POP NOTES PEN PALS #4 . Ersa Magazine – April 2019
“The greatest and most powerful revolutions often start very quietly, hidden in the shadows.” –Richelle Mead, Vampire Academy
1. A Treatise on the New Pop
It’s Spring of 2019. Mach 1 of the underground pop revolution is in full swing. A myriad of bright and colorful artists are emerging from the periphery and into the hearts & minds of good people with great taste everywhere.
Those of us with our ears planted firmly to the ground have stumbled onto a steady stream of new musical gems, and we simply cannot get enough of these marvelous bops and the strange new artists who are creating them in home studios all across the globe. Pop is the new punk. It really is just like the 1977 punk rock explosion all over again, only instead of plastic Stratocaster guitars and amps from Sears, the kids are begging their parents for Macbooks and autotune plugins. There’s something in the air right now, I can feel it crackling all around me. And it feels simply electric.
We are now neck-deep in the post- “Dial Tone” era, a moment where anything seems possible. It would seem that with the right amount of vision and verve, and a healthy dose of solid pop instincts, even the most obscure artist has a chance of capturing the attention of the tasteful elite that makes up the alt-pop community. And as a devoted music fan, that excites the hell out of me! The means of pop production have been seized by the DAW proletariat, the rules have been chucked out the window, and things will never quite be the same.
While catching lightning in a bottle and igniting a mini-zeitgeist with a pop song as their ambition, dozens of artists are making the effort to step up their bedroom-production game. A new subculture is materializing all around us and continues to coalesce as individual performers, producers, designers, writers, and fans begin to collaborate with one another. Each is a tiny point of light blinking in the void, and slowly but surely each of these points are gravitating toward one another, forming interesting new pop constellations. Each of us is doing our own little thing in order forge ahead toward a neon future of our own creation. (Okay, so my “thing” is just carefully monitoring the situation and documenting this moment for posterity, that is still a contribution, okayyy???)
A whole alternative scene is manifesting. It is indifferent to the charts. It is bursting with creativity. It is largely Queer and inclusive. Everything that is happening right now will prove to be the Most Relevant part of the era because this is the period of time just before the mainstream media catches on to what is going on down here, and descends upon it with their buzzword genres and clickbait headlines. It’s only a matter of time before they seize upon the music, give the underground pop scene a terrible name, and ruin everything for all of us. And trust me, kids, the PR bastards are coming, and they will arrive hungry to devour you all. And the corporate plunderers armed with endorsement deals will be right on their heels, ready to bleed the scene dry. You must be prepared to resist this effort to destroy the purity of the music through the dark forces of commodification.
This current moment is charged with a wild energy. The subterranean pop pandemic is sweeping the globe, and it’s rapidly being transmitted from bedroom laptop to laptop. There’s something in the air down here in the pop underground, and it’s highly contagious. Observing the events as they play out in real time is positively titillating to old-school scene reporters like me. After years of alterna-pop monotony, it seems as though we are on the precipice of something great. There is a Big Moment unfolding, and no one is exactly sure what will happen, but it promises to be positively Thrilling.
This is the age of the New Pop. The New Pop is charged with cosmic energy. And that energy is here for you to draw upon, channel, and do with it what you will. Prepare yourselves, my children, as you are the vessels and conduits through which this cosmic energy is to be transmitted to the masses. Together, we will use this energy to do nothing short of ending tyranny and saving the world from imminent destruction. This is the message I was sent here by UFOs to tell you.
2. Baby Momo: Portrait of a New Pop Artist
Okay, maybe I’ve gotten a little carried away. I know that was a long intro, but I basically just write what the UFOs tell me to say. And I can’t let my extra-dimensional masters down, now can I? And trust me, it’s all very relevant because we are gathered here today to talk about Baby Momo: a bright new artist who has been working their way up from the ranks of this alternative pop universe for a minute now. Their highly addictive synthpop single, “Radio Gurls,” is the perfect distillation of everything I was just describing. But more on that in a moment.
Baby Momo has star quality. Baby Momo exudes a sort of strangely detached vivaciousness that is truly compelling–part alien femme-bot seductress, and part cyborg that was commandeered and re-programmed by a roving band of radical feminist scholars to be a weapon that will dismantle the patriarchy.
Baby Momo’s songs are incantations to some sort of cybernetic demiurge. Baby Momo is an intergalactic shamanistic dominatrix pop star computer application. A true master of ceremonies, serving ritualistic invocations that synthesize the corporeal and the virtual. Their music is vibrant, alluring, cool, and stylistically distinct.
