In her new single “Not A Real Blond,” Jojo Engelbert depicts emotionality in punkish but quite literate terms, but her lyrical charm isn’t defined wholly by poeticisms alone. As a singer, Engelbert is both direct and bewitchingly melodic, utilizing a post-gothic sensibility that allows her to straddle the line between pop, rock, punk, and even singer/songwriter aesthetics all at once here. She’s an incredibly versatile player, and I was surprised by just how efficient a composer she is given her young age. Some gifts are natural-born, and this certainly appears to be one of them.
The instruments in this mix reflect upon the introspections of the verses rather than extending them, which isn’t as limiting for Engelbert’s expressiveness here as you might think it would be. She knows how to employ conservative songwriting wit when it benefits the story she’s trying to tell, and I think this is an instance in which the less-is-more philosophy helps to get across the scathing commentary her lyrics contain better than anything else could have. This is a methodical player by all accounts, and I wonder just how profound a sound she’ll have with more experience in and outside of the studio under her belt.
Engelbert isn’t pushing this beat too hard, and I like the loose feel of the arrangement her lax attitude towards the percussion produces. Her vocal isn’t strangled by the simplicity of the rhythm, nor the pummeling effect of a drum part circling her words (especially when all we need are these harmonies to understand the weight of her sentiments here). A lot of her rivals would have been tempted to go a little heavier on the backend for something of this style, but I’m a big fan of the direction she decided to go instead.
The vocal harmony that we discover in the chorus is surprisingly pain-filled and encapsulates the story being told in this song exquisitely. There’s a lot of confidence here; so much so that I wouldn’t have to be aware of this player’s background to know that she’s the real deal, and it’s because of how concise her expression is regardless of where it’s coming from in “Not A Real Blond.” Her swagger is a key point of interest in this performance, but were she not already an adept songwriter with a solid execution behind the mic, I don’t know that we would be able to appreciate it for all it’s worth.
Jojo Engelbert isn’t like any other modern recording artist I’ve been listening to lately, but instead, a player who most definitely has an independent path she’s committed to right out of the gate. “Not A Real Blond” demonstrates a litany of reasons to keep an eye out for her future work, but more than that I think it defines what’s missing from the bulk of mainstream pop in 2023; experimental attitude and a willingness to embrace volatility if it means shaping a true, complete narrative. This is something Engelbert has down to a science, and there’s no debating that here.
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