New York City singer, songwriter & multi-instrumentalist Miles Francis recently announced their new album Good Man (out March 4), along with title track “Good Man.” Francis experienced a complete unraveling of conditioning during the project that helped them come out as non-binary, resulting in works of gorgeous paradox: nuanced explorations of masculinity and all its trappings, presented in a sound that’s joyfully unfettered. Now, Francis continues this process with their B.O.Y. project and featuring twisted modern covers of NSYNC’s “I Want You Back” & Backstreet Boys’ “The Call.”
While Francis’ childhood walls were lined floor to ceiling with boy band photos from J-14 and Tiger Beat, upon returning to those songs throughout the years, they’ve become more problematic and sinister — written by grown men and sung by boys asking for forgiveness despite their wrongdoings. “I wanted to unearth the darker energy within the songs and put it front and center,” Francis explains. “What if an NSYNC song was sung by a man’s dark subconscious? What if a Backstreet Boys song was reframed to score a suspense film?”
“The success of boy bands was largely due to the fandom of teenage girls, but the messaging fit into a larger framework of patriarchy,” Francis continues. “As someone with white male privilege, I was swept up in that cultural moment as a child, and I am curious as to how it encouraged certain problematic perspectives in my developing brain. It’s okay to look back on things we love and question them, and it’s necessary for men especially to interrogate the culture that shaped us, whether it’s music, movies, or whatever else.”
Playing into these themes are previous album singles “Popular” (feat. Lizzie Loveless & Lou Tides – formerly of TEEN – on background vocals) and “Service,” complete with mesmerizing boy band clone choreography that mirrors Miles’ own recording process in quarantine. “Everyone indulges in having an ego and wanting to be recognized, but men seem particularly bent on the power element — whether it’s taking up space in a room or leading a country,” says Francis. These were followed by remixes of “Popular” by Future Generations and “Service” from Overcoats.
Produced by Francis and recorded in their longtime studio (located in the basement of the Greenwich Village building they grew up in), Good Man arrives as the most visionary and elaborately realized output yet from a polymathic artist known for collaborating with the likes of Angélique Kidjo, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, and Arcade Fire’s Will Butler. Also naming shapeshifters like Prince and David Bowie among their essential touchstones, Francis ultimately alchemized those inspirations into a highly percussive form of art-pop, both lavishly orchestrated and visceral in impact.
As an artist indelibly informed by the kinetic energy and eclecticism of New York City, Francis drew immense inspiration from their hometown: “At the start of the protests and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter last year, I realized the most direct way I could help was to get a drum and go out to marches and keep a beat for organizers,” says Francis, who soon assisted a friend in the founding of a New York-based collective called Musicians United. “In the beginning the goal was to get involved with anti-racist work, but the experiences I had and the people I met through the Black Trans Lives Matter movement opened up my whole world. It gave me a new mirror to see myself in, and helped me to find my own queerness and nonbinaryness.”
Francis finally realized: “When I’m in my studio, it feels like being completely free of the outside world, free of gender, free of everything except me. I feel like I’m finally figuring out how to take that freedom beyond my musical expression and bring it into every aspect of my life. Now I want to share that feeling with everybody.”
Photo Courtesy: Shervin Lainez