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Song of the Week: All Hail Florence + The Machine’s “King,” a Complicated Coronation Anthem

Alec Benjamin, Twain, and Wednesday also dropped essential tracks

king florence and the machine
Florence and the Machine, photo by Julia Drummond
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    Song of the Week breaks down and talks about the song we just can’t get out of our head each week. Find these songs and more on our Spotify Top Songs playlist. For our favorite new songs from emerging artists, check out our Spotify New Sounds playlist. This week, Florence + the Machine assume their rightful place on the throne.


    Florence Welch has assumed a wide range of identities over the past 15 years. Since she first formed Florence + The Machine in 2007, Welch has been a punchy indie rocker; an empowerment anthem siren; a beguiling chanteuse; a dancefloor diva; a witchy woman; a poet. Like David Bowie before her and contemporaries like St. Vincent, Welch isn’t only writing and recording music with Florence + The Machine — she’s developing personae complete with richly-imagined aesthetic worlds that accompany every release.

    But no matter how meticulous artists are when trying to control their image, they can’t fully prevent becoming projections of whatever their audience wants them to be. Florence + The Machine’s new song “King” finds Welch grappling with the weight of those expectations and the uncertainty that comes when you’re given to be the author of your own story.

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    “As an artist, I never actually thought about my gender that much,” Florence says in a note accompanying the release of the song. “I just got on with it. I was as good as the men and I just went out there and matched them every time.”

    But now, at 35 years old, Welch is feeling the “tearing of my identity and my desires,” as she says. “That to be a performer, but also to want a family might not be as simple for me as it is for my male counterparts.”

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    While the origins of “King” feel incredibly personal to Welch, like the best Florence + The Machine songs it offers a more universal message. “I am no mother, I am no bride, I am king,” Welch repeats, planting a flag in the ground and attempting to self-actualize via a mantra. It’s a song filled with self-doubt and pain. Ultimately, Welch determines she needs her “golden crown of sorrow” and her “bloody sword to swing,” trading comfort for creative fulfillment. “The very thing you’re best at is the thing that hurts the most,” Welch sings.

    And while a stirring string section and saber-rattling percussion lend “King” an anthemic quality that hearkens back to “Shake It Out” and other motivational Florence + The Machine tracks, “King” is no liberation hymn. It’s more of a pop-rock lament, casting Welch as a powerhouse boxed in by the unwritten rules of a patriarchal society. “And I was never as good as I always thought I was, but I knew how to dress it up/ I was never satisfied, it never let me go/ Just dragged me by my hair and back on with the show.”

    You may be able to eventually choose your own path, but what other parts of yourself — the bride, the mother — are you prepared to lose in the process?

    — Spencer Dukoff

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    Honorable Mentions:

    Carly Cosgrove – “The Great Doheny”

    First things first: it needs to be mentioned that every song title in Carly Cosgrove’s discography is a reference to either Drake and Josh or iCarly, which is both hilarious and demonstrates a bit of their pop-rock ethos. Their newest track, “The Great Doheny,” is another slice of approachable pop-punk from the trio, and it’s one that strikes the balance between earnestness and not taking yourself too seriously.

    Frontman Lucas Naylor expresses his disdain for the using, party-going side of himself, sincerely requesting that he wants to “become someone I recognize.” The lyrics depict an ongoing battle with himself, but the track is bouncy, expressive, and pure fun — and it’s a clever way of reflecting anxiety and the deeper themes that Carly Cosgrove want to explore. — Paolo Ragusa

    Daisy Guttridge feat. Marc E. Bassy – “Skin”

    Rising British-born artist Daisy Guttridge has teamed up with Marc E. Bassy for “Skin,” a bouncy, EDM-tinged track jam-packed with desire. It’s a great team-up from two people with electronica and R&B sensibilities, from the buzzy beat to the harmonies and all-too-relatable story in the lyrics. For an artist who has spent the majority of her career thus far as a featured artist or collaborator in dance tracks, “Skin” serves as Guttridge’s latest step into substantial solo work. It arrives ahead of a debut EP, promising many more hooky choruses and earworm melodies to come. — Mary Siroky

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    Jake Wesley Rogers – “Dark Bird”

    Jake Wesley Rogers possesses one of those rich, malleable baritone voices that can ace country music and rise to the pop charts; it can lift a rock song to anthemic heights or anchor a ballad with a moving grace. His new track “Dark Bird” seems to accomplish all of this in three and a half minutes. His Ozark roots are on display with his tight harmonies and slight twang, but when the piano-assisted chorus comes, it’s easy to see why he’s earned the praise of Sir Elton John himself.

    It’s a song about rising from the ashes, reclaiming the negativity that people have inflicted on him for his gay identity, and wearing it with pride, especially with lines like “it’s a fine, fine line between a man and a monster” and “trade your halo for a pitchfork.” And when he hits an absurd high note into the final chorus, Jake Wesley Rogers truly soars. — P.R.

    Kygo feat. DNCE – “Dancing Feet”

    Joe Jonas (the hottest Jonas Brother, argue with the wall) is back with his stellar four-piece pop act DNCE, this time for a collaboration with Kygo. DNCE are so, so much fun, thriving most when, as their name suggests, danceable tracks are front and center. It’s been way too long since they’ve graced listeners with a bop, and this return with producer maestro Kygo is the perfect way to kick off a new era for the band. An electric jolt to the system of weekend escapism is here — complete, as all the best things are, with a horn section. — M.S.

    Wednesday – “She’s Actin’ Single”

    The first single from an upcoming covers collection, Wednesday’s new Gary Stewart cover reimagines the “tear-in-your-beer” country classic as a fuzzy indie rock banger. It’s a version of the song that comes from an alternate universe where Stewart was raised on Hum and hung out with Lindsey Jordan. As if the acoustic guitar/fuzz pedal dynamic wasn’t enough, the halftime chorus will have the modern cowboy in every indie fan bowing their hats. — Jonah Krueger

    Christian Lee Hutson – “Age Difference”

    Even if she hadn’t produced for him, the pipeline of Phoebe Bridgers fans to Christian Lee Hutson’s music seems inevitable. With the mundane devastation of lines like, “Hiding out in nice apartments, Catholic schoolgirl uniforms/ I think I was suicidal before you were even born,” Hutson taps into the same regularities of mental illness that makes Bridgers’ music so affecting. Add in a tasteful trumpet and a doodle-based video, and you’ve got a song that’s just as cry-worthy as anything released by his skeletal producer. — J.K.

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    Alec Benjamin – “Shadow of Mine”

    Singer-songwriter Alec Benjamin has shared the first look into his upcoming album, (Un)Commentary (April 15th). “Shadow of Mine” is structured like a gentle waltz and sees Benjamin reaching a place of acceptance. Sometimes, demons just can’t be outrun, the song concludes. If this sounds gloomy, that’s not an incorrect assessment — the upcoming album, he shares, stems from the feelings that arise after interrogating the world around us. Sometimes, though, as with this song, there’s catharsis that can be found in resignation. — M.S.

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