By Meg McCarney
At age 25, Internet darling Remi Wolf has achieved indie-pop name recognition without an extensive catalog and a viral hit (2020’s “Photo ID,” remixed by Dominic Fike) before her first album was even released.
On Juno, she embraces her role as a product of the Internet, cherry-picking perfect media references and easing them into her music with the expansive knowledge of someone who’s grown up with a finger on the pulse of culture. Rather than viewing current events as shiny, commodifiable clickbait in an attempt to gain the ears of younger audiences, or with the critical eye of indie bands who write to foreshadow the decline of culture, Remi takes on the Internet era without polemic. She embraces it for what it is, letting commentary give way to slick one-liners, and references to serial killers, TV shows, and Internet memes when describing her life. In essence, her music is a parody of the absurdity of the latest trends, but a wholehearted embrace of the silliness of them.
Juno’s track list is delivered with a quick tongue, moving too fast to even bother slowing down. Throughout the album, Remi narrowly swerves past blunt emotion in favor of cultural references, irony, and clever puns. It’s indecisive music that can’t decide whether it would like to remain skittish and avoidant or finally grapple with its feelings — which is perhaps a nod to Remi herself, who is dealing with her newfound fame, sobriety after a bout with alcoholism, and general, pandemic-and relationship-related malaise. In the end, though, Juno and Remi typically opt for fun, addressing deep-seated needs for attention and validation, only after ordering junk food delivery to their door and self-medicating at the party.
As a whole, Remi’s debut album serves as an encapsulation of her signature, expansive sound that genre-bends on a level near-unprecedented in indie-pop today. Juno is an eclectic and ambitious project that blends soulful, jazzy funk with utterly danceable, irresistibly saccharine pop. Her brand of chaotic-good, label-defying music pushes the limits of the genres she dabbles in: maximalist production is embraced; instrumentation is distorted and sounds stretched to their limits; vocals are reverb-heavy; groovy beats on one track are followed by cacophonous, thundering ones on the next. Despite her seemingly inconsistent use of production effects, imagery, and messaging, Remi’s style is one of deception, keeping the listener on their toes. Even with its apparent lack of cohesion track-to-track, Juno comes together in a rowdy, colorful rumination on emotional and mental wellbeing, solitude, vices, and love.
“Liquor Store” serves as the funky, electric opener to the project, with Remi’s vocals soaring and even entering bouts of shouting. Here, she self-identifies as a “carnivore,” acknowledging her craving for alcohol and the validation of others. She mentions this in passing, turning our attention instead to the verses where she calls herself a “thrift store baddie” and a “shitty ex-nanny.” Dancing her way around the problems at hand, Remi introduces us to her world of edging out the truth with a quick turn of phrase and a maddeningly danceable beat.
“Anthony Kiedis” delivers hazy seductiveness, with crooning and snappy snares leading into a pandemic-era anthem about distance, awkward family dynamics and loneliness. Channeling these feelings into a catchy beat, Remi is as avoidant and charming as ever. You almost can’t blame her for avoiding her feelings, though; as soon as she’s gotten one thought out, she’s onto processing and naming the next. It’s an album where there’s no time to analyze anything too deeply. Instead of feeling like an unfinished story, though, Remi’s bursts of emotion are fitting for an artist who’s been newly confronted with fame and remains too dizzy to stand still.
“Guerrilla” is perhaps the most characteristic of all the tracks on Juno, with an ad-lib intro carrying us into a twinkling world of drinking, dancing, and flirting. Here, like on the rest of Juno, the effects and production are as much of a part of the overall performance as Remi’s vocals. The reverb on the chorus shakes and rattles, accompanying Remi as she dances and smokes her way through awkward social interactions at a party. It’s a track with the levity of a pop song and the emotional potency of an indie ballad, with Remi launching a full-on war on self as she self-medicates to cope with the social pressure.
“Quiet on Set” is another reference-laden track, with pseudo-rapping and full-bodied vocals taking listeners on a whirlwind tour of Los Angeles and Remi’s lifestyle. The chorus addresses what the verses swerve, as Remi laments being “fucked in the head” and trapped under the artistic pressure of her job. The verses, though, make light of the situation at hand, cracking puns about sex and debating the possibility of ordering Chuck-E-Cheese delivery.
“Grumpy Old Man” sees Remi calling herself out as cantankerous and moody, with a funky drone of a chorus wailing about having a “long hair, long beard, turtleneck sweater.” It’s quirky and silly, lending playfulness to a dissection of the self, almost parodying navel-gazing pop. The cutesy metaphor veils Remi’s grappling with her tendency to be reserved, moody, and defensive in love, remaining on guard in order to protect her heart. Something similar happens on “Sexy Villain,” where Remi’s serial killer alter-ego is the poster child for constantly feeling like the bad guy in a relationship.
On closer “Street You Live On,” we nearly get Remi to commit to a true confession. There’s a wounded version of herself presented here, a remarkably vulnerable note to end the album on. Vocal distortion serves to give Remi the upper hand, allowing her to still maintain some emotional distance as she talks about navigating L.A. alone after a break-up. Still, in case we’re getting too comfortable with this change of pace, Remi resorts to her preferred method of handling the events of her life in the line, “This episode of Criminal Minds is too real to ignore.” She’s quick to remind us that Juno is still an album that touches emotion at an arm’s length.
Remi Wolf encapsulates youth culture perfectly in her artistic persona: she's someone who gives off an air of being unattached but is, in reality, deeply ruminative and concerned about how things turn out. Despite all of the name-drops and media references Remi inserts into her music to dodge difficult conversations, Juno is an album wholeheartedly concerned with recovery, wellbeing, and happiness, even with all of the maneuvers it makes to avoid talking about them. It doesn’t pander to its audience or speak down to them atop a high horse; rather, Remi is at her most human when she’s acting like the rest of us, dodging her problems and admitting to being in denial. Juno’s charm comes from its goofy, clever avoidance of discussing what matters and chasing a good time instead; which, in doing so, gets to the heart of what it means to be a flawed human more than any single lyric could. It’s an ambitious album that is a raucous party from start to finish, and showcases one of the most clever, brightest stars of indie-pop today.