Who’s Dodie And Why We Are So Excited For Her Debut Album: To Be Brave Is To Be Vulnerable

With over a hundred original songs, millions of subscribers between three YouTube channels, a published book, and nearly 3 million monthly listeners on Spotify — among other things —  under her belt, it’s hard to believe that Dorothy Clark (more commonly known, in all her lowercase letters glory, as dodie) has yet to release her debut album. As her bio on the streaming service says, “At just 25, dodie has already done a lot of living. Some of that has played out online as she made a name for herself as a singer and writer, amassing millions of fans with her disarmingly honest videos and affecting, intimate singing style. She has scored two top-ten EPs, headlined and sold out London’s Roundhouse, the Hollywood Palladium, New York’s terminal 5, and become an ambassador for the Depersonalization charity Unreal.

 

When put like that, yes, it is hard to believe, and all the more exciting. The “dodie album”, as her fans call it —  an elusive, distant figure on the horizon, for which the fanbase have been clamoring for millennia —  is something a lot of people have been waiting for for a long time, and now, nine years after sixteen-year old dodie posted her first video on YouTube, the time is nearly upon us. 

Well, it has been nearly upon us, for a while. As comedian Bo Burnham would put it, “Tomorrow is a relative term; we’re not getting there.” Almost five months after the announcement that her debut album, “Build A Problem”, would be coming out on March 5th, that date has been postponed not once, but twice; first to March 26th, and now to May 7th. But rest assured: it is no one’s fault other than, you know —  gestures vaguely at the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, failing government institutions and whatever the British have going on — , and no one is more distraught about it than dodie herself. When news for the first postponement came out, she published both on her Instagram and YouTube accounts a small original song to announce it, followed by another video of herself filling a balloon with the words “Hip Hip Hooray” on it, with visible tear tracks on her cheeks, before yelling out a word that must be metaphorically bleeped out of this article. 

 

Through the song, the Essex-born singer-songwriter informs us that they’re having problems with vinyl production and distribution due to issues with Covid and Brexit, which is why the release date for the album has been so unstable. Joshua Edwards, dodie’s manager, assured everyone on Twitter that they are “working so hard to make sure that everyone gets what they ordered and to the quality that you expect from us.” Not to worry though —  by now, we’re well rehearsed in how to wait. So in the meantime, with dodie’s former EPs turned up so loud that it makes your neighbors wonder if you’re okay, and drum rolls forever ringing in anticipation, let’s talk about what you can expect from “Build A Problem”, dodie’s debut album. 

It all began with the knitted letters. Delightfully, that is not a metaphor, but perhaps it would be best to give it a bit of context. 

 

To whoever needs a reminder, it’s important to point out that dodie has three different YouTube channels: her Vevo channel (dodieVEVO), her main channel (doddleoddle), and her side channel (doddlevloggle). As said on the channel bio of the latter, “Doddleoddle is my portfolio content. This channel is more of a scrapbook/diary.” In simpler words, doddleoddle is for music making, while doddlevloggle is a vlogging channel. And, listen, dodie’s vlogs are sporadic at best —  she’ll either post a new video everyday for a week or disappear for five months, and it’s not like she can be blamed for that; it’s impressive enough that she kept up with YouTube after her singing career took off. 

But dodie never did quite move away from the simple, easygoing nature of her early YouTube days, and even now, her vlogs ooze intimacy and honesty in a way that’s almost jarring with what other youtubers are usually up to. And that’s where it all began, back in October: a six-minute video, simply edited, in which dodie talked about and around what she’d been up to —  noting that she’d been doing “a lot,” but otherwise just sharing tips from therapy, naming books she’d been reading, and urging people to vote in the then upcoming U.S. elections. There were only two things that stood out: throughout the video, she was knitting the letter “B”, and after the screen went black, a quick shot of dodie herself tracing out spaces for letters, then completing with the letters she’d knitted so far, appeared.

