I have a confession to make. Well, more than one, actually. The first confession is that tracking the burgeoning career of model/songstress Sky Ferreira has been more than a little frustrating for me. Her look, her voice and her persona are all captivating, bearing the marks of a genuine pop star—but up to this point we have only had vague and contradictory glimpses into who she is as an artist. Signed six years ago at age 15, she’s undergone a series of public image morphs and genre shifts while project after project was apparently begun, then shelved and/or replaced with an EP designed to keep people’s interest. Not until now, with the release of her loooooonnng-awaited debut Night Time, My Time, do we even have something tangible to listen to, some sort of starting point to get to know Sky Ferreira.
Incidentally, the PR leading up to this album’s release has been equally frustrating: multiple album titles, shifting release dates, the multiple interviews portraying a now-21-year-old Sky Ferreira as a tired, jaded, drifting soul, a victim of the system, now presenting a pop-rock image tinged with goth/punk. In betwixt all that, there was the controversy of getting caught and arrested for drug possession with boyfriend Zachary Cole Smith (DIIV), and the further controversy of her blatantly NSFW album cover (we’ve put a more SFW version up top). So much of it just seemed to be a subtle way of screaming for attention, like Miley Cyrus, only less obvious and less ridiculous.
I mentioned I have more than one confession to make: here’s the other one. I have now listened to Night Time, My Time, and I’m afraid I have to eat a few of my prior words. For not only is the record well worth the wait from a musical standpoint, but it so happens that Sky Ferreira has made a few confessions of her own.
As I have written in previous articles for this publication, my impressions of Sky Ferreira were that she was so all over the board stylewise, with so many instances of changing horses in the middle of the stream, that she didn’t know who she wanted to be as an artist. It now appears that was only half the story; the other half was that the executives who signed her were apparently trying to make her into an artist they wanted her to be, and the aborted efforts stemmed from the fact that she didn’t fit those molds. (This explains the now-jaded persona Ferreira presents: at 21, she’s already war-weary.) Furthermore, my subtle suggestion that all of this was a ploy for attention with no real substance to be found behind it…it turns out that was a pre-judgment that wasn’t warranted, either. There was an artist in there, screaming to get out, hindered by a toxic combination of industry red tape and Ferreira’s own disadvantage of being too young and immature to overcome it. That’s the part of the story I didn’t know.
So however we got to this point, Night Time, My Time seems to be Sky Ferreira’s chance to finally speak for herself, and to allow her music to stand on its own. And let’s just say it’s a remarkably good album—not only because there were some very smart choices made in its creation, but also because it shows a level of emotion and vulnerability that often are lacking in this genre.
As for the smart choices—let’s talk about the album’s style. Eschewing her earlier incarnations of electro-pop or bubblegum pop, Ferreira infuses some dirt and buzz into the music on this record, making it really more rock/pop than pop/rock. Combined with her dark, angsty emotions (which we’ll explore in a moment), this creates a style that would fit well into the soundtrack of an 80s John Hughes film, only with twenty-teen sensibilities. It’s just familiar enough to be catchy, while still differentiating itself from the bevy of dance/electro pop offerings out there. That, along with some incredibly catchy hooks, make this an incredibly smart pop album that is certain to be remembered long after the dance-pop clones are long forgotten.
As for the other…I mentioned that Ferreira had made some confessions of her own. I really view this as a confessional record of sorts—not (always) a confession of wrongdoing, but more of a “this is how I feel about what the last few years have done to me” kind of confessional. Indeed, Ferreira seems to have used the multiple missteps, mishaps, disappointments and injustices of being tossed around the industry (and occasionally tossed aside) as the source material for the emotion she releases here. Not every track is direct autobiography—some songs are just great rock/pop tunes, like “24 Hours,” “You’re Not the One” and “Love In Stereo”, for example—but you can almost always feel the angst seething just underneath. It’s the substance, the glue within the record that makes these songs gritty, and definitely not bubble-gummy.
Ultimately, there are two tracks where Ferreira fully takes off the mask and becomes unsparing with her feelings. On “Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay),” the lyrical context is a relationship, but the emotion behind her sing/yelling of the chorus is obviously speaking of something more. The following track, “I Blame Myself,” plays out like a direct letter to the public: “How could you know what it feels like to fight the hounds of hell? / You think you know me so well”, but then she turns and admits, “I blame myself for my reputation.”
Ah…this is where the questions get answered. This is where we start to understand who Sky Ferreira is, what she’s been through, and why we haven’t really known her before now. It even sort of explains the NSFW album cover, which conveys a bit of a dual meaning. Seeing Sky Ferreira standing exposed in the shower seems to tell the story of her own sense of exploitation, but at the same time it conveys extreme vulnerability, a picture of someone so desperate for people to see who she is that she’s willing to have a shot like this as her album cover. It’s not sexy; it’s more disconcerting.
So…words eaten, along with a bit of crow. Apparently I spoke too soon. The only bit of doubt I have remaining about Sky Ferreira is really not her fault; it’s just that there have been so many versions of Sky Ferreira over the years that time will still be the tell as to whether this is the real one. But I can say that of all the versions we’ve seen, Night Time, My Time is by far the most convincing version of Ferreira. At the very least, it’s a well-crafted album that reveals an artist with more depth than people have given her credit for. With this record, she’s given us more to remember her for than a provocative album cover or a news headline. If she keeps making music like this, I have a feeling she’ll be remembered for a very long time.