Saint Audio had the chance to sit down with Elliot Lee, who has recently put her new track “Pink (Freak)” as well as an eerie yet entrancing version of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” Check out what she had to say about her work and future ahead below:
Could you tell us about the imagery in “Pink”? Pink tends to be associated with femininity and poise, rather than the notion of a “freak.” How did you want to play with these themes?
For me, femininity has always been something I’ve struggled with. Being seen as stereotypically feminine was such a deeply rooted, unattainable goal for me for so many years. I was a clumsy, chubby young girl with ADHD who always felt like she took up too much space and was too loud. After years of struggling with that, I rebelled against the color pink, and refused to wear it or see it without making dramatic gagging noises. I struggled with gender identity and finding my place in the world of gendered existence. I’ve learned to embrace pink gain though, and it’s become my comfort color as someone who feels a freak in so many ways. So, this song is an anthem to my struggles with fitting in as well as my rebellion against the concept of conforming.
What does it mean to you to be dubbed as a “dark-pop” artist?
I’ve always been bad at making labels for myself in general, but dark-pop is a cool genre label that I’ve seen people use for me! I write music for my thirteen-year-old self, and she was someone who unashamedly loved pop music whole also loving darker lyrics. That marriage of genres would have made her very happy.
The video for “Pink” uses color very strongly and the outfits have this wonderful ’90s vibe. How did you embark on the creative choices for the video?
I wanted the video to portray me as a person. The video is sort of an introduction of my true self to the world, so the outfits in the video are just outfits I wear in my daily life! I haven’t worn costumes for my videos or anything like that yet, since I like to show myself genuinely, the way you’d see me while I’m walking to the bookstore or commuting to the studio. The goal of the video was to portray myself and all of my facets, so that was the main focus in direction and all of the visuals.
New York City plays a prominent role in the “Pink” video, particularly the well-known areas around Times Square and Madison Square Garden. How does the city influence your work?
I moved here to start my life over and to focus on rebuilding my identity after a dark time in my life, so the city has become sort of intertwined with the new me that I’ve built. I started my career by busking in Central Park and outside of Madison Square Garden, so those places feel like little homes for me.
Your cover of “Dancing Queen” is a true re-imagination of the song. What inspired you to remix the track in this way?
I wanted to portray the sadness that I used to feel whenever I listened to the song growing up. I think I pulled sadness out of many songs that weren’t meant to be sad because it was the solidarity that I needed to hear, kind of like how little kids make imaginary friends when they’re lonely, so I wanted to cover it in a way that really amplified that sadness. It’s a little window into how I experience music.
What led you to choose a ukulele to accompany you?
I have ADHD and things get very daunting very fast, especially instruments. The ukulele was easy to start, with no big learning curve, so I was able to get into it without feeling discouraged. I could also carry it to school and play it during theatre rehearsals and between classes.
In terms of the “Dancing Queen” video, the set is noticeably empty outside of the projections on the walls. What led you to peruse this spare set-up, which feels like a strong juxtaposition to the classic pop song?
I wanted the video to be as stripped down as the cover itself, with small symbolic images like the disco ball to nod toward the original song. I also like to challenge myself to perform covers in a way that doesn’t require a lot of visuals to amplify the experience for viewers.
What other projects do we have to look forward to from you this year?
I have a song coming out really soon, and lots of visual plans on the way! Other than that, you can expect more live-streams and engagement with bubblegum soldiers on my Instagram, which is my home base.
Who would you consider your influences?
Mr. Rogers is my main ethical influence; I use him as a guide in a lot of my interpersonal and career choices. When it comes to music, I have such a wide range of inspirations from Caramelldansen to the American Idiot album so I could never name them all. Anyone who steps outside of the box inspires me lately—whether it be in music or fashion or otherwise.
In these uncertain times, what role do you feel music can play?
Music is holding a lot of us together right now. I’ve been in a really low place lately because I was thriving on my routine that I had built before everything went crazy and listening to music is one of the things brining me comfort right now. Also, I’ve been able to continue connecting with my bubblegum soldiers through my music even on days when I’m not feeling good enough to get out of bed. I think for a lot of us, we already knew music could do that, but for some people they’re discovering it for the first time.
Follow Elliot Lee on Spotify.