LADYGUNN NO. 16 COVER STORY: BØRNS
I once took a selfie with BØRNS. I did an awkward thumbs up, and he looked like a sex God.
If you know me, almost nothing makes me nervous or freaks me out — except when I’m in the presence of BØRNS. He’s the kind of artist that has so much mystery surrounding him, you lose all sense of which way is up when he’s in the room. He was taller than me because he was wearing platform heels, and his nails were painted black just like mine. It was obvious he was the more fashionable one between the two of us. He complimented my jacket though, which was a Gucci knock-off because truthfully, I was just trying to dress like him.
BLAZER + SHIRT + SHORTS, GUCCI. SOCKS, FALKE. SHOES, ADIEU. SUNGLASSES, KAREN WALKER.
I get why people question a man who looks better in a lace turtleneck than most women. But women are attracted to the mystery of a guy like BØRNS. Not just because of his chiseled cheekbones and unspeakably perfect falsetto vocals—more because he represents what one might think the perennial “Rock God” should look and be like. And having been in such close proximity to a God makes a person feel funny, if not paranoid, that they could catch a glimpse of some non-Godlike behavior that would ruin the mystique.
Of all the times I’ve seen BØRNS perform, I’ve never caught any such mystique-shattering moments. For some, it’s an act. But with BØRNS it seems what you see (and hear) is what you get. None of it is an act, especially not his ability to look like a Sex God in something as dumb as a poorly lit selfie.
His voice and collection of tunes on 2015’s Dopamine make you feel like he has evoked Prince’s ghost and added a psychedelic flare. Yet, he doesn’t push the theatricality so much that it makes him seem desperate for attention. Harry Styles has tried to do a similar thing, but BØRNS is effortless in his approach. The music isn’t dated in a way you’d feel when you put on a throwback record like Led Zeppelin — it’s the modern millennial spin on “Rock God,” with a major dose of film, art, and intelligence on par with some of the most famous Italian Renaissance artists — a set of skills that is highly underrated and definitely not coveted as much as it should be in society.
JEANS, LINDER. SOCKS, FALKE. SHOES, ADIEU.
I know every word to the Dopamine album. And I had no idea that BØRNS wore bell bottoms and was basically an underground fashion icon at the time. I just knew that what I was hearing were some of the best rock songs I had heard in a long time. I mean, just listen to the guitar solo on “American Money” and I won’t even need to try to convince you that this guy’s talent is bizarrely underrated. Dive deeper into his Spotify Sessions recorded live at SXSW in 2015, and you’ll hear covers of “Benny and The Jets” and “It’s My Party” that will quite literally put every other cover you’ve ever heard on YouTube to shame.
“I was consumed by 60’s glam rock,” BØRNS reflects. “As a result, most of Dopamine was written on guitar with layers of vocal harmonies.” I once read somewhere that BØRNS described his music on Dopamine as “love pleas,” and the songs are undoubtedly about falling in love, with lyrics like “Your eyes….green like American Money,” “You Got me seeing stars,” and ideas that explore “Past Lives,” as well as storybook-like descriptions of falling hard for the first time. BØRNS seems to be the real-life version of the themes in Almost Famous, coming from a small town in Michigan to wearing belly shirts on-stage and selling out shows across the U.S. and making all the Penny Lanes chase after him while he serenades them.
SHIRT + VEST + PANTS, DIOR. SOCKS, FALKE. SHOES, LEMAIRE.
In early 2018, BØRNS released his second full length album — Blue Madonna. A collection of songs that led with the first single, “Faded Heart,” a tune that fans felt was reminiscent of his biggest hit to date, “Electric Love.” Only this time, he’s not singing about falling in love, he’s singing about being broken by it. And after hearing other tracks like, “I Don’t Want U Back,” you can start to see the evolution between his two albums. And then it hits you: Who is this Blue Madonna that broke his heart?
If you flat out ask him, BØRNS answers in true mysterious “Rock God” fashion. “Blue Madonna? I’m not sure [who she is], I’ve only seen her from a distance…” His answer makes you wonder if he stands on rooftops at parties and shouts, “I am a golden God!”
Just when you think maybe he has sworn off women completely, his live band is almost all female. I assume he does this in order to get the proper harmonies to compliment his vocals, but maybe there’s something else there…
SHIRT + TROUSERS, SIES MARJAN. SOCKS, FALKE. SHOES, LEMAIRE.
As for what drove the sonic and lyrical shift from Dopamine’s dreamy love story to Blue Madonna’s broken-hearted through-line, BØRNS says “Dopamine was about being deep in lust with everything. California was sunny and blooming and all my experiences were visceral. Once I started touring there was a sweet innocence slowly being broken. The first time I lost my voice on the road, the first time I was too stoned to perform in Amsterdam, the first time selling out a theatre and hearing an audience sing along. I didn’t realize until I showed up at the studio to record my second record how deeply those experiences affected me. Blue Madonna is about broken innocence but knowing those memories are real and will only become a more beautiful blue with time.”
After touring with the songs of Dopamine, and “playing the living hell out of those songs” as he puts it, BØRNS says “I got back to LA and started writing on piano and Wurlitzer. I studied Brian Wilson and his arrangements and wanted to try writing orchestrally.” One listen to Blue Madonna, and even a layman can hear the growth from the previous obvious lean into 60’s rock to a sound including more abstract vibes and 80’s inspired growling synths. BØRNS says his references for Blue Madonna were “all over the place.” “I was looking at 17th century oil paintings for photography inspiration, sci-fi magazines from the 1950’s for celestial love stories, instruments like the theremin and the omni-chord, audio samples from my childhood backyard on my iPhone. We live in a crazy time of immense archives and there’s so much more than just the past few decades for reference.”
SWEATER, HELMUT LANG. PANTS, KENZO. SOCKS, FALKE. SHOES, ADIEU.
BØRNS’ artistry has grown even beyond his music with Blue Madonna — just take another deep dive into the YouTube rabbit hole of archives and you’ll find BØRNS with short hair and dressed like a J.Crew ad, singing folksy songs on a ukulele from about ten years ago. 2018’s BØRNS is making his own short films and artwork and experimenting with fashion in a way that only a “Rock God” could pull off. ”I like how filtering ideas through sight and sound expand my thoughts. A song turns into film, a photo turns into song, sex turns into words, memories begin to merge.”
In the end, perhaps only “Blue Madonna” is capable of actually breaking our so-called “Rock God” — leading him to decidedly say he doesn’t know her well, but it’s obvious, she’s done one hell of a number on his heart. The days of “Electric Love,” canyon cries filled with pleas for love, have turned him slightly sour and not willing to take her back. What will BØRNS have to say in his third album about love? We’ll just have to listen to Dopamine and Blue Madonna over and over again looking for clues. Who knows what our “Rock God” will reveal (or not reveal) next.
SHIRT, NIHL. PANTS, DANIEL W. FLETCHER.
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