“It’s definitely gonna divide people, for sure,” frontman Awsten Knight said of Waterparks’ upcoming fourth album, Greatest Hits, in a Kerrang! interview earlier this year. Scheduled for release on the 21st May, Knight described the record as the “most experimental” so far (And no, despite the name, it’s not a compilation album – they’re just a band that loves to mess with peoples’ expectations)
Greatest Hits follows a satisfyingly alphabetical naming trend: previous albums are 2016’s Double Dare, 2018’s Entertainment and 2019’s Fandom. The Texan pop-rock band (consisting of lead guitarist Geoff Wigington and drummer Otto Wood alongside Knight) have yet to say what we can expect thematically from the new album, but second single ‘Snow Globe’ hints of a return to the topics of their last; mental health and fan culture. I’d like to humbly describe myself as a ride-or-die fan, but I’ll admit it – Knight’s words got me a little worried about what this new era was going to bring. With the release of ‘Snow Globe’, however, I know we’re in safe hands.
First impressions: the piano intro may catch rock purists off guard (you can’t say he didn’t warn us, though), but that’s nothing compared to the blatant autotune that follows. On first listen, it was jarring, and whilst I didn’t hate it, I hardly loved it, either. Knight has a fantastic voice, and initially I felt sad that it was shrouded this way.
Now, Waterparks have been known to dabble in autotune. As Knight spits on Fandom‘s ‘Watch What Happens Next’, “I put autotune on ‘Worst’ and caught all their disgust/ …All the fans that like us need an easy fucking format”. The frontman has developed a somewhat rocky relationship with his fans, scrapping what was to be Waterparks’ third album Friendly Reminder after their then-most recent tour, in favour of Fandom, which is in parts an unapologetic rant about fame and fans who demand too much. As discussed later, Knight clearly isn’t ready to drop the subject just yet, and the inclusion of autotune is a nod to the fact that, in some respects, he doesn’t give a damn what his fanbase likes.
But I’m not about to say that I grew to like it solely to avoid his wrath – after a few listens, the altered pitch of Knight’s vocals really grew on me, standing out less starkly and working with the other elements of the song.
Onto the lyrics. I have always admired Knight’s way with words, both as a fan and a lyricist myself, and ‘Snow Globe’ does not disappoint. Both the pre-chorus and outro are extremely catchy, getting stuck in my head after every few listens (and remaining there, at the time of writing, for the following 100+ plays, but I digress…).
As previously mentioned, this track hints at a throwback to Fandom, their 2019 album on navigating fan culture while having a brain that sometimes goes on the attack. Knight sings in the verses of ‘Snow Globe’, “…all I hear is ‘I love you so much'”, but this contrasts with the chorus, where in the absence of fans’ adoration Knight is plagued by negative thoughts: “‘Everybody hates you’/ ‘People miss the old you’/ ‘They hate everything that they all changed you into'”. By putting these thoughts front and centre in the chorus, he leaves fans in no doubt about the pressure he is under.
And if people wanted Knight to be free of the insecurities and hangups of previous albums, it doesn’t appear to be the case on this track. His goes extends beyond the chorus: “My heart is shut from you”, he tells us, suggestings that his last relationship (documented on Waterparks’ entire discography, but its ending particularly so on Fandom‘s ‘Worst’) has cauterised his ability to love. Without beating around the bush, he asks bluntly in the second verse, “I’ve been dead since 2016/ So good morning, can you fix me?”. It’s a lyric that startles after the declaration on Fandom‘s closing track that Knight “…Said I love you to death/ So I must be dead”. Not wishing to sound flippant, it appears he’s been dead longer than we thought.
Why name the song after something that makes you think of either the coldest season of the year, or tourist-shop trinkets? As is often the case in music, we can look to the lyrics themselves. Knight’s heart might be “shut” to us, but he follows that by declaring in the second verse, “My tiny little world is in your hands/ So shake it like a snow globe, fuck my plans”. If this is an acceptance of fans’ control of his life, is it an invitation for us to influence his “world”, or a more bitter recognition of the fact? “Fuck my plans” – are these the same plans sung about on ‘Lucky People’, arguably the defining love song of Entertainment? (“My hourglass is in your hands/ You’ve got my time, you are my plans”) The pre-chorus of ‘Snow Globe’ that follows this verse ends by again mentioning its title: “Shake me up and watch me in my snow globe”, as if Knight is trapped, here for our entertainment only.
The outro – my favourite section – closes the song with a warning, “This is the soundtrack to us/ Giving up/ Living down/ Getting out”. Intriguing, then, that they’re promoting ‘Snow Globe’ as the beginning of their latest era, and very much not bowing out. Underneath those lines, though, are more lyrics hinting that Knight’s outlook on stardom hasn’t changed. “I don’t have the sympathy/ I think that you need more from me”, he raps, before deciding that, “If life is just a game, then I’mma/ Flip the board and break the piece”. It’s a reminder that, though driven by his fans’ insatiable desire for, well, more, he is the the one in control, taking us on a journey of his own making. And I’m here for it.
“Forget it, forgive it”, he mutters, almost to himself; a tormented artist that’s nevertheless created in ‘Snow Globe’ a track that is the opposite of forgettable. If this new era brings more like it, Greatest Hits will live up to its name.