Month: July 2024

A supernova is a stellar explosion that shakes space so much that it can be detected far away from its location — a solid metaphor for Ralphie Choo‘s first album. SUPERNOVA, released last year, managed to shake up the European music scene. No one could have guessed the phenomenon that this 14-song album was going to be — instantly reference-able and already inspiring new and veteran artists both musically and visually.

The Madrid-based musician has built around his debut a cryptic and personal world that seems to pull from the most enigmatic corners of the internet and its confusing virality. From “GATA” to “MÁQUINA CULONA,” each of the songs are pieces that make up the puzzle that is Ralphie Choo: fun, unpredictable, enigmatic and experimental.

Still in the throes of SUPERNOVA, Choo is preparing to celebrate the anniversary of the album, which will unleash several unexpected surprises in September. Below, PAPER chatted with the musician about navigating the music industry, working with friends and his style influences.

Ralphie, there is no doubt about the success SUPERNOVA has had, and I want to congratulate you. Now that some time has passed since the release of the album, how would you describe the experience?

I am super ultra grateful with the reception it has had, the first and second chances. Now it’s starting to feel a bit distant, maybe because of the speed at which music is consumed nowadays. And I would like the life of these projects to be at least as long as the process of creating it, although that doesn’t depend on me. Even so, I’m enormously happy and embracing the new opportunities it has given me.

Could you share a special moment from your adventures with SUPERNOVA?

I remember the first trip we made to London to work with Mura [Masa] and then to LA to meet the team. We were three kids barely aware of what was going on around us that barely knew how to speak English, and we defended ourselves as best we could. But based on pursuing the future that we had in mind, we knew how to surf it and, above all, discover the world and have a great time. We called this state “surfing squirrel.” We didn’t know very well what was going on, but we got used to the uncertainty. In this music business, there is a lot of smoke, desires and promises until you get something tangible.

You are also making your way into the U.S., and I’m curious about your perspective on the Spanish and American industries, what differences have you noticed between the two?

I’m not really that into the American market. Most of my audience is Spanish-speaking, but I do see more and more international artists recognizing the place that Spanish and Latin music deserves and the cultural diversity it has.

If you had to move to the U.S., where would you go? Is there a specific reason for choosing that city?

If I had to choose, I would say New York because of the social bustle and the confluence of cultures. I feel that it is a city that welcomes people from different places, where they nurture each other in a reciprocal way to get an opportunity —the city where you go to achieve your dreams, too romantic.

As consumers, I think we live in a moment that feels saturated, not only in music, but in entertainment in general. Every day there are new releases of songs, movies and series. As a singer, what do you think about this hyper-stimulation?

Obviously, art-related professions have democratized, and this feeling is very noticeable in music in particular. Having made a song with a beat from the internet is super common now. I don’t think it’s bad at all. Everyone is free to do what they want, and I really believe in anyone who dedicates time and love to it. On the other hand, I think songs will drift towards a shorter and shorter format that’s pleasurable, like a sniff of poppers, and a counter-response will be generated, as with everything,

I have been able to attend several of your live shows, and I want to know a little more about your way of building them. We have seen visuals of all kinds, from live shows on Zoom to appearances from Rusowsky and Tristan. How do you prepare them, and where do you get the ideas?

I really don’t know. I don’t think I have to be the one to answer that question, maybe because of the experience and the amount of sensations and emotional stages you go through. It takes you to places, takes you out of them, introduces you to characters you identify with, brings back memories. It’s like looking back at a photo to remember an era or a person. I don’t know. As for the live shows, we try to introduce elements that don’t belong to that field, resources to interact with the audience and amplify the experience and arrangements that add a point to the live song while respecting the original version

In your concerts you wear a kind of transparent mask, and your style has a lot of personality. What is the place of fashion in your projects? Do you pay attention to any specific designer? Do you have specific references?

It occupies a super important place. I’ve always been interested in fashion and aesthetics, playing with having another identity to inspire and create sensations of any kind. I have a special devotion lately for the masks and hiding the identity that lies behind. I also think that we are not something static, but a process. This is influenced in the way we express ourselves through changing the outermost layer we have. Now I’m wearing a lot of Bikkembergs and Marithé + François Girbaud.

I have to ask you about “Dolores,” the song you did with Rusowsky, which is a real anthem. It’s been several years since the release of that song. Where does its magic lie, and what relationship do you both have with that acclaimed song?

It is the first song we did together, and we’re affectionate about uniting to make it. But things change. Tastes change, and we see it with different eyes.

Since we mentioned Rusowsky, you maintain a great friendship with him, Mori and Tristan. How important is your relationship with them and how they influence your music?

Well, they have influenced me enormously. I assure you that I wouldn’t make the music I make or focus on the details I do if it weren’t for everything they have taught me. We are partners in life and in our profession, and we all get involved in each other’s projects.

Photography and direction: Pablo Mas
Creative and movement direction: Muriel Seiquer
Art direction: Marta Ochoa, Yosi Negrin
Post-production: Pablo Rivera Gento
Styling: Jon Mikel del Valle
Makeup: Hugo Trix
Makeup assistant: Laura Romojaro
Hair: Gorka Larcan
Hair assistant: Brais García Martínez
Lighting: Claudio Oca
Production: @paubelr, Xabier Fernán
Casting: Celeste Casting
Cast: Seju and Xiandong Sun via Uno Models, Layla Novas via Salvador Agency, Terese Aguado, Adassa Navarro, Sun Weihang via Zerek Studio, Marlon via Isla Management
Commissioner: PBM
Special thanks: RUSIAIDK,
Manuel Jubera

“No photography was permitted” during Madonna’s surprise appearance at Ladyland 2024’s Vogue House Ball in Brooklyn. That is, unless your name was Ricardo Gomes, the Queen of Pop’s go-to photographer and all-around creative confidant.

The Portuguese director has been capturing Madonna, whom he refers to simply as “M,” for several years now — sometimes officially, like for her single artwork, magazine editorials or music videos, and other times more candidly, like at parties or backstage with all her famous friends.

Gomes just got off Madonna’s Celebration World Tour — which he worked closely on, documenting every show, directing stage videos and providing real-time feedback. “I’m kind of like her eyes in the audience,” he says, explaining his critical, but undefined role that’s difficult to attain and not for the faint of heart.

Below, PAPER caught up with Gomes to talk all things Celebration and reflect on our 2022 cover shoot that doubled as a private party with some of New York’s coolest club kids.

What’s your creative relationship with Madonna and how involved were you in the Celebration Tour production?

