Interscope Records · January 12, 2018
For those who don’t listen to BØRNS, you might know his song ‘Electric Love’ as “the one in all those commercials.” Like many other songs on Garrett Borns’ debut album Dopamine, ‘Electric Love’ was synthy, upbeat, extremely enjoyable indie pop for a huge audience. The way I see it, after garnering so much commercial success and recognition from Dopamine in 2015, BØRNS had two directional options for his sophomore album, Blue Madonna: he could have, on the one hand, taken this newly-grown fan base as an opportunity to embrace his weirdness and creativity, and maybe try something a little different with the knowledge that he now had a bigger audience to show whatever he wanted to. On the other hand, he could opt to pay more attention to the commercial aspects of his success, and build up his brand around the broadly accessible pop parts of his music.
It seems that BØRNS chose the latter, for better or for worse. Blue Madonna is filled with very commercially viable songs, the type that will serve him well in the festival circuit and in the world of synchronization use (plays of a song in TV, film, or advertisements). But with this commerciality, BØRNS seems to have eschewed a level of emotion desired and expected by your average listener. There were a few concepts that I kept returning to while listening to Blue Madonna: The first was that the statement I could make with the most confidence was this album that it is, without a doubt, very BØRNS. This can have both positive and negative implications. The fact that he has already established a “BØRNS sound” on his second album is something to be congratulated on, since it means he built a strong identity and aesthetic worth remembering on his first album. However, it also means that if the most prominent thing about Blue Madonna is that it sounds very BØRNS, that basically means it sounds a lot like Dopamine. I compare it to the folly of Lana Del Rey (a collaborator on Blue Madonna tracks ‘God Save Our Young Blood’ and ‘Blue Madonna’), who grabbed our attention with nostalgia, aesthetics, and a unique sound, but after three albums has hardly strayed from her original sound, leading many listeners to grow jaded by her work.
The two tracks mentioned above, both with Lana singing alongside BØRNS, are a good start to look at what’s wrong (and right) with some of the tracks on Blue Madonna. Both ‘Blue Madonna’ and ‘God Save Our Young Blood’ walk on the edge of indie-pop hit territory, in the end being a bit too chill to reach ultimate mainstream status. They also both contain lyrical hints of that nostalgia and L.A. romanticism both BØRNS and Lana got popular with: verses in ‘God Save Our Young Blood’ have lines like “Damn, look at the sunrise,” “Baptized in blue skies,” and “Damn, you and those green eyes.” In ‘Blue Madonna’ we hear, “Just wanna make her feel like a virgin,” (ew, by the way) and “Cooler than a strawberry shake.” These tracks, along with the majority of those on the album, blend into one another and get lost in that unfortunately prevalent “BØRNS sound.”
Nonetheless, there still are some solid songs on Blue Madonna. The back-to-back songs ‘Iceberg’ and ‘Second Night of Summer’ bring a welcome break from the too-glossy, over-produced songs on the rest of the album. Aside from some try-hard trendiness that personally made me cringe, like “Dreaming about you rolling a perfect joint” or “Throwing me that shade like I’m not cool enough,” these songs allow BØRNS’ impressive falsetto voice to be showcased a little more than his breathy high notes in the other songs, and they also contain noticeable trap and Soundcloud-style elements in their backing beats. All-in-all, pick any song off of Blue Madonna and it will fall under either the umbrella of “more of the same” or “some interesting elements but still no feeling.” As someone who knows that all music has its place in the industry, I can appreciate Blue Madonna as an indie pop album, one that will likely be pretty successful for BØRNS, but as someone who was hoping for something fresh, this album did not deliver.
P.S. I just want everyone to know that while I was doing my very diligent, serious person listening, “Tension (Interlude)” made me burst out laughing because the beginning sounds so much like this meme.