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Music / Imelda May

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Wouldn't believe it, if you seen it
Oh, mayhem doo doo doop
Yeah, mayhem doo doo doop...
— "Mayhem"
Imelda May is an Irish singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, currently mostly based in London. She is noted for her jazz and rockabilly influences, her impressive voice (with a noticeable Dublin accent), and her one-off collaborations with a range of other artists as well as her solo work.

She was born Imelda Mary Clabby in Dublin in 1974, sang in a TV commercial at the age of 14, and began touring the Dublin clubs as a singer at 16. Her albums to date are:

  • No Turning Back (2003)
  • Love Tattoo (2008)
  • Mayhem (2010)
  • Tribal (2014)
  • Life Love Flesh Blood (2017)
  • Slip of the Tongue (2020), a collection of spoken word poetry with a low-key musical backing.
  • 11 Past the Hour (2021), the deluxe CD edition of which includes a copy of Slip of the Tongue.

In 2022 she made her acting debut in Fisherman’s Friends: One and All.

Yeah, mayhem, doo doo trope...

  • All Girls Want Bad Boys:
    • "Big Bad Handsome Man" on Love Tattoo. See the title.
    • "Psycho", on Mayhem, is about a boyfriend who's some way beyond just bad.
  • All Women Love Shoes: "Bad Habit" invokes the trope:
    Went for a walk and what did I see?
    A pair of Louboutins looking back at me...
  • Break-Up Song:
    • "Too Sad to Cry", on Mayhem, is about being emotionally wrung out following a breakup.
    • All of Life Love Flesh Blood has been seen as a break-up album, but really, it's a bit more complex than that. Still...
      • "Black Tears". Nothing says "relationship gone bad" like mascara running.
        How did it all go wrong
        We seemed to have it all
        But it's broken
        And I'm running
        And I'm scared
      • On the other hand, "Leave Me Lonely" has been mistaken for a breakup song, but it isn't; see below.
  • The Broken Pedestal trope is partially invoked by name while being interestingly deconstructed in "Human" (on Life Love Flesh Blood), in which the singer insists on being loved for her true self instead of being idealised:
    So come adore me, but know I'm gonna fall
    Off of this pedestal that I hope you've put me on...
  • Cover Version: Mayhem has a retraux rockabilly version of "Tainted Love" (which started out as a soul song from Gloria Jones, and which has also been covered as synthpop by Soft Cell and as hard rock by Marilyn Manson).
  • Humans Are Flawed: Acknowledged by "Human" (on Life Love Flesh Blood), but the song is quite relaxed about the fact; the point is to love someone flaws and all, and that’s great.
  • The Immodest Orgasm: Invoked by "How Bad Can a Good Girl Be?"; see the notes for Intercourse with You below.
  • Intercourse with You:
    • "How Bad Can a Good Girl Be?" is poetic about it, but is entirely clear about the answer to its title question:
      An ancient voice escaped my mouth
      And it screamed out in primal pleasure
      My spirit soul, my animal
      Came together in every measure
      Of life, of love
      Of flesh, of blood
      Of you...
    • "Leave Me Lonely" has been mistaken for a Break-Up Song, but invoked Word of God is clear that it's a song about a passion so intense that any separation at all leaves the singer feeling lonely.
      Love me, hold me, don't leave me lonely
      Now take me, make me, baby don't break me
  • Little Black Dress: After she dropped her previous flamboyant rockabilly style in favor of a more classical approach for Life Love Flesh Blood in 2017, May took to wearing an LBD for a lot of photo shoots and on stage — and very effectively too.
  • New Sound Album: May had always showed other influences, but her early albums established her as something of a retraux rockabilly revivalist, complete with a very distinctive look. Life Love Flesh Blood showcases a wider range of musical styles; it's a relatively subtle shift by the standards of the trope, but the accompanying hairstyle-and-costume change made the point clear.
  • Nonconformist Dyed Hair: In her retraux rockabilly period, May favoured a flamboyant hairstyle with a distinctive white stripe.
  • Ordinary People's Music Video: May has used this device a couple of times:
    • “Kentish Town Waltz” intersperses scenes of May on stage with views of ordinary life in (presumably) the London district of Kentish Town.
    • “Should’ve Been You” has May walking through a London street market, accumulating a crowd of ordinary women who watch her singing and occasionally sing a line themselves.
  • The Power of Love: "Levitate" uses metaphors of physical power to describe the intensity of romantic love. "I levitate towards you/And the way that you move..."
  • Retail Therapy is the bad habit described by "Bad Habit" on Life Love Flesh Blood.
  • Seduction Lyric: "All For You" is sung from the point of view of a woman who is cheerfully trying to seduce a guy. Perhaps he's been a little slow to take the hint, because she's now spelling it out.
    When I toss my hair, throw my head in the air
    It's all for you
    Every hook, every clip every twitch of the zip
    It's all for you
    I'm spelling it out it's not written in code
    I want you so much I think I'm gonna explode...
  • Silly Love Songs are affectionately deconstructed in "Human", which is about being loved passionately but realistically — because that's better than being silly.
    And as God's above me, I swear I'll try to be
    All that you ever want and I'll be the best of me
    I wanna be your human...
  • Title Drop: Trivially on one One-Word Title songs (and albums which borrowed those song titles) such as "Mayhem", but also more dramatically in the climactic section of "How Bad Can a Good Girl Be?" on Life Love Flesh Blood.
  • Your Makeup Is Running: The visual effect referenced by "Black Tears", on Life Love Flesh Blood.