DAWN has a breathless enthusiasm for shape-shifting pop music. Her discography is a bedazzled collage of heart-bursting rave and extraterrestrial dance-pop — but for her Tiny Desk, the L.A.-based singer and producer strips three songs to just the essentials, illuminating the impeccable songwriting behind the wild combination of sounds.
Dawn Richard — who went by D∆WN for a while, and now just prefers DAWN — opens this set with "Waves," transforming the trap-laced anthem for "underpaid, underappreciated, undervalued and undermined" women into a classic girl group song, flanked by two harmonizing vocalists. "If you feelin' stress up in yo chest / Cause they forgot that you the best / Wave ya money," they sing, complete with immediately GIF'able dance moves. It's positively electric.
"Waves" is followed by two songs from Redemption (my personal favorite album of 2016). Both "Vines (Interlude)" and, here, a funky revitalization of "Lazarus," speak to Richard's mission to expand our preconceptions about who gets to make what kind of music.
"I find it interesting when you're a brown or black girl and you try to do something beyond R&B and hip-hop, it's not always cool," Richard says before performing "Lazarus." "They don't get it. They think you're trying too hard. They don't know where to place you. I wrote this record because sometimes you're misunderstood. You know exactly who you are, but everyone else can't quite figure you out. I wrote this record for that person."
- "Vines (Interlude)"
DAWN (lead vocals), Kene Alexander (backing vocals), Chaynler Stewart (backing vocals), Ben Epand (guitar), William DeLelles (electronics)
Producers: Lars Gotrich, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineers: Josh Rogosin, J. Czys; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Maia Stern, Beck Harlan; Production Assistants: Stefanie Fernández; Photo: Eslah Attar/NPR.