Bonnie McKee Is Back, Baby

Bonnie McKee Is Back, Baby

By Erica CampbellApr 24, 2024

Grab your roller skates, baby, Bonnie McKee has news. She's ramping up to release a new album and trying to steal your man (but only musically and jokingly). In her latest single, "Jenny's Got a Boyfriend," she gets campy, sassy and dancey as she falls for your boyfriend in a gender-swapped take on the '80s hit "Jessie's Girl." "I've always wanted to write a song that had someone's name in it like "Jessie's Girl" or "Hey Mickey" or "Billie Jean," McKee tells PAPER. "I had this experience because I had a friend who had a boyfriend who was just such a flirt. He was incredibly hot and he knew it. He was always giving me the wrong idea. Not just me, me and all of the girlfriends in the group. We were all convinced that he had a secret crush on all of us. Nothing ever happened. He was such a rake, I guess is what they call him, and I wrote a song about it. Then me and my girlfriends would bop around in the car to it."

The visuals for "Jenny's Got a Boyfriend," premiering today on PAPER, are a neon, retro, skating-rink fantasy. "I've always wanted to do a skating music video, I can skate but I'm not like amazing," she says. "I've always been obsessed with Boogie Nights and Xanadu. I love the '70s and '80s roller skating style — the whole aesthetic of that. The song feels like a roller Boogie moment." In the video, McKee's part of a "love triangle between Jenny and Jenny's boyfriend" as they all work together at the rink. "I needed to have some story I could tell that made sense," she says. "So it seemed like a workplace romance made the most sense. I just put us in little uniforms, and we were in the roller rink after hours. And things get spicy. I love that."

Below, McKee talks to PAPER about her upcoming album Hot City, working with the world's biggest pop stars, and explains how the journey to the Hot City is way more important than the destination.

This album, Hot City, was a decade in the making. Was that because you worked on it for a decade or because it took a decade of experience to lead you to this album?

It's actually a whole lot more. I was signed to a major label 10 years ago and I put out a song called “American Girl,” and it did all right. Then I had written this entire album and toured with it, but I ended up getting dropped. When I left the label, I had to leave those songs. But whenever I would go online, all of the comments would be flooded with, “We want to hear ‘Slay,’ we want to hear ‘Forever 21,’ we want to hear ‘Jenny’s Got a Boyfriend.’” I was like, “I want them too, I love them too, but I don’t own them.” When I got on TikTok a couple of years ago, people still talked about those songs. I was like, “You know what, I'm just gonna pull a Taylor Swift and re-record everything myself, and then I can own the masters." So I re-recorded them and now they're mine. This is a victory lap of like 10 years of longing to have these songs, and finally just doing it myself and re-recording them and making them my own. That's why it's taken 10 years to do. I feel so liberated. I feel so supported by my fanbase, which has been here for me this entire time. It's a really joyful experience for me.

I heard that some of your songs leaked, but because of that you got to see how your fans felt which seems serendipitous. What was that like for you?

I really don't like having my songs leaked. Nobody likes that because it literally takes food out of the songwriter's mouth. If it gets leaked and it's a song that was supposed to be for Britney Spears or something, then they're not going to cut it anymore because the element of surprise is gone. Luckily, these are my own songs, but it still robs the artist of the element of surprise and really gets it the way [of them getting the song the way they want it to be] before it hits the public. But in this case, it was seeing their passion and seeing them knowing every single lyric from the leaked demos and all of this stuff made me realize there is a demand for it. It made me feel like people really got me and really got the songs and really cared about them as much as I did. It really inspired me. I hope there's not more [leaks] in the future. I'm going to keep them fed, I'm going to keep giving them new music. So, hopefully, they won't feel the need to do any more leaking.

I wanted to talk about a few tracks from Hot City, to give fans a sneak peek of what they can expect. "Forever 21," for instance, I know there's an interesting story there. Can you elaborate on it for us?

My favorite thing to do is write a sparkly pop song that's a deep message, but in disguise. It'll sound like a bop on the surface. Then when you actually listen to the lyrics, there's more there. So "Forever 21" is about my experience coming to terms with the fact that I am an alcoholic. I have been sober for 12 years now. I wrote this in the last throes of my party days and realized that totally needed to stop. I had an assistant who I recognized also probably had a problem. She was stealing money from me, using my credit card to go on shopping sprees and I saw on the card that she had gone to Forever 21 and of all places, sneakily spending money like Forever 21 is where you're gonna go? It's funny, because we've all found a good find at Forever 21, but it's like–

We're not risking jail for it.

It's just funny that that's where somebody would go to splurge.

What about "Snatched," which was inspired by the drag community. How did you translate that inspiration sonically?

"Snatched" is a newer song and I just got a feature on it. I'm so excited about it, it's gonna be so great. It's my dedication to the drag community. Over the years, I've played a lot of pride shows and I identify as queer myself. I really feel like that is my community, that is the language that I speak and the kind of clubs that I want to go to, and the kind of people that I love to be around and collaborate with. So I wanted to write something that was an ode to that — just the joy and the humor and the sexiness of it all and like an outsider, saying, "Fuck the haters," and just being yourself. That's really the underlying theme for the whole album, so I wanted to write one new one to give to the fans.

What emotions do you want fans to walk away with after they hear Hot City?

I wrote it 10 years ago. When I wrote it, my idea of hot city is the idea of success, of making it to, you know, the Emerald City or whatever. I think my idea of success has changed since then, like, it used to be that I had to be number one, I have to be the number one pop girly. And now I've realized that it really isn't about the destination. It's like, I don't know, if I'll ever arrive at Hot City. It's about the journey. And I know that's so cliché, but in my industry, everything is so unpredictable and everyone's lives are unpredictable. It really is important to focus on enjoying what you're doing and stay out of the results. So it is really about the fantasy and the hope, the sparkle of hope on the horizon and enjoying yourself on your way to Hot City because Hot City is an elusive thing. It’s like trying to find a Bermuda Triangle or, you know, a gateway to Atlantis or something. It's a fantasy place, so listening to the songs is meant to be an escape. There's going to be ups and downs, there's going to be emotions, some of the songs are deeper and are exploring some darker themes. So yeah, it's really a journey to get to the Promised Land.

What do you hope fans walk away with once they've seen the video for "Jenny's Got a Boyfriend"?

I hope that a lot of people can relate to "Jenny's Got a Boyfriend." I hope that I'm not seen as a homewrecker or anything like that, because it is just a fantasy. It's kind of like "Jolene" in reverse, where nothing ever happened. But it was just a fantasy. I hope that people can put it on their playlist and enjoy it as their new summer bop.

Photography: Taylor Kahan, Brian Ziff