“Doom-Wop,” the third album by Seattle band Prom Queen, tackles universal struggles experienced by anyone who has felt existential dread.
By blending an old-school sound with modern woes, “Doom-Wop” becomes an album that stops the clock and makes you wonder how far the world has really come.
In “Doom-Wop,” the third album by Seattle band Prom Queen, leading lady Celene “Leeni” Ramadan sings angelically about the end of the world, a reminder of how the times have and haven’t changed.
The 2016 elections and the death of David Bowie were catalysts for the album; that tension guided the way the songs were threaded together, said Ramadan, singer, songwriter and Prom Queen founder.
Prom Queen takes a theatrical approach to its aesthetic; if you can catch a performance, you’ll see the assortment of bandmates (which at any point can be a different combination of the nine of them) wearing visually striking ’50s fashion. The background singers — all drag queens — would never have made the cut in those times.
“When we think about nostalgia and the 1950s, it’s hard not to think back on that time and imagine all the inequality that was happening,” said Ramadan, who sports big in-your-face honeycomb hair and a fabulous cat eye.
“Doom-Wop” was released in September. It has the band’s signature vintage and bluesy aesthetic that takes you back to the ’50s. It’s like a time capsule that would ideally remind you of smiles, beaches and candy bars, but with lyrics that explore much darker contemporary themes.
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“There’s something about looking back at this Norman Rockwell 1950s fantasy,” she said, “there’s a rot underneath it.”
Singing about the end wasn’t just a joke. The opening song, “End of the World,” is like a romantic prom song ambushed by someone watching too much news; “I can still find things to laugh about today/ but tomorrow makes me cry” slips between verses.
The undertones in the final product of “Doom-Wop” weren’t intentional from the start, Ramadan said. She was simply writing about how she felt and not seeking to make a political statement. It was more that she couldn’t relate to older songs that felt robotic.
“Especially if you listen to a bunch of it in a row,” Ramadan said, “every fourth song is about marriage — you’re like, what the …?”
Unlike the algorithmic songs of the ’50s, “Doom-Wop” tackles universal struggles experienced by anyone who has felt existential dread. The song “Blonde” explores the conflict of wanting to wake up and be someone new, someone different. The chorus rings “maybe I’ll be someone who takes chances and always dances/ someone responsible and bright.”
“It’s more interesting to take the beauty of this style and put more modern-day anxieties into the lyrics and express something maybe people weren’t able to express back when the music was being made,” Ramadan said.
It’s easy to listen to music from the ’50s and forget what was really happening at the time, but “Doom-Wop” pulls the veil on this not-so-innocuous sentiment of nostalgia. Ramadan described it as the haunting aspect that lingers when listening to that era’s music.
“Unfortunately a lot of the things that people were struggling with in the ’50s are still around today,” she said. “It’s been buried, and I think the last few years it’s been coming to the fore in terms of people’s awareness. The civil-rights movement isn’t over.”
The album elegantly expresses helplessness — it may be just the album we didn’t know we needed during these turbulent times.