Emmy Meli Talks Debut Album, Feminism and Finding Beauty in Death

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Through smokey vocals, heavy influences of vintage jazz and divine feminine energy, rising R&B pop star Emmy Meli has proven herself as a primal force and magnetic songstress with her debut EP Hello Stranger. Released on May 10, the seven-track EP explores and conveys seven years of Meli’s life. The title track and opening number is a cover of the 1961 Barbara Lewis hit. A monumental song from Meli’s childhood, it serves as a profound opening number to her debut album while paying homage to iconic musical influences from her youth. Today, she has released the Garden Sessions, where she has performed acoustic and stripped down versions of her favorite songs from Hello StrangerGarden Sessions is available on YouTube, on all streaming platforms and on vinyl.

The pop songstress originally found fame in 2021 when she went viral with her feminist anthem “I Am Woman.” The track now has over 257 million streams on Spotify and was chosen as the theme song to Meghan Markle’s podcast “Archetypes”. Now, with her inaugural album release, Meli continues to advocate for feminism, self-love and peace among women. With a vocal prowess and musicality that glitters with womanly energy and shades of pink and gold, Meli is undoubtedly an electric and ethereal figurehead within the current Gen Z feminist movement.

After the end of Alexander Stewart’s Bleeding Hearts Tour where Meli was a supporting artist, the R&B rising star sat down with Melodic Mag to discuss future music, the importance of feminine energy in her work and how she embraces the darkness.

You went viral with your single “I Am Woman” in 2021. That was such a big milestone in your career, but how has your artistry changed since then?
I think it’s grown a lot. I learned a lot about the artist I want to be, the message that I want to have and how I approach my art and my music-making. My sound has grown along with me, even on the stuff that I’m making now. The project I’ve just put out is like two years old, so even the album that I’ve been working on for the last year is so much more evolved than the last thing and so on. With “I Am Woman,” everything turned out like it was supposed to and it was very beautiful, but the process was rushed. I’ve really learned not to rush things and to take my time with my art. But that comes with being patient. I’ve also gotten back into producing and recording my own vocals and doing all my vocal arranging, which I did in “I Am Woman” as well. But I just feel like I’m becoming a better musician.

You say you worked on your most recent project for 2 years before releasing it. How does it feel to spend so much time on one project?
I will say it drove me nuts, mainly because the music was done for almost two years. Nothing was really happening with it in terms of editing other than finding features and maybe changing the drums. I started that project in the spring after “I Am Woman” and then finished it by the end of summer of 2022. So it was a giant waiting game and it drove me nuts. Now, am I going to spend that much time waiting on a project ever again? No. On the other hand, am I going to rush things? No. I think I’m just going to allow things to happen the way they want to happen. Unless you’re at a point in your artistry where you can go be on a farm for three years and be like I’m just going to make an album over the course of these next few years and take my time with it because I can. That’s different. If that’s what you choose to do, that’s amazing. But I’m not going to wait two years before I put music out.

With the debut EP there are themes of self-love, femininity and feminism. Regarding the feminist aspect, I know that goes back to “I Am Woman,” but it’s still prevalent in this recent project. Why is it important for you to express your these topics in your music?
What is so interesting is that when I set out to make music, I never purposely set out to be such a voice for feminism. I just wanted to heal people. Because I feel like society really drills misogyny into women. A huge chunk of internalized misogyny you don’t even realize you have until you actually have to sit back and ask, why don’t I like myself? What is the real reason that I don’t allow myself to connect with people? The root of feminism for me is returning to myself and returning to my womanhood and embracing that and protecting and creating a new safe space for little girls and women who are younger than me. I could sit here and talk to you about feminism for years. And I’m not talking about ‘hating other people’ feminism. I’m talking about what feminism actually means. Equality and the protection of young girls, women, our rights and our rights to our own bodies. I just put that into my music and people really resonated with it, which I think in turn showed me how dire it is to have people talking about this, because I was not expecting people to resonate with it like that. It became important to me to continue being in that space just because of the sheer amount of people who obviously needed to hear what I said.

