As a pop singer, Empress Of doesn’t lean on easy melodies, and as an electronic producer she doesn’t lean on familiar synths. The art moniker of Lorely Rodriguez, last year’s strong and curious full-length Me (Terrible/XL Recordings) laid plain her strength as both a songwriter and individual, offering generous emotional arias like “Everything Is You” and sweet club funk like “Threat” that were rich with lyrical nuance.
Rodriguez is a phenom melding the personal with the political, and she’s endearing as hell to boot—listen to her September interview with Latino USA’s Maria Hinojosa and fall in love forever. Her latest single, “Woman Is a Word,” is a b-side from her Me recording sessions, and finds her struggling against the restrictions and expectations that come with womanhood, including the highly relatable verse, “I’m only an image of what you see. You don’t know me, you don’t know me, you don’t know me.”
“Sometimes as a songwriter and a human, I feel very restricted by words,” says Rodriguez. “One word can have so much social implication, standard, limitation, qualification that it doesn’t give a person their own opportunity to really choose their identity. I wrote ‘Woman Is A Word’ at a time when I felt like the word ‘woman’ put me in a box of things I was capable to do, things that defined me that didn’t necessarily define me.”
Her anguish and frustration is audible in the crescendo of her vocals, the way they lilt upwards and then slither down a note at the end of each verse—it’s the internal struggle of proving you’re not a cookie cut-out of some stereotype, nor that you are hindered by your gender, something that no doubt comes up in music world perpetually, particularly in the dude-centric electronic one. (There’s also the underlying notion that she doesn’t have to be called a “woman producer,” she can just be a “producer,” because the gender default for “producer” is not and never shall be “man.”) On a horizon of slow-burn synths, it’s a hands-up daybreak rave anthem that speaks, like all her music, straight to the heart.
Rodriguez, who recently returned to her native LA after living and working in New York City, is traveling to SXSW this week, where she’ll play Tumblr’s woman-focused showcase, as well as Pitchfork’s party.
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Image by Daniel Dorsa.