“I can’t believe we’re finally alone,” Dove Cameron croons at the start of her first single, “Boyfriend.” Her seductive voice wraps the listener in a smoky hug, drawing them (or, as is heavily implied, her) in. With its damaged, rasping edge, Cameron’s voice embodies a girl gone rogue. She reminds me of Billie Eilish, another young “bad guy.” One of the defining musical voices of our generation, Eilish became an instant sensation and won more Grammy awards than she probably expected or knew what to do with. There’s a darkness lurking in each syllable, but not the kind you want to run from. It’s the seductive kind that slithers in, serpentine, and grabs you before you know it.
Dove Cameron has had experience with villainy for many years, beginning with her time playing Maleficent’s daughter Mal in Disney’s “Descendants” franchise. Sure, Mal turns out to be good, but Cameron was cast in the role for a reason. She knows how to play bad. Before that, Cameron’s claim to fame came from playing twins Liv and Maddie on the eponymous show for four seasons, also on Disney. Although she has done musicals, including “Hairspray Live,” much of her previous music came from covers and Disney soundtracks. She’s also released songs like “LazyBaby,” which she has removed from Spotify in preparation for her new era.
Still, starting with “Boyfriend,” Cameron diverges from her bright, Disney-friendly image through her newfound persona’s deliciously darker tones. In addition to her voice and background, she unabashedly channels her edgy appearance in her new music. Looking ethereal, she has the necessary features to pull off playing the villain. Her jet-black hair, dagger-like eyeliner, and the sharp contours of her face match her carefully selected outfits, like her black suit or the sparkling crop top in her music video for “Boyfriend.” Even the way she holds a red rose in her header on Spotify is enticing.
In Dove Cameron’s music, the fantasies of loving women and being more powerful than men reign supreme. She entertains no doubt, no regret, nothing but over-the-top dominance. Embracing every emotion, she embodies a range from playful to aggressive, toying with boys as much as she sweeps women off their feet. She reminds me of Hayley Kiyoko in “Girls Like Girls,” a song that delivered playful, powerful lines like “I’ma take your girl out.”
In “Boyfriend,” she starts low and crests high. Her alluring first verse ventures into whisking a girl into her arms, sonically circling her like a piece of prey. Only when she asks, “What am I going to do, not grab your wrist?” does the percussion-heavy backing become more playful. Launching into the simmering chorus, her reasons why she “could be a better boyfriend than him” are pleasantly convincing and nonchalant. Completely carefree, she even calls herself a gentleman rather than a rogue. Each line builds her argument until her jubilant villainy peaks in the cheeky line “plus all my clothes would fit.” Guitar plucks and rhythmic snaps mellow out the music, keeping it slow and sinister but providing a breath of relief from its intense height.
Then she dips back into her deep dimensions and captivating confidence. Without wavering, she toes the line between mischief and downright wickedness. Bordering on overindulgent, she revels in and rebels through the idea of stealing a girl away from her boyfriend. Perhaps it works so well because it’s an open declaration that she loves girls, a refusal to hide her sexuality. She finds her inner power by expressing this through her unashamed villainy.
“Breakfast” celebrates the villainy that makes “Boyfriend” so enticing. She says it best herself: “So you want to talk about power? / … Let me show you power.” The remaining two minutes and 30 seconds do just that, and it’s glorious. From the start, she delivers another sultry song, smokiness seeping into the lyrics and vocals. Her opening two lines create a vivid atmosphere, with the raw “your smoke in my hair / hot and dirty like the L.A. air.” She holds back slightly, restraining her vocal power until the chorus starts with, “I eat boys like you for breakfast.”
There’s something unusual and delightful about rhyming “breakfast” with “necklace,” as well as the imagery of something so stereotypically feminine with the gritty line “I eat boys.” As with “Boyfriend,” she revels in it, unapologetic in each line. Her villainy makes her, like the listener, “feel alive.” She’s unbothered by the idea that “I’m sick / And honestly, I’m getting high off it,” opting for enjoyment instead of torment. She’s even playful, deviously asking, “Do you want to see a magic trick?” and leaving us to guess what it is.
Knowledge is a precious possession for her in “Breakfast.” Like power, she reinforces the theme of “what you don’t know / but I know” throughout the song. Holding all the cards gives her a vital rush. Power and knowledge have always belonged to men, but now she has control. More than that, she needs this control to flip the script on boys and establish her dominance. Her actions may be twisted, but she keeps firm on her methods. Even when she admits, “I never said it’s right,” she gives only an obligatory pause before concluding, “But I’m gonna keep doing it.” Her tone is more than just unapologetic here — it’s flippant. And that promise is where the song ends.
Listening to Dove Cameron’s villain era so far feels like a fever dream. It’s an alternate life where young women can take control. For so long, good queer and female rep has come through villains. We have characters like Cruella and Maleficent getting the origin story treatment. We have, among others, the drag-queen-inspired Ursula and the queer-coded Scar. (Coincidentally, Dove Cameron rose through the same studio as these villains: Disney.) While having strong LGBTQ+ and female protagonists is just as important, there’s nothing quite like the unrestrained allure of fictional villainy.
By embracing evil, or at least something unscrupulous, her music doesn’t need to pretend to be good, to hold back or think twice. Outside of the song, we know it’s wrong. Inside, it’s a wild, beautiful beast. There is nothing but being swept up in verses of the untamed, delightful fantasy of love and power. Dove Cameron provides women with an exquisite, empowering rendition of “be gay, do crime.” I hope that with her future albums, she keeps “doing it.”