For the past eight weeks, US singer-songwriter Britanny Fousheé has been spending her evenings screaming into the faces of filming teens. She is opening on the 24-year-old multi-instrumentalist Steve Lacy’s world tour, giving audiences waiting for a main act who plays R&B and pop a rude awakening.
It’s taken time for Fousheé to be heard like this. “From five years old I knew I had a voice – I could sing and I had something to say, but I needed to convince everyone else first,” she says. “They wanted me to be loud – to sing stronger – but I have a soft approach.”
Speaking over a video call from a sun-filled hotel room the morning after playing a show in Brisbane, Australia, that same softness is present in her voice; it is so gentle it almost registers as a whisper. Traces of its warmth are also threaded throughout her unpredictable career, traversing the finger-picking R&B-folk of her 2021 mixtape Time Machine to now producing a debut album, Softcore, that mixes tender vocals with heavy metal instrumentals and throat-scratching punk screams.
Raised in a musical home in which her mother had been the drummer in the reggae band PEP, Fousheé started out singing with local house bands in her native New Jersey. She came into the public eye with a 2018 appearance on talent show The Voice. Following a few weeks’ exposure – she made it on to “team Adam [Levine]” with a cover of Childish Gambino’s Redbone – she dropped off the radar.
In 2020, Fousheé reappeared. This time, her pitched-up, uncredited voice provided the melodic hook to the track Deep End by drill rapper Sleepy Hallow, which had become a TikTok dance craze during the Covid lockdowns. Fousheé had sold the rights to her sample as part of a side-gig she had developed, recording vocal hooks for the production company Splice to be used “royalty free” by other musicians. Still, online fans were questioning where this voice came from – who was singing that ear-worming melody?
“I had made about 200 samples and they were being used everywhere,” Fousheé says with a smile. “There were electronic versions of it and even a gospel track. I hadn’t expected a drill song, though.” A few weeks later, Fousheé posted a video of her own, explaining that it was her vocal. A representative at the label RCA reached out and she was soon signed.
The two years since have been a whirlwind. Her distinct gossamer tone has made her a sought-after collaborator, featuring rapper Lil Wayne on her guitar-led 2021 single Gold Fronts, releasing her debut mixtape Time Machine that same year, and in 2022 working with rapper Vince Staples, singer-songwriter King Princess and Steve Lacy.
It is with Lacy that Fousheé wrote his US No 1 hit Bad Habit, which was recently nominated for song of the year at the 2023 Grammys and went viral on TikTok, earning him a frenzied following. “Everyone is screaming and excited – it’s super high energy,” Fousheé says of the fans at their shows. “I don’t think every second needs to be captured on a phone but you can’t control it these days. I’d prefer for people just to experience the show, but as someone who had TikTok build my career, I’m not against it.”
Fousheé is being somewhat coy, since videos have recently spread on social media depicting Lacy’s show descending into chaos thanks to fans baying for Bad Habit, or in one instance, throwing a disposable camera on stage and hitting him. He smashed the item and swiftly walked off. Still, you get the sense that the same behaviour isn’t happening in Fousheé’s sets, not least because she’s performing the gut-thumping tracks from Softcore, which tend to lead more to looks of shock.
Playing in stark contrast to the introspective, delicate textures of Time Machine, Softcore is a brave statement for a debut, lurching wildly from thrashing punk basslines to thundering kick drums, frenetic blastbeats and throat-scratching screamo. In these moshpits, there is little time for crowds to film. Fousheé’s vocal, meanwhile, is transformed, shrieking “I’m bored” at the listener on Bored, being tuned up to a squeaky falsetto on Supernova, nonchalantly extolling the virtues of wealth and loneliness on Spend the Money, or softly tracing a melody on I’m Fine.
It’s an unpredictable record, like something Fousheé managed to release without her label execs noticing. “I got deep into metal, punk and post-punk – these were scenes where even if people had nothing, they found their power in the music, and I found it so invigorating,” she says. “A lot of people are surprised when they hear the album live, but by the end it’s a moshpit. The commitment I bring to the songs is contagious, the audience feels comfortable letting everything out during the performance, too. We scream and we dance.” It sounds exhausting. “It can be, but when the audience gives it back, I feel more energised by the end. I have a good night’s sleep after every show.”
If she is quiet and considered in real life, Foushée has clearly managed to channel a raucous new persona on stage. At the root of this shift is a governing emotion: anger. “I only write from a place of honesty and I felt like I needed to scream out a few things on this record,” she says. “I’m screaming about outdated gender roles and what is expected of me as a female artist. It’s also not acceptable for a Black woman to be angry – if we are, we’re pushed into the stereotype, when in fact we all feel angry sometimes. It’s not negative, it’s just an emotion.”
Since the record has been released, does she feel her anger has lifted? “I’ve come to terms with it,” she says after a pause. “I want to have more fun with the songs now and I think that has been translating into the feeling of these shows each night. I want people to feel free when they hear the music – we’re giving people the ability to jump around and express themselves.”
It’s a self-accepting punk ethos that is ultimately sitting well. “I’m comfortable being loud now,” she says. “And it has all come from those earlier records embracing my softness.”
It seems that through the twists and turns of her career, Fousheé has now finally made everyone sit up and listen to that voice she knew she had from the age of five. “Really, I’m just being me,” she says, quieting into a whisper once more.
Softcore by Fousheé is out now.