“Let’s dance when we’re not supposed to be / Can’t stand when you're not close to me / Damn, can’t believe you noticed me”—ROLE MODEL, “notice me”
ROLE MODEL self-describes as “far from perfect.” His Genius bio reads, “good kid.” There’s a purity to his humility. Ironic, isn’t it, being named ROLE MODEL and leading with the promise of imperfection. In these subtle ways, before we even hear the music, ROLE MODEL lets us know he’s just a person. It’s endearing. It works. It’s funny, too, because the singer’s latest EP is called, in a sarcastic tone, oh, how perfect. On it, the artist born Tucker Pillsbury pours his heart out as the gentlemen in his lite-blues genre often do.
Cut from the cloth of Dominic Fike and the softer side of BROCKHAMPTON, ROLE MODEL chose November 13 to deliver six succinct ballads. Press play on oh, how perfect, and you’ll quickly realize the 22-year-old, Portland, Maine-born artist is on to something. Pensive piano and the lightest touch of gravel in his voice give way to ROLE MODEL summoning images of rough sex and fruitless passion. That’s “gucci chair.” Suddenly—as all great literature feels sudden—we’re running away. We’re sprinting from the truth. We’re breathless in the pursuit of safety, and nothing feels perfect.
Really, nothing should feel perfect. Perfection is for the birds. Perfection makes artists crazy, keeps projects from coming out. We’re in an era where perfection is moot, and humanity is in. Dominic Fike got huge off demos because fans did not want polish, they wanted Dom in all his glory. So when ROLE MODEL describes himself as “far from perfect,” what he’s doing is telling us he’s trying. Perfection is an arrival, but ROLE MODEL’s distance suggests pursuit. When you perfect a craft, you hit a wall. You must move on. With oh, how perfect, ROLE MODEL commands our attention off the sheer strength of his potential. His attempts. His candor. It all coalesces. It helps, too, that he sounds phenomenal.
On the grand and self-deprecating “hello!” ROLE MODEL’s pen struggles where his voice and inflections pick up the slack. Breaking down the writing feels a touch silly when everything is so plain-stated, but it’s in ROLE MODEL’s delivery that we find ourselves mesmerized. His vocal flicks up ever so, as he sings, “I never really talk much, keep it inside.” This little moment, this little emotive trick, keeps our attention and bats back at our skepticism. “hello!” is no perfect song. Still, within its cracks, ROLE MODEL evidences himself to be as charismatic a bluesman and as burgeoning a pop star as the artists who came before him.
Take the way “hello!”’s second verse begins masterfully (“I like the way my bedsheets look on your body”). When his pen is in gear, we’re not approaching perfection. We’re approaching something better: Honesty. This is no perfect image. ROLE MODEL is no technician. And he’s not trying to be. He’s trying to tell you stories of love and loss, of lust and drugs, and attempts at feeling better. He’s here, in the flesh, in the music, and nothing more. ROLE MODEL is just a bard of the modern era. Take him or leave him, but don’t ever say ROLE MODEL didn’t know himself.
Consider the plodding guitar of “say it first.” At times, the strings sound like nylon, while ROLE MODEL’s voice skirts around the plucking. Much like the second verse of “hello!,” “say it first” is built upon a well-to-do image: “Always been one for / Biting my tongue ‘til / Blood starts to fill my mouth.” Too, the song is built upon the anxiety of the first “I love you.” It’s never said. The story is never completed. “say it first” is a resolution-less tune striking at our past, and future, angst and worry. Who cares that it has no proper ending when we can so neatly relate? The point of ROLE MODEL’s bio, his music, and his persona: Who cares, let’s try.
I don’t want ROLE MODEL to be a perfect, squeaky clean pop act with hours of media training and glistening guitar chords. Perfection is a snore. We already have that, mountains of that, to be clear. I want ROLE MODEL’s voice to crack and his pen to waver, and I want him to be a victim of sentiment. Most of all, I want him to be himself. All we have are ourselves. We’re only as special and unique as we allow ourselves to be. On oh, how perfect, ROLE MODEL has permitted himself to be Tucker as often and as obtusely as possible. It works, I tell you. It works.
Absconding perfection makes ROLE MODEL a premier artist. It makes him attractive. Not only does it make his music feel more honest and thoughtfully-made, but it also makes us feel like we could be ROLE MODEL. Why not? We’ve all got exes, skeletons, and bad memories galore. We have pens and paper. We have access to Audiomack. What’s stopping us for stepping into the arena and leaving our guts outs in the digital ether? None of this is to say ROLE MODEL’s music is easy to make or mimic. Instead, I’m hoping to explain why his music is so fetching: It feels homegrown. Our struggles mirror his. We make the same beds; we all lie in the same ruin.
I can’t imagine a ROLE MODEL fan singing his praises because he has the tightest lines and the most impressive vocal runs. What I can imagine are his fans celebrating his bleeding heart. The cover of oh, how perfect is literally a bleeding heart. It’s 2019, and the world is burning; we don’t need our artists to be perfect. We just want them to be real. We want them to be accessible. “Thank you all for coming / I’d be nothing without you,” ROLE MODEL concludes oh, how perfect. Damn, can’t believe he noticed us.