NOW 103: Lil Nas X featuring Billy Ray Cyrus – Old Town Road

Disc one track one surpasses all other tracks on a packed 103rd instalment. Number one in the US for 15 weeks on the day NOW 103 was released, Old Town Road is one of the most successful pop songs of all time. OF ALL TIME!

It’s a four-chord ditty sampled by Kio (Kio! Kio!) from a Nine Inch Nails track. If you had told Trent Reznor (who I hope it getting money from the success of Old Town Road) that he would soundtrack most of 2019 inadvertently, he would hurt you to see if you still felt. While you focus on the pain, you would get your ‘horses in the back’ and alcohol (‘lean’) in your bladder and resist attempts for people to tell you anything. Then Billy Ray Cyrus would pop up to remind the world he existed and all was right with the world.

As America detained migrants, geared up for another presidential election and welcomed two new babies into it – my half-brothers Joe-Joe and Jake-Jake – everyone was dancing like a cowboy to Old Town Road on a service called TikTok. People want to show off and dance: The Twist remains the biggest song of all time according to Billboard, with Black Eyes Peas’ I Got a Feeling and Uptown Funk high up there too. Only Despacito and One Sweet Day, a song about missing your loved ones, have been more durable number ones in the US than Old Town Road, which is not about missing your loved ones. Every year, it seems, has an inescapable party song. Maybe I can write the one for 2020.

What else is on NOW 103? Ed from Suffolk returns with two rappers – Chance The Rapper & PnB Rock – with a song with a hook ‘if you cross her, then you cross me’ about being nice to someone’s immediate friends and family. He also gifts Better Man, the most middle-of-the-road song you can imagine, to Westlife, the most middle-of-the-road band you can imagine. The song that knocked Ed off the summit of the UK charts (I Don’t Care is not on NOW 103) is Senorita, a duet between Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello that was chiselled to sound like summer, something to listen to as you munch burgers and kebabs. Now that’s what I call throwing another shrimp on the barbie.

Ed put out an album of collaborations (Bruno Mars, Khalid, Ella Mai, Travis Scott and Eminem among others) but chose not to tour it. Yet. Madonna also put out an album featuring plenty of acts (Quavo, Swae Lee, Maluma) which she will tour in 2020, with a slew of dates at the London Palladium. Her Eurovision appearance was a failure, and her focus has shifted to motherhood (her son David is a footballer in Portugal).

Without Madge there would be no Beyonce and indeed very few of the women who, unlike Madonna, are on NOW 103: Billie Eilish (Bad Guy, which is dull but has a hell of a hook), Zara Larsson (Don’t Worry Bout Me), Miley Cyrus (Mother’s Daughter), Mabel (the contemporary sounding Mad Love), Ellie Goulding (Sixteen, which caught my attention when I first heard it as it was better than the dross she usually releases) and Kylie Minogue.

New York City, produced by DJ Fresh, is a track promoting another Greatest Hits set, her fourth. I have two of them!. Her ‘Legends’ set at Glastonbury included guest spots from Nick Cave and Chris Martin; the set proved that the fluffy pop princess from off of Neighbours had fully become an adopted National Treasure. P!nk, meanwhile, had played two dates at Wembley Stadium in June 2019 and a single from her latest album Can We Pretend is nestled in the middle of Disc One. Little Mix, who must be headlining stadiums soon to add to their success playing repeatedly at big arenas like the O2, were set free from Syco and previewed album six with Bounce Back, which is 99% Back To Life by Soul II Soul, a number one 30 summers ago. Before any of them were even born.

Before Stormzy was born too. The Glastonbury headliner took time during his set to shout out to most of the UK grime scene, as the music of council houses in East London had a moment in the hot Somerset sun. Fashion Week, by Steel Banglez ft AJ Tracey & MoStack, is one of two grime tunes on NOW 103; the other is by Stormzy. Vossi Bop is about having fun at a coffee shop, and became the second UK number one for a grime act after Funky Friday.

Perhaps mums and their kids would not like grime, so the compilers give them Emeli Sande (Sparrow, another gospel-pop song from the underrated Scottish singer) and One Republic, whose song Rescue Me is another Ryan Tedder-penned smash. The world didn’t ask for a Lighthouse Family comeback, but they got one: My Salvation sounds like commercial radio in 1998. The new album included a greatest hits set, much like their next tour, which will see a sea of grey hairs.

