Even the most club-averse among us must admit that the prospect of sweating out your feelings on the dancefloor sounds pretty fantastic right now. While we may associate sparsely plucked guitar strings and stripped-down vocals with emotionally vulnerable music, something about the rhythm of a heavy beat taps into the core of our humanity.
No one knows this like Lorely Rodriguez, aka Empress Of. On her third album I’m Your Empress Of, Rodriguez explores herself—particularly in terms of her womanhood—through romantic relationships. Between neon pangs of synth and liquid percussion, she opens up about her own insecurities and desires. The Honduran-American artist proves that raw personal narratives and dance pop can happily coexist, picking up the mantle from forerunners like Robyn.
Before diving into the more contemplative aspects of the album, though, one must tip their hat to “Love Is A Drug,” the unknowing quarantine anthem. “I know love is a drug / I know money is a drug / I know sex can be a drug / But I just wanna be touched,” Rodriguez intones over a thirsty club beat. It’s easy to imagine this song playing on a dancefloor once this is all over, when we can finally bridge that six foot gap.
The record’s opening and title track features Rodriguez’s mother saying of her daughter, “I only have one girl / But the only girl is like having thousands of girls / Because look at how many times she reproduces herself in each bunch of you.” Rodriguez holds up each of these thousands of girls to the light song by song, from her lovestruck persona in “Bit Of Rain” (“You closed your eyes heavy blinds to a house / I want everything inside to spill out”) to the wounded, insecure version of herself on “Void” (“You never listen when I said it hurts / I talk big but don’t know my worth”). That latter track peers into the self-destructive nature of internalized misogyny, as her mother murmurs in an interlude, “You wanna make yourself the woman that nobody is gonna mistreat.” Later, her mother comes back and presses Rodriguez and all women to aspire for more than just appeasing men: “But you make yourself the woman you wanna be.”
Over a trance-like melody, Rodriguez shows just how tenacious she is on “Give Me Another Chance,” pleading for her lover to give her the opportunity to make their relationship work. However, she slowly realizes that no matter how determined she is to stay together, her paramour is nowhere near as flexible. “You can’t change and I can’t change your ways,” she sings over a tropical beat, her limber vocals reaching into the sky, far more adaptable than her partner could ever be.
Empress Of also includes moments of sexual empowerment on the LP, narrating a hookup with a stranger on “Not The One.” In full vocoder glory Rodriguez shares, “I gotta tell myself / You’re not the one but it helps.” The person’s identity doesn’t matter, only the fact that she’s unafraid to act upon her desires.
As Rodriguez seeks to untangle herself from her tumultuous relationship with her ex, she realizes just how much she needs to get in touch with her own identity. ”I can’t decide what type of girl I like / What type of girl to be,” she confesses on the ephemeral track “Hold Me Like Water,” one of only two songs that weren’t completely written and produced by Rodriguez (the other being “U Give Up”). Silvery synth thrusts insistently as she realizes on the final track “Awful” that “I need some help / I need help / I need myself.” Her journey to self-discovery is only beginning, but what a start it has been.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast, hibernophile and contributing writer for Paste’s music and comedy sections. She also exercises her love for reality TV at HelloGiggles every now and then. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.