I don't know when or how I first discovered Naomi Hulteng. I've never seen her in person, so it was obviously over some kind of social media, probably Facebook. Aside from cultivating the best hair in the state, Naomi is in to a lot of things; her own graphic design company, some photography and, of course, music. There's Naomi, the person, and then there's NAOMI, the band, which consists of Hulteng and her husband Casey, along with Mike DePew and Aaron Rowland.
As a musician, Naomi doesn't do enough. She just dropped a new music video last week, but everything on her Soundcloud page is at least a year old. She plays live shows and occasionally posts covers to YouTube, but she hasn't recorded anything since her album "Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish," which was uploaded to Soundcloud in October, 2016.
Which is a shame, because she's a snarky, clever lyricist, blessed with a dynamic, extremely listenable voice. Or, as that self-same Soundcloud page says, she "(focuses) on vulnerable, matter-of-fact lyrics, thoughtful melody lines (...) drawing from dramatic and traumatic life experiences, NAOMI crafts rage and passion into catchy songs that morph into healing, boldness, and reckless courage...". It's kind of like early '00s pop punk filtered through a smidgen of Alanis Morissette.
But here's the thing kids: I'm not really a music writer anymore, so I'm not really here to talk about the music, or at least not focus on it. No, I'm here to talk about Naomi. Because in a world that has more than its fair share of things to be angry and cynical about, Naomi is doing her level best to be your favorite goofball.
For starters, just look at her:
She looks like Brian Setzer fucked a Kewpie Doll (in the good way). Those giant eyes, that amazing hair, that adorkable hint of a smile. She's downright delightful.
Then there's her social media presence, where she's pretty much killing it. Her Instagram account features some great examples of self-photography (see above) but is, more often than not, just weirdly cute.
Over on YouTube, which she updates every week or two (it's far from regular or consistent, but nobody in this glass house will be throwing stones), she'll rant about getting her first dick pick, rude people at the post office, awkward trips to the dentist and, well, do this.
She also stretches her legs a bit creatively, dabbling in these cover/mash-up/medley videos that sometimes work pretty darn well and other times are just ambitious near misses. YouTube is also where you can find the video for her newest release, "Cake."
On the surface, as the name might suggest, it's a sugary confection of a song. It's catchy enough, with a good hook and some nice, brassy vocal moments. If, however, you decide to dig in a bit, there's a pretty solid message of empowerment and self-actualization to be parsed out. In a quick, slightly tortured metaphor, the song has meat on the bones hidden under all that frosting.
But maybe more important is the video itself.
First and most obviously, it's gorgeous. That is a video put together by someone who has a good eye for composition, a deftness for storytelling, more than a little technical know-how and a passion for the project.
It's also a great vessel for the material. Cute and funny at first blush, the sardonic devil in "Cake" is hiding in the little details. Go back to the 1:15 mark and watch Ken leave for work after Barbie has made him a meal. Barbie kisses him goodbye, then looks at the dishes, looks at the door, then back to the dishes. It's a really funny moment that works so well because you know exactly what little Barbie's thinking without it actually being said. This vignette takes place immediately after the first biting chorus, which starts: "I take what I want/I get what I need/sign your life away and watch the ink start to bleed"
All the while, inter-cut with the scenes of Barbie dolls getting nasty, Naomi sits in a teal monstrosity of a dress, flashing alternating looks of adorable innocence and exasperated defiance. But no matter how caustic the underlying message of the song might get, it never once stops being fun as hell.
And Jesus Christ people, if we don't need a little bit of fun with our truth now. It's a cold, weird world out there, full of division and anger. I don't know where we're headed over the next two years, but I know that we've all aged like dogs during the past two. Politics has turned life as an American into a daily, inexorable battle. One that will often send you to bed frustrated or sad, and will then greet you first thing in the morning with the latest front in need of defending.
But daily life is also amazing and full of potential. It's easy to remember that when you're in the middle of a concert or movie or date with a friend. But the times when we most need to remember it are the dark times. When we're cleaning up from a flood. Or mourning our dead. Or girding up for the next political fight.
Sometimes we just need to be reminded that life can be fought for and still be fun as well. It's a valuable thing to keep in mind. Because if we lose sight of the things that are good and silly and fun, then what the fuck are we keeping up the fight for?
Naomi's not trying to save the world. She's just enjoying her corner of it, and singing a little along the way.