By Sam Manzella
Speaking to MTV News via video call from separate locations, bandmates Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson are at once elated and exhausted. The Los Angeles-based synthpop trio have been putting their feelings to music together since they first met in college at the University of Southern California about eight years ago. That is precisely why Gavin, Muna’s lead singer and lyricist, thinks their meteoric rise to fame over the past year and a half feels so surreal.
“We’re in a kind of sweet spot,” she says, clutching one knee tightly to her chest. “I’ve had this awareness of like, this is a nice time in my life, and I want to be present for it, but we also kind of have to not be present because we have to be preparing for all the things we’re going to be doing.”
She’s not wrong. Muna have two studio albums and years of experience under their belt, but the band’s self-titled third record, out Friday (June 24), comes in the middle of their busiest stretch to date. They’ve toured on and off since the latter half of 2021, joining the likes of Kacey Musgraves and Phoebe Bridgers while simultaneously promoting their most anticipated record yet. They’ll hit the road again for an international headlining tour that will span the bulk of 2022. “It’s hard to come up with anything to say other than, like, ‘Goddamn, we’re grateful,’” says McPherson, a multi-instrumentalist and producer.
The invitation to join Musgraves’s tour arrived on the heels of the release of “Silk Chiffon,” a hooky, syrupy-sweet ode to sapphic love with featured vocals from Bridgers. “Silk,” as the band affectionately refers to it, quickly became one of Muna’s most recognizable bops, rivaling previous hits like 2019’s “Number One Fan,” an infectiously catchy self-love mantra, and 2020’s “Bodies,” a sultry dance-pop single they co-wrote with The Knocks.
“There’s something so special about ‘Silk,’” McPherson says. “Even from the beginning, we were like, ‘Oh my god, this is the end-credit theme song for a fucking movie that could have come out when we were young.’” The single’s star-studded music video — a campy, pastel-hued homage to the cult-classic ’90s film But I’m a Cheerleader courtesy of filmmaker Ally Pankiw, McPherson’s girlfriend — played into that association. It signaled a rosier new era for a band that had slowly but surely become synonymous with “sad soft pop songs for sissies.”
“Life’s so fun, life’s so fun / Got my miniskirt and my rollerblades on,” Gavin coos on the pre-chorus, inspiring a plethora of TikToks highlighting how utterly unrelatable it is. (Gavin herself has poked fun about having to belt those saccharine lyrics while Going Through It.) But McPherson says that’s the whole point of the song. “What if there was this queer, simple love song when we were, like, 12, 13 years old? How would that have changed our lives?” “Silk” encourages us to celebrate life’s joyful moments even as we contend with unprecedented waves of grief, political discord, and anti-LGBTQ+ animus. When you’re queer or trans, life is fun — and confusing, and terrifying, sometimes all at once.
“Silk” also marked the band’s first new release since signing to Saddest Factory, Bridgers’s indie record label, last spring. Muna’s first and second albums, 2017’s About U and 2019’s Saves the World, were released under RCA, which signed the trio early in their career; come 2020, the group was unceremoniously dropped by the label.
It’s tempting to paint the major-label system as the villain in the overarching story of Muna. But that would be an oversimplification of a complicated truth, and Muna, the band and the album, are all about embracing life’s complexity. “I think people who have been a part of the majors system maybe haven’t had as good of an experience as we have had,” says Maskin, a fellow multi-instrumentalist and producer. “But the same principle for why we signed to Saddest Factory applied when we signed to RCA. We want to sign with someone who believes in us and what we’re doing and doesn’t want to change that.”
Sonically speaking, Muna is fittingly eclectic. The bombastic “Solid” echoes the larger-than-life lyrics and synth-embellished sound of progressive-rock greats like Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins; “Anything But Me,” the album’s second single, boasts a galloping beat and rousing vibe evocative of Shania Twain. Upbeat bops like “Silk” and “What I Want” — a declarative dance-pop track about shamelessly partying “in the middle of a gay bar” — hit just as hard as, say, “Loose Garment,” a delicate but devastating meditation on heartbreak. You get the sense that Muna is no longer entertaining anybody’s attempts to pigeonhole their sound or brand. The trio’s music is stronger for it.
McPherson says the latter is one of their favorite songs off the record, citing both its lush soundscape and Gavin’s poignant metaphor in the chorus (“Used to wear my sadness like a choker / Yeah, it had me by the throat / Tonight I feel I’m draped in it like a loose garment / I just let it float”). “That lyric has always just been so lovely, and the melody is so cool,” they gush. “It just touched me from the first time I heard it.”
Gavin is partial to “Kind of Girl,” an introspective, guitar-driven ballad she calls “the heart of the record.” The song finds Gavin affirming her own capacity to grow and change. “Yeah, I like telling stories / But I don’t have to write them in ink / I could still change the end,” she realizes, crooning her heart out over country-pop instrumentals so earnest, it borders on cheesy. The fact that a queer woman sings it adds another dimension to the lyrics. It’s not uncommon for LGBTQ+ people to identify with different letters of the acronym at different points throughout our lives, or to label ourselves with terms that welcome fluctuation, such as genderfluid or bigender.
“It took me a really long time to figure out what was really true for me and who I am,” Gavin says. “And it can also be confusing when you’re starting to speak that out loud. I have such a specific privilege as someone who has gotten to live through my twenties documenting my experiences in life through this band. It’s also part of the reason I’ve been able to commit to growth and change. I don’t want to be telling the same sad story over and over again.”
The trio also dons full cowboy drag for the music video, something that was important to the group since McPherson, who sings backup vocals on the track, is nonbinary. It’s no gag-worthy gimmick, though: Muna’s drag-king alter egos are, and I cannot emphasize this enough, smokin’ hot. “We have a community of creative people around us who are also majority-queer, and who wanted to help us see through a vision and do drag kings in a way that wasn’t a schtick,” Gavin explains. “Having it be a fun day where we could complicate the song a little bit was really, really cool.”
“‘Kind of Girl’ is a mindset for sure,” adds McPherson. “And it’s a very nice mindset to return to.”
So, yes, Muna reserves the right to evolve over time. But the band has one core value that will never change: their commitment to centering queerness.
Gavin says she had “explicit conversations” with McPherson and Maskin about being out when they began releasing music around 2014. Overt queerness carried a different weight back then, especially for emerging artists hoping to break into the mainstream. Muna chose to live openly anyway. “When we made that choice, we were thinking, ‘Hey, we’re a really cool band. We like what we do. And we think it would be good representation for other queer people.’”
“No one’s gonna write us into history or into our own narratives but ourselves,” adds Maskin. “So Muna will continue to be the greatest band in the world, giving you gay love songs to have your first kiss to.”