The track, the stage, is available via:
Brooklyn, U.S.A./London, U.K.
15th July, 2019
The album, forevher, is available from 16th August. Pre-order here:
I am enjoying reviewing bigger artists…
PHOTO CREDIT: @ChacinEsteban
because it provides me the chance to spread my wings and cross various genres. I will mention Shura’s latest track very soon but, before arriving there, I want to talk about bold Pop and that which is influenced by the 1980s; sexuality in music and, whilst it is best not to obsess on it, how some artists are opening doors and the conversation; music that can be personal but has more reality and revelation to it; this year’s music and why it has been dominated by women; a look at where Shura might go and why she is a possible headliner of the future. I have heard a lot of great Pop music this year but I do feel like there is this core that still relies on the commercial tropes: talking about love in a very dull way or employing soulless beats and not adding anything to the conversation. I do wonder whether we will ever see an end to those artists who all sound the same and come across as awfully cheap and commercial. There is a market but one wonders whether these artists/tracks will endure through the years and whether we will actually remember them. I doubt it and do feel like there is an alternate camp of artists who have a lot more strength and originality. This year has been particularly good when it comes to Pop and what is being offered. Consider albums from Billie Eilish and Lizzo and you have some incredible sounds to get your ears around. I know there are other genres mixed in but, at its heart, you have that Pop sound but one that is heightened by exceptional compositions, personal lyrics minus the clichés and confident performances. To me, the best music is that which can combine the meaningful but put the listener in a better mood. So much music today is predicated on the idea that we need to be anxious and downbeat all of the time. The world, no matter how bad it seems, is not that bad yet artists insist on making music that is alarmingly bleak and serious.
I would never suggest artists abandon any sense of serious and project fun all of the time but there doesn’t seem to be an equal balance at the moment. What I do love is discovering artists like Shura who can talk about something quite deep and affecting yet she keeps the bubble and spritz close to hand. Her earliest work especially has that 1980s sound that reminds me of the likes of True Blue-era Madonna. There are other 1980s artists in the mix but I do hear that influence and it is wonderful getting a nice mix of the 1980s and the modern day. Before moving on, I will bring in this BBC interview where Shura discussed modern music and her influences:
"You have so many songs that are like, 'I'm so into you' or 'Let's get it on'," says the 25-year-old. "I don't recognise that swagger, I'm never going to feel like that."
"I felt that pop music didn't represent me. And that's why I made my own."
The results are written across her debut album, Nothing's Real, a catalogue of calamitous crushes and creeping anxiety, set to slow-burning synth-pop.
"We could be more than friends - but maybe I'm just too shy to say it," she sings on 2Shy, an expert dissection of awkward relationships; while the breakthrough single, Touch, finds the singer pining: "I wanna touch you but I'm too late".
It's funny you mention Whitney - because your music is constantly compared to '80s divas like her and Janet and Madonna. Do you mind that?
I'm massively inspired by Janet Jackson, and I adore Whitney Houston and Madonna. Production-wise, those records absolutely have been blueprints for me. I'll add a cowbell to make a song sound like Whitney; or a lovely Juno 106 [synthesizer] to make us feel we're in Live-To-Tell-era Madonna.
I'm also inspired by bands like The National and Fleetwood Mac, too, so it's not just the divas I adore. But you're constantly borrowing: borrowing thoughts, borrowing melodies, borrowing chords, but using them in a new context and giving them a different flavour. Otherwise it's just stealing!”.
