MUSIC

Can Trump-Hating Christians Enjoy Kanye West's "Jesus Is King"? (And Other Questions)

Kanye West has seen the light, but what does that mean for the rest of us?

Kanye West's Jesus Is King asks a lot of questions of the listener, though maybe not the kinds that its creator intended.

Then again, for thousands of years, the Bible itself has been raising questions that seem to have nothing to do with its actual text.

One question: If we could erase the events of the past few years—if we could spin time back to before the MAGA hats and the "slavery was a choice" comments—how differently would we receive Jesus Is King? One would imagine that though it might disappoint some West purists and ingratiate some evangelicals, many of us wouldn't have been quite as struck by it as we are. Musically, Jesus Is King is a collage of gospel and rap, a choppy and inconsistent mix of revelations and verses. Technically, it fits into West's varied but always innovative catalogue. And yet, because of the cultural context into which West has released it, and because we can't turn time backwards no matter how hard we try, it's hard to see it as separate from politics.

West isn't the first musician to have a born-again experience. Great musicians often take a sharp turn for the spiritual at some point in their careers, and Christianity seems to be the most common choice. There was the time that Bob Dylan began preaching to audiences, telling them that Jesus was the final product of the a-changing times (he later converted back to Judaism). Elvis created an entire album of gospels (though he was also blamed for the downfall of Christianity). The theme is most prominent in black American music, and West is operating in the tradition of figures like Little Richard, who veered towards rock and roll's satanism in the 1960s, then became an evangelical minister.

Interestingly, most of these artists went through a kind of "wilderness" period, a time when the public turned against them. Many turned to drug use and then to Christianity, and back again, seeking escape and redemption through ecstatic experiences.

Anyone who's been on the Internet in the past five years will know that Kanye West has always sought out ecstasy, and he's been wandering through the wilderness for a while now. He's clearly seen God on some mountain, become convinced that the gospels are the way out of the darkness. And he's known darkness: He suffers from unmedicated bipolar disorder, a consistent theme that can't be ignored in a discussion of West's new work.

This raises other unanswerable questions about Jesus Is King, such as the looming question of just how much Kanye's mental illness has to do with all this. Mental illness and spirituality do tend to run close together, with many revelations resembling hallucinations and sages and the faithful being written off as madmen, and art has balanced on the seam between madness and the sublime since time immemorial.

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Christianity's Problem of Evil: Kanye West's Reckoning

West has flirted with Christianity and all its questions since before he was born again, blurring his own selfhood with Jesus Christ since he began creating. His ability to fuse the Bible with camp and sex is what gives a lot of his early work so much power.

A lot of West's best work utilizes Christianity in a healing and humanizing way that's almost entirely absent from Jesus Is King, though at some points, like in "On God" and "Use This Gospel," flickers of the sublime seep through. It's the same sublime that you can hear in full and undistilled form on older songs like "Saint Pablo," ringing clear through lyrics like, "Looking at the church in the night sky / wondering when and where God's gonna say hi." The song takes on Biblical proportions, invoking a sense of spirit even in the most secular listener, perhaps by evoking some Bible verses. "When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—the moon and the stars you set in place," reads Psalm 8:3. "I see Thy heavens, a work of Thy fingers, Moon and stars that Thou didst establish."


Objectively, the Bible is an extraordinary body of work, one that taps into the primal desires that unite humankind. How else could it have flooded so many millions of people with a fiery, supernatural kind of passion? There's something alluring about its promise of sacredness, it's clear pathway to heaven, its promise that no matter how much you've sinned, all you need to do is swear your soul to Jesus just before you die, and you'll be redeemed. If you've ever really regretted your past actions, if you've ever felt truly lost, you can see why Christianity is so appealing. At the core of Christianity is the promise of unconditional forgiveness through faith alone.

Perhaps (and here's where I buy my train ticket to hell), that promise of easy forgiveness has something to do with why Christianity has incentivized so much evil. Hatred for those who sin is written into the Old Testament itself, which legitimizes the genocide and massacre of the Canaanites (Numbers 21:2-3; Deuteronomy 20:17; Joshua 6:17, 21) and other societies, and the god of that holy book is vengeful, vitriolic, and totally unforgiving.

