Spotlight #8: Frankie Cosmos

by Rob Scott

Greta Kline, better known as Frankie Cosmos, is 21 years old; a year older than me. While on her most recent single, Young, she makes it quite clear that she’s bored of being so repeatedly referred to as a precocious young talent, it’s hard not to when the quantity of her musical output has already exceeded that of Bob Dylan’s. With the sheer ease and availability of today’s recording technology and music streaming, and aided by a tenacious creativity, Cosmos uses Bandcamp much like a creative log, releasing hundreds of sparse, simple songs, often nothing more than musical sketches, to document her life.

A literature student in New York City, the poet Frank O’Hara is her natural primary influence and idol. Indeed, her boyfriend gave her the nickname “Frankie” after him. Just as O’Hara’s poetry is deeply personal, urbane, and reads like turning the diaries of an average nobody, anonymous and alone in the busyness of crowded New York, Cosmos explores only the little, banal, specific details of city life: going to school, getting splashed with rain by a passing cars, falling asleep on the train, wondering if her butt accidentally touched Ronnie Ronaldo’s butt would he “be like ‘so what?’” As with the quirky comedies of Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, Cosmos displays mawkish humour and endearing cutesiness, alongside genuine wit and thoughtful insight.

This diaristic approach to songwriting and releasing is perfectly suited by the DIY recording aesthetics of her music. The vast majority of her releases were not recorded in a professional recording studio, but wherever she happened to be when she wrote them. Cosmos establishes no musical wall to hide behind or to obscure her lyrics. Even on the music she has recorded in a studio and released through a label, her voice is hardly strong, and the songwriting hardly progressive. While these may sound like criticisms, they are in fact the opposite, with these amateurish aesthetics adding to the music’s immediacy and integrity. Musically and lyrically, Cosmos’ embraces simplicity and honesty as tightly as she can. In her own words, “I hope people hear my songs and realise that writing music is kind of easy, or that taking your sadness and turning it into a beautiful song is worthwhile.”

Diving blindly into Frankie Cosmos’ back catalogue, including the sixteen releases through her previous moniker Ingrid Superstar, is an interesting experience. As if rudely turning the pages of someone’s journals you come across pretty dreadful half-finished doodles, heartfelt discarded love letters, a number of elegies to a dead dog, some pretty hilarious non-sequitur’s without any context, such as “Jared Leto Can’t Read” and “Do you Know my Friend JOM”, but occasionally some genuinely masterful, poetic and musical gems. What’s best about Frankie is this uniquely journalistic approach to music. She sings and writes as if no one is listening. And that’s why we should.

If you like her try: Porches, Kimya Dawson, (the poetry of) Frank O’Hara