DEV: A pop princess gives lessons on how to be a bad bitch

Years ago, in a period that now seems like a bygone era, a young woman hoping to become a solo recording arts would need to sit down with an acoustic guitar and start churning out an oeuvre of smart and sassy tunes that would eventually, if she did it right, put her in the pantheon of promising singer/songwriters. It was, for some reason, the go-to musical pose for young women, and luckily for both aspiring performers and us as listeners and fans, an institution of an ancient time. Nowadays, an aspiring ingenue can make any damn music they please, and the prime directive is using music to find out, through catchy tunes, who they really are.

Which is precisely the musical journey that 22 year old Devin Star Tailes, d/b/a DEV, has taken. “It’s funny,” Dev explains, on the road on a tour that brings her to the Middle East Downstairs tonight, “when I look back at the first recordings that I did on my Macbook and put on MySpace, one some is this thing where I’m singing really prettily over this electronic beat, and another one is this track where I’m talking a bunch of shit over this really pretty beat, and over the last couple of years I have been developing in some ways as a woman and an artist, but it’s funny how when I go back and listen to this, I’m still kind of the same, like how I grow and change, but at the end of the day, I like what I like!”

So in other words, finding oneself as an artist isn’t necessarily a journey so much as a Moebius-strip loop-de-loop, in this case accompanied by some of the snappier, brassier pop tracks released by anyone in the last few years. Dev found initial acclaim with her single “Booty Bounce”: helmed by the production team of the Cataracs, “Booty Bounce” is an effortlessly infectious track laden with the combination of attitude and attention to songcraft that has become Dev’s hallmark. The track became a somewhat viral entity when the video lit up YouTube, although Dev’s fortunes really caught fire when the main hook from the song was used by the Far East Movement for their single “Like A G6”, which became a number 1 hit and propelled Dev from internet curiosity to legitimate next-big-thing pop star.

Dev, for her part, appreciates the situation she is in now, in terms of the freedom she has to make music free of gimmicks or within the confines of a genre or scene. “For me, as an artist,” she explains, “I have the ability to be vulnerable but also make a pop record.” After the success of “Booty Bounce” and “Like A G6”, she continued to churn out vulnerable pop hits, like the top 20 smash of last year’s “In The Dark”, a masterfully seductive record that flips the switch on the dominant Euro-synth mode in current pop for a Caribbean-lilting dance track that was definitely one of the most buoyant jams of 2011.

For a new solo artist, it’s all about figuring out how to present, in music, who one is. “Yeah, I spent some time figuring out what I wanted to do, to create my introduction to the world. I wanted to show the world that I like a lot of different genres and a lot of different music, but at the same time, it’s all Dev.” In this case, “all Dev” means an infectious mix of the spitting rawness of hip-hop and the jump-up-and-down energy of pure pop, with Dev’s distinctive vocal style bridging the gap as she flits between confessional seduction and in-your-face sass. “I was a kid who really liked bands, and I really love just really raw performances, artists and live performers who aren’t afraid to mess up, aren’t afraid to spit on the group! And yeah, I don’t have to stand there with a guitar or be up there with a bunch of dancers like other pop people do-- and I love that shit! But I like being a little-- I dunno, I’m weird.”

Her debut album, The Night The Sun Came Up (Universal Republic), came out in the UK last year, but Dev delayed its US release-- in part to fit a few new songs on the record, like her duet with Enrique Iglesias, “Naked” and Don’t Hurt It”, her collaboration with Timbaland, but also because her 2011 pregnancy and the December birth of her daughter Emilia. Being pregnant triggered a minor crisis of faith for the singer, but clearly it was an event that has found her all the stronger, especially now that Night has finally seen the light in the States. “When I was pregnant, I wasn’t looking forward to, you know, writing songs about being a mother. I thought ‘Oh my god, I’m never gonna want to be sexy, I’m never gonna want to be a brat!’ But that’s the complete opposite of what happened-- I had Emilia, and I felt way more confident and sexy than before. It made me feel like the ultimate woman, in a sense. If anything, it got worse, and anything that people will say will never bother me. And I try to be, you know, just as much of a bad bitch now as I was before. Having a kid, I want to raise my daughter to be confident like that. I really thought that that was going to change, and I was going to change, but it didn’t happen like that.

DEV + OUTASIGHT + WYNTER GORDON | Middle East Downstairs, 472-480 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge | April 16 @ 7:30 PM | All ages | $20 | 617.864.EAST
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