Nina Grollman’s moniker, Softee isn’t just a sardonic nod to the thrifty, soft-serve giant, it’s an earnest – sometimes painfully so – descriptor of the Brooklyn based artist’s approach to love and music. The pandemic found Softee in and out of love with a pace that could demolish the emotionally unprepared, but the artist found solace in her emotions, and soothed herself in influences of R&B, funk, hip hop, and the pure melodrama of 80s pop, not to mention her guides: Robyn, Little Dragon, and Janet Jackson. The result, her first formally released album, Natural, is a giddily contradictory, genre-bending, mercurial album of subversive pop that takes us through her heartache and into a soaring love affair, an angst-pop roller coaster of emotions that Softee’s never afraid to ride.
While Softee has recently been festooned with praise, (their song “Crush,” featured on the 2022 Queer as Folk reboot, was described by Rolling Stone as “a swooning synth-pop gem that opens up at the bridge with a stream of strings that give the song a vintage disco feel, like glittery teardrops hitting the dance floor,”) things started off for her like any regular kid: sitting at home, trying to express herself in the ways she knew how.
The Moorhead, Minnesota born artist remembers Fargo-esque winters in which snowfall and freezing temperatures all but relegated her creative work to a computer screen in her makeshift bedroom studio. Hours were spent recording Katy Perry covers and uploading them to Youtube, writing songs, and unleashing the emotional rhythm that would eventually lead her to experiment with loop pedals across New York City DIY stages alongside Linda Diaz, Sir Babygirl, Blaketheman1000 and Francesca D’Uva. Needing more creative freedom than her own name could allow, she chose from a hand-scribbled list of a dozen potential pseudonyms, and Softee was born amidst the shimmering rays of a discoball’s glittery orb.
Beyond the DIY scene, Nina Grollman was working as a successful actress on Broadway, working alongside the likes of Denzel Washington, when she realized that her undeniable craving to express her own ideas, not the ideas of long-dead playwrights, was worth the risk of leaving her shiny new career. Her initial work as Softee include an EP entitled Slow Melt, and a self-released album entitled Keep On, whose title track and production spoke to Softee’s early-COVID-era frustrations and fears. Both projects were well received, with GOMAG succinctly capturing her essence, as encapsulated by her song Crush, “it’s queer escapism and thoughtful vulnerability in equal measure.” Similarly, the inaugural full-length project Keep On represents Softee’s endearing approach to music and life: “feeling the anxiety but sort of dancing wildly through it.”
For Softee, life’s lessons aren’t easily won, but she’s no stranger to the value of painful experiences and what they can teach you. “I learned that when I began inviting my grief to guide me instead of fearing it, it became much easier to navigate. The death and rebirth of love is natural, beautiful, heart-wrenching and celebratory.” And as her newest album testifies, Softee is just as soft as she needs to be.
AGENT: Rob McGee