Stella Donnelly makes powerful and personal debut with ‘Beware of the Dogs’

Stella Donnelly
Beware of the Dogs

Secretly Canadian · March 8, 2019

Stella Donnelly first emerged in the fall of 2017, amidst the surge of the #MeToo movement, with her debut single “Boys Will Be Boys.” It was a startling coincidence that such an intimate song by the Australian artist would resonate with many in the US, a country that was only facing the start of bombshell reports against a series of male celebrities. Two years later, the song is still unfortunately relevant, and Donnelly has shown no sign of stopping her pursuit to expose and confront predatory men. On her debut LP Beware of the Dogs, Donnelly proves herself as a champion for the safety and stability of women, utilizing personal stories to create a listening experience that is both surprisingly humorous and strongly empathetic.

The opening track “Old Man” pulls no punches in its unflattering portrayal of white-collar men, and Donnelly is proud to establish herself as someone who isn’t afraid to confront them. “Oh, are you scared of me old man?” she whispers tauntingly in the song’s chorus. What makes the track more unsettling is its chipper electric guitar riff and folksy melodic structure. It’s as if Donnelly is confident enough in her message to juxtapose her lyrics and music. Other songs continue with this theme, like the playful sounding “Tricks,” a sarcastic ode to douchey Australian boys who wear “southern cross tattoos.” On “Watching Telly,” Donnelly attacks the patriarchal society that tapes “dollar signs to our bodies / And tell[s] us not to show our skin.”

Stitched into the overall feminist message of Beware of the Dogs are slower, somber tracks that focus more on personal relationships, touching on themes of heartbreak. Given how open Donnelly has been about telling stories that relate to her own life, these tracks don’t take away from her brash outspokenness but expand upon it instead. On “Allergies,” Donnelly’s voice is shaky and imperfect as she recounts the aftermath of a breakup. While it may not sound very polished, the song is earnest in its expression of failed love.

Whether she’s being frank about self-pleasure in the track “Mosquito” (“I use my vibrator wishing it was you / I was thinking of ya Tuesday afternoon”), or honestly admitting the horrors of family get-togethers by way of “Season’s Greetings,” Donnelly’s debut captures a full range of emotion that a woman feels in a patriarchal society.

It’s refreshing and somewhat disconcerting that someone’s individual stories can relate to such a wide audience, but it’s also a testament to Donnelly’s stellar knack for storytelling. She tells tales that have strong and clear messages, but not all have concrete endings. “Boys Will Be Boys” melodically ends on an incomplete phrase, but Donnelly’s memorandum is loud and clear, and signals that her personal story is not over. “I will never let you rest,” she speaks directly to men who know they have something to hide. “Time to pay the fucking rent.” It’s a discomforting line for men to hear, but Donnelly knows that, and so do many women around the world.

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