At this point, I oversee, give my opinion and give notes if I see something. Me and M[adonna] went to a few different types of shows before we started rehearsing [for Celebration], looking for inspiration and researching. Then we started having meetings, and it was all a conversation and an exchange of ideas. But she is the main creative of the show. It’s really her vision and what she wanted to do.

When you’d watch the show back, what elements of yourself would you see reflected?

The second act of the show, which is the ’90s, Erotica, until the end and gets kind of “Bad Girl”-ish. That’s really where my vision came to life because I directed the videos, and was very involved for the whole show on the camera work and the live video. There were a lot of people involved in this show, it’s a whole village.

It’s probably the biggest show, in terms of production, that I’ve ever been to in my life. You’re in such a unique position with Madonna because there’s a lot of trust and you’ve built a very close relationship. How did you get to that place with her?

I don’t really know, it was so organic. Everyone talks to me about it, the people that are really close to her and the people that have been working with her for so long. They respect me a lot because they’re like, “You managed to create your own position with her and no one has ever managed to do that.” People would always come and go for specific projects. I came in to help her promote her last album, create visuals and photos for press or for Instagram.

It was very hard in the beginning to direct her because she didn’t know me. I was supposed to come for three months to work with her until she started rehearsing for the previous tour and she just kept me on. I was like, “Maybe I’m gonna go home after rehearsals and I’m not going on tour,” but then I ended up going on tour. We figured out a way to keep working [through COVID], and to stay creative and communicate, and then I moved to LA with her and we just kept working.

I kept bringing her projects and ideas and introducing her to new people, and that’s how it happened. She likes to just keep going and stay connected with what’s happening in the moment. There is no one else around her that really does that to the level that she likes, bringing things the way I bring them to her. I keep it very real and very straight. Very much like, “This is cool, you should do it.” Of course, sometimes the idea changes and it becomes her idea, but at least I start something with her.

Living in this world, I would imagine it’s difficult to be exposed to new ideas or talent all the time. How do you stay connected and inspired, while still being in Madonna’s circle touring the world?

During tour is a little hard. I managed to do other projects, at the same time, smaller projects. I don’t know how, but I managed. We’ve been on the road for so long and rehearsals started last year in February. I try to watch movies, sometimes. When I’m in different cities, I walk around. That’s what keeps me inspired. I go out, I see people and I try to have a little bit of a life outside of the touring world. I don’t just wake up at 1 PM and go to the venue. I’d rather sleep a little less, wake up earlier, and go out and then go to the show later. On the days without a show, I either work on other projects, meet people or stay active. That’s how I keep going.

What do you do during the show?

Every night, I’m on the barricades around the stage. I kind of follow her, looking at different things. I’m looking at hair, sometimes the skirt gets shortened. Sometimes this gets added, this gets removed. I report feedback. After I look at the screens, sometimes we change something on lighting. I’m just really connected to the show. I’m kind of like her eyes in the audience, if she was in the audience.

That’s probably why you and Madonna get along so well. Having worked with you both, you’re extremely particular and such perfectionists. Have you ever just enjoyed the show with a drink?

To be honest, I haven’t sat down and watched the show for fun. I’m either following the show or following M[adonna] on stage, photographing her or photographing the show details. And after the show, we go into the editing of the show. I’ve been living on this show for a while, it’s intense.

You’ve been doing more directing work. Is that what you’re interested in moving more into, music videos?

I love photography, but video is a completely different world. It’s so much more real time and I’m starting to relate to it more and more. Before working with M[adonna], I was really into photography and that’s all I wanted to do. I thought that video was not for me, but the longer I work with her I see myself more involved with video. I’m starting to look at other artists’ work and I’m like, “I wish they would have done it this way,” you know? I feel very involved.

Obviously, you’ve done so much with Madonna. Is there like a dream project in the music space that you could see yourself working on at some point?

Working with artists is very complicated. You’re not able to do everything you want to do, that’s the problem. Of course, there are other artists I would love to work with, but I’m not dreaming about working with any other artists. If it happens, it’s great. I’m not really pushing for it to happen. I love documentaries and I love campaigns, that’s what I want to go towards. Working a little bit more in the fashion world, and outside of music and show business.

You’ll probably need time to recalibrate creatively and decide what’s next after such a busy tour.

I don’t want to take a long break, I’m fine.

What’s been the most memorable place to visit on this tour?

Middle America, I don’t understand. Some are a little bit fascinated by it. Nothing really made me feel like I had to go back there.

I’m from Minnesota–

Going to Prince’s house was fun. He would never go out and didn’t like to travel, so he would just invite people to his home like M[adonna] and her dancers. Europe is always fun, like when we went out shopping in Paris, it was cute. We walked a little bit and the car would pick us up somewhere and we’d walk somewhere else. My birthday in Cleveland was not cute, it was just a random place. We ended up going bowling, which is something that I would never do. The West Coast was fun, Vegas was crazy. It’s basically like: wake up, explore, maybe go to the show, maybe there’s an after thing, and then it’s repeat repeat, repeat. Touring with M[adonna] is very particular. She’s very dedicated to work and her family, so that’s all she does on tour: work and family. She doesn’t party, she doesn’t drink. There is no sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. So I kind of live that way too, I don’t drink or do anything crazy.

Did you ever anticipate having as many crazy experiences as you’ve had since beginning this work?

No, I never get starstruck. So I never anticipate anything, I just go with it. I’m just happy to be there and I’m grateful that it happened.

I wonder if it’s because you’ve humanized Madonna, one of the most famous and most powerful people in entertainment.

Before working with her I always respected her and her as an artist, but it wasn’t the type of music I would listen to. One time she asked me, “Did you come out to my music?” And I was like, “No,” because it’s the truth. I love her, but I was just listening to other things. When I was asked to work with her I came in as, “Let me see what this person is about, let me feel the energy in the room, let me see if I can see myself.” She allowed me to be myself and I also allowed myself to be myself, which a lot of people don’t around her because they’re afraid.

The first time I worked with her, it was very cold. And when I came back, they became more personal. They allowed me in her dressing room and I started giving my opinion: “Maybe not that t-shirt, maybe that hair.” Literally everyone that was there, like the glam team, they were looking at me like, “Who the fuck is this person that just arrived?” I was like, “If it doesn’t work out and I’m not asked to work again, it’s fine.” I’m not gonna change my personality, just because it’s Madonna, Beyoncé or Rihanna. I read the room, as well, I don’t just go in and start talking. If I’m welcomed and the artist is asking questions, and if everyone’s being afraid of answering, I will talk.

That is the worst when you’re in a room with talent and everyone’s walking on eggshells. Why does that dynamic suddenly exist, when one person walks in and everyone’s afraid?

