It would be really easy to write off Holychild as just another indie pop duo. As their latest album, The State Of Brat Pop To Come, proves, their sound is pretty status-quo L.A. synthpop. Frontwoman Liz Nistico lends a voice that could, at times, easily be mistaken for an edgier Taylor Swift. And to say that Holychild is forging a whole new genre, or “brat pop,” as they call it, is probably a stretch. That doesn’t mean, however, that they’re not onto something.
After all, it’s not that Nistico and her bandmate, multi-instrumentalist Louie Diller, make bad music. Their L.A. sound screams summer and sun; it’s energized and poppy, painting a picture of young hedonism that you could comfortably blast at the beach. Songs like “Barbie Nation” and “Plastered Nation” manage to be loud without being pushy, choppy without interrupting the song’s easy flow, and everything maintains a good balance of synth and punk. “Running Behind,” perhaps the album’s best-known single to date, emanates ideal millennial quirkiness with its soft, xylophone-accompanied chorus and out-of-place clapping beat—The Lumineers would be proud.
In fact, their relatively normal pop sound may be perfect for what they’re really trying to do. Because while their music suggests an audience of happier Lana Del Rey fans, or punkier Katy Perry listeners, it’s Holychild’s lyrical content that’s worth wider notice. As Nistico has said in many an interview, Brat Pop unapologetically discusses feminism, materialism, and even aging in society. It derides what is expected of women and their sexuality, especially in the public eye, or how we generally treat each other like objects. How acquisition is treated like the only thing that matters. (They’re the anti-Katy-Perry, if you will.)
These subversive concepts obviously have precedent in pop. Just look at Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” Beyonce’s “Pretty Hurts,” Kanye’s “New Slaves,” and Lorde’s “Royals,” (etc., etc.) topping charts within the past few years. But perhaps Brat Pop (Holychild has defined it at various times as rebellious or sarcastic pop music) is not just a celebration of all of them (be they pop or not). Perhaps it is also introducing something new and encouraging more artists to come forward in this genre. “U Make Me Sick,” for instance, is not revolutionary music: it’s a punchy and syncopated number lamenting relationship wrongdoings. But it’s a good starting point for normalizing women as actively sexual beings; Nistico so casually sings her chorus, “Why don’t you eat me out at lunch?” you might’ve had to rewind it to make sure it wasn’t wishful thinking. And on the “Nasty Girls,” sexually passive lyrics like, “Hey! Hey! Give it up! We don’t matter anyway!/Boys like nasty girls! Take him on a holiday!” offer a subversive twist on a misogynist concept like “nasty girls.” At the same time, Nistico’s complaints are delivered so playfully, so like easy-to-digest pop, that it invites one to hear her out.
Perhaps the best culmination of Nistico’s subtle yet self-aware truth-bombing comes from another single, “Money All Around.” Just like the rest of the album, it’s sexually forward, rips apart Hollywood greed, and is, in the end, audially appealing as any spunky Top 40 hit playing right now. But their video is worth a watch: using the format of MTV’s Pop-Up Video, it includes written explanations throughout to explicitly convey Holychild’s message. You find out that Nistico wore green to symbolize said greed, that the hot dogs mean exactly what you think they do, and why Nistico is wearing salami as prosthetic genitalia.
For such a young group, all of this is exciting. The Shape Of Brat Pop To Come is on a very specific mission, and it shows that Holychild wants to keep going with it. And maybe Brat Pop’s path is a well-trekked one, but it’s one that still isn’t trekked enough. In the end, I’m all for anything on this album replacing whatever mindless, creepy single Maroon 5 tries to market as the song of summer.