A disclaimer before we get started:
So part of my New Year’s Resolution this year was to not only listen to more music, but also start writing about music. I’ve been wanting to do more writing anyway and this seemed as good a place as any. For starters, I have a reason. A song or album comes out? I write about it. Done! Also, there’s a definite end in sight. This isn’t like writing a novel where it’s up to me to create and develop characters, locations, an entire world. Basically here I listen to a song and then explain how I feel about it. Sweet! So now’s the part where I do that, right? Right!…Right?
I also want to just say that I am by no mean an expert in this arena, in fact quite the opposite. I took some piano and voice classes when I was a kid and with the exception of being told I had near perfect pitch, all the rest is pretty hit or miss, self-taught or learned. So, all I’m going to do here is share my thoughts and opinions on the music I’m listening to as I’m listening to it and we can go from there.
So what album did I deem worthy enough of being my very first written piece of 2019, you ask? Why Julia Michael’s new EP Inner Monologue Part 1!
Inner Monologue Part 1 is, as I’m sure you might have guessed by this point, the first part of her sophomore album Inner Monologue which will be released in two parts with the second part coming later this year. The plan was always to release the album in two parts but initially for one part to be comprised of the happy songs and the other, sad songs. But this plan didn’t come to fruition because as Julia herself explained she “is all over the fucking map”. That works for me, girl. Let’s dive in.
The first song “Anxiety” is a duet with long time friend and collaborator Selena Gomez. This song is, to quote Julia, “about these sort of things that I deal with on a daily basis. Not just anxiety, but the fear of missing out and sort of wanting to do things but never actually having the ability to go through with anything that you want to do.” It’s almost as if she knew I was going to do this and said “Here buddy, I got you.” And she does in fact “got me”.
The song is pretty self-explanatory, it’s about anxiety and also the FOMO that can be a result of anxiety, but in true Julia style, the song isn’t as heavy handed as one might expect. At least not melodically so. While the lyrics are pretty straightforward, the music has sort of a plinky, boppy quality that assures us that although we’re going to go a pretty emotional journey over the next 20 minutes, this is still a pop album and we’re gonna have fun. While it is a slightly mellow sort of sounding song, the way the lyrics flit about with and against the music definitely has an anxious quality to it. Like, this would have been a song that would be easy to overproduce or conceptualize, but anxiety, though it can be a crippling experience, is often times more of an annoying affect rather than this giant imposing beast on your life. At least for most of us.
Selena’s presence here is nice if a tad superfluous. Demi Lovato feels like a little bit more spot on of a choice, however she might have not had the ability to participate on a project like this at the moment. The song ends on a nice note of camaraderie, though, where Julia and Selena join forces and trade lyrics back and forth through the rest of the song, reminding us that though it may feel like it, we are never really truly alone.
The next song “Into You” is deceptively catchy. It starts slow and simple on a down note. It’s clear very early that it’s a breakup song, but the song picks up steam quickly. Where are we going here? Suddenly we’re jogging on a beach “Big Little Lies” style. Where is this tempo coming from in a breakup song? Wait, are those handclaps?! And then the chorus kicks in, we’re full fledged running down that beach now, to where? More like from what. “So I don’t run right into you. Even though that’s what I wanna do (What I wanna do)”
The realization hits both us and Julia with a (heart)beat drop. The song follows suit as expected with the bargaining and depression battling back and forth until the inevitable acceptance sets in and the song ends pretty abruptly on the line “even though that’s what I want” this time omitting the last two words “to do” demonstrating how her emotional agency has been stripped from her in this particular instance.
The next song is “Happy.” Now this one’s a doozy, I tell you. The crux of this very personal (yet somehow broadly relatable) song is that Julia herself feels self destructive. Sure, we all feel that way from time to time, but Julia has a particular problem with this as not only a songwriter, but as a burgeoning pop-star, she fears she’s sabotaging her emotional happiness because she knows it makes for better art and therefore a better product to sell. She’s commodifying love and heartbreak and she knows it.
