LONDON – Rebecca Lucy Taylor, better known as Self Esteem, was on stage at the club last Friday performing “I’m Fine,” a pop song with a loud beat about sexual assault. The track includes a recording of a woman describing how she barks like a dog when she is approached by groups of men on the street: “There is nothing that scares a man more than a woman who seems completely insane.” As the strings flew up, Taylor and her group began to bark and howl. Several women from the audience joined them.
It was a moment that captures the irreverence and sincerity of Self Esteem, the up-and-coming British pop star whose second album, Prioritize Pleasure, is building a fan base for her who says they feel seen by her music.
For over 15 years, 35-year-old Taylor has worked in the British music scene, first with the indie band Slow Club, which she says she left after years of suppressing her ideas, then as Self Esteem, a name that “just happened to be what I needed, ”she said in an interview in an East London bar a week before the concert.
“For most of my life, I felt very lonely, asking, ‘What’s wrong with me? “Taylor said, pointing to the expectation that women will calm down and have children. Her recent success “makes me feel so relieved that I’m not exactly an eccentric.”
If Taylor has a Pleasure Priority manifesto, he encourages people to put themselves first without denying that they too can make mistakes. The “pleasure” mentioned in the album’s title can take many forms, she said, including what she was looking forward to tonight: go home, order takeout and watch Heritage.
Jude Rogers, a music journalist who wrote about Prioritse Pleasure, said Self Esteem’s music felt right at the moment. “We needed to have a woman who was going to say, ‘Enough,’” Rogers said. Self-esteem in ambitious pop music “expresses all the confusion, all the frustration and all the anger of a woman,” she added.
Taylor said she has been concerned about her safety since her teenage years, “which I think now looks like the zeitgeist.” She started writing an album in 2019 and decided to survive sexual abuse through her music. “As a person who lives very free, I like to be sexy, I like to do what I want,” she said. “But suddenly it was taken from me, and I made a decision never to enjoy it again, never to be the person I wanted to be, or to turn it all into inducing euphoria.”
The end of the toxic relationship also affected the album, but there is a strong thread of empowerment in the recording, which Taylor says was the result of a more positive experience. “I finally got this wonderful section: I’m older, therapy has intensified a little, and I don’t care,” she said. By making the record, she stopped worrying about other people’s expectations of her and her career.
All of these changes prompted Taylor to write songs such as “I Do This All The Time”, a track in which she lists her difficulties, including everyday worries (“Old habits die for a couple of weeks and then I start doing them again.”) and the sexist comments of old tour managers (“All you have to do honey is to fit into this dress of yours”).
Johan Karlberg, member of The Very Best who produced Prioritize Pleasure, believes that Self Esteem’s success has less to do with the current cultural climate in Britain than with the reaction to Taylor’s great songs and her “gross honesty.”
“People like to say that they are honest in their songs and interviews, but in reality this is very rare,” he said. “Rebecca is in everything, and people care about it.”
At her London concert last week, the relationship was almost deafening as fans shouted out their favorite lines (especially loud “Sexting at a mental health club seems counterproductive”).
One fan, 30-year-old Kat Carrigan, said she was attracted to a self-esteem dance track called “Moody,” which chronicles both the breakdown of a relationship and an attempt to correct a common insult used against a woman. “I’ve been called a sullen cow many times in my life,” Carrigan said. “It won’t affect me anymore.”
But Ruby Street, 29, said something else that made her a fan. The songs “are great tunes, aren’t they?” she said. “It always helps.”