote and produced the track, but because rock music is not the music of America’s youth the chaps have to bend towards current sounds, which means a light trap beat underneath all the shouting. Interesting, though, but not a patch on WAP.

NOW 106: Michael Ball, Captain Sir Tom Moore & The NHS Voices of Care Choir – You’ll Never Walk Alone

NOW 106 may as well be called Now That’s What I Call Lockdown. Here are the songs which soundtracked the Corona Era, the months when people retreated to their bedrooms and scrolled through TikTok feeds instead of shouting in open fields or big arenas.

Spring 2020 was an odd period in music history. In the UK, people were told to rally around a 99-year-old former RAF captain who was walking 100 lengths of his garden to raise funds for the NHS. In the absence of PPE, track-and-trace systems and any leadership from the government, the country cheered on Captain Tom Moore, who eventually raised an astonishing sum of money for the NHS. As of July 10 2020 he had raised £32.8m from 1.5m donors via his JustGiving page (Tom’s Walk). will give you full information on his efforts.

Michael Ball, host of the Radio 2 Sunday Brunch show, got on board with a choir in tow. He and Captain Tom recorded a chart-topping version of the Carousel banger and Liverpool FC anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone. At 99, Tom became the oldest man to have a single top the UK charts; weeks later, Dame Vera Lynn passed away at 103. Her funeral took place on the 80th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Britain. Captain Tom, meanwhile, was knighted and is tipped to front the Christmas advert season. His feelgood story sums up Britain in 2020: giving, but almost as a way to distract from the paucity of leadership.

Enough politics, let’s put on some music. Track one on Disc One is Jawsh 685’s song Savage Love, a TikTok viral video which added Jason ‘Jason Derulo!’ Derulo to the track and shot to number one in July 2020. TikTok also brought a hit for Natalie Taylor, whose song Surrender came out back in 2015 but started to soundtrack emotional videos of TikTok users. Everyone was now a music supervisor.

TikTok also helped Death Bed (Coffee For My Head) become a huge hit for Powful, featuring the sweet vocals of Beabadoobee, who is on the Dirty Hit label set up to promote the music of The 1975. If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know) could be classed as rock music as the guitar is the lead instrument and there’s a huge backbeat. The song was one of seven singles released in the year leading up to Notes on a Conditional Form. A young people’s band led by a charismatic old-school frontman, The 1975 frustrate as many as they delight.

Yungblud’s song Weird! is in the vein of The 1975, with hyperactive vocals and synth parts underpinning a huge chorus about love and stuff. To prove how skewed the charts are, Doncaster-born Yungblud was yet to have a Top 40 hit in the UK when Weird! featured on NOW 106. It also landed on the Radio 1 A List. So popular is Yungblud that in March 2021 he will play a week-long residency at the Kentish Town Forum (capacity: 2300).

Niko B’s viral hit Who’s That What’s That was the follow-up to Mary Berry, about growing up in Milton Keynes. It’s the equivalent of hipster East London ironic cool music from the 2000s and landed on the Radio 1 B List alongside songs by Kanye West, Charlie Puth and Tom Walker. Tom’s song is Wait For You, which is a safe song about love and stuff.

Just like Sam Fischer, Rhys Lewis enjoyed being next in the Sheeran-Capaldi-Walker collection of sensitive, boring blokes. Born in Oxford, Rhys is handsome but also tuneful. Two years after the initial release of his song No Right To Love You, it got a push to radio. I saw his album advertised in London with the words ‘Alexa, play Rhys Lewis’.

Several world-class popstars are on NOW 106: The Weeknd has the sax-assisted Max Martin co-write In Your Eyes; Sam Smith and Demi Lovato duet on the passable I’m Ready; Ellie Goulding promotes another album of dull dance-pop with the single Power; and trio Haim’s understated song Don’t Wanna (‘give up on you’) can also be found on their chart-topping album.

