CMAT accompanies us | The Music Diary
At the height of the first confinement, I heard CMAT for the first time when her debut single “Another Day (kfc)” played on Louise McSharry’s old show on 2FM. She was singing about breakups and Kentucky Fried Chicken in a country-tinged pop style and I immediately stopped what I was doing to make sure I got the details of the song. A month later, I’m dancing in my bedroom to a tutorial the artist shared on her Instagram in which she teaches choreography for the track’s accompanying music video. Had the lockdown got to me, or was there something special about this idiosyncratic artist who launched her music career during a global pandemic?
Over the next two years, the Dublin singer-songwriter CMAT – Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson – released a series of singles exploring topics such as relationships, self-image and life as a woman in her twenties, written with a witty style of lyricism and sung in her twang distinct country-pop. The plot grew as new music came out – singles like “Rodney” and “I Wanna be a Cowboy, Baby!” – not just for me, but there seemed to be a growing interest in this relatively unknown artist. Now her debut album If my wife was new, I would be dead went straight to number one on the Irish charts in its first week.
Donning a uniform of Dolly Parton-esque outfits, voluminous hair, and glitter essence, CMAT attachments bordering on caricature and homage to country music and its culture. However, she somehow found a balance and captured the attention and esteem of a devoted fanbase. Positioning herself not only as a musician but also as an online personality, the artist regularly shares humorous and playful videos on her social networks, often speaking directly to those who watch her. These online interactions feel like you’re on the phone with a friend or inventing dance routines at a sleepover.
Pre-pandemic, before CMAT had released music, if I had been told that one of my favorite new up-and-coming artists would be a singer-songwriter who dresses and sings like a country star and shares chicken pop Instagram videos -corn, I wouldn’t know what to expect. Two years later, CMAT has created a new and unique space for itself within the Irish music scene – and beyond, as it has just announced a series of UK concert dates for next winter, and this week is on view at SXSW.
With the release of the first album If my wife was new, I would be dead, fans now have a body of work to dive into. Its twelve tracks include previously released singles – “I Don’t Really Care For You”, “No More Virgos” and “2 Wrecked 2 Care” – as well as new compositions. ‘Nashville’ opens the record with rhythmic vocals and airy acoustic guitar. She sings about escapism and lack of personal contentment, fantasizing about a potential life in Tennessee’s capital, singing country music, drinking tequila and going to the rodeo.
On ‘I Don’t Really Care For You’ – a brilliant, punchy piece with a recurring piano hook – CMAT sings of a relationship gone wrong and the self-reflection that comes with it. “I just spent seven hours looking at old pictures of me, Tryna “tell where the female dog started / Somewhere after the passion of Christ, and before I had an Instagram”, articulating a personal experience but also a particularly millennial and Gen Z who has come to live part of our lives online.
Behind the facade of cowboy boots and glamorous outfits, CMATThe real strength of is its writing. She can seamlessly blend dark, melancholy issues with bright melodies and clever lyrics so that at first it sounds like a catchy, funny pop song, but with more listening, the layers of meaning unfold, harnessing a juxtaposition of light and dark.
In ‘Peter Bogdanovich’ she sings about an infatuation with an older married man – ‘My daddy didn’t like me so I guess I moved on to you’, while in ‘Geography Teacher’ we hear about the body image (a recurring theme) as she sings in her Kate-Bush-meets-Jean-Ritchie tweet “I dreamed of being thin in the hands of another”.
“Lonely,” an honest and vulnerable piece about feelings of disconnection and gloom, is a personal standout on the record. Its heartbreaking lyrics – “I’m so lonely and I don’t have any real friends / I’m so lonely, others are just means to an end” make it one of the most moving songs ever. album. Much of the artist’s work contains an element of sadness or discontent, but with this track you can hear him leaning completely into melancholy. There’s no upbeat chorus or catchy piano hook here to drown out the sadness. “How much longer until I’m a lost cause / I’m mentally ill,” she breathes over a cutting, plaintive slide guitar pattern that mirrors the pain of the artwork.
Tips for fans
The day before the release of his album, CMAT hosted a livestream on his YouTube channel titled ‘CMAT Confessional’. It was an interactive program where fans could call her on the phone, talk to her live, and ask her advice on different topics – like a dying aunt. The comments were broadcast with messages like “I love you CMATplease come to Nottingham’, and ‘CMAT is a queen! as she chatted with fans who had called for her advice on topics ranging from fashion to relationships to careers. Sitting in what appeared to be a pub lounge, wearing a flowing cream and pink dress while sipping a cocktail from a martini glass, CMAT talked with his fans, laughed with them, and addressed their questions with sincerity and tenderness. Something bigger was happening here than the usual experience of tuning into a live concert.
Hear the stunned and absorbed interactions between callers and CMAT made me wonder – what does this artist offer her listeners beyond the obvious music and lyrics? Is she just a musician for the fans, or does she offer something more than that? She fills the space of a friend, a confidant and creates a sense of community, providing an element of escape from real life. It’s kind of the big sister, cousin or neighbor you’ve always idolized, who you wanted to borrow clothes from and who you ask for advice.
CMAT is an artist who speaks to a generation from the perspective of a young woman in her twenties. Blending elements old and new with her unmistakable country singing voice and notions of chicken fillet rolls and Instagram, CMATThe beginnings of are exposed and refreshingly authentic. For me, his music has been a beacon during lockdown and remains relatable, funny, sad and uplifting all at once.
If my wife was new, I would be dead and tickets for the next CMAT concerts are available at www.cmatbaby.com.