That was nearly too on the nose for the way dodie usually dances. Hardcore fans remember vividly how she did the promo for one of the songs in her then-newly released EP, “Human” (2019): by hiding different lyrics on the right note over the span of twenty-something videos, until she had completed the entire song (which is called “Arms Unfolding.”) Back then, nobody —  except for a few internet users that, as it often goes, were randomly blessed with the gift of prophecy —  noticed for weeks. But with this, dodie was making it clear that there was an end goal for the letters, other than a quarantine-fueled passion for knitting.  

Finally, a few weeks and thirteen videos later, came the announcement: “What does it mean? An album!

 

Coupled with the release of the album’s first single, “Cool Girl”, it was a surprise for some, and for others not at all. With fourteen titles in its tracklist, “Build A Problem” will contain new songs that have never been heard before, and revamped version of some old songs, such as “Rainbow” —  now released as a single, and originally posted on doddleoddle over two years ago —  and “When” —  part of dodie’s very first EP, "Intertwined" (2016). Beyond that, the album is also coming out as a deluxe, which means there’s a B side, including something very exciting. 

You see, during lockdown, dodie did a little project called ALOSIA, a callback to something she’d tried to do a couple years ago, which is “A Lot Of Songs In April/August.” So, in April and August of 2020, dodie posted to her side channel a few demos of songs she’d written during lockdown. She prefaced the first of those videos by stressing that those songs were only demos, and that we shouldn’t get attached to them, because dodie is nothing if not a harbinger of chaos. That being said, the B side of “Build A Problem” will contain all of her ALOSIA songs —  such as “All My Daughters,” “Bite Back,” and “Please Listen Closely.” In total, twenty-two songs will be coming out on May 7th, 2021.

 

So that’s what you can expect for dodie’s debut album. But what can you expect from it?

dodie herself has described “Build A Problem” as an “unstable” album —  having penned the songs over the space of two years, she said in an interview, “I think I was going through a crisis, actually. I was very unsure of who I was and I was trying to figure it out in music. So I think it’s quite unstable of an album —  but it’s definitely honest.” In other words: though dodie is known for the characteristic intimacy of all of her songs, enhanced by her soft-pitched voice and dreamlike harmonies, “Build A Problem” might be her most vulnerable project to date. 

She has never shied away from making it clear to her audience just how human she is, with all the flaws and awkwardness and sadness that comes with it, alongside the joy: every old hurt, and every old happiness. No one is only one thing, and dodie makes it a point to remind us that she is all of that because, and not despite. She’s had different phases, where she experimented with her image and themes she wanted to present: in the early days of her singing career, the big fringe, thick eyeliner thing; then, the infamous “dodie yellow,” characteristic of her two first EPs; then, a grayer and more subdued look, and finally, the cool but hopeful tones of her “Build A Problem” era. 

 

Her songs were influenced by whatever “brand” she had going on as they came out, and that always shined through in all of her works; the most special thing about an album is the thread that ties it together. It takes effort to make it so it’s not just a bunch of songs strewn together, because a bunch of songs strewn together aren’t an album —  that’s a playlist. That thread can be fairly easy to spot: what is Mitski’s “Be The Cowboy” about? Loneliness. What is Lorde’s “Pure Heroine” about? How scary it is to grow up. What’s Hozier’s “Wasteland, Baby” about? Seeking hope within devastation. So, what is dodie’s “Build A Problem” about?

A definitive answer cannot be given while the full album hasn’t been released, but there are just enough singles from it out there to begin —  much like dodie herself —  knitting something together. From “Cool Girl,” which dodie describes as “an unhealthy promise to yourself to suppress your needs and make yourself smaller, in any kind of relationship, in an attempt to be loved more,” to “Guiltless,” and the inherent struggle of trying to cope when the person that was supposed to keep you safe hurts you, to “Hate Myself,” and the notion that there is something wrong with you, “Build A Problem” doesn’t necessarily paint a pretty picture, nor does it paint a comfortable one. And it doesn’t intend to, because vulnerability isn’t beautiful nor comfortable; it’s necessary. Moreover, it is intrinsically tied to shame: as researcher Brené Brown puts it, “Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, I won’t be worthy of connection?

