The World is Finally Ready For Sufjan Stevens
It’s pronounced “Soof-yan,” not “Soof-john;” or it might actually be “Soof-IAN.”
Very few know, but for the last decade, indie fans throughout the world debated the correct way to pronounce the name Sufjan Stevens; an American singer-songwriter known for his unique perspective on folk rock and quirky stage performances. Until recently, Stevens was largely an underground spectacle who was well respected in the music community for his contributions to authentic American music. After a recent Oscar nomination for his song, “Mystery of Love,” in the highly acclaimed film, “Call Me By Your Name,” Stevens experienced a sudden increase in popularity. For many, he came out of nowhere, however, Stevens is a veteran in the indie scene, and many consider him to be a pioneer.
Stevens gained early attention after releasing his debut album, “Michigan,” in 2003. He announced that he would write an album for all 50 states with the intention of capturing the American spirit. He ended up releasing “Illinois” two years later, and an Oregon themed album called “Carrie and Lowell” in 2015, but still has 47 more to go. As Stevens developed as an artist, he traded commercial success for nurturing his outrageous style. He explored electronic sounds, classical music, folk, R&B, and against all odds, two Christmas albums. For any other artist, two Christmas albums would mark the end of their career. For Stevens, it made sense.
So, how did it take Sufjan Stevens 15 years to gain the national attention he deserves? It all started when “Carrie and Lowell” was released in 2015; Stevens’ most mature album to date. The album was created from the sobering experience of Stevens losing his absentee mother. The lyrics and melodies trace his childhood in Oregon and the mourning of his estranged parental figure. The album was his most accessible to date; it didn’t include the childish style that consumed his work leading up to the release. As a result, there are no flutes, less banjo, very intimate lyrics, and the songs are nostalgic as well as induce deep reflection. The album was praised by critics, which helped boost him into a position to write for theater and film.
Luca Guadagnino, the director of “Call Me By Your Name,” was very thoughtful in his decision to use Stevens’ music at the forefront of his film. Since classical music is very prominent in the movie, Stevens was the perfect choice to add a modern twist to the sound. Stevens was such a perfect fit that his song, “Mystery of Love,” was nominated for an Oscar. According to Stevens, this will be his first time watching the award show.
Although he is on a path for greater success, Stevens’ future is still up in the air. Just when you expect him to maintain a steady course, he veers off and writes the most obscure album possible. It will be fascinating to see how his music develops with the growth of his recent popularity. I can guarantee one thing, it won’t be predictable.