“Can someone put on the new Ariana Grande song?” Empress Of calls out from behind a flurry of makeup brushes, adamant not to let being mid-glam pre-Wonderland photoshoot stop her from getting her “thank u, next” fix. A quick “I’m so fucking grateful for my ex” sing-a-long later and Lorely Rodriguez — the real name of the LA-based songwriter — is back in her happy place.
“I listened to so much Ariana Grande making this record,” she tells me a few hours later, sans glam squad, “like, literally, tons of Ariana Grande.” One of her musical inspirations for her October sophomore album Us, she quickly dives into the others, citing disco classics alongside dance music titans like Black Madonna and Bicep, however it’s her move towards the pop world and the likes of Ariana that has gained the most notable contrasts to her 2015 debut record, Me.
While the latter glistened with alternative R&B and electronic sounds, the follow-up sees her embracing a lighter alt-pop edge. “I could see how you could call it pop, but hey! I write songs with people like Khalid and MØ, I cant just go home and pretend I’m somebody else,” she reasons. “Obviously those parts of me are going to carry over, and I love that! I love that I can write with Blood Orange and I can write with Khalid — they are two totally different artists — and I love that as an artist I can have a full spectrum of genre that I can collaborate with.”
This element of collaborating and bringing people together has been the main difference between Rodriguez’s two records, both within the songwriting sphere and in her general life. While Me was written entirely by herself in the secluded village of Valle de Bravo in Mexico, she wanted to surround herself with people for her second, moving from New York back to her hometown of LA to be closer to her family and recruiting outside producers and writers such as Dev Hynes and Jim-E Stack to help create her vision. “I wanted to be around other people. I didn’t want to be alone,” she explains. “After working on my first album all alone — and that being great — where I am in my life is wanting to share experiences. I want to know about your experiences. I don’t want to be so selfish, you know?”
Covering life experiences that everyone goes through, at its core Us explores what brings people together. Throughout the record, Rodriquez weaves between stories that deal with depression, love, heartbreak, jealousy and friendship that she’s witnessed in her circle of family and friends in a way that has resonated with everyone that’s listened – a fact realised by the 99+ Instagram DM notifications on Rodriguez’s phone from fans bursting with stories of how the record has touched them.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have people reach out to me and tell me how this album makes them feel,” she smiles. “I love when I listen to an album and it becomes a part of a time and a place in my life and it’s like something that was missing. If I can give you something that was missing, that makes you understand yourself better, then I would love that. Listen to the record, find something in it that makes you feel like you understand yourself. It doesn’t always have to be about me. There are autobiographical songs, but these are things that everyone experiences within their lives.”
It seems like becoming a #relatable pop icon will only be a matter of time for Rodriguez, but what does she think? “Basically, I’m just a passive-aggressive Libra who wants everybody to get along,” she laughs. Already iconic.
Photography - Miriam Marlene Waldner
Fashion - Jessica Gardener
Hair - Christian Marc
Makeup - Samuel Paul
Wonderland Magazine Winter 2018/2019 Issue