None of this is to say that Christianity is evil. Undistilled, in its perfect form, tempered by Jesus Christ's gospel, Christianity—like most religions—is a pure and compassionate religion, dedicated to getting people to be kind to their neighbors and to treat themselves and others with love. There are also countless different forms of Christianity, and it can never be distilled into the binary of good or evil (even though much of the faith is built on that very binary). Christianity also has a sacred and ancient position in the black church, one that West is definitely channeling. "Gospel is a music of the overwhelmed, the weary," a genre built on a sense of "black perseverance" which "comes and goes on Jesus Is King," according to Vulture.

But to make a sweeping statement, when Christianity meets the brokenness of humanity on Earth, when it brushes up against the chaos of the contemporary world and all our human greed and desire and falls into the hands of the ruling class, it seems to have a tendency to grow contorted and cruel. This rarely causes it to lose its persuasiveness, though, and because of this, it has too easily become a powerful weapon that legitimizes colonization, enslavement, fear of otherness, and all manners of evil masquerading as holiness.

So it is with Jesus Is King, an album that performs faithfulness and promises redemption but cannot be taken out of the context of who Kanye is and what he seems to stand for. Perhaps West's new album is, if not perfect, pure in intention. But when it crushes up against the reality of what's going on in America right now, when it's listened to through the lens of West's values and politics, it begins to crumble.

Empty Promises: America and the Church

Jesus Is King is not an empty album, but it's built on empty ideals. Pitchfork called it an "album of slogans," and its few non-denominational verses are full of consumerist statements. The Ringer calls it an "altar call to the captive Instagram generation propped up on the most digestible bits of Christianity, diluted in the language of self-care." Often, the album's message only highlights the emptiness of the foundations it stands on.

This emptiness is not new. It's existed in every church that preached kindness but burned dissidents at the stake. It exists in governments that preach liberty but incarcerate their poor for minor offenses. It's at the heart of the Trump Administration, and in this day and age, West's music—no matter how holy it seems to be—can't be extricated from West's relationship with Donald Trump.

Though the president hasn't yet commented, West's album has pleased Donald Trump Jr., who Tweeted, "Kanye West is cracking the culture code." It's been praised by Pamela Geller, notorious for her anti-Muslim sentiments. As Jay Connor writes, "All the wrong kinds of people love Jesus Is King."

Is it wrong to denounce Jesus Is King because of West's politics? There's a fundamental dissonance here, perhaps a central dissonance of our time. Can we separate the art from the artist, the church from the state, the politics from the human? What could be wrong with a religious album, one that preaches love—and isn't it hypocritical to let political differences get in the way of this love?

The problem here is that, from a liberal or humanist perspective, it's simply impossible to extend love and compassion to people who are willing to deny others' humanity and right to exist. Christians have the right to be Christians, obviously, but worshiping Jesus Christ shouldn't give you permission to be a terrible person.

In the middle of Kanye West's Sunday Service, a preacher stands up and delivers a sermon about John 3:16, which he describes as an "ocean of love written in blood." "You're invited today," he says. "It doesn't matter how far you've fallen... It just takes one step back. One step of repentance."

WATCH FULL STREAM | KANYE WEST | JESUS IS KING | SUNDAY SERVICE EXPERIENCE | THE FORUM | 10/27/19www.youtube.com

But does love have to be written in blood? Does repentance always equal redemption? Why is a religion that preaches love and life so popular with a political party that is allergic to the concept of taxing a wealthy few in order to support the weak? None of these questions can really be distilled down to the level that statement implies, and yet more and more, I find myself asking these kinds of questions, getting lost in their loopholes, realizing that political differences can stretch as deeply as religious differences, and that both conservatives and liberals see the others as Satan.

Waking Up from the God Dream: Where Does Kanye Go from Here?

As I wrote this article, I was listening to Kanye perform his Sunday Service experience at the Forum in Los Angeles. He alternated new songs from Jesus Is King with some of his more religious old songs, including the chorus of "Ultralight Beam," a song I once listened to with the same reverence I imagine some people cling to Bible verses with.

The Sunday Service version was beautiful, but I missed the rap verses. I missed the anger, I missed the raw humanity that gave Kanye West's music its sense of true ecstasy.

