With global warming, political unrest, and a cratered international economy serving as the shaky pillars of today’s world, we need pop music now more than ever. As hopeless headlines continue to paint dark horizons for us, pop is one of the few lights to shine through and inspire whimsy. Even the harshest skeptic has no choice but to relent and give into the genre. So we present Pop For Skeptics, a regular Flavorwire column committed to curating and commenting on the best ear candy from the US and around the world.
When I bade farewell to New York City, I was also saying hello to an old friend: the Greater Detroit area. Diving back into this part of the world, I found a hotbed of pop genius blooming in my own backyard. Of course, you can peruse any number of sloppy trend pieces about Detroit without finding journalists who are able to recognize signs of revitalization, but are rather obsessed with pushing the narrative of Detroit as a land of ruins. In fact, the national discourse about the city’s cultural revitalization seems stacked against its resurgence. But the joke is on the rest of the world, because when you look at the quality of pop that’s coming out this part of the world, you realize it’s Coachella-caliber chart-ready pop with a futurist edge.
What’s more brilliant is that the city’s pop landscape makes sense of a culture of versatility that has given the world such acts as Madonna, Eminem, The White Stripes, Aretha Franklin, ADULT., Motown, and all of DEMF culture. Unlike the music scenes in bigger markets like New York, L.A., and Austin, Detroit hasn’t lost its specificity to the homogeneity of major label appropriation. Whether it’s decrepit buildings, bustling all-American roads like Woodward Avenue, or the general sense of the region’s ability to synthesize everything from hip-hop to bubblegum pop to EDM, pop stars from Detroit tend to have a special ownership of their hometown that Lady Gaga, for example, can’t seem to match for New York. After the jump, we explore some of the best tracks by these exciting new acts.
Rai Knight — “Blurry”
Leading the charge for this new pack is Rai Knight, whose “New New” was a buoyant, bubbly breath of fresh air in 2010, when dance pop started trending towards pulsating yet soulless dubstep. It fizzed so much that Pepsi featured it in ads for their Refresh campaign. Boasting production by Chris Cowie, Knight’s latest single, “Blurry,” evokes the restrained melodrama of Robyn’s “With Every Heartbeat.” Most endearing is that Knight, like all proper pop stars, dreams big. She says, “What I like about Detroit is that I have so much room to find my own source of creativity. The well is so untapped. It’s all about enjoying what you have, working within your means, and making rocket ships out of tin-foil.”
Recommended if you like: Robyn, Lily Allen, Class Actress
Bella Bizelle — “Klockin”
While Bella Bizelle grew up singing in a choir, she’s still got top hip-hop chops. But what’s especially awesome about Bizelle’s approach to pop is how it incorporates the sprawling eclecticism of the Detroit area: There are flashes of grit tempered by a bubblegum sensibility. The singer resides in Ann Arbor — home to the University of Michigan, where Madonna herself deigned to complete a semester of coursework before dropping out and hightailing it to New York. Bizelle, by contrast, might be easier to groom into the kind of pop star parents want their kids listening to: When she’s not sharpening her musical talents, she excels at school and plays in varsity basketball. There may be flashes of a SFW contemporary of Nicki Minaj or Azealia Banks, but Bizelle transcends such comparisons.
Recommended if you like: Cher Lloyd, Amerie
Lettercamp — “Buy In”
While Lettercamp originated in a Cleveland-area basement, they’ve thrown down roots in the Detroit area and sparked a “dirt-disco” movement that makes me giddy at the prospect of Dragonette-like pop being concocted just a few zip codes over. And now, beefed up with the addition of Electric Six guitarist Zach Shipps, success seems imminent for the quartet. (You might remember Electric Six for this important contribution to pop.) Lettercamp brim with moxie, and “Buy In” perfect exemplifies that.
Recommended if you like: The Gossip, The Ting Tings, Dragonette
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. — “We Almost Lost Detroit”
Erring slightly towards emo, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. enjoy a leg up on their pop competition — being signed to a major label (Warner Bros.) and already having played festivals like Bonnaroo. While they may lack the whimsy that some of the other acts on this list have, they do have “We Almost Lost Detroit” — a quiet epic that could feasibly do for Detroit what “Empire State of Mind” did for New York City.
Recommended if you like: MGMT, Empire of the Sun, Vampire Weekend
Flint Eastwood — “Billy the Kid”
Flint Eastwood’s sibling duo of Seth and Jax Anderson bill themselves as a “creative elctro-pop collective.” While they’ve opened for some pretty big names and placed their songs on some shows that tend to do well on basic cable, the best part of what they do is their commitment to variety. Flint Eastwood draw their inspiration from a vast pool of sources, ranging from what’s hot on the radio to the scores of old Spaghetti Westerns. Most importantly, the pair creates a pop product that thrills — further solidifying the idea that one need not go all the way to either coast to find something truly inventive
Recommended if you like: The Knife, Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Alex Winston — “Velvet Elvis”
Born in Bloomfield Hills, an affluent suburb outside of Detroit, Alex Winston might represent a more understated corner of the Detroit pop world — one that looks outside the region for inspiration. With a slick video for “Velvet Elvis” to her name, Winston has the trappings of a quirky indie-pop princess and the kind of aesthetic that might allow her to find a following in larger markets — though I’d be remiss if I admit to wishing Winston would find a way to connect to the pop music discourse locally while setting the stage for global domination.
Recommended if you like: Florence + the Machine, Regina Spektor, Marina and the Diamonds
Breezee One – “Bike Chase”
Camp is essential to pop. On this list, no one does camp better than MC Breezee One, whose video for “Bike Chase” is the very kind of hip-pop — replete with bright colors, glittery bling, and shirtless hipsters — that not only indicates the renaissance afoot in the heart of Detroit, but also has a great sense of humor. I won’t do Breezee One the disservice of lumping her in with neophytes like Kreayshawn, because a single listen to “Bike Chase” proves that she could ride circles around the “Gucci Gucci” singer.
Recommended if you like: Peaches, Kid Sister, Lady Sovereign