Mo, aka Baby Momo, is a 23-year old student, bedroom recording artist and DJ emerging from Richmond, Virginia’s burgeoning queer electro scene (shoutout to America’s liberal college towns for keeping the tradition of sweaty alternative dance parties alive and well!!) Mo has been focusing on making their own music for the past 2 years, although they are a trained pianist since their youth. Baby Momo has organically developed within this emerging online scene, making connections, honing their technical skills, and self-releasing songs and mixes. These efforts began to generate gradual online buzz, culminating with the robosexual lesbian bop “Big Dyke Energy” that dropped early this year and quickly garnered thousands of streams.
Baby Momo arrived at the perfect moment to drop their debut mixtape, Sapphoheart. The new pop kids are clamoring for unique voices doing cool pop shit over crazy ass beats, and Baby Momo can check all three of these boxes. Baby Momo is a lesbian and identifies as non-binary. Their very presence fills the yearning for fresh, unique queer perspectives. Many of Baby Momo’s songs are not about the kinds of subjects that we’ve heard in traditional pop, and this makes Baby Momo’s arrival on the scene all that more exciting.
Baby Momo stands out in the increasingly crowded field of up and coming queer pop. Their music is full of catchy, deconstructivist pop gems that sparkle with a futurist sheen. Baby Momo’s debut is not only a solid introduction to the artist, but it’s really a great entry point to this new pop world from whence they emerged. The music is catchy, danceable, candid, and immediate. Sapphoheart features iconic visual art from Cyberful that lends it a shiny, intriguing quality with an inexplicable appeal.
“Radio Gurls” was the song by Baby Momo that first caught my attention and quickly made me a fan. For me, it was an instant classic: hearing a song with radio as a central theme made it feel very timeless to me, and the moody 80s synthpop vibe only enhanced this feeling. The song opens with the sound of a muted choir laced over an ethereal sonic landscape, evoking an uncanny sense of mystery. The song is produced by the astonishingly brilliant Drainpuppet, whose work Pop Notes follows intently.
There is an anthemic, late-night quality to the track. “A wave hit me the other day,” sings Momo, “current felt more electric than I can say.” Almost immediately I knew that this was going to be one of my favorite underground singles this year. The vibe perfectly blends elements of futurism and nostalgia–my favorite aural pairing. The lyrics here center around the idea that music– particularly of the subcultural variety–has the power to transform individuals on a deeply psychic level. And this was exactly what the song was doing to me!
I felt connected to this nocturnal dreamworld radio station that Baby Momo was broadcasting from, and I knew that all of us who listened to this song would be connected as well. “Radio Gurls” is a song about the very first moment when you discover that elusive, ultra-magnetic new pop energy for the first time–the energy the UFOs were telling us about. It’s about how it feels to be chosen by the underground, and deciding to answer this calling. We were all Radio Gurls, and here, Baby Momo serves as the Hierophant who presides over our Initiation into the Pop Cult.
Baby Momo often adopts a sort of half-sung, half-spoken approach to their vocal delivery, giving it a sort of hip-hop inflected, android-like performance artist vibe. This technique can be very compelling, especially on tracks like “Scissor Me” (Remix), where their voice sounds imperious but playful. When Baby Momo declares, “Scissor me/I’ll scissor you/I’m a top/but just for you,” you can’t help but surrender to the sonic seduction. The vibe of the track’s production has this sort of lazy, hazy Sunday afternoon on Mars feeling to it, which makes Baby Momo’s erotic instruction particularly inviting and rather whimsical. “I don’t know/whose leg is whose!” giggles Momo amidst the fun.
The sound of Sapphoheart is a blend of various electronic pop styles. The production makes heavy use of what I would describe as “accessible minimalism.” Songs such as the title track, “Hands” (featuring Mo’s irl romantic partner, Des) and “Big Dyke Energy” lyrically explore themes of sapphic love and sex. “Tell mommy what you wanna be called/when I am fucking you backwards raw” is just one example of the kind of lyrics that we are not simply getting enough of down here in the pop underground.
I’ve written before how much queer representation matters in pop music. And even though I’m a cis homo male, I honestly get just as excited hearing Baby Momo sing about sex with women as I do when the pop boys sing about their same-sex love. Queer music feels radically transgressive to me, no matter what form it takes, and I just find it so inspiring and encouraging that the url scene kids are creating space that is inclusive of such a wide array of LGBTQ voices.
One of the most intriguing songs on Sapphoheart is “Prodigy Bitch.” It’s a surrealist ravepop confection that serves as a loving tribute to the high priestess of artpop herself, Lady Gaga (a key influence for Baby Momo as well as just about everybody else operating in the new pop universe). “Prodigy Bitch” is a solid banger. I long to go absolutely mental while dancing to it in a sweaty basement party or a huge warehouse rave. The beat is slippery and delirious, and the track has gotten a co-sign from Donatachi (superstar DJ and tastemaker du jour of underground pop). Here’s to hoping that “Prodigy Bitch” will be making its way onto indie dance party setlists very soon!
