Dark, seductive. Bright, lighthearted. Each track a “Discovery” all its own. A new hair color for each EP. That’s Kailee Morgue, and she hasn’t even released her debut album yet.
Even ahead of her first album, “Girl Next Door,” Morgue’s career already includes two stunning EPs, “Medusa” (2018) and “Here In Your Bedroom” (2020). Both showcase her highly underrated versatility. Although not as well-known as her contemporaries like Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo, Morgue breezes through her signature variety of dark pop-rock tunes that blend seamlessly with those of the megastars. A rising LGBTQIA+ artist, she already has collaborations with Zolita (for “Bedspell”) and Hayley Kiyoko (for “Headcase”) to her name.
Launching her career with the viral demo for “Medusa,” Morgue took the SoundCloud route to success that gave the world Billie Eilish. Her 2018 “Medusa” EP is only four songs, all dark pop with unique flourishes. Of course, it opens with “Medusa,” which pops with lyre-like strings and splashes of percussion among otherworldly backing instrumentation. Refusing to squander her subject matter, she repeats mythical metaphors like “She looked right through me / and I turned to stone.” Breaking from the rest of the song, she ends the track with choir-like vocals.
While it might seem difficult to top the EP’s opening track, the other three songs hold their own. Drifting through the recesses of the album, Morgue seamlessly delivers lyrics that bleed emotions like shadows. In “Ghost of Mine,” meandering bass alternates between playful and haunting. With a slightly muted affect, Morgue echoes, “found myself walking down your street.” Between repetitions and breathless breaks between verses, she commands a song that feels like walking down endless hallways in the dark, surrounded by portraits of past lovers.
Replete with thudding piano and percussion, the sweeping melodies of “Discovery” soar, almost religious in Morgue’s revelations. Aided by cinematic sound effects, she builds a song that feels like her intense awakening. By contrast, “Unfortunate Soul” provides nuance while lightly skimming over her misfortunes with the knowledge that she’s “still got room to grow.” Sonically, the song embodies her lyrics about “cruising the highs and the lows,” not pausing too long on either extreme. By the song’s end, she decides that “enough’s enough.” Maybe she’s unlucky, but she can be “tough” and “a diamond in the rough” and she’s still worthy of love.
Her follow-up single to “Medusa,” the similarly Greek-inspired “Siren,” became one of Morgue’s biggest hits to date. Dark as the ocean’s depths, “Siren” delves into the singer’s haunted quality more than her first EP does. She sings of her power to lure and seduce men, much like the myth she models herself after.
On her second EP, “Here In Your Bedroom,” Morgue takes the listener on an up-close-and-personal tour of her life. The music feels appropriate for her to play for someone in her bedroom. Understated, “Still” contains a despairing devotion, hating herself but loving someone wholeheartedly. Questioning why they still love her when “I fail at everything / I die for anything,” she admits to every feeling that crosses her mind. She confesses everything from fear to the need for security that the song’s subject fills for her. It’s solid, simple and effective. “Knew You” slips into the rhythm that made her a good collaborator with Hayley Kiyoko’s savvy synth.
More rough and sultry than her other songs, “Tied Up” gives liberated Billie Eilish vibes from her “Happier Than Ever” era – young and playful but aware of her power. Lazy, laid-back lyrics guide an intensely intimate song addressed to another second-person subject as she synthesizes various strands of her voice.
A good summary of Morgue’s career comes in her extremely honest “This Is Why I’m Hot.” Her nonchalant pop strings together assorted details about her life, forming a coherent mosaic out of cigarettes, leather jackets and stoplights. Carefree as she sounds, she’s deeply aware of her medium, cheerfully informing the listener that she “already hooked you in before the hook began.” Paradoxically, she intentionally picks effects with each word, but the result is still “as real as it gets.” She ends by singing that she’ll “never die” and then, ironically, intentionally follows up her punk with a light song about mortality called “Dying to Live.”
Closing out the album, we get another detailed vignette with “Wisconsin Ave,” returning to her love and her fears of being left alone. It’s a topic she’s sung about since “Medusa.” But while she was just starting her haunting journey with “Medusa,” now “something is changing,” and she has found something to care about despite her nonchalance.
Between a few singles that haven’t made it onto “Girl Next Door” and a few that have, Morgue’s recent tunes have turned more to balancing her blend of pop and rock. Thanks to their young female angst, some songs give the pop-rock feel of Olivia Rodrigo, although she’s been on the scene for three years before “SOUR” (2021).
While “STFU,” “F**K U,” “Black Sheep” and “Butterflies” didn’t make it onto her debut album, each single has its own unique bright spots. With a few isolated asides, “STFU” perkily rebukes an overly talkative subject, likely an ex. Although “STFU” sounds nothing like GAYLE’s “abcdefu,” the subject matter draws immediate comparison. Released in 2019, “Black Sheep” cruises with a message that seems unclear the first time around. It seems to revolve around someone the singer knows, who bends the truth and loses friends. But the lack of clarity works. The meaning seems less important, given the song’s enjoyable dreamlike quality.
Slow, with a steady beat, “F**K U” methodically dismantles a toxic partner while the speaker understands her own bright beacon of worth. Still, she never truly escapes by the end of the song. Another unreliable partner and breakup appear on “Butterflies.” The accompaniment to “Another Day In Paradise” centers on the lines, “Thought I knew the faces you make when you lie / Now I’m feeling sick instead of butterflies.” She has been betrayed by her love, blindsided by someone she thought she knew down to the details of their face. Even so, her backing music feels as light as butterflies through the disappointment.
As though that wasn’t enough, she has also released four singles from her new album. From the opening track, “End of My Life,” to “Trainwreck” and “Another Day In Paradise,” to finally “Loser,” each single encapsulates more of Morgue’s vibrant, not always coherent, feelings. With their various sounds, it will be interesting to hear them combine into one body of work.
Cheerfully, she celebrates being a “Loser,” as aware as ever of her shortcomings and learning to accept them amid bars of pop rock. In another turn, she muses about her mortality in “End of My Life,” all the time fully aware that she’s only in her 20s. In “Trainwreck,” she watches helplessly, albeit with a catchy beat, as a friend with low self-esteem descends into a toxic relationship. In one of her more openly profound but less metaphorical lines, she asks, “Why does the heart always wanna hurt so much?” Kicking off the chorus, she provides another sonic delight, singing that her friend is caught “in a train wreck, you don’t even feel the pain yet.” The messy fallout of this relationship materializes in Morgue’s imagery, generating sympathy for both speaker and subject.
Like in “Unfortunate Soul” from her first EP, she embraces the pain of trying to find the good in life. Brushing it off, she personifies but does not begrudge a merciless life with, “That’s just life, kicks you down whenever you try / It laughs when you cry / and keeps on moving ‘til you die.” Then she continues, with a kind of bright, somewhat ironic optimism, “It’s okay, it’s all right / It’s just another day in paradise.”
Ultimately, Morgue’s music encompasses that feeling. As she masters her unique pop-rock style, Morgue mixes angst and joy into unusual combinations. Unwaveringly, she juxtaposes soft but angsty songs with tunes that should be angsty but instead deliver a chaotic, cheerful nuance. She switches up her sounds perhaps more than her hair color – teal, then blue, then orange — but never loses herself among them.