IT'S NOT the sort of record Portland typically spits out. Welcome to Human Nature is an unabashed, glossy, mainstream pop album—at least upon first listen. The first full-length from singer/songwriter/producer Michele Wylen has hiphop bangers, twinkling R&B love jams, and air-raid rave beats, all nestled side by side. But Wylen isn't indulging in opportunistic genre-dabbling or pandering to attract a broad audience; she's made an integrated, nuanced, excellent record that's a shining exemplar of state-of-the-art pop music circa 2013. It's not an exaggeration to say it stands up to anything on the hit parade—there isn't a track on Welcome to Human Nature that wouldn't belong on the radio dial.
But the album is just the tip of the iceberg. For her record release show, Wylen has a full-on production in the works, a performance that will include light design, video backdrops, and backing dancers from Axe Dide and Vega Dance + Lab. With six choreographers contributing, it sounds insanely ambitious for a homegrown local artist. "This show I've been working on for pretty much a year," Wylen says. "It's more like an art installation that I'm trying to put together. And this is going to be my first time really doing what I've been trying to do."
Wylen was raised by two musicians, although she wasn't pressured by either of them to go into music. Still, there are tapes of her singing as a child: "My mom has been recording me since I was two. I have tapes—'Michele at three,' 'Michele at four,' 'Michele at five,' up until I was 16—so I got really used to that." After moving to Portland, she began playing shows in 2006; her first big gig was opening for Ladytron at Berbati's Pan, which in retrospect she says might have been premature. She took a lengthy hiatus from performing to figure out what her next move would be, recording much of Welcome to Human Nature on her own and working with local choreographers.
The live show will make plain the darker side of her music, too, with videos of war footage and political messages alongside the extensive choreography. Wylen is doing something that no one else in Portland is really attempting, and it's not a surprise to learn that the 25-year-old has plans to move to LA. "I think I'm at a point where, with the skills that I have and the skills I'm pursuing, I can't really do what I want to do in Portland," she says. "The opportunities aren't here for me. But it's hard to leave, because I really love a lot of the creative people I've found here and am working with."
The upcoming move is indicative of Wylen's ambition, and her desire to challenge her audience via appealing pop songs. "That's what so great about music," she says. "You can have your party songs, like, 'I just want to get wasted in the club!' Or you can bring people together and work for a bigger cause. And I want to be able to do all of those things. I feel like Welcome to Human Nature is my most successful attempt at trying to do that, because I have really poppy songs on there, but I also have songs that are deeper. Especially at the show, it will be really evident when you see the political videos and then you see hot girls in black sequins dancing right afterward."