You don’t know who Emotional Oranges is — but for the emerging pop-R&B duo that’s steadily built buzz since releasing “Motion” in the summer of 2018, this is exactly as they planned. Formed in 2016, they dropped their debut EP, The Juice, Vol. 1, this past month, and embarked on a seven-date tour that saw them sell out shows in Brooklyn, London, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Amsterdam, and Toronto. But the pair’s identity has remained an undefined but conspicuous silhouette.
“Music should be about music, man,” the male half of the group, who we’re calling A., explains to MTV News. “I remember in the ’90s, I’d be watching shit — whether it was Prince or Janet [Jackson] — like there would be fans genuinely fainting in the audience because there wasn’t the access of being able to see what the fuck the moves were on Instagram. You’d rock with the music; you’d rock with the creative.”
Indeed, aside from recent concert photography, the duo’s Instagram strategy has seemingly been one of concealment and misdirection; at times, the group has taken a pop art approach to pop-star marketing, grafting their merch and logo onto images of stars like Marilyn Monroe, Daft Punk, and Angelina Jolie. Their reticence is a familiar music industry trope, but no one can tell you it isn’t working: Their distinct visuals have eclipsed millions of views on YouTube; their sold-out stop at New York’s 650-cap Music Hall of Williamsburg has landed them a headlining gig at Brooklyn Steel in October; and Forever 21 has even been accused of, in so many words, rocking too hard with the duo’s creative.
Run through The Juice, and it’s easy to hear why so many listeners have been so charmed by the duo. They cite Sade, Janet Jackson, Aaliyah, Lauryn Hill, and Erykah Badu as their influences, but the bass-driven disco on “Motion,” complemented by tightly pitched guitars, may remind you of other artists currently inhabiting the liminal space between pop and R&B: dvsn, The Weeknd, Drake. Produced by Azad Nacify and William Leong, the song finds you at the blissful end of a too-long night, or the beginning of a party, as it’s slowly heating up.
That chemistry is, in part, facilitated by the nuanced interplay between A. and B., the duo’s female vocalist. “Hold You Back,” for example, presents a love triangle we don’t often observe in pop music: a man, jealous of a woman who’s stolen his ex-girlfriend’s heart. A. says the song took its distinctive shape when B. re-worked the track he’d began writing.
“I started that song writing about my ex-girl, and then [B.] came over and she had heard the hook, and was like, ‘No, we should flip this,’” A. explains.
“We weren’t thinking about what anyone thought,” B. says of their songwriting process. “We weren’t like, ‘Oh, let’s not say that lyric because it won’t connect with this girl, or that kind of guy.’”
The desire and heartache that colors these moments isn’t unfamiliar to the two, who actually met through a mutual acquaintance: A.’s best friend, who was dating B. at the time. However, as that relationship began to dissolve last year, the two found themselves in a surprising state: inspiration.
“I had a pretty big breakup, and A. was kind of in the middle of it,” B. says. “But we used it. I think he got inspired off of it; he came with all these records of all the topics that covered our relationship.”
“It was tough,” A. says. “I mean, he’s really my best friend still, right? He knew as I was doing it. I would keep him updated.”
From there, they began recording the follow-ups to “Personal” and “Motion,” blocking out 10 days to lay down “Corners of My Mind,” “Someone Else,” “Built That Way,” “Good To Me,” and more.
In the lead-up to The Juice, the pair landed on a larger narrative to represent “Personal,” “Motion,” and “Hold You Back” on video, using the former two to set the stage for the latter’s aforementioned female love affair. But the “Good To Me” clip, which premiered on mtvU and MTV Live today, relies on their vocal dynamic to visually tell its story, shifting perspectives between the video’s male and female protagonists in sync with the song. (As well as one Ghost-like moment, where the woman finds herself daydreaming of a shared ceramics experience with her former lover.)
“This video deals with the haunting feeling of losing someone you’re truly connected to,” the group says. “When an intimate relationship between two people is very strong, they begin to solidify together. And when that type of tight bond is psychically separated, the spirit is still there and continues to be connected. Pottery and the idea of building something with your hands felt like the perfect visual representation of our message.”
Now, with the latest video out, and their brief tour wrapped, the duo can shift their focus toward The Juice’s anticipated Vol. 2, which they hope will be out by October, in time for their return to New York.
“A lot of influences on this one are ’80s-inspired, so far,” A. says of the forthcoming follow-up. “It’s like, plucky rhythmic guitars, you can hear a lot more of that. The auxiliary percussion elements you hear in our songs are going to be heightened, so more bounce, even. More 3/4 rhythms. I think we’re going to get better as writers, too.”
But will they ever reveal their identities? For now, the group is content to hide in plain sight; at their recent shows, there were no gimmicks to conceal their faces. Instead, as they hoped, they’ve simply enjoyed the opportunity to play for crowds more interested in savoring the music than unmasking them.
“I love this group because it’s the songwriting that connects to the people, you know what I mean?” B. says. “It’s not about the artist — it’s about the perspective, it’s about the story, it’s about the music, it’s about the vocal, and then it’s the experience.”