New year, new Tune-Up column! We at Xtra took a wee break over the holidays, so my column wasn’t published at the end of the month as per usual. But the start of 2024 doesn’t mean we should move on too quickly from the amazing queer music that came out in December. Let’s simultaneously kick off the new year and look back on the past couple of weeks with an ethereal shoegaze single from body / negative, a bluesy folk song from Joanna Sternberg and some glitzy femme pop/rap from Reneé Rapp.
“Keep My Shit Together”—Asha Jefferies
Post-holiday and early New Year fatigue is taxing, but luckily Asha Jefferies’s “Keep My Shit Together” is a remedy. This breezy pop-rock track has a softness to it—it wouldn’t be out of place playing on a sunny beach somewhere—and then Jefferies hits you with a healthy dose of the existential dread, anxiety and loneliness that many of us feel during December, but don’t dare to admit (because hey, holidays! Joy and cheer!) “I went kinda mental around the holiday season/ All these shiny people, but I’m happy to pretend,” she sings. It’s hard feeling like the only person in the room not “getting” it, doing everything in your power to keep those negative emotions from rearing their ugly heads for the sake of the people you love. Jefferies takes the broadness of this internal dilemma and makes it feel a little less daunting for a few minutes. “Keep My Shit Together” works for any number of festivities you’re just not feeling festive for.
“ataraxia”—body / negative
Sometimes more than five minutes of hazy shoegaze ambience with minimal lyrics is exactly what you need to tune out the noise of the world and soothe your brain. body / negative delivers that with their song “ataraxia,” a word that means “tranquility and calmness.” The newest album from singer and multi-instrumentalist Andy Schiaffino, everett is a dreamy, lo-fi soundscape that transports you to another realm. “ataraxia” was co-produced by Madeline Johnston of Midwife, and its blurry guitar chords and resounding high-pitched vocals float listeners through a starry galaxy of ethereal sound. It never escalates into something louder with more complicated additions—Schiaffino keeps you in this blissful meditative state for nearly seven minutes, allowing you to feel whatever you need to feel.
If this column had gone up before Jan. 1, I definitely would’ve recommended Sinzere’s “Boogie” as a must-have for your New Year’s Eve playlists. Dripping with a joyful bombast that never loses its mellowing effect, groovy disco and and hip-hop, this track is a lot of fun. The Calgary-based rapper and singer catapults listeners right back to the ’70s underneath a shimmering disco ball. Funky synths, a blithe beat and Sinzere’s easygoing and playful flow create a timeless energy that’s impossible not to move to.
“Without You”—Joanna Sternerg
This short track from singer-songwriter and visual artist Joanna Sternberg manages to make a nervous co-dependent attachment style and the intense fear of losing love sound impossibly adorable. A small and simple way to close out the year following Sternberg’s 2023 album I’ve Got Me, their distinct voice scatting, swinging along to a folky acoustic guitar and lyrics like “If love songs can work at all, of course they do/ But not without you,” make “Without You” achingly sweet. The song’s brevity works to its advantage; it’s as if an inner monologue hits pause in the middle of a heartbreaking situation. Its singalong campfire qualities stick in your head. Having an anxious attachment love style can be such a sick form of self-sabotage, and even more torturous when paired with a detached person. With this song, it’s as though Sternberg is looking at us and saying, “Yeah, I know how you feel.”
“I’m Sorry”—Arlo Parks featuring Lous and the Yakuza
“I’m Sorry” was released on Arlo Parks’s sophomore album My Soft Machine back in May, but this revamped duet version, featuring Congolese-Belgian singer and rapper Lous and the Yakuza, adds a layer of sexiness to the already sultry track. It shows Parks in a numbed but vulnerable state as she apologizes to a partner for the scars of her past relationships getting in the way of her ability to trust again, no matter how much she tries. Lous and the Yakuza raps in French in the choruses and on the magnetic bridge, creating a whole new dimension on the song. The two artists have great chemistry, their voices bouncing off of one another, but also intermingling together as one when needed—not to mention that relaxed, repetitive bass line is catchy as hell.
“Not My Fault”—Reneé Rapp featuring Megan Thee Stallion
Yes, despite what Paramount wants you to think from the trailer, the new Mean Girls movie is in fact a musical and not just a straight remake of the 2004 movie. Based on the 2018 Broadway adaptation of Tina Fey’s classic and ever-memeable teen comedy, this version of Mean Girls amps up the music and (hopefully?) the gayness, if queer actor and singer Reneé Rapp reprising her Broadway turn as Regina George and this single featuring Megan Thee Stallion is any indication. “Not My Fault” sounds exactly like the type of song a modern-day Regina George would listen to—glittering pop and rap pumped with confidence—essentially, if the colour pink could sing. Rapp shows off why she’s the perfect Gen Z Regina, and as always, Megan Thee Stallion steals the show with her charisma. And hey, the lyric “Kiss a blonde, kiss a friend/ Can a gay girl get an amen?” hopefully means a queer Regina is on the horizon. We see you, Reneé Rapp! Girls who had a crush on Rachel McAdams’s Regina George in the early/mid-2000s, rejoice!