Our 2022 Annual Report continues with the announcement of MUNA as our Band of the Year. As the year winds down, stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles about the best music, film, and TV of 2022. You can find it all in one place here.
Standing onstage in September 2022 before yet another sold-out crowd, Katie Gavin took a brief moment to appreciate the gorgeous view. As the lead singer of MUNA began to sing “Pink Light,” the fans at 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. simultaneously placed pink slips of paper over their phones and turned their flashlights on, illuminating the audience with constellations of fuchsia.
“It felt like a very loving thing for them to do for us,” Gavin tells Consequence by Zoom in early December. “But it also is heartwarming because it’s like they’re talking to each other and organizing with each other. I think that means a lot. That’s like a dream that you have as a band: That your fans have a sense of community with each other.”
That community was not built overnight. In fact, Gavin, along with bandmates Naomi McPherson and Josette Maskin, have spent the lion’s share of the past decade spreading the gospel of MUNA, cultivating a diverse tribe of misfits united by their love of undeniable pop hooks, proclivity for sweaty singalong dance parties, and overarching sense of acceptance.
“I think if you’re an artist of any kind, I feel like you have to have a slightly delusional belief in your own greatness to continue doing it,” McPherson says. “But at the same time, when you’ve been at it for 10 years, maybe your expectations start to normalize a little bit. So when things exceed your expectations, it can be really exciting and affirming, especially if you feel like you’ve been working hard.”
For MUNA fans — both newly converted and Day One — 2022 started with some pretty massive expectations. The band was still riding the wave kicked off by their 2021 cult smash “Silk Chiffon,” the Phoebe Bridgers-assisted bop that ushered in “life’s so fun” to the indie pop vernacular and catapulted MUNA forward in terms of visibility. While on tour supporting Kacey Musgraves, they heard arena-sized crowds singing their lyrics back at them for the first time.
“That was when we made the decision: We’re going to put ‘Silk’ last in the set, because it’s already in the place where it can carry that,” Gavin says.
Then, in March, MUNA released “Anything But Me,” previewing their self-titled third album and first full-length release on Bridgers’ Saddest Factory Records. Although the song reads as a self-assured farewell to an ex-lover (“It’s all love and it’s no rеgrets, you can call me if/ There’s anything you need/ Anything, anything but me”), it’s easy to interpret Gavin directing the track’s air of emancipation toward the band’s former label, RCA, who dropped MUNA shortly following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think we processed a lot of career-long trauma in the making of this record,” McPherson says. “It’s not like we were ever doubtful that it would work out. But there have been times where it’s been harder than other times. And I feel like now that we’ve dealt with a lot through the making of the record.”
The album, which was released in June, showcases MUNA’s range. On “Kind of Girl,” the band goes country pop with soaring harmonies reminiscent of The Chicks; on “No Idea,” they channel the sleek electropop of 2001 Britney Spears. “What I Want” is a dance floor anthem, with Gavin zealously spelling out their desires: “I want the full effects, I wanna hit it hard/ I wanna dance in the middle of a gay bar.” Bolstered by some of McPherson’s most inspired production work, MUNA sonically hops around, sampling from different eras and genres, but ultimately landing as a cohesive, forward-looking testament to a trio of artists hitting their stride.
But while the record has opened doors — successful headlining tours in North America and overseas, late night television appearances, and a highly-coveted spot as an opener next year for Taylor Swift’s “The Eras Tour” — it’s also given MUNA some breathing room to re-examine what’s really important.
“We’re exploring boundaries of not having a scarcity mentality and prioritizing our mental health,” says Maskin.
“There is a sense of being in a harvest season, and nothing lasts forever,” Gavin says. “We’re humans. Success can trigger fear. Like, when is this going to stop? I think that’s what makes it so important for us to just practice taking care of ourselves.”
That emphasis on self-care extends to MUNA’s life on the road, which included upwards of 80 performances in 2022. In order to make touring sustainable, Gavin says the band needed to be “very boring and health-conscious” and acknowledge that “the era of touring being a non-stop party” was over.
“The first thing that comes up for me around the conversation about touring is that, absolutely, the economics of touring are fucked up,” “Gavin says. “But I think part of the reason that there’s such a spotlight and so much pressure on that is that for so long the conversation has been, ‘Well, that’s the way that musicians make money.’ And we’re ignoring a larger conversation about how musicians should be making money from their music.”
McPherson’s wish for the future of touring is relatively simple: “Stop with the bullshit.” They point to the much-derided practice of music venues taking cuts of merch as a great starting point for change. “The issue is how devalued actual music and art in general has become for the people that make it. The ways you make money are everything but the music, which is just such a headfuck.”
In fact, Maskin reveals that 2022 was the first time in MUNA’s decade as a band that they’ve actually made money from playing shows and selling merch. “I just think that the whole industry needs to look at that, not even just for [me, Naomi, and Katie],” Maskin says. “The people who work for us are having to do so much more labor because we can’t afford to pay them because we can’t afford to pay ourselves.”
As MUNA has continued to grow their reach, they’ve been wary of being unfairly commoditized or misrepresented. It’s one of the driving reasons all three members have used MUNA’s platform to fundraise for marginalized groups, advocate for trans rights and reproductive justice, and actively organize for social change.