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You don't have to listen closely to hear the rage in Remmi's "Minimum Wage," a fusion of pop and politics so tightly woven it feels like it's going to explode.
"The federal minimum wage is $7.25," Remmi reminds us at the beginning of the song. She adds, "That's some bleak shit." In the video for the song, which drops today, the colors are saturated and cheerful, but Remmi herself is decidedly not. Dressed in a floral frock and working behind the counter at a fast food restaurant, she deadpans to the camera, a la The Office, as if to say, 'Isn't this dumb?'
Remmi, 29, is also about ready to explode. The Nashville-based artist has been pursuing music since she graduated from the University of Central Florida, working minimum wage jobs along the way to support her creative work. She didn't want to be a political musician, she tells me over the phone — Remmi is just as blunt as her music — but the past year made politics and pop seem like inevitable companions.
"In the last couple of years, I've kind of tried to get away from being super political creatively. And I've just been, like, you know, 'Everything sucks right now, so it's cool to use creativity to create a respite from all of that and just have a good time,'" she tells Refinery29. Her most recent single before the release of "Minimum Wage" was a collaboration with DJ NVDES called "Do Your Thing." A low-fi celebration of sexual freedom, the song ended up in an iPhone X commercial this January. For "Minimum Wage," Remmi and her co-writers wanted something ever-so-slightly political. Politics in music can lend itself to bland, sweeping generalizations — think the type of songs that become campaign anthems. "Minimum Wage" skirts this by being personal and just a little bit stupid.
"[We wondered] what would it look like to write something that's politically conscious of some dark shit, but to have fun with it, almost in an irreverent, 'whats-the-point-of-this' kind of way," Remmi says. "Just, like, absurd." Of course, there is a point. The song is riddled with points, like when Remmi refers to "sucking that Mickey D, on my knees," a cutting metaphor about working for McDonalds, which Remmi did in fact do.
"I said that on purpose because that's what it fucking feels like," she says. "I have my Bachelor's degree, so I always knew, if I wanted to have a backup plan, I could go do that. But a lot of people that I worked with came from lower-income families. Like, they didn't have any of those options. The line, 'That's some bleak shit.' I feel like bleak shit is just something I kept thinking about writing this song, because it's like so many people have to work these jobs because they literally don't have any other options, but you're not getting paid enough to fucking live."
In the words of the song itself: "You'll never get rich on minimum wage."
The music video turns up the absurdity a notch with visuals alone. The fast food restaurant — some bleak shit, if you will — becomes the stage for Remmi's imagination as she dances down the aisle, swinging a mop across the floor. It's her fast food Cinderella moment. Except, for Remmi, the costume isn't her preferred "ball gown." Remmi identifies as queer, she explains, and she prefers a more androgynous look.
"We made this last-minute call to go in this opposite super-femme-y made-up presentation. And we thought that would be really cool, because it's kind of just another symbol of someone being forced into this machine," she says. "The whole day [of the shoot], I was in this space of, 'I don't want to be wearing this, and I don't want to be doing this.' It was really easy for me to access this pissed off attitude because I was just wearing this thing that I would never fucking wear."
Remmi finally escaped the service industry after she got a well-paying job at a bar in Nashville, where she still makes music. She was still a bartender, but she was making roughly $18 an hour — which can make all the difference. The extra $11.75 an hour allowed her to quit her day job and focus on music. Now, one of her songs is featured in an iPhone commercial.
This year, 18 states passed laws to increase the minimum wage, although only incrementally. In New York, the minimum hourly rate for fast food workers is now $13.50. This is better than $7.25, but it's still not enough to support a burgeoning music career, especially with NYC living expenses. That's some bleak shit.
Watch the full music video for "Minimum Wage," below.
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