Welcome to Boombox Blitz, an artist spotlight series showcasing overlooked singers, songwriters and musicians who are quietly taking over the world.
Pop music can be redundant. It can be derivative. And it can (mostly) be fluff aimed at the lowest common denominator with the absolute shortest attention span. On a venn diagram, where sturdy beats/irresistible melody overlaps heartfelt messaging, there is “purposeful pop,” as Katy Perry dubs it. What you get with Michaela May, a rough-hewn gemstone in the looming crown of pop music, who hails from Toronto, is a bedazzled amalgam of vast ’80s styles: from saxophone drips as found on the soulful “You & I” to “1954,” easily one of 2017’s best bangers. Her debut EP, the zippy and aptly titled Rogue, features maddening melodies–as with an Madonna-homage on “Sapiosexual” and a guitar-laden “Lost,” a rather feverish bookend to one helluva staggering lineup. “I’m lost. It’s breaking every part of me,” she meditates. A thin veil of synths, percussion and guitar characterize much of her work, both organic and manufactured.
May frames the year 1954 both as a time warp and as a way to “break the mold,” shattering gender stereotypes and upholding feminism and the boldness of toppling kingpins of the patriarchy. “Always off the beat, but I know how to play,” she attests. “I see you judging me every time I walk outside the door, tight skirt and a little cleave. But this ain’t 1954,” she heaves on the pre-chorus, leading into a flooring hook: “I wanna wear high heels for the rest of my life / Dance all night in the pale moonlight / Drink champagne ’till I’m bubbled up / I’m living my life and I’m good enough (but this ain’t 1954) / Jump on a plane, go wherever I like / Wear my clothes just a little too tight / Drink champagne ’till I’m bubbled up / I’m living my life and I’m good enough (but this ain’t 1954) / Marching to the beat of my own drum / Dum dee ee dum, dee dee dum dum dum dum.”
The atypical production style, down to the flickering synths inhabiting a heartbeat groove, “1954” out-schools Perry, Ed Sheeran and The Chainsmokers at their own game. Never sacrificing a swirling, well-constructed arrangement for the sake of digestibility–instead she basks in the rhythm, letting it lead her but always with a sharp, narrow vocal. “Lights Out” and “Loveaholic” expand on these themes, giving off a vigorous and colorful glow. May’s aesthetic is innately specific but largely universal. “You don’t give me what I need,” she confesses on the former, while on the latter, she flips the script, “You got that thing I needed / I’m climbing the ceiling, just craving what you’re dealing / I’m an addict, gotta feed it.” The playful, bewitching duality conforms to humanity’s built-in complexity, layered with thick, loosely-adorned fabrications. Appropriately, the EP is stacked with songwriting contributions from Tom Diesel to Heather Holley.
“’You & I’ is one of my favorite songs off the EP. The song is about being blindsided by the ultimate betrayal by your partner. It’s my most vulnerable song to date, and I wanted to show people this side of me,” she explained of the project. “I wanted to create an emotional, sad song but juxtapose the sadness with hyper melodic production. And similarly to ‘1954,’ I wanted to display a certain amount of defiance and strength in the lyrics that let’s the listener know that no matter how you have been hurt, you will always be ok.”
May has been on the fringes for a number of years already. Her SoundCloud includes several other balmy summer jams, including 2013’s “Hook Line & Sinker,” with Phor, the airy “When You Say” and the Avril-Lavigne-meets-The-Lumineers tune “Drink It Up!.” Her performance skill is only surpassed by the slyness of her pen, conjuring up flashes of ’80s polaroids that are shamelessly modern and glossy. The Rogue EP is setting the pace for her most defining year yet–and if she doesn’t breakout come 2018, that might be the biggest tragedy this decade.
Rogue EP is out now on iTunes, and you can spin below, via Spotify: