While pop-rock has been a dwindling artform since the turn of the century, there are a select few revitalizing the idioms, production staples, and raw energies that define the genre. Artists VOILÀ and Hey Violet are proving to be two of these leaders. Finding the perfect intersection of Hey Violet’s pop lane and VOILÀ’s grungier rock counterpart in their collaborative single, “Imaginary Friends,” an unexpected, yet fortuitous partnership has emerged. The track kickstarts both group’s next big music roll-outs and sets the stage for 2022 to be the revival of modern pop-rock.
Following their critically acclaimed 2017 debut album, From The Outside, Hey Violet became a leader of alternative pop music. Composed of LA-based frontwoman Rena Lovelis, her sister and drummer Nia Lovelis, and lead guitarist Casey Moreta, the trio took the world by storm through hit after hit. The New York Times called the LP “one of this year’s best and most provocative pop albums,” which I can confirm upon my tenth listen.
Meanwhile, as Hey Violet took the stage across the country, playing talk shows and selling out venues, classically trained guitarist and actor Luke Eisner and producer/singer Gus Ross were finding their musical compatibility after classes at USC. Quickly realizing their potential as a team, the pop-rock duo VOILÀ was born. VOILÀ has since become a major player in the pop-rock scene through their signature ear-worm melodies and Herculean sound. Garnering over 30 million streams and drawing praise from Billboard and Pandora it’s clear they’re here to stay.
While all having slight variations on the meaning of what imaginary friends are, with Rena telling us one of her first imaginary friends “was a traveling salesman named Mister McGee” who “opened his jacket to sell us things” to Luke explaining “I don’t need the tangible friend sometimes because I have enough dialog going on inside,” the bands dissected the importance of having a multi-dimensional consciousness. Whether they be imaginary friends like Mister McGee, ghosts (which Hey Violet’s Rena and Nia have both encountered), or the angel and devil on your shoulder, the unseen figures in our lives sometimes seem the most reliable.
Rena unpacked this concept for us, telling us lyrics like “I can show them my dark side I won’t hide, and they’ll never judge me,” are a product of “being harshly judged for anxiety and depression,” with unnerving first reactions from people making her “only trust [her] imagination.” The room opened up to conversation, with Luke telling us, “I always think about that when I’m reading. All of these characters come from one writer, and if you think about it yourself, you probably have all these characters in you too.”
Visualizing this concept, we see Luke and Rena playing the angel and devil spirits for a couple in the “Imaginary Friends” music video. Shot as a one-take, the video unavoidably explores each artist's personality. Luke and Gus tell us, “It’s a great way to display our chemistry as friends.” “You can’t edit around it. You can’t pick a part and say, ‘I liked it better the way I looked in this one or ‘how I smiled here.’”
Being VOILÀ’s second one-shot video, after “Figure You Out,” the concept is solidified as proof that music videos don’t always have to be “perfect” to be incredibly entertaining. It also hints at a larger project within these videos as the video ends on a cliff-hanger.
Through catharsis and genuine creativity, Hey Violet and VOILÀ are giving us purity not commonly found in hit music today. Gus tells us “when you strip all of the pressures away and it’s Luke and I in the studio just screaming down a mic, that’s when we make the best songs.” A theme we hear with “Imaginary Friends” and some of VOILÀ’s more raw tracks like “Therapy” and “Drinking with Cupid.”
Luke also went on to explain how songwriting has shifted for him after his father passed away, telling us “I played it angry instead of playing gentle or romantic. It was healing for me. I've already taken all that medicine [writing the song], so hopefully now it can become someone else's medicine.”