Starting from scratch was a major risk, but she was willing to take it.
Formerly known as Madelin, Brooklyn’s queer-pop goddess reemerges this year as That Brunette, a purposely nondescript moniker, the vagueness part of her mystique. Even as she began recording new music – the follow-up to her 2019 release Then Her Head Fell Off – changing her stage name wasn’t something she was planning to do. But by early 2020, she reconciled leaving behind her growing catalog for forging ahead into uncharted waters ─ thus liberating herself from a past that kept leaching off her skin. She needed to cut the cord and move on. And that’s exactly what she did.
She scrubbed her Instagram, archiving what she wanted to keep, and completely unplugged for several months. She didn’t post a single candid photo or hyper-majestic photoshoot still. That action alone was liberating in a way she never expected. “I loved not having to have amazing photos to post. I love doing photo shoots, but not thinking about Instagram likes for a couple months was really therapeutic,” she tells Audiofemme over a recent phone call.
Since her return, on February 28, she discovered her thirst for likes had waned. “I realized that the people who are engaged with me online are the ones that care and are interested. I don’t have to worry about impressing or pleasing every person. I think everyone should stop posting on Instagram forever,” she laughs.
Up until her creative rebirth, she had amassed several singles and two EPs, but a bitter taste hung in her throat. Many of those cuts were written during her BMG days – an experience that, while instructive, left her feeling jaded about the industry. “To be honest, I was more excited about the newer stuff,” she says. “I’m glad it was out in the world, finally. I had released music independently before, but I really did my best to get as much PR as I could independently and have coinciding photos with the release. I tried to have all my ducks totally in a row. It was a struggle to do it all myself. My focus was on what my next move was going to be.”
Her decision to totally rebrand stemmed from a conversation she had with her producer Joe Endozo, who is also known as one-half of indie-pop project HOT FUN. “We were talking about how I wanted to give this new music its own life, separate from ‘Madelin,’” she says. “I wanted to let go of a name that had negative connotations for me and find something that felt more authentic and chosen.”
“Something just clicked in me when I really started to think about this whole 2020 rollout. If I was going to change my name, it was now or never,” she adds.
Once she locked into a new chapter, the next hurdle was picking out an appropriate name. “I was literally wracking my brain for anything I could think of. I’d wake up, look around my room, and go, ‘Paper towels. Water…,’” she chuckles. “Literally. Anything I saw, I thought, ‘Is this a good name?’ I was going crazy thinking of names. I made a list of ones I thought could work. The first one I thought of was ‘Miss Elegance.’ That was an actual award I won when I was in third grade and did cotillion. But then I thought, ‘I’m not that elegant. I don’t think it really comes across if I don’t explain that entire story every time.’”
“Then, I thought, ‘What am I, really?’ I wanted something streamlined and a little ‘this could be anyone.’ The art is going to speak for itself because the name is either nondescript or more general. I thought of things like ‘Girl 31’ and ‘She.’ Then, when I thought of the word brunette, I was thinking of ‘Real Brunette,’ ‘Cool Brunette,’ ‘Rude Brunette.’ I was like, ‘Wait. That Brunette! I’m just That Brunette… over there.’”
There was another, perhaps more daunting, element that struck her: she would have to totally rebuild her Spotify follower base. “I just had to decide that I was okay with completely starting from scratch. That was definitely an emotional process. It sounds depressing but I had to think of it as accepting defeat,” she confides. “I had to come to terms with the fact that something I had tried really hard at for a number of years wasn’t quite clicking both with me, and with life, I had to be okay with the idea of letting that era of my life go so I could start over and be my authentic self.”
With an adventure, both unknown and exciting, looming before her, she takes a moment to reflect on her journey. “I don’t think I could have done this a year ago. I wasn’t in that state of mind,” she says. “I was holding on so tight to something I thought I needed. I’ve gone through so many different phases over the past year where little by little I released myself from the expectations I had of myself. I have come to this place where I feel I have nothing to lose, and I want to start over as the older, wiser, almost 28-year-old woman I am. I’m not that confused, starry-eyed 22-year-old anymore.”
That Brunette is not abandoning who she is at the core, though. She is still the same quirky, electric, and bodacious 20-something singer-songwriter she’s always been. “I’m not going to change who I am as an artist. The background I’m putting myself in front of is different. It’s neutral, clean, and gives me space to be decisive with what I put out into the world. I have the opportunity to build a really cohesive and interesting sound and repertoire that defines who I am in the present, and I’m very excited about it.”
Her new song “Astrology,” out everywhere today, keeps her bubbly weirdness intact, but it sees her zipping along a thrilling new path. “I don’t want to make you any less free, honey / You can love him / You can love me,” she warbles into a synthy haze. She juggles her emotions, eyeing someone across the room with a flirtatious nod and smirk.
Billie Eilish’s drummer Andrew Marshall, with whom she went to college, lends his skills to a track that washes over the body. It’s aptly intoxicating, slurping together the organic with the synthetic as a way to engage the senses in the process. “This song is about loving someone from afar, and not wanting to disrupt them. You can admire someone, appreciate their beauty, memorize their astrological chart, without expecting anything from them in return,” she explains. “For me, this person was a beautiful flower I was content not to pick – as long as I could enjoy its presence, I thought that would make me happy enough.”
The song also includes long-time collaborator and friend Jon Sacca on guitar. “I’m obsessed with his style of playing. I love to combine organic and electronic elements and blend them together seamlessly. It has this pop groove to it, but there’s these really melodic elements, as well.”
With plans to continue releasing new singles throughout the rest of 2020, she expects to release a string of singles, “Astrology” represents the beginning of what promises to be a liberating new chapter.