If, by the age of 20, you’ve already worked with alt-rock royalty like Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda and blink 182 drummer Travis Barker, toured with Gen-Z pop-rocker Yungblud, and had an original song featured in a full-length Disney+ movie, it’s fair to assume you’re doing something right. Renforshort – real name Lauren Isenberg – hasn’t stopped since EPs ‘Teenage Angst’ and ‘Off Saint Dominique’ propelled her into the growing domain of alt-pop darlings. NME described the latter as “a celebration of ever-changing emotion” and her debut album, ‘Dear Amelia’ (July 8), is destined to keep her there.
Though her first official release was 2019’s melancholic ‘Waves’, Isenberg has known since childhood that she wanted to sing, and so began posting covers to YouTube – from Labrinth to Amy Winehouse songs – when she was just 13. “When I was 5 and I still believed in God, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and pray: please make my parents stop smoking! And please make me a famous singer!” she tells NME over Zoom from Kemba Live, a venue in Columbus, Ohio where she’s opening for Nashville group The Band Camino. “I’ve always wanted it and it’s still all I wanna do. There’s no back-up plan.”
Her childhood prayers are seemingly about to materialise. Almost a year in the making, her debut now finally arrives but it was such an intense process, she came out of it with “two albums” which caused difficulties when deciding what she wanted her first full-length output to include. “Which one do I like better?! I don’t know! I love them both – they’re both so personal and great, they’re both so different!”
Eventually Isenberg settled on ‘Dear Amelia’, a compelling 12-track effort that blends pop-rock arrangements with the energetic and innovative production of hyperpop. “I was listening to a lot of hyperpop,” she says. “I was so in awe of it – there’s so many vocal layers. I was like, ‘Where are these sounds even coming from? I don’t understand!’
Sitting somewhere between PinkPantheress and Billie Eilish – with the occasional Poppy parallel, thanks to her use of glitchy sounds and a heavier influence – Isenberg offers a fresh look at the pop-punk revival being spearheaded by the likes of Olivia Rodrigo and Willow. Her lyrics are equal parts introspective and disaffected, like on ‘Made For You’ where she teeters between vulnerability and impenetrability: ‘I’m scared of any type of disconnection…It’s my own fucked up way of showing affection.’ The analytical mindset distinguishes her from her contemporaries; she inspects every thought and feeling as they happen with a cutting bluntness, rather than just experiencing them.
Sonically, it swings from grunge-inspired riffs that wouldn’t go amiss on Avril Lavigne’s seminal ‘Let Go’ (‘Moshpit’) to pop so sweet it could rot your teeth (‘Julian, King of Manhattan’), the overall result being a clear celebration of the music that Isenberg finds fun. “I don’t want to conform to one genre because I find that gets too flat,” she says.
It’s the same curiosity that drives her eagerness for collaboration; she likes to elevate her own songs with other people’s ideas. “It’s cool to see someone else’s interpretation of a song, because it gives it a different life.” Take ‘We’ll Make This OK’, originally a “full-on hyperpop song” with its Nokia ringtone-like beats and simple, repetitive lyrics, was transformed by Travis Barker’s charged drumming into enthusiastic indie-pop.
Shinoda and Barker offer only a glimpse into her long list of collaborators: she’s also worked with hyperpop star Glaive on the sentimental ‘Fall Apart’, and ‘Dear Amelia’ features, er, Jake Bugg? If the collaboration seems a little unexpected on paper, Isenberg is keen to stress that she’s been obsessed with his music since she first discovered it at age 14, and considers him to be “one of my favourite artists on planet Earth.”
She wrote the stripped-back ‘Let You Down’ with Bugg in mind, refusing to write a second verse because she was determined for him to feature. “And then months went by, and my manager texts me: ‘Here’s an update on the song.’ So I put it on, and then Jake Bugg started singing! I started bawling my eyes out… my legs were like jello for 12 hours.”
“I was texting with [Bugg] back and forth a little bit, just like, thank you so much for doing this. I don’t think you understand how much this means to me!”
Growing up in Toronto, Canada, Renforshort found comfort in the city’s music community. “Toronto is great for music makers. The government gives you money to make music videos or to put a song out – they’re very good at that.” The Canada Music Fund is a government initiative aiming to ensure “that a diversity of Canadian music artists connect with audiences everywhere.” The intention is to provide financial assistance to the country’s rising stars – production, marketing and touring are just some examples of what the fund can be used for.
“I’ve never felt like I couldn’t achieve what I wanted to because I had all the support from Canada to actually make my music, which is a really cool thing.”
What she’s aiming to achieve is to write songs that come from a place of sincerity, and resonate with young women, something she found that lacking when she was growing up: “I always just say what I didn’t have when I was younger. I really rely on my own experiences to write, and that honesty and vulnerability is super important.”
Writing about issues that commonly affect young women – identity problems, mental health, toxic partners – Isenberg is tenacious in taking her own feelings seriously. The shaky sense of self that permeates ‘I Thot You Were Cool’ is ultimately driven by a belief in the narrator’s own self-worth. On ‘Julian, King of Manhattan’, Isenberg relishes in the teenage fantasy of having a rockstar boyfriend, embracing and mocking stereotypes that young girls are merely interested in rock music for facetious reasons, not because they have something worthwhile to contribute.
It’s been brewing for years now: young women reclaiming pop-rock and pop-punk – genres that, notoriously, have been built on misogyny. Slut-shaming and violent fantasies in response to a woman’s rejection were typical themes for the genres in the ‘00s, but now young women are turning that on its head and demanding to be taken seriously; whether that be in their feelings, musical ability, or their place in the industry. Renforshort is a part of such movement.
“I think we’re getting close to a point where it’s easier for a woman to speak up [in general]. I’m not saying we’re at that point yet – but we’re getting closer, like an inch closer, and that gives us the opportunity to be like, ‘Here’s what I think, and I can be super honest.’ I think a lot of young women really resonate with that because it’s like, this is the honesty [in music] that I needed – and I want to hear it from a woman.”
Renforshort’s debut album ‘Dear Amelia’ is out July 8