In summer 2020, twenty-year-old, California-raised salem ilese dropped the single "Mad at Disney," a bubbly, star confetti-sounding pop number that sticks its tongue out at Disney's stained-glasses of fairytale endings with sour lemon bite and a hint of gristle to TikTok virality.
With a debut album, (MORE) Unsponsored Content, an alternative-pop diary with entries written in fiery red ("Ben & Jerry"), cyber-green ("PS5"), inky violet ("Coke & Mentos"), and jet black ("Crypto Boy"), and writing credits on iron angel songs by Demi Lovato and Bella Poarch under her belt, ilese put out the punkier, eyeliner-streaked Strongly Worded Letter in late July.
The rolled-eyes rhyme scheme and honest vocal delivery of the titular "Strongly Worded Letter" is
reminiscent of 2000s teen queens' breakout albums, and the blend of Christina Aguilera and
Gwen Stefani's early 2000s styles adopted by the song's music video matches its auditory mix of
pink-and-black punky pop and rougher edges. ilese, with a track record of storytelling and an assorted list of songwriting credits, pens a love letter to the practice of writing as a way of healing in the vein of Kathleen Hanna's confessional songwriting for Bikini Kill. "Team Sport" possesses the cutting-to-the-bone emotions and playful, cool girl hand of Avril Lavigne's raw and fearless early songbook, with the passages, "Can this be a team sport? / Something to compete for / Cause what you're giving's not enough / Damn, I wish it was," and, "There's definitely an E / 'Cause you're everything to me / All I really wanna be is all you'll ever need" especially shining brightly. ilese's vulnerable and grittier vocal performance is befitting of a female-lead in a rock club's house band in a late-90s teen film or television show, just as the gnashing guitar, rock-drumming, and polished composition of the single's instrumentation would perfectly soundtrack Kat Stratford's post-breakup day-to-day. On "Tall Boi," salem switches into a lighthearted poetic gear to reach out to her fans and share in the relatability of clumsiness and a helpless lack of sporting abilities in childhood, and heartbreak delivered by a kind-eyed but unreachable sports-star. A brilliant piano melody and dancy digital drums give the verses a bouncy, orange creamsicle-sound, while the choruses and the opulently ornamented bridge are a
show of glamorous, disco-tinged gemstone pop, demonstrating that ilese is still friendly with her original sound and the variety of genres she has worked with in the past. The EP's final single, "PainHub," sizzling with swirling, grandiose electric guitars and rollicking drums, samples the indulgent emo sound of Panic! at the Disco's debut album and Fall Out Boy's 2000s catalogue, with salem's gentle rock vocals lacing in a harmonious, glittery element. The numbingly bright colors, unnerving, flashy graphics, and nauseatingly overcrowded screens of the single's lyric
video translates ilese's analysis of our modern crisis - how tragedy and disaster, as themes in fictional media and as occurrences in our real-world, have become like drugs whose medically prescribed replacement has yet to be discovered ("Make no mistake love, we're on PainHub / From when we wake up, 'til we're asleep").