The year 2014 feels, subjectively, like it was a long time ago. My top played song that year was Sky Ferreira’s “Everything Is Embarrassing” from her 2012 EP Ghost. This was before I discovered streaming (RIP, Rdio) and my iTunes play count still held value in my heart, which was, at the time, aching, of course. If you’ve only ever listened to this song for 30 seconds, you’d know that it was written for (and likely by) someone with a broken heart. Ferreira sounds like a lounge singer at a rave on the track. Her vocals skate coolly over the drum machine and lonesome piano. With lyrics like “hurts so bad, I don't know what you want from me / you know I'm trying, you know I'm trying,” the song almost sympathetic toward the one about to break her heart than they likely deserve, which is what makes Ferreira a compelling pop act. She’s compassionate in the face of devastation.
What differentiates Ferreira from other pop acts is that her work indulges in the specifically more destructive habits of being human, presenting them plainly. It’s not the same perceived vacancy as, say, someone like Lana Del Rey. Ferreira’s lo-fi pop music digs almost recklessly, but necessarily, into your core. Ferreira doesn’t take herself all too seriously even when she is singing about something devastating. That approach elevated her pop songs past the genre’s glossy sheen and we’ve lost that since she’s been gone. Between Ghost and Night Time, My Time, Ferreira’s work remains true to a feeling that pop music doesn’t have to be pure, pleasant escapism. Her knack for honest, unfiltered and, at times, uncomfortable stories become a vessel for empathy.
In an interview with Rookie five years ago, Ferreira said she was “not Katy Perry but not Kim Gordon either.” She is at the center of that Venn Diagram. Ferreira was part of a shift that occurred in pop from 2012 to 2014—more lo-fi, indie(ish). When she made Ghost and “Everything Is Embarrassing,” co-written by Dev Hynes of Blood Orange with Ariel Rechtshaid as producer, the L.A. ingenue found her springboard into success, giving way for her to release the fuller and more cohesive debut album, Night Time, My Time, in 2013. As much as the album cover sparked discussion and controversy in a low-key effort to subvert her (somehow a woman with her breasts exposed, almost crying in a shower, is a controversy and a news hit), the work shone through.
Sky Ferreira didn’t start a trend. Instead, she orbited around other pop women doing similar things with differing perspectives. How both Lorde and Charli XCX (contemporaries of Ferreira's who released their debuts in 2013) have evolved since is thrilling; their respective work chews through the norms we’ve expected in pop. Yet, Night Time, My Time is like a proto- Melodrama. Both albums, as they straddle the alt-pop, mainstream bridge, reflect a growing pain particular to an early 20-something woman navigating the world post-heartache. The subject matter (grit, chaos, optimism, strength) may be similar but the sonics diverge.
Night Time, My Time is awash in grunge and industrial-lite influences with some glittery 80s pop peaking through. “24 Hours” and “Love in a Stereo,” more traditional sounding pop songs, sits on the same track list as “Omanko,” as well as “Heavy Metal Heart,” and the album’s title track, which is a stunningly morose, yet good, tune that opens with “I’m useless and I know it.” This is bleak but it’s honest and that’s where Ferreira thrives—showing us the underbelly of her thoughts, however thorny they may be. The album is very of its time but manages to exceed being just a capsule of a moment. Her personal and professional life then collided often, sometimes eclipsing what she contributed, like her relationship with Zachary Cole Smith of DIIV. We first saw an instance of this, almost like a prediction, on the track “I Blame Myself”—a nod to being semi-famous or well enough known that people form impressions before knowing her.
Ferreira, now 25, took a dip into television and film in-between her debut release and now, being part of both the Twin Peaks revival (continuation?) and Baby Driver. In a recent interview with The Fader, she said her visual EP, a project before a full major release, would be out sometime this February or March. She also emphasised that she’s working with mostly women on her new EP. There is a hope, or my belief, really, that Ferreira working with women will be extremely beneficial and pull more depth from the singer. She’s given timelines before in 2015, in 2016, and last July. Last night, too, she released an official photo in anticipation of new work.
Pop music, from good pop musicians, leaves an emotional impression. Ferreira’s often moody and affecting music (she is a Cancer, after all) are both sparkly pop and grunge and sonically like a heart that just won’t be stop aching—and you certainly feel that. Relatability is, perhaps, a curse in art. Why would you only listen to something because you relate to it? Because it may reflect a feeling you are having? We just want to be seen though, even if we’re unsure what that reflection may be. (I listened to “Everything Is Embarrassing” 450 times in one year alone.) Relating to Ferreira’s style of lonely sounding, uncompromising pop brought me back to it again and again.
Last year was a strong year for women in pop music: Lorde, SZA, St. Vincent, and Charli XCX, to name a few, had excellent, innovative works that challenged and pushed the genre forward. Now, with more than four years since Night Time, My Time was released, nearing every day to five years, Ferreira’s return is that much more necessary.
Sarah MacDonald is an Assistant Editor at Noisey Canada. Follow her on Twitter.