Going back to the internalized misogyny, I feel like I see so many women on social media say they hate feminism, or there’s that TikTok trend of “I’m not a feminist, I can actually cook.”
Don’t get me started about that. It’s so sad to see. And you know what? I don’t hate men. I hate the patriarchy and I hate it because the patriarchy doesn’t just affect women, it affects men. It affects how men love, it affects how women love, it affects how we treat each other. It affects everyone. It’s not just a singular issue. I hate that it’s created a divide between everybody. It’s created a divide between ourselves and with our own selves. That trend pisses me off so much because I’m a feminist and I can’t wait to have kids. I’m a feminist and I let my boyfriend hold the door open for me. It’s just giving uneducated. I feel like a lot of this stuff just comes from a complete lack of education about what’s actually going on.

Even the fact that you say the patriarchy affects men too. I feel like so many people don’t know that.
And I’m not trying to attack at all. I’m just trying to create a safe space for women. I want my daughters that I bring into the world someday to grow up in a society where they can get paid just as much and not be afraid when someone’s walking behind them on the sidewalk. I want my daughters to be able to enjoy female friendships where there’s no competition because a lot of internalized misogyny is the view that women are competition. I want women to experience love with each other and themselves. I still struggle every single day looking in the mirror and being okay with the fact that my body doesn’t fit the standard of what is technically beautiful. And I have PCOS, so in dealing with that I’ve realized how little resources we have for female reproductive health in the United States. The only time I ever felt like someone was listening to me about my body was from one influencer who also struggles with PCOS and has now made accessible and free holistic healthcare. When I had to pay to see an actual holistic specialist it cost me an arm and a leg. But it was the first time in my entire life that a doctor sat down with me and asked me about my life and what kind of emotions I experience on a daily basis.

That’s because every medical or scientific study, historically, has been conducted by men and they’ve only studied men. Everything health-related has mostly been by men and for men, basically.
A really good book to read that I will recommend is the Bell Hooks book “All About Love.” If you want to learn about how the patriarchy affects people, read that and “Who Cooked the Last Supper.” It’s a gruesome read because of how deep it goes into how women have been treated for the last millennium. It’s a very fascinating book about women’s history from the female perspective, not the male perspective. We already knew women have been a much larger part of history, but we’ve been a much larger part of history than has been documented. It’s based on the theory that in the beginning of time, society actually started as a matriarchy and not a patriarchy, and then men kind of rewrote the story just as time went on. It’s a really interesting read. You don’t have to love it or even necessarily agree with all of it, but all of the historical references are completely factual. But to actually hit your point, expressing my femininity is important to me because it’s ingrained in my DNA to talk about what I believe in. I truly believe in leaving the world a better place. And I’m not saying that I’m some sort of savior or the world’s most important activist. But if I can at least try to be a voice for things like this, then that’s much better than nothing.

I know you say through your music you’re an advocate and you want to advocate for all these issues. I know on the recent album too you do touch on toxic relationships and self-love and feminism, as we’ve said. With future music do you plan to continue addressing these issues, and maybe touching on different issues in our system as well?
I will say this next project is a lot different. It touches a little bit more on issues in the music industry and things that I’ve faced in the music industry. It’s less about feminism and gender and more so about the road I’m on right now and the bullshit that I see and the mindset that people have that is a no-go for me. I’m like, that might be how you did it, but that’s not how I’m going to do it. It’s kind of like my return to self. Like death and rebirth, but on the road to what I’m trying to achieve. It’s more about my career than it is about my personal life. This time around, I still sing about love and stuff in it, but it’s just different, and it’s definitely a different side of me. There’s a lot of rapping in there and it’s experimental. It’s a lot more gritty, raw, dark and dirty.

I’m excited to see that! I love when music gets more aggressive like you’re saying. I know you literally just released the EP, but I’m excited to see the new music.
Oh, it’s coming girl. ‘m going to the UK for the last leg of this tour that I’m on and then I’m staying in the UK and finishing the album. The whole album so far has been made out there, so I’m finishing up in these next few weeks which means that I’ll probably have the music out by the end of summer. Not the whole album, but I’ll have new music out really soon and not two years from now. I’m very excited and I think that it will probably open me up to a new section of my audience because it’s a little bit more broad. I’m excited to see how people respond and if they don’t Like it then what the fuck ever. I like it.

