In the world of pop music, it’s easy to get put in a category; the “edgy” one, the “hot mess,” the “Queen.” Or, if you’re Karli Morehouse of Grand Rapids indie-pop outfit Lipstick Jodi, the “gay” one. The non-binary songwriter and artist has spent years being labeled and pigeonholed because of their identity and is more than ready to break the constricting molds embedded into the foundation of pop music culture. On their latest single, “Take Me Seriously,” premiering today via Audiofemme, Morehouse brings their frustrations and anxieties to the forefront and gives listeners the chance to do the same. Following the band’s previous single “Notice,” as well as a remix by Now Now, “Take Me Seriously” will appear on the band’s sophomore LP More Like Me, out June 4th via Quite Scientific.
As one of the only openly queer kids in their Midwestern high school growing up, Morehouse has grown accustomed to standing out. And as hard as it was to find people like them in their community, it was even harder to find pop artists that reflected them. Aside from one of Morehouse’s all-time favorite artists, Tegan and Sara, it felt like every big pop star adhered to a very specific set of aesthetic and sonic standards. Nevertheless, Morehouse fell in love with everything about pop music. “This is all I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid,” they explain.
Raised on ’80s icons like Prince, Cher and Pat Benatar, Morehouse’s songwriting is imbued with nostalgic synths and infectious melodies, as is evident on “Take Me Seriously.” Marrying their power pop instincts with a desire for inclusivity, Morehouse’s lyrics are intentionally vague, leaving room for people to imbue the song with their own meaning. “They’re specific to me, but… they’re kind of vague statements that can give whoever is listening something to hold on to,” says Morehouse.
They explain that this elasticity is inspired by seeing themselves and other queer artists get tossed around in an echo chamber instead of breaking through to larger audiences.
“I’ve always found that a lot of queer artists just end up playing to queer people, which is fine,” says Morehouse. “But I wanted to reach across the board and just play to whoever wants to listen.” They explain that well-intentioned playlists and charts highlighting “women in music” and “LBGTQ+ musicians” can further isolate marginalized musicians rather than integrating them into the pop mainstream. “If anyone calls me a ‘female artist’ one more time, I swear to god,” says Morehouse. “Not only am I non-binary, but it doesn’t matter, I’m a musician.”
And as the lead singer/songwriter for Lipstick Jodi, Morehouse flexes their lifetime of diverse musicianship. Aside from absorbing the romance and robustness of ’80s pop, they were interested in piano and guitar from an early age. Their grandfather, a career musician, gave them their first kid-sized piano and encouraged them to explore other instruments. “My mom didn’t want to commit me to anything and make me hate it, ‘cause that’s kind of what happened to her,” says Morehouse.
From there came countless performances, including a LeAnn Rimes cover, forming their first band in ninth grade and hitting up the Grand Rapids, Michigan coffee shop and brewery circuit. They founded Lipstick Jodi back in 2014, but only started honing in on their sparkly, synth-driven sound in the last few years. Starting out, Morehouse was quickly introduced to the closed minds of certain audience members or talent buyers. “They would call us the gay band and the girl band all the time,” they say. “I was just like, good job for recognizing a haircut? I don’t know why you’re upset.”
In “Take Me Seriously,” Morehouse distills a universal angst, applicable to anyone experiencing heartbreak, setbacks or haters. Razor sharp guitars, bold percussion and potent vocals deliver their cathartic message of pain and resilience. “I’m able to put whatever anxiety, whatever depression I’m feeling into a statement,” says Morehouse, “and kind of hide behind it and give it to somebody else.”