The Pinhook, Durham
“Everyone is about self-mythologizing these days,” says Meg Remy of U.S Girls. It’s the second weekend of Coachella, and she’s speaking via Facetime from her tour manager’s phone as her crew zips around, getting ready to perform that night. I’d asked if she felt any artistic kinship with the festival’s other headlining acts, such as the ascendant teen pop star and poptimist argument-starter, Billie Eilish.
Comparing the two might seem bizarre, but such is the nature of the post-Spotify landscape we inhabit. Everything becomes a continuum. In the press, Remy is usually sorted as a “pop experimentalist,” a catchall also used for more mainstream provocateurs like Eilish. At a time when mixing pop and “weird” is commonplace, it actually isn’t that hard to tie a corkboard string between Eilish’s Interscope-stamped pop and someone who once released her music on the Philly noise label Siltbreeze.
Remy, an avowed pop devotee, says she respects everyone’s hustle, but she isn’t too concerned about where she falls on a continuum with them.
“Labels and the industry need real artists just as much as those artists need labels,” she says. “I do my best not to pay too much attention to current trends in music, because I have always only aspired to do what I find meaningful.”
As anyone who has ever read an interview knows, almost every musician leans on this exact brand of purist self-reliance to mythologize themselves. But for once, I believe it. Compared to your average PR-coached phoner, Remy seems to spring forth from her own inexhaustible life force and personality. She is not one to pull punches or safely cushion her opinions in niceties.
In fact, during our conversation—which we’d present in its entirety if not for the shaky phone connection—she is the opposite, prone to nuanced, long-form opinions on any subject at hand.
Of course, there’s more to Remy than hot takes. Starting with 2008’s Introducing, she has racked up seven idiosyncratic albums and a number of other releases, ranging from outré hiss-caked droners to hooky hi-fi indie-pop ballads that you might carefully position in a wooing mixtape.
Last year’s In a Poem Unlimited was her second consecutive record for legacy label 4AD and her second to be nominated for Canada’s Juno Award. Glossy and sparkling, it achieves the rare trick of effectively burying caustic, politically incensed miniatures in good leftfield pop songs, slathering razor blades in layers of contemporary Top 40 production oomph. Intriguing single “MAH” ostensibly could work as an empowered breakup anthem, though in reality, the song is about the failings of Barack Obama.
Don’t worry, Remy is emphatically not a conservative—she just doesn’t do sacred cows, and the targets of her protests are diverse. The song “Rage of Plastics,” for instance—a cover of the Canadian band Fiver—takes aim at industry, telling the tale of a woman who becomes infertile after working in a chemical refinery.
Remy’s pop music is partly fueled by heady political material: She’s recently been rereading Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire trilogy, a subversive retelling of the history of the Americas that, she says, is “a bit more poetic” than Howard Zinn. Though Remy has the deep reference pool and wit of your favorite Twitter personality, the nuance of her lyrics and opinions seem at odds with the tidy conventional wisdom of modern social media.
“Twitter is strange to me because it represents the flattening of the information pyramid, of high and low,” she says. “It is genuinely difficult to find truth when your cousin, politicians, celebrities, and corporations are all put together in the same place.”
Remy’s inclusion in Moogfest this year isn’t a total shocker. After all, in the last few years, her music has edged toward dubbier electronic zones, thanks in part to her longtime collaborator, the Canadian hip-hop producer Onakabazien. You could see ecstatic cuts like the Italo disco-esque “Window Shades,” from her 2015 record, Half Free, easily sliding into a deejay’s club set.
Last year, Moogfest’s initial lineup announcement caused some controversy when Caroline Polachek of the group Chairlift publically denounced the organizers on social media and exited the festival. In Polachek’s opinion, the festival stocking the first wave with women and nonbinary people was tokenizing marketing, and she demanded to be “put with the boys.”
As a prominent artist in feminist dialogue, Remy is frequently saddled with this sort of discussion of patriarchy, and she’s a staunch realist about it.
“Moog or other festivals consciously promoting non-male artists doesn’t bother me at all,” she says. “Personally, I am thrilled that festivals are booking more lineups with women and people of color and varying identity. But these organizations are also coming out of decades where this sort of progressive push wasn’t was happening at all, and it was all white dudes. The benefit is larger in the long term. It comes down to the responsibility of companies like Moog to internalize this beyond a single lineup.”