That happens here. But I’ve been in other rooms with other people where it also happens. I’ve also felt that it’s sometimes better to stay quiet and just do my job. I’ve worked with people that I didn’t like to work with, I have worked with very sweet and warm people, and I’ve worked with very rude people where I haven’t even shared one photo online because I hated them so much. That’s how it is. To me, photography is so personal and it’s my baby. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was 17. I don’t give a fuck if if I go into a room and I shoot someone that’s really rude to me and I don’t want to share it. I won’t share it, even if it’s good for my career. Something else will come.

I think that’s a good way to be. You’re no bullshit, which I appreciate and I’m sure Madonna also appreciates.

I hope so, yeah.

Do you see yourself that way?

I do. Sometimes you need a little bit of bullshit, but most of the time I’m straight to the point and I will tell you what I think. And sometimes it’s a problem that I have. I might hurt people a little bit because I tell everyone what I think about in that moment. Sometimes I’m like, “Maybe I should have said something a little bit different.” But then I’m like, “No, I was being real. That’s, that’s how I feel, that’s how I think, so then we can figure it out.”

When I first met you for PAPER’s Madonna cover, I was like, “Whoa, okay I’m processing–”

I feel like you hated me for the first five minutes.

And then I was like, “Okay, I love this.”

I always appreciate that when I work, especially with M[adonna], and a magazine that it’s so complex and specific. When I go into a project with her I already know what I’m going to go through, so I try to be very clear. I always try to say the bad things and the good things. Sometimes people are like, “Let’s look at the good side,” but I’m like, “There might not be a good side,” you know? It’s just very specific and that’s why she is who she is.

I loved our shoot. There was so much spontaneity and it basically became one big party in Brooklyn.

In the beginning, I was a bit freaked out by everything. We had so many people on set, it was actually insane. I don’t know how we made that happen. I mean, you made it happen, but I will never forget that shoot because I also met incredible people from New York, cool kids. I really saw a different side of New York and it made me curious. I knew about this side in Europe, but it was a really fun shoot, for sure. And it was one of the first times that I shot without a real shot list. We only had the locations planned and then whatever happened happened in that location, which is crazy. But it worked out.

It’s not like we pre-planned any of that, it all just happened. It was interesting to see firsthand how people light up around Madonna. She is a force, for sure.

Yeah, it was a night. A night in Brooklyn.

What impact do you think the Celebration Tour had and what would you say is its larger message?

Regarding her as a performer, I think it’s insane. I feel tired looking at her performing every night. Her energy is crazy. At her age, to still be performing the way she’s performing, there’s nobody that does that. And a lot of the new performers, the younger artists or bigger artists that are still younger, I don’t know if they would ever be able to do that. So I think that’s the main inspiration for every artist: rehearse for so long, almost die, come back to life, go on the road for so long and just be so strong mentally. That’s very inspiring.

Visually, it’s a such a minimal show, but still feels huge. It doesn’t have many props, it doesn’t have 100 chairs, it doesn’t have stairs. It’s really just a video and a stage. And for such a big pop artist to do that, everything else has to be solid. And I’m actually so happy that she allowed herself to do that. It’s way, way stronger, because it’s all about her and the dancers. And if that is not good enough, then the show wouldn’t be good.

Photography: ROSARIIO

It’s impossible to be across all the new music out each Friday. Luckily, PAPER is here to help you out: each week, we round up 10 of our favorite new songs from artists — emerging and established — to soundtrack your life. From the surreal to the sublime, these songs cover every corner of the music world. The only criteria: they all have to absolutely rip.

Subscribe to our Sound Off Spotify playlist here and check out this week’s tracks, below.

Lana Del Rey, Quavo – “Tough”

Did old school Lana ever really leave? In this writer’s opinion, not really — but it sure is fun to hear a throwback to Lust For Life-era rap collabs in this way, bringing Quavo into her heady, smoke-hazed world.

Tinashe, Kaytranada – “Nasty — Match My Chic Remix”

Kaytranada has a way of making hits seem even more irresistible – see his remix of Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better” – and this down-and-dirty remix of Tinashe’s “Nasty” is no exception.

Beabadoobee – “Ever Seen”

This aching ballad makes the most of Beabadoobee’s lush new sound, recalling early-aughts indie bands like Arcade Fire.

Zach Bryan – “28”

A sweeping waltz from Zach Bryan’s new album The Great American Bar Scene that finds the staunchly DIY-minded country singer slipping into a softer mode.

Jess B, Sister Nancy, Sampa The Great – “Power”

New Zealand firebrand JessB links with Sister Nancy and Sampa The Great on this booming, irresistibly earwormy rap track, which is powered by bass that shakes like an exposed wire.

Jessie Ware, Romy – “Lift You Up”

“Lift You Up” is classic-sounding empowerment pop from the UK’s newly-minted dancefloor queens, a “Sisters Doing It For Themselves” moment that’s just cheesy enough to work.

Morgan Wallen – “Lies Lies Lies”

Morgan Wallen goes into weepy mode on this new single, which builds from something small into something grand.

Kesha – “JOYRIDE”

On her first single since being emancipated from Dr Luke’s label, Kesha is as weird as ever – seriously, when has a pop song ever sounded like this? – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Kimbra, BANKS – “Stuff I Don’t Need”

Kimbra slips into sultry R&B mode on the first single from her new collab album, her voice weaving perfectly with Banks’s.

Photography: Wyatt Spain Winfrey


They don’t make the girls sing the national anthem anymore. I mean, they do sometimes, but it used to be a testament to true vocal ability. A right of passage for pop girls to honor America and show off their talent. When I was a little gay kid, knowing that the Super Bowl or some random sports game that my dad put on would often begin with someone like Christina Aguilera, Beyoncé or even Carrie Underwood, singing their heart out in a beautiful gown made it all bearable and even made me proud to be an American.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” is notoriously a very difficult song to sing, featuring a wide octave range that makes it easy to screw up. In many of the post-9/11 versions I’m talking about here, it’s also sung fully a capella — a risky move that makes the singer extra vulnerable and opens them up to massive critique. All eyes and ears are on them in that moment, lending itself to either being really bad or super impressive. The pop stars making those No. 1 hits on the radio used to also be the ones who could hit earth-shattering high notes and runs like nobody’s business. That’s not necessarily the case anymore (though I would love to see Olivia Rodrigo or Chappell Roan get up there and put their best foot forward.)

That’s why, in honor of the Fourth of July, we did an exploratory deep dive into the most iconic pop girl national anthem moments below.

