Meet Self Esteem, the Perfectly Imperfect Pop Star of Tomorrow
Photo: Olivia Richardson
Within any construct, the desire to separate yourself, especially when burdened or compromised, is inevitable. It is very much a quality of self-esteem, a reverence of self, a plea to live untangled and seize opportunities, but not all of us have the courage to do so. Rebecca Taylor, more popularly known as Self Esteem, once lacking that very same self-belief, finally overwhelmed by the frustration of her indie band career, pivoted away from Fleetwood Mac derivatives and embraced her inner pop diva, living true to her artist namesake, and we are so much better for it.
On her debut album, Compliments Please, the deluge of feelings and emotions is palpable, a testament to her expansive need to create and its limitless scope. Self Esteem describes the process as indulging the ability to finally do as she always wanted, to stop being underrated, and build tools to better express herself. It plays like a voice lost, unheard, finally getting to speak words left unsaid for years, speaking with a fast and relentless fervor that is all the more noticeable when contrasted to her sophomore album Prioritize Pleasure.
On Prioritize Pleasure, lost is the nervous excitement, the frantic oversharing and gained is a statement album, or as Self Esteem succinctly puts it, "an advert to trusting yourself." Half-written before the pandemic, its piecemeal construction with producer Johan Karlberg, its sound is fortified in layers, a sonic polymer, combining a newfound confidence and storytelling strength that results in a deftly diverse collection of songs. More obvious than anything is a braver narrator, "I'm not perfect... I'm processing what's happening to me in the music."
Thematically, Prioritize Pleasure embraces the cohesive confusion of modern femininity as vulnerable, pained, people-pleasing, victimized, and fearful of being labeled as a victim. All of which is sharply contrasted by marked confidence, loudly condemning wrongs, a celebration of self-love, selfishness, and sexuality set against a pop structure that creates a sonic versus lyricism dissonance, redoubling that contrast to astounding effect.
Self Esteem wittily describes this process as "trojan horsing" her agenda, confiding what needs to be said into song structures she loves, a melodic slap to the face. This is also balanced by a contrasting cocky contrarian endorsement of the pop star archetype, positioning herself as a spotlight fetishist, brash and bold. Originally a means to separate herself from a meeker past, it also gives the music an energy befitting the message, "writing what I would do if I wasn't told no."
The result is Self Esteem, a diva in wolf's clothing, a true artist whose voice has all the merits of her prestigious inspirations but is acutely attuned to the strife of a bright woman wanting to challenge the norms.