Truthfully, not too many records released in 2020 have stuck with me for much longer than a few weeks after their release date, but Lennon Stella‘s debut studio album, Three. Two. One., certainly has.
The album was released towards the end of April – another artist’s project stalled mid-campaign by the pandemic – and has managed to linger as one of my go-to listens. The tender, largely electronic production, crafted alongside Malay, Eg White and Joel Little among other established pop titans, is a perfect accompaniment to Lennon’s straightforward lyricism and breathy vocal delivery, which lands on the ears like a goosebump-inducing whisper on each and every song.
If you’re not already familiar, Lennon is a 20-year-old Canadian actress and singer who played Maddie on Nashville for years. She previously went viral in 2012 alongside her (now 16-year-old) sister and duo partner Maisy for an empty butter container-led cover of Robyn‘s “Call Your Girlfriend.” Watch it – it’s a charming relic of earlier, more innocent YouTube days (before drama channels and cringe couple break-up announcements), and evidence that the talent was there long before their adult front teeth even grew in.
There are plenty of favorites on Three. Two. One. – “Much Too Much,” “Fear of Being Alone,” “Golf on TV,” “Bending Over Backwards” and “Save Us” (which interpolates Donna Lewis‘ “I Love You Always Forever”!) among others – but the one song that has me particularly zoning out most regularly from the current nightmare is “Pretty Boy,” an ode to the ostensible himbo.
A whombo? If you (wisely) choose to opt out of Twitter discourse, you might have missed the whole “himbo” wave a while back.
“Generally, a large (broad, tall, or buff) attractive man, who tends to be not very bright, but usually extremely nice and respectful. Think Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove, or maybe a golden retriever,” Urban Dictionary defines the increasingly popular term.
Of course, boiling someone down to their physical appearance is rude, and the term is (mostly) all in good Internet fun. The concept of “Pretty Boy” is, well, pining for a pretty boy, while desperately digging for something deeper from behind those soul-melting eyes…because this song’s stud isn’t actually all that simple.
“We were inspired by DJ duo The Blaze — their synth sounds and drum sounds are so watery and unique. I’ve played this song live and people sometimes take that away that it’s just about a pretty boy. The thing is, he really was and is so much deeper than that, and I was trying to dig [beyond] this shield,” Lennon explained to Apple Music.
As a result, there’s an overwhelmingly melancholy quality to the track, as Lennon does her best to push past those walls – or, rather, those Potemkin villages.
“I wanna dive deep underneath your depths, but there’s only so far that I get / Past the surfaces, can’t get past your surfaces,” she somberly croons on the Malay-produced cut. The production is exquisite (and indeed “watery,” as she described), especially as the drum kicks in during the first chorus, leading to that searing post-chorus synth melody, which she vocalizes beautifully in her controlled, mesmerizing acoustic version.
The bridge provides the closest thing to a revelation, as our sweet, seemingly simple King concedes there’s something heavier at play: “Do you remember when you said if I saw your trouble, I’d be scared? / Well, you’re melting my heart ’cause you won’t show me your cards / Is that why you build Potemkin villages to hide? Or do you think I can’t handle what’s going on inside?”
It’s the sun-setting soundtrack to a thoughtful, windows-down drive by the beach. It’s a late night ride companion. It’s cuddling up with a cutie after a makeout session in bed as they stare off into space, and looking at their face and trying to decide if they’re quietly having an existential crisis and contemplating our impermanence and/or processing past trauma…or just trying to remember what their first AIM screenname was.
Right now, it’s my go-to comedown song after a long walk home in the sun from my old high school’s track, thinking about These Uncertain Times™ and wondering what’s next.
Get into Three. Two. One. – and good luck cracking the code to the past, present or future Pretty Boy in your life, too.
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Photo credit: Mick Management