POP ROCKS

From V Magazine’s Spring Preview 2012, January/February

2012 IS THE YEAR POP GETS SMARTER, FRANKER, AND LESS FALSE. AS FIVE FEARLESS FEMALES PREPARE TO RELEASE LONG-AWAITED RECORDS, PUNK’S GURU OF GLAM, MICK ROCK, GIVES US A GLIMPSE OF THE REVOLUTION

Photography Mick Rock
Fashion Catherine Newell-Hanson
Text Patrik Sandberg

Solange Knowles doesn’t mince words. “There are a lot of songs about sex,” she says of her new album, a personal project she funded and managed herself. “It’s the kind of record you put on when your man is coming over, when you’re with your girls. There are songs that make you wanna dance because we were kind of partying our way through the record, but it’s very chill.” Knowles worked with a few new friends on the album, forgoing the major label route to make a statement that is entirely her own. Along the way, she found a fated collaborator in Blood Orange’s Devonte “Dev” Hynes. “Dev was a complete surprise, his role changed substantially throughout the process,” she says of the rising star, who wound up producing most of the record. “It’s very rare that you work with someone with whom you have this creative chemistry, it’s almost like a relationship. You have a sort of musical love affair.”

Working with Hynes, Vincent Vendetta of the Midnight Juggernauts, Ariel Reichstadt, and polishing things up with Pharrell, Knowles aims for a pop-soul sound that’s equal parts progressive and throwback. “My references for the record were all Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, not just their typical Janet and Prince stuff, but SOS Band and their b-sides with Chaka Khan. At first the songs were really dark because I had a premonition before the record that I was going to die. I was having panic attacks and wiling out.” Once the team realized a house they had rented in Santa Barbara to record in had a bad vibe—to put it bluntly—they relocated to L.A. and saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

“I have never been invested in believing anything about hauntings,” Knowles says nervously, “so of course I was thinking it was something within myself because I am in complete denial of ghosts. But I think it was haunted!”

Despite the album’s intimate overtones, the blissfully in-love mother manages to address the downside of domesticity. “Now being in a stable situation, sometimes that feels fucked up within itself,” Solange says. “I’ve been on the road my entire life since I was 13, even when I had my son he came on the road with me. Now that he’s in school where there is a real structure, we have to be home during those times. Being that grounded feels really foreign to me.” Writing, recording, and putting the record out herself has helped her maintain a lot of independence. “I don’t need anyone telling me ‘this isn’t cool enough’ or anyone from the opposite end saying ‘this seems kind of weird.’ I’m lucky enough to have been in this business for so long that I know how it works. It’s not that hard. It’s not rocket science.”

Solange Knowles wears
Jacket Bess NYC by Doug Abraham
Shirt Jil Sander Navy

R&B sensation Cassie knows a thing or two about the business herself, having blown up overnight in 2006—via MySpace—with her debut hit single, “Me & U.” An icy and addictive ballad, the track instantly rocketed her to number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spawned hundreds of Internet-bred remixes. The song has enjoyed unnatural longevity, and interest in the young performer hasn’t managed to wane. Good thing she isn’t short on material. “I have hundreds of songs recorded for this album,” she says in disbelief, driving through the hills of L.A. “I’ve been working on it for a long time. Finally, I had to decide my direction. I felt kind of exposed when I stopped working in the studio. My friends would call me to hang out and I would say, ‘nope, going in the studio,’ and they’d say, ‘you’ve been in the studio for four years!’”

The record itself maintains the dark and sultry elements of her early material but merges it with electronic dance, jungle, reggae, and even ska. “At the time I made the record I went out to Ibiza and I really started to feel these jungle beats,” she says. “But at the same time I wanted to keep the ‘Me and U’ tone, really simple and clean. I have a lot of friends who are DJs and they like to mix, so I like to leave a really clean skeleton with the vocal.”

The combination of these new influences with her clean style adds up to a perfect sum of what Cassie is all about this year. “In my video we called it ‘giving ’90s supermodel.’ It’s the perfect definition of who I am right now and what I’m going through,” she says, smiling. “People aren’t going to expect me to come out with what I have.”

Cassie wears
Dress Theyskens’ Theory
Jewelry her own

JoJo might be best known as the teen star who danced her way through a junior high breakup in her “Leave (Get Out)” video, or the girl who cried in the rain with her sing-along anthem “Too Little Too Late,” all the while juggling a mainstream acting career (see: Aquamarine, the Hollywood teen flick about two friends who discover a mermaid at a beach club). While she may seem like fodder for Disney Channel programming, the brooding adolescent has always transcended that expectation with unparalleled attitude and depth, earning her fans of all ages and musical inclinations. Last summer, the singer scored a viral phenomenon when she released her own version of Drake’s “Marvin’s Room” on the Internet. Sample lyrics: “Fuck that new girl that’s been in your bed/ ’cause when you’re in her I know I’m in your head.”

