Elliot Lee proves that pink can be punk
Photo credit: Shervin Lainz
“I think it would be easier for people like me to navigate the industry if there were more girls and non-binary people in positions of power to shape how things are done.”
Combining an outwardly kawaii aesthetic with soberingly-candid lyrics encased in digestible pop melodies, Brooklyn-based Elliot Lee’s sound is distinctly their own.
Having been compared to the likes of Billie Eilish, Melanie Martinez, and Ashnikko in the past, it’s clear that forging one’s own identity in an industry set on restricting artists to distinct categories and labels is no mean feat however: “constantly being pitted against other artists just because they are girls is infinitely frustrating for me. It’s like there’s only space in each genre for one girl at a time. Genres as a whole are so subjective that it seems strange that they still exist. I try to ignore all of that and just live with whatever boxes people feel comfortable putting my music into once it’s out.”
Serving as a colourful punch to an otherwise dark and dreary year, perhaps one of Lee’s most notable artistry achievements to date is the success of their 2020 hit single ‘Pink (Freak)’, with over 817,000 thousand Spotify streams and an impressive 1.6 million YouTube views of the music video.
Visually, it’s not hard to see the appeal; the engrossingly bright clothing and back drop are a recognisant part of Lee’s artistry and serve as a stark example of their individuality.
Although, it’s not all sunshine and daisies: “I still have a hard time being confident in my individuality sometimes, but I just have to always remind myself that I don’t exist for anyone else. It kind of took me hitting the bottom for me to realize that living in other peoples’ boxes that I don’t even fit into just wasn’t working for me. We deserve to love who we are when no-one is there to validate us, and that’s what really matters.”
Lyrically, however, there’s more than meets the ear, with the single’s popularity stemming from its somber revelation that a superficially colourful appearance doesn’t always equate to happy-wappy-rainbow-bubblegum-filled thoughts. “It was more of a conscious choice to decide to be myself without any rules stopping me. I suffered through so many years trying to fit into boxes and live up to expectations, and when I decided to become a musician I kind of sat down and pressed restart on it all. I wanted to start from scratch and just be me. So the somber lyrics and bright colors are just me being unapologetically myself.”
Having a voice is a pivotal part of Elliot Lee’s music, with their track ‘Dirt’ boldly asserting “you don’t listen to the lyrics anyway” to address the difficulty in getting their voice heard in the music industry: “I find that people don’t take me seriously when they see me, whether it’s because of my femininity or otherwise. I’ll go to gigs and the sound guy will go straight to my male-presenting bandmates to ask about my setup.”
“A video director said “she’s a girl, so every shot has to be a beauty shot” in front of me once. No-one ever believes that I’m really a producer because it’s a male-dominant job. I’m actually non-binary, and when I present feminine vs masculine I can feel the way people treat me differently. It’s just frustrating to be seen as anything other than human. I think it would be easier for people like me to navigate the industry if there were more girls and non-binary people in positions of power to shape how things are done.”
With the recent release of Lee’s body of work ‘GoodBadUgly’, it’s apparent that the theme of non-conformity and independence is close to their heart. “The main source of inspiration for writing GoodBadUgly was my own struggle with idolizing people and feeling the desire to conform and mirror others. I’ve always had a really hard time seeing myself as someone who deserves to fit in and be accepted, and I spend a lot of time molding myself around other people. GoodBadUgly is an anthem to people like me who just need to be reminded that our existence is supposed to be multifaceted, and everyone is allowed to exist in their own way.”
Another underlying message at the core of it all is Elliot’s advocation for the destigmatisation of mental health. “I turned to music in a really dark point in my life where I had everything bottled up and nowhere left to turn. Music became this outlet where I could express things that I wasn’t brave enough to speak about otherwise. I think my fans have been able to use my music in a similar way, as sort of a door they can open to pour their thoughts and feelings out when they have no other way to vent.”
And as someone with a self-prescribed mission to “make tunes for people who use music to heal”, Elliot Lee is keen to pay this sentiment forward to their own listeners, just as their musical inspirations did for them. “My mission statement keeps me motivated and focused in my path. As a kid, bands like Linkin Park and Paramore really helped me put words to the thoughts jumbled up in my head, and Twenty One Pilots was a catalyst for me writing my first song. Now BTS’s music really comforts me, as a lot of their songs are about struggling with mental health and finding your place in the world as a young adult who feels lost.”
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