The Legends



These are the renditions that will go down in history. The gold standard for pop girlie Star-Spangled splendidness. Pristine and perfect American pop exports showcasing their top-tier vocal prowess for the world to see, representative of a bygone era when our stars were like royalty and would make you want to stand up and salute the country right from your living room couch. Like Whitney Houston, who once famously uttered, “I listen to singers. I very rarely listen to people who… cannot sing.”

Mariah Carey, Daytona 500 in 2003

My personal favorite. Done up in a slicked back ponytail and body-hugging Nascar-themed moment, Mimi manages to demonstrate technically on-point vocal gymnastics all while sounding so gentle, calm and heavenly. It’s Mariah at her best, and when that “Landddd of the FREEEE” climax hits, she gives us the whistle note we were all waiting for. Only she can do it. God bless America.

Beyoncé, Super Bowl 2004

One of many renditions, this Beyoncé performance is arguably her best. Of course, the Houston native decided to do a calculated and clean version, complemented with a full orchestral arrangement and dressed in a very presidential-looking get-up. It was during the Dangerously In Love era, when she was freshly out of Destiny’s Child and working hard to prove herself as the solo artist she was destined to be. Prove herself she does, hitting runs with a confidence and movie-like star power that only Queen Bey could do.



Jennifer Hudson, Super Bowl 2009

I mean, wow. When she steps up on that velvet blue pedestal, she does so with an assurance that she knows she’s about to eat. It always amazes me how Jennifer Hudson looks like she’s barely opening her mouth when she’s hitting these unbelievable notes with such power, and this rendition was no different. That final “THE BRAAAVEEE” is maybe my favorite out of all of these. Gives me full-body chills.

Whitney Houston, Super Bowl 1991

There’s not much to say here. This set the standard for national anthems, a real moment in pop culture history. Though it’s said to be lip-synced, it doesn’t really matter. Whitney made a moment happen, and it was ten days into the Persian Gulf War, which made the timing extra sensitive on the global stage. It was the first time the Super Bowl was broadcast in countries outside of just North America, which brought millions of more eyes on this performance. One could say she had a hand in bringing on world peace.

The Misfits



Let me be clear: I’m giving all of these girls an A for effort. Some of them aren’t even bad per se, all things in consideration, but they definitely caused a public uproar for either wrong lyrics or botched melodic choices. These choices are what make them iconic, though, even if it’s for all the wrong reasons. If our girls flop, at least they flop for America.

Kat Deluna, Cowboys VS. Eagles 2008

Justice for Kat Deluna. After her feisty rendition of the Star-Spangled banner at this 2008 football game, you can hear the crowd loudly booing her. It’s been put in many a “Worst National Anthems of All Time” lists, but honestly, it wasn’t that bad. The “Whine Up” singer was definitely over-singing it, but I like the vigor in her voice. The growls. The determination. She didn’t deserve the hate. She was just excited.

Fergie, NBA All-Star Game 2018

This is a performance art piece. Ever the stunt queen, Fergie really shook things up with this one. It was a true test of self control for everybody in that arena when Stacy Ann Ferguson did that, “OOOHHHHH SAYYY” octave jump. It was jazzy and brain-bending. It was a moment we all lived for, and cemented its place in history. Give it up for Fergie, everyone.

The Cheetah Girls, Pistons VS. Trailblazers 2008

Look, I really did see the vision here. They wanted a Destiny’s Child type moment. They wanted to gag us. And in a way, they really gagged us. This was doomed from the jump. Without Raven, the Cheetah Girls didn’t have their stability. Left to their own devices, the girls tried to do some cute harmonies, but Adrienne was the only one who had the actual technical skills to do so. Kiely and Sabrina just didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. I love it, though, and am desperate to know what the dialogue that occurred backstage after this between these queens sounded like.

The Disney Girls



When the Disney machine really put the girls through the ringer. They were out there doing every single awards show performance, daytime TV appearance, press interviews, and even national anthems. They had to be Renaissance women. They were worked to the bone, and in the beginning stages of becoming pop icons. Being plopped onto that football field to sing was just part of the process.

Demi Lovato, Dallas Cowboys game 2008

Demi was always my favorite Disney girl. I think she had the most natural and raw musical abilities, and I loved the husky power in her voice. All of that is on full display here, and she was only 16. With that hard bang, she brought all the pop punk princess aura we wanted.

Miley Cyrus, Backstage at Houston Rodeo 2008

This clip feels like a fever dream. Miley in Hannah Montana drag warming up for her monumental show at the Houston Rodeo in 2008. For some reason, she chose to sing the national anthem, and does so in true Smilers fashion. Her rendition is spunky and bubblegum, and even though it kind of looks like she’s being held hostage, she still ate.

Ariana Grande, NFL Opening 2014

Not a Disney girl — Nickelodeon, rather — but I still wanted to pop ponytail in here. It was 2014, and Grande was just beginning to prove to the public that she was a viable pop princess with true once-in-a-generation vocal chops. This rendition was clean, airy, and satisfying. She did what she had to do.

The New Gen



Though I did say that the new girls don’t sing the national anthem anymore, there are exceptions. They might not have the old-school diva-style vocals from yesteryear, but it is nice to see that our girlies can still attack The Star-Spangled Banner from a fresh, modern angle and bring some tradition to the streaming era. With the election this year, maybe we’ll see some more of this from the new generation.

Madison Beer, Stanley Cup Final 2020

The announcer says, “Rolling Stone has hailed her as our next rising pop star,” and as a Beer stan myself, that brings me happiness. I can’t lie, she really surprised me here. Not only does she look like a beautiful Bratz doll on that big screen, but she really took it there with the vocals. Who knew Madison Beer had chops like this? Let’s go.

Tinashe, Seattle Seahawks game 2023

Tinashe attacks it like a pro. Proving she’s a triple quadruple threat, the singer had to let us know that, yeah, she can hit those notes with ease. She’s actually sung the national anthem so many times throughout the years, but this one was the most recent, and she displays her expertise with the song like someone who knows exactly what she’s doing. A true American star.

Bebe Rexha, MLB All-Star Game 2017

As that huge American flag gets unfolded across the field, there isn’t anyone else I’d rather have salute our nation than Bebe Rexha. Amidst all the EDM bops, it can be easy to forget that the native New Yorker is actually an incredible vocalist, too. She sang that “LAND OF THE FREEE” climax like a bird and ended with a unique take on “BRAVEEE.” You know she practiced this. Bebe Rexha for President.

