“Claws protracted, but we’re not scratching / We boost each other up/ ’cause I just want to hype my best friends, man / I just wanna hype my best girls,” Sadie Dupuis sings in “Hype,” a track off Slugger, Dupuis’s newest release under her solo project, Sad13. Slugger is self-produced and, as seen from the lyrics above, focuses heavily on encouraging positive relationships between women.
“The point of the record is celebrating friendship and prioritizing friendship and prioritizing communities of support,” Dupuis said in an interview, noting that Slugger’s sound helps to embellish the themes it strives to portray.
As she leaned back casually against her chair in the bar area of El Club, a music venue in Detroit, Dupuis’s multicolored hair shone like a beacon through the sea of dim lighting, as bright and as fun as the music she creates in Slugger.
“I’ve always liked pop music, but guitar is my primary instrument, and they don’t always go hand-in-hand,” she said.
Even though the contemporary pop aspect of Slugger might have presented a challenge to her, it’s a struggle that doesn’t appear in the finished music; every song has a natural, easy-going flow that transforms the album into an airy work of art as enjoyable to listen to as it is well composed. The subtle R&B aspects found in “Devil In U” flow smoothly into the more synthetic electronic components of “Krampus (In Love)” which, in turn, is juxtaposed perfectly next to the more direct, driven beat of “Hype.”
Throughout Slugger, Dupuis imperceptibly shifts between slightly differing styles of music. The album is only held consistent because it never falters in delivering upbeat, buoyant songs, a feat that has something to do with the fact that Dupuis went into the creation of Slugger with the sole desire to create a pop album.
“I knew I wanted (Slugger) to be a pop record … Beyond that, some of the lyrical concepts I don’t know if I had a clear sense of that when I started it, just that I was doing a pop record and as I kept writing, it turned into what it is,” Dupuis said.
And “what it is” turns out to be a lighthearted procession of optimistic songs that are both structurally and thematically similar.
“(Slugger) was written sort of quickly. I tried to do a song a day for two weeks … the thematic concepts of the songs relate to one another because they were all done so close to one another,” she said.
The ambitiously speedy conception of Slugger not only helped the album’s unity but also allowed it to become a cohesive piece that advocates for positive, healthy interactions within the realm of significant others, friends and even within the music industry itself.
“I’ve always gravitated more towards music that has something to say … I’m not really interested in lyrics that are vacant,” Dupuis said.
Slugger is anything but vacant in the way lyrics directly addressing the importance of non-destructive female friendships are masterfully interwoven between Dupuis’s more personal accounts of regaining strength from past abusive relationships. But this album isn’t a story of recovery; it’s a story of optimism, told through the vibrant cover art, lively harmonies and animated vocals. Sadie Dupuis has created an album that not only celebrates life but, most importantly, celebrates constructive interactions in life, a concept that can be difficult to find in the cutthroat world of music.
Difficult but not impossible, as Dupuis herself is constantly inspired by a wide variety of influential female artists who are both currently relevant and/or iconic.
“Grimes’s … (Art Angels) came out last October/November, then I recorded (Slugger) in January,” Dupuis said. “I was definitely pretty excited about that record at the time. I was listening to Solange … and then certainly there’s a lot of sort of backing vocal harmony stuff that I maybe take from liking mid to late ’90s R&B. Or girl groups like TLC, Destiny’s Child were pretty huge for me, as a kid.”
Like many of her inspirations, Dupuis commemorates powerful women in her songs through providing a non-toxic space where topics like uplifting female friendships and the importance of not being afraid to take charge are pushed into the spotlight.
“Writing a pop album, I think my lyrics are always sort of in conversation with pop culture,” Dupuis said. “I almost felt like I was trying to undo some of the … negative concepts.”
Dupuis made Slugger into a pop album not only as a way to explore her sound in distinctive genres but also as an effort to negate the more harmful rhetoric toward women and derogatory images of women that can be found in many other pop songs (hello Robin Thicke). It’s an understated sort of rebellion that can be seen in a variety of different music genres, but most significantly visible through the passionate feminist punk rock of riot grrrl, which Slugger shares some ideas with.
Riot grrrl bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney helped establish a feminist movement in the early ’90s that focused on female empowerment and allowed women to express themselves, in all their angry glory, the same way their male counterparts had been doing for many years. The riot grrrl wave eventually moved past music and evolved into a larger subculture. Through DIY art, such as zines, and activism that focused on ending racism, homophobia and sexism, riot grrrl music pioneered inclusion of women in the punk scene and also permanently influenced the larger fabric of society.
Although quintessential riot grrrl bands have become significantly less prevalent since their conception, the overall messages of inclusivity, liberation from damaging social gender norms and support for other female artists that these bands preached have not disappeared. Instead, these ideas have spread throughout the music sphere over time, influencing artists of various genres both directly and indirectly.
Sad13 exemplifies this evolution. Even though the neat, polished Slugger is a far cry from the messy, underground style of iconic riot grrrl songs like “Rebel Girl,” the themes of these two contrasting pieces parallel one another; the same encouragement of women to take pride in both their femininity and how they choose to express it that was screamed out with pride in the ’90s is seen, modernized and with a contemporary twist, in songs like “<2” or “Coming Into Powers” out of Slugger.
Above all, what the bands of the riot grrrl era inspired and what their modern-day counterparts continue to uphold is a space where women are not torn down but rather supported wholeheartedly as they explore personal expression in music.
The fact that riot grrrl hasn’t died, only been transformed and customized as the years passed, truly epitomizes the transcendent quality of music. The ability to turn on the radio and listen to songs that motivate, inspire and empower women is and will always be needed. As seen with riot grrrl’s lasting significance, music, much like all other forms of artistic expression, has the power to ingrain itself in the very core of a society, going beyond solely entertainment for entertainment’s sake in order to produce enduring social reform.