Oliver Tree often asks, “Where is the division between the man and the meme?” He attempts to answer this question but fails to satisfy me with his answer. Oliver Tree is an artist who slowly burned onto the scene rather than bursting onto it.. Having released many singles and an EP before putting out his debut album and developing a methodology of turning yourself into a meme for the purpose of marketing he’s certainly worked hard to get to where he is now. However, as revealed in recent interviews with Anthony Fantano and MTV, this is also his last album.
He revealed that he is tired of working with record labels and having to become someone he’s not simply to release music and be paid for it. ” ’I’m just ready to drop all the bullshit and just get to be the real guy, make the real art,’ he said on a Zoom call with MTV News from inside a domineering plastic bubble.”1 Right after telling Anthony Fantano that he’s tired of marketing himself, he brought out a large document that he wrote for his senior project on how to become a meme.2
There’s immense tension in his music and character. On one side you have someone who writes music about being a genuine person. On the other is a person who doesn’t seem to be his genuine self. He has explained on various occasions that the jacket is his mothers and one that he wore growing up, his haircut is similar to one he’s always had, his JNCO jeans are the ones he’s always wanted, and his scooter is one that he’s ridden as a professional. This doesn’t resolve the tension that I felt, though. He’s taken some qualities of himself and turned them into a caricature, a meme.
Despite this tension in his artist persona, his music sings to me – as someone also going through early adulthood – of his journey through self-discovery and growth. He sings of feelings of being outcast and “other” while gazing upon society and seeing people just fitting in and not living out who they really are. It’s a call to action to create and live life with vision. Instrumentally, it melds genres such as indie, alternative, rap, and pop. It calls back to music he may have grown up listening to while still sounding unique and genuine.
Ugly is Beautiful caught my attention in a way that most pop albums don’t. I went in having heard one track and was taken in with every aspect of it. It was easy to see a genuine person in the lyrics and instrumentals. It kept every track interesting without falling into the trap of trying to make everything a banger. You could feel the enjoyment of the music making process and the real experiences he sings about.
The standout track in this album for me was “Hurt”. It details feelings and experiences around becoming a semi-pro scooter rider and an accident that happened during a competition. Lyrically and instrumentally he gets at the despair that you feel when you have things like this happen, when everything you know is taken away. Throughout many of his other songs, he writes about his struggles with drugs and feeling ostracized by others. Throughout this there’s a feeling of hope and confidence as he comes to terms with who he is and what he wants to do.
He seems to be following his own call to action as he leaves music – for now at least – and looks to start his own film production company. He’s seeking to make films he’s passionate about without having to deal with the bureaucracy and money of the music industry. After watching his music videos, there is little doubt that he will succeed as a filmmaker with vision. I will be interested to find out, however, which side of the internal dissonance that he’s displayed will win out.
Our Rating: 8.2/10 (Best New Music)
Release Date: July 17, 2020
Label: Atlantic Recording Corporation
1 Patrick Hoskin, The End of Oliver Tree as We Know Him, 17 July 2020, http://www.mtv.com/news/3166867/oliver-tree-ugly-is-beautiful-interview/
2 Anthony Fantano, Oliver Tree INTERVIEW, 16 July 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPpsNTAhpUE&t=47s