SO let the plentiful sunshine fall (and not attribute it immediately to climate meltdown). What, then, swims into your attention span?

Why, a BBC report on the top UK musical streaming downloads of 2023 so far.

I’ll mostly focus on the top 10 single tracks because that’s a rich-enough corpus as it is.

I have a wee bit of professional interest/experience here. And the first thing to note, zooming out and looking from a far distance, is how steady the concerns of pop music are. It’s still the highs and lows of love, relationships and sex, essentially and universally.

Miley Cyrus (No 1) can love herself better than any rotten recent partner can. PinkPantheress (No 4) holds that “the boy’s a liar”, while Miguel (No 10) is clear that his girl is a “sure thing”.

Crimes of passion are rife. Raye (No 2) is on a flight of class-A drug “escapism” after her boyfriend dumps her. Conversely, SZA (No 3) imagines elaborate murder strategies for her ex.

The National: Scottish DJ Calvin HarrisScottish DJ Calvin Harris

Rema ft Selena Gomez (No 6) is, lyrically, a little too handsy for comfort (though their video shows them circling each other as chastely as a minuet scene in Bridgerton). While Ellie Goulding and Calvin Harris (No 7) completely go for romance as transcendence on earth, requiring “belief in a miracle”.

But it’s inarguable. In an age of the universal jukebox – where digital platforms allow instant access to music, and the ability to easily share it with others – the great theme we choose is romance, lust and their criss-crossing adventures.

It’s so dominant, century after century, that you reach for evolutionary explanations. We clearly need love, and the sex that makes such a bonding more likely, as the route to propagating the species.

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So pop music is doing a very primal job for us, in its relentless promotion – which is also a reflection – of the importance of the carnal and the passionate. What might seem like monomania (McCartney: “You’d think that people would’ve had enough of silly love songs.”) is, instead, almost functional. In our stressed-out and dysphoric age, we should be grateful to pop music for imagining that lust and love are even possible.

But this isn’t to say the art is all of the same quality. None of these top 10 are instrumentals: so the lyrics-articulating singer still has excellence to aim for. Taylor Swift, and her song Anti-Hero (No 5), are streets above any of the other top 10.

It’s beautifully wrought, melodically and digitally. She’s even shooting for Cole Porter in her lyrics: “Did you hear my covert narcissism/I disguise as altruism/Like some kind of congressman?”

The video, which Swift herself directed, shows her being schooled by her own superstar doppelganger. It has a Capra-esque cinematic whimsy. I’ll be showing my age here. But I am so relieved to see a traditional artist progressively strengthening her craft and vision – yet still able to connect with a mainstream (now made vast by digital ubiquity).

There’s another very interesting track in at No 8 – People by Libianca. She’s a Cameroonian-American artist who has the manic-depressive condition known as cyclothymia. The track describes an episode where she increased her drinking to cope with her lows – with the inevitable consequences.

The song and the video, with its hook (“I’ve been drinking more alcohol for the past five days/Did you check on me? Now, did you look for me?”) is a spectacle of vulnerability. Libianca struggles to get out of bed, eats alone, texts friends who don’t come round, stares out of windows and sings “people don’t really know you”.

The “drinking” chorus fits all too well with the rising indicators of alcohol consumption, numbing us against the cost of living crisis and existential threat from climate and tech. But the pop magic comes from the soft, lilting Afrobeat music behind the message, and Libianca’s cut-through Cameroonian accent.

As the lyrics complain and yearn for connection, the music warms and heals.

Female power

THERE is a strong feminine presence about this top 10 – six women are lead artists, and the female top five is a first-ever in chart history. Other than Libianca’s mental travails, they’re all power femmes, willing to transgress.

Swift literally ends up as a terrorising giantess at the end of her video. SZA wields swords and dispenses bloody retribution in the manner of Tarantino’s movie (though ends the video in shibari bondage). Raye’s rap is a luridly detailed account of an out-of-control night, the video worryingly reminiscent of Amy Winehouse’s spiral downwards.

As in many of these songs, there’s an appeal to medication by Raye (even the efficiently show-biz Mr Styles is asked “what kind of pills are you on?”). This is far from a psychedelic interest in altered states; it’s all about numbing and coping here.

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As a psychological landscape, these songs display a lot of surface assertions of personal power, shot through with vulnerability and the threat of crack-up. They’re quite a register of the times.

I found a generational click with Miguel’s Sure Thing. It turns out that his somewhat gauche rhyming – “If you be the cash, I’ll be the rubber band … Painter, baby, you could be the muse … I’m the reporter, baby, you could be the news” – is perfect for doing a hand-gesture dance on TikTok. This made it a viral hit, a decade after its first release.

But Miguel recently declared his love for Stevie Wonder, and his voice is pleasingly somewhere between Prince and Marvin Gaye.

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So I give him my full elderly and non-grumpy endorsement.

Does Scottish music make any dent in these lists?

The BBC also reported on the top 10 downloaded albums, in which Lewis Capaldi features at No 6 (with Broken By Desire To Be Heavenly Sent) and No 10 (Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent). In terms of the collective psychic strains mentioned earlier, Capaldi is also a voice for his generation.

Even in their downloaded and streamed forms, albums still seem to be the bearers of musical history. Fleetwood Mac (No 9), Elton John (No 5), Eminem (No 7) and The Weeknd (No 1) all have “best of” collections. Testament, somewhat, to the ability of the music business to sustain careers across many albums, which makes such compilations possible.

So it seems, reassuringly, that the hit single is having the same impact as it did in the heyday of my own pop career. It should be a delicious jolt of fun, sensuality and romantic intensity.

But pop is also, still, a canary in the coal mine: in each track’s throwaway lines and video details, the emotional tumult of the 2020s is registered.

Ponder that, as the sun smacks kisses on your forehead this weekend.