It’s strawberry season, and we are eating up what YUNGBLUD is serving on his latest single.
He may have taken up residence in Los Angeles during quarantine, but YUNGBLUD’s video for “Strawberry Lipstick” is quintessentially British. With a clear nod to the Sex Pistols and Bowie, it seethes with the same in-your-face, frenetic energy that we came to expect from Johnny Rotten, as well as the androgynous provocativeness of the Thin White Duke.
The single, the second from the his upcoming sophomore album (due in August), is a pop-punk force; and it’s easy to imagine this mad love song as a sing-along arena anthem. The video, a chaotic yet delicious romp, features singer/songwriter Jesse Jo Stark as muse-cum-mistress. YUNGBLUD, channeling Vivienne Westwood’s confrontational stylings, accessorizes his snarl and ever-present pink socks with dyed red liberty spikes, red plaid togs and a tiny Union Jack dress, along with a dash of bondage and a cheeky reference to the Pistols’ “God Save The Queen” thrown in for good measure.
However, there is always substance behind the visual feast—and make no mistake: YUNGBLUD, known for speaking his mind and lending a rebellious voice to a community of kindred spirits, has not squandered this opportunity. Beyond the surface of “a song about a person I love” simmers a commentary on sexuality, gender fluidity and power dynamics—a boy in a dress, who is clearly in deep with a girl who dominates him…and the bigger picture metaphor that represents.
We had the chance to chat with him about what influenced the making of the song and video.
The video feels quintessentially British. Did your being so far away from home while stuck in quarantine in LA impact the video’s creative?
That is exactly right. I was in America for six months and I was looking at the Americanization of worldwide pop music, and it made me defiantly English. When I write music, I always work best when I’ve got something to kick against…and that was the thing I was kicking against. I missed home. I missed England. I missed British music, I missed British attitude. This video is the video I always wanted to make. I grew up on British rock & roll, so I couldn’t wait to make a British rock & roll video.
Are the pop culture references to Sex Pistols, Bowie and Geri Halliwell/Spice Girls in the video deliberate?
Always! Absolutely references. I was listening to “Anarchy in the UK” when I made “Strawberry Lipstick,” and was thinking about how to introduce that music and sound to a new generation. British music formed and shaped the artist I am—I am a product of my influences. I put myself and my influences into a big mixing bowl, put it the oven, and some mad fookin’ pie comes out.
“Strawberry Lipstick” seems to frame the power dynamics of a tempestuous love affair. Most of us have had a “so bad for you it’s good” relationship at least once. Is that the story you wanted to tell?
The song is a metaphor for the world and for life—it’s not necessarily about a relationship. The key lyric in the chorus is “take it easy on me.” That might be a lover, that might a brother, that might be a cousin, that might be a teacher, that might be a parent, that might be society, that might be racism, that might be the environment, that might be sexual insecurity, that might be gender confusion, that might be yourself—take it easy on yourself.
And who should the message be reaching?
I wanted to speak to the kid in his bedroom who has been oppressed because he can’t tell his parents that he’s in love with the boy next door, because they will never accept it:
“They’re gonna lock me in the closet, but I’m coming out Saying fuck all the oppression and the self-doubt”
It’s about everything all at once. I wanted to write a song that people could take their own story from.
You participated in the LA protests following George Floyd’s death. Are the lyrics “I can’t breathe” a direct reference to police brutality in the US?
Yes, they are. It was so incredible to see people fighting so passionately for simply what is right, what humanity needs. I always put my own experiences into my songs in a way where people might not have a fookin’ clue what I’m talking about, or people know exactly what I’m talking about. All I want to do is make people feel like it’s alright to be who they are, and make the days a little bit easier if they are having a bad one.
The child of a Brazilian concert promoter and an American mother, Alexia Bomtempo grew up splitting her time between two countries and cultures. Fortunate enough to experience live music at a young age, she spent her childhood immersed in Rio’s heady music scene. Fed a steady diet of performances by some of the world’s best musicians, complete with backstage access, she had no doubt that someday that would be her life.
