Around The World With Amber Mark

Around The World With Amber Mark

Amber Mark is one of those artists who, upon first hearing their music, you ask yourself, “Why isn’t this person really, really famous?” It’s a question Stereogum has been posing for quite a while; we named her an Artist To Watch almost five years ago. It’s been a long half-decade since then, but last week Mark finally released her debut album Three Dimensions Deep, and once it has a moment to matriculate, I expect the fame pendulum will finally swing in Mark’s direction. From start to finish, it’s a wonder of sound and texture, blending a mash of genres — pop, R&B, grunge, bossa nova, reggaeton, dancehall — and at a whopping 17 songs, it somehow does not overstay its welcome. World, get ready for Amber Mark.

The singer and producer has already met the world, though. Born in 1993 on a spiritual midwifery farm in Tennessee (yes, that is a thing) to a Jamaican dad and German mom who was a painter in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Mark lived all over the place, barely spending more than a few years in each country. Before she reached high school, Mark lived with her mother in Berlin, Miami, and India. Eventually, she moved to New York City and moved in with her godparents, who legally adopted her so she could attend performing arts school.

Around 2016, while working at the front desk at a hair salon, Mark happened to meet Jay-Z’s older sister, Michelle Carter, who invited her to intern at Roc Nation — a valuable window into the mainstream rap/R&B/pop world. While assisting Carter, Mark debuted the hand-clapped “S P A C E” and its follow-up, “Monsoon,” which credited her mother as featured artist and co-writer. Both tracks would appear on the seven-song EP 3:33am, which largely dealt with the 2013 death of Mark’s mother, Mia, and was a vehicle for Mark to process her grief.

Right now Mark’s most-streamed track is 3:33am track “Lose My Cool,” with more than 43 million plays on Spotify. Her global background zooms straight to the surface on the beats-heavy track, which mixes piano and clip-clopping tropical beats. It’s nearly five years old at this point, so it’ll be interesting to see what, if any, songs off of Three Dimensions Deep bubble up to Mark’s top-played tracks.

In 2018, Mark released another EP, Conexão, which featured the piano-led standout “Love Me Right” and a cover of Sade’s “Love Is Stronger Than Pride,” which got a co-sign from Sade Adu herself. The year before, she guested on DJDS’ “Trees On Fire” alongside Marco McKinnis. Also in 2018, Mark collaborated with D.R.A.M. on “Put On Me” and found her way onto Chromeo’s nu-disco bop “Just Friends,” which netted her a Grammy nomination when Chromeo’s 2018 album Head Over Heels was nominated for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical. (A second listen to the staccato vocal work in “Just Friends,” by the way, is early proof of her childhood obsession with Michael Jackson.)

In the years leading up to her debut LP, Mark dropped a few more one-offs and featured appearances, such as 2019’s ultra-groovy “Mixer,” a reimagined rendition of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box,” and a collab with Paul Woolford on the house cut “Heat,” which came out just last year and charted in the UK at number 61. In 2020, she released a heady protest anthem with Empress Of called “You’ve Got To Feel,” which rails against capitalism and the emptiness of the American dream. Earning Annie Mac’s Tune Of The Week, “You’ve Got To Feel” was ambitious, Janet Jackson-level catchy, and substantive, unlike, say, the sort of Alicia Keys or H.E.R.-penned Oscar bait that people outside the R&B sphere can pat themselves on the back for recognizing.

Across all of Mark’s pre-LP recordings, there is a prominent theme — that she is versatile. Mark is utterly unbound by genre, able to hop on someone else’s house or disco track and make it her own, dismantle and rebuild a cover song according to her vision, hand over her tracks to be remixed, and then some. A great instance of the latter is the bumper crop of “Softly” remixes on Spotify right now. An undulating dancehall song that samples Craig David’s “Rendezvous,” it’s a real standout on Three Dimensions Deep and has earned remixes by Jamaican DJ Popcaan and Nigerian DJ Cuppy. Another album cut, the Santana-esque “Foreign Things,” has been given new shape by George IV, Jonasu, and High Contrast. It’s a testament to Mark’s skills as a producer, too, that so many others want to jump in and tinker with her songs.

From a thematic standpoint, Three Dimensions Deep is both spiritual and psychological. Largely about personal growth and searching for answers amid global trauma and negativity, its 17 songs are divided into three acts: WITHOUT, WITHHELD, and WITHIN. That’s a lot of ground for one album to cover, but Mark, who has literally lived all over the world, has the type of perspective where she is qualified to dig that deep. Meanwhile, none of her themes feel that heavy when they come wrapped in super-stylized pop and R&B.

One such soul-searching track is the rhythmic synth banger “Worth It,” which rolls out like one giant affirmation. “Easier said than done / Trying to be the one / It’s so hard to not be hard on yourself / How do they all believe?” Mark sings, mirroring the self-doubt destined to plague any artist. “But when you talk to me / I can see the light shining,” she concludes. “So bright that it is blinding / Just let it out.”

Jazzy follow-up single “Competition” has Mark facing her all-too-human tendencies to compare herself to others. “The song is a reminder of how much stronger we are together,” she said when it came out last summer. Meanwhile, the song’s video (co-directed by Mark) is a snapshot of her keen visual style as she moves in tandem with a team of interpretive dancers. “I swear anything you want in this life / You can have it / First you gotta dream it / Then you gotta live that shit,” she promises. Regardless of where Three Dimensions Deep takes Mark from here, you can’t say she isn’t following her own advice.