Sean Paul returns with a duet with Tove Lo, Calling On Me, a jittery bit of pop where Tove does a Rihanna impression and Sean Paul is Sean Paul. Celebrating 20 years in the business, according to the Official Charts Company Sean has now scored 26 Top 40 hits. If you count his appearance on the Live Lounge Allstars cover of Times Like These (not on NOW 105 or NOW 106), plus the Sean Paul-assisted remix of Hair by Little Mix, it’s 28. As of NOW 106’s release, Calling On Me has not charted.

As the due date for her baby with Orlando Bloom approached, Katy Perry added to her collection of hits with Daisies, written with the Monsters & Strangerz production team who have worked with Lauv, Dua Lipa, Camila Cabello and Maroon 5. Katy debuted the song live on American Idol, a show which you’d be forgiven for mistaking is about Katy and Luke Bryan, who are both gearing up for album cycles in 2020. Daisies became her 28th Top 40 hit in the UK when it reached number 37. Between 2008 and 2013, her golden era, Katy had 13 top 10s; since her chart-topper Feels in 2017 no song of hers has reached the UK Top 10. She is a heritage brand already.

The two biggest British pop stars of present on tracks two and three on Disc One. Watermelon Sugar became a sleeper hit for Harry Styles, helped by watermelon emojis, a fun video and Harry’s infectious delivery. Dua Lipa’s third big single from her number one album Future Nostalgia, Break My Heart, is a smashing tune that must have helped many kitchen discos in the Corona Era. The song borrows heavily from Need You Tonight by INXS.

The ‘make old music new’ trend is alive in 2020. Sweet Female Attitude’s terrific two-step-pop anthem Flowers is 20 years old and thus perfect for Nathan Dawe to rework. Jaykae delivers the vocals excellently. Pour The Milk takes an item found in a fridge and sets it to music; not only that, it recasts the line from Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega and is essentially a remix of the song by Robbie Doherty and Keees (with three Es).

Surf Mesa and Emilee’s ily (i love you baby) goes back even further into the musical past, borrowing from Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, making the song perfect for lovey-dovey montages. It’s background music but that seems to sell these days, plus it’s cheap to recycle old melodies. You can see that the music industry would be keen to foster this repackaging of old music instead of developing new ones.

Whatever next: Dame Vera Lynn being remixed by Joel Corry? Joel drafts in MNEK for his third hit in a row; Heart & Head again showcases MNEK’s excellent vocal talent, while Joel knows how to produce a catchy pop-dance floorfiller. The video is quite strange too, which helps drive an audience towards the song. Stealthily, Joel Corry is moving into Jonas Blue and Kygo territory. Indeed, Kygo only gets a ‘could do better’ for the dull Lose Somebody, where Ryan Tedder and OneRepublic prattle on about love and stuff.

Breaking Me by Topic and A7S was one of the big ‘club tunes’ of spring 2020 thanks to its addictive chorus. Ditto Secrets, where Regard follows up his summer smash Ride It with a song that used RAYE effectively. Midnight (The Hanging Tree) is credited to HOSH with 1979 ft Jalja. It features in the audio book for the prequel of The Hunger Games, which makes sense as the song is a remix of a track which featured in the famous movie franchise.

PS1’s song Fake Friends is a boring bit of poppy dance music about love featuring the vocals of Alex Hosking. The video is an ironic look at Generation Instagram and is better than the song. 220 KID and Gracey had a Top 10 smash with Don’t Need Love, which uses the Regard-style manipulation of a vocal line as a post-chorus hook. The rise and rise of the song was a thrill for Gracey who grew happier each week that she appeared on the Radio 1 Chart Show. For all the talk of streaming numbers, being an official Top 10 star is thrilling for any popstar.

Other dance music usual suspects are on NOW 106. Jonas Blue offers Naked, a funky song full of fingersnaps and helped by the falsetto of Max Schneider aka MAX. Many moons ago Disclosure helped launch Sam Smith’s career by bringing his vocals to their song Latch. Eko Roosevelt has been making music in Cameroon since the 1970s and the dance duo turn his song Tondoho Mba into a contemporary disco groove. Credit to them for giving Eko credit.