Salvador Navarrete has a lot to do. The Irish-Chilean super-producer and artist, known to the world as Sega Bodega, is pacing around a spacious Paris apartment, wrangling clothes and packing when I call him over Zoom a few days after his latest album’s release: the propulsive, cerebral Dennis. This multitasking fervor is a fitting mode. His many projects have cycled through the zeitgeist in a near-constant churn for the past half-decade. Whether it was his three solo albums, or his production on seminal albums and records like Shygirl’s Nymph, Caroline Polacheck’s “Sunset” or Eartheater’s Powders, Navarrete’s style — caustic, visceral, a bubbling cauldron of alien vocals and metal roars — has helped define the sound of the 2020s.

Dennis continues his artistic development which has steadily moved skyward. Bodega’s first album, the darkly intimate 2020 Salvador, was a brooding haunt through a dimly lit bedroom. On it, his deep voice beckoned the listener towards the heathenish. His follow-up, Romeo, seemed to fly out of the bedroom and perch itself on the top of a nearby building. The floaty, angelic project circled the sacred and profane as songs like “Only Seeing God When I Come” and “Angel On My Shoulder” merged the physical body with the transcendent.

Dennis, though, seems to forgo the world as we know it for the one we experience in our dreams. A floaty, at times euphoric, at times nightmarish journey through the subconscious, Dennis is an exploration of surprising association, the kind of expansive logic that only makes sense in your dreams. Its cover features a spotlit Navarrete lying beneath a ghoulish swan in a dark, old theater. It’s a likely setting for a dreamscape given that he tells me he’s been having a real bout of “stress dreams” lately. He is, after all, hopping around the world from club to club, studio to studio, and yes, from theater to theater.

There is much to do and much to make and little time to do it all before sleep lulls your tired mind. Thankfully for us, Navarrete was able to carve out some time in his hectic schedule to talk with PAPER about his new album, collective consciousness and the mysteries of inspiration.

Hey!

Hey! Where are you?

I’m in Brooklyn. What about you?

Cool. I’m in Paris.

How’s Paris?

I love Paris. I’m convincing all my friends to move here. It’s kind of working.

What do you like about Paris?

It’s slower. I need slower.

Yeah, I feel that. Congrats on the record. I’ve been following your work for a while and Dennis feels like a progression, so I’m excited to chat with you about it. What have you been up to since the record came out?

I’m going on tour tomorrow with another band I have called Kiss Facility. We’re touring with Erika De Casier. We’ve just been practicing and rehearsing. It’s [my bandmate] Mayah [Alkhateri’s] first time ever performing, so we’re just mentally preparing each other for that, but it’s gonna be great. I had a party for the album on Tuesday, and that was really nice and friends came out like Eartheater, okaylou and Mayah. We all just sang some of our own songs.

Do you feel like you’ve been able to take in the response to the album, or have you been in “go mode” because of the tour?

Both. I’ve definitely been taking it in, but at the same time I have to not look at the [reaction online], because it doesn’t matter. I need to remember that. I just focus on the other shit I have to do, because I can sit spiraling on the internet for hours on end.

The new album explores dreams and sleep. Especially given all that you do, what’s your relationship to sleep these days?

Now it’s bad. I wake up every hour at this point and I’m always checking the time because I have so much stuff to do. I usually get to sleep in late, though, which is nice.

Do you dream?

Yeah, I have been dreaming. They haven’t been the nicest dreams. Definitely been having some stress streams.

Do you write down your dreams?

No. I was going to while I was making the album, but I ended up just not doing that. A friend of mine, Rick Farin and his wife, Claire, made the music video for “Set Me Free I’m An Animal.” They’re my best friends, and we work together on lots of different things. Rick is quite a sleep talker and throughout the process of the record, Claire would document the things he was saying in his sleep and we used those words across the album at the end of some songs. I had [artist, filmmaker, and writer] Miranda July say those things that he would say in his sleep. So, all of those words are the weird things that he said in his sleep. They were such perfect pieces of sleep-talking nonsense. They don’t make any sense, but they’re very beautiful.

How did you connect with Miranda July?

I had been struggling to find the person to say Rick’s words because the voice needed to be so correct. I couldn’t think of any one of my friends to ask and had no leads whatsoever. I love Miranda July’s movies. Mayah and I had just watched Fire of Love a year ago and she was like, “You should ask Miranda July.” I was like, “I can’t. That’s not gonna happen.” But so many of my collaborations, especially the ones that are very far away from my world, have come about just because I asked. I sent her a message on Instagram. I told her how much of a fan I am of her. I explained the concept and that it wouldn’t be a lot of work for her. And then we had a 10-minute call over Facetime, and she just kind of killed it. I’m really happy with that. That completed the album. Up until that point, the album was just like a series of songs. She’s on three songs and those transitions were very hard to do, because the songs are so different. But those bits of dialogue were perfect.

Collaboration is so central to what you do. You’re a connecting point for so many artists. What is it like doing your own record? Does the process feel very different than when you’re working on a record with Eartheater or Shygirl?

When I work with them, I get to absorb their whole thing and am part of their world. They have such a strong narrative and concept, and I just get to sit and watch them do that. Even though I consider them all very close friends, I’m still a huge fan of these people. And we still share our work. I will talk to them about their project, and they’ll talk to me about mine. It’s a healthy back and forth.

What’s it like when you don’t have them explicitly in the process?

It’s harder. I’ll always get someone else’s opinion while I make my records. I have to.

You were doing sessions on Twitch. Is that almost a way to source the opinion of the collective? [You can see Navarrete craft songs on Twitch from such as “Adulter8” here]

That was using a test I did to see how I liked it. I really enjoyed it, but then at the same time, I also found myself catering to the chat room a bit more than I was expecting to. You do something, and then the chat room goes crazy, and you do something and the chat room is not saying a thing, and you’re like, Well, fuck, this must suck. They’re not gonna be like, “This is bad.” But you can just see the reaction.

I feel like that plays into the idea you’ve talked about surrounding the idea of collective consciousness. You named the album Dennis partially after the 1950s American cartoon character, Dennis the Menace who had an uncanny similarity to another Dennis cartoon in the UK, created at the same time with no connection to its American parallel.

Yeah, I named it after that partially. I was watching True Blood. They were talking about the Greek God, Dionysus. He’s referred to as the “God that Comes.” I was like, “Oh, that’s funny. I have a song called ‘Only Seeing God When I Come.”‘ And [Dionysus] is where the name Dennis comes from. And then at the same time, I was reading the story about Dennis the Menace. Plus, I was playing around with different words and anagrams. At one point I threw in the word, Sinned, and Dennis came up again [Sinned spelled backwards is Dennis]. I was like, You know what? I think the album’s called Dennis. There were enough things at the same time. I don’t know anyone called Dennis, but the name kept popping up and I was like, Okay, let’s listen to that.

Are you someone who looks for repetitions or signs for inspiration?

