It’s time to rethink the seven deadly sins. Wrath, pride, lust, greed—all valid human emotions, too broad and expansive to be defined as “good” or “evil”. Society teaches us to ignore our grey areas and become examples of virtue. Our faults are held over our heads as blackmail. So what if these cardinal sins were repurposed? With more marginalized identities in music than ever before, it’s a good moment to reject shame and aim to misbehave. Each of these songs turns a carnal desire into a symbol of empowerment.
Pride. Who shows pride better than Janelle Monae? Fresh off her Afrofuturistic album Dirty Computer, “I Like That” lays out Monae’s quirks and contradictions with irreverent glee. There’s even a spoken interlude dedicated to 12-year-old Janelle—“I always knew I was the shit!” In her world, weirdness is a cause to fight for and celebrate just like any other. It’s impossible to tell which shakes the earth more—the pounding bass or Janelle’s left-of-center swagger. Knowing your own worth is hardly a sin, especially if you’re having this much fun.
Greed. Little Simz is one of the most slept-on rappers of the decade. Her slow but steady ascent shines on “Selfish,” an ode to greed and self-involvement. She deftly swerves through sampled pianos and swells of violin, accompanied by R&B singer Cleo Sol. It has a pretty lo-fi feel, but the lyrics are sharp and unwavering as ever. “Call it what you like / But ’til now I’ve never been the selfish type.” Simbi delivers this line in a practiced deadpan, referencing the materialism for which male rappers are praised; the kind for which women are always criticized. Double standards are a heavy burden to carry, but Simz has her diamonds and her budding stardom to back her up.
Lust. King Princess was already in the running for the title of queer icon, but this bass-heavy sex anthem helps her secure the crown. “Pussy Is God” explores the spiritual aspect of lust—how it can lift us up and make us feel divine. In part, this track is a retaliation. “You can’t say pussy [on the radio],” King Princess said in an interview, “but you can talk about abusing women and be a politician.” For queer people especially, it’s important to build a safe space around sex; KP does just that with this single.
Wrath. “I’m Not Your Mother” seethes with pure rage, driven by roaring guitars and Courtney Barnett’s distinctive rasp. Though the lyrics are short and sharp, they’re the inner monologue of every woman who’s been catcalled or belittled by a man. Barnett’s defiant scream rushes the song to a climax, a pure expression of rage that can only be described as explosive. “Did I stutter?” she asks; she takes on misogyny with staggering frankness, her voice cracking with every shout of frustration. Her rage is earned, and it demands to be heard.
Sloth. Moving slowly is a way of life, Kacey Musgraves asserts, and it’s best done in a country state of mind. Psychedelic strings weave their way into this gentle guitar ballad; Musgraves wrote “Slow Burn” during an evening acid trip, singing about the beauty of taking her time. Wine, weed, love: all of it is best enjoyed in a sweet lull. You’ll find contentment no matter where you are and no matter what you’ve been through—as long as you stop to look at the roses. It’s the perfect song for a hot, lazy night or a summer road trip.
By MJ Brown