Jon Ali is In The Know’s music contributor. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram for more.
Allison Ponthier isn’t your typical pop star. She’s “just a girl from the South,” as she describes in her debut single “Cowboy.”
There are no wild theatrics in this first showing, sonically — no stomping beat drops and no standard pop structure. The most noteworthy thing about Ponthier’s debut isn’t actually the sound of the song itself, although she does sound quite beautiful and the production is very dreamy. Rather, the story she’s singing, which is quite personal and relatable, makes the song a stand-out hit.
The 25-year-old queer singer-songwriter grew up in a conservative Texas suburb. The music she listened to leaned heavily Christianity, classic country styling or both. Not ready to fully embrace her identity, Ponthier made the move to New York in hopes of finding herself.
“I had this huge dream that I would find myself in New York and learn to accept myself,” Pontheir told Vogue in a recent interview. “But I learned the hard way that that takes time.”
That’s the very foundation of “Cowboy,” her first major release as an Interscope Records signee and the debut single from her EP due out later this year.
The country-pop escape, which brings to mind contemporaries like Kacey Musgraves and Taylor Swift, is both a touching homage to her Texan roots and a bold coming-out statement.
“It took New York to make me a cowboy/ Now everybody knows/ Even if I change my clothes…,” she croons on the song’s confessional opening. “Familiar but strange/ Like an android/ But from every gaping hole/ A new garden fully grows.”
There’s an impressive and pensive depth to her voice and storytelling that goes well beyond her years. It’s a remarkably mature sound for someone who, at her age, could just as easily be living off their over 600k following on TikTok.
“This song is about the complicated process of coming out, all while I was in a new place for the first time feeling like I didn’t belong,” Ponthier wrote on her Instagram. “I spent so much time trying to distance myself from my Texan childhood. It was always bizarre to me that the song that means the most to me was country-inspired. While this song has existed for four years, it has always been my favorite because I wrote it for me. A lot of my songs are about being uncomfortable in your own skin but getting to know yourself better, figuring out who you really are.”
While most pop star debuts admittedly sound more like bids for Top 40 radio play, “Cowboy” feels like a genuine piece of Ponthier’s soul.
Most impressive of all, “Cowboy” is accompanied by a bold, cinematic music video that pairs perfectly with her emotional lyricism. Directed by the visionary Jordan Bahat (responsible for Christine and the Queens’ “Girlfriend”), the “Cowboy” video finds Allison rambling through a field and forest as UFOs circle above her. It’s equal parts camp and emotionally inviting with an emphasis on sophistication.
“Making the video with Jordan had to have been the single most amazing experience I’ve ever had,” Ponthier said in her Instagram statement. “Taking the whimsical and campy visuals that have gotten me through the worst times and applying them to my project.”
With just one song and video, it’s hard to make a complete assessment on Allison Ponthier. But judging by what she’s already got to offer, her potential seems exciting, fresh and limitless.
Calling her a “One To Watch” would be an understatement. Get familiar now.
Allison Ponthier’s debut single “Cowboy” is available on all streaming services.
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