LIZ Creates Pure Pop, But Don’t Be Calling It a Guilty Pleasure
‘Cross Your Heart’ is one of 2016’s most forward-thinking pop releases.
2016: what a time to be alive. Our music soundtracks our reality – and whether it's a product of internet culture or the mainstream, most of it just adds to the noise. But at its best, pop music helps us make sense of it all, an emotional refuge within the chaos.
Enter LIZ – LIZ_Y2K if you're nasty – the most unapologetically pop act on Mad Decent. Her 2014 debut EP, the criminally underrated Just Like You, did early 2000s garage-R&B even better than the real thing. But since last year's SOPHIE-produced "When I Rule the World", she's moved into weirder territory. Cross Your Heart is a mixtape, a fashion editorial conceived with Nicopanda, and the product of a hyperactive imagination.
It's the kind of music that's more easily heard than described. Call it Y2K pop, future bubblegum soul – just don't call it a guilty pleasure. Both fashion and pop music can – no, should – be challenging. But behind Cross Your Heart's sugary perfection lies a real beating heart. 33 minutes, 16 songs, 20 producers: one LIZ.
Millennials have shorter attention spans than goldfish, and it's no coincidence album sales are in freefall. But LIZ doesn't pander to our collective ADHD – she uses sensory overload to push forward to a new form of pop. Cross Your Heart exists somewhere between a traditional DJ set, and the absurdist mixes favoured by PC Music. There are no verse-chorus-drop formulas here. LIZ loves to dangle hooks in front of you, then switch the beat up just when we expect the song to continue. We're Charlie Brown, and she's Lucy holding the football.
Cross Your Heart compresses a dizzying array of ideas into its 33-minutes. The title track – "cross your heart and hope to fly" – is a mission statement, a glorious motivational theme worthy of Sailor Moon Crystal. Vic Mensa saunters in for a guest verse on "All Good"; shades of Ja Rule and Ashanti. "When I Rule the World" appears in a vastly different form – wonky, wistful, nothing like the original SOPHIE banger. And in just over a minute, we go from "Forever"'s diva house, to the 80s rap beat of "Ur Touch", to "Holy Water"'s Gwen Stefani brattiness.
The transitions become as important as the songs themselves. They bring out the nuances in LIZ's songwriting, break down the barriers between singer, producer and genre. Cross Your Heart isn't just a series of beats – these are songs with hooks and emotional arcs, all forming a greater narrative. It takes a fierce personality to hold it all together – especially at bubblegum bass tempos so fast it shouldn't be humanly possible to sing over them.
The more you listen to Cross Your Heart, the more you see the person behind the post-human fashion. 2010s SoundCloud culture is all about chasing trends and likes – but sugar highs are temporary. Songs are forever, and LIZ deserves to be taken seriously as a songwriter. Like Madonna, Janet, Rihanna – no matter how many producers she collaborates with, she's the common denominator in all her own work.
Cross Your Heart is pop as collage; Warhol dreamed of this shit. What if it's not 16 individual tracks, but one giant 33-minute song? Frank Ocean's Blonde drifted dreamily between songs. But on Cross Your Heart, LIZ smashes them up against each other. The result? Sparks.
Richard S. He is a pop musician and award-winning critic. You can tweet your grievances to @Richaod.