by Cody Corrall
Alternative pop music has had a reawakening. From Paramore’s 2017 release ‘After Laughter’ to Mitski’s newest single ‘Nobody,’ artists have learned to craft upbeat, dance-y tracks to underscore feelings that are often hard to deal with.
‘painkiller,’ the newest single from Beach Bunny, is the latest addition to the dance-away-the-heartbreak genre that’s taking over alt-pop. Beach Bunny is the project of Chicago native Lili Trifilio, whose lyrics over surf rock inspired grooves enchanted audiences with her 2017 release ‘Crybaby.’
‘painkiller’ is the first single off of Beach Bunny’s upcoming EP Prom Queen. The music video, which was surprise released on Thursday, features Trifilio alone in a poofy pink dress, looking dejected as she watches people couple up and take prom pictures. In efforts to console her, Trifilio’s mom comes up to her and says that “boys will be boys.”
The single perfectly encapsulates all of the feelings of a nasty breakup through medical motifs. She starts with a comparison to pulling teeth and gets more macabre as the song goes on: lyrics like “all of your apologies are only empty calories” and “is it reconstructive surgery? / can’t fix my anxiety” are contrasted by a sparklingly infectious dance track.
Halfway through, the song breaks down musically and lyrically. Bandmates Matt Henkels on guitar, Jon Alvarado on drums and Aidan Cada on bass show off their talents in a irresistible riff reminiscent of dancing by yourself on that perfect summer day. When joined by by Trifilio’s repetitive and melancholy lyrics, it quickly turns into a haunting trance you can’t help but dance to. “Take me to the hospital / I need pair of setamol / tramadol, ketamine / I just need some pain relief.”
Dancing to a list of painkillers seems odd on the surface, but Beach Bunny makes it effortless. Their enchanting musical style can make the most heartbreaking lyrics sound like candy – and it’s what makes them so special. They don’t compromise emotion for pop melodies, or vice versa. This has been a staple for the band from the beginning, but is especially prominent in their newer tracks: it’s going to get a little sad, but we’re still going to have a good time.
Historically, pop music has been pretty surface level. The burden of being a commercially viable genre is the limitations on what is allowed to be written about. Many artists have found them confining to music that’s widely relatable but still not a total bummer, resulting in songs that are overly repetitive and even emotionless. Beach Bunny, among many other acts, are challenging that standard by putting difficult emotions at the forefront without sacrificing great upbeat pop sensibilities.
Breakups and heartbreak are normal. It’s okay to sit with your emotions and understand them, even if they’re sad or hard to deal with. Sometimes processing those feelings is seen as unattractive, or results in dramatic metaphors and exaggerations – but it’s easier when someone, or something, understands it in the same way you do. And sometimes the only thing you can do is dance away the pain.