Arjan Writes Newsletter #10
Celebrating the state of Pop. Since 2002.
👋 Hello, weekend! While we’re enjoying a mini heatwave here in Los Angeles, I’m bringing you the latest greatest in pop in this week’s newsletter. There’s lots to cover this week while we’re eagerly awaiting Adele’s comeback album in a few days. Just a quick housekeeping note before I dig in: I will be doing some long-haul traveling ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. I will try to prepare a newsletter for next Saturday, but I may not be able to. I plan on updating the Office Hours playlist per the regular schedule. Thanks, everyone!
🍭 Bop of the Week: This week’s Bop is the very good “Never A Good Time” by NOTD and The Band CAMINO. The guys from NOTD have a lock on producing anthemic and highly infectious dance-pop smashers, so a collaboration with like-minded brethren The Band CAMINO makes a whole lotta sense. Jeffrey, Spencer, Garrison, Sam, and Tobi have cooked up another irresistible earworm with mighty chart potential. I hope this is the first of a few more collaborations. It’s a winner.
🎄 Darren Criss at the GRAMMY Museum. I stopped by the GRAMMY Museum at L.A. Live on Friday night to see Darren Criss in conversation with producer Ron Fair. They talked about Criss’s new holiday record, A Very Darren Crissmas, which includes swinging, swooning, and very seasonal remakes of hits from the fifties. Criss is such a talent, and this album solidifies his reputation as a true crooner. I’ll write more about the album soon, but make sure to check it out when the holiday mood strikes. It’s really great.
❤️ Taylor Swift continues the re-recording of her past work. What I love most about this is that it is a wonderful way to engage fans. The ten-minute version of “All Too Well” for example, is something Swift’s fans have been hoping for, and now they finally get to enjoy it. Superstar Swift has built a genuine dialog with fans that’s unprecedented.
🌟 Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak can do no wrong. An Evening with Silk Sonic is fantastic.
🥳 Duncan Laurence’s excellent debut album turned one year old this week and hasn’t aged a bit. If you have missed it, for the love of pop, make sure to listen to the very good “Sleeping On The Phone.”
✍️ While doing promo for ABBA’s comeback album, the group’s Björn Ulvaeus did an interview with Dutch television and said something important that aspiring songwriters should take to heart:
“Artists should spend all their time writing. You should never say, ‘I've written a 100 songs this year,’ because you haven't written a 100 good songs. You may have good stuff in one or two of those songs, but they are not finished songs. They are not complete. A lof of songwriters and artists settle for [songs] not being complete. In order for songs to survive, songs have to be complete. If you don't have the songs, you have nothing.”
It’s sound advice for many artists who struggle to stay focused with the expectation of also being social media content creators to promote their music. Björn’s note is a good reminder of the importance of always putting songwriting at the center of everything you do and devoting time to writing the best songs of your life. Anyways, I'll get off my soapbox now.
The state of Pop is strong—lots of great music out this week. Let’s dig in!
Artist of the Week: Tyler James Bellinger
💬 One of the many reasons I adore Tyler James Bellinger is that he’s not afraid to be completely honest in his music. He fearlessly wears his heart on his sleeve every single time. His new single, titled “Unlove You,” is an excellent example of that. It’s a gut-wrenching ballad that showcases Bellinger’s uncanny ability to inject his songwriting with an emotional intensity that’s palpable.
With the release of Bellinger’s new music, it felt like a perfect time to catch up with him and celebrate his artistry with a spotlight this week.
“Unlove You” is a story about the painful end of a seven-year relationship that felt more like a divorce to Bellinger. On top of that, it happened right after he moved to Nashville, where he still felt like a stranger, which only amplified his ordeal.
Bellinger and I spoke over the phone earlier this week, and he confides what it was like to record “Unlove You” and relive that very emotional time in the writer's room.
“I'll be honest. It was the toughest session I've ever had,” the singer confides. “I was with Femke, who is the producer of the song and a good friend, and I had given her heads up that I had broken up. She told me to come to the session but to have a tea and real-life talk before doing any work. I pretty much told her everything that happened and cried for an hour.”
“I always hope people find something they like in my music, but my ultimate goal is that people feel seen and heard.”
That emotional outpouring ultimately led to the creation of “Unlove You.” Bellinger explains, “The verses of the song are basically the conversations we were having. We wrote the song really quickly. I did like seven takes of the song because I kept crying the whole time. It’s really raw.”