Still, I understand his decision to defect to Christ. There's so much fear around, it's easy to want to find a solution in a man who promises he'll save you, be it Trump or God, in someone who promises he'll smite anyone who gets in the way of your right to liberty and redemption.

I know that no matter how much any of us says or writes against Kanye, I understand why he chose to defect from the pain of reality, into the sweet dream state of Jesus Christ's forgiveness. I think to survive everything that's coming, we do need spirituality. We need to confront our minds before we can change our reality, and we cannot survive and change the world while believing that we have no purpose or guiding light.

But we don't need the kind of Jesus Christ that Kanye West is preaching about right now, not the kind that believes in covering up and ignoring the horrific evils of America in exchange for a perfunctory faith and a deluded nationalism. We need (or perhaps I dream of) the kind of Christ who appears on "Ultralight Beam," who exists in the nightclubs as well as at the altar, who doesn't tacitly endorse hate or forgive just because he's been asked. West is so close. Perhaps he's just a revelation away from embracing a more empathetic and socially aware kind of understanding. If he ever does, that's a Sunday Service I'd wake up for.

Frontpage Popular News

Maroon 5 Headlining Super Bowl ’19 Halftime Show

Are you ready Adam Levine?

Add some pop to the game!

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Football fans and those who are fond of Maroon 5 will celebrate the upcoming Super Bowl with plenty of play-by-plays and pop music. As per Variety, "Maroon 5 will be the halftime performers at the 2019 Super Bowl, multiple sources confirm." Note: The Pepsi Halftime Show.

The band is certainly mainstream enough, but is the football crowd into The Voice judge and his crew as much as they are for say, Beyoncé or Justin Timberlake? We'll have to tune in to see how the band performs and how the audience reacts.

But will Maroon 5 alone be enough to wow the folks and the stadium and those at home sitting on their sofas? Collaborations are often the key to taking a halftime performance to the next level. Sure, the band is cool and they have a bunch of hit songs to keep the show moving, but today's fans need more fun and flair in order to deem the show as a success.

Will we see Christina Aguilera belt out a duet with Levine? How 'bout Cardi B? Future would be fantastic as would Kendrick Lamar. All have worked with the band before and would extend the appeal to a wider audience. Not to mention the tons of talent that would take over the stage.

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If you're no football fan but want to watch for the entertainment portion of the program, the band will be on your television on February 3, coming to you from Atlanta, GA. Adam Levine, Jesse Carmichael, Mickey Madden, James Valentine, Matt Flynn, PJ Morton, and Sam Farrar of Maroon 5 will make the halftime show special, whether or not they add extra spice to the set. And Levine must be excited. In a '15 interview with the Hollywood Reporter he shared, "We very actively want to play the Super Bowl." Dreams do come true.

While this show is unlikely to draw in viewership as huge as the all-time record set by Katy Perry in 2015 ( 120.7 million people tuned in), they'll still be expected to pull out as many bells and whistles as a pop band can. And we're not talking "wardrobe malfunctions." Sorry Janet.

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As for who is singing the National Anthem? Still TBD. Last year P!nk was patriotic, and before her Luke Bryan, Lady Gaga, and Idina Menzel did their duty. As long as Roseanne doesn't butcher the "Banner" and whoever's chosen can remember all the words and hit the high notes, we'll be alright.

So, tune in, watch the guys play their hearts out on the field and behind the mics, and cheer for the team you hope will win. Maroon 5 will supply the soundtrack and set the tone for the 2019 Super Bowl.


Melissa A. Kay is a New York-based writer, editor, and content strategist. Follow her work on Popdust as well as sites including TopDust, Chase Bank, P&G, Understood.org, The Richest, GearBrain, The Journiest, Bella, TrueSelf, Better Homes & Gardens, AMC Daycare, and more.



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The Top 10 Wildest VMA Moments

Tonight, the Stars Take the Stage for the 2018 MTV VMAs… Take a Look Back and LOL

Will 2018 give us more VMAs WTFs?

When it comes to awards shows, the VMAs are known to be among the most laid-back and loose, giving way to wild and wacky moments we just can't seem to get enough of. From outrageous outfits to eye-popping performances, the made-for-music crowd is always up for a good time.

