The membrane between drama and melodrama is thin. Drama is sober. Melodrama is exorbitant and indulgent. One is necessary, but the other is just too much fun.
Burnsville goth singer Scarlett Taylor presided over her first three EPs with stony resolve. She was a blithe, existential wayfarer on 2015’s Lucid. On 2016’s Churches, she wandered through a graveyard in search of herself; she channelled the phantoms she found into last year’s III. But with her newest EP, Heaven Punk (coming out March 6 on Borderline Musick), Taylor takes a cold chisel to her porcelain romantic veneer.
“I had a lot of fun recording this one,” she says with a nefarious smirk. “I never recorded something like this before. All the deep-seated emotions were coming out.”
The period between III and Heaven Punk was a maelstrom for the 21-year-old Taylor. Not only did she end a serious relationship, but her long-estranged mother tried to re-enter her life. And all this happened while she was withdrawing from Concordia University and repositioning her life toward a career in music.
“I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety my whole life, and music has always been my outlet for that,” Taylor says. “I actually don’t know my mother. I’ve never met her, and I feel like that’s where a lot of my pain resonates from.”
In the past, Taylor translated her trauma into careful, poetic hymns. She’d only ever articulated her sadness and dysphoria, never expressing the rage those feelings fuel, restraining herself to avoid falling into a frenzy of self-destruction.
But that self-destruction is now at the core of Heaven Punk. Before the EP was released, Taylor murdered her previous persona. The sacrifice took place in the video for her single “Children of the Sun,” in which a group of marauders under the command of a glitter-smeared hedonist named Whiteshade hunt the gothic singer down and execute her. With the sober, composed Taylor out of the picture, Whiteshade takes over.
Heaven Punk is Whiteshade’s answer to Van Wilder, a nihilistic party fantasy peppered with despondent pop hooks and fucked-up 808s. On “Badmood,” she glares judgmentally at her peers, dissolving into a boozy fugue before wishing the whole party death by fire on “City Sleeping.” “Apocalypse” is her violent farewell to sentimentality. But Whiteshade’s moment of triumph comes on “Heaven Pink,” where she callously proclaims: “Looking in the mirror, and I see the silhouette/Of an ice-cold bitch only seconds from death.”
“Whiteshade is basically the evil version of Scarlett Taylor,” Taylor explains. “She’s the one that gives into the life of fame, greed, money, and sex. She’s reckless. She doesn’t care what she does.”
Taylor’s change in attitude also required her to change her sound. Throughout her career, Taylor’s angsty folk has suggested Lana Del Rey and Fiona Apple, but Heaven Punk integrates many more hip-hop elements. Her longtime collaborator Disraeli Davis wanted to push his prodigy toward pop’s moodier corners, and he filled Heaven Punk’s songs with tinny hi-hats and distorted horns, emulating House of Balloons-era the Weeknd. Davis’ son Zay pitched in, dropping caustic raps on “City Sleeping” and “Heaven Pink.” Taylor answered in kind, name-dropping Lil B and singing with a sneer.
“This is part of who she is and what she wants to do, so we decided to incorporate it on the album,” Davis explains. “An artist has to do what they’re into and not be locked into a genre. Look at Lady Gaga. She does what she’s feeling at that moment. That’s what Prince was like.”
Davis, who owns dark-pop label Borderline Musick, has been a driver for Taylor’s career since he discovered the then-17-year-old at a suburban Subway. He’s produced all her releases, and he’s helped her mature as a lyricist and performer.
Though Taylor doesn’t like to drink or party, she admits she’s sometimes pulled into that world, and the disconnect she feels there is what gave birth to Whiteshade. “I’ve had a little bit of Whiteshade influence in my real life,” she says, before adding that it felt “fucking awesome” to finally indulge in the character’s devilish abandon.
Taylor and Davis created Heaven Punk as a playground for Taylor to live out her melodramatic fantasies. The EP is an opportunity for great personal growth and exploration for the young artist. Every seedy 3 a.m. hookup and flaming cityscape set to song means one less experience the real-life Taylor has to regret.
Taylor has built mental-health advocacy into her music since the beginning—not only does her site link prominently to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, but she’s worked with Altitudes in Reverse to raise awareness for youth suicide prevention. Heaven Punk was created to show Taylor’s listeners that they can channel the worst parts of themselves into an expression of creativity and growth.
And that they can have a goddamn blast reveling in the melodrama.
“There’s a lot of pain embedded deep inside me that I can’t really explain except in my music,” Taylor says. “A lot of people feel the same way. They have that deep-seated pain that they can’t really talk about, and I want to be that voice for them.”