role model

Role Model Is Ready to Be Your Favorite Pop Star

Falling in love changed the 24-year-old artist's life, and his sound is following suit.

Daniel Prakopcyk
Edwin Ortega
Elie Maalouf
Production Designer
Eric Finn Hersey

Role Model doesn’t want to be your most-listened-to indie darling — he wants to be your favorite pop artist. Tucker Pillsbury has long been known for his sometimes lo-fi, typically bedroom-pop discography, but on his debut album, Rx, he’s reaching for new heights to find sonic inspiration that eventually places him in the company of radio hitmakers. Role Model wants to be known for “real, big, loud pop music,” and he kicked off the new era with a track that begins to bridge the gap between genres while giving a nod to the sound that brought him to the mainstream in the first place.

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“if jesus saves, she’s my type” is the first single from Rx, chronicling the intensity of finding salvation, of sorts, in the person you want. While it isn’t first on the tracklist, it does serve as an introduction to the provocative era that 24-year-old Role Model is building with the full-length project. It digs into love just as firmly as it explores lust, a duality present across the entirety of Rx, but with a divergence from the album’s overarching auditory experience. It is — arguably — the singular track on the album that feels closest to his earlier roots, with sonic comparability to viral hit “Blind.”

“I’ve always hated the term bedroom pop,” Role Model explains to EUPHORIA. “‘if jesus saves,’ the album does not sound like that song. I put it out because lyrically it sets everything up. I think the album as a whole I wanted fuller-, big-sounding pop music that didn’t sound like it was coming from a bedroom.”

Though he’s growing apart from the music that built his repertoire, Role Model looks fondly upon his years of making music from a grassroots perspective. The process was endearingly disjointed, an ode to a time before studio sessions and project structure were his reality; his music existed solely as a result of his “idea of what a song should be,” an emphasis on artistic integrity and individualism before he had ever experienced an alternative. 

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“Earlier stuff, starting with ‘Arizona in the Summer,’ so much of that music was me completely by myself figuring things out and getting beats sent to me from the 17-year-old kid in my hometown over email,” he says. “Making edits and sending stuff back and forth over email for four months, which is just like an insane way to work.”

Role Model continues, “I still love ‘Stolen Car.’ That song is so weird and set up in such a weird way, but that’s how it just came out and I didn’t ask questions. I didn’t know anything. I love that stuff and I love my own music, but a lot of it is a little bit messy in ways that I wanted to clean up. This album, I’ve just wanted every song to be a cohesive story and a theme and stay a little bit more on topic than I used to.”

Redefining himself musically wasn’t Role Model’s only goal in adding Rx to his discography. Rather, he wanted to break out of his comfort zone and strengthen his songwriting chops. Lyrically, he’s taking on an edgier tone thematically, but the candidness about sex in writing isn’t the only means by which Role Model’s music has matured on this album. Rx is a more collaborative work than the one-man show he seemingly worked in prior, with Spencer Stewart as his creative partner for every song on the album. For what felt like the first time, Role Model was letting creative feedback guide the flow of the album, believing he “can’t just really keep doing the same thing.” 

role model

He’s far from hosting camps for collaboration, but Role Model finally allowed someone into the room — the result is perhaps his most cohesive and inspired body of work yet. It’s a fitting maneuver for the album that is certain to define the foreseeable future of his artistry, and the back-and-forth of creative critique has since become an integral piece of his process.

“I want to be taken seriously as a songwriter,” Role Model says. “I give Spencer a lot of credit for helping with structure and melody and pushing me, but I’m very proud of the fact that I said no to every writer session … Every artist goes through this, where you reach a certain point, and they start trying to bring in writers and fill the studio up with new people to help you, and I tried it a few times.”

But finding solace in a room full of creatives wasn’t quite as simple as it seems on paper. In fact, the experience turned Role Model off from exploring consistent teamwork — hence why taking the leap in finding a producing partner was such a milestone. “Nothing fucks with my head more than that, having writers in there, and nothing makes me doubt myself more,” Role Model explains. “I had days where I would walk out of the studio into the bathroom, and just bawl my eyes out because it was so mentally fucking with me. I’m so glad that I said no to those things and I scrapped all that shit and stuck to my songs and the stuff that I wrote.”

That doesn’t mean that partnership is off the table across the board, though. In fact, Role Model’s “private but not secret” relationship, as TikTok users lovingly refer to it as, is his most intimate inspiration yet. With the release of “neverletyougo” and its accompanying music video came speculation about the “soft launch” of the partnership, but Role Model doesn’t need to make publicly grand gestures or take to social media to prove his love for his person. In this case, words speak louder than actions do, and the track is just one of many deep-cut testaments to his feeling of being head over heels and maintaining a deeply motivating connection.

But Role Model also admits that hesitancy took over when it came to the initial fall. Though the “power of a woman” eventually made him feel like a changed man, the fear of impact on his songwriting nearly prevented him from allowing himself to give into the allure of love. While not every song on Rx is dedicated to his love life, it is evidence that romance is not the killer of passion.

