Empress Of Pivots From ‘Me’ To ‘Us’

Aired on NPR’s All Things Considered on October 18, 2018

When Lorely Rodriguez first shared her music with the world, she did it anonymously. The East L.A. native uploaded short snippets of experimental pop to YouTube under the name Empress Of. Those demos turned into a record deal and a debut album in 2015 titled Me; on her new record, it’s all about Us.

For her sophomore effort, Rodriguez wanted to create a sense of community and pay homage to her Honduran roots. The result is a straightforward take on pop that says more with less. Empress Of says her last album was so personal, so chaotic that it made performing it emotionally exhausting. This time around, she wanted the music to be an equal exchange between her and us, the listeners. Songs like “Love For Me” offer emotional drama. It’s just not all about her.

On “Trust Me Baby,” Rodriguez is demanding respect and faith from a partner. It’s a familiar scene framed by lush and glittering electro-pop fused with R&B. The music oozes with muted, spacey synths guiding her falsetto. What makes the song special isn’t what Rodriguez is saying, but rather how she’s chosen to say it.

The songs bilingual lyrics are in service to one of her biggest influences: her mom. Rodriguez wanted her to be able to understand the music. As a first-generation Honduran American, Rodriguez straddles two worlds, and she nods to that experience in the way she sways between languages. She doesn’t present the Spanish verses as some big moment in the song. It’s just part of who she is, and the power is in the subtlety.

“You wanted me to be more than I could be,” Rodriguez sings on “When I’m With Him.” It’s the heart of the album. The funk guitar and larger-than-life chorus give the impression of a soaring love song, but the lyrics reveal a relationship in decay.

To call these simple love songs would be a disservice to the complicated experiences underneath the surface — self-doubt, community, trust, identity. In delicate but skillful ways, Rodriguez explores different matters of the heart — telling her story, and a little of ours in the process.