switched on pop

Why Labrinth’s ‘Sexy MF’ Is a Modern Classic* (*According to NPR’s Sam Sanders)

“There are all these little secrets and surprises that pop up … it’s like bespoke, maximalist power pop.” —Sam Sanders

In the first installment of Switched on Pop’s new “Modern Classics” series (which you can hear below), we sat down with the host of NPR’s hit news-and-culture program It’s Been a Minute, Sam Sanders. “Modern Classics” episodes will feature musicians, journalists, and friends of the show who have been invited on to wax lyrical about a song that’s important in their life. Conversations with Sam about music always go to interesting places — his finger is squarely on the pulse of what’s happening in the entertainment world, and as a former music major, he’s got knowledge for days.

That background makes Sam the perfect person to explain why Labrinth’s 2019 track “Sexy MF” is a hidden gem of contemporary pop, a song that he hears as “fun and fantastical with all these wonderful tricks and bells and whistles happening.” We had never heard “Sexy MF” before Sam brought it to us and were immediately hooked by the song’s copious ear candy: sly references to Prince and James Brown, death-defying vocal harmonies, all scaffolded atop an indomitable piano groove.

Labrinth, a.k.a. Timothy Lee McKenzie, is a U.K. singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer who released his first single in 2010. He has composed the score for HBO’s Euphoria, collaborated with Sia and Diplo as LSD, and worked with Beyoncé on the live-action Lion King soundtrack. Labrinth has racked up massive streaming numbers with tracks like “Jealous” and “Thunderclouds,” but “Sexy MF” is a bit more of a deep cut. If you haven’t heard the song yet, you might find that, like Sam, it’s one you’ll play “perhaps a thousand times” after your first listen.

Why Labrinth’s ‘Sexy MF’ Is a Modern Classic*