Art and design

Books

Culture

Environment

Fashion

Film

Life and style

Money

Music

Politics

Science

Technology

Travel

Television

US news

World news

From Lavigne to Timberlake: what do pop stars mean by the ‘real me’

Avril Lavigne.
In her own words... Avril Lavigne. Composite: The Guide

Avril Lavigne raised eyebrows recently when she described her forthcoming album as “personal, dear, intimate, dramatic, raw, powerful, strong and unexpected”. The only surprise, though, was how much Lavigne was underselling it. All albums are intimate and raw these days, and today’s pop stars will stop at nothing to convince you of it, using language that’s a strange mix of Instagram poetry, W1A set-piece and advert for unwearable perfume – preferably their own.

Take the video trailer for Justin Timberlake’s latest, Man of the Woods. Billed as a return to his Tennessee roots, don’t you dare go thinking this is Justin cashing in on how white he is in the iffy goldmine that is Trumpian America, after spending the best part of two decades single-white-femaling Michael Jackson. It’s much, much less than that. “It feels like mountains, trees, campfires,” purrs Timberlake’s wife, Jessica Biel. “It feels so earthy!” croaks the inevitable Pharrell, over montages of Justin looking moody in plaid. Basically, it has all the pregnant promise of a good old-fashioned southern lynching, but co-sponsored by Jim Beam and Jack Wills.

In fairness, Timberlake has got one thing right: nothing says “personal” more than drifting through bucolic fields. Last autumn, Jessie J uploaded a video featuring her wafting around in a sub-Terrence Malick meadow, a trailer for her latest effort, R.O.S.E.. This apparently stood for Realisations, Obsessions, Sex, Empowerment. Rose is also her mum’s name, which at least makes for one hell of a spicy Electra complex. Anyway, J spends a whole three minutes and 54 seconds explaining all this, which is quite impressive; the length of an actual song telling us about other proper songs, which we’ll presumably get to once she’s muttered lots of things like “I feel everything so deeply” and “I just gave someone my magic, and they didn’t look after it.”

Sometimes, of course, less is so much more. A while back, Britney Spears promised that her eighth album Britney Jean was “going to be my most personal album ever :-)”. Fans knew it was coming: after all, her most recent release had been the excoriating Ooh La La, from the soundtrack to The Smurfs 2. Britney went on to explain further: “I am a performer. I am a mom. I am funny. I am your friend!” Never has one exclamation mark seemed quite so deeply Black Mirror.

Bless Lavigne, in any case. Surely she knows that no one listens to full albums now anyway? It’s more likely one of her “unexpected” offerings will end up on some generic “Friday Bangers!” playlist, sandwiched between Ed Sheeran and a Kygo remix. And really, why be sad? For most of us, that’s the true emotional journey of 2018.

This article titled "From Avril Lavigne to Justin Timberlake: what do pop stars mean by the ‘real me’?" was written by Louis Wise, for The Guardian on Friday 9 February 2018 01.00pm

Culture

Maritime museum in choppy waters for offering superyacht owners art advice

Art conservators and historians, among them the veteran cultural historian Sir Roy Strong, have… Read more

Jessica Jones: the timely return of a feminist superhero

When she first became Marvel’s Jessica Jones for Netflix in 2015, Krysten Ritter had layers of… Read more

On my radar: Richard Sennett’s cultural highlights

Born in Chicago in 1943, Richard Sennett has been called “one of the boldest social thinkers of his… Read more

What to see this week in the UK

Five of the best ... films I, Tonya (15) (Craig Gillespie, 2017, US) 119 mins Skating on thin ice… Read more

Extra thumbs! Missing legs! A rundown of celebrity Photoshop blunders

Reese Witherspoon’s three legs on the cover of Vanity Fair was the Photoshop fail that launched a… Read more

Your pictures: share your photos on the theme of 'red'

The next theme for our weekly photography assignment in the Observer New Review is ‘red.’ Share… Read more

Lennie James on his new TV drama

Nottingham-born, south London-raised Lennie James, 52, was brought up in care after his mother… Read more

Quincy Jones's greatest ever moments – ranked!

10. Quincy Jones Has a Story About That (2018) Chris Heath’s 10,000-word profile of Jones is as… Read more

Simone Lia on first world problems

Read more

When good TV goes bad: the X-Files

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment The X-Files jumped the shark as the whole show was so,… Read more