Still, unlike many jazz musicians who begin their musical development very young, Alexia didn’t start her formal music training until her early twenties, when she studied with Brazilian voice coach Felipe Abreu. He become a mentor, and then a producer of I Just Happen To Be Here, her 2012 English-language tribute to Tropicalia legend Caetano Veloso.
The impact of her multi-cultural upbringing on her style is undeniable; there is no running away from the fact that she is as much an American artist as she is Brazilian. Beginning with her 2010 debut Astrolábio, on to the aforementioned I Just Happen To Be Here, and the indie-pop Chasing Storms and Stars, Alexia has cultivated a unique, confidently feminine sound. And it reaches new heights with her latest album Suspiro (Portuguese for “sigh”), which effortlessly brings divergent cultural nuances together in a gorgeous, and transportive collection of new songs, while returning decisively her to her bossa nova roots.
Suspiro was released April 24th, in the midst of this global pandemic—so we sat down with Alexia for a Zoom chat about the inspirations behind the album, and virtual “touring” while we all wait out the coronavirus crisis.
It’s an interesting time—you just released Suspiro and were planning to tour. I can imagine it’s frustrating knowing that you’re limited to Facebook livestream events.
I was so excited to finally present this new material live with a full band. We have been playing together for quite some time and we had this whole concept for the show. For artists and musicians, there’s nothing that will ever substitute for the feeling of playing music in the same room. I think the music community is heartbroken with what’s going on, because we don’t know when society is going feel comfortable attending a live show. But virtual performances are the only choice we have right now and definitely what we are going to be doing for the time being. I really want to find a way to make them sound and look amazing and keep it interesting for whomever is watching, because people at some point are probably going to feel saturated with all the live content. We are still working out all the details, but I’ve learned that FB is the best platform in terms of sound quality. Whenever we do anything on Instagram, I try to keep it short, a couple of songs. There will be more coming.
This is your 4th album. Your debut, Astrolábio, was released in 2010, and is also a mix of songs in Portuguese and English. What inspired you to return to a similar mixed-language format for Suspiro?
It’s funny you say that, because I hadn’t thought of it in that way. It’s so exciting to see the album out there and how people pick up on certain things that I didn’t think about when I was making it. For Suspiro, I was determined to do something different than my previous record, Chasing Storms and Stars, which was more indie-pop and kind of folk-y, Americana; and I wanted to pay tribute to the bossa nova movement of the ‘60s. I had done a residency in Japan for a few months in 2017 and I was singing a lot of jazz and bossa nova standards. Suspiro really came from being deeply immersed in the world of bossa-jazz again.
It is a very transportive record, even down to the cover art. It made me feel like I was in an early ’60s nightclub in Rio.
You know, it just kind of happened that way. We had a concept, and we wanted to pay tribute to this important era of music and culture in Brazil, but not in a throwback kind of way. This was an amazing movement, the sound of a beautiful, cultural, explosive experience and life that was happening in Rio in the ‘60s. We wanted to go back to those sounds and showcase these new, contemporary songwriters from Rio and bring some of my own songs into this sort of dreamy vibe. Everything was recorded live and we had so much fun with it. Looking back at how it came together…we achieved this goal without really planning it.
It’s an impressive list of people you worked with. How did those collaborations come about?
The Brazilian music community is very diverse and connected—we all know each other. Jake Owen, who is the other producer and also my husband, has a studio with Mauro Refosco, an incredible Brazilian percussionist who has played with David Byrne and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Stéphane San Juan, one of the producers on the record, was in the studio with his trio recording an EP when we were talking about doing this album, and he brought in the pianist and bassist from his trio, Vitor Gonçalves and Eduardo Belo, who were so incredibly crucial for coming up with the arrangements for the songs. Jake played guitar. Michael Leonhart was also Stéphane’s connection. It was so wonderful to see Michael work, it was just beautiful, his playing is just like poetry. Guilherme Monteiro is another Brazilian guitarist who has been in New York for years. He and Jake are former roommates and he is also a friend of Stéphane’s. We wanted Guilherme to play on one of the tracks as a special guest.
