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If you've heard of Perfume Genius recently, you may be asking yourself: Is this an app that will help me identify perfumes? Or perhaps a new boutique chain of fragrances? You would be wrong on all counts! Perfume Genius, also known as Mike Hadreas, is a Seattle-based singer-songwriter whose new album, Too Bright, comes out next weekend and is streaming on NPR now.

Feeling old yet? Don't worry. Despite being around since 2010, he's only really breaking into the mainstream now – and even then, his breakout is fairly limited in scope. Truth be told, we didn't even know who he was. So let's learn about him together.

Where did Perfume Genius come from?

He's Seattle-based, but only moved to Washington in 2008. Previously, he lived in New York, and it was living with his mother in the Snohomish County city of Everett that got him writing. He got on MySpace in 2008, was signed to Turnstile Records shortly after, and released his first full-length album Learning in 2010.

He looks so young! How old is he?

Brace yourself: He's in his early 30s. He does look incredibly young – but it works for him.

So how's his music?

Um, maybe we can talk about something else? Like how he really explores queer themes in his work, which is part of his appeal. First single "Queen" off his new album is pretty defiantly gay, which is a lane no one else in pop music is currently occupying.

The video is even more spectacularly queer. But none of this is new for him; his first single, "Mr. Peterson," was about a pedophile teacher, and he also wrote a love song for his boyfriend Alan Wyffels. He's also a highly introspective writer, mostly to his art's benefit.

Okay, that's all fine, but how's the music?

Er, that's kind of boring, right? Is there anything else you want to know? Like about how he's battled addiction? Or how he wrote his song "Dark Parts" for his mother?

Nope, really just wanna know about the music.

Fine. Here's the thing: This is so an acquired taste. It happens to not be my taste. But there's no denying how much work he's put into this. This is really beautifully written, thoughtful music, unafraid of tapping into pain for the sake of art.

It is also a total mess. A purposeful mess, to be sure! Feelings are often quite messy, after all, and it's interesting to hear him explore such queer themes with bravado and strength. But it's aurally sprawling, and that's what makes it an acquired taste: there is nothing radio-friendly about it. And to be fair, that is totally fine. Being radio-friendly is hardly a requisite for being a great contemporary artist. In a lot of cases, it can be a detriment.

So should I listen to it or no?

Absolutely. If nothing else, listen to the free stream on NPR. It's only a 33-minute album, and his ambition deserves your attention. You may not like it, but it's hard not to respect it.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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