In the midst of 2020’s turbulence, there’s a lot of pressure on artists to rise to the moment. Between political tensions, racial tensions, economic tensions and pretty much every other brand of “tensions,” it’s becoming increasingly difficult for artists to figure out the best way to say what they want to say. For some, the answer has been to lean into those hardships — for others, the answer has been to lean into a sense of escapism. While both paths have their merits, perhaps the most compelling solution is to try to marry the two. One artist who’s managed to do this in an effective, uplifting and skillful way is the Chicago-based songwriter, Emily Blue, who released a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Rain On Me” on October 9.
A duet with another figure in Chicago’s pop scene — the 24-year-old powerhouse vocalist, Thair — Blue’s cover of “Rain On Me” not only demonstrates the musical prowess of the duo but also instills the listener with a sense of empowerment.
“Obviously, there is a lot going on in the world,” Blue told American Songwriter. “I always want to make sure that my music is in touch with my feelings, the feelings of the culture around me and the struggles that are going on in communities I care about. For example, the LGBTQ community is really personal to me. I also wanted to collaborate with Thair, who does the second verse. We are both really passionate about social justice, but we also love pop music. So, to be honest, the point of this cover was to have fun and get some energy and hope back during these hard times.”
In that regard, Blue is joining other LGBTQ artists — such as Dorian Electra — who are making an effort to not only talk about LGBTQ issues, but to normalize them and instill a sense of lighthearted joy in the music. That is to say, while it’s important to give due credence to the struggles of LGBTQ Americans, it’s also important to shine a light on the uplifting aspects of the culture and community.
“I wrote a lot about the traumas from my past — I still think it’s very important to acknowledge that,” Blue said. “But, it’s also important to tell the world ‘hey, I’m still here. I’m going to keep making my art, I’m going to keep finding joy in large and small ways.’ The choice of song for this cover came out of searching for something fun — we really wanted to raise the energy and generate some positivity. It’s so hard to find something to celebrate, especially right now with so much negativity in the news. There are so many things for us to be worried about as a community. So to me, the message of this song is: keep going. It’s incredibly empowering to be proud of yourself and to be happy as much as you can be in the face of struggle.”
In terms of raising energy and generating some positivity, Blue and Thair’s take on “Rain On Me” is a slam dunk. While Gaga’s original version featuring Ariana Grande is an amazing display of modern pop sensibilities, Blue’s version takes the song into the realm of glitch pop and indie music. In a way, this makes Blue’s version the more compelling track — not only is she conveying the genuine fun of a song like “Rain On Me,” but she’s also doing it in a way that draws on a more robust range of influences and styles than the original. Plus, the performances are just amazing — how could you hear Thair blaze through his verse without bobbing your head at least a little bit? It’s infectious!
Yet, the energy captured on “Rain On Me” isn’t a one-time occurrence; no, it’s the same energy captured on the rest of Blue’s material. A skilled writer herself, Blue’s original music takes on many of the same themes as this cover. “My artistic identity reflects who I am in life: a constantly learning person,” Blue said. “I use pop as a means to be vulnerable, but also as a means to build up the courage to face struggle — I hope my music empowers others to do the same.”
One of Blue’s most recent releases is an entertaining and insightful single entitled “Trump.” Combining traditional pop elements with traditional death metal elements, “Trump.” perfectly falls into the ethos embraced by the blossoming hyperpop community, who is utilizing widely recognized cultural symbolism to make profound statements regarding the state of our world.
“My goal was: ‘how do I make the most ridiculous piece of music possible by painting a portrait of somebody who is ridiculously power-hungry?’” Blue said. “It’s funny, but underneath it, I’m kinda frightened of this character. Having narcissistic traits or being overly-focused on yourself is something that’s exaggerated by social media — we’re always trying to get a step ahead, to get people to notice us. So, having a president who came out of celebrity culture is really reflective of the darker side of our cultural mindset. But, I also try to retain a sense of fun or humor at the same time.”
In addition to these releases, Blue is also gearing up to drop a yet-to-be-named EP in the not-so-distant future that is inspired by all sorts of pop, ranging from ‘classic ‘80s’ to ‘modern hits.’
“That actually seems to be the trend right now,” Blue said, somewhat amazed. “I look up from my little, introverted recording headspace and am like ‘oh wow, there’s actually a lot of ‘80s-revival pop happening!’ So, I’m excited to be on this wave. In addition to folks like Gaga and Charli XCX, I’ve been inspired by female powerhouses from that time, like Heart and Blondie. I tried to use a lot of synths and styles that are associated with some of those classics. The ‘80s is my favorite era of music!”
All in all, Blue’s career almost personifies the message she’s trying to project: keep going and find ways to experience joy along the way. Between “Rain On Me,” “Trump.” and her upcoming EP, Blue is exploring all sorts of themes, styles and sounds. She’s providing a space that is just as appropriate for thoughtful healing as it is for impassioned fun. In the midst of 2020’s turbulence, that’s a pretty good place to be.