Will any Ariana Grande fans go for Tunde and the other one? She two-times on NOW 103: break up with your girlfriend I’m bored (all lower case!) has Max Martin’s fingerprints all over it, while MONOPOLY is a duet with songwriter Victoria Monet and includes the word ‘discography’ over a trap-type delivery that is very current. Katy Perry, a TV judge, returns with Never Really Over, written by nine writers and sounding like everything else on the radio.

The sound of 2019 is sculpted by the likes of The Chainsmokers, who enlist 5 Seconds of Summer on the bro-EDM of Who Do You Love, and Avicii, whose posthumous album Tim yielded two hits: SOS with Aloe Blacc, which is not as good as Wake Me Up, and Heaven, with an uncredited vocal from Chris Martin of Coldplay. All proceeds from the album go to a foundation set up in his name. Incredibly David Guetta is still contributing to NOW, using the voice of Raye on Stay (Don’t Go Away), which is a triple rhyme!

Sigala have the lovely Becky Hill on Wish You Well, another one of their soaring dance-pop songs, while prodigious Martin Garrix brings in the fun pair of Macklemore and the bloke off of Fall Out Boy (Patrick Stump) for the excellent Summer Days, which reminds me of DANCE by Justice. Jonas Blue, revealed to be a massive fan of Max Martin in a show dedicated to Max on BBC Radio 2 over May 2019, re-introduces people to Theresa Rex on What I Like About You. Most people will know her voice from Solo Dance by Martin Jensen; here Theresa gets a credit as Jonas does his bounce-pop stuff.

Another Theresa got no credit when she resigned as leader of the country, leaving the mighty philanderer Boris Johnson to seize power. ‘F— Boris!’ chanted crowds at Glastonbury; what will Britain look like when NOW 104 emerges in November, allegedly after Brexit has been concluded. MEDUZA ft Goodboys have the song for the lads this summer with Piece Of Your Heart (‘DUH DUH DUH!) to distract people from the Brexit negotiations which began back in June 2016 (NOW 94!!).

Mark Ronson’s album of ‘sad bangers’ Late Night Feelings, written in the wake of his divorce, includes Find U Again, to which Camila Cabello lends her Ariana-esque vocals. Jax Jones (whatcha whatcha gon do!) two-times on Side One: One Touch is a song sung by Jess Glynne, and All Day and Night has Madison Beer and the disgraced DJ Martin Solveig, last seen asked a footballer if she could twerk. An innocent question asked with a guilty face: that’s the world we live in, an age of Uninnocence.

White men like Shawn Mendes (If I Can’t Have You), James Arthur (Falling Like the Stars), Lewis Capaldi (Hold Me While You Wait, from the UK’s biggest-selling album of the first half of the year, with the title Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent) and Jake Bugg (on the CamelPhat tune Be Someone) are on NOW 103. The brilliant Hypersonic Missiles by Sam Fender, the BRIT Award winner for Critics’ Choice aka This Guy Can’t Fail, and 3 Nights by Dominic Fike (a ‘listeners who like Post Malone and Drake might also wish to listen to…’ of a song) are great presences on Disc Two.

Groups of white men like Jonas Brothers (Cool, a lot of fun but not as good as Sucker), Bastille (Joy, from a concept album about a house party) and the two-timing 5 Seconds of Summer (Easier, which it doesn’t get as you grow up as a boyband) are also here, as is the frontman of another group of white men who have graced a NOW. While his brother gets column inches by bullying Lewis Capaldi, Liam Gallagher has put out a documentary (or, as one critic called it, a ‘corporate rebranding exercise’) showing him as a dad and a running addict. Shockwave is the first single from his second solo album, due in the autumn. Black Star Dancing, Noel’s new one that led Liam to tweet ‘LEO SAYER’ because it has a disco beat, is not on NOW 103. As you were.

The other big event of spring/summer 2019 was Rocketman, Elton John’s movie about Elton John starring Taron Egerton as Elton John. Together with Bernie Taupin, Elton wrote an original song for the end credits called (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again which he sings with Taron doing an Elton impression, which is odd. The chorus is in a different key from the verse (C-sharp while the verse is in C), which isn’t often the case in Elton’s songs. The new version of the movie’s title track also finds its way onto NOW 103, as does the title track from Yesterday, sung beautifully by Himesh Patel, who plays a bloke in a Richard Curtis film who is the only person to remember The Beatles. He gets a girl and things happen, as they do in Richard Curtis films.

The last four tracks, in the modern way, are from NOW 3: White Lines (Don’t Do It), Locomotion by OMD, It’s Raining Men and I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me. That was 1984 in music: rap, synth-pop, kitsch disco tunes and blokes from Ipswich singing pretty songs. Nothing has changed, nothing has changed!


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