I don’t ignore them. I don’t look for them, but I don’t ignore them.

So many people think about their art as “my thing,” and you seem to have a more expansive, communal relationship, given this notion of the collective consciousness.

Yeah, but anyone who thinks like that: I’m sorry, you’re an idiot. You didn’t invent anything. People that inspired you didn’t invent anything. Everything was inspired by something else. That’s just a fact. I see a lot of people say. “Oh I know I’m on their mood board, but they’re not paying me.” I’m like, What? First of all, that’s a crazy concept to be paid for inspiring someone. At the same time, I know for a fact that these people want to be influential. They want to be inspiring other people, but then when they see that they’re directly inspiring someone else, they’re like, “Pay me.” That’s crazy. People are doing very normal ideas and then someone else will pop up a couple of weeks later [with a similar idea] and they’re like, “You’re copying me.”

I would say, though, that this would actually apply to someone like SOPHIE. Her sound was so specific. You could hear when someone was copying it. But there’s not that many people who have such a unique standalone sound that can qualify as being fully original at the moment. People have certain things that they do, but that’s not also theirs.

Have you always had that kind of relationship to your art and art making that was so shared and collaborative?

I think you’d lose your mind if you had a desire to always have ownership. I mean, you can own the physical things. encourage people to own their rights, but at the same time: you can copy me, steal my ideas, sample me. I don’t care. That’s kind of also why I have an issue with [discourse surrounding] using different culture’s sound in your music, unless you’re explicitly pretending, like you are from that place. Music has always been inspired by different cultures.

And nobody actually cares about these things when it’s good. No one has ever said to Timbaland, “You don’t own that Indian sound,” because he did that so well. I am very inspired by Arabic music. There’s definitely some things in my songs that people have said sounds Turkish. I don’t honestly listen to much Turkish music, but it happens to sound like that. And no one’s ever been mad at that, and I’m glad. But there is a real kind of protectiveness. You can appreciate other people’s styles and backgrounds.

I was thinking about the scope of your solo records. I feel like each record is lifting further and further off the ground. Salvador had a really raw intimacy and then Romeo was more transcendent. Now I feel like we’re fully up in the clouds sonically on Dennis.

It’s not intentional. I’m proud of all the things I’ve done, but I wish I had waited a bit longer to release the first album Salvador. I was trying a lot of different things. I was trying to be a bit more pop and I didn’t enjoy that. The next album came out pretty quickly, like a year after it. I wish I just waited a bit to get comfortable with my voice, but I am really proud of it. I think it says a lot of things that I wanted to say.

I would say that probably one of the progressions is that your voice has become more textural than lyrical.

That’s intentional. I feel like I’m a producer first and then a singer second. I definitely hide behind a lot of effects. And I really enjoy that. It’s fun for me to figure all the ways I can fuck with a voice.

What’s your relationship with lyrics in that context?

I just mumble gibberish for 20 minutes into a microphone. A word will just pop up here and there. “Tears & Sighs” on the album is a good example of that because I had this word: “seeking.” That was the word that popped up. I really liked how it sounded in the context of the song. I just had to build the sentence backwards to get to that word: “speaking, seeking.” I was just following those things and going with it, and not being scared to sound like an idiot.

I imagine that some of the artists you’re working with write songs in a more traditional sense?

Everything is different every time. I get very bored of my own process a lot, too. That’s why I try a whole new approach quite often.

What are you thinking about for this tour? How are you approaching playing this record live?

I want it to feel like a big, stupid club.

You’re playing the show Under the K Bridge with Björk [in May], right?

Yeah.

You’ve collaborated with Björk a few times now. What have you learned through working with her?

To be patient. To let the idea come when it comes. Talking about this could take years, but yeah: just to be patient.

Creative and photography: Bryan Torres
Styling: Francisco Ugarte
Production: Isabel Martínez-Zurita
Art direction: Andrea De la Vega
Makeup: Rebeca Martín
Lighting: Joan Calsina
Lighting assistant: Oriol Puchol
Digital: Rita Sortino
BTS artist: Berta de la Cruz
Retouching: Guille Sotelo

Production assistant: Valentín Pattyn
Stylist assistant: Mateo Medina
Art assistants: Carla Carreras, Julia Falcó, Andrea Rodríguez
Lighting: Napalm Lights Key Bcn rental
Special thanks to ESPAI 333

The best Pride party was Under the K Bridge… horsegiirL played… okay, so the jokes write themselves! But beyond being an apt location for our friends who dabble in equine medicine, LadyLand, the long-running pride festival by New York nightlife impresario Ladyfag, was a verifiable who’s who of queer pop culture.

This year, LadyLand returned to the park beneath the Kosciuszko Bridge in Greenpoint, and the festival made the most of its new expansive surroundings by booking a stellar crop of DJs and performers. Tinashe was announced late as a Friday headliner (replacing Kim Petras) to continue her imperial era. The singer, often lovingly referred to as Bushwick’s Beyoncé, celebrated her newly charting single, “Nasty,” among a crowd of queer Brooklynites who have been riding for her since before “2 On.”

Arca headlined Saturday’s lineup, her mind-melting music serving as the perfect catharsis for a crowd of queers in need of exorcism after a long Pride Saturday.

And then there was PAPER cover star Mahmood, who moved with pure confidence. At one point he brought out his DJ and reflected about how they had been making music together since their teens. As they stood in front of a large NYC crowd, you could feel a sense of triumph emulating from the Italian creatives, who are now commanding crowds far away from their native Milan.

PAPER family Slayyyter also performed (she can command any audience like Moses at the Red Sea), alongside acts like Cakes Da Killa, Sevyn, Fashion, Aaliyah’s Interlude and Julia Fox (who continues her dabble in sonics). And lest we forget Thee Countess Luann, who sang extended versions of her scant few releases to a crowd that regarded her with the rapturous energy of an early-2000s Britney.

It’s a testament to Ladyfag and LadyLand as an enterprise that they somehow managed to pull off a festival at this scale while still making it feel so in-the-know. The DJs the festival booked are the girls who play our clubs. Performers like Jonah Almost, Blue Hawaii, LSDXOXO and Tama Gucci are major to us. I wouldn’t expect anyone to bank selling thousands of tickets on these underground darlings, but the fact that LadyLand does and can is proof of what can be achieved when the people holding the purse are the same as the people in the club. Taste still matters. And taste can sell.

The number of attendees is evidenced by that, but so were those who could be spotted in the crowd: it-girls like DJ Miss Parker, Honey Balenciaga and River Moon (who all had on-stage appearances, but stayed around to hobnob). PAPER columnist Linux was seen around her special Paul’s Dolls activation. This is Pride weekend, and there’s always more to do, but when so much is happening under the Kosciuszko Bridge, it’s hard to resist a twirl beneath the overpass.

