Arjan Writes Newsletter #8
Celebrating the state of Pop. Since 2002.
👋 Hello, Saturday! It’s Halloween weekend, and there’s plenty of ear candy to share. Halloween is a fun holiday for me because I dress up in a red jacket every day of the year, so this is the season I blend in perfectly with the costume crowd. In any event, I hope everyone is keeping it spooky this weekend. Let’s get things going because there’s a new Ed Sheeran record and much more to discuss!
🍭 Bop of the Week: “Telepath” by Conan Gray. It’s all systems go for Conan Gray who delivers his poppiest single to date with “Telepath.” And let me tell you, it’s a moment. The track reaches bop-level goodness within the first few seconds when a hard-driving synth beat hits alongside Gray’s signature falsetto. “Telepath” is a slice of splendor that pop dreams are made of. Gray teamed up with Caroline Ailin, Julia Michaels, and Ilya to craft this new single that has hit written all over it. From its glorious chorus to a slinky and unexpected bridge, the team has created an infectious concoction that will give the masses a taste for more. Yummy.
🎃 It’s Hallow-scream! They say teamwork makes the scream work, and that’s certainly the case for LVCRFT. They are a collective of pop-loving and horror-obsessed hitmakers who deliver some wicked tunes on The Return (Deadly Deluxe). It features hair-rising collaborations with Jake Miller, JHart, Sarah Hudson, Kat Dahlia, Bonnie McKee, and Madilyn Bailey. So finger-licking good!
👻 More chills and thrills. Turn Off The Light by Kim Petras is another great spooky album to dig into this Halloween. It’s filled with modern-day Halloween classics that slay from start to finish.
❤️ Ed Sheeran Grows Up. Ed Sheeran is a changed man, but not a changed musician. “I have grown up, I am a father now. Everything has changed, but I am still the same somehow,” he sings at the very beginning of his new album, = (Equals). It sums up the theme of LP perfectly. Musically, he doesn’t stray an inch from the familiar path, and we don’t want him to. Stand out songs for me are “2step” (a co-write with Louis Bell and Andrew Watt), the gorgeous “The Joker and The Queen,” and the very moving “Visiting Hours” that features Kylie Minogue on background vocals and includes Michael Pollack, Ant Clemmons, and Amy Wadge on the writers list.
🔥 The Benson Surge. Benson Boone’s “Ghost Town” is a massive smasher about to happen. It’s a gorgeous composition dominated by Boone’s larger-than-life vocals. Wow. Something big is bubbling. Playlists are leaning in.
🕺 A bop you may have missed. For the love of pop, please do yourself a favor and make sure to check out Tove Styrke’s new single, “Start Walking.” It’s very, very good.
🎤 Out and about in Los Angeles. Lots of great shows around town this week, and I picked three of them to see. On Monday, I saw Julia Wolf at the Moroccan Lounge. I picked her as my Artist of the Week two weeks ago, and I was excited to see her. Wolf was “freaking out” to play in L.A. for the first time, and she received an enthusiastic welcome from the crowd. Finneas played the first of two L.A. shows at The Wiltern on Wednesday. It was a big moment for him. He told the crowd halfway through the show, “I was here back in 2012 to see Ed Sheeran, and now I’m here to play my own show. Thank you for making my dreams come true.” Such a genuine moment. On Thursday night, I was surrounded by TikTok influencers and their fans at Whiskey a Go Go to see Parker Polhill open for Emblem3. I’ve known Parker for a few years, and I think he’s an incredible talent with tons of potential. It was great to see him work the stage with heaps of swagger. I can’t wait to see where he takes it from here.
The state of Pop is strong—lots of great music out this week. Let’s dig in!
Artist of the Week: Blanks
💬 There’s a joy and optimism about Blank’s debut LP that makes it an album to love. Aptly titled Nothing Lasts Forever And That’s Ok, the album is filled with finely-crafted, hyper-infectious indie-pop that celebrates friendships and great memories while also demonstrating the pop singer’s knack for melody.
Blanks (born Simon de Wit) likes to refer to his bittersweet musical aesthetic as saudade, a Portuguese term that describes a very specific feeling of nostalgia. “I have so many great memories that I wish I could relive again,” Blanks tells me. “But those moments will never come back. That's a sad but also a happy feeling because I’ll always have the memories to cherish.”
The Dutch pop prodigy has found a way to shape his happy-sad brand of pop by studying music from the 1980s as a reference. “I wasn't even born back then. I'm from ‘97, so it's really weird,” he smiles. “But there's something about eighties music that just resonates with me. I feel like songs from the eighties touch your soul in a way that some of the modern pop music doesn't.”
“I love that about music from the eighties. I feel like most of the songs back then just hit the right spot.”
