“Used to wear my sadness like a choker, yeah, it had me by the throat / Tonight I feel I’m draped in it, like a loose garment,” proclaims synthpop trio MUNA on their self-titled third LP. “I just let it flow.” Although these lyrics may feel tainted by depression and lost love, the group is entirely in their element with their latest work. Combining intensely emotional and often melodramatic lyrics over pulsating beats that bring the experiences of queer women to the forefront, MUNA know how to take the harsh facts of life—in this case, the oppression and marginalization of queer people—and turn them into pop anthems to dance the tears away.
While the LGBTQ+ community has a long list of pop music allies who don’t necessarily identify with it, it’s refreshing when groups like MUNA—whose members identify as both queer and non-binary—release, for lack of a better term, some of the gayest music this year has seen so far. Freshly signed with Phoebe Bridgers‘ label Saddest Factory and no longer associated with RCA, who released their first two studio albums, MUNA have ironically produced their most commercially marketable album to date. From the lead single “Silk Chiffon” to the female empowerment on “Anything But Me”, the synthpop heard on MUNA is a far cry from the synths that accompanied their largely forlorn, indie pop-focused About U and Saves the World.
But that should only be seen as a plus since MUNA is also their most cohesive and most potent record to date. Except for experimenting with EDM on “Runner’s High” which doesn’t quite land, the album contains some of the best production and songwriting in their catalog. While the group was initially hesitant over being openly queer for fear of being pigeonholed as a queer pop trio, they’ve since learned how their queerness makes them stand out. “I’m a girl who’s learning everything I say isn’t definitive / I’m not some kind of minor trope / Who’s never gonna change, that’s so derivative,” they sing on “Kind of Girl”. It sounds as if it’s fully releasing them from the guilt and obligation to be commodified as queer. In creating their most commercially viable work, they’ve also managed to embrace themselves like never before.
While their first two LPs were overloaded with downtempo, anguished tracks about the perils of same-sex love (often referred to as “trauma bangers” in pop music fandom), MUNA retains the sentiment that it’s hard to be queer, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still be happy in the meantime. The group described “Silk Chiffon” as a song they’d like kids to have their first gay kiss to, but that they won’t shy away from harsh lyrics that help them process their traumas, even if it’s uptempo.
“I’m interested in using MUNA as a place to say things I may carry shame around. It’s easier to say certain things in songs,” Katie Gavin told CNN. “To an extent, this is where I go to begin processing trauma. It’s unfortunately true that lots of queer people have some sort of experience with trauma. That’s just the complex PTSD of chronically feeling on the outside but not understanding why.” On MUNA, the group has crafted a collection boldly exploring how being queer is composed of joys and traumas, and there’s no shame in messily embracing both. As they put it on their first album, we are loudspeakers.