All in all, Sapphoheart is a solid debut containing a number of gems that I believe will come to be representative of this formative moment in underground pop. I’d be remiss not to mention “Sippin on U,” a duet with rising experimental pop chanteuse Nix. It’s a smart and concise downtempo closer to the mixtape and leaves you immediately craving more. Baby Momo has also recently teamed up with Elliot, another queer pop favorite here at Pop Notes, for a delightful single called “Back 2 U” that you should go stream right now.
Baby Momo is an artist in the truest sense. Armed with provocative beats and their academic prowess–not to mention an impressive amount of drive and determination–they have begun the process of forging a distinctly appealing and highly inventive new pop identity. Baby Momo’s musical artistic vision transcends beyond their own songs: along with their partner and best friend, Baby Momo has created Lez Pop. Lez Pop is a collective/label focused on creating a platform for like-minded artists, particularly non-binary, lesbian and femme artists.
We were very excited to reach out to Baby Momo and correspond with them about all of this and more for our latest Pen Pals installment. Baby Momo’s answers were insightful and considered and gave us a real sense of what this musical endeavor means to them. Please check out the interview below, and be sure to steam or download Sapphoheart. We have it in heavy rotation down here in the Pop Notes laboratory, and you can be sure that we will continue to hear much more from Baby Momo as this strange musical moment continues to unspool!
POP NOTES: Hi Baby Momo! Can you tell me where are you based?
BABY MOMO: I live in the city of Richmond, Virginia which is about two hours south of Washington, DC.
POP NOTES: I’m really interested in how locality influences an artist. I am actually getting a giant map for my wall and putting pins in to show where all of my favorite internet pop stars live! Does where you are from shape your sound in any way?
BABY MOMO: My local music scene is my biggest influence when it comes to music, and really is the only reason I started putting my music out online. In RVA, the queer kids throw their own parties and they are absolute bangers. I feel lucky to have a network of badass queer musicians around me that I can call my friends. I feel really supported by the local DJs and musicians both here and in DC.
POP NOTES: How do you describe your sound/genre?
BABY MOMO: My sound is extremely influenced by electronic music, house, pop, and female rap. I personally describe my music as being of the “queer pop” genre. I make music for gays who like to dance.
POP NOTES: Ugh, well then no wonder I love your music! Can you tell me about your musical background and training?
BABY MOMO: I’m trained in classical piano, and I also taught myself how to produce music and play guitar, saxophone, and electronic drums.
POP NOTES: Who are some of your earliest influences?
BABY MOMO: My earliest musical influence is, without a doubt, Lady Gaga. I was teaching myself how to play her piano instrumentals when I was 13, listening to The Fame on repeat. I actually have a song on the mixtape called “Prodigy Bitch” which is about her influence on me as a musician.
POP NOTES: When did you decide to start recording your own music?
BABY MOMO: A little under two years ago, I began DJing with my partner (shoutout to DJ DES) which sparked interest in music production and recording vocals. Since then, I’ve taught myself how to operate the standard DAWs, learned a lot about drums, and produced a bit of my own music. Having background experience with multiple musical instruments obviously made things a bit easier, but there was a learning curve for sure.
POP NOTES: Do you mind talking a little bit about your identity as a nonbinary lesbian? I think it would be beneficial to me as well as our readers to learn more about what it means to be you, especially because there aren’t a lot of nonbinary voices in the media. I’m curious to learn more about your identity, and how it influences your music and lyrics.
BABY MOMO: Sure! I have no problem talking about it. I started identifying as non-binary when I was a senior in high school, which was a few years after coming out as a lesbian. I began learning more about gender at that age because I knew I wanted to major in Gender Studies when I went to college.
Gender is an experience that is never ending for me. My relationship to womanhood shapes my identity, and who I am, but does not define it. I consider myself to be “woman-aligned” in the sense that I relate a lot to women’s societal experiences and traumas. I was raised as a girl and was never treated as anything else by society until I began experimenting with more androgynous looks. But I don’t believe that gender is real, fundamentally. It’s socially constructed and medically regulated. Babies with genitalia that doctors consider to be intersex are born every single day. Yet, it continues to be treated as an emergency issue when babies are born. Furthermore, there were countless cultures that more than just two gender identities were socially acceptable long before colonialism.
Sorry, kinda went on a rant there. All this goes to say that, I do not subscribe to a certain gender. Rather, I see my gender as something shaped, morphed, and reworked both by myself and my interactions with the world. I am constantly de-colonizing the way I view gender both in myself and others.
