LIZ: THE RULING PRINCESS OF 2000s POP GLOSS
Talking to LIZ is a little bit like curling up on your girlfriend’s bed on a Friday night to binge on pizza and gossip. There’s talk of boys, fashion, and pop music—but it’s not quite as vapid as it sounds, even if the California-based artist is the quintessential valley girl.
“It was super weird for Mad Decent to put me on their label, but I was really honored,” LIZ shares of being one of the first women signed to Diplo’s record label, let alone the label’s first pop artist. “I think it shows how Mad Decent is very progressive. In hindsight it makes sense, but at the time it was a bit shocking. Now there’s so much genre-bending and people are collaborating with each other, so it’s not weird anymore. Skrillex is making pop songs!”
According to LIZ, pop rarely gets its deserved props: “I definitely think people dismiss pop music as bubblegum, that it’s just fluffy—not real art.” It should be noted that the artist pulls much of her influence from the era that is most distinctly attached to the stigma of “bubblegum pop”—the late 90s. “I feel I’m the poster child for the millennial. When I was younger I was made fun of for liking pop music, so I felt like I had to force myself to get into darker, moodier, weirder stuff. I’m glad I did because I have an eclectic range of influences now. But something about that era really rings true to me, and I try to flip it in a fresh, futuristic way. I think my aesthetic is a bit different than what a lot of girls are doing right now, and I’m okay with that. I know it might take a little longer for people to get it or appreciate the things that I draw from, but I have to do what’s real to me.”
The timing couldn’t be better. As I point out, the current pop culture zeitgeist is having a major 90s/early 00s moment. So, why the shift? “I feel like people have always been afraid to let out their inner tween,” LIZ muses. “Now more than ever it’s beginning to be trendy like, ‘Oh yeah, I love Britney and NSYNC!’ Before it was unacceptable, it wasn’t cool. And then it went to being ironic, and now it’s actually cool to be nostalgic and accept the teenybopper part of yourself that’s inside everyone.”
LIZ’s music is a pure reflection of that philosophy—it’s bright, colorful, and saccharine, her lyrics possessing an attitude that would certainly get you grounded for the weekend. Her sassy 2015 Sophie-produced single “When I Rule the World,” embraced by pop and indie blogs alike, is a mission statement in blissful, bratty, bonkers pop form. Originally written in Sweden, LIZ got her hands on the demo and knew that the “massive pop song” was fated for her. She got together with Sophie after that to make the track her own, and the two have become perfect collaborators since.
“I’m always attracted to weird sounds that are not necessarily trendy or being used that much,” she reveals. “I saw Sophie and QT perform at SXSW in 2014, and I was absolutely blown away by the way their sound made me feel. I couldn’t describe it, but I knew that it was amazing. I felt like I was on drugs. What I like about the sound is that it’s very bright and cute and super pop, but also has this juxtaposition of weirdness and really abrasive sounds and a twisted element that’s kinda fucked up.”
The single also served as an immersive introduction to a whole new era of LIZ: “With [that song], I was channeling a certain character inside of me, like Gwen with the LAMB album. There’s always been this little devil child inside of me, but I never had the right platform to show her off. Since I worked with Sophie I’ve been exploring so much more about myself as an artist and the different voices inside of me. It was an awakening for me.”
LIZ’s previously released music had been steeped in late-90s R&B, so while making the transition to pure, unabashed pop came naturally for the singer-songwriter, it wasn’t without its challenges. “I’m a chameleon,” she says. “I have to constantly change and grow and I think nowadays we have less time to do that. Back when Madonna was putting out albums she had time to grow. She could put out a couple albums that represented herself, but now it’s lucky if you get to put out one album. It’s such a playlist culture now. [Shifting to pop] was a natural thing, but I was aware that maybe people were not gonna get it and that it would be surprising and people might be like, oh, she’s abandoning her vibe and her sound. But I really don’t care… I think it’s good to switch it up and make people think. Why be boring and do the same thing every time?”
At the end of the day, she tells me, what matters is being true to yourself. “It all comes back to doing you. I want to be a trendsetter. I’m not interested in following whatever’s hot at the moment… I look at Diplo and Major Lazer as the perfect example of keep doing what you’re doing and when the moment’s right, it fucking hits hard.
“Listeners are really savvy these days. There’s always something else to listen to so you gotta be really good and you have to come from a genuine, authentic place. Because of the Internet and the plethora of artists you can discover you have to work so much harder to really get a break. Artists more than ever need to be in control of their artistry and choices and direction. That’s always been a huge thing for me; I am where I am because of my choices.”
As our chat winds down to the customary discussion on what 2016 has in store—more glossy pop, a bunch of collaborations, and an album in the works—I mention that “When I Rule the World” is on my playlist for my upcoming flight to Japan. LIZ lights up, reminiscing about her trip to the “alternate universe” of Tokyo, recommending her must-stop Harajuku shopping haunts (DOG and PIN NAP are “incredible, crazy, off the wall”).
She gushes, “I love the fans in Japan, they’re genuine music fans,” and shares her adoration of Japanese conceptual pop artist Sebastian Masuda, a Tokyo designer known for fantastical, candy-coated creations. It reminds me of something she had said earlier about pop music: “There’s always this fantasy element and that’s the best part of being a pop artist. You get to create your own world and live in it, be whoever you wanna be, wear whatever you wanna wear, and say whatever you wanna say.”