Music fans all over the world were collectively shell-shocked after receiving the news that experimental avant-pop artist and trans pioneer SOPHIE had passed away on January 30th of this year. SOPHIE was constantly challenging peoples’ pre-conceived notions of what pop music could sound like, pushing pop into the ether with elastic, hyper-industrial production and catchy, anthemic melodies. Her work was sacred to many LGBTQIA+ music lovers, myself included. Millions of young queer kids who looked to her as a guiding source of light are still reeling from the loss.
But SOPHIE’s mission to push pop to its most exaggerated, bold, and bright state, is not finished. Just look at the legion of protégées she’s left behind. Maximalist hyperpop acts who followed in her wake, like 100 gecs, Black Dresses, and several artists on the PC Music roster, have all released game-changing records and amassed large cult followings over the past couple of years.
However, the most exciting new bands are the underground acts bubbling to the surface, ready to take the world by storm. Enter Goth Lipstick: a duo on the rise made up of two friends, Francesca and J. The duo has released two full-length LPs and an EP over the past year. Their newest album, crystalline corset, is a syrupy-sweet masterpiece with sporadic production that delves into themes of self-doubt and queer liberation. The watery, crunchy synths and infectious pop song structures are juxtaposed against devastating, angst-ridden lyrics, narrated through various characters Francesca has created from her imagination. With songs like the sugary “catgirl goes to college,” and the menacing and masochistic “10 years,” the album takes the listener on a journey of self-discovery through the musings and personal failures of a young queer person.
I was fortunate enough to chat with Francesca from Goth Lipstick, and we discussed a myriad of topics ranging from her love of classic jazz, to her favorite anime characters, and idolizing Joy Division and the 1975.
Izzy: Let me just tell you how obsessed I am with every single track on this project. It pretty much encapsulates everything that I love about the way that pop is progressing. I would love for you to walk me back to the moment when you and your bandmates decided to make a full project and release it. What drove that motive?
Francesca: After we had put out our first album, Decidere, I was actually really disappointed with it. I had been going for this deeply-emotional concept and it just didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. Then I decided that I had to do something that I would ultimately be proud of. My first idea was to write a concept album about dystopia. I wrote the song “10 years” in one afternoon. I hadn’t [yet] conceptualized the album, but that was the starting point. From there it was just a matter of writing instrumentals that I liked and trying to tell stories through songs that were unrelated to each other.
Izzy: I was reading that you had created different characters based on your favorite anime to represent your own personal experiences. How have these characters breathed life into these songs for you?
Francesca: So the idea of the album is that there are three characters: the catgirl, the transhuman, and the witch. They all represent parts of myself, but they are each based on a different protagonist from different anime that I’ve been loving lately. The transhuman is based on Genos from One Punch Man, who is a cyborg. I wrote the song “witch on a broom,” after watching Kiki’s Delivery Service, which is a Ghibli film about witches. [The song] “catgirl goes to college” is the most removed from this idea, but the ethos of the catgirl character was based on Aqua from an anime called KonoSuba. [Creating these characters] was a good way for me to emotionally detach and feel more comfortable with writing really personal stuff.
Izzy: The album is all over the place stylistically, which I love. You and I are both really big fans of Black Dresses and SOPHIE, and I can tell that they both influenced the project. I’m even detecting some emo and pop punk influences, especially on “past life / succubus.” Are there any specific artists you were listening to that you feel might have bled into this record?
Francesca: As you mentioned, Black Dresses, SOPHIE (rest in peace to a legend), 100 gecs—I feel like it’s almost cliché to cite 100 gecs as a hyperpop influence at this point, but I was listening to them a lot. Lots of nineties emo for sure. A band that I absolutely love is Saves the Day. I love their guitar tones and pop song structures. Also, the Pixies. When I listened to Surfer Rosa, I felt like I truly understood the value of mixing your drums really high. With tracks like “10 years,” I was blasting the drums to the top of the mix, and that was inspired by the production on tracks like “Gigantic” and “Where is My Mind.” [I was listening to] a lot of slowthai as well.
Izzy: I was very drawn to how you were able to synthesize these lyrics that are very confrontational and also vulnerable against the backdrop of this incredibly sweet, bubbly hyperpop instrumentation. I hear queer euphoria, pain, ecstasy, and catharsis. What is the writing and recording process normally like for you. What does it do for you personally?
Francesca: Usually when I sit down and decide, “I’m gonna write a song today!” it just never works. And then if I end up coming up with anything at all, I’ll just scrap it and maybe save a line or two for later. The best lyrics usually come when I’m least expecting them. The song “witch on a broom,” is a track about feeling like a disappointment and a failure. I wrote that track after I went on a long walk alone. I passed an apartment complex near my house and I immediately wished that I was independent and capable enough to have my own place.
I sat down at my phone and typed out notes about how I was feeling, and those lyrics ended up being the metaphorical basis for the character of the witch. The instrumentals are very [upbeat] and contradictory to the [grim] lyrics, which was inspired by the band Third Eye Blind. They write incredibly devastating lyrics, but they’re always set to the most danceable guitar tracks. So that was a very conscious [artistic] decision.
Izzy: One of my favorite tracks on the album is “synthetic girls.” I especially love the glitchy, chaotic, noisy breakdown. How did that song come about?
Francesca: That was actually the toughest song to master. I came up with a great chord progression and a catchy melody, but I couldn’t decide which synthesizer to use. It took a couple of months to develop, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to sing over a track that was so noisy. I’m ultimately super proud of how the song turned out, because of how complex it is. There isn’t one chorus, it’s just a hook and a verse and then the breakdown. My hope is that people who listen to it will want to burst out dancing once that climax hits. That track was heavily influenced by Black Dresses.
Izzy: So this is a two-part question: I was browsing your album topster the other day and was very impressed with how eclectic it is: we’ve got everything from hyperpop to classic rock, indie rock, emo, shoegaze, hip hop, jazz, post punk, the list goes on… Who are your top three musical heroes and if you had the chance to collaborate with any artist (living or dead), who would it be and why?
Francesca: I would say my biggest hero is SOPHIE. Obviously both of us are trans women; and to have that positive representation of somebody as creative and powerful as she was is very special. She was the person who inspired me to start making music in the first place. Also, Ian Curtis from Joy Division. I just admire his lyricism so much. Lastly, this is kind of an out-of-nowhere pick, but I love Matty Healy from the 1975. I feel like he is a bit of a controversial figure among music nerds, but I just think he’s really funny and clever. And his presence as a frontman in a band is what I aspire to be like. He’s just a funny guy who’s willing to be in the spotlight and have a good time with it. As for collaborating, I would love to collaborate with Miles Davis. I just think he’s a complete genius and I can’t imagine how wild a track that fuses glitchy noise pop and classic jazz would be.
Izzy: Last question: if you were assigned to teach a music history class, what is the first record you would send your students home with?
Francesca: Oh wow… I feel like this is such a boring, by-the-numbers pick, but I would probably just go with some Gregorian Chants. [If you’re teaching music history], you’d have to start far enough back to contextualize everything else. Unfortunately I only know of Pérotin, who was a composer of Gregorian Chants. But I don’t know if anybody has actually assembled any of his work into an actual record. If there was maybe a compilation, like “Pérotins Greatest Hits from the 1100s” or something like that, that would be it!
Goth Lipstick’s newest album, crystalline corset, is now available to stream on Bandcamp.