Beyoncé was right: the ladies are running the (pop music) world. And while we frequently find ourselves bouncing in the clubs to pop-starlets-with-a-penchant-for-zany-costumes, the iconic Princes and Michael Jacksons of the ’80s and ’90s have been missed on the vodka-drenched dance-floor. Good news: pop prayers may soon be answered. Meet Jhameel, the San Francisco-based dreamy pop crooner whose funk-dance pop and killer visuals—particularly a head-turning music video for “Shut Up” which finds him losing his mind with a P.Y.T. around his arm in the middle of a desert—is firing up many a music blogger. Similar to Robyn, another anti-albums underground dance-floor darling, Jhameel releases his pop gems to the beat of his own rebellious drum machine: five-song “series” with a song released every five weeks. (Good news: a “dance-y but kind of ethereal” follow-up to his latest, “Waves,” will be released in April.) We Skyped in with the budding artist about his eye-makeup-heavy, asymmetrical “visual philosophy,” his Bay Area pride, and the formula behind making a perfect pop record.
ELLE: What do you think is the formula for the perfect pop song?
Jhameel: It starts first with the base human emotion—the instinctual kind of primal emotion. And what makes it really pop is the [song] structure. Not being afraid of the bass, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge or switching it up a tiny bit. That’s what makes it easy to understand for people—separating it into parts and having a hook repeating the thing that gets stuck into your head basically.
ELLE: Your dancing in the “Shut Up” video is pretty nuts. Where’d you learn those moves?
J: I don’t know, it just kind of happened! I practiced in the studio a few times before that shoot, but I didn’t really know I could dance before. I wanted to make a dance video like “The Way You Make Me Feel” by Michael Jackson but faster. I’ve been watching Michael Jackson videos since I was a kid so maybe his dance moves got stuck in my head or something…
ELLE: Speaking of videos, name some of your favorites.
J: That choreography-on-treadmills OK Go video is definitely up there. “Billie Jean” is a good one. I really love that new Gotye video “Somebody That I Used To Know.”
ELLE: How do you feel about mainstream success?
J: I just wanna keep doing what I’m doing. You know, I’ve gotten approaches to try to mainstream it up a little bit. But I’d rather just keep doing what I’m doing, keep my style, not compromise. By just doing it indie, I’ve gotten my stuff in clothing stores, on BBC. I rather just keep doing my thing in my studio.
ELLE: Who do you admire career-wise in the indie pop scene as of late?
J: I like Penguin Prison. I love St. Vincent—not exactly what I’m going for musically, but I love her. They’re not similar to me, but they’re doing it basically without major support—Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Bird kind of thing.
ELLE: You’re San Francisco-based, and you’ve written a few songs about being from the Bay Area. Would you say you have the typical Bay Area pride?
J: It’s a beautiful place. I’ve lived here for the last decade now. Living here, as cliche as it sounds, it really expands your mind. People are so open, ideas are so open, it still has that hippie culture but then some parts are really gentrified. It’s very diverse. I’m moving to LA in August, but I’m trying to keep the Bay pride.
ELLE: If you were on American Idol or X Factor, how do you think you’d fare? What would you sing?
J: I don’t know, I might not do very well. I’d be embarrassed the whole time, man. I would probably sing “Buy You A Drink” by T-Pain, though.
ELLE: On that note, what’s your current guilty pleasure?
J: I’m a really big fan of Drake’s lyrics. I’m not sure if that’s a guilty pleasure though.
ELLE: Dream collab?
J: Janelle Monae.
ELLE: Any songs you can’t get out of your head?
J: “Tongue Tied” by Grouplove.
ELLE: You’ve got the Bladerunner-esque make-up going on in a slew of press shots. Explain your pop star-friendly style (and that signature earring!).
J: Well, I see photography as another chance to express myself, so you gotta add new elements. I have asymmetrical hair so it balanced it out with the face paint on the other side. That’s what the earring is about—it’s to create balance out of asymmetry. That’s what my visual philosophy is about if that makes sense—asymmetry.
ELLE: Explain your unique way of releasing your music via “series.”
J: I’ve decided I don’t want to do albums for a while. The series is basically five songs and they’re released once a week for five weeks. So, each single can get a lot of attention. That’s great for everyone—for bloggers and for me. At the end of the five weeks, everything comes together in a physical package and on iTunes, on Spotify, and we reveal the one album cover at the end that brings it all together.