Which was “Les Chansons d’Amour”?
Yes, it was beautiful to see him take this song which was written by this phenomenal Brazilian songwriter, Alberto Continentino, and come up with the arrangement in, like, five minutes. So, yes, Stéphane was a big part of putting this together and connecting everyone; but it also would have never happened without Mauro and Jake.
You had this idea for this record, and when you got together with Stéphane, had you already written some of the songs? How did that process work and how long did it take you to make the record?
It was a very quick process in terms of putting it together, which is unusual for me. I took so long to finish all my other records. With Suspiro, we had the idea and we started digging through material for songs. I already had some that were written and I knew I wanted to do some covers, so I started researching songs. Stéphane started doing some research on his end and then we got these original songs from Alberto Continentino and Domenico Lancellotti; they sent us a batch of songs, we picked four and recorded in a week. Everything was recorded live. We were in the studio with the trio for four days, and then we did one day with Michael on trumpet and another day of overdubs. We did some editing here and there, but the recording process was only about a week.
You mentioned covers – there are a few on Suspiro and you’ve done covers in the past. I loved your interpretation of “Roxanne” from Astrolábio, and “I’m In Love Again” and “Grão” from the new record are stunners. What inspires your choices?
It all depends. With my first album I was experimenting with so many things. At some point, I had heard that “Roxanne” was actually written as a bossa nova. I don’t know if it’s true, but I started performing it like that and thought it would be really cool to record it that way. I Just Happen to Be Here, the Caetano Veloso tribute, is all cover songs, and I picked those that I connected with the most. Picking repertoire over the years, I have found that having a personal connection to the song, and a feeling that I can truly relate to the words and the music, is really important to me. It has to feel truthful—I can’t imagine singing something that I can’t connect with. For this particular record, I knew I wanted to revisit a not-so-obvious American standard and give it a Brazilian twist. I love taking a song to a different world, just completely transforming it. “I’m in Love Again” had originally been done as a ballad by Tony Bennett. People deeply connected to the American songbook would know it, but a lot of people don’t really know that song.
During your recent FB livestream event with Cole DeGenova, you mentioned that the track “Mais Devagar” is inspired by the Portuguese word “saudade,” which means a nostalgic feeling of longing, of missing something. What were you feeling when you wrote it?
“Saudade” is nostalgic, it can make you feel good and sad at the same time. It’s very deep. I was alone in Japan when I wrote the song, and even though I was working with other musicians and had friends, I was very far away from everything that I really knew. Jake and I weren’t married at the time, but he was here in New York and I was missing him. I was feeling nostalgic about many things, and the song is all about the feeling of longing, of needing, of missing something. The melody has elements of both sadness and happiness, which is so Brazilian; that’s just how we are. Even when things are sad and tragic, we are always going to find something to keep the positivity up. The song really captures that aspect of Brazilian culture and I really love how it turned out.
What are some of the differences between the Rio and New York music scenes?
I don’t think there is a music scene—especially in jazz—like there is in New York, and that’s why everybody comes here. I love Rio, it’s my town, and I love going back to visit; but the lifestyle is so different, it’s like a constant vacation. Life just has a different pace, which is a beautiful thing, but I wanted more than that. I wanted to be pushed, to feel challenged and inspired every day and have the opportunity to collaborate with incredible musicians from all over the world.
I don’t think I could make this record, which pays tribute to Brazilian music, in Brazil. It’s a very New York record, influenced by jazz artists from all over the place.
Now that you have put out this beautiful record, are you thinking ahead to what you may want your next project to be like?
I want to do something similar to this again. Not the same, maybe different instrumentation; but I want to explore another volume of this. We are already talking about it.
The 1975 may still be two weeks away from releasing their eagerly-anticipated fourth album Notes on a Conditional Form (we encourage you to debate the meaning of that title) on May 22nd, but the Manchester gents continues to tease the record by dropping singles meant to lead us through the looking glass. Indeed, the latest, “If You’re too Shy (Let Me Know),” comes quickly on the heels of “The Birthday Party,” “Me & You Together Song,” and the melancholy “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America” – the latter featuring a guest vocal by Phoebe Bridgers.
