The expression we’ve been using the most over the last year certainly was “OMG.” While becoming an incubator for unborn talents, the pandemic has also spurred existing talents to take things to the next level. That’s certainly true of Laurence Nerbonne, who’s quietly releasing OMG, a French-language album whose English title proclaims what Laurence Nerbonne, and all Québec women, are or should be.
“The album’s final cut, ‘Queens,’ is an important song for me because it plainly states how all these women can take power, and how there’s nobody around to take it back from them,” says Nerbonne. A member of Hôtel Morphée for nearly 15 years, she embarked on her new mission as soon as she left that band in 2015. By 2016, she’d already grown solo roots with her debut album. “Since then, I allowed my style to change so I could increasingly become who I had always wanted to be,” she says. “It’s taken me all these years to learn, but OMG is the first album I’m able to control all the way to the final product.” Ultimately, everything in it is a reflection of her.
From start to finish in the making of an album, creativity may take a variety of forms and rhythms. In Nerbonne’s experience, inspiration can be something that you build on, or something that just happens.
“Inspiration is often described as a flash of light that happens in the middle of the night and comes out of nowhere, and it’s true,” she says. “However, that kind of inspiration only hits you once in a blue moon. The rest of the time, I keep working on the same piece, the same beat and the same chorus for days on end. I re-write, I start over again, I refine. You can seldom say you’re really done.”
The isolation dictated by the pandemic, and an intimate desire to take creative control, were both factors in the singer-songwriter’s desire to bring her pop music closer to rap’s traditional purview. “Upbeat female rap, sung in French, made by women, is something you never hear, and I don’t understand why,” says Nerbonne. “Recently, a number of industry people have lamented that all you hear on commercial radio are the same artists. Female music rarely exceeds 30 percent of the programming, and when it does, it’s always the same stuff. If male artists can have commercial success with American-style rap, I don’t see why what I’m doing shouldn’t work.”
So far, Nerbonne has been commercially successful, her songs have been played on radio, but she’s now decided to bring a sound that’s more in tune with who she really is. “There are two different types of voices on my album,” she says. “First, there are the voices of the characters I play. I want to be funny, and that shows in my lines. In “Première ministre,“ one can truly see that I’ve created this ambitious woman who can push open any door. Nothing can prevent her from going where she wants, and it may just be that, for once, the scandals surrounding her aren’t going to destroy her. We’re sick of seeing all these male characters who are always successful, and who never have to face the consequences of their actions. I also wanted to leave room for party songs… we need them a lot.”
The second tone of voice we hear on the album is Nerbonne’s own. It’s more forward and more serious. It’s obviously her own voice, the voice of a woman who has a lot to say about the way women in general, and women in music in particular, are being treated. “I wanted people to feel the empowerment, obviously,” she says. “I felt it was important for people to perceive a change. I dare to address topics that only men usually talk about in public.”
The day the stage really opens up to women unconditionally, women’s issues and feminism will be allowed to be addressed in all music genres. Nerbonne will be one of the women who have re-invented themselves at the institutions’ request. In embracing trap, rap, and R&B, in expressing herself openly, she’s nurturing a landscape that we all think should be more diversified. In the end, she’ll have done this for herself, and for a larger goal: representing women’s reality. “If I can be one female voice among all the ones that are being heard, that will be enough for me,” she says. “My goal is not to be the only one.”
The door is open.