Lil Sprout: Cheem’s “Pay2Play” [ft. Bobby Woody]

Written by Travis Shosa

Though Hartford, Connecticut’s Cheem has been kicking around since 2013, “Cheem Szn,” as it’s known now, didn’t truly begin until 2018, when they started to shift from the jittery emo of 2017’s Downhill towards the late-90s/2000s junk food smoothie sounds of CheemTV. Cheem adores–without a drop of irony–the pop rock that defined the childhoods of those born in the 90s. Still, they wisely realize that simply style-jacking Fall Out Boy or Linkin Park wouldn’t be all that meaningful, so they smush all of the supposedly past-their-expiration-date genres–emo-pop, funk rock, rap rock, nu metal–into a grafted together nostalgia mutant. Is it tasteful? Maybe not. But is it fun? Yes, it is.

Last July saw the five-piece push this concept further with their fourth full-length album, Guilty Pleasure: a title that indicates an understanding of how listeners might see them and their influences, even if the message is that no pleasures should be guilty. “Snag” was a sub-two-minute pop punk blitz with a trap rap break, while “Mango” embraced dub as they bemoaned their pigeonholing as an emo band: “We tried to make a tape to end it all / But everywhere they still compare us to American Football.”

The third single and first post-album release, “Pay2Play,” is about funk. Lead vocalist Sam Nazaretian, who sounds much like Patrick Stump, leans into Brandon Boyd-esque phrasing on a track that plays like an anachronistic take on early Incubus. Groovy, spacey verses enmesh with chugging riffs, turntable scratches, punk-shouted choruses from Skye Holden, and a feature from rapper Bobby Woody: jerking the listener every which way. Lyrically, it’s not about microtransactions or specifically the pay-to-play show model, but more broadly speaks to the reality that if you want to make money in the music industry: you need to have money. “I’ve found the secret to this music thing / And it’s sitting in my bank account,” Nazaretian sings as Merrick Henry skanks, wearing an oversized striped purple suit in the Steph Powell-directed video. Cheem addresses it with humor: how do you confront the absurdity of another structure that empowers the wealthy while inhibiting those who can’t afford to promote themselves but with more foolishness?

For more Cheem, you can watch the video for “Mango,” the second single from Guilty Pleasure:

Travis Shosa is the founder and editor-in-chief of Stamens/Pistils/Parties. Formerly the runner of COUNTERZINE, he has bylines at Pitchfork, The Alternative, and Post-Trash among others.

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