Music/Features

Princess Nokia’s emo mixtape is for the angsty teen soul

April 16, 2018

A Girl Called Red doesn’t sound like the traditional emo music we heard ten years ago and it doesn’t need to.

My introduction to emo music was a turning point for me. Through MSN, a friend showed me the bands AFI and Something Corporate. It immediately popped the tight bubble of music I had been listening to via BET. Soon after, the list of emo, screamo, pop-punk, alternative bands singing (and screaming) lyrics that navigated every emotion of my pre-teen soul grew long and longer. The era of my life where Taking Back Sunday, Dashboard Confessional, Underoath, A Day To Remember, and more consumed my MP3 player, sparked a connection to music I hadn’t experienced up until that point.

After it was announced that this year would be the last for The Vans Warped Tour it marked the end of an era. When the cross country pop-punk festival paid a visit to Toronto, for a few years that same friend and I made sure to go. I eventually stopped thinking about how I wouldn’t see any other black girls like me because, well, it was rare and I got used to it. What was important to me, and everyone else there, was the music and it was easier to focus on that than being different.

Outside of those shows, I started to bury my obsession with these bands, keeping my adoration between myself and the select few I felt most comfortable with. During those years I gave way too much weight into what others thought of me. Was I doing what other black girls were doing to fit in? What if people found out I was here? That person called me white again. Locking myself in my room and playing that music was, in a way, therapeutic, and a chance for me to (very dramatically) bask in the misery of not feeling understood.

Many of us, because I’m sure I’m not alone, have pushed that phase in our lives far back in our past. But after witnessing the rise of emo’s newest era, through artists like Lil Uzi Vert and Trippie Redd, Harlem rapper Princess Nokia can sense a renaissance, and it’s one she demands to be a part of.

If you keep up with Princess Nokia on social media, you’re familiar with her devotion to emo and pop-punk music. She’s never been hesitant to post countless videos of her singing along to her favourite bands. Earlier this year, she paid homage in an even bigger way, joining Apple Music to host the radio show “The Voices In My Head With Princess Nokia.” Putting her vast music knowledge on display through themed episodes, she introduced the show with an episode titled “Your Eyes Are Bleeding,” where she spoke at length about how artists like Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, Paramore, blink-182 and more shaped her to be the artist and person she is today.

A Girl Cried Red breathes new life into the fragility and comfort of emo. It’s doesn’t sound like the traditional emo music we heard ten years ago and it doesn’t need to.

On her latest mixtape, A Girl Cried Red, Nokia both pulls from her formative emo influences and extends beyond them. Beyond her music, whether it’s hosting her Smart Girl Club podcast or modelling for Calvin Klein, Nokia has a vibrant way of revealing her complex character. Similar to her explosive debut release,1992, A Girl Cried Red is another example of her refusal to be categorized to one simple identity. This past February, Princess Nokia told Dazed “… If there’s anyone who knows emo music, it’s me… I really wanted to connect to a generation like ours that still remembered that and bring this beautiful time in history that’s about to be resurged.”

For Nokia, finding that connection meant creating a project that reflected how emo music can (and has) evolved to represent more people of colour. In the Dazed interview, Princess Nokia explained a history about black artists in alternative music spaces that would have put my insecurities at rest growing up: “Black people created punk — the band Death was way before The Ramones. Same with Bad Brains. If you think about it, the wool has been pulled over our eyes. This is our shit.”

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Throughout A Girl Cried Red, Nokia seems inspired by this legacy, while also actively contributing to it. The opening track “Flowers and Rope” sets the tone for the EP with a synth beat in the forefront layered with her harmonizing vocals. Despite never bringing her vocals to a point of scream, the voice of singing Nokia is an octave up from rapping Nokia. It’s a stylistic choice that fits the mood of these songs, without taking away from obvious frustration and helplessness in her lyrics.

On “Your Eyes Are Bleeding” she sings, “Everyone I love has an expiration shell, everyone I love leaves me when I need them most,” a line that channels the height of malaise-ridden pop punk. Other standouts include heavy guitar tracks like “Look Up Kid” and “Little Angel” which balance out the project. Even on the tracks that aren’t recognizably emo, “For the Night” has an evident R&B angle, with lyrics like “I make money to replace you, used to love you, now I hate you,” Nokia consistently relies on her lyrics to bring all of her genre influences together.

At its core, listening to Princess Nokia’s most recent project sparked a nostalgic reflection of some of my most sensitive years that I didn’t know I needed. Through melodies and beats, A Girl Cried Red breathes new life into the fragility and comfort of emo. It’s doesn’t sound like the traditional emo music we heard ten years ago and it doesn’t need to. Her mixtape paves the way for a new direction in the genre, and represents a movement of acceptance for those who didn’t feel included before.

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