BOYFRIEND: SUNDAY, APRIL 30—GENTILLY STAGE, 12:45 P.M.
When Beyoncé’s Lemonade came out, Boyfriend—New Orleans’ bespectacled, lingerie, robe and hair rollers–clad “rap cabaret” artist—overheard a conversation about the groundbreaking album between two girls in a public restroom. “Why did she call it Lemonade?” asked a voice from behind a stall. “Is it because it’s summer and it’s really hot because they’re in the South?”
Rehashing the story in her crisply enunciated Tennessee accent, Boyfriend recalls, “I almost vomited in that moment.”
She also had an epiphany. Messages about sexuality, identity and the struggles we go through as women in this culture have always been embedded within Boyfriend’s whipsmart rhymes and the choreography, props and costumes she uses in her stage show. But not everybody gets that.
“I’m like, ‘Whoa. I’m putting my messages out there for people that aren’t English majors like me, that don’t take joy in dissecting symbolism and analyzing the meanings of things,’” she recalls realizing after the bathroom incident. “Who knows what [that girl] does? She might be saving the world because she’s a nurse. She doesn’t need to bother with figuring out what, like, Odysseus really was after. Those thought processes and hearing the way I was being talked about as an artist all sort of combined to be like, ‘Ya know what? I’m gonna make just a bangin’ pop song.’”
Actually, she made two—and they both appear on her new EP, Next. In the addictively hooky “Beauty Is Pain,” Boyfriend uses imagery in much the same way she uses costumes and props onstage to show, in her words, “what women go through on a daily basis just to be deemed presentable.”
When she sings about the “spikes growing out of” her feet and the “hot caramel” wax on her legs, the images have a way of searing themselves into the listener’s brain. Meanwhile, dark lyrics like “I do math when I eat/ I’m countin’ carbs in my sleep/ ’cause I only aim to please” remind us of the flawed logic that feeds eating disorders. The fact that all those elements are at work in music that makes you want to dance and sing along to it intensifies the message.
“I finally put on my producer hat with this album,” says Boyfriend, adding that she’s only recently started using the word “musician” as opposed to “performer” to describe herself.
“It was really exciting to be a vocally articulate architect of a sonic landscape,” she continues, lapsing into the kind of language-adoring flow she often uses when she raps. “Finally I feel like my Spotify page will reflect what’s happening on the stage. And people who haven’t necessarily been in the room for Rap Cabaret will get a more honest rendering of what I’m all about as a recorded musician.”
The other pop-inspired new track on the EP is “Fun Shit,” featuring Cindy Wilson of the B-52s, which flips back and forth between a sweet, almost forlorn-sounding apology from one friend to another about why she’s been socially MIA (“guess I’m too busy workin’”) and a driving electro-clash refrain where the singer says what she really means (“ain’t got time for that fun shit”).
Produced in Laurel Canyon by Boyfriend and Pablo Dylan with the help of New Orleans musicians Khris Royal, Joe Shirley and Alvin Ford, Jr., the album also includes what Boyfriend calls her “Beyoncé and Jack White moment”—a vitriolic missive to someone on social media who might have an X-rated history with the protagonist. “Does my name feel strange in your mouth?” she demands in “Sleepin’ On.” “Does it taste like the fucking south?” That track, along with “Next”—part homage to a crush, part brazen vow that said crush will be the next person in her bed—both feel more like vintage Boyfriend.
“My early music was responding to the messaging I heard in the songs specifically about love and relationships and what a woman’s role should be,” she explains. “For that reason it was purposefully a little more abrasive.”
That’s not to say some of Boyfriend’s more hardcore repertoire is necessarily negative. Much of what Boyfriend deals with through music and performance is about celebrating self-awareness and self-acceptance—things that can be tough for someone who grew up in a conservative, Church of Christ environment.
At her rap cabaret shows, fans often dress like Boyfriend and her dancers—in lingerie and retro-styled panties like the ones she sells on her website that come with a blood stain graphic on the crotch.
“Ultimately, we’re all in this together,” she says. “I mean, everybody has something about their body that they don’t like and if we can all start from that place of honesty, then we’re suddenly all so much more beautiful.”