Secrets of the White Sea: How M83’s Morgan Kibby Made Pop’s Newest Break-Up Classic

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Morgan Kibby, looking like a Manhattan vision of a fourth wife, is trying to eat bacon gracefully. For the most part she’s succeeding — her pot of tea, low-cut cape-blouse, statement jewelry, and effortless mane of black hair help with that. But for those familiar with her music, this study in contrasts feels about right.

Kibby, 30, is best known as a member of M83, providing keys, backing vocals, and co-writing hits like “Midnight City” and “Kim & Jessie.” This week, she releases In Cold Blood, her full-length debut as White Sea, a moniker she’s used for an EP and remixes over the last few years. There’s one moment on this album — a dramatic work of pop perfection that mixes disco, Prince, heartbreak, sci-fi, hard electronics, synths for days, sweeping strings, and just a touch of schmaltz — where Kibby declares, in an earnest falsetto, “You just want that pussy.”

In case you missed that, she repeats it three more times throughout “For My Love,” including once where she stops the beat for a second and launches into a full-on operatic crescendo of the word “pussy.” But honestly, it’s no big deal. The pussy is not the point of the song, but rather, a dispatch from the deterioration of the relationship that inspired the album.

“I was listening to that Miguel pussy song [‘Pussy Is Mine’], and I was like, ‘This is my reply to Miguel,'” Kibby says. “But he did it in such a way that was so romantic. I was like, ‘Why can’t a woman do that?’ Every time a woman does that, it has to be either aggressive or Riot Grrrl kind of a thing. ‘Pussy’ is not a dirty word.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BXlVAhWHwA]

“Prague,” a stunning piano version of which Flavorwire premieres above, is another example of sexual lyrics that are frank but tossed off, not intended to dominate the song. The idea is that women — real women — are complicated creatures defined by neither their sexuality nor a lack of it. “It’s ’70s, it’s sensual, it’s disco, it’s supposed to be romantic,” Kibby says.

“What’s interesting about female sexuality in the context of music is, we are so made to be polarizing,” Kibby continues. “We are whores or virgins, and there’s no ownership of anything in between. To me the expression of sexuality is one that expresses so many different things: loneliness, desperation, happiness, bliss, connection, wonder. I don’t understand why it can’t be used in all those ways for female songwriters.”

We get to talking about Rihanna, whom Kibby loves, along with artists like Kate Bush and Chelsea Wolfe, and the practice of being a feminist while occupying the public eye. “Does feminism and owning one’s sexuality really mean that we prostrate ourselves naked on magazines all the time?” she asks. We have no answers, but the questions raised — here in this conversation and on In Cold Blood — are worth asking. This particular point of view is one of a number of things that set apart the record, and Kibby in general.