Amaarae Shares ‘Fountain Baby’ Insights at Austin City Limits

2023 gave Amaarae the breakthrough she was always ready for. Born in Ghana, then moving to New Jersey in her tween years, the Afro-pop sensation not only got to appear on new projects from Janelle Monáe and Aminé, but she’s also just four months removed from her widely acclaimed sophomore studio album Fountain Baby.

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With 14 songs, the LP serves as the polyamorous marriage of several different genres that Amaarae is incredibly familiar with, these being Afrobeats, American pop, alt-rock, R&B, hip-hop, and even punk. Full of motifs surrounding water, romance, sensuality, astrology, and more, the best way to sum up Fountain Baby is probably by just looking at the juxtaposition of song titles from tracks 10-12: “Sex, Violence, Suicide,” “Sociopathic Dance Queen,” “Aquamarine Luvs Ecstacy.”

Before touring the new project set for Spring 2024, Amaarae brought Fountain Baby down to Austin, Texas on Saturday (October 14). Taking over the IHG stage at 3:15 p.m. CT, she delivered an all-encompassing performance filled with songs from Fountain Baby and her 2020 debut The Angel You Don’t Know, as well as hip-hop hits from Texas icons like Paul Wall and Mike Jones.

[RELATED: The 5 Best Moments at Austin City Limits 2023]

At one point, she even noticed a few attendees who sang the words to every song she played, pausing the show to offer them free T-shirts from her Fountain Baby merchandise collection.

“I just love to give fans free shit,” she told American Songwriter.

After her set, Amaarae sat down with us to discuss the continued promotion of Fountain Baby, how the concepts for the project came together, how her fanbase has grown, and more.

Check out our conversation below.

American Songwriter: Earlier this month, you and your team announced that you submitted Fountain Baby for multiple categories for the Grammys. Was that always the goal when you started writing the album and when you released it?

Amaarae: I guess, for any artist, the goal is to receive the highest honor that you can in your field of work. But I really just wrote this album with my happiness in mind, with my fans in mind, and with how I felt like music was going, I just wanted to put something interesting out, something that was fun. So I wasn’t necessarily writing it like,”Yeah, this is gonna get me a Grammy.” Not at all.

AS: During your set today, you paid tribute to the state of Texas and hip-hop by playing songs by Paul Wall and Mike Jones. Then you quickly pivoted to performing your collaborative song “Bling” with Afrobeats artist Blaqbonez. Having roots in both New Jersey and Ghana, has that marriage of hip-hop and Afrobeats in your music always been inherent to you as an artist or has it taken time to develop?

A: It’s actually inherent. I don’t think Americans actually know how much Africans love hip-hop, and how long we’ve loved hip hop. So, I think even with African music, and Afrobeats, and Ghanaian drill, and Nigerian drill, all of that is very influenced by hip-hop. You hear some of the flows, some of the cadences, even the edginess, the way people dress, the way they like to carry themselves… It’s all influenced by the hip hop culture that we grew up in.

AS: With Fountain Baby, it’s very much bringing together a lot of different influences and audiences. It appeals to Afrobeats, American pop, hip-hop, rock, and more, along with there being an astrology angle to it as well. With the aesthetics of the album, where there’s themes of water and zodiac signs, where did that stem from?

A: It’s natural, honestly. The name Fountain Baby came when I was with my stylist in the car. She had said something and I was like I’m gonna steal that bar and I’m gonna put it in a song. Then she said, “You can have it, you know I’m just a little fountain baby.” And we were in L.A. and we were driving right on Fountain Ave and I said, “You know what, that’s gonna be the name of my album. I’m gonna call it Fountain Baby.”

With the astrology thing, “Co-Star” just started as a joke. My engineer’s in Gen Z, he’s the youngest in our team, he’s about 21 [years old]. And he comes as a studio and he’s like, “Yo, guys, are y’all on Co-Star?” A very Gen Z thing to say. And we’re all like, “What the hell is Co-Star?” He shows us the app and makes us download it. So every day we come in the studio, we read each other’s charts. Okay. And the next day we were like, “Yo, we should just make an astrology song.” So we got really drunk and we just wrote a song about star signs.

AS: I wanted to specifically ask you about “Angels in Tibet,” because it’s starting to become a viral TikTok song. It’s very much started a dance craze of its own. With pop being one of the many genres that you cover, is TikTok appeal something that you angle towards when making more pop-influenced music?

A: Never. I don’t write songs specifically thinking, “I want this to do well on TikTok.” I think I just know how to write catchy songs with sticky melodies, and that’s just what works on TikTok. I’m even surprised, I would have thought a song like “Co-Star” or “Sociopathic Dance Queen” would have been the TikTok one, or maybe “Princess Going Digital.” But “Angels in Tibet” is kind of blowing my mind. This is how you know you can’t predict what people are gonna like on TikTok, because “Co-Star” seems like a sure bet, but people love “Angels” instead.

AS: You toured the album earlier this year in Europe and North America, and you’ve been doing festivals this summer. What’s the difference that you’ve noticed with your audiences from before this album came out to now? Obviously, they’ve probably grown in size, but has there been anything else you’ve seen?

A: I think that’s all it is. I’ve always had an eclectic and diverse audience since I began, so I don’t think that’s changed. I’m just kind of starting to see how much more eclectic it’s getting. Today, I saw someone’s dad in the crowd singing word for word. I was like, “Whose fucking dad is this? How does he even know the words?” Then the promoter brought his five-year-old twins by, and they were side-stage singing every word. I’m like “How do they even know the words?” That’s insane! So I think I’m just really starting to see how effective my music is in touching different types of people. I think that’s fire.

Photo by Greg Noire for ACL Fest 23

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