Memes Aside, “Emily Montes” is the First and Only Album of its Kind

The autotuned voice singing “hi my name is Emily and I’m 5, I like playing Roblox and I like going outside” is likely familiar to anyone who’s stumbled across the weirder side of TikTok, “alt TikTok,” as the kids say. It’s hilarious, it’s jarring, but it’s nothing compared to the shock that I and many other people experienced when looking it up to discover that this isn’t just a TikTok sound: it’s the opener to a 14 track album.

While none of the 14 songs surpass one minute, the longest, “Take Me Away,” being 59 seconds and the shortest, “Roblox Is My Life,” being seven, it’s a glorious four minutes and 45 seconds. The auto-tune covers her voice like drugstore foundation, the beats are all probably lifted from free downloads or YouTube to MP3s, or maybe recorded right into the computer from the computer, the lyrics are all, well, written by a five year old. How the hell this ended up on streaming services is beyond me, but the internet was quick to ironically crown Montes as the next queen of experimental pop and rap, just as they did Peppa Pig last year.

However, music snobs were also quick to make an inevitable comparison to the infamous 2012 album “My Teenage Dream Ended,” by teen-mom turned porn star turned pointless celebrity Farrah Abraham. To coincide with her autobiography of the same name, which chronicles her teenage pregnancy, drug use, the arrest of her father and death of her daughter’s father. The album, produced by Fredrick M. Cuevas, also known as FRDRK, was recorded by Abraham to a metronome without ever hearing the music she was singing to. Thrown over cheap, GarageBand quality electro pop instrumentals, Abraham’s vocals were treated with enough autotune to kill a horse, barely set to any key, hardly, if at all, on tempo.

The result is the sound of a pop nightmare, an accident that cannot be replicated. Despite it’s almost-so-bad-it’s-good quality, over the years it has garnered a reputation as an accidentally-genius piece of outsider art, a disorienting, almost scary work of avant-garde pop, worthy of thinkpiece after thinkpiece after video essay after video essay.

But “Emily Montes” is not likely to garner the same infamy, even if the sonic comparison was bound to be made, especially because it’s obvious that both artists (if I can say that about Abraham) did not have any idea what they were doing. However, what sets the two albums apart is that Abraham didn’t seem to be trying to make anything great, and Cuevas didn’t seem to be trying to help her. Montes, on the contrary, seems to be making a first attempt at something she is actually trying to be good at. For this reason, a better comparison to make would be to “Philosophy of the World,” the 1969 album by The Shaggs.

The Shaggs were a band from Fremond, New Hampshire composed of sisters Helen, Betty and Dorothy (and sometimes Rachel) Wiggin. Their father, Austin Wiggin, Jr., was their manager, and they performed at their town hall and local nursing home from 1968 to 1973. They didn’t begin for their love of music, though. One day, before she died, Wiggin’s mother gave him a palm reading with three concluding predictions: that he would marry a strawberry blonde woman, that he would have two daughters after she died and that his daughters would create a famous band. Setting out to make the third prediction true, Wiggin took his girls out of school and bought them instruments, arranging for them to have music lessons. Believing his daughters would become stars, Wiggin spent most of his savings to record an album in 1969.

The result, “Philosophy of the World,” is one of the most talked about so-bad-that-it’s-good albums ever, despite only 100 of the 1000 copies of the album being lost for unknown reasons. But, somehow, these girls, who didn’t even know how to play their instruments, were hailed by Frank Zappa as the best band of all time, better than the Beatles. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana listed it as his fifth favorite album of all time. In a video about this album by the YouTuber Alfo Media, Harrison Renshaw described the strange appeal of this album and poised this question: “how often can you hear songs entirely written by kids with no prior musical experience?”

That brings us back to Emily Montes, a somewhat famous five year old on TikTok that you are reading an article about. After looking into her TikTok, it seems pretty obvious that it’s her mom running the account, which raises the question of whether or not Montes actually made the music on this album herself, but it also helps explain how it got onto streaming services. Could it be some sort of genius marketing idea from her mother?  If so, it’s working, as “Take me away” has over 185,000 streams on Spotify.

However, for as hilarious as this all is on the surface, Renshaw made an interesting point about the Shaggs that extends to Montes’ work but in a different, darker context. In 10 or 20 years we will have many pandemic inspired albums to turn back to, whether that’s Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” or the even more spectacular “how i’m feeling now” by Charli XCX, but “Emily Montes” will be the only one told from the perspective of a child. “EmiLy,” the song that went viral on TikTok, ends with the lines “I miss school but I’m stuck inside, this virus has me losing my mind.” “Take Me Away” is a lost-for-words expression of desire to leave her house during lockdown, doing the best with her kindergarten level vocabulary to express herself. While a lot of this can be chalked up to childhood innocence, the fifth track, “Emily montes (Corona Is Crazy),” is the closest she gets to getting a full grasp on how serious the situation at hand is, but only by singing “this virus is crazy, it’s the end of the world” right before moving into some braggadocious bars about being the new Queen of rap.

While the songs that deal with COVID-19 are certainly the most interesting historically, the non-COVID-19 related songs are just as special and offer similar food for thought, and there are a number of braggadocious moments, most notably “Emily rose,” where she proudly admits that she’s “only been rapping for an hour,” but that some say she’s “better than Nicki and Chance the Rapper.” On “Untitled” where she boldly declares Travis Scott as ‘retired’ and once again reminds us that she’s the new rap queen on “Give me my crown.” She even works in two breakup songs, “Emily Montes (breakup)” and “If you know you know if you don’t you don’t,” “Frozen,” a song about wanting to build a snowman but there’s no snow, an adorable self love anthem, “Untitled 2,” “Roblox is my life,” whose title is self explanatory, as well as the haunting ending “Roboticy,” where she channels her frustration with her broken phone into an album closer.

Most people probably have a song or two they wrote when they were kids or remember pretending to be rock stars with their friends or family and putting on concerts for their parents. That’s normal. But what isn’t normal to most of the planet was having the ability to actually record those songs that you wrote when you were a kid. With every Apple computer and phone preloaded with GarageBand and free programs like Audacity so accessible and easy to download, anyone can write and record music. The internet is already oversaturated with rappers on SoundCloud and indie bands on Bandcamp, but Montes could potentially be foreshadowing a generation of five minute albums made by toddlers who have had technology all their lives and therefore know how record and download rap beats from YouTube and apply auto-tune to their voice.

Furthermore, it’s crazy to see how much a five year old can take away from the world and culture surrounding her. While lines like “I miss school but I’m stuck inside” sound completely normal coming from a five year old, small jabs at other rappers is something that only one who listens to and even vaguely understands rap music would put into their own music, which is why her saying that Travis Scott is “retired” is about as fascinating as it is funny.

But, at the end of the day, this is still just five minutes of pure bliss: adorable, hilarious, tongue-in-cheek bliss. Will it garner the same critical response as “Philosophy of the World” or the same accidentally-avant-garde appeal as “My Teenage Dream Ended?” Probably not. But for all the people saying that 2020 is the worst year of our lifetimes, “Emily Montes” serves as a small attempt to prove you wrong.