By: Adrian Duah-Mensah
It was March 6th of 2021 when I had just been passed the aux cord. I was scrolling through my Spotify playlists as I began playing my usuals: Wallows, Arlo Parks, Beabadoobee, Phoebe Bridgers, Joji, Conan Gray, and Lorde. It was a typical car ride around town when the playlist had run its course, frantically trying not to disappoint with a bad song, I slid up quickly searching for a song I knew, but it was already too late. I gave the new song a shot, and left whatever happened to happen. And that was when I had heard it: “Lit in line, smile for the photo ID”. These eight words instantly had me hooked on a psychedelic-sounding disco song known as “Photo ID”. Between the synth sounds and the unconventional beat, the alternative pop track is 265 seconds of pop-funk fun! The same can be said about the rest of Remi Wolf’s discography, particularly her most recent body of work, I’m Allergic To Dogs! A follow-up to her 2019 debut, You’re A Dog!, the 2020 EP consists of five indie-pop tracks: “Down the Line”, “Woo!”, “Hello Hello Hello” “Photo ID”, and “Disco Man”. But where exactly did this chessin’ pop artist come from?
Born on February 2nd, 1996, Remi Wolf is an American singer-songwriter who garnered a larger audience from her 2014 appearance on American Idol. Before that though, she was a suburban girl bouncing around from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe for her skiing practice. She was a Junior Olympic Ski Racer from ages seven to seventeen. She did all of this while juggling school and her musical aspirations, which she described as living a “triple life”. And though she was killing it at all three, that triple life wasn’t sustainable for her, so she decided to put her skiing life on hold, and live her music life to the fullest. This is when she decided to audition for American Idol with Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”. The show aired her performance, but Wolf ultimately did not reappear on the show. This didn’t stop her performing talent though, as she began attending USC’s Thornton School of Music for music theory. During her time at the school, she began making music, and in 2019, she released her first EP You’re A Dog!.
First, we’ll discuss I’m Allergic to Dogs, the playful, upbeat, energetic pop-funk blend. Starting with “Down the Line”, the blend between bedroom pop and funk in this track makes for an interesting, dance-worthy anthem to lyrics about putting off getting over an ex, instead of dealing with it “Down the Line”. Wolf sings “we don’t change” meaning the partner didn’t want to change in the relationship as much as she did. In the end, though, she couldn’t put up with it, and “got rid of their — in the winter”. The semi-sad lyrics combined with the playful beat make this song a great choice for dances and parties alike.
Moving on to “Woo!”, the emotional “ADHD love song” which describes all of Wolf’s feelings on love. The song goes from discussing the lows of love, to trust being broken in a relationship, to the highs of the relationships and what people will do for love like quitting your job so you and your partner “can skate on ice”, which could mean even though the relationship is risky and rocky, there’s a lot to lose for it. But ultimately, to Wolf, love “is not the answer, it’s a mindset” and how you find love is much more important than who it is with.
Next, we have “Hello Hello Hello” , the reggae-sounding bedroom pop track about a man who is messing with Wolf by cheating on her with someone else in the Bronx. Despite the fact the “certified gambler” in question has been messing with Wolf, he still misses her and calls her often, possibly as a further confirmation of him messing with her feelings. This doesn’t stop him from calling his New York partner, however, as he now wakes up at Eastern Standard Time just to talk to her. The themes of cheating to the calm, earthy sounds make this pop track an instant replay.
Going over to her funkiest track, “Photo ID” is a banger for sure. The party song discusses being in love with someone who is probably not the best lover. Wolf sings about how she “can’t deal without” the lover, but admits a while later that they’re “so mean”. Despite this, she admits that she likes him a lot, and doesn’t even want him seeing other girls, singing “if I see that girl around you I’ll be steppin on her toes”. This could be a continuation of “Hello Hello Hello”, where she confesses her love for her partner and forgives him, but doesn’t want the girl he was cheating on her with around him anymore. Whatever the case, the future pop-funk cross makes for one of the catchiest songs on the EP, and is admittedly the reason why I decided to write this article. It’s a fun track that makes me wanna dance in my living room to distract from my homework and my stomach bug, and it’s definitely an earworm along with the many remixes.
Ending the album, “Disco Man”, perhaps the most emotional and soulful song on the EP, talks about an underachieving man who has “wasted all his money but has never been a waste of time”. Wolf sings about her experience with this man, and how she is very much over him and doesn’t wanna spend time with him at all, even at the disco. Overall, the EP is an energetic mix of pop from all across the board, and most of these songs are going straight to my playlist.
But the story doesn’t end there! In 2020, Wolf was slated to tour with Benee, before the pandemic hit and canceled the tour. So, who is Benee? Well, born Stella Rose Bennett, Benee (formerly Bene) is a 21-year old New Zealand singer-songwriter all the way from the suburbs of Auckland. She grew up with a “musically inclined” family, as she describes listening to Radiohead, Amy Winehouse, Björk, and Groove Armada in her formative years. At age eight, Benee started taking guitar lessons, and later on started saxophone lessons, but dropped all music to focus on water polo. She’d hoped to represent New Zealand competitively, but became reinvested in music and writing at seventeen and dropped water polo to focus on music. She began to attend St. Mary’s College, where music was required for four years. She later joined a communications program at the Auckland University of Technology, but dropped out 2 weeks later.
