How the L.A. singer is finally herself on her new album, Night Time, My Time
This month, Sky Ferreira's achieved what last year was looking to be an unlikely feat: a major label debut album from an artist who – over the course of a five year genesis from label-moulded teen flop to assured pop singer and songwriter – rejected and overcame various elements of the major label world. From afar it's been an ongoing battle with producers, label executives and the press that has threatened to overshadow Ferreira's enduring presence, but with Night Time, My Time now finally released in the US, fans and detractors alike can now sit back and, for the first time in a long time, really listen to what this fascinating twenty-one year old has to say.
She knows what you think about her
Night Time, My Time is nothing if not self-aware. "I Blame Myself" is striking in this, where she accepts an awkward sort of responsibility for media representations of herself. In an album that sees Sky being disappointed and angry at nearly everyone around her, it's the only song where she makes a point of being disappointed and angry at herself. Of course, it's not as simple as becoming a martyr: somewhere between narcissism (I am who I am) self-loathing (and I'm sorry for that), it's a telling piece of work that sees the distance between her vision and her output continue to narrow.
She channelled her angst into the record
Being moulded by label executives in her teens was blatantly a formative experience for Ferreira: she struggled maybe not to find a sound that suited her, but an environment that would allow her to express it. From the strains of "Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay)", it's apparent that these frustrations have fuelled the passion of her debut. Ferreira also recently divulged to Billboard that she was in a “controlling” relationship which left her feeling like she wasn't “living” as a teen, rendering the track a reaction against more than a few that were once in her life.
She's calling on the strength of alt-female pop
Even a cursory listen to Night Time, My Time shows up the influences of pop music's monolithic alt-female leads: the sultry strut of Debbie Harry on 'Love In Stereo' and 'I Will', and the latent disco-pop hangover of The Bangles on '24 Hours'. Rather than becoming a tightly-packed smorgasbord of glib references, or overshadowed by her influences, the album's varying degrees of 80s guitar pop and contemporary indie aesthetics are anchored by a careful multi-layering of Ferreira's voice. There's perhaps something ironic in that, as she absorbs the power of strong female vocalists, Ferreira's own voice feels more like an instrument, and more vulnerable than ever.
Her nude artwork is defiant, not desperate
As the album artwork was revealed, detractors leapt at a chance to deride Ferreira for using a topless shot of herself, taken by renowned filmmaker Gaspar Nóe. It captures Ferreira what first looks to be in a wounded, cornered state, but taking the time to observe her she appears defiant, and willing to expose more than just skin: a sentiment expressed throughout the album. Reactions to the image raise questions about the use of nudity in the imagery of female pop artists. Why should women be assumed as victims of label overlords or complicit in the “degrading” of themselves, simply because they're comfortable in their own skin? And, if Miley Cyrus is routinely slut-shamed but Ferreira's sexuality is considered a natural part of her artistry, then maybe the issue lies with snobbery towards pop music, as well as representations of female bodies.
Cat Power is one patron saint of Night Time, My Time
Another influence that hovers over the album is that of the demigoddess of idiosyncrasy, Cat Power. In her post-arrest live performance Ferreira included a cover of a Cat Power song in her set and later divulged that Marshall reached out to her as a ear to burn, the symbolism of which doesn't go unnoticed when listening to the more introverted songs on Night Time, My Time ("Night Time, My Time", "Omanko"). Her track "Heavy Metal Heart" also feels like a 2.0 rendition of Cat Power's "Metal Heart": originally recorded in 1998 but saw re-release on 2008's Jukebox. The most driving, insistent tone of Ferreira's version however makes a point of saying that whilst Ferreira admires and absorbs Marshall's work, it sounds very much her own.
Her major label woes haven't subsided
Ever since Ferreira signed with Capitol, the road to Night Time My Time has been a laboured, often bitter one. In a recent Facebook post, Sky called out Capitol for not arranging a vinyl issue of the album: “vinyl won’t be made in time for the album release…Due to certain people at my label that aren’t capable of (interested in) doing what they’re supposed to do”. She insisted though, that “I’m in the process of making it myself. Hold tight.” Who knows if it will happen, but it shows a more outspoken Ferreira than we've previously seen. That, and she really cares about this record.
Will she, won't she? Now she has
Contextually speaking, Night Time, My Time marks a turning point in Ferreira's story not just as a collection of songs, but as a final, deep breath outwards for an unusual pop star-in-waiting. Whilst many teen stars are pulled from the spotlight if their record flops, Ferreira's never been out of shot, despite being in musical purgatory for much of her teens, and despite buzz tracks like "One". Perhaps her enduring appeal is owed in part to this period – the “will she, won't she” anticipation of finally releasing a major label debut.
The drug arrest
As if the process of releasing Night Time, My Time hadn't met enough problems, Ferreira and her boyfriend Zachary Cole Smith of DIIV were arrested this September on charges of drug possession in upstate New York. Determined not to have it overshadow the release, Sky denied being a drug addict and performed a scheduled tour support slot with Vampire Weekend days after being released on bail, which finally saw her issues with vocal nodes come to an unfortunate, ugly head. Whether you're with her or against her, it seems there was precious little that the media could churn out that could have stopped this album finally getting out.
Moving on from "Everything Is Embarrassing"
If there's one clear step towards the new here, it's the absence of the sound that broke her: Dev Hynes' dreamy machinations that soundtracked breakthrough hit "Everything Is Embarrassing", as well as the re-birth of Solange and MKS. Symbolically, whilst Ferreira's move into this new sound represents her love for indie rock and female pop icons, it also shows her desire to distinguish herself from preconceptions of what Night Time, My Time could have sounded like: a dozen mushy re-hashes of "Everything Is Embarrassing"'. The dreamy grunge feel of "Ain't Your Right" and "Kristine" show Ferreira's creative growth in this sense.
Her illness woes
In a cruel twist of fate, just as Ferreira was about to have her true voice on record and continue on a tour support slot with Vampire Weekend, a long-standing issue with her throat turned out to be a case of vocal nodes, routinely missed by ENT doctors: “Everyone kept telling me it was laryngitis but I coudn’t get rid of it ever since SXSW... Basically, if I kept singing I would have had to get vocal surgery, and I could’ve risked changing my voice forever.” Maybe it's fitting that Ferreira has had so many near misses in the lead up to Night Time, My Time, but one thing's for sure: her debut is the subtle triumph of an artist who's fought long and hard to finally be heard.