 

The song that carries the title of the album in its lyrics, “Hate Myself,” is especially forward in that regard. “Filling in the gaps, / build a problem that neither of us need, / something wrong with me.” dodie is not asking if there’s something wrong with her; she’s saying there is, and that’s okay. Everyone is so consistently terrified of being deemed a bad person that they never actually think about what “being good” or “being bad” actually is. Is it about other people? Is it about you? Is this inconvenient, or self-destructive? Are these self-deprecating jokes making everyone else uncomfortable, or are they a means of catharsis? The crux of the problem: people are afraid of being vulnerable because being vulnerable requires being seen, and being seen means risking losing connection. 

In essence, that’s what dodie is trying to tell us with her songs. Hey, she says. I think there’s something wrong with me. People have hurt me and sometimes it makes me feel like that made me less of a person. I’m too tired to be angry and bitter, but I’m still both. I will hurt you, almost definitely. It takes a special sort of vulnerability —  and a special sort of courage —  to poke at an open wound like this.

And more than just hitting too close to home with her lyrics, dodie’s music videos not only drive deeper the overall tone of whatever story she’s set out to tell, but add to it, regardless of them being self-recorded in her own bedroom, the lobby of an apartment building, an empty swimming pool, or professionally made in a set location. In a video posted to Hazel Hayes’ (dodie’s friend and former roommate) YouTube channel, the two discuss their different methods of writing —  the former as a songwriter and the latter as an author —  and dodie states, “in a song, I try to present three different themes. Usually a bodily one, and then the overarching [tone] —  like, what’s the purpose of this? —  and then another kind of story. Each song can be interpreted in two ways. Like with “Human” [song from her 2019 EP of the same name], it can either be a love song or an exploration of codependency.” 

 

Of course, all art is subjective, but things like “death of the author” is an iffy subject at best; regardless of what the viewer interprets it as, the creator meant to say something, and where that subtlety can be lost when there’s no visual reference to recur to, artists like dodie find a way to convey their original meanings through their music videos. Of the songs from “Build A Problem”, only four singles have official videos to their name: “Guiltless,” “Boys Like You,” “Hate Myself,” and “Cool Girl,” with the last one being co-directed by dodie herself. All of them feature the same cool color palette of the upcoming album —  gray, blue, brown and green with a hopeful and mature feel to it —, imagery that’ll leave you with your jaw hanging open long after the screen has gone black, and dodie’s simple yet honest storytelling.

With the darker tones of “Guiltless”, she weaves a story about the weight that emotional baggage and traumas have, as well as how deep the hurt goes and how conflicted with yourself it leaves you, through mirror images of herself weeping or crying or raging; with the magnetic push and pull of the choreography of “Boys Like You”, the mismatch in the couple’s step makes you wonder what’s the right way to love, beyond what you were taught; the strange tension of “Cool Girl’s” steps as the seven women dance around each other is as enthralling as it is heavy, and while the official video for “Hate Myself” slightly diverges from a similar aesthetic, it paints a picture of running too hard for too long with no one else ever catching up to you. In essence, dodie is an artist who does nothing by halves, and the notion that, once “Build A Problem” comes out, more productions such as these might come into existence is exciting in and of itself.

 

 

The ALOSIA songs, though self-recorded and posted to dodie’s side channel instead of the main one, keep the tone going: “All My Daughters,” and its haunting grief as dodie paces through an empty apartment lobby, as if trapped; “In The Bed,” and its longing, heavy tune, recorded on her own bed in a breathtaking display of intimacy; “Anything,” and its hopeful yet sad undertones, simple, as dodie sings to the camera and plays her instrument with her face tight in concentration. dodie’s specialty, in writing, has always been managing to hit just close enough to home, regardless of whether you’re a thirteen year old who’s just joined Tumblr and found out what nihilism is, or just got into college and is trying to figure out how to be people.

Coming back to Brené Brown, vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. And the word “courage” comes from the Latin cour: to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.  In an interview, dodie said she’d like people to come away from this album knowing what she can do, and tentatively, it’s almost certain that we’re not quite ready for everything she still has in store for us — and whatever she brings on will be a sight to behold.

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The article above was edited by Laura Okida.

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