Originally written and published by me for PopMatters.
“Used to wear my sadness like a choker, yeah, it had me by the throat / Tonight I feel I’m draped in it, like a loose garment,” proclaims synth-pop trio MUNA on their self-titled third LP. “I just let it flow.” Although these lyrics may feel tainted by depression and lost love, the group is fully in their element with their latest work. Combining intensely emotional and often melodramatic lyrics over pulsating beats that bring the experiences of queer women to the forefront, MUNA knows how to take the harsh facts of life—in this case, the oppression and marginalization of queer people—and turn them into power pop anthems to dance the tears away.
While the LGBTQ+ community has a long list of pop music allies who don’t necessarily identify with it, it’s refreshing when groups like MUNA—whose members identify as both queer and non-binary—release, for lack of a better term, some of the gayest music this year has seen so far. Freshly signed with Phoebe Bridgers’ label Saddest Factory and no longer associated with RCA, who released their first two studio albums, the group has ironically produced their most commercially marketable album to date. Anywhere from lead single “Silk Chiffon” to the female empowerment on “Anything But Me,” the synth-pop heard on MUNA is a far cry from the synths that accompanied their largely forlorn, indie pop-focused About U and Saves the World.
But that should only be seen as a plus, since MUNA is also their most cohesive and strongest record to date. Except for experimentation with EDM on “Runner’s High” that doesn’t quite land, the album contains some of the best production and songwriting in their catalog. While the group was initially hesitant over being openly queer in fear of being pigeonholed as a queer pop trio, they’ve since come to learn the ways in which their queerness makes them stand out. “I’m a girl who’s learning everything I say isn’t definitive / I’m not some kind of minor trope / Who’s never gonna change, that’s so derivative,” they sing on “Kind of Girl,” which sounds as if it’s fully releasing them from the guilt and obligation to be commodified as queer. In creating their most commercially viable work, they’ve also managed to embrace themselves like never before.
While their first two LPs were overloaded with down-tempo, anguished tracks about the perils of same-sex love (often referred to as “trauma bangers” in pop music fandom), MUNA retains the sentiment that it is in fact hard to be queer, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still be happy in the meantime. The group described “Silk Chiffon” as a song they’d like kids to have their first gay kiss to, but that they won’t shy away from harsh lyrics that help them process their own traumas, even if it’s up-tempo.
“I’m interested in using MUNA as a place to say things I may carry shame around. It’s easier to say certain things in songs,” Katie Gavin told CNN. “To an extent, this is where I go to begin processing trauma. It’s unfortunately true that lots of queer people have some sort of experience with trauma. That’s just the complex PTSD of chronically feeling on the outside but not understanding why.” On MUNA, the group has crafted a collection that boldly explores the ways in which being queer is composed of both joys and traumas, and that there is no shame in messily embracing both. As they put it on their first album, we are loudspeakers.
Jeffrey’s favorites from MUNA: “Silk Chiffon,” “What I Want,” “Home By Now,” “Kind of Girl,” “Anything But Me,” and “Loose Garment”