Yesterday, I published an article relating to k.d. lang and her incredible track, Constant Craving. The song stands on its own as something magnificent and timeless but one must consider that the track is about yearning and a sense of desire from a gay woman in the 1990s. There were very few gay men in the mainstream during that time but even fewer women. It was a bold and brave move to release a song such as Constant Craving and, when lang came out, it was a huge moment. Not only did she open the doors for artists at the time but you can see how she has affected music now. I am aware there are many L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ artists that are working in the underground and you feel are not given the same opportunities as other artists but, gradually, there is improvement and progression. Shura is a gay artist and, whilst she does not want people to focus on that and let it define her, one cannot argue that she is inspiring other artists and making music much broader and open. We still do not hear enough L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artists in the mainstream and there are too many cases of established Pop artists writing songs in the vein of an L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. artist but it is insincere or designed to get people talking – more sensational than pure and meaningful. Shura’s videos have never backed away from her sexuality and portraying same-sex relationships in a very real way. A few years back, an article came out in The Guardian that talked about the way she can make statements and reflect something very authentic and different:
“When it comes to making bold statements, few do it with the unapologetic charm of electropop singer Shura. In the John Hughes-inspired video for her last single What’s It Gonna Be? – a sweetly earnest ode to romantic insecurity, wrapped up in effervescent synthpop – Shura and her real-life twin Nick play timid high-school students. He gazes lovingly at the posters of a girl running for class president, she exchanges anxious, flirty glances with a boy in her science class. Together they scheme out how to win their crushes’ attentions. Gradually, though, bubbling up in the fizz of teenage angst and confusion is the realisation that they’ve got their objects of affection muddled. It’s the girl who Shura wants to kiss.
The video struck a chord for putting a playful, queer spin on the high-school romance cliche. “I was really impressed with how that was received,” says Shura. “People were like: ‘Look at this awesome fucking high-school video… and it’s got a twist.’ It wasn’t: ‘Oh my God, Shura kisses a girl’, or, ‘Oh my God, Shura’s gay’ – in which case, what planet have you been living on because it’s, like, kind of obvious.”
That may be so, but the 25-year-old Shura is among a handful of artists, including her heroes, Canadian pop twins Tegan & Sara, Years & Years and Christine And The Queens, who are blurring gender and sexuality in pop music. They are, to borrow the former duo’s words, “queering the mainstream” and offering an alternative to the conventional pop star aesthetic. In other words, the monolithic image of a pop star – glossy, hypersexualised and, invariably, heterosexual – is no longer the only option. Shura, a punk Madonna with green-tipped hair and a nose ring, for example, looks as if she could be cranking out lo-fi grunge instead of polished-to-perfection beats”.
I have said how, rightly, Shura does not want to be identified solely as a queer artist because people get fixated on that and she is just writing music that is true to her experiences and feelings. I do feel like she is paving the way for other artists to come through and, actually, the past few years has really created some form of balance when it comes to L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. themes. I do not think we are where we need to be but artists including Christine and the Queens, Shura and Years & Years are adding to the dialogue and tipping the heteronormative scales. We have lived through a year when there has been attacks on the L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. communities and attempts to prevent children being taught L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ themes. It is a bit shocking seeing this happen and there is so much hatred, misunderstanding and ignorance pervading. I do not think we will eradicate this ignorance in a hurry but music plays a vital role when it comes to education and enlightenment.
I refer back to that interview Shura gave regarding music and its reality. She looked out at music a couple of years back and was aware that the themes being addressed were not true to her. I think things have changed slightly since then but, still, there are artists who boast about conquests and have this swagger that does not chime with most of us. Maybe that is escapism and giving the listeners something a little different but I do feel like we need to promote artists we can relate to; that have something important to say yet do not bring the mood right down. This year has, sadly, seen too many artists reflect the anxiety of the world without offering anything in the way of relief, humour or any sort of light. It can be suffocating listening to such heavy music always so it is good we have someone like Shura who can bring some energy to the party. Now that we are in a time when the nation is divided and we are all sort of getting a bit scared, I think music needs to tread carefully when it comes to emotional balance. For sure, we do need to confront what is happening and not shy away from that but people listen to music for more than the cold hard truth. I want to listen to music that makes me feel better and can balm and sort of anxiety. It is also important talking about subjects such as anxiety because, as Shura has said, she suffers from it and a lot of modern music does not represent her and that experience. It is a tough blend and hard sell but I am seeing too many artists either be too insincere and shallow or be far too po-faced and gloomy. Music is at its strongest when it has a nice blend of the personal and fun. Shura can do this in spades and, when her new album comes out, it will show that to new and existing fans alike.
