In a recent interview with the New York Times, artist and head of PC Music Record Label A.G. Cook spoke about creating music in the (per email enders everywhere) strange and uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Everyone has a laptop,” he said. “It’s the folk instrument of our era, it’s everywhere. And you hear the person behind the electronic device”.
We are living in a time in which profit, popularity, and prestige have a low impact on an artist’s ability to release music out into the world. With all the technology and access available, an individual’s sound has recently become more important in music, and artists big and small have capitalized on the newfound time and space a global pandemic has provided, causing a massive wave of music that’s best described as, well, authentic to them.
Cook himself has just released a self-produced album, and it’s abundantly clear that his quip about the ubiquity and accessibility of creativity is not just press. Hot on the heels of his 49-track album entitled “7G,” his new album “Apple” is a mishmash of techno, EDM, and hardcore that is about as experimental and indulgent as it gets.
“Giver Taker,” released Sept. 18 by singer-songwriter Anjimale, is equal parts beautiful and despondent. The debut recounts the Boston native’s struggle with identity and addiction. In an interview with Marrisa Lorusso from NPR Music, Anjimale recounted growing up in Texas around a less than supportive family as she grappled with her sexuality. “When I wrote [the album], it was the beginning of the realization that just as I could build my own sense of spirituality … I could do the same with my gender and sexuality,” she said.
Alicia Keys, too, has recently stepped back from stardom to try and rediscover her authenticity, demonstrating that even pop icons can find space for reflection. “Alicia,” her latest album, in conjunction with a print memoir “More Myself,” is Keys’ way of expressing that real self to her millions of fans and critics alike. “I’ve been thinking so much about who I am, and what makes me that way, and how I can stay connected to the truth of that even in a really really noisy world,” she told NPR’s Noel King. In the powerful single “Underdog,” Keys sings, “The only dream that I’ve been chasing is my own.”
At the root of this more personal production is the goal of making music that she herself likes and wants to share with the world, rather than chasing what would be “popular.” In the same interview with NPR, she said, “I knew what felt good to me and I didn’t want to change it. I didn’t want to try to do something that was more commercial, or whatever it is that often happens when there’s a cross between art and business.”
In the indie sphere, “The Baby,” which was released Aug. 28, also stands out as a striking composite of the artist Samia’s innermost thoughts and feelings. In the song “Big Wheel,” Samia recounts both bug bites and the news that she was cheated on over a cheery rock rift. “Is There Something In The Movies?” produced some of the most striking and personal lyrics on the album — Samia sings about a past boyfriend, saying “I left you in life cause you don’t need my pen to embellish your noteworthy parts.” She credits her music as the way to most authentically communicate her feelings, and in doing so enjoys being able to connect with her fans. “That’s my favorite thing,” she told Cheri Amour of Line of Best Fit. “To hear how people have interpreted the songs and how it’s resonated with them and experiences in their lives.”
It’s a uniquely singular moment in history — mass political and social upheaval, a global pandemic, and an air of absolute uncertainty that seems to pervade everything. If there’s one good thing to come of now, though, it’s that music is harnessing the space it provides to create some authentic and powerful tracks. Let’s hope that, even after a resolution to all the abounding chaos, the trend of being yourself continues.