An ill-fitting suit hangs clumsily on a much-too-small frame. On the white marble stairs of the New York Stock Exchange, a capitalist caricature lights up a cigar and takes a labored drag. No, it’s not the enduringly dreary archival footage of the Great Depression — it’s DIY pop creator Softee in drag, stomping around the Financial District in clumpy loafers. The eerie (and ultimately fatal) Squid Game “Red Light, Green Light” cautionary jingle echoes in a remixed synth-pop beat until Softee’s electro-angelic vocals cut in.
Softee, the stage name of Nina Grollman, a Juilliard-trained actress, has become a cheeky experimentalist in the music industry. Her single and music video “Red Light Green Light,” which premieres today, is a saucy taste of her playfully inventive approach to music-making. The soul of her sound is created in the puckish duality of her projects — her music and the cultural critique found behind the scenes.
The video, directed by Softee and Charlie Cole, is a hilariously satirical statement on nepotism and elitism. And what better place to voice this commentary than in New York’s financial mecca? Shot with a fish-eye lens on the streets of New York’s Historic District, Softee shares that, “[they] were constantly pushing what we could get away with filming in public places.” Softee’s character, a galumphing businessman, presents in stark opposition to the song's whimsical sound. She explains that “because it’s so danceable, I don’t think you really hear the lyrics unless you’re paying close attention.”
"That is my favorite kind of pop music — the kind where you have to look up the lyrics and it gives the song a whole new meaning," she adds.
At face value, the song is a fresh take on a familiar pop culture phenomenon, a disco anthem with delectable soundbites and dreamy vocals. But Softee’s shrewd critique seeps beyond a catchy beat, and referencing Squid Game was certainly no coincidence. The television show, famous for its anti-capitalist message, sheds light on the dark underbelly of our society’s economic system.
The song’s swelling hook, “If I had that motherfuckin', motherfuckin'/ Motherfuckin' trust fund,” leads to the chorus where layered voice tracks sing in unison, “Trust fund, trust fund, trust fund, trust fund.”
Softee says, “The song is a tirade against nepotism and elitist thinking. What makes me so different from someone who has a trust fund other than their proximity to wealth?” From Softee’s biting commentary to her cosplay of a petulant businessman, the understated theatrics of this project is nothing short of a true burlesque performance.
Check out the PAPER premiere of Softee's "Red Light Green Light" music video below.
Photography: Meghan Marshall