Fefe Dobson: A True Renaissance Woman

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Spring 2024

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After a long time away from the spotlight, musician Fefe Dobson is finally back with her new album, Emotion Sickness, released on September 29th, 2023. The album is described as being a unifier for her earlier albums, blending together rock and pop, in her unique, signature style. Her angst and emo-filled songs, offset with pop, electronic and heavy rock sounds have served as anthems to those who are trying to let out their own anger while trying to find themselves.

Dobson is a true renaissance woman, a Black woman in a predominantly white male industry, has always forged her own path in her career spanning over 20 years. With this being her first album in 13 years, a lot has changed for Dobson between