MUNA left to right: Katie Gavin, Naomi McPherson and Josette Maskin.

Wel­come back MUNA – the Har­ry Styles-approved queer pop trio

The LA group opened for Styles on his 2017 tour, accidentally gifted him a Mapplethorpe book of nudes, and now they’re back with a head-spinning new single.

Through­out its his­to­ry, pop music has most­ly been a place for escapism from a het­ero­nor­ma­tive point of view. There are hun­dreds of thou­sands of songs about het­ero fan­tasies and girls and boys and it’s all just so old-fash­ioned. The world is not made up entire­ly of smarmy bina­ry straight peo­ple, so why should our pop music be?

Enter MUNA, who for five years have explored a niche of pop that not only shirks that stale point of view, but com­plete­ly changed the nar­ra­tive of what an iden­ti­ty in pop music can be, paving the way for acts like Kim Petras and Liz­zo. Fans have been wait­ing on new music for over two years since their debut album About U, and today, Muna are final­ly drop­ping a new track, Num­ber One Fan. The first sin­gle from their sopho­more LP out 6 Sep­tem­ber, Saves the World, is dis­arm­ing­ly vul­ner­a­ble for a total ear­worm – an elec­tro-pop bop that address­es social media and the ever-elu­sive idea of being nice to yourself.

But first you have to know that MUNA is nice to each oth­er. I meet the trio – Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Nao­mi McPher­son – at the Hol­ly­wood For­ev­er Ceme­tery in the mid­dle of their home­town of Los Ange­les, and despite hav­ing worked non-stop for two years, they’re crack­ing jokes and offer­ing each oth­er sun­screen. Gavin, the band’s lyri­cist and lead vocal­ist, dressed in a black over­all jumper, takes a seat, and I’m won­der­ing how weird it might be to do the inter­view so close to the graves.

Maybe I’m assum­ing too much, but I think [the dead] are hap­py to have some com­pa­ny,” she says, and every­one agrees, and we all relax.

I bring up Num­ber One Fans open­ing stan­za: So I heard the bad news / nobody likes me and I’m gonna die alone in my bed­room / look­ing at strangers on my tele­phone.” It’s a feel­ing we’ve all had.

I think those first lines were part of the rea­son that we want­ed to come back with that song,” says Gavin, propped up on the grassy lawn of the ceme­tery. To address where we are at that very moment, I think it’s impor­tant to say, I can’t stop look­ing at my phone, and it’s mak­ing me feel like I am alone.’ That’s such a com­mon expe­ri­ence right now in a cer­tain part of our cul­ture. We’re sim­ply try­ing to say what is actu­al­ly hap­pen­ing to us on a dai­ly basis, and then maybe there are com­men­taries that live inside of that. It could be an accep­tance of where we are right now; it could be a cri­tique. But I think just try­ing to meet a lot of peo­ple where they’re at. The feel­ing of iso­la­tion is prob­a­bly a theme [on the album].”

Gavin, Maskin, and McPher­son met at the Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in 2013, and they almost imme­di­ate­ly began play­ing music togeth­er. Gavin and Maskin start­ed a band called Cud­dleslut, and McPher­son filled in for Maskin dur­ing the group’s only show, because Maskin had gone to Coachel­la. They sat around and thought up names, and MUNA came to them (pos­si­bly because McPher­son had gone to high school with some­one named MUNA), and they liked its plan­e­tary and fem­i­nine qual­i­ty (despite the fact that it means egg,” which is a slang term for penis” in Finnish). They con­tin­ued to write songs, drop­ping a debut EP in 2014, which found its way to RCA records, cul­mi­nat­ing in the release of About U in Feb­ru­ary of 2017. Soon ex-One Direc­tion super­star Har­ry Styles tapped Muna to join him on his late-2017 tour, which intro­duced the band to a broad new audience.

In the posi­tion that he’s in, he can’t real­ly say a lot, but you know, he chose a queer girl band to open for him. I think that speaks vol­umes,” Maskin says about Styles. She tells a sto­ry about how the band acci­den­tal­ly got Styles a rare Robert Map­plethor­pe book from Ama­zon as a tour gift, but when they got the book, it turned out to be almost entire­ly pho­tos of Mapplethorpe’s penis.

He’s prob­a­bly like, The MUNA girls are fuck­ing freaks. They gave me this insane book,’” says McPher­son, laughing.

The album’s about want­i­ng to grow up and become an estab­lished, ful­ly-formed human being… then hav­ing to do some real­ly intense per­son­al work to fig­ure out why you’re fucked up” – Nao­mi McPherson

As queer-iden­ti­fy­ing pop stars on a major label, hav­ing just gone on tour with a pop star that makes his fans faint, songs like I Know A Place and Loud­speak­er from About U quick­ly became anthems blast­ed in bed­rooms and gay clubs across the world. But after com­ing off tour, they had to com­plete­ly relearn the process of mak­ing a record again, and that came with some pain. Com­pound that with the gen­er­al Weltschmerz of being in your mid-twen­ties, and Saves the World became an album with fraught feel­ings about who and where the mem­bers of MUNA were in the world.

The sim­plest way to say it is to say that it’s a record about deeply want­i­ng to grow up and become an estab­lished, ful­ly-formed human being, and then, because of want­i­ng that so bad­ly, hav­ing to do some real­ly intense per­son­al work to fig­ure out why you’re fucked up,” says McPherson.

In that way, Gavin feels Saves the World is a ther­a­peu­tic record, not just for them­selves, but also for their lis­ten­ers. They’ve nev­er been shy about feel­ing that way, but she feels the band achieved this in a few dif­fer­ent ways on the new album.

We were talk­ing about the oth­er day – how some of the songs on the record are quite lit­er­al­ly meant to be tools for oth­er peo­ple, like if they’re try­ing to change a pat­tern in their life,” says Gavin. I always love the util­i­tar­i­an­ism of pop music, where it’s like, look, there’s a lot of peo­ple who are just tired – just try­ing to get their ass out of bed and go to work – and they might have a shit­ty abu­sive ex, but they are lone­ly, and they might have them over, because they’re fuck­ing tired. Maybe instead of doing that – just please don’t text your ex – there are songs that are meant to be tru­ly help­ful in that way. That’s my dream. But then there are also a lot of songs that are like, Here’s me still fuck­ing it up. Here’s me still mak­ing a choice that I know I’m going to have to deal with lat­er, because I’m a per­son.’ And I think that can be just as help­ful. Music should just be a com­fort of know­ing that you can break any rule you set for your­self and still be wor­thy of love.”

Saves the World is out on 6 Sep­tem­ber. Hair and make-up: Hay­ley Far­ring­ton; Pho­tog­ra­phy assis­tant: Mario Lopez.

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