Tonight, fans will be tuning in to watch their favorite artists rush the red carpet, do their thing, take home awards, and mix and mingle, but what's always most fun is to wait for the weird. Wardrobe malfunctions, disastrous dance numbers, lip sync snafus, you name it. If it's wild, it's worth watching.

Let's go back in time and revisit the top 10 wildest VMA moments. We may have something new pumping through our playlists these days, but memories like these never get old.

“Imma let you finish”

We now interrupt this program...

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C'mon, Kanye. And poor Taylor Swift. She was on stage to accept her award in '09 when the "Wild West" swooped in and took the mic, proclaiming Beyoncé was the best of the bunch. Looking confused and concerned, Swift's moment in the spotlight was shockingly stolen. "Imma let you finish" by no means replaced a cordial "congratulations," despite who Kanye felt deserved the "spaceperson" statuette.

Madonna Plants Her Pucker on Brit and X-Tina

"Like a Virgin?"

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Swapping spit was never so strange. Why did this '03 performance require a PG-13 warning when singing and dancing would have been so much more entertaining? We get it Madge, staying relevant is vital in this biz, but cringe-worthy kisses can't bring back "Borderline."

Popstar Meets Python

Kanye surely won't come on stage now...

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'01 must have been the year of the snake because a young Britney Spears came out on stage ready to slither. Singing (or lip syncing) "I'm a Slave 4 U," she held the ridiculously large reptile over her shoulders and likely needed a sedative to get through the peculiar performance. Maybe the kiss with Madonna wasn't so bad after all.

It Takes Two to Twerk?

No "Blurred Lines" here...

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In a dance number (term used loosely) turned totally upside-down, Miley Cyrus' twerking and grinding on singer Robin Thicke was so weird that it was almost too much for the VMAs viewers. Cyrus was near naked and Thicke was in the thick of the perversion. Icky and idiotic, we all watched this train wreck with one "side eye" and the other one shut.

Lady Gaga’s Cow Couture

Were the shoes too much?

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Meat replaced material when Lady Gaga grossed out the '10 VMA audience with a dress that answered, "Where's the beef?" Flesh-for-fashion certainly made a statement, but when Gaga said dinner was on her that evening, she meant it literally.

Lil’ Kim Lets it All Hang Out

Her cup runneth over

http://reductress.com

Want to upstage Diana Ross? Just let one of your "girls" take center stage and see where all eyes go. A strategically placed purple pasty made Lil' Kim's '99 VMA look censor-approved, but when it came to the nights "biggest boob," Kim took home the award for "breast dressed."

Burrito or Baby?

Beyoncé and her belly

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Beyoncé took the stage in '11 and gave a rousing performance of "Love on Top." But there was love in the middle too, as the star rubbed her belly signaling a famous fetus was forming. The audience was amazed and the gal was glowing. Talk about the birds and the Beys…

In Case You Wanted to Know

Who needs a publicist?

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Why take out an ad in the paper or pay for a TV commercial when you can advertise your upcoming album across your torso? Macy Gray let the '01 VMAs audience know her album was about to drop, forgoing style for sales. Not surprisingly, the bold message wasn't even the strangest thing about her ensemble.

Is It Cold In Here?...

Ever feel like you forgot something?

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Rose McGowan's date to the '98 VMAs was the always-awe-inducing Marilyn Manson, but even he couldn't dress unusually enough to top McGowan's gown (or at least the shadow of its existence). Leaving little to nothing to the imagination, this mesh number was certainly the most revealing look of the night, letting us in on Victoria's Secret… McGowen doesn't shop there.

Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley’s Marriage “Certificate”

"You are Not Alone"

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'94's VMAs was full of entertainment, but nothing had fans closer to the edge of their seats than a super-strange smooch between then-newlyweds Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley. Elvis' ghost definitely left the building when this on-stage stunt shook the crowd to the core.

Melissa A. Kay is a New York-based writer, editor, and content strategist. Follow her work on Popdust as well as sites including TopDust, Chase Bank, P&G, Understood.org, The Richest, GearBrain, The Journiest, Bella, TrueSelf, Better Homes & Gardens, AMC Daycare, and more.


