Zoe Ko's "DIRT" Is Her Love Letter to New York's Grime and Sleaze


Photo: Cameron Driskill

It’s rare to hear a pop song that has so much range of sound and dimension, especially one that pulls it off well. Alt-pop rising star Zoe Ko has achieved this seamless task with her campy, angsty smash, “Dirt.” The inspiration for this gritty (pun intended) track comes from Ko’s upbringing in the griminess of New York City and her move to squeaky-clean Los Angeles. Missing the raw, upfront nature of her beloved hometown, “Dirt” was born.

There are so many production choices throughout this track that demand your attention, Going from isolated, echoey vocal lines to chanting vocals and electric guitars, there’s no way of telling where “Dirt” will go next. It proves the lyrical content’s claim—where Ko is from, they know how to have more fun. The delivery of each cheeky lyric is where this rising star truly shines, bouncing from rock vocals to borderline scatting and more. There’s so much to take in, making “Dirt” a chaotic banger you will find yourself immediately pressing play on as soon as it ends.

“Dirt” is a track that you have to hear to believe its excellence; it’s a difficult one to transcribe into words because of its raw electricity. You can hear the passion in Ko’s plea for things to be messier, convincing listeners that filth is what gives people and places the edge they're so desperately missing. Even the smoke in LA isn’t dirty enough for her liking, a reference to the artificial watermelon-flavored vapes whose smoke mingles with the city's prim and proper atmosphere.

“I was raised there," says Ko on her upbringing in New York. "Otherwise, I wouldn’t be the crazy, bad-ass bitch that I am. It’s the often looked down upon elements of NYC – the grit, the grime, the garbage, the hustle and bustle, the roaches, rats, and pigeons – that shaped me into an adaptable and adventurous person. When I moved to L.A., I missed all the grit and all the dirt back in NYC. I missed its rawness. There’s a fake showiness in L.A. that I just wasn’t used to. So, a few weeks into living here, I walked into the studio and started ranting about how much I miss NYC and its dirt. I loved the word ‘dirt’ so much that I turned it into a song – the kind of song that I might hear in one of my favorite New York clubs.”

“I’ve learned to love L.A., in case you’re wondering,” she adds. “When I wrote ‘Dirt,’ I was homesick. And I was being a bit dramatic.”

The track is her first release since last year’s debut EP, Baby Teeth, and her first release with Big Loud Rock. Rock has always been infused in her music, but “Dirt” takes the spirit of rock-n-roll to the next level. It pays homage to the past, incorporating elements of both classic alternative and modern inspirations like Gwen Stefani and Paramore.

It’s one thing to sing about griminess but to embody it is something that can’t be forced. For Ko, it’s part of who she is. This clearly shines through in “Dirt,” elevating what would be a fun bop to a passionate proclamation. 

Watch the "Dirt" video below:


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