Within the past couple weeks, many albums from all different genres have dropped. Only a few stood out to me. “OK, I’M SICK” by badflower sparked my interest because I’ve liked a couple of their songs in the past. “Betty” by Betty Who stood out for the same reason. “Head Above Water” by Avril Lavigne got my attention based on nostalgia. But how did they stack up?
I’m going to be honest with you. I only like one of these albums. The other two, well, kind of suck. Today I’d like to talk a little about my feelings for all these bodies of work. From best to worst, this is the good, the bad, and the ugly of modern music.
This debut album is a bacchanal mosh pit of emo and alternative. Though reminiscent of early to mid-2000s emo music (in the colloquial sense, if not in genre), OK, I’M SICK doesn’t feel merely plucked from the past. On the contrary, badflower has revamped that sound and retooled it for today’s climate. It is, in essence, a stroke of genius.
OK, I’M SICK is raw and real. Lead singer Josh Katz pours his entire soul into his performance, whether whispering or screaming. The band explores themes of depression, suicide, toxic love, loss, and regret. “Ghost” and “24” are two sides of the same coin. On “Ghost,” Katz pleads for help. He struggles with self-harm and suicidal ideation, but wants someone to intervene. On “24,” he is ready to give up. In this way, Katz is able to explore the emotions he feels while also sending the message that suicide is not the answer.
“Promise Me” finds Katz lashing out at someone he loved that died. They were never supposed to grow up because this is what happens when you do. “Heroin” finds Katz in a dysfunctional relationship, unable to let go because it feels so good. “x ANA x” is a broken ode to Xanax.
But the band branches out from simply discussing the personal. “Daddy” is a heartbreaking story of a girl abused and molested by her father. “Girlfriend” is a callout for entitled men who harass women online. “Die” is a vicious diatribe against Trump and his ilk. As you can see, badflower isn’t afraid to pull back the curtain. They expose and dissect the ugliest of truths.
OK, I’M SICK only came out yesterday, and already I have it on repeat. This album is aggressive and introspective. Hell, it’s aggressively introspective. A powerful debut, badflower has clearly established themselves as the modern kings of emo and alternative. I can easily see this album being one of my favorites of the year. And if that makes me sick, so be it.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a big Betty Who fan. I’ve liked a couple of her songs over the years, but never a whole album. And after her disappointing and out of place performance at Firefly last year, well, she’s not exactly on my good side.
Even so, I still felt like I owed her one more chance. And Betty is a fine pop record. But that’s exactly the problem— it’s fine. It’s exactly what you expect from Who, but with even less personality.
Betty is just another generic ‘80s throwback album to add to the pile. I won’t pretend this isn’t a trend I like, but it needs to be done well. Both After Laughter by Paramore and 1989 by Taylor Swift have so much heart, while E•MO•TION by Carly Rae Jepsen has clever writing and inventive production. These albums aren’t just ‘80s tributes— they’re passion projects.
Who has relatively no passion on this record. Instead, every song sounds more or less the same. Back when she was inspired by dance and europop, Who felt like she had something to say. Now she feels like a Natasha Bedingfield knock-off— a post-2008 Natasha Bedingfield.
Well, except for the song “The One.” Instead that’s more reminiscent of early 2000s boy bands. I’m pretty sure both the Backstreet Boys and N*SYNC have at least one song that sounds exactly like this. It feels so out-of-place because it’s also the only song that doesn’t fit the ‘80s theme.
Here’s the thing: Betty Who is not a bad performer or artist. She’s clearly just lost her voice to the machine (and performs at alternative music festivals for some unknown reason). Everything about her is classic pop star.
The problem is she’s a pop star after the age of pop stars. Even the remaining pop stars are fusing their music with trap, hip hop, and R&B. Betty Who is stuck in the past in more ways than one. A fine pop album or a gimmick-y pop album just isn’t enough anymore. She must’ve known this would’ve been her fate when she chose her stage name because pretty soon people will indeed be asking “Betty who?”
This is a difficult one because I don’t really think this album is much worse than Betty. I only ranked it as “The Ugly” for two reasons: 1. I grew up on an Avril Lavigne with so much more personality than this and 2. “Dumb Blonde.”
Obviously, Lavigne was an angsty teenager when she first began her career. Her music was not always going to sound like it did on Let Go or Under My Skin. But even when she went full pop on The Best Damn Thing, she still had her signature spunk.
Over the years, this spunk began to wane. It appeared on Goodbye Lullaby somewhat, but by her self-titled record it was gone. Instead she was singing things like “Here’s to Never Growing Up” (at age 28) and “Hello Kitty” (which shouldn’t be sung at any age).
And then Lavigne went silent for six years. Now, in 2019, we have Head Above Water. It has more personality than her last release, but not by much. In fact, it feels like the same album with just a touch more heart. This simply isn’t the Avril Lavigne of yore (whether or not that’s because it’s really Melissa is neither here nor there).
Nothing feels real here. What happened to Lavigne’s authenticity? Because that’s what drew people to her. She wasn’t always the best songwriter, but she meant what she said. She didn’t hide behind glamor— she just was.
Head Above Water feels too polished. That’s why Goodbye Lullaby, messy as it was, still worked. Lavigne was who she was. In Hollywood, that’s huge. Now she’s just another voice in a sea of clean voices.
Of course, there’s also “Dumb Blonde.” I don’t think it’s quite as bad as people make it out to be. The verses aren’t terrible. They’re cliché, but catchy. The chorus on the other hand is an annoying chant filled with cringy lyrics.
Nicki Minaj makes an appearance on this song. How is it that she manages to appear on so many songs I dislike? It’s it because she does so many guest verses that it’s simple statistics? I don’t know. All I know is that her verse has nothing to do with the rest of the song and even actively contradicts it. Lavinge says she “ain’t no Barbie doll,” while Minaj says “All the hatin’ you was doin’ got the Barbie poppin’/Now all of ’em wanna be a Barbie, I’m watchin’.” Probably not the best time to shout out for fanbase there, love.
The song also feels weirdly outdated. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think I’ve heard a dumb blonde joke in years. Is that still a thing? Or is Lavigne standing up against nothing?
It sucks to watch Avril Lavigne fall so far. I remember playing her music on repeat when I was younger. I’ll defend The Best Damn Thing to my grave. But this album? Its head may be above the water, but it’s still getting dragged under.
I would like to acknowledge that my bias for alternative and indie music may have clouded my judgment a bit here. But I don’t really think it has. I’m always down for a solid pop record. Betty and Head Above Water just… aren’t. If you ask me, the only album worth checking out is OK, I’M SICK. And that’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of it.
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