Aside from Tondo, perhaps the most interesting song on NOW 106 is by JP Saxe. If The World Was Ending crept up the charts as people grew increasingly sardonic about lockdown (which is not to diminish its effects on the vulnerable). Featuring JP’s gf Julia Michaels, the tender piano ballad was released way back in October 2019 and peaked at 14 during the lockdown period, where songs tended to hang around near the top of the charts for weeks.

They included Rover by S1mba and DTG, a lovely slice of Afrobeats, and Dinner Guest, by the terrible twosome of UK contemporary grime, AJ Tracy and Mostack. Stormzy pops up with the line ‘came offline I’ve been chillin’ in mountains’ on I Dunno, a song released on Atlantic Records by Tion Wayne and Dutchavelli, brother of rapper Stefflon Don. I like how the song namechecks former Manchester United defender Patrick Evra.

Columbia Records, meanwhile, spent 2020 pushing StaySolidRocky’s song Party Girl, which is an even less melodic version of what Drake and the other poppy rappers are doing. Over on Interscope, teenage rapper Lathan Echols aka Lil Mosey offered Blueberry Faygo. Set to a smooth sped-up sample of My My My by Johnny Gill (a 90s r’n’b slow jam), the lyric is a bit of nonsense about ‘two big .40s and a big ass Draco’. TikTok again took the song to new heights, turning it into a Transatlantic Top 10 hit. Babyface and Daryl Simmons earn royalties from the track, so they are happy too.

Black music was big business during lockdown, helped by the instant nature of social and performance media. We may see more political anthems later in 2020 but DaBaby’s song Rockstar – not on NOW 106 despite being number one for most of June – was helped back to the top by an additional verse about police brutality. If pop music can use its platform for social issues, which are very much ‘in’ at the moment, we could see a golden age.

In the meantime Doja Cat follows up Say So with nifty earworm Like That, featuring rapper Gucci Mane. Her breasts are practically on show in the video; Gucci keeps his top on. THE SCOTTS, Travis Scott and Kid Cudi, combine on the song THE SCOTTS (all in capitals), which sounds like contemporary rap music (ie Drake). Both songs, by the way, come in at less than three minutes, perfect for Generation ADHD.

Back to Britain, now. In a break from his boxing career, KSI released Dissimulation, a rap album which was led by the song Houdini, which featured Swarmz and Tion Wayne. It’s a very contemporary sound and the chorus (‘oh la laa’) is hummable. In a break from her podcasting career and being a Jewish mum (the best kind of mum), Jessie Ware released an album in the middle of lockdown. What’s Your Pleasure reached the top three in the UK, led by dancefloor banger Save A Kiss, which is a joyous presence deep on Disc Two of NOW 106.

In a break from his breakfast radio DJing career, Ronan Keating delighted mums everywhere with Little Thing Called Love, a poppy bit of fluff whose video was shot in the middle of a forest with fan-sourced videos popping up in frames around him. He has come a long way from the twiglet-haired days in Boyzone. The song promoted his solo career Best Of, which includes duets with Shania Twain, Robbie Williams and Emeli Sande.

For the dads, but not exclusively for men, Paul Weller brought out an album called On Sunset. When it went to number one, the statistic was that only Lennon and McCartney can match his feat of topping the UK album charts in five decades in a row. Like his mate Noel Gallagher, Weller has been moving away from guitar rock in recent years and Village is evidence of that. This is music that someone over the age of 60 should be making, with some real strings and a lyric about ‘heaven in my sights’.

NOW 106 will be a guide to pop music in a time when pop festivals could not take place, and when even Eurovision was cancelled. Absent from NOW 106 but hopefully lined up for NOW 107 is Think About Things, the unofficial winner of Eurovision 2020. Dadi Freyr may have to wait to bring the Contest to Iceland but he has sold out big venues in 2021.

That is, if Coronavirus retreats for the winter.