Just when you think you couldn’t like an artist any more, they dig even deeper and allow more of themselves into their art, all while refining their heady pop sound further. That’s Empress Of, and this is her latest gem.
I wasn’t really prepared for how personal I’m Your Empress Of was going to feel, or how hard it was going to hit. When you’re crying halfway through the intro track, you know it’s gonna be a fucking hit. Empress Of, the performing name of Honduran-American singer and producer Lorely Rodriguez (no relation, just in case you forgot), has her mom feature with some spoken word on being a mother, a woman, an immigrant, and providing little gems that are so awesomely endearing, I’d take a whole podcast of it. There’s a short candid clip of her mother recording for the song “Void” on the artist’s Instagram. Mom has her own fashion Instagram as well – more on that later.
This is a huge source of this album’s greatness. Not just Lorely’s mother, but the power behind her and her inclusion – the divine feminine, the matriarchal finesse and sage-like mentality that seems to resonate largely among many Latin and Hispanic matriarchs (not to exclude anyone else – just speaking from what I know). Hell, this goes all the way back to the inspiration of her stage name. Empress Of was inspired by a tarot card reading with a friend where the first card drawn was the Empress, a symbol of motherhood, fertility, and strength. While her music has always subtly worked on these principals, from her 2010 Systems EP to now, it’s here that we’ve reached a new peak, both in potency and artistic execution, even if I was a bit hesitant at first.
I won’t lie – I was a little concerned when I first heard the lead single, “Give Me Another Chance”. Sure, it had Empress Of‘s personality, but the sound was starting to meander a bit more toward mainline pop. This isn’t a bad thing per se, but I didn’t know if it would serve her music the best. I wondered if a new producer stepped in and guided the tone and sound a bit – nope, just Lorely. She produced not only this song herself, but nearly the whole record herself with assists from BJ Burton, Jim-E Stack, and Mikey Freedom Hart (AKA Ex Reyes). Plus, who am I to say whether or not something suits Empress Of‘s style the best? It’s her sound! In her eyes, maybe she was due for a change, seeing a path to evolution for her craft and taking it in a way that she saw fit.
The glamour of “Give Me Another Chance” makes a lot more sense when it’s placed after six other songs that show a more gradual growth towards it. Now I really like the song, but still like others a ton more, including the other single “Love Is A Drug”. It’s more classic Empress Of with playful, popping synths and tempo. Armed with a catchy chorus, it, along with “Give Me Another Chance”, explores a craving for love, a desperation as Lorely puts it herself. The limbo between having someone and losing them, and begging them back; an acutely felt lack of affection that could cloud your judgement and inspire a couple ‘WYD?’ texts to former flames, or reactivating your Tinder profile. These are places of vulnerability, but in that, they’re also profoundly human and relatable.
It’s moments like these, written about and captured in earnest that make I’m Your Empress Of flow extraordinarily well. One of my favorites is in “Bit of Rain”, the first post-intro track, which focuses on the electrifying newfound chemistry between two people:
‘A bit of rain
A bit of thunder
I love the exchange
I want you under me‘
This is one of many moments that are sensually powerful without treading into an explicit territory (not that I would mind that). My favorite though is “Hold Me Like Water”, which has a beautifully poetic way of capturing the passion and feeling of a new connection. It’s a more minimalist take than other songs here, even calling back a bit to Empress Of‘s first album Me. Although delicate and spatial with its production, the words are weighty and purposeful.
‘Hold me closer
Hold me down
Hold me like water
Hold my taste in your mouth
There’s something about being this
This high in the air that makes you feel scared‘
In all of this, there’s grace, poise, and a soundness, even in its imperfect and wounded moments. From the self-mediation of “What’s The Point” to acknowledging self-destructive behavior on “Awful”, every admission is a learning point and an opportunity to utilize what you’ve learned prior. In “Void” – an illustrious, floaty number – Lorely’s mother abruptly enters the track, cutting off the beat before the second verse and says ‘you wanna make yourself the woman that nobody is gonna mistreat.’ Later, in “U Give It Up”, she says ‘life is not easy, being a woman is not easy. Woman can be misinterpreted, but you make yourself the woman you want to be. Love is the language of the heart -the language that everybody can understand.’
This is where everything connects: through the advice and wisdom of a loving mother, the kind of mother that makes all of your touring outfits from scratch (look at the damn album cover too), the kind that will record some freestyle knowledge darts for your album to make fans cry from how impactful and sincere it all sounds. This is Empress Of‘s stage, but there’s a subtle acknowledgement of owing herself to her mom, in more than just the literal way. Her inclusion on the title track/intro says it all: ‘I only have one girl, but the only girl is like having thousands of girls. Because look at how many times she reproduce[s] herself in each bunch of you.’
I’m Your Empress Of has a subtle arc, though not particularly presented in a strictly conceptual or linear manner; it’s more about acknowledging the different stages of love, reconciling them with yourself and your needs along with the give-and-take nature of it all. This album is an ode to the complications of love in the same way getting a less-than-stellar grade on a school project is a lesson to take from – you may have done your best, but there’s more to learn that will come from working on yourself as a person and, most likely, consulting some advice from a trusted source.
To end on that would be too sterile, so I’ll say this: I’m Your Empress Of is spring-like. It’s warm, freeing, communal, lustful, and intensely felt throughout. Dance to it, nod to it – either in rhythm with its decadent pop appeal or in agreement with its protagonist’s musings – but either way, it’s a great treat. Empress Of tapped into something really special here that allowed her to evolve in a glorious manner I didn’t know I wanted until I had it.