“The inspiration never stopped,” he shares. “I thought it would, and I was very afraid of falling in love for a long time. I’ve watched a lot of artists and people be in a comfortable, beautiful relationship and I watched their art go a little bit down. That always freaked me out. I don’t ever want to be comfortable and whatever. But this time, this person stuck around throughout the whole process, and I had constant inspiration.”

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The album’s cover, featuring Role Model with intense mascara tears glancing pleadingly at the sky, speaks to the same sentiment. The world was darker for him before he found his person, and the visuals speak to the overarching story of someone becoming your lifeline. “Me comparing this relationship and this new, first time being in love and this person that came into my life as this godly thing that’s much bigger than me and a higher power is something I wanted to illustrate on the cover,” Role Model says.

Finding devotion was just one piece of the puzzle for Role Model in debuting a new musical era; while love was certainly a revelation, he wanted to put together a body of work that is representative of who he is as an artist independently, as well. And that came with some trial and error — Rx was always intended to be the name of the album, but creating the perfect song to become the project’s title track proved to be harder to manage.

After roughly 10 versions of what “Rx” should sound like, Role Model and Stewart had their aha moment with what Role Model describes as a “very campfire-y, cute, but dark” track to close out the project. It is also what he considers to be the embodiment of Rx in its entirety; the album can’t be boiled down to a single song, but it wouldn’t feel whole without its presence.

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Despite that, “Rx” wasn’t one of the singles that listeners would hear in the weeks leading up to the album, and that could be in part due to indecisiveness rooted in pressure for perfection. After “literally months” of the decision feeling up in the air, it was decided that “if jesus saves” would make the first impression.

Fortunately, that means “Rx” gets to be the last. ”I don’t know if it was a pressure that I was putting on myself that was non-existent, but it was weird,” Role Model says. “I was being very careful and not wanting to fuck up.”

The true lead into Role Model’s Rx narrative is track one, “die for my bitch.” It’s a modern take on the notion of taking a bullet for someone, which gives it a uniquely Role Model edge — it wasn’t always set to be the introduction, but Role Model explains, “Lyrically, it’s one of my favorite love songs about this person. So, why don’t we just open it up with it?”

Unlike “die for my bitch,” not everyone’s favorite song made it onto the final tracklist. “Death Wish,” a fan-favorite at Role Model’s live shows, is noticeably missing from Rx, but the change was intentional. For a project with such a fruitful creative vision, Role Model zoomed into creative that felt like a direct hit; the video for “Death Wish” wasn’t the product he intended, so the track didn’t fall into place. “I had been in love with that song,” he says. “The second we made it, it was like my baby. And it just takes one little thing to just wreck me, so that just left a bad taste in my mouth.”

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On the other hand, “forever&more” did make the cut, marking perhaps the most bubbly pop track on Rx. It’s a seamless fit into the album’s overarching narrative about love, with lyrics framing Role Model’s head in the clouds: “Wrote her name all over my spine / She don’t pay rent, but she stay in my mind.”

It was his first single after his 2020 EP, our little angel, but in spite of its distance from the rest of the project’s releases, it feels like it earned its place on the first half of Rx as one of the project’s first confirmed tracks. “I was like, ‘We need to put something out. It’s summer. Let’s put out something that’s just fun,’” Role Model explains. “I knew it was gonna be on the album, for sure. It was part of the whole process and part of the writing trips and everything. It was one of the few summer-y feeling songs on the album. Of course, me being a weird little bipolar bitch, I was like, ‘Let’s do ‘Death Wish’ next, confuse people.’”

Prior to Rx, Role Model’s music had no shortage of impact — he toured the US in 2021 performing tracks from his EPs to venues of hundreds singing back to him in an atmosphere that felt similar in energy to standing in a room with an established superstar. But there is something that feels more permanent about a body of work like Rx; an album feels attainably career-defining, and Role Model is ready to stand out.

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“Something that really bothered me for a long time was just EP after EP and I’ve always felt like they never get taken seriously,” Role Model says. “It’s hard to create a world around them and make an impression with them. But I’m glad we did it that way and the shows didn’t suffer from it — especially this last tour, [it] was incredible.”

With Role Model’s breadth of work prior to Rx, it’s hard to believe that this project is a debut. But in many ways, it is a new beginning — it’s the entrance to a bigger sound, full of bleeding inspiration, markedly collaborative and ultimately, all Role Model’s vision in the form of a full-length, sonic and visually cohesive body of work.

Undoubtedly a breakthrough, he is ready to use Rx as a means of solidifying himself in the pop space with a more expansive presence than his EPs have previously allowed him to build. Whereas 2021 may have been the moment for Role Model, the indie artist, this is the year of Role Model, the pop star.

“A lot of bands or artists enjoy being an underground secret gatekeeper, unknown type of thing, because that’s cool. And I agree — that’s fucking cool,” Role Model explains. “For me, from the start, I’ve always wanted this to be as big as it possibly could be. I’m one of those kids who wants his music on the radio. I want to play arenas. I don’t want this to be a small underground cool thing. It can still be very cool; artists like Billie Eilish prove it again and again. She does pop music in a cool fucking way, and it still lands on radio and everything. Bedroom pop always freaks me out because it just sounds like [you’ve been] making music in your bedroom for 10 years, and that’s not how I see it.”