Now, eight weeks of quarantine have found us sliding into nostalgia—and “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” is like a welcome escape hatch down into the rabbit hole of all our John Hughes driven fantasies. The impossibly infectious track, with its ’80s synth-pop swells, punctuated with a soaring sax solo (we miss those), could easily have been plucked from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, a modern day take on Duckie’s wistful musings about his unrequited love for Andie—if Andie was a girl he’d met online rather than IRL.
“Girl of your dreams know what I mean? / There’s something about her stare makes you nervous / And you say things that you don’t mean”
It deftly delivers more of what we have come to expect from The 1975: clever lyrics set against an expansive, sexy and danceable backdrop, nodding to the likes of INXS and Tears for Fears (with bonus FKA twigs vocal intro). As big as the song is, the video is a pared down affair. Shot in black and white, the band is lined up against a wall while frontman Matty Healy offers a restrained, smoldering-under-the-surface performance, serving up equal parts vulnerability and sneering swagger.
Ela Minus has come a long way from her days as a Bogota teenager, living out her punk-rock dreams as the drummer in Colombian hardcore band Ratón Pérez. Indeed, while double majoring in jazz drumming and synthesizer design at the Berklee College of Music, she began her shift away from the harder edges, in order to experiment with softer, more rarefied sounds.
As a solo electronic artist, Ela hasn’t totally abandoned her roots—she continues to embrace the DIY ethos, utilizing only hardware synthesizers to perform, write, and record. The results are gorgeous, as evidence by her latest single for Domino, “they told us it was hard, but they were wrong,” a bouncy synth-pop stunner, showcasing her lush, almost haunted vocal style.
It’s accompanied by a moody, ethereal video that could easily double as an art-installation-cum-fashion-shoot. Draped in gauzy couture-like creations, Ela glides through a misty aluminum forest while the track builds slowly to crescendo, in a kaleidoscope of sight and sound. Moving from dark to light, heavy to exuberant, “they told us it was hard, but they were wrong” feels exactly right, right now—a little bit of beauty and joy in an otherwise murky reality.
And Ela’s musings are perfectly befitting the current mood: “When everything is taken from us / The ability to choose our attitude and create our own path forward is the only certainty we have / We have no control over anything but ourselves.”
Ela Minus’s rescheduled tour dates will take her from Barcelona to Coachella to Dallas between August and October.
At a time when we need “virtual” heroes more than ever, out of the collective psyche and the Kong Studios portal comes Aries, the third episode of the brilliant new Gorillaz ‘Song Machine’ video series. In this latest installment, our absolute favorite animated band, aided and abetted by New Order bassist Peter Hook and alt-pop singer/producer Georgia, has left behind the very real Lake Como featured in episode two’s Désolé, for a virtual Moroccan backdrop by way of a green screen (responsible social distancing, of course).
“Aries” the song, a synth-pop dreamscape that borrows heavily from Hook’s iconic Manchester band (if you told us it was a unreleased Factory track, we would believe you straight away), perfectly encapsulates the current state of globally-felt universal isolation. In the accompanying film short, we find “frenemies” 2D and Murdoc riding through a desolate North African landscape, largely devoid of color, save a red-tinged sky—a nod, perhaps, to the planet Mars, named after the Roman God of War…and otherwise known as Aries to the Greeks.
With Murdoc grinning devilishly behind him, and his bandmates zipping past in their own vehicles on deserted motorways, Damon Albarn’s alter-ego 2D croons:
“‘cause I feel so isolated without you
I can’t play a happy tune on my own
So stay by my side
High or low tide”
When the ability to make human connections is suddenly lost, time spent with a frenemy seems better than the alternative. Or is it? As Gorillaz guitarist Noodle notes, “Highly impatient and competitive, many Aries’ have the fighting spirit of your mythological ruler.”
And what exactly does Murdoc have in that syringe he’s wielding? Remember, the last time we saw Murdoc, his bandmates had ditched him to visit Lake Como. Stay tuned….episode four can’t be far behind.