“I never expected it to elicit the reaction that it did,” she says. “My best guy friend told me about the song, and I just had something in my heart that I wanted to get out. I was going through a really stupid situation and I decided to write about it.” Such can be said of much of the content on her new album, Jumping Trains. “It’s about taking risks and feeling exhilarated.” Her daring motif is supplemented with new directions for ’Jo, including a heavy dance track produced by Danja, best known for his work on Britney Spears’s Blackout.

“I have never asked how am I going to make this transition from a child or teenager to a young adult artist,” she says. “I’ve just kind of grown and my tastes have changed and circumstances have changed, and of course I’ve grown and learned, so it’s been a very organic transition.”

As for her new leaps in sound, JoJo regards her progress as an artist with her trademark attitude and maturity. “I think it’s boring to do the same formula every time,” she says. “I love Britney Spears and Madonna and Lady Gaga. I love pop music, those big pop records, but I still want it to fee like my sound. I hope people feel like ‘damn, that’s exactly what I’m going through, that’s what I’m thinking but I wasn’t sure how to put it into words.’ I want to sing what people are thinking and feeling. I want it to be the soundtrack to their lives.”

JoJo wears
Dress Guess
Jacket Dsquared

For Amanda Warner—more commonly known as MNDR—addressing the public’s collective consciousness takes a different form. “Pop music is the ultimate platform to talk about whatever you want to talk about,” she says. After all, she would know as much, coming off two years touring as part of Mark Ronson’s Business Intl. band and playing to sold-out audiences alongside the likes of Boy George and Duran Duran. This spring, she plans to release her first LP on Ultra Records, recorded with her production partner Peter Wade. “It’s political and sort of anthemic,” she says. “That’s been missing in pop music, when I was a kid, bands like the Clash would have really danceable anthems that could cross over into a club, but the lyrical content was really progressive and political. Maybe it’s been all about more personal or narcissistic topics lately—I mean, people should say whatever they want, but for me, I want to reach as many people as I can, but say something that you can have a good time to and have a feeling like ‘fuck that.’ You should feel like you’re actually saying something that is resonant with what’s happening.”

MNDR needn’t worry about her political interests overshadowing the infectious pulse of her sonic output, as is evidenced in her work with Ronson and her previous bangers like “C.L.U.B.” and “Fade to Black.” Her first single from this record, “#1 in Heaven,” is a wry salute to Patti Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army. “Look at Occupy Wall Street, Libya, and Egypt,” she says. “You can be slightly armchair and not really paying attention and still realize there’s revolution happening. Thinking back to the last big political pop moments, the only one I can really think of is the tank man in Tiananmen Square in 1989, which is what the R.E.M. song ‘Stand’ is about. It’s fun and the video is kitschy but if you think about the lyrics there are different levels…it makes it so much more interesting.”

MNDR wears
Jacket Versace
Tank Theyskens’ Theory

Speaking on the phone with VV Brown in the U.K., it’s clear she feels similarly about widening the rhetoric of pop lyricism. “My second album has a message: it’s about my generation and things going on in the world,” she says. “But I didn’t want it to come across preachy. I love writing upbeat songs with darker undertones.” This idea is likely what led her to title her February album Lollipops and Politics. While Brown isn’t shy about making sartorial statements, her fans might be caught a bit off guard considering her last album focused on more personal fare.

“Sometimes you want to shy away from political things because people will tell you to leave that to the politicians,” she reasons. “But I want my fans to hear a message that is about questioning the world and getting them to question what fame is.” She pauses, exerting a laugh. “I find it difficult to even say the word ‘fan.’ We’re all the same. As a generation, let’s evolve and shift away from celebrity culture, I think it’s really unhealthy.” Punk.

VV Brown wears
Top DKNY

Makeup Talia Shobrook (community.nyc)
Hair Bok-Hee (Streeters)
Manicure Bernadette Thompson for
The Bernadette Thompson Nail Collection
Photo assistants Cody Smyth and Chris Polinsky
Videographer Francisco Garcia
Video equipment ROOT [EQ, Capture + Studios]
Special thanks Fast Ashleys Brooklyn and
FeralCat Productions