In 2021, the most captivating artists create fluidly across different genres and mediums. Each week, we’re profiling a rising artist who proves that versatility is the new norm. We’ll share one song you need to hear, one video you need to see, and finish off with a few questions for the artist.
Name: Serena Isioma
Reference Points: Skateboarding, Tyler The Creator, Willow, Kali Uchis, Nature, City Life, Chicago, Bedroom Pop, Indie, R&B.
Latest Project: “Meadows in Japan” music video
Serena Isioma is the epitome of realness. Their music blends the warmth of R&B, potency of hip-hop, and charm of indie rock. As you may expect from these eclectic influences, Isioma has mastered the art of the beat switch. “Meadows in Japan” is a love song that spirals into a bittersweet breakup. Meanwhile, “Sensitive” is a carefree hit that culminates with an impactful political statement. Most of all, Isioma shares these stories with a soulful voice that will leave you hanging on every last inflection. Back in December, the nonbinary rockstar released a seven track EP called The Leo Sun Sets. This project sees Isioma exploring an even wider range of sonic territory from funk basslines to drum & bass rhythms.
Isioma’s charm extends far beyond the confines of music—their YouTube Q&A series, affectionately called “serena isioma answers your dumb questions,” is enjoyable and effortlessly cool. It’s empowering to see an artist so at peace with who they are and what they love to create.
A SONG YOU HAVE TO HEAR – “MEADOWS IN JAPAN”
According to Isioma, “Meadows in Japan” was “supposed to be a nice wholesome, lovey dovey song, but it ended up being a breakup song because a b*tch broke my heart.” True to its original intent, the track opens with sultry electric guitar as Isioma confides, “something about you makes me want an us.” Strings rise and fall as they reveal the complications of the relationship: “I am falling for you when I can’t, I didn’t think this through when we began. My people they would never understand.” When the chorus arrives, they paint a vivid picture of romance and escapism, singing, “I want to run through meadows in Japan with you.”
Roughly halfway though the song, a dial tone becomes the turning point for one of Isioma’s signature beat switches. The guitar and strings disappear, making way for a sparse, chilling instrumental. Isioma’s lyricism is bittersweet: “You love me, then you love me not. I love me so I have to cut you off.” As the bridge continues, their singing shifts into a monologue of an over-the-phone breakup: “I’m going to go back to doing me. I hope you keep doing you.”
A VIDEO YOU HAVE TO WATCH – “SENSITIVE”
The “Sensitive” music video is a day in the life of Serena Isioma. This visual is an ode to the experiences that are universally missed in 2021—the rush of live music, the atmosphere of parties, and the joy of singalongs with your friends. Until these times return, we can live vicariously through this blissful collage of moments. Similar to their songwriting, “Sensitive” breaks all the rules of music videos, introducing a new aspect ratio, color palette, or editing style with nearly every shot.
Sonically, this is the last thing you would expect from a song called “Sensitive” with confrontational, confident lyrics from the very first line. Back in December, this charismatic snippet went viral on TikTok. Since then, “Sensitive” has taken on a life of its own with over 90,000 creators using the audio in their TikToks. Of course, this is just one of many moments that make “Sensitive” an unforgettable song. In typical Isioma fashion, there’s a beat switch when this carefree jam transitions into a smooth, subdued instrumental. The visual follows suit as saturated colors fade away and Isioma sings, “The government or the opps, my enemies / Gotta get this money, I’ll do it by any means / I need a hundred million dollars to fix these broken streets.” It’s a powerful, poised conclusion to a song and visual with endless replay value.
A FEW QUESTIONS FOR SERENA
If you could no longer make music, what would your next project be?
There’s so much I want to do. I consider myself to be a creative director more than anything. I used to run these events around the city, they were so lit. It was a cool space for artsy kids to dance and experience art together. I’d love to expand on that. My mom runs a charity based in Nigeria so it’d be cool to be more involved with that too.
What is the common thread across your body of work?
I put my soul into everything I release. No matter what it sounds like, it will make you feel something beautiful.
What is one medium or genre that you’d like to explore next?
Soul and Rock. Like, classic rock. I also want to learn how to dance for real.
What can we expect from you in 2021?
Straight hits from me are on the way. No misses. It’s gonna be fun.