“Distracted,” the upbeat debut single from Emei x LEXIM, is the song of summer for the summer we all hoped to have. It’s delirious, delightful, and danceable.
I got to talk with Emei about her work, so start the Spotify embed at the end playing while you read.
Emei is the pop project of singer-songwriter Emily Li, who’ll be graduating from Yale this semester. The project name comes from a portion of her Chinese name, making it both comfortably familiar and a nod to her heritage and experiences, which include placing third on season two of Chinese Idol as a teenager. After that encounter with the relentlessly commercial side of the music industry, she was motivated to explore and develop her songwriting abilities.
This collaboration with producer LEXIM — Lucas Sim, who’s had remixes released by major labels — started as a friend-of-a-friend connection. He’s self-taught; Emei notes: “he sits down at his computer and makes a world of sound.” One day, he responded to her Instagram story by suggesting they work together. An intended one-hour session turned into seven-hour discussion, which ultimately led to multiple weekly songwriting sessions. That means there are future songs in the pipeline!
“Distracted” started with a voice memo in which LEXIM laid out the beat and opening hook. Emei built out the story of the song. It was written almost completely on Zoom. Emily recounts: “We had this huge master document in Google Docs, where we’d put emojis next to any line we really liked.” (I love this idea and may steal it for my fiction projects.)
The bright, up-tempo production combines a beat that will have your feet moving to go say hi to a nearby cutie with details that sweep through a full drama in the space of a few moments’ fantasy. The first verse lays out the premise, before variations kick in, from a brief interlude that sounds like a European cafe to swooping strings to echoing reassurances and second thoughts. The bridge veers into the feel of a longing song from some old movie, with the contrast giving added intensity to the ultra-contemporary final chorus. The clatter that bookends the song suggests the entire thought process took place in the interval of maybe filling a water glass.
What’s in the future? Emei has performed live at Sofar shows in Los Angeles — noting that these private shows are a “vulnerable experience, and it’s cool to see people’s immediate reactions” — and hopes to schedule shows in New York City in the fall. “This song is the first of many,” she adds. “I’m proud of our work and hoping to keep the excitement in it!”