“I have so many great memories that I wish I could relive again. But those moments will never come back. That's a sad but also a happy feeling because I’ll always have the memories to cherish.”
The release of Blank’s debut LP is the culmination of a lot of hard work and focus over the last decade. The Groningen-based melody-maker initially emerged as a popular YouTube creator with millions of followers across his social channels.
“Music was always a hobby,” Blanks explains. “I never planned to pursue music as a career until I participated in a talent contest here in The Netherlands. I got to play a song I wrote on national radio, and I was like, okay, if I can make this work, maybe this could be a career.”
Inspired by artists like Jon Bellion and Ryan Tedder, Blanks decided to go to college while also working on his songwriting and production craft. Over the last few years, he has continued to release music independently and engage his fans on social media with vlogs, stories about making music, and his famous one-hour hit-remake videos.
Alongside sparkly, synth-driven gems like “Never Have I Ever” and “Classic Armstrong,” one of the stand-out tracks on the album is the power ballad “Except For You.” Blanks says, “I’m very proud of that song. It’s a hundred percent written and produced by me. It’s a very honest ballad about getting everything you want, except for that one person. To me, that song sounds perfect.”
With fans across the globe (most of Blanks’ fandom is in the U.S.), the pop singer is looking forward to hitting the road and playing shows. Blank’s connection with fans and his personable style of keeping them informed about his music has been a gratifying experience for him.
“[My fans are] basically a super big friend group,” he says. “If they love something, they will scream about it, and they will scream about it to everyone, and I love that!”
Listen to Blanks Nothing Lasts Forever And That’s Ok
This Week’s 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.
Thanks for all your pitches and suggestions for the Office Hours playlist.
🔥 My quick takes on some of the tracks I added this week:
“Telepath” by Conan Gray. Conan’s latest is prime bop material and tops the playlist this week. Thanks for sharing this goodness, Conan! Also, big ups to the masterful Ilya for keeping the production so airtight and crisp. (listen)
“Santa Cruz” by Josie Dunne. Seriously, what’s not to love about this tennis-loving, soul-baring, and sweet-voiced pop starlet? Dunne infuses her brand of pop with a light and effervescent quality that makes it incredibly pleasant to the ear. (listen)
“Strangers Forever” by Maude Latour. This is the lead track from Latour’s new EP that’s very, very good. Latour’s lyricism is like reading a page from her diary. It’s so conversational and to the point. Latour has skillfully carved out a unique lane with her distinct style of pop-making. I’m a fan. (listen)
“She Knows It” by Maggie Lindemann. Lindemann picks up right where Avril left off. It’s bold and in-your-face, but the song’s darn catchy hook exposes a pop sensibility that’s irresistible. (listen)
“Try” by Frenship and Lauren Sanderson. Frenship’s James and Brett are no strangers to teaming up with great female vocal talent to create hit-worthy music (proof: “Capsize”). They’re doing it again on “Try,” collaborating with the amazing Lauren Sanderson, who adds some spit and grit to the duo’s well-crafted composition. I’m rooting for this one. It’s great. (listen)
“Lie About You” by Oston and Lauren Sanderson. The original version of this track was shared during my Office Hours earlier this year. This reflip of the song features Lauren Sanderson, which adds an exciting new dimension to the track. It has hit written all over. Let’s go! (listen)
“Song In My Head” by Jesse Gold. Jesse hits us right in the feels with this soul-pop stunner that’s a vibe from start to finish. Gold has the soulful touch. (listen)
“Lose My Number” by Nightly. I was a huge stan of Nightly’s previous single, “Lover/Loner,” and the trio’s new “Lose My Number” is equally catchy. The very subtle bridge is incredibly clever and effective. Well done, fellas. “Lose My Number” is a huge mood that puts the trio in pole position for continued success. (listen)
“Puppet” by Faouzia. It’s Faouzia’s voice that gets me every time. Incredibly powerful and instantly recognizable. She ventures out to the very epicenter of pop (much like Ava Max once did), and this style suits her well. This should find a global audience quickly. (listen)
“Fool’s Gold” (original demo) by Caroline Kole. Kole teamed up with none other than hitmaker Shane McAnally to write “'Fool’s Gold.” I prefer the demo version over the final version as it wonderfully showcases the purity of Kole’s performance. Fortunately, both versions are included on the repack of her album. (listen)
The state of Pop is strong.
🔥 I’m happy to conclude this week that the state of Pop continues to thrive. There were tons of great releases to celebrate this week.
🙏 I appreciate all of the newsletter subscribers and artists for sharing their music. I’d love to grow this pop community further, so I’m thankful for everyone sharing and forwarding this newsletter. It means the world to me.
📰 Look for a fresh new edition of this newsletter every Saturday.