Baroque pop music, especially in 2023, is about more than frills. As a genre in the Western realm, pop has become much more elaborate and constructive than it was some twenty years ago, inviting influences from the postmodern and surreal world into a melting pot of melodies already more colorful than anything else on the radio, and looking to contribute a verse to this exciting play of passions this spring is none other than Michelle Shafer. Shafer’s new single “Stranger” touches on classic pop beats but steers clear of the simplistic vocal techniques we’ve come to associate with the more saccharine of the genre, and from where I sit, it’s a potential breakthrough hit.
First off, the most obvious element you’d hear in a typical mainstream single - a well-polished bassline - is entirely missing from “Stranger;” instead, we’re given an inelegant bass that pushes around the percussion like a bouncer outside of a nightclub. Rather than this challenging the streamlined verse Shafer puts forward, it gives her something to wrestle with ahead of the chorus, ultimately showcasing how versatile a singer she can be even when she’s in charge of the tempo and tone.
Michelle Shafer isn’t waiting around for a synthesized boost into the hook here, but crushing the groove with a savage attack of the verses that a lot of players would be too intimidated by to try. She’s not afraid of anything when she’s got the microphone in her hands, and if she were, I don’t think that the uncompromising confidence she uses to get into the best parts of this track would be as accessible to the audience as it is in every moment of “Stranger.” She has every right to be a little arrogant here, but she refrains and still winds up sounding like an elite artist well on her way to primetime.
As much as the groove has a dirty, rough edge to it, this master mix is seriously punchy and has more of an unfiltered feel than I’m used to reviewing in this strain of music. Again, the oddities are working to Michelle Shafer’s advantage in a couple of ways here, chief among them being that she’s playing like a boss in the most unpredictable of circumstances while relentlessly teasing us with possibilities not yet realized in her discography. Call her a tease if you want, but this is the best intro she could have mustered up this year.
It’s as competitive an era in pop music as it’s ever been before, but the rarified passion Michelle Shafer is producing “Stranger” with is going to bring this artist a lot of praise from critics and fans alike. Aptly titled and performed by a player who has all the right attributes to make a name for herself on either side of the dial, I think this single is just what the contemporary Pop scene needs. It will take a little more time to understand her depth more completely, but from where I sit now, this is an artist who needs to be on everyone’s mind heading into the rest of 2023. Stay tuned for her upcoming CD “Scattered Light”, I know I can’t wait to hear it.
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