In 2017, Benee had released her first single “Tough Guy”, getting her start on SoundCloud, like many budding artists. “Tough Guy”, a song about the trashy boys in high school, was a collaboration with Josh Fountain, a producer and Leisure band member. Fountain and Benett also worked on the 2018 single “Soaked”, a new viral hit. A year later, she signed a deal with Republic Records and had released her debut EP Fire on Marzz a few months later, with the EP peaking at number 13 on the New Zealand Albums Chart, and number 75 on the Australian Albums Chart. Later in 2019, Stella & Steve was released, making its way around the U.S, Canada, France, and New Zealand. The EP’s second track, “Supalonely”, became a TikTok hit in March 2020, following the creation of the famous dance. The song became a quarantine anthem, with “Glitter” following a similar route four months prior. Also during December, Benee toured as an opening act with Conan Gray during his Comfort Crowd tour.
In 2020, between being named as Apple Music’s Up Next artist in July, to lending her vocals for Joji’s “Afterthought”, to being named Best New Artist at the 2020 People’s Choice Awards, to her release of Hey u x in November, to the number of awards she’s won. It’s clear to see that Benee has been up to a lot even during the pandemic, and only has a lot more to give. Since Benee has accomplished so much in her career so far, why don’t we look at Stella & Steve?
Starting with “Find an Island”, the upbeat song is about a petty argument with a broken friendship. Bennett sings “maybe our maps go different ways”, talking about how if she and her friend can’t work out their differences, then maybe they should go separate ways. The track has a very summery sound, as it easily bounces through the rhythm. The song is rather calm though, but perhaps one of the more energetic tracks on the EP. The premise is simple, which I think is one of the benefits of Benee’s music; simplistic, yet fun pop music, which segues to the next song.
The viral hit “Supalonely”, a self-deprecating indie-pop track about Benee’s sadness and her tendency to get down on herself. Bennett sings about how she’s a “loser” and how she “shouldn’t be with” people when she’s feeling so miserable. She ends by calling herself a bunch of expletives and telling herself to get over it. Then Gus Dapperton comes out with his “funky little verse” as Benee puts it, and funky it is! The voice distortions behind the bouncy beat as it dips on Dapperton’s verse make for a fun song about the loneliness we all feel sometimes, especially during quarantine. This probably makes it no wonder that it became a breakout hit, and again, one of the things that make it work is its simplicity, its ability to relate to a wide variety of things, to a wide range of people. To some, it’s a breakup song. To some, it’s a kick in the face of loneliness. Whatever the case, it’s an earworm, and definitely deserving of its quarantine anthem title.
Up next, we have the sleeper hit “Monsta”. The mellow track seems to be about a monster hiding under the bed. The monster could be a metaphor for another broken relationship, as Benee sings “A monster takes me away/ From my safe space” meaning that a person could be taking her away from her comfortable environment. The lyrics leave the song up to interpretation, which probably is best for the track, as the calm tone is a nice come down from the relatively energetic songs we’ve heard prior. Benee’s calm yet emotional vocals also make for an intriguing listen. In the best way possible, I would fall asleep to this album.
Another mellow track plays right after “Monsta”, with “Drifting”, the earthy song with the extraterrestrial sounds in the background, discussing a trip through the cosmos with a “Robo boy”. Then Jack Berry drops a verse, the alleged “Robo boy” talks about how Benee wants to know him, but he refuses to do some things for her. Regardless though, they’re enjoying their time in space, as they find their way through the cosmos.
Ending this spacey, cruisy EP, comes “Blu”, a chill pop song showing two sides of a breakup. On one side, we have one character, singing “You weren’t helping me no/You’d make me feel so small” and how the relationship was dying, despite them thinking that they had found “the one”. They later sing how they were just feeling “blue” and unhappy, both in and out of the relationship. On the other hand, we have the second person, who is saying the other lover and them “always fought” and that they’re surprised that their partner took so long “to realize the love was gone” and that it’s better that they stay broken up.
Overall, both of these artists have such potential as the future of indie-pop. Their unique styles and upbeat/mellow pop tracks that showcase their vocal tracks make for great songs. Their simplicity to their lyrics allows for a wide range of emotions. Wolf said that she felt a wide range of emotions in the creation of her songs on I’m Allergic to Dogs, and I think this encapsulates the wide range of emotions that can be felt when writing pop songs. Both the emotions felt while writing the songs, and the emotions felt while listening to them. While Benee says that she wrote the song “Supalonely” as a clap back to her depressive tendencies, she now says she hears the song and “feels happy”. These are some of the many feelings pop can encapsulate; it doesn’t all have to be happy-go-lucky vibes or heartbreak anthems. Sometimes you can feel spells of rage, disappointment, and anxiety all while writing summer bangers and upbeat bouncy pop music. Pop is a lot of things, but to say it’s stale, or only shows one feeling, is simply untrue. There are many pop artists that are changing the way people feel about pop, and making a significant impact in the pop world. Remi Wolf and Benee are excellent examples of what pop can be a lot of times, and shows the artistry and emotion that can go into pop.
In my opinion, the best songs from I’m Allergic to Dogs were “Disco Man” and “Photo ID”, and the best songs on Stella & Steve were “Drifting” and “Find an Island”, but regardless, Benee and Remi Wolf are prime examples of what indie pop is and can be, and the wide range of feelings pop can produce. Both of them seem to have promising careers in their future, and I’m excited to see what comes next for these two artists!