Hayley Kiyoko and Kailee Morgue stun on functionally familiar queer bop ‘Headcase’

Kailee Morgue/Courtesy

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2018 was transformative for breakout artist Kailee Morgue, a bastion of creative and personal metamorphosis. The artist released four songs that refined her sound as pop-indie Gothic and the most recent entry into her musical catalogue is no exception.

Opening with the iconic ambient riff from The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” Morgue’s “Headcase” is nothing if not on the nose. The song, which Morgue has described as a means of exploring her own bipolar disorder, lyrically posits itself as a somber but familiar take on exploring one’s own diagnosis.

“Headcase” is a routine addition to a fairly saturated market of music reflecting on mental illness. With the catchy, simple chorus “I’m a headcase, but you love me. I’m a mistake, I warned you,” Morgue repurposes phrases we’ve heard a billion times before for her own artistic gratification. While this does make the song feel familiar, the piece straddles the line between relatable and tired.

In the world of pop music, a genre that often thrives on familiarity and likeness, that’s not a bad place to be.

The song is also able to evade its borderline tedium through the invigoration provided by queer pop queen Hayley Kiyoko’s feature on the track. Her easy vocals marry Morgue’s in a nearly seamless way, which speaks to Morgue’s own command of the genre. The pair is dynamic in the way Morgue and Kiyoko each manage to represent their respective styles in the song. This creates a lush and feastable ambience — one that brings levity to the complex and austere themes of mental illness.

“Headcase” has been described as a queer pop anthem, influenced by Morgue’s own intention of having always wanted to do a duet with another queer woman (Morgue herself identifies as pansexual). But this assignment presents its own set of problems. While it’s far from necessary that queer artists sing exclusively about their queerness, assigning this track, “I’m a head case, fucking crazy,” the moniker of queer pop anthems creates a problematic conflation of queerness and mental illness.

That said, the representation resulting from these two artists collaborating on an easy hit like “Headcase” is nevertheless exciting. The song is a strong entry into pop as it is, and it won’t be surprising to see the number create a lot of buzz around the already up-and-coming Morgue.

Areyon Jolivette covers queer media. Contact her at [email protected].