It’s often hard to tell whether instant attraction is just a desire to befriend someone, be like them, or something more. Having to acknowledge your feelings is always a bit daunting; risk is already high, and only intensified when a burgeoning discovery of one’s sexuality comes into play. Channeling the nervous excitement characteristic of a fresh flirtation, That Brunette (the recent new stage name of rising Brooklyn-based indie-pop singer Madeline Mondrala) offers queer femmes a cathartic, joyful outlet for dancing alone in their bedrooms full of youthful infatuation on “Secret Crush.”
Written in the height of “undeniable” feelings That Brunette developed for another woman—”When it happened I was no longer able to ignore or repress my bisexuality,” she says—the glittering pop tune recounts the precarious nature of treading uncharted territory. A bouncing beat and synth trills mimic heart palpitations, which go hand in hand with her uneasy but charming soft breaths. The feelings she explores in the track, for her, were never normalized.
“Looking back over my life I definitely think my queerness was stomped out of me in my early years,” she admits, transparent on grappling with internalized biphobia. “Growing up, nobody ever mentioned the idea of bisexuality beyond describing it as a lie gay people told themselves. I knew I was attracted to boys, and it was socially acceptable and encouraged, but I kept my attraction to women deep down inside.”
Stifling her attraction to women led to the repression of her sexuality until one fateful encounter. Most folks who identify as bisexual know this “bi panic” to their cores, especially those who grew up with heteronormativity imposed on them. “I think because I’m in a long term relationship with a man, I hadn’t felt comfortable fully exploring my sexual preferences as a self-aware adult,” she confesses.
While it’s heartening to imagine this track as a source of joy for younger listeners in their closeted days, “Secret Crush” also resonates for those of us still undergoing the process of unpacking those standards. In 2021, where queer love can explicitly permeate lyrics in such a cheerful way, “Secret Crush” allows That Brunette to control her narrative, empowered by the truth in her emotions and the support of her partner. “How can I get you alone?” she asks, a simple question that encompasses the universal spirit of any brand new crush, before isolating the singular epiphany that prompted a full embrace of her sexuality.
“I don’t wanna jinx it/Looking for a reason to” walks the precarious line of pining where it almost feels easier to ignore the crush entirely. She continues on by playing with romantic tropes and re-centering them with a fresh perspective. Reclaiming images like daydreaming and roses, it’s even tongue-in-cheek to say “leave the boys at home,” a term commonly associated with heterosexual friends who need a “girls night out.”
The breathy bridge melodically captures her yearning, “almost like you’re bargaining with the universe,” she explains, to have those feelings reciprocated. “Even if it’s just tonight,” she nearly begs, leaning into uncertainty before falling right back into the song’s playful and vibrant chorus. While unintended, a near-Valentine’s Day release adds to the song’s kittenish nature.
It’s not that That Brunette set out to write a coming-out song or position herself as a defining voice of this story, but it’s powerful and liberating all the same. “I’m happy to represent bisexual people who might have discovered their queerness a little later in life, or who happen to be in a heterosexual relationship,” she says. “I can only write about my own experience and I hope by doing so others can relate and feel seen.”
“I’m all for normalizing queerness in music,” she continues. “When I started writing about my experience it was incredibly liberating from a creative perspective. I stopped being worried about people judging me for not fitting their image of what a bisexual woman looks like.”
Directed by her partner Matt Speno and filmed in her old living room with help from Zeno Pittarelli and Alice Osbourne, the music video for “Secret Crush” finds That Brunette drenched in a romantic pink, acting out her “quippy and cheeky” lyrics through kitschy literal interpretations. Her strong visual eye and penchant for aesthetics are effortlessly genuine; she styled herself in a classic white-on-white look she describes as “clean, approachable, and authentic…a look I would wear in the summer to a gay bar.”
Following the release of “Platonic,” “Secret Crush” comes from a world of That Brunette’s own creation in which she exists without pretense, and it’s thrilling to watch. She’s embracing it all—her identity, her creative agency, and her capacity to feel openly and honestly—and she’s having fun while doing it.