The much-anticipated forevher – despite the annoying habit modern artists have of putting song and album titles all in lower-case letting! – will build from her previous work and add something new to the palette. Shura used to be based in the U.K. but is now over in Brooklyn but, whilst her setting might have changed, she still faces questions and struggles she is working out. I do feel, when you listen to her latest work, she is a more comfortable space and more optimistic about life. 2016’s Nothing Real was a tremendous album but I did sense this sense of anxiety and an artist who was trying to make sense of things. Whilst some of those fears and questions remain still, I get the feeling Shura is growing and she is tackling her problems and obstacles with more steel and optimism. Luckily, she is still writing in a very open way and not backing away from topics such as heartache and anxiety. Riding high in the mix is this always-intoxicating sound and sensation that gets you pumping and raises the energy levels! I shall move on in a minute but, before then, if you are new to Shura then make sure you listen back to her earliest work before investigating what she is putting out now. I do think it provides more context and one can definitely hear this evolution and growth. I think she is one of these artists who does not quite get the credit she deserves and that, one feels, will change very soon. So many great women are making music right now and one has to accept that, when it comes to gender inequality and the imbalance we feel right now, things have to change. There is this perception that women are making music in a very ordinary and linear fashion; compared to the men who are more experimental, varied and appealing. This perception has been around for years and I do think that we need to make some bigger steps very soon.
PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Whitton
What I mean by that is, as I keep saying, including more women higher up the bills at festivals and not rely on the same acts every year. This year’s festivals have been great (so far) but we have not seen equality and balance. Shura played at Glastonbury and, whilst they are closer to a fifty-fifty gender split on the bill, they did not achieve it and all three of their headliners were men. Music is at its strongest when it is balanced and the old argument regarding women and the lack of quality is galling. I have heard so many commenters and people discuss the imbalance and state that we are in this place because men are better and there are few viable female artists emerging. That is a nonsense and has been disproven by the incredible showing at Glastonbury this year. Look at the best albums of the year so far and, for the most part, women are on top. IDER have just released Emotional Education and Shura has her album out soon; Beyoncé just released her album and , by the week, we are seeing this break away from men storming it to women ruling. Why has there been such a burst and change over the last year? Well, I do think that many female artists shining now have been close to the mainstream and public focus but have been held back. Greater festival exposure opens eyes and minds and there is a collective determination for women to be taken more seriously. I am of the opinion that we need to book artists at festivals based on talent and potential but, still, there seem to be other factors at play. There are so many men behind the scenes which means, inevitably, they will go for the same artists and rely on the men. I know I do stress this subject and write a lot regarding gender equality but it does warrant repetition.
Shura is a fantastic artist who, in my view, is an ideal festival headliner. She has this musical base that is full of life and has a blend of the personal and fun but, more than that, she is a phenomenal live performer with so many fantastic songs under her belt. When her debut album came out a few years back, I was instantly struck by Shura and wondered whether, in a few years, she would be a headliner and major star. She is still growing and building her foundation but I do think that the music world needs to open its arms more to her music. As an inspiration to female and L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ artists around the world, she has a very important voice. Her music has that delightful balance of old-school and the modern and (her tracks) are instantly indelible and nuanced. You hear them and they stick yet, when you least expect it, they come back for more and new layers are unveiled. That is the sort of thing we need in the music industry: sounds that tick all the boxes and marks herself as a definite superstar. I am keen to move on to reviewing the stage very soon so I shall keep my chat to a minimum. I will finish up this section by saying that, sure, it is hard including everyone and change comes gradually. That is fine but I do hope we are moving in a direction that will see greater balance – not just in terms of gender but also sexuality in the mainstream. I look around and I am not seeing as much diversity and organic discussion as I should and, still, we have this ideal impression of what music should be and who should be at the top. Shura is an artist who is not shouting at people and pointing fingers but I get the impression she wants to see changes and, through her music, she is really helping. Her videos are bold and striking without being sensational and needlessly provocative – the mark of so many Pop artists – and she is always honest, tender and inspiring. This is what we want from artists and, as I said earlier, she is inspiring others around the world. Let’s get down to the business of reviewing, then.
