In the safari-like present of the social media age, antics have replaced aura as a crucial element of the measure of an artist. But from behind her impeccably coiffed hair, instantly recognisable and distinct dressing and glasses, from which peers a set of beautiful deep-set eyes, local singer-songwriter Miss Lou radiates an aura of poise and quiet power. She has just released her debut EP Glamour Vintage Songbird, a five-tracker full of introspective soul and delightful bounce produced by Mikal Blue, who has also worked on records by Toni Braxton and Jason Mraz.
This is the first herald of what she calls ‘vintage pop’, a sound that updates the jazz and doo wop of the ’50s and ’60s with the concerns close to her heart as a young artist with something to say. Pop is less a specific sound than a sensibility that emanates from the dominant sound of the time and listening to Miss Lou’s songs, it’s easy to realise that her visceral artistic energy ensures that she’s not idly throwing back to a bygone age. Find out more about her world-building aesthetic in our chat with her below.
So, what is ‘vintage pop’?
I don’t think it was a conscious thing when I started writing songs. I started writing before I did the image transition and before I adopted the stage name ‘Miss Lou’. It was part of the entire process of finding myself as an artist that really established this classic vintage-pop image. The sound was named after all my songs were completed. I think the first indication of this genre was when I was in The Final One, a singing competition in Singapore. I happen to get my inspiration from ’50s and ’60s music and I realised that I can write songs in that style. I do write songs in other styles, but right now the pre-dominant style is vintage pop.
Was writing in this style of music instinctive?
I started writing songs when I was junior college. Being a vocalist in jazz band, I was constantly exposed to the work of the legends of jazz. It allowed me to appreciate and understand the evolution of a lot of related music. I’ve carried that till now in my vocal delivery and lyrics and I hope to bring back that era of music with my favourite elements SUCH AS vocal harmonies and horn parts.
“I am not a tribute act. I’m not trying to sound like someone from the past. I am taking my favourite parts, reimagining them and creating something new. I do this to reflect how I feel inside.”
Do you feel that the music of the past is better than today’s?
Pop then was jazz and it was better in the past, hands down. I feel that there were more room for people to experiment back then because people back then had longer attention spans. Now, people are mostly just referencing one another; it’s like an echo chamber. Just listening to lyrics from the past, the titles and the stories, you can easily pick up how the songwriting was just so varied across different songs and composers. Right now, it’s like everyone knows what’s going to work, so they’re aiming towards that. That’s just the culture now – it’s not wrong but I just prefer it the old way.
What was working with Mikal Blue like?
It was amazing. I emailed him some of my demos and he really liked my material! One of the reasons I decided to work with him was because for me, vocals are the most important part of a song and he agreed with that. Besides, he was really focused and disciplined because we only had 10 days in the studio in Los Angeles. We started out early in the morning and worked all the way till evening but he never took a break. He was just fully dedicated to the project.
So, let’s get the most obvious thing about your lead single “More Than Just the Bass” out of the way. Is it a response to Meghan Trainor’s song?
It is. When I first wrote it, it was for a video I had to make for The Final One. One of the lines is “Even Meghan’s mom was mistaken / You don’t need validation from boys and girls to know”. Meghan claims that her song was about body positivity and about self-worth, but there is one part where she sings, “My mama, she told me don’t worry about your size / She said boys like a little more booty to hold at night”.
I was confused by that because I felt that she was contradicting herself. There are so many different types of body types but everyone is expected to look a certain way and it’s unfair to everyone. So I took the word “bass” and expanded it to represent physical appearance. I’m not dissing Meghan, I’m just not happy with the message she’s sending out. I didn’t want to just write something that was just on-trend but something that had a strong message and thus I chose to talk about body positivity in response with the booty trend that was going on that year.
And how important is your look to you?
It’s very important. It’s my way of rebelling against the norm. I’ve had people tell me that I should stop the whole look because it makes me look older. But the more they tell me to stop, the more I’m going to do it because I love this look! It’s my way of expressing myself and if I can be confident in this appearance, I can deliver and contribute more if I’m feeling the best in my skin. I love doing my hair and makeup, it’s therapeutic to me.
The funny thing about the reaction I get from other people is that it’s only guys who have a problem with it. I can’t tell you the number of times it’s been guys who’ve said that I shouldn’t wear these glasses since they make me look older than I am. Thanks for your opinion but I’m only going to wear them more!
Cultural appropriation is one of the more pressing issues of our time. What would you say to someone who accuses you of that?
I know people who are purists and as much as I respect them, I don’t really agree with their philosophy. I am not a tribute act. I am not trying to sound like someone from the past. I am taking my favourite parts, reimagining them and creating something new. It’s still paying homage to the past, but I absolutely do not want to be a copycat. I still have to adapt my look to my culture, the weather, and more. In the end, it’s self-expression. I do this to reflect how I feel inside. I am Singaporean and I have to take what that means into account. People can criticise me if this is not their style, but you do you and I’ll do me.
Lastly, as an artist, how do you negotiate the tension between being understood and ‘fitting in’?
I always try to bridge two worlds together: The old and the new; the east and the west; indie and mainstream. But it’s more important for me to maintain my level of artistry because I want to be proud of my work and it needs to represent me.
But music is universal so I’m threading the line between where my work has artistic value and also appeals to the mainstream audience. It’s always been my goal to be a well-rounded individual. Even outside of music, I want Miss Lou to represent quality and intelligence.