Someone else who couldn’t resist joining the fun? Reverend Mother Madonna herself. Rumors swirled late last week that Madonna would be in attendance, but no one knew just exactly what she would be doing. She could have been a guest of Arca’s, who appeared at her Barcelona show. Or, she could have done a stint with Bob the Drag Queen, who was the master of ceremonies throughout her epic Celebration Tour (which recently included her record-breaking free show in Rio for 1.6 million attendees).

It turned out that the “Vogue” singer’s presence was especially fitting, as she served as a judge at the Vogue Ball House Battle between four mainstay NYC ballroom houses: Tisci, Balenciaga, Alpha and Omega, and Miyake-Mugler (who ended up taking home the win). Judging alongside Madonna was a low-key, casual crew: Bob the Drag Queen, Sevdaliza, Arca and Tokischa, all sitting together to serve skeptical looks as the houses dipped in front of them. DJing before the official competition started was none other than Madonna’s preteen daughter, Estere, who made her DJ debut as DJ QUEEN ESTERE. And moving things along was icon Kevin Prodigy and Dashaun Wesley, the former host of HBO’s voguing competition show Legendary, of which all houses in attendance competed in.

As I watched in awe upon Madonna sitting alongside my personal heroes, I wondered if this whole image emerged from my gay pop culture subconscious. But miraculously, it hadn’t. It was real and true and all happening right there, underneath the Kosciuszko Bridge.

Photography: Matteo Prandoni / Ricardo Gomez

Pia Mia wouldn’t call this a comeback. “It may look like I went away, but I never left,” she tells PAPER. For the Guam native, the unexpected nature of the entertainment industry is what makes her work exciting and fuels creativity. “There’s always hope,” she says.

This is where “Repeat After Me” comes in, the singer-songwriter’s first solo track in three years. Since leaving the major label world and branching out as an independent artist, Mia is ready to begin a new era filled with dreamy sounds and sunshine. The song itself is a plush pop number presented in true Pia Mia fashion, a determined rulebook for cutting off an ex. “I’m not gonna fuck him again/ I’m not gonna touch him again/ Repeat after me/ Repeat after me,” she sings over a throwback vinyl beat.

With such an extensive discography (“Do It Again” and “We Should Be Together” are pop classics, quite frankly), the music world could be Pia Mia’s for the taking. Independent artists like Tinashe, who came up at the same time as Pia Mia, are having a moment right now, so there surely could be room for another pop princess to rise again. It’s only a matter of time.

Below, we sit down with Pia Mia to discuss her return, inspirations and newfound freedom.

You’re one of those “iykyk (if you know you know)” pop girls, at least for me and my friends who love your music. What made you want to make your return?

It may look like I went away, but I never left. I’ve been writing and recording, working on different projects and creating in various fields. In music, I’ve been with major labels, independent and collaborative with other artists and writers. Now, I have an extensive catalog. My upcoming drop has been about finding the right moment. From the beginning of my time in the music industry all my efforts have gone towards the same goal of releasing a full-length album. It’s complicated, and there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes so it would be hard to break it down into one simple answer. As an independent artist it really comes down to the support of the fans, and I can’t wait to see their reactions to Repeat After Me and for new people to be introduced to my music. So much care and patience went into this new music. I didn’t want to rush or force anything. I can’t express how happy and relieved I am that it’s finally coming out.

Can you describe what this new era of Pia Mia means for you?

This new era is a period of moving forward, evolving as an artist, producing new sounds, touring, connecting with those who have supported me, introducing myself to a new audience and having fun. I’m really proud to be releasing more music that I love and created with people who believe in me and want to be part of my journey.

I’ve always loved your name. If you were to go by a different stage name, what would it be?

[Laughs] Thank you! I love my name. It’s cute, short and it rhymes. I wouldn’t want to change it.

What have the past few years been like for you since you last released music?

There are no rules in this industry; anything can happen at any time, and there’s no telling when you’re going to have a moment. That’s something I love about the entertainment business. There’s always hope. I spent the last couple years reflecting on my journey in music so far, making new songs, writing my first romance novel that was released this year called Sand, Sequins & Silicone. There was a lot of creative exploration and I’m very excited the music is starting to drop again.

What is the Pia Mia artist’s ethos?

Romance, taking chances, empowerment, kindness and being the most authentic version of yourself.

What’s inspiring you lately? Films, media, TV, songs, people?

The experiences I have had in love have always been my strongest driving factor in all things. My new music captures the moment in time where you’re going through a breakup and starting to get back out there again. Making music is one of my favorite ways to face the feelings so you can close the chapter.

Photography: Christina Bryson

British singer, producer and performance artist Babymorocco may not even have “100 racks” to spend on a music video, but he does have more than enough wit, swag and Tesco champagne that dreams are made of. In the visuals for his latest track, “Crazy Cheap” premiering today on PAPER, he reiterates, “She call me cheap/ But that’s my name” over a fidgety beat, hilariously outlining the struggles of lacking cash, from being on universal credit (the UK equivalent of unemployment) to traveling around London via scooter.

“I wrote this song whilst surviving mostly off of universal credit,” he tells PAPER. “‘Crazy Cheap’ is really my admission to how bad things can get. The song and video really are just about trying to make ends meet. We wanted to show how much swag we could achieve by just doing what we could. Iris [Luz, the video director] is a genius. She is someone who creates a whole story from you just by saying something to her.”



The video begins with a sketch, in which Babymorocco attempts to cover the cost of the entire production of the video with a ridiculously low budget. “The part about having only 100 GBP is accurate,” he tells us. “The conversation at the beginning isn’t super fake. It’s just reimagined for a more dramatic effect. Me and Iris really only had 100 in cash to make the video. I had to find other means to get people to do favors. But it’s all down to Iris having a network of super down people.”

When you’re broke, getting attention can make you feel rich.

Despite creating the visuals with a small amount of available cash, Babymorocco still hopes viewers feel “famous” when they watch it. “Most of the time I really do have no money,” he says. “When you’re broke, getting attention can make you feel rich. I am always in debt but I like to be notorious. Eventually, that can lead to some money. So I want them to make them feel famous.”

So, what is Babymorocco investing in next? “I am excited for my next record,” he tells us. “It’s a long record. It’s my best one. It’s exciting for me. If it doesn’t do well I will do reality TV.” We’ll be watching.

Photography: Erika Kamano

It is quite difficult, almost impossible even, to wrap my head around the fact that for the first time in a decade, literally everyone I know is listening to Charli XCX.

