The pop icon of my teen years has returned from a six-year hiatus, and listening to her new single, a bittersweet symphony resonated in my heart.
Sky Ferreira was once the bad-girl-next-door. She was a viral Tumblr GIF, sprawled in her underwear as a tarantula crawled across her body in the “Red Lips” music video. She looked like the new Courtney Love in her gloriously haggard mugshot, though her charges were dropped because, big surprise, the drug problem belonged to her shitty boyfriend.
But the pop star I worshiped as a teen was an image, an illusion. She was the product of the same ethos behind TV shows like “Skins,” a scandalous saga about dazed and confused British teens. I was left deeply impressioned with eating disorders and scars of self-harm. What I then deemed “trendy,” I am now ashamed of.
Ferreira’s musical reappearance with “Downhill Lullaby,” and confirmation of her long-awaited sophomore album, unveils a new depth to her identity. Ferreira grits her teeth to find her own autonomy. The result is a resolute force to be reckoned with.
Born and raised in L.A., Ferreira was a self-described “feral-looking” child, and so shy she was mute for a portion of her childhood. She was raised by her grandmother (a woman who used to cut Michael Jackson’s hair).
Ferreira saw singing and posting to her Myspace profile as a way out of high school. She wasn’t wrong. By 15, she had signed to Capitol Records. They shepherded her into the industry and branded her as a “rebel Barbie.” Ferreira broke into the film and modeling world, appearing in magazines like “Dazed” and “Interview.”
She released two electro-pop extended plays, “As if!” (2011) and “Ghost” (2012) and self-deprecating hits like “Everything Is Embarrassing.” After a drawn-out dispute with her label, she released her debut album in 2013. The dreamy “Night Time, My Time” was an indie-rock synth-pop hit, at least critically if not commercially.
Ferreira continued touring but always met with trouble. While opening for Vampire Weekend, her vocal cords hemorrhaged, caused by a vocal node repeatedly misdiagnosed as laryngitis. Opening for Miley Cyrus on the pop star’s Bangerz tour put her on an elevated radar, but during her third performance she fell and split her shin open onstage.
In 2015, Ferreira announced a second album, “Masochism.” That New Year’s Eve she followed the announcement with an Instagram post explaining, “I refuse to put out something that isn’t honest,” and a promise it would be released in 2016.
2016 marked a Playboy hype-up shoot. 2017 saw radio silence on the music front, but a milestone continuation of her acting career as she landed a role in “Baby Driver” and on Showtime’s “Twin Peaks: The Return.”
In 2018, the news broke that Ferreira had a falling-out with her label, resulting in her being “forced” out of her own Soundcloud. She continued to tease the new album, this time promising fans would hear something by March.
Finally, on March 27 of this year, she released the highly anticipated single “Downhill Lullaby” along with the first digital cover of Pitchfork, all dedicated to Ferreira’s rebooted debut. The interview reveals her anxiety-riddled journey and the turmoil of producing her most awaited album yet.
Ferreira vented that for most of her life, she had been working for male music industry figures at the expense of her own creative vision. She’d been pushed into directions they desired and forced into aesthetic and sonic molds at their demand. She worked with male producers with big egos like Kanye West and Mike Dean. She had to learn how to stand up for herself.
Sick of fighting for her own voice, she dropped the label and used the money she had saved from acting and modeling to finish the album herself. She pulled from her own trusted team, working with L.A. dream-pop artist Tamaryn and Ariel Pink collaborator Jorge Elbrecht.
The album became an idealized act of resilience. Ferreira has strengthened her identity and pinpointed exactly who she is and who she wants to be. She will settle for nothing less, even if it takes her six years. Ferreira is a perfectionist; nothing is done until it sounds exactly like she intends. Whether listened to on iPod, computer or car stereo, her message is clear.
We cannot predict what the rest of “Masochism” will sound like, or when it will come out for that matter, but “Downhill Lullaby” indicates an intensity and fullness, and a hint of her signature dark and dreamy spirit.
The goth chamber-pop tune slips you underwater as Danish violinist Nils Gröndahl astral-projects you into sleepy oblivion. Ferreira’s soft voice spits out raw emotion, full of pain and passion as she sings, “All the lifeblood and desire. I slowly started my song with fierce. I took the bludgeoned affection. Come and teach me a lesson. All the things of a good time downhill into a lullaby.”