The "rap cabaret" performer brings her new EP to Jazz Fest Sunday, and she unveils the songs that chart her galaxy today in "The Milky Way."
Boyfriend didn’t overthink the title of her new EP, Next, but it’s the only aspect of the project that seems casual. If nothing else, Boyfriend works on the EP, singing hard on “Sleeping On” and “Beauty is Pain,” and she kisses off the leisure class with time for brunch on “Fun Sh*t.” “I guess I’m too busy working,” she sings.
The EP doesn’t overstay its welcome, clocking in at under 15 minutes, but she uses her time wisely to expand her musical and lyrical world. Producer Pablo Dylan (Bob’s grandson) gives her beats that are as firmly rooted in pop and rock as hip-hop, and she sings more than she raps this time around. The aggression in her voice gives the songs obvious passion that would connect without the obvious distortion added.
Her lyrics have interrogated the romance of romance and how sexuality affects it, and while that remains at the core of her music, women’s roles—how they should look, what they should do—are effectively added to the conversation. Because female sexuality remains central to her work, it will be interesting to hear how Boyfriend navigates those lyrical waters Sunday when she makes her Jazz Fest debut at 12:45 p.m. on the Gentilly Stage.
In “The Milky Way,” we ask artists to identify the eight songs and artists that define their musical galaxy. We’ll allow nine songs when/if Pluto is reinstated. Boyfriend will and as you’ll see, she took the galaxy concept seriously:
Mercury: “Pussy Got Ya Hooked” by Three 6 Mafia
Mercury, the messenger, the swiftest of the planets! This song sent a message to my brain real swift. Boom, sexuality! Boom, southern rap! I’m sure there’s regional bias, but I think Three 6 Mafia is one of the true studies in “authentic" rap. They just seem to put it out there without an agenda. I heard in this song something I hadn’t yet had access to—a woman owning her body without shame, using it as a source of power, and she was from Memphis! Of course there’s the more complicated component—the men in the song refuting their “pussy” addiction, so this song was an early lesson in how subliminal messages are everywhere, messages of shame, power, roles, etc. These messages are everywhere, no matter how fun the song may seem on the surface. My song “Man Cheatin” is a direct response to this, as you’ll hear in the format of the chorus, from the female perspective, the all-too-familiar adulterated dame.
Venus: "A Woman's Touch" from Calamity Jane by Doris Day
This song is my Venus, the home planet of womanhood. Musicals have the unfair advantage of an entire narrative context and visual articulation of theme which help them sink roots in your psyche, and in this case the message was clear: women make places better! Women clean and organize and beautify! This is our noble calling! This song is sort of a micro-example of the whole plot of the story which is a familiar trope: Woman is suffering, woman embraces better version of womanhood (read: cleaner, prettier, sexier), woman is better off. And lest you think I'm stuck watching old stale musicals, that's also essentially the plot of the more popular Grease (see also Cinderella, My Fair Lady, She's All That, Trainwreck…)
Earth: “Could’ve Been Me” by Billy Ray Cyrus
I’m from Nashville, so my home planet sort of had to be Country. It wasn’t the only music we listened to, hardly in fact, but it was the genre by which I came to understand music as an industry. My dad wrote this song, so it quite literally built my home. One night we were at some Billy Ray Cyrus platinum record party or celebration and I kept chickening out at the chance to meet him despite my parents teasing me that I should get my picture made with him. Finally when I was ready to meet the mullet himself, I whispered it to my dad, who was holding me on his hip. But he said that it was too late, Billy had left and I’d missed my chance, and he proceeded to quote this song to me: “Those dreams move on, if you wait too long.” This moment, among a few other key poetic travesties, have been my cornerstones of regret, helping build the home that is my daily temple of angst here on this doomed sphere of mortality.
Mars: "Say It Ain't So" by Weezer
Mars, the Red Planet, masculine god of war, gravitational source of anger! Yet it's more complex than fury, our neighbor with matching ice caps. There's familiarity there. Seeing myself in my manly neighbor, wanting the same things, wanting to touch a woman, to be mad and powerful and yet retain sensitivity. Some of these were unarticulated convictions until after college, ahem, but it'd be remiss of me to overlook the impact "dudes" and their guitars have had on my musical universe. This song was my anthem for a solid year, and while the entirety of both The Blue Album and Pinkerton had unmistakable impacts, the structure of this song, the groove of the verses and the simple intensity of the chorus (not to mention the climactic triumph of the bridge) helped define my standards of a good rock song. (Speaking of standards, a fella's opinion of Weezer is a dating litmus test for me to this day.)
Jupiter: “All I want” by Joni Mitchell
Joni is my Jupiter, largest of the planets, god of thunder! No one has a stronger gravitational pull on my soul, my attempts at grace, love and art than she. I picked “All I Want” because it’s the first track from Blue, so it was that first sigh of comfort as I eased into the album (because I was a CD kid. I listened from track one!) My dad gave it to me when I was eight, and I played it alone in my room and knew there was some magic happening I wasn’t able to totally grasp—that same unarticulated mysticism of Christmas morning and your mother’s perfume, the things we try to pin down as adults and ruin with our romantic explanations such as these.
Saturn: "It Must Be Him" by Vikki Carr
This anthem of dependency is my Saturn, the planet known by its rings. While there's no shortage of songs that glorify unhealthy relationships, but this one was my compass in writing the Love Your Boyfriend project. I love this song, don't get me wrong, and it is because I love it and think it is fabulous that felt I had to respond to it, to make songs that articulate adoration to the point of the grotesque. “Let it please be him, or I shall die”—how dramatic! I love it. A woman must have her man. She must have her ring. She must must must!
Uranus: “E.I.” by Nelly
Couldn’t resist the pun here. You gotta shake Uranus, so this is my song of booty time. The booty is a sacred/fantastic thing after all, and I felt my first boner thanks to a dance party during the E.I. reign. This is the first rap song where I sat myself down determined to learn every word, and while I’m a bit embarrassed it isn’t from the great poetic canon offered by the hip-hop legends, it is more honest to my experience. I knew radio rap before I ever listened to anything socially conscious, Nelly before Nas, and so it was at “the party” that I first fell for this rapid form of expression.
Neptune: “The Look of Love” Burt Bacharach
As the most distant planet and symbol of the sea, this song is my Neptune. Many an ocean-side nap has had Burt as a soundtrack, and I never feel as swanky as when I’m freshly tanned and hearing a french horn and vibraslap converse. I love to travel alone, and it is when I’m far away and by the sea that I feel most confident, most distinctly me. The mood and tone of this song is something I’m still trying to capture in my daily attitude, and someday a rap version of this song will be my magnum opus.