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MUSIC

INTERVIEW | A Great Big World's Next Chapter

The Band on Emotional Growth and Record Number Three

https://www.facebook.com/pg/agreatbigworld/about/?ref=page_internal

"We've found that the more vulnerable we are, the more people tend to connect to the songs. And then we realize we have nothing to be ashamed of, or embarrassed of, and we feel this sense that we're not alone."

A Great Big World has been filling our hearts with swells of emotion since they arrived on the pop-rock scene in 2012. From big-name collaborations to having a song featured on the television program Glee, and not to mention a Grammy win, a good deal has been accomplished by the duo over the last six years. 2018, however, looks to be their biggest year yet with a smashing new release in the works.

The band answered some questions for us about their upcoming new release and how the guys have changed over the course of their careers thus far.

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MUSIC

Christina Aguilera's 10 Best Songs

She's the Voice of a Generation, Offering Up One of the Most Iconic Songbooks of all Time.

Xtina can basically sing anything.

Christina Aguilera is the voice of our generation. Since arriving in the late '90s with the sultry "Genie in a Bottle," a cut from her self-titled debut record, she went on to shake up contemporary pop music in a big way. Her voice is both angelic and a force to be reckoned with ⎯⎯ she'll make you cry on her ballads and fist-pump ferociously on her anthems. Through six non-holiday studio albums, ahead of her long-awaited comeback disc, Liberation, the pop star helped mold an entire generation of music, steeped in her soaring vocals, sass and class, and her willingness to push the envelope.

Below, we've compiled our picks for 10 Best Christina Aguilera Songs. Take a look:


"Fighter" (2002's Stripped)

Armed with fire in her eyes, strictly arena-rock guitars and unwavering swagger, Aguilera unleashes all hell. "Fighter" is a modern classic, employing signature power notes while also pushing the stylistic envelope. She rises like a phoenix out of the ashes, shakes off the remnants and barrels ahead with a thicker skin and a resolve to never settle for less. "Thanks for making me a fighter," she spits. The grisly tune plays as a kiss-off to an ex and a reminder that tough times only serve to strengthen her will.

"Candyman" (2006's Back to Basics)

Evidence of her genre-blurring sensibility, on "Candyman," Aguilera mingles scatting, jazz, doo-wop, and jaunty bubblegum-pop. Even with such a classically-structured composition, double entendres are still buried deep within the lyrics. "I met him out for dinner on a Friday night / He really had me working up an appetite," she sings, utilizing candy's allure for lust. "He had tattoos up and down his arm / There's nothing more dangerous than a boy with charm." The kicker comes on the hook, of course, "He's a one stop shop, makes the panties drop / He's a sweet-talkin', sugar coated Candyman..."

"Blank Page" (2012's Lotus)

2012's Lotus is an underrated gem, way ahead of its time. It garnered lukewarm reviews, but it contains some of her most masterful performances. "Blank Page" is a stark, searing piano ballad which witnesses some of her most accomplished vocal nuances of her career. At times, she tears mountains apart, and in other moments, she weaves a brittled and silky web. What more can we say?

"Ain't No Other Man" (2006's Back to Basics)

Lauded as her best album to-date, Back to Basics up-ended pop music in a major way. "Ain't No Other Man" is the cream of the crop, and rightfully so. The bodacious anthem blends throwback doo-wop with a funky modern groove. "I told my mother, my brother, my sister and my friend / I told the others, my lovers, both past and present tense / Every time I see you everything starts making sense," she sings, framing the song in her post-marriage world. It's not necessarily a "love song" by specific terms, but it does contain plenty of schmaltzy emotions.

"The Voice Within" (2002's Stripped)

As a weathered anthem about rising above adversity, Aguilera advises young girls not to "hide," she sings. "You'll never change if you just run away / Young girl, just hold tight / And soon you're going to see your brighter day." The staunch, sweeping power-ballad serves as a reminder that the storms are only fleeting, and the sun will crest the horizon soon enough. On the hook, she urges to look inward for the strength, "When there's no one else, look inside yourself / Like your oldest friend / Just trust the voice within / Then you'll find the strength that will guide your way / If you learn to begin / To trust the voice within."