In the last few weeks, I have attended multiple Brat-centric club nights, one not even a day after the deluxe edition dropped. No more than 24 hours, and everyone knew “Guess” and “Spring Breakers” as if they were longtime club classics. Whole clubs going up to mixes of “Everything is Romantic” and “365,” heads spinning, bodies merged into the sort of primordial mass that only appears after 2 AM, when the sweat and drugs and clouds of Mugler “Angel” ignite under strobes. My own heart feels close to exploding, and time stretches out into an infinite green horizon.

Chart watchers predict that for the first time since 2014, the hipster darling turned international club diva will have two songs charting on the Hot 100. The album just spent its third week on the Billboard 200’s Top 10. Brat is overwhelmingly her most successful album ever, should we take note of the changing times via streaming and the auditory displacement of digital spaces like TikTok, Instagram, X. Consider the shock then, when Brat dropped from heaven into an almost unrecognizable pop world than the one she broke through with True Romance in 2013.

The early prophecies of this moment are clearer now, in hindsight. Like Brat, 2013’s True Romance was an album born from the underground rave scene of the UK, which Charlotte Aitchinson climbed up from as an aspiring teen pop star. The record was heavy on the synth-pop and dark wave sounds of the scene, intertwined with the internet and the Tumblr blog scroll, itself a successor to Myspace profiles stuffed with demos and mixtapes. Like True Romance, Brat is not an album that exists without the internet, even more than the mixtapes that came between, or Vroom Vroom, or even how i’m feeling now.

Initial receptions to each single were mixed, at times detached from the album’s ethos. The first single, “Von dutch,” leaned heavy on a moment that I felt was thoroughly over, while “B2b” reinvigorated debate and “Club classics” brought SOPHIE — and the fuller shape of the album to come — into conversation. The music video for “360” was stuffed with the sort of “internet famous” dilettantes that elicit reactions like: “Only people with brain worms will recognize everyone.” An interesting week of discourse, in hindsight, considering how drastically the mega-club around the album has expanded since it dropped in June.

Unlike peers who so often fail to cohesively merge their lives online and their art in the real world — Taylor Swift’s angsty musings on The Tortured Poets Department, most recently — Charli manifests the impossible. It’s been a vast bridge to build, between the Brat wall and Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” battered by label contracts and the sea changes of an increasingly sexless, uncool pop landscape.

That ephemeral concepts like “cool” are in the mix at all feels as if a great boil has erupted, slowly building pressure until the myriad complex emotions she and fans alike wrestle with on the album have nowhere else to go but out, and everywhere. I feel the other forces at work too. Brewing conversations about the disconnectedness of queer nightlife, the apathy of the everyday, the reality that four years have gone by, beset by more death than most have seen in their lives, bodies and communities and dreams irreparably damaged, or at least fundamentally changed.

Nine months of protest and the specter of that virus crash into a wall as their kinetic force floods into any and all outlet, the club the most obvious among them

I’m back at Brat night at The Dolphin, in Philly, where I party to party for party’s sake, unlike what New York City often does to the cultural observer. I’m up against the light wall while “Guess” drills another hole into my skull, showing off the color of my little lacy underwear. The beat blends into SOPHIE’s posthumous single “Reason Why” and the mood becomes pensive. Her spirit fills the room, as does the pain. The beat slowly evolves into “Sympathy is a knife” and immediately the tension breaks.

“Guess” and “Sympathy is a knife,” about as far away from each other on the album as two songs could be, are perhaps the most emblematic of the turmoil central to Brat, a clash of feelings and ideas that build out Charli’s definition of what a “Brat” is, exactly. One is a boisterous and trashy anthem for the iconoclastic slut, confident in their belief that everyone wants a peak up the skirt. “Sympathy is a knife” inverts that overwhelming confidence. Beneath the brat is a hopelessly insecure pop star, lashing out at herself and others when confronted with feelings of jealousy and loathing. Or, more specifically, a threat. A threat to her immediate social scene, a threat to her career, a threat to the formerly confident belief that she is the center of her own universe.

Like many of her fans, Charli comes into her thirties at a moment when pop music’s scope has been drastically widened. Peers in the same Spotify Pride roundups, like Carly Rae Jepsen, have proven over the last decade that the sex doesn’t stop when the clock strikes 30 — nor does the party. The petty trivialities of your twenties don’t quite disappear either, they just grow along with you, gaining complexity that often comes with dire stakes. The drugs and the alcohol and the parties and the sex and the friendships have weight to them now, tugging at the fabric of our lives with enough pressure to rip and tear in ways that can’t be so easily mended.

The feelings shouldered by “Sympathy is a knife” are reflected later in “Girl, so confusing,” a song that predictably spawned numerous conspiracy theories about the woman on the receiving end of her lyrical dressing down. “You’re all about writing poems/ but I’m about throwing parties/ Think you should come to my party/ and put your hands up”: The unresolved insecurity lashes out again, and is then responded to in kind, when Lorde emerges on the remix. “I was trapped in a hatred/ and your life seemed so awesome/ I never thought for a second/ my voice was in your head.” This remix is, indisputably, the most sensational moment of Charli’s pop career so far, and the breakout highlight of an album already so viral nobody can seem to escape it online.

More specifically, that sensational moment was made possible by the collective ruminations of Brat’s listeners on the song’s intended target. That, and their own confusings girls in their own confusing worlds. To then unmask her, weeks later, is the sort of savviness it takes to pull together an album like Brat at all, least of all as someone’s sixth studio album. The remix’s predicted entrance into the Top 200 is evidence of the new version’s intense emotional payoff, for Lorde and Charli both, and the album’s many dance floor attendants. All around me, bodies lift into the air, and an absolutely massive cry of “Girl, you walk like a bitch!” hits me with the concussive force of a bomb.

This maelstrom of polarizing emotions baked into Brat give it a heft the singles were unburdened by, removed from these minute-to-minute anxieties Charli struggles through on the album’s 18 tracks. The Brats are outside and asking questions simmering for over a decade, Charli chief among them. Will she ever have children, and will her boyfriend put her panties in his mouth, and can the apple really ever fall far from the tree, and will she ever buy that gun to shoot herself with backstage at her boyfriends show, confronted by the tall blonde with enough accolades to make her call in a bomb threat to the Grammys?

Brat offers no answers, and neither does the dance floor. The beat pulses, and my dress clings to my skin, hair sweat out, friends a million miles away. I can’t remember if it’s my second or third time out past 2 AM this week, and I don’t really care as time unspools around me. The beat pulses again, and my friends crowd in close as I push my hair back, laughing, looking hot while we’re all bumpin’ that.

Photo via Getty