Photo: Rebma / Courtesy of Big Hassle Media

Boyfriend’s ‘Sugar & Spice’ Is a Bold and Varied Blend of Pop and Hip-Hop

Boyfriend’s Sugar & Spice is full of maximalist pop and hip-hop. It delights in obliterating traditional gender roles and celebrates anything-goes sexuality.

Sugar & Spice
9 September 2022

Boyfriend has been kicking around the New Orleans music scene for a decade. She’s performed at festivals, pals around with Big Freedia, and done a lot of production work. Sugar & Spice is her debut album, full of maximalist pop and rap tracks. The record delights in obliterating traditional gender roles and is often a celebration of anything-goes sexuality.

“Soulmate” opens Sugar & Spice as something of a mission statement. A sparse beat plays under a chopped-up sample repeating “Boy-boy-boy-boy-boyfriend.” Boyfriend comes in with a conversational rap boasting things like, “I’m the one / I’m the only one / The one your momma means when she asks if you found the one.” The chorus adds bass and squealing synths as Boyfriend chants, “Boyfriend / I’m the one.” Boyfriend slips in lines like, “Straight white dudes so ignorant / Fuck them I’ll be your boyfriend” and “Clashin’ symbols / London calling / Sound of patriarchy falling” to show that there’s a little more on her mind than sex.

“Re: Future” goes in a different direction. A continually pitch-shifting percussion sound provides the musical bed while Boyfriend sings sweetly and slowly, “I told you so.” It coalesces into a bouncy pop sound where she insists, “I’m right / I’m right / Don’t tell me shut up!” The verses essentially take on the white male corporate patriarchy, while a high-speed rap near the end of the song finds Boyfriend again boasting about how right she is about all of this.

Boyfriend brings in plenty of guests to share the spotlight. The title track “Sugar & Spice” features Thai pop singer Pyra singing the hook, a take on the classic nursery rhyme. Boyfriend raps on the verses about the folly of underestimating women. Pussy Riot show up for the pulsing, sleazy “Dance With the Devil”, which brings to mind the sound of the 1990s industrial act Lords of Acid. Los Angeles rockers Death Valley Girls are on hand to assist with “There’s a Place”, a relatively straight-ahead rock track with a couple of catchy riffs and a solid vocal performance.

Vocalist Bailey Flores sings the soaring chorus of “Pegasus”, maybe the most striking song on Sugar & Spice. A rumbling, obtrusive synth line sets the stage for Boyfriend to very explicitly rap about how excited she is to be the one in charge in the bedroom. The song shifts dramatically for the refrain as Flores sings beautifully over angelic keyboards, “Pegasus / Do you know how long I’ve prayed for this?”

Interestingly, “Pegasus”, about talking a seemingly reluctant partner into a certain type of sex, comes immediately after “Consent”. An intentionally thin musical accompaniment puts the lyrics in the spotlight as Boyfriend lays out very clearly that how she dresses should not be mistaken for an invitation. There are also a lot of threats about what will happen to anyone who attempts it. The warning, “Can’t buy me / Don’t try me”, serves as the refrain.

“Just a Girl” is an interesting attempt at the No Doubt song. Essentially, Boyfriend has stripped the track down to its basic elements. She sings the song exactly as No Doubt initially presented it (with an assist from AutoTune), but instrumentally only the main riffs remain. The verses keep things simple, while the chorus brings in more sounds for more energy. With the vocals being so similar to Gwen Stefani’s, the overall impression the song leaves is that it’s a pointless retread, despite the instrumental shifts.  

The record’s other cover, of Le Tigre‘s “Deceptacon”, is much more successful. Big Freedia shows up to make the song a duet, giving the song party energy. Changing the track from lo-fi punk to hi-fi electronic pop also makes a big difference in the musical feel. It’s recognizably the same song but altered enough to feel worthwhile.

The rest of Sugar & Spice splits the difference between pop and hip-hop, mostly successfully. Short tracks like “Confident” and “Uh Oh” showcase Boyfriend’s rhyme schemes that don’t wear out their welcome. “Mango” lets her get a little funky, with a fabulous piano line and some superb vocal harmonies. “Dead Yet” is essentially a buzzing rock track with a rapped vocal, and it works surprisingly well. “Teacher” closes out Sugar & Spice with a fun, high-energy pop-rock song that feels like Boyfriend singing over a Beck track.

With 16 songs and near-constant energy, Sugar & Spice is a lot. Boyfriend is by equal turns inviting and abrasive and that combination might not work for everyone. What she has going for her musically, though, is a lot of variety. Her confrontational attitude is filtered through a diverse collection of musical ideas, making the album a fun ride. Some of those ideas work better than others, but there is enough going on here to pique the interest of an equally diverse collection of listeners.

RATING 7 / 10