Imagine if Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Kate Bush had a baby, and that baby was an album. That gives you a hint of the scope of Prioritise Pleasure by Self Esteem, which will make you laugh, cry and - importantly - dance.
Self Esteem is the stage name of Rebecca Lucy Taylor, whose deadpan delivery of penetrating observations about modern relationships, coupled with the heart-soaring energy of the music and sexy choreography of her live shows, is ‘like if Beyonce was from Rotherham,’ she says, with a self-aware grin.
Over a glass of white wine in a pub near her London home, high on a blizzard of 5-star reviews and declarations of ‘album of the year’, Rebecca has the delirious, exhausted air of a new parent. ‘My therapist said work is my baby,’ she says. ‘It’s a good analogy because I love it but it’s very hard, and exposing in a way that is exciting and frightening.’
Many of us have loved Self Esteem since first album Compliments Please in 2018, but 2021 has seen her skyrocket: already named BBC Introducing Artist of the Year. When the single I Do This All The Time came out in the summer, Caitlin Moran Tweeted that she was ‘powerfully obsessed’ with it, and Jack Antonoff (go-to writer/producer for Taylor Swift, Lorde and Lana Del Rey) said simply that it was ‘the best’. The single has just been named Song of the Year by the Guardian.
‘The way it was received taught me a lot about trusting your instincts, because that’s the most brain-to-sound thing I’ve ever done, it was just a brain dump,’ she explains. ‘That song is basically about how fucking weird I feel all the time, and I couldn’t believe it when people responded with “me too!” That’s why I get emotional when I perform it and people sing it back to me.’
We meet on the eve of the album’s release, and it feels like the last few hours of Rebecca’s anonymity. She could be any other cool girl in an east London pub, with her Telfar bag and Klements maxi dress. But with her profile rising daily, she won’t be able to fly under radar for long. One depressing side effect of being a woman in the public eye is, of course, social media abuse - something with which she’s recently had to come to terms.
‘My Instagram and Twitter used to be a fun place. Now it’s terrifying,’ she says. ‘The offensive comments I get are horrible, but it illustrates why I’m doing what I’m doing.’ Several songs on the album speak to the climate of misogyny and violence against women, notably I’m Fine, with its lyric: ‘Yeah you scare me. Does that make you feel manly?’
She’s considering stepping back from social media, which would be a sad day for the internet, and is weighing up ‘how much it derails me, and if it’s worth it. It breaks my heart,’ she continues, ‘but I’m learning as quickly as possible to be resilient.’
Even though the album has rage and defiance, it’s also sharply hilarious. One song opens with the line: ‘Sexting you at the mental health talk seems counterproductive’, which is reminiscent of the 'bad feminists' episode of Fleabag. Like that show, she has a knack for articulating thoughts you didn’t know existed until you hear them.
Now 35, she says she’s happy that success didn’t come earlier. ‘I’d be a right ratbag if this had happened in my early 20s! But now I’m terribly grounded,’ she laughs, adding that she couldn’t have written this album then anyway, because it’s wrought from experience. She is singing to her younger self, and the process required the ‘self-acceptance and confidence of where I'm at now’.
Success is finally hers, and she’s ready. ‘It’s equal parts fucking amazing and challenging,’ she says, grinning. ‘I’m here for it all.’