I’m very excited to see how the two albums compare both lyrically and visually. Speaking of aesthetics, I really love the imagery of transformation and butterflies and all the pink hues on your recent album. What inspires you with your aesthetics in general, and what inspired Hello Stranger?
I take inspiration from the strangest things. I have been on a deep dive of 1960 to 1975 female performance art. I get inspired by the random thing I saw in a book my dad kept from art school. I get inspired by the way a butterfly glistened on a leaf when I was on a walk one day. I get inspired by buying a record from a random thrift store that doesn’t even have any lyrics. I’m very inspired by female anatomy. If I showed you some of my paintings that I have out, I always end up painting women with flowers or trees for body parts, or using actual pedals and gluing them to canvases. I’m very much one for the eccentric. My cover art is always very fantasy-inspired. I got inspired for the dark butterfly imagery because you go through a period of darkness, and I’m not going to reject the darkness. I’m just going to transmute it. And I was also inspired by these journals my dad used to buy me when I was a kid. They were little diaries with Gothic fairies on them, and they were just a series that Hot Topic did when I was a kid and I loved them. And because I wrote so much, my dad would bring me a bunch of them every time I ran out. The album’s color scheme is a hot pink, bright color scheme. But the overall vibe of her is a bit darker. Honestly, I get inspired by random ass stuff lately. I’ve been so inspired by birds and owls. I’ve just been taking pictures of pigeons on the street. You never know with me.

There’s a lot of similarities and differences between the two. With this album it was fairies, butterflies and shades of pink. This new one is owls, pigeons and shades of blue. I know it might be early to say, but what’s the general inspiration behind the upcoming project?
It’s kind of modeled around the idea of the phoenix in regards to death, rebirth and embracing darkness. We continue embracing darkness, but we’re diving deeper into it. And we’re kind of like, I am the darkness. And I also am the light that’s on the other side. But I only get to the light on the other side if I am this as well. So it’s kind of the idea of the phoenix constantly dying and being reborn. You can’t be reborn and become this beautiful, fabulous birdlike creature and be on fire with all your beautiful colors until you’ve died and turned to ash. It’s finding the beauty in the mundane. It’s maintaining magic in a dystopian world like the phoenix. It continues to live regardless of how many times it dies. The grass continues to grow through the cracks on the sidewalk. It persists, and even after we’re all dead and gone, birds will still chirp. The greenery will grow over all the old buildings, everything will be wiped out, but the Earth will persist. And there’s beauty in that. There’s beauty in death and rebirth, and there’s beauty in the darkness. It’s based around the idea of that, but not in a morbid way. In a beautiful way.

A lot of people hear those concepts and they hear the negative connotations. They think of death as this terrible thing. What advice do you have for people who are afraid of those things, or who are in the process of their Phoenix life cycle where they’re in the darkness and don’t realize they might be reborn?
I really like the idea of not associating darkness with something that is evil and bad. I think it is beautiful and necessary. We don’t get the sunrise unless we have nighttime. I genuinely think that I didn’t find myself and start to heal until I actually sat in my darkness for a long fucking time. I didn’t reject it. I just sat in it. And it’s not easy. But I was like, I can’t fill the hole with partying and pushing people away for the rest of my life. I won’t find myself that way. I also won’t find myself by submitting to the dark side of the music industry. I won’t get to where I want to be, nor be happy with myself or my career, by doing that. I will only be happy with myself and make it in this industry if I just go through the shitty stuff and continue to be a good person and grow from it rather than submit to it. It’s a journey, and that’s what I want people to get from the things I make. I want to bring back people having their friends over, turning the lights off and putting an album on that just dropped and listening to it from start to finish and going on a journey through darkness and light with that person. I hope to bring that back, at least when people listen to my music. I know there are a lot of artists who have done that in such an incredible way. I’m not saying that I’m going to be the first person to do that or I’m some pioneer, but I’m just saying that that’s what I want to do with my music.

Photo Credit: Ashley Osborn

Keep up with Emmy Meli: Instagram // TikTok // Spotify // YouTube

Justice Petersen
Justice Petersen
Justice Petersen is a Chicago-based music journalist and freelance writer. She is a recent graduate from Columbia College Chicago, having earned a journalism major with a concentration in magazine writing and a minor in music business. Justice regularly contributes artist interviews, On Your Radar features and various other articles for Melodic Magazine, serving as an interviewer, writer and editor. She also writes for several other online magazine publications, including Ghost Cult Magazine, Chicago Music Guide and That Eric Alper, and her work has been featured in Sunstroke Magazine, Fever Dream Zine, ChicagoTalks and the Chicago Reader. Her favorite band is Metallica and her go-to coffee order is an iced vanilla oat milk latte with strawberry cold foam on top.

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