"Genie in a Bottle" (1999's Christina Aguilera)

The pop superstar set the precedent early on for her sex-positive image. From the scratchy percussion to warped piano and synths, "Genie in a Bottle" is as infectious as it was nearly 20 years ago. Using the image of the classic genie from Aladdin as a point of culture reference, she flips the meaning into sexual stimulation. "If you wanna be with me, baby there's a price to pay / I'm a genie in a bottle, you gotta rub me the right way," she coos. "If you wanna be with me, I can make your wish come true / You gotta make a big impression, I gotta like what you do."

"Beautiful" (2002's Stripped)

Perhaps her most well-known ballad, "Beautiful" is another highly-charged empowerment song about pulling out of the darkness. Through self-reflection, Aguilera spins a universal web of self-acceptance and inner beauty, carved in her own insecurities and journey to renewal. "I am beautiful no matter what they say / Words can't bring me down / I am beautiful in every single way," she affirms, over a smooth choral of strings. "Yes, words can't bring me down, oh no / So don't you bring me down today."

"Lady Marmalade," featuring P!nk, Lil' Kim, and Mya (2001's Moulin Rouge! soundtrack)

It'd be a tragedy not to include one of the great all-women collaborations of the modern era. A cover of the 1974 Patti LaBelle hit, the reimagined version fuses old school soul and funk into a sassy and spirited blend. "Touch of her skin feeling silky smooth / Color of cafe au lait, alright / Made the savage beast inside roar until he cried," Aguilera warbles in between production flourishes and background wails.

"You Lost Me" (2010's Bionic)

Piano ballads are Xtina's bread and butter, but this Bionic standout is downright haunting. In the aftermath of a breakup, which resulted from her beau cheating, the embers are hard to extinguish. "I feel like our world's been infected / And somehow you left me neglected / We've found our lives been changed / Babe, you lost me," she caterwauls over blustering strings and ivory.

"Hurt" (2006's Back to Basics)

The last thing Aguilera said to her father before he died was that she hated him. It's something she regrets to this day. And more importantly, she never had time to apologize. So, she wrote this searing, orchestral-enriched ballad about the could haves, would haves and should haves. "Oh, I'm sorry for blaming you / For everything I just couldn't do / And I've hurt myself by hurting you," rings out the chorus, undeniably blistered, tattooing the pain right on the listener's skin. It's a stunning, raw and evocative performance and remains Aguilera's most honest.


Jason Scott is a freelance music journalist with bylines in B-Sides & Badlands, Billboard, PopCrush, Ladygunn, Greatist, AXS, Uproxx, Paste and many others. Follow him on Twitter.


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Frontpage Popular News

This Space Case has beauty and brains

MUSIC | What happens when a 20 year old Stanford student, Justin Bieber's producer, and pop collide? + a never before seen slideshow from Billboard Music Awards

It's been a busy spring for Taylor Grey. The college sophomore moved into her own apartment and learned to balance a rigorous collegiate course load and work. Yup, just like any other twenty year old. But wait, did we mention that her job is traveling the world, attending her first Billboard Music Awards, completing an album and releasing visual art to accompany her singles? Ok, maybe she isn't your average young adult, but who wants to be average?

Taylor Grey stepping into the car and the Billboard Music AwardsTaylor Grey for Popdust

June 19, 2017 was the official release of Grey's debut album, Space Case. The 12 track pop album is an unintentional ode to yesteryear, when pop was synonymous with good vocals, relatable story lines, and the desire to just have a good time, and break out an eight count in low waist jeans and and a crop top with four of your best friend while hot guys in tank tops and break away swishy pants watch, even when you are hurting. When you think Space Case, think of strong messages and vocals over syrupy, sweet melodic beats. Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey sans rap remixes, Ariana Grande, and P!nk are natural comparisons when trying to describe her sound. It's no wonder then, that Josh Abraham, who worked with the latter as well as Justin Bieber, Kelly Clarkson and others, is the executive producer of the project. With over 20 years in the industry, it's safe to say he knows a winning package when he sees it.

At the time of her album's release, Grey was (and still is) on the "Basically Happy" Tour starring Jacob Whitesides, for the second time. Taylor Grey is armed with a powerful voice, strong messages, and a team that truly believes in her. Listen to "Wild Bird" the ninth single off of the album,and you get a glimpse into Grey, her tenacity for life, and her desire to succeed. How can you not root for the girl?

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