The financial aspect of this song is what struck me the most because it’s blatantly exposing the dark underbelly of pop music and that’s the bottom line. It’s one thing to suffer for art, it a whole other to do it for money. We all do it, but some have a harder time sleeping at night than others. She struggles back and forth with this throughout the rest of the song before ending on the note that “I just want to be happy”. That refrain is heard several more times as it fades out. Has she solved her dilemma of not knowing if she can ever truly trust herself or her own motivations? Most likely not for good. But by ending on the note of personal self-fulfillment within this pop song, she’s at least done it for now.
Also, the lines “I’m not bitter. Well, maybe a little bit. I’d sniff glitter if it’d help me feel something real” are pretty good.
“Deep” is also a deceptive song. I find that much like Julie herself, her songs have a way of continually surprising. You get a note or two in and think “I know what this is gonna be” and a lot of time you’re right, or at least partially right. But then Julia surprises you with some unexpected depth or flair. Deep is a standard song of desiring love, particularly new love, but being afraid to fully commit because you’ve been hurt before. How does she bring some flare to this song you might ask? Well rather literally. The production of the chorus kicks in with some deep reverb giving the feeling of sinking into the words like murky quicksand before being slingshot back to your toes with a sense of Elton John-istic poise and control through the piano and the funk organ. There’s also this little vocal “yip” that she does in the post chorus that I just love. It’s echoey and dislocated at first before snapping to full attention. Just perfection. The song ends with a dreamy harmonious a cappella style bridge that only clarifies that she’s fallen completely under new love’s spell. I can’t even start on the outro.
That’s one of the things that I really appreciate about this EP. It’s telling a story. That doesn’t mean that every song is connected to the previous and next and as such can only be listened to in context, that’s not at all the case. But there’s a nice lyrical and melodic cohesion to each song and it’s placement within this EP.
Which brings me to easily my favorite song on the EP, “Apple”. I’ve already remarked on Julia’s ability to cut to the quick of reality, poetry, sexuality, and practicality. She somehow is able to capture that perfect junction between honest emotion and pretension. I think many artists struggle when it comes to expressing sexuality in a way that feels both real and also artistic, but there’s such a raw vulnerability and deeply erotic quality to this song. Starting with the subtle strums of a ukulele and the gentle scene setting of the lyrics “Oh, I’d rather be kissing in Summer, so innocent. In your apartment on the weekends.” I mean, you can feel the breeze from the open apartment window, and then she hits you with one of her patented “sexy lyrics” “Lift up my dress to see where you’ve been. That’s what I want and that’s where I am.” Wow.
When I heard that lyric I stopped, rewound and listened to it again. This is absolutely a sex song, and that goes far beyond insinuation and double entendres. There’s a carefully crafted sense of back and forth happening in this song. The way Julia and her beau trade ownership of their own and each others sexuality. The lyric “lift up my dress to see where you’ve been” is stunning. She’s admiring her own body and sexuality in and of itself as well as the effect it has on her lover and vice versa.
The line that immediately follows is just as astute if not even better. “Bite off an apple right from your fridge. Come here and taste it right off my lips.” This line floored me because the implication, at least for me, is that they are trading things with each other and improving upon them with their own sexuality. The apple in question already belonged to him, but upon her taking it and biting into it and then having him come taste it off of her lips, she is demonstrating how she and her sexuality enrich his life all that much more.
I’m not going to even touch the line “Spill your emotions into my hands”… I mean, I could… but I just don’t have the time and I’m about out of pearls to clutch. The rest of the song is filled out with dreamy “da da da da da das” that only reaffirm the carefree summer afternoon vibe and a muffled baseline that evokes a feeling of reminiscence, implying that this voyage might be something of the past only now being fondly recalled leaving you with a slight sense of melancholy only emphasized by the last line “that’s what I…” The song stops dead before Julia can finish her proclamation “that’s what I want.” Almost as if waking herself, and us from the apparent daydream.
And then there’s the final song What A Time (feat Niall Horan).
This song is fine. It’s also about remembering a good time. Only this time Niall Horan was there. (ed. Niall is the best member of One Direction – Kristin)