Our weekly podcast includes in-depth analysis of the music we find extraordinary, exciting, and just plain terrible. This week, Editor-in-Chief Puja Patel, Reviews Director Jeremy D. Larson, and Associate Editor Cat Zhang discuss some of the trends, scandals, gossip, technological moves, and industry changes that shaped the musical landscape of 2023. They chat about the rampant influence of musical theater, the return of the dancer pop star, the recontextualization of the guitar, the rise of A.I. and the fall of the 1975’s Matthew Healy, and much, much more. Plus, stay tuned until the end, when Alvvays’ Molly Rankin talks to us about the one song she wishes she wrote.
Jeremy D. Larson: Cat, you brought this idea called the Rise of the Musical Theater Girl. What is that?
Cat Zhang: Okay, there are a lot of big pop girls now who have musical theater backgrounds, or have that aura of theatricality to them. So we have Reneé Rapp, who is a Broadway star and in Mean Girls the musical, the movie. And then we have Olivia Rodrigo, who was in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. And then we have Chappell Roan, who I think did musical theater growing up in school and has a cabaret aspect to her performance, both in her dress and then her singing style. And then we also have Caroline Polachek, who does have this sort of musical theater affect. A lot of it comes through in the vocalizations, just a willingness to push vocals over the top, to be a little catty, to be dramatic. And so, given that musical theater is historically perhaps disdained…
Larson: There was a separation of church and state between musical theater and, you know, cool music.
The musical that most speaks to millennials, or Gen X, is Rent, right? And Rent was a rock musical. Rent was taking grunge and rock and turning it into, like, we're gonna put popular music on the stage. And I think now there’s some sort of a reversal, because there’s so many stars that come from the Disney engine, and the polarity has been reversed there. People are so familiar with musicals that that’s changing, like, how pop music sounds.
Zhang: I’m just thinking about the career of Sara Bareilles and where she is.
Larson: I’m always thinking about the career of Sara Bareilles.
Zhang: And how she was first a pop star and now she has this crazy successful career on Broadway, but she hasn’t come back to the pop world, even though it is a big moment for girls with theater backgrounds in pop. So, Sara Bareilles, if you’re tuning in, come back.
Larson: We haven’t even talked about the Sujan Stevens musical! And the Pavement musical. There were two indie musicals this year!
Larson: Wow. Couldn’t have said it better myself.