Pop Song Review: Years & Years, “King”

Well, the BRIT Awards have come and gone, as has the resultant chart-clog by last year’s greatest hits, and we can finally look forward – or at least, the direction “forward” we’re being pointed in – with today’s pop song review, “King” by BBC Sound of 2015 winners Years & Years, which has already hit no. 1 on the UK singles chart. I’m sure, of course, that that sudden success had nothing to do with the massive marketing push the BBC and Radio 1 have put behind this track. No, absolutely not – it must be the music, right?

First impressions: Okay, not bad. Still, so far 2015 is sounding pretty much the same as 2014 did. And 2013. And 2012. And…

The music: So pop music’s fairly irritating insistence on getting everyone out of their seats and dancing staggers on into the night, riding as it does the latest trend of expressing sensuality via a singer with a trembling, high-pitched little voice – see also Ellie Goulding and the Weeknd. I have to ask, is that what’s considered sexy these days? (And yes, I’m a guy who reviews pop songs in his spare time – I do have to ask.)

Anyway, “King” is fairly standard dance-pop with shimmering synths, a full bass beat and a passionately sung and constructed melody. Those trumpeting synth sounds don’t do it any favours, sounding as they do like something from an Eighties prog album, though they are at least warmer than many other songs on the chart; while the central groove sounds as if it was culled from some Nineties Ibiza dancefloor sampler. I quite enjoy the chorus, though the verse melody is a little too aggressive in its panting staccato attack, synchronising as it does with the keyboard, er, riff; overall it feels like the song is slobbering in my ear, trying to paw at some girl sat one seat over. All the typical rises and falls you’d expect in a dance song are here, though they don’t overpower the melody, which I appreciate. Dance-by-numbers it may be, but it’s still pretty hard to dislike this song.

I’m still a little puzzled as to why these guys were chosen as the Sound of 2015, though, honestly. Oh, it’s catchy, sure, and it’s got a decent beat to it, but there’s nothing new here: it’s the same retro-synthpop anyone who isn’t a DJ seems to be writing these days. According to the BBC, at least, the sound of 2015 is also the sound of 1985, which isn’t the guys’ fault and, I guess, isn’t even that big a problem with me. Heck, rock music’s been living in the Seventies since the Eighties. A little retro style is always cool with yours truly. Just… look, stop calling us rockers “retro” and “old hat”, all right? Everyone’s nicking something from the past nowadays, so why does our music have to be saddled with these descriptors?

Anyway, mini-whinge over. On to…

The lyrics: “I caught you watching me under the light / Can I be your line? / They say it’s easy to leave you behind / I don’t wanna try.” So it’s about two lovers meeting, presumably, in dah clerrb, as so many other modern pop songs are prone to set their stories. I don’t know what being somebody’s “line” means – these kids and their slang, honestly – but despite her reputation as being someone who’s easy to leave behind (classy), he doesn’t want to. He wants to hang on, you see, because love. Still, despite my evidently patronising tone I do acknowledge that this could at least be a nice subversion of the whole “love ’em and leave ’em” dynamic that club culture is based on. Let’s read on.

“Cut cover, take that test / Hold courage to your chest / Don’t wanna wait for you / Don’t wanna have to lose.” Okay, there’s a bunch of stuff going on her and I’m not sure how much of it makes sense. What does cutting cover mean? What test? Why does anybody need courage? Last I checked you were trying to build a serious relationship, which I suppose traditionally takes some courage to admit. Still, you seemed so keen just now – what happened, pal?

“I was a king under your control.” So… she’s Lady Macbeth? Or a chess champion? Is this song about chess?

“I wanna feel like you’ve let me go.” Hang on, you were just talking about how you didn’t want to try and leave her behind – now you want her to let you go? Or is this the lyrics actually progressing their narrative by presenting a relationship, once exciting and new, now deteriorating as the power balance starts to get shifty, with the protagonist feeling equally like the ruler and the ruled, like the most powerful piece on the board yet ultimately a piece all the same, his rule a facade as he is empowered yet easily defeated? Or is it just because “go” kinda rhymes with “control”?

“Don’t you remember how I used to like being on the line? / I dreamed you dreamed of me calling out my name / Is it worth the price?” I thought you were the line, and now you’re on it? Eh, it’s a nice callback, I suppose. Also, there is a theory in the YouTube comments for this video that the song is actually about drugs, which would help to illuminate lines such as this. Being on the line, worth the price, that bit about feeling “another high”… vague and tangential, perhaps, but there is something there. I’m not sure how drugs would watch you “under the light”, though. Also, does the line “I dreamed you dreamed of me calling out my name” make anybody else’s brain hurt?

“Take this from me tonight / Oh, let’s fight.” Sorry, what’s this song about again? Is he being ironic or is he actually inviting her to fight him?

“Let go, let go, let go of everything.” Well, I’m guessing the relationship didn’t work out, then. Ah, well – plenty of fish and all that jazz.

Verdict: 3 out of 5. It’s no better or worse than much of what else is out there right now but, all the same, I wish these guys the best in their career and hope that the pop music machine doesn’t crush them too badly. That said, can we have a new sound for 2016, please, BBC? I’m hearing good things about Cuban salsa.

Today’s double-up is “Kill the King” by Rainbow, which actually is about chess. Just goes to show you can make an ace song about anything if you put your mind to it.

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