Introducing phem, who captures the feelings of Gen Z through gripping alt-pop
On her new EP how u stop hating urself (pt 1), the LA musician ponders about her world through angsty, almost Avril-Lavigne-esque pop music.
If you’re not exactly sure about what’s ‘main character music’, then chances are you haven’t been paying attention to the next generation’s increasingly dominative effect on music trends. It’s music perfect for starry 3 AM drives; music that swells with this all-encompassing energy that makes it feel like the backing track to a coming-of-age montage, whether it be positive and lively or rooted in darkness and catharticism.
Crucially, its music that often thrives with its intimateness and relatability, providing a sense of visibility for people to find themselves in as the world they recognise disintegrates through crashing socio-political breakdowns and the dark coronavirus-induced emptiness. It’s powerful to feel ‘seen’ in music - especially at a time where you can feel so disconnected to everything happening around you - and so, this feeling has become actively sought out in music; a sense of connection to an artist (through their music, social media or otherwise) being the most crucial factor of a developing artist’s rise.
Look no further than the sudden rise of Olivia Rodrigo in the past week, or acts like Remi Wolf and Australia’s Hauskey in the midst of 2020. You can even see how this trend has brought the resurgence of music by Harry Styles and Clairo, over a year following their respective latest albums’ arrivals.
Los Angeles-based musician phem isn’t exactly an artist that’s been born out of this movement, but her music feels synonymous with ‘main character vibes’, and her music’s relatability has been crucial in the success of her last twelve months.
Initially, phem arose through off-kilter pop features and singles within the more electronic-centric world, building a discography through collaborators that would enlist her to balance out the heaviness of shattering synth drops and thick-cut 808s. However, long-standing adoration of anyone doing something ‘weird’ - anything away from the norm - gradually encouraged her to branch out into music that mirrored this taste, inspired by realms that range from Lil Peep and Trippie Redd through to Arlo Parks and Phoebe Bridgers.
From there, a more authentic and experimental phem began to find her feet, trading out features with predominately LA-based dance music producers for musicians like G-Eazy and Machine Gun Kelly, those that more accurately reflected her changing tastes. Her debut, three-track EP Can’t Kill Me doubles down even further, drawing on everything from alt-pop to jazz as she carved an introduction to not just her music, but herself; music being an outlet (not to be cliche) for phem to explore queerness, mental health and growing up - all with an intimateness that encouraged others to listen in, find themselves, and even reach out with adoration.
If Can’t Kill Me was an introduction to phem, then everything else she’s put out since then has gone above and beyond to show every different facet of the multi-dimensional, multi-talented emerging star. In 2019, she put out another EP - titled VACUMHEAD - amongst collaborations with iann dior and gabriel black, while 2020 saw everything from Radiohead covers and Alison Wonderland-assisted Carole Baskin dedications to collaborative releases alongside grandson and The Hunna; the former being a political EP that encouraged young US voters to register for the then-forthcoming November election.
Now, as we enter a hopeful new year, phem is one worth keeping a watchful eye on, and how u stop hating urself (pt 1) is a testament to that.
Shared amongst 2020’s long-overdue departure, the six-track EP - her third longer format release - is rich with the growth and evolution that has phem littering so many to-watch lists, a place she’s deservedly had a place amongst ever since her initial debut. It's angsty and introspective yet inspiring and relatable, capturing a voice of the next generation who, by speaking about everything on their mind (politics, queerness, sexuality, mental health, religion, isolation), mirrors the thoughts and feelings of a generation that use her as a megaphone; moments of her music proving deeply relatable even if they’re written from the closest of personal experiences (like much of how u stop hating urself is).
The EP-opening honest rekindles her connection to chart-topping force iann dior for a love-drenched ode - “I'd sell my soul, to make you stay for the night / When things get dark, I'll help you turn on the lights,” she sings - while suxker punch dismisses haters (“Call me up, tell me I'm a bitch and how I'm about to be so rich and how the fuck I blow up so quick / Say I'm only here, because I suck dick but you know that that's not true”) as much as it mirrors honest with its longing flame: “You're the sucker to my punch.”
The whole EP is thick with her feelings and expressions; reflection and thoughts turned into short bursts of alt-pop genius that give you something to latch onto, especially at a time where it feels like there’s nothing out there. “You take my words and you turn them into weapons / switchblades and you throw 'em so reckless,” she sings on stfu - the EP’s most personal moment, which also features as a remix co-starring country-pop breakout MASN. Useless brings another example on her attention to mental health; “It's so useless to build a world in my head that'll never be,” she sings.
How u stop hating urself (pt 1) is a look into phem’s world that simultaneously, makes people feel seen and validated; the EP - and the stories told within them - being as much of a personal record for phem as it is for those that look up to her, and see her as someone to latch onto amongst the instability of 2020. “This project is more than the music, it’s been a growing experience for myself, my fans and my whole team,” she says on the release. “At the end of the day all I want to do is help people, and make them feel less alone by sharing my own feelings and experiences. If I can do that we’ve succeeded.”
Consider this a successful record then.
Take a dive into how u stop hating urself (pt 1) below.
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