The track, religion (u can lay your hands on me), has already been released and she brought out BKLYNLDN earlier in the year. Apart from the mind-boggling mix of upper and lower-case letting, Shura has been gearing up for the release of forevher. In typical fashion, Shura wasted very little time in getting the music popping and popping. Whereas her debut album, to me, was very Madonna-inspired and had that clear 1980s Pop sound, there is more Disco and Dance this time around. One can still feel the bubble and anticipation of her previous skin but there is something a bit lighter and sensual on this track. In fact, when one listens to the lyrics, there is this lust and desire that creates a fire. Shura asks (of her love) whether they are going to kiss her and lead her by the hand. She cannot see the stage – whether this is a literal setting or a metaphor – and this bliss seems at once pathetic and blissful. The language Shura uses is moving and original. She is clearly wrapped in this moment but admits that there is something quite childish, perhaps. One cannot ignore the passion in her voice and the fact that, here, we are seeing two lovers abandon music and the stage and entwine themselves in this excitement and intensity. I think so many modern songs are still pretty pessimistic when they talk of love or, as I said earlier, there is a lot of anxiety working away. Shura has this very golden moment before her and, rather than question it and unpick the situation, she has her mind set on the thrills and closeness that beckons. I see the song as this moment where she moves from one stage of life to another; getting away from somewhere holding her back and embracing this freedom. She wants to get in the car and get back to her place; spend the night embroiled in passion and, yes, keep this flame alight for a long time. The idea of the stage and performance clarifies and illuminates further down the tracks.
There is no denying this experience is real but it seems like these two players have stepped from the stage. They have both forgotten their lines – in a nervous and giddy way – and it makes me wonder whether that relates to them breaking convention and not following form or simply being wrapped in one another. You get this sense that the heroine has been waiting for something as evocative and moving as this moment and, now that it has arrived, she is helpless to resist. That setting of the stage plays inside this love story that gets hotter and more satisfying. With no consideration given to failure and anxiety, Shura is moving through the streets and sheets with her lover. They are not wasting a moment but one feels that this might be quite new to Shura. She has had girlfriends before but maybe this woman is different. I don’t know but I get the sense this is rawer and more exciting than anything before. Whilst the vocal has this lust and passion sparkling and bubbling, the music is more relaxed. There is plenty of warmth and motion but Shura does not let it crowd the song and get too carried away. I do feel other artists would have huge synths and buzzing electronics that are meant to portray the giddiness and buzz of the story but, more often than not, it can be too intense and spoils things. Instead, we have a song that puts the lyrics and vocals higher up the mix whereas the composition is there to do what we want it to do: perfectly score the song and add emotions and colours without getting too firm and loud. You will need to listen to the stage a few times because it is such a rich track. You are caught by its addictiveness and brilliance the first time but might need a couple more spins before all the words and notes absorb. That is the mark of a great song and, as you’d expect from Shura, she has crafted something fun, meaningful and moving. There are not many artists who can accomplish this so ably but Shura seems to do it over and over again.
I have talked a lot about Shura and her latest track, the stage, and it all leads to her upcoming album, forevher. Catch her perform live if you can and make sure you keep abreast of all her happenings. Tune into her social media channels and discover what comes next for Shura. She is certainly busy right now and has just played Glastonbury. I know there are other dates in the calendar and 2019 will be a pivotal year for her. I have been following Shura since 2016 and have seen this promising and magnificent artist step up and really fly. She was extraordinary back then but I feel her music has grown even stronger and more thrilling. There are so many artists writing about anxiety and woes with no constraints and, whilst this is laudable, I do feel it creates a fatigue and can be hard to digest. Shura uses music as a way to communicate her experiences and feelings but she wants the listener to be uplifted as well as educated. That is a hard balance but she strikes it hard and that is what makes her music so addictive. When it comes to her passions and matters of the heart, her music brings that to the surface and you have someone who is keen to connect with her audience. There is none of this fakery that you get with so much Pop music nor is there the sort of doom and depression that is coming from so many artists. I do appreciate the fact everyone has their own tastes and we need this balance but, in such hard times, I feel we all need something positive and fun to sit alongside the realities. Shura is getting bigger by the year and I know forevher will get some big reviews. Let’s end things because I have gone on for quite a while, I know! I love Shura’s work and think she is adding something crucial to the music industry. Long may this success and popularity continue and my hope is that she is booked as a festival headliner very soon. She has the ability and confidence to slay and her music speaks for itself. In a world of strain and tension, the superb Shura offers something…
UTTERLY engrossing and uplifting.
PHOTO CREDIT: By My Beb
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