Emily Montes is a post-ironic triumph

Wednesday, October 7, 2020 - 6:04pm

NOSELL

Routenote

Emily Montes is 5 years old, TikTok famous and may have just dropped one of the most important albums of the year.

Not much is known about Emily. I heard about her through my friend Brad, and I have no idea where he heard about her. According to Emily on her song “Untitled,” she “blew up on TikTok.” However, take a short look at Emily’s TikTok and you will see that her videos are more along the lines of a kid who took her mom’s iPad on a road trip and is now filming out the window, rather than content that would cause her to go viral. Her most viewed videos have around 26,000 views, which is still modest for someone claiming to have “blown up,” and it is impossible to tell whether these views came before or after her debut album. As you’ll come to understand throughout this article, though, if you want to ask questions, you’re completely missing the point.

The self-titled album “Emily Montes” is 14 songs and spans five total minutes. Five of those songs are also titled “Emily Montes.” 

Throughout the album, Emily’s high-pitched voice is heavily auto-tuned to the point where it is sometimes difficult to listen to, and the beats push the typical musical boundaries, mixing electronic sounds with hard-hitting 808 drums. What is so strange is that, musically, this album is right in line with the trap-hyperpop sound that has been festering in the depths of the internet and is now coming to the surface of popular culture through artists like Charli XCX and 100 gecs. For a five-year-old girl to be able to hone in on that unique sound seems unlikely and, truthfully, impossible. However, as I said before, the more questions you ask, the more you’re missing. Who cares if she purposefully crafted an album whose tone matches this growing electropop scene? I hope it was an accident. That would be way funnier.

Created during the COVID-19 pandemic, each song is a small vignette that explores themes of loneliness, existential dread, complete and total arrogance and everything else that comes with being five years old in quarantine. In one of her songs titled “Emily Montes (Breakup),” she sings over a piano, “Laying in my bed / Voices in my head / A broken heart / I’m missing you.” The next song, titled “Emily Montes (Corona is Crazy)” transports us to a trap beat where Emily raps “This virus is crazy / It’s the end of the world! / Boom, Boom, Boom.” As quickly as it starts, the song ends and “Frozen” begins, in which Emily asks, “I’m outside, it’s frozen / But where is all the snow?” In just three songs that amass to 45 seconds, Emily investigates mental health, her broken heart and climate change (I think?). It is these disjunct and sometimes contradictory messages that make the album so impactful. So often during this strange time period, I have felt as though I couldn’t control anything around me, and this album feels just like that. You never know what version of Emily you’ll get next. She may be depressed, spirited, hopeful or angry. She may be completely neutral. She may drop a diss at Travis Scott and Chance the Rapper for no particular reason. She may just rap about how much she loves Roblox. You have no say. Emily runs the show. 

While the sound is distinctive and the message powerful, my true obsession with “Emily Montes” is that it really feels like the product of all internet culture ever. Complete vulnerability layered behind nonsensical tangents and the absurd fact that this was all created by a five-year-old girl perfectly encapsulates the diluted sense of irony currently defining internet culture, which now feels impossible to decipher between authenticity and complete sarcasm. The response to the album only serves to highlight this point. Her fans on Twitter vehemently argue that “Emily Montes” is the album of the year and that she has reinvented the rap scene. The tweets themselves seem genuine, but the fact that they are tweeting about a five-year-old girl’s five-minute album in the first place creates a clear level of irony within them. These people, like me, may actually love the album. And these people, like me, might be totally joking. And likely, both are true. 

This is what makes “Emily Montes” so great. It is avant-garde, experimental, fun and transgressive, while simultaneously being straight up bad. Any opinion you hold of the album is right and also wrong. Because, likely, Emily is a five-year-old girl who has no idea what’s going on, and to take it seriously or have an opinion on it in the first place would be weird and embarrassing. But guess what? I don’t have any idea what’s going on, and neither do you. So maybe, just maybe, this is one of the most important commentaries on the contradiction and irony that plagues and defines internet culture that we have, from the perspective of a five-year-old girl watching the world crumble around her. Or maybe it’s not. I don’t know. And truthfully, I don’t care. I’m just glad that it exists.

So take five minutes out of your day to listen to Emily From the West, the “Best Rapper Alive,” and, please, appreciate that it exists.

Daily Arts Contributor Leo Krinsky can be reached at lkrinsky@umich.edu.


The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.

For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.