Ethel Cain is belting out Céline Dion in a dim, empty chapel, warming up for an exorcism. She is catwalking down a lost highway in the dead of the night wearing a Russian mistress’ fur and underwear that reads “ARM TRANS WOMEN.” She is getting fucked up and tattooing the word “PLEASE” on her own throat. She is a goth torch singer who will murmur a line like, “I cut the fuck out of myself and soak the bedsheets with blood again,” only to let the last word echo, elegantly dejected. Ethel Cain is singer-songwriter Hayden Silas Anhedonia, who has described her alter ego as “the unhappy wife of a corrupt preacher… dreaming of running away and living her life to the fullest.” As she put it in an interview, “We have many things in common and she’s always been my out. We both just want to be rock stars.”
After releasing a string of spectral, lo-fi EPs over the last year or so—including the quietly stunning Golden Age—Ethel Cain moves closer to her arena-slaying dreams with “Michelle Pfeiffer,” a narcotized power ballad that tells the story of doomed lovers wasted on their own longing. Named after one of the 22-year-old singer-songwriter’s Hollywood idols, the song possesses a cresting emotionality grand enough to fill the tallest IMAX screen. “Wide awake all night thinking about you/Do you think of me too?” she wails with exposed clarity atop guitars and drums that sound as if they’re trying to break through a sheet of mud—think Avril Lavigne produced by Enya. Her duet partner, emo-trap slimeball lil aaron, does his best Lil Peep impression, but it’s Ethel who more believably communicates that late rapper’s magnetic desperation. “Michelle Pfeiffer” is stylish, toxic, and beyond high off its own feelings—if it doesn’t end up soundtracking a mascara-drenched scene in the next season of Euphoria, someone’s not doing their job properly.