CHART WATCH

Chris DeVille here with your weekly chart update! In a freak coincidence, the same day my colleague Tom Breihan’s Number Ones column tackled “A Whole New World” from Aladdin, Encanto‘s “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” has joined it as the second Disney song to top the Hot 100. The song — credited to Carolina Gaitán, Mauro Castillo, Adassa, Rhenzy Feliz, Diane Guerrero, Stephanie Beatriz, and the Encanto cast — is also the first #1 hit for Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is the sole writer on the track. Miranda co-produced “Bruno” with Mike Elizondo (yes, the same guy who produced last year’s great Turnstile album worked on the Encanto soundtrack). Elizondo picks up his second #1 hit as a producer following 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” (yes, the same guy who produced the Encanto soundtrack worked on “In Da Club.”) “Bruno” is the first #1 hit by a single writer since Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” four years ago. Because “A Whole New World” was released on Columbia, “Bruno” is also the first #1 hit for Walt Disney Records.

Adele’s “Easy On Me” falls to #2, and then #3 through #8 hold steady from last week: Glass Animals’ “Heat Waves,” the Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber’s “Stay,” Kodak Black’s “Super Gremlin,” Ed Sheeran’s “Shivers,” the Gunna/Future/Young Thug hit “Pushin P,” and GAYLE’s “abcdefu.” Another Encanto hit, Jessica Darrow’s “Surface Pressure,” rises one spot to a new #9 peak. And Elton John and Dua Lipa’s “Cold Heart (Pnau Remix)” slips to #10.

The Encanto soundtrack also rules the Billboard 200 albums chart for a third nonconsecutive week, thanks to 115,000 equivalent album units (including 19,000 in sales). Billboard says it’s one of only four movie soundtracks to spend three weeks at #1 over the past decade along with A Star Is Born, Black Panther, and Frozen. Encanto‘s continued success means YoungBoy Never Broke Again’s Colors debuts at #2 with 79,000 units, almost all of them via streaming. It’s YoungBoy’s eighth top-10 album, all of them released within the last four years.

Gunna is at #3, the Weeknd is at #4, and Morgan Wallen’s Dangerous: The Double Album is at #5. It’s now spent 54 weeks in the top 10, the most for an album by a male artist since 2000 (surpassing Ed Sheeran’s Divide). Adele is at #6, Drake is at #7, and the Weeknd’s greatest hits collection sits at #8. Walker Hayes scores his first top-10 album with a #9 debut for Country Stuff: The Album, which posted 33,000 units (including 16,000 in sales). Rounding out the top 10 is Doja Cat. And with that, I’ll turn you back over to Rachel.

POP FIVE

Tove Lo – “How Long”

I have been a huge admirer of Tove Lo ever since I profiled her for this site in 2016 (and nearly got run over by NYC traffic in the process), and this seductive track, written for the Euphoria Season 2 soundtrack, is pure ’80s drum-machine-and-synth rapture.

The Chainsmokers – “High”

Scott Lapatine thinks this sounds like Post Malone, and I agree. Good song to catch COVID to.

Machine Gun Kelly – “Swim Good” (Frank Ocean Cover)

MGK leans back into his hip-hop roots over a skittering beat and strummed acoustic chords. This doesn’t win cover of the year by a long shot, but Mr. Gun Kelly sounds like he’s enjoying himself, and I’m sure his fans will too.

Ella Mai – “DFMU”

Mai’s sensuous vocals are in fine form here, and the repeated refrain of “don’t fuck me up, don’t let me down” is memorable the way a great pop chorus should be.

MØ – “New Moon”

MØ can always be counted on for a propulsive, remix-ready banger, and “New Moon” sure doesn’t disappoint.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Bad Bunny announced a North American stadium tour. [World’s Hottest Tour]
  • He also took on Brock Lesnar at WWE’s Royal Rumble. [YouTube]
  • GAYLE covered the Neighbourhood’s “Sweater Weather” for SiriusXM. [YouTube]
  • Macklemore is the new creative director of sparkling Yerba Maté company CLEAN Cause. [YouTube]
  • Liam Payne now has a Twitter account solely devoted to crypto. [Rolling Stone]
  • Lady Gaga talked about working with Jared Leto on House Of Gucci: “I never met Jared on set… I was always with Paolo.” [YouTube]
  • Carrie Underwood, Thomas Rhett, and Zac Brown Band are among the performers announced for the 2022 iHeartCountry Festival. [Instagram]
  • Rae Sremmurd’s Slim Jxmmi was arrested for battery, but his girlfriend, the alleged victim, later said he didn’t touch her. [TMZ]
  • Post Malone’s new album will be titled twelve carat toothache. [Billboard]
  • Kacey Musgraves surprised a Philadelphia gay bar with a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” [Instagram]
  • Rihanna is donating $15M to organizations fighting climate change. [Complex]
  • Nicki Minaj’s new single “Do We Have A Problem?” featuring Lil Baby is out Friday. [Instagram]
  • Justin Bieber leads the 2022 iHeartRadio Music Awards Nominations. [AP]
  • H.E.R. is the new face of L’Oréal. [Vogue]
  • Morgan Wallen made good on his pledge to donate $500K to Black groups. [USA Today]
  • 2 Chainz is Krystal’s new head of creative marketing. [QSR]
  • Taylordle is a new Wordle clone that uses Taylor Swift lyrics. [Taylordle]
  • Lil Yachty is suing an NFT seller for trademark infringement. [Rolling Stone]
  • Bleachers announced a tour with support from Wolf Alice, Charly Bliss, the Lemon Twigs, beabadoobee, and Allison Ponthier. [Twitter]
  • Machine Gun Kelly teased a Willow collab, “Cherry Red Lipstick.” [TikTok]
  • Doja Cat released a video for “Get Into It (Yuh).” [YouTube]
  • CBS’ AFC Championship halftime analysis was drowned out by Walker Hayes. [Twitter]
  • Halsey announced Love And Power tour dates. [Love And Power]

CLOSING TIME

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