With recent singles “Boys Like U” and “Luci”, ZAND (pronouns they/them) set out their Ugly Pop manifesto
The Blackpool-born artist – real name Zander Sweeney – coined the term “ugly pop” to describe not just their malevolent sound, but an unflinching commitment to facing down demons of all forms, no matter how frightening. Seeking to infiltrate the popular music sphere as a means to tackle topics that many would consider too uncomfortable for mainstream with their songwriting, ZAND decides to grab “pop” by the balls and redefine the label as we know it: transcending even the genre-blurring standards of current mainstream chart-toppers.
Touching on a plethora of subjects like feminism, gender, rape culture, transphobia, homophobia, sex work, and the most unpalatable sides of mental illness to name but a few; ZAND upholds an unapologetic, valiant commitment to centring their art around “speaking up against your oppressor”. Some of these themes are illustrated in both “Boys Like U” and “Luci”: the former – lauded by UK music blogs Dork and The Line of Best Fit – is a snarling riposte to perpetrators of misogyny and sexual assault, whilst the latter casts a showdown with Beelzebub himself against a weighty industrial backdrop. It’s up to the listener to decide exactly how literal or metaphorical each of ZAND’s charged missives really are.
The personal experiences of the “ugly popstar” are the specks of grit comprising the core of each jagged pop pearl: tackling the reality of life with borderline personality disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, whilst embracing their identity as a queer and non-binary trans person in defiance of industry norms and societal backlash. Their refusal to conform to expectations of what it means to be non-binary is mirrored in a riotous commitment to tackling transphobia and homophobia on and off-stage: a motivation that runs through every vein of their project, informing sound, lyricism, aesthetic, and performance. Bleeding through into their work is also a defiant sexuality — one of which refuses to cow to the likes of misogyny or transphobia and is expressed majorly through the outward confidence and sexually liberated persona that ZAND projects. The fetish-inspired “Boys Like U” visuals provide an introductory taste of ZAND’s affinity for perceived deviance and erotica, but you can expect them to build upon these themes in the near future.
With strong connections to the UK alternative scene, the bulk of ZAND’s sonic influences fall well outside the pop sphere. While very much an avid pop fan with early influences ranging from Britney to Katy Perry, they cite their teenage obsessions with bands such as Fightstar and My Chemical Romance as major songwriting touchstones; also noting their brother and fellow musician Connor Sweeney’s role as guitarist in Liverpool up-and-coming metal outfit Loathe. Whilst their catchy melodies and tongue-in-cheek lyricism reveal a firm grasp of the current pop zeitgeist, ZAND’s love for nostalgic bangers from their “misunderstood tweenhood” is what kicks their sound into overdrive.
ZAND is an artist for the current age of global uncertainty. Their material is less about fearlessness in the face of conflict and instability, but about what can be created when that fear is embraced and uplifted. Ugly Pop is what happens