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This Is the New Shit

An exploration into the changing world of pop music through Mabel McVey’s debut release, 'High Expectations'

In recent years, music has almost experienced a paradigm shift. From the 50s to 2016, rock was the zeitgeist of music, from the Beatles to rock infused pop music (ie. Elton John and others). It was in 2016 that it was officially announced that tastes have shifted from rock to hip hop, a departure that was, while a necessary one, a surprise all the same. Kurt Cobain himself said in a 90s interview that he believed besides punk rock, the most important genre of music was hip hop and rap. This was the first time in music we had seen a genre born of a racial minority gain a status such as this. Radio waves became saturated with rap music, especially with artists such as Drake infusing pop and rap, exploding to super stardom, idolized in the same way the rockers of the 70s were. This departure is a cultural marvel, as well as a musical one. 

As for the UK, we are seeing an immense wave of change in culture, not just in London or Birmingham, but across the country. Predominantly white populated towns are seeing their boys ask for Adidas tracksuits and side bags for Christmas. Grime and drill blasts out of almost every teenagers headphones. This began as underground culture in the poverty stricken outskirts of London, a way for minority teens to express their culture; a mix of where they came from and where they are now. I could talk for days about what a beautiful thing it is that we are now seeing grime artists like Stormzy skyrocket to not just national fame, but international fame, most recently headlining Glastonbury festival. But, today we are here to talk about Mabel, and her new release High Expectations.

What really drew me into Mabel, aside from her glistening and fresh musical style, was what she represented to me in the state of pop music. Her brand new debut album, High Expectations, hit my ears two days ago, and I haven’t stopped listening and analyzing since. For a pop debut, it is written with expertise and a good understanding of the state of the genre today, with a couple of top 40 songs and a few (in my opinion, not quite there) attempts. The still very young singer songwriter teams up with some big names in the industry to achieve the stellar sound her and her label are clearing going for. Big time producers grace this album, such as MNEK and Fraser T Smith, and their influence is evident and the choice of producers is perfect for the audience this album targets. There aren’t many artists with producers this acclaimed on their debut projects, which says a lot about how Mabel’s label, Polydor, see her and her potential. 

Aside from the music, what struck me is what Mabel’s success represents for pop and for music at large. Mabel is mixed race, the daughter of Swedish singer Neneh Cherry and an English massive attack producer. Her sound is infused with afro-pop and r&b, especially evident in features from kojo funds, not3s, RAYE and Stefflon Don. As you can see, all of these names are big in UK afro-pop coming out of ends. Fraser T Smith is well known for his production work on records such as Stormzy’s Gang Signs and Prayer. The fact a pop singer so heavily influenced by this culture can gain such fast top 40 success (Don’t call me up) says so much about this shift in music I discussed earlier. More and more pop is coming out of hip hop and r&b, and this is only the beginning. The rap takeover is spreading internationally, and it’s going to be a long time before we see this takeover ending. I’m incredibly excited to see what’s next for music under the new reign of hip hop.

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