“Usually, I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my vocals, like ‘let me sing this again’ or ‘let’s do another take,’” he adds. “But this time, I didn’t want to come back or redo parts. It’s tough for me to listen to the song, in all honesty.”
“Unlove You” is the latest in a string of solid pop writing from Bellinger. Momentum has been building for the New Jersey-born singer and songwriter who some of you may remember from a brief stint on the first season of NBC Songland.
Songs like “Giving You Up,” “Unbearable,” and “Unlove You” perfectly showcase Bellinger's innate talent for writing pop music that’s both artistically sound and commercially viable. He has received support in playlists like Today’s Easy Hits, Heartbreak Pop, and Feeling Blue.
There’s more Bellinger music on the way, including a holiday release very soon. “I’m excited about the songs I’ll release in the next few months. I feel confident in what I’ve been writing. I think people are going to relate to it. I always hope people find something they like in my music, but my ultimate goal is that people feel seen and heard.
He smiles and concludes, “I have this very vivid memory of Mariah Carey's Charmbracelet album. I was sitting outside and threw myself into a pile of snow, just sitting there listening to Mariah’s music, and I felt I related to everything she was saying. And that's what I love about music.”
Office Hours Playlist Updates
📅 Office Hours is a new passion project of mine to support and nurture new artists. Periodically, I will open up my Twitter DMs for official office hours to meet new artists, listen to pitches, and provide instant feedback. It’s been a gratifying experience to help out and lend an ear.
Every week, I add a selection of pitched songs to my Office Hours playlist on Apple Music. This playlist also includes tracks that I feel are extraordinarily great and fit the spirit of the Office Hours playlist: new, next, noteworthy, and very pop.
My next Office Hours on Twitter will return in the first week of December.
Thanks for all your pitches and suggestions for the Office Hours playlist.
🔥 My quick takes on some of the tracks I added this week:
“Never A Good Time” by NOTD and The Band CAMINO. A mighty earworm that is my bop of the week. I dare you not to tap along. (listen)
“Sorry For Your Loss” by Jack Newsome. Newsome is a glass-half-full type of guy who has the ability to turn seemingly sad situations into happy ones. This new single is a fun and poppy kiss-off about moving on and feeling good about it. Newsome's biggest accomplishment is that he knows how to write pop music that is happy in tone and sentiment without making it silly or corny. That’s not an easy task, and it’s proof of Newsome’s savvy. (listen)
“Unlove You” by Tyler James Bellinger. A powerful ballad with a moving backstory. Tyler James Bellinger is one of the most talented pop writers among us. It’s time to pay attention. (listen)
“I Sleep Fine” by Marisa Maino. Maino’s previous “Growing Up Can Go To Hell” is one of my favorite pop songs of 2021. This new single is another strong showing from the rising pop star. 2022 better get ready for Maino’s take-over. It’s inevitable. (listen)
“Learning To Live Without You” by Hajaj. Globetrotter Abdul Rahman Hajaj worked in London with producer Aidan Glover on his fantastic EP Last Call For Coco, that’s filled with subtle and sweet-tinged R&B pop. This is one of my favorite tracks on the EP. (listen)
“Happier Than Ever” by ASTN. He loves teasing new music on his IG Stories, but this newest is more than definitely worth the wait and all the tease. ASTN is a dynamite talent with a killer falsetto. (listen)
“Warm Fuzzy” by Devin Kennedy. Devin is in love and wants everyone to know. His easy-go-lucky vibe echoes classic Bazzi, and I’m here for it. The catchy “uh-oh-oh” has all the makings to go viral. Well done. (listen)
The state of Pop is strong
🙏 A big thank you for reading and sharing the newsletter. It’s funny how things work. Almost 20 years ago, I started a blog to curate the growing volume of online content. Now, it seems the need for credible curation is bigger than ever, with so much content out there across so many different platforms. I can’t possibly see and cover it all, but I’m just attempting to point people to the good stuff and give young artists a platform to get noticed. Human curation will never go out of style.
✈️ Like I wrote in the intro of this newsletter, I will be doing some long-haul travel over the next couple of weeks, so I will attempt to write this newsletter, but I may not be able to. Rest assured that this will only be a temporary pause.
📅 My Office Hours on Twitter will return in the first week of December. Thanks for your patience.
📢 Thank you to everyone for sharing this newsletter and spreading the word. It truly means to world to me.
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