POP NOTES: Tell me about lezpop records! How did that come about, and what are your plans for the label? Are there any artists aside from yourself that we should be paying more attention to??
BABY MOMO: Lez Pop is a project I created with the help of my partner. In the DIY scene here in RVA, it can be a good way to distinguish yourself from different DJ parties or collectives. Additionally, I wanted to create a platform encouraging transgender, non-binary, femme, lesbian musicians and DJs. Music is such a cis-male dominated place, it is scary.
We are about to start working on the Lez Pop album, which will be put out by me as Baby Momo. My partner, our best friend, and I are all going to work together on it and I’m really excited.
POP NOTES: Can you talk a little bit about the production and songwriting process? Do you produce your own beats, or primarily work with other producers? What is your ideal writing environment?
BABY MOMO: My process for Sapphoheart was intentionally different from my musical process before now. Before I started this project, I was making beats myself on Logic with samples from Splice and other related sources. Everything was pretty lo-fi and basic because, at that point, I was mostly making music to acquaint myself with the basic techniques of DAWs.
I wanted to make myself work with other producers to get myself out of my comfort zone. I also wanted to put music out before I got my new production equipment, which is going to allow me to produce the majority of my own music from here on out.
I write all of my own songs. For me, the beat or melody usually comes before the words. I’m constantly writing down hooks and song ideas as they come to me. When I produce a nice beat, or get a track from a producer, I start hearing lyrics in my head. I’ll take out my notes and see what lyrics or poems I’ve written spark anything in me. Once I get a solid idea, I can write a song really quickly.
My studio environment is currently my small studio apartment. I have my music and DJ equipment set up around my desk area with some nice studio speakers I just got. I love to be alone while making music, but that’s just the introvert in me speaking. Collaborating with my musician friends is a great way for me to inspire myself after a period of time feeling unmotivated musically.
POP NOTES: I talk a lot in my writing about the underground pop “scene.” Do you see yourself as a part of a larger movement of queer pop voices? And if so, how do contextualize that scene?
BABY MOMO: I certainly see myself as a part of the queer movement, but I’m not sure as an artist I’ve made that name for myself yet. I have been an LGBTQ activist since the age of 13 and am graduating this year with a degree in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. I dedicate most of my life to uplifting queer, gay, lesbian, and trans people, so I definitely see myself becoming a part of this larger movement in queer pop.
POP NOTES: Who are your dream collaborators?
BABY MOMO: Ugh, such a good question. Big time dreams would be: Lady Gaga, Janelle Monae, and Charli XCX. They are such big musical inspirations to me. More realistically, I would love to myself work with artists like Dorian Electra, Hannah Diamond, AlunaGeorge, Kim Petras, and Lizzo, Bella Thorne, CupcakKe, and even SOPHIE one day.
POP NOTES: Are there any non-musical influences that inspire you?
BABY MOMO: My music is heavily influenced by my research as a gender studies student. Cyborg feminist theory, postmodern art, queer theory, and black feminist studies all serve as an inspiration to me in my writing, art, and music.
POP NOTES: I think Radio Gurls is my favorite song of yours. Tell me about it. What does it mean to be a Radio Gurl?
BABY MOMO: A “Radio Gurl” is someone who has had a similar, life-changing experience with music. Radio Gurls was written about re-finding myself again through music. I went through quite a few years of awful mental health, due to me ignoring and not treating my C-PTSD. A year and some change ago, I started doing what I needed to do for myself. I outed my abuser to my family, started therapy, began taking mental health medications and started doing music again. Once I learned how to produce, and brushed up on my piano skills, I found myself lost in the world of audio. Alongside many other efforts, making music again, and actually sharing it with the world this time, has done wonders for my personal well-being.
POP NOTES: Finally, where can we find you online?
AND CHECK OUT OUR EXCLUSIVE COMPILATION, POP NOTES VOL. 1, TO GET DOWN WITH THE UNDERGROUND SOUND THAT IS COMING TO SAVE THE PLANET (ACCORDING TO THE UFOs ANYWAY)
POP NOTES PEN PALS is a series exploring the emerging universe of underground electronic pop music. Rather than try to name this musical ecosystem or define what it means in terms of genre or substance, Pop Notes will be profiling the many art stars that make up the vanguard of this exciting new wave of pop, in order to render a picture of this digital movement in its own terms. Like punk, rave, electroclash, and bloghouse before them, this is a scene bursting at the seams with a reality-warping diy energy that is undeniable, addictive, and seemingly poised for world dominance(??). Stay tuned for more profiles of exciting artists emanating from the online pop scene!
Pop Notes is written + reported by @bunnymorgana_
for ersa magazine + backklash productions © 2019.