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  • Karlee Skipper

Album Review: "Whatever Happened Next" - Billy Cullum



Billy Cullum has outdone himself with his sophomore album, Whatever Happened Next. The project is compiled of ten outstanding tracks that follow the singer's personal timeline. The album begins with songs that discuss moments from early years of his life and flows into tracks that details his current life experiences. Cullum discusses vulnerable topics such as relationships, sexuality, mental health, and identity. The soundscape of the album is entirely unique, making it an unforgettable genre-blending journey. Whatever Happened Next kicks off with a folk-pop style that then increases in intensity before closing out with a calming production.


TRACKLIST

1. Gold

2. Whatever Happened Next

3. Say My Name

4. Twisted

5. The Key

6. Crashed Into You

7. Maybe for the Better

8. Radio On

9. To All of the Hands

10. So Bright


Billy Cullum is a singer, songwriter, dancer, and actor from London. He made his music debut in 2017 with his single, “Lost in You.” After three follow-up singles, he released his debut album, Lonely Hearts Club. The album consists of twelve tracks, including the four previous releases. Between both albums, Cullum released four standalone singles, before releasing Whatever Happened Next’s lead single, “Gold.” Cullum has also worked as a choreographer for artists such as Perfume Genius, Kero Kero Benito, and MS MR. Aside from his music career, Cullum is also an actor. He is known for his role as Hector in MAX series, It’s a Sin, and acting in Netflix’s Matilda the Musical. He has also been in a handful of theater productions and has a long list of credits to his name. With all of his skills, Cullum is an impressive triple-threat that is ready to show the world what he has to offer.


Gold

Cullum opens up the album with the optimistic lead single, “Gold.” The song begins with birds chirping before a soft soothing acoustic guitar is introduced to play the melody. Prior to the vocals, charming whistling is heard alongside the guitar. This soundscape immediately presents the intimate vibe of the track as Cullum’s thoughtful lyrics reflect on his younger self. As a queer artist, he was often told to hide his true self and fit societal gender norms. While Cullum sings to this version of himself, “Gold” serves as a reminder to anyone listening to be authentically themselves. This track beautifully sets the tone for the brilliantly written, wonderfully produced album.



Whatever Happened Next

“Whatever Happened Next” instantly increases the energy of the album with the infectious kick drum and the 80s pop influenced synth. While maintaining a mid-tempo, the song’s optimistic lyrics and dazzling instrumentation emit an energetic, dance friendly atmosphere. Cullum describes the feeling of treading into uncharted territory and being unsure what will happen next. With romantic undertones, Cullum tells his muse that in the midst of the storm, they will “dance under the weather// Soaking wet, we let go together,” and to “just let it go// Go with the flow// See where the waters will take you.” No one knows what the future holds and that is what makes it so exciting. He will let fate decide what happens next while he sits back and enjoys the ride. “Whatever Happened Next” is an uplifting, joyful track that is bound to lift the spirits of all who listen.


Say My Name

“Say My Name” is a lighthearted love song about falling for someone and hoping the feelings are reciprocated. Throughout the song, the burning question of “what if” races through Cullum’s mind. He utilizes detailed imagery to paint the scenes where his crush makes his heart race with mundane activities, such as sitting next to him or running his fingers through his own hair. In the pre-chorus, Cullum confesses his desires with the lyrics: “In my dreams, we are lovers// Wrapped under covers, lost in the night// Movies scenes in my mind// Your lips touching mind// And boy it feels right.” Then in the chorus, he reveals the hook: “You say my name// Everybody wants you, baby// Oh my god, I look away.” At the end, he sings: “Boy, you make this boy go crazy// Every time you look my way// When you say my name.” Cullum eloquently expresses feelings of falling head over heels for someone and not knowing if it will ever turn into something real. The high-energy, infectious track is the perfect summer jam that is made to be blasted while driving down the highway with the windows down.


Twisted

With the second single, “Twisted” takes a darker turn from the previous tracks. The infectious track is a break-up anthem about reliving the joy and the pain felt during a previous relationship. The detailed lyrics describe the feeling of loving and hating someone simultaneously and how easily these two emotions can become intertwined. The track utilizes more synth and pop instrumentation than the last three songs, and has moments of heavy production and angsty attitude. With the combination of the brutal lyrics and darker instrumentation, “Twisted” is my personal favorite song on the album.




The Key

“The Key” is a heart-wrenching ballad composed of a satisfying bassline and melancholic lyrics. Cullum divulges a previous relationship that left him broken and bruised. His former partner wanted to keep their love a secret. Cullum complied but it tore him apart, piece by piece. In the song, he sings: “You thought I’d never go// You could keep me on the deep down low// Secret love// But I just couldn’t cope// Made me choke// I’m done with playing games.” He confesses that he could not take it anymore and keeping their love a secret doomed the relationship from the start. In the end, he felt suffocated and repressed, unable to be authentically himself. The poetic lyrics detail a vulnerable storyline that will tug on the heartstrings of listeners and make the song an instant top favorite.


Crashed Into You

“Crashed Into You” instantly kicks off with a heavy 80s influenced synth melody that immediately catches the listener’s attention. The instrumentation continues into the verse while Cullum’s soothing vocals begin and take control of the song. The high energy remains for the verse, until the song reaches the chorus. The soundscape takes a unique shift when Cullum sings acapella with significant reverb on his vocals and a very subtle synth beat that hits between lines. As the chorus leads to the hook, the instrumentation softly increases, before the production bursts when Cullum sings the line: “everything ended when I crashed—crashed into you.” For the remainder of the track, the instrumentation continues to build and shift, making it an incredibly dynamic track with new twists and turns every measure. With this unique production, “Crashed Into You” is a stark contrast from the sound on the rest of the album.


Maybe For The Better

“Maybe for the Better” is a reflective track about accepting loss and recognizing that things do not always go according to plan. In the chorus he sings the lines: “Boy, we had it good, why did it go bad?// Is it so sad?// Now that I’ve been changed but maybe for the better?” The song begins with a melancholic piano that sets the moody atmosphere. The production slowly builds to the synth heavy chorus, where Cullum’s voice emotionally sings the vulnerable lyrics. The shift in the instrumentation enhances the idea that change is not necessarily sad. Cullum emphasizes that it can be a good thing and it symbolizes the hook that this outcome is “maybe for the better.”


Radio On

“Radio On” has a soothing chill-pop production that encourages the listener to focus on the nostalgic lyrics. The track is about holding onto the past when times were simpler and life was not as harsh. In the chorus, Cullum sings, “Driving in the car with the radio on// Taking me back to when we were young// We change who we are// You’re never too far.” He is reminiscing on the good times that he and a romantic partner once had with each other. The second half of the chorus contains the line: “So I wanna stay here in the car with you and the radio on// In the backseat where we know the road that we’re travelling on.” These lines indicate that the muse is not a platonic friend, but of an intimate partner. In the bridge, Cullum tells them: “Take me back to when we were young// Shouting out at the top of our lungs// Take me back to when we were young// You’re never too far from where you belong.” These lines reveal that not only does he want to relive the easy times, but that this person is always welcomed back into his life. He repeats this line, bringing an emphasis to his desperate hold on the past and his desire to keep it from fading away. Music is often attached to memories. So, Cullum having the radio on makes these memories shine brighter and easier in his mind.


To All of the Hands

Cullum uses his voice for forgiveness, growth, and acceptance in “To All of the Hands.” In the track, he speaks to all those who have burned him and left him scarred. He tells anyone that has used their hands to hurt him that he has moved on. In the bridge, he sings: “Forgive, Forget// I won’t regret// Forgive, Forget// I learned to fly from the fall.” These uplifting lyrics reveal that he does not live with regret, and he acknowledges that all of his past, the good and the bad, have all led him to who he is today. The soundscape of the track is reminiscent of gospel music with the addition of hauntingly beautiful background vocals and a soothing piano intro. As the song continues through, Cullum’s retro-pop influences begin to take over with a synth keyboard. The gospel background vocals remain in the choruses, while the pop instrumentation continues, blending to two sounds to create a unique genre-blending sound. “To All of the Hands” is ingeniously written with emotionally mature lyrics, making it one of the most unforgettable songs on the album.


So Bright

Cullum ends Whatever Happened Next with the album’s third single, “So Bright.” The final track strips the project back to the beginning, with a soft acoustic production that compliments Cullum’s angelic vocals. Throughout the song, there is a gentle vocal effect that makes the atmosphere have a vintage element to it. The dreamy soundscape is the perfect sound on a rainy day while sipping hot tea and reminiscing on pleasant memories. The sentimental track is about someone he loves that has since passed, but their light still shines “so bright.” Even in the darkest times, Cullum only has to call on the memories of their loved one to be a beacon of hope in this cruel world. It is a sweet sentiment that even after we pass, our family and friends will hold onto us in their hearts. With the soothing production and the tear-jerking lyrics, “So Bright” is the perfect track to end Cullum’s flawless album.



As someone who often chooses their favorite music based more on the lyricism than the production, Whatever Happened Next is the perfect album. Cullum divulges his most vulnerable parts of himself and reveals an intimate side that fans do not always get to see. The poetic lyrics on each track astonishes listeners and makes them crave more relatable and heart-wrenching narratives. The fantastic genre-bending style throughout the project is only the icing on the cake for me. Cullum ingeniously combines multiple sounds and leads the listener through a rollercoaster of soundscapes. The album starts with a soothing, acoustic track, with each subsequent track building in production, before mellowing back as the audience reaches closer to the final track. It is a brilliant structure to the project and is another example of a great album that requires to be listened in order- in the way the artist intended. Whatever Happened Next solidifies Cullum’s unmistakable talent and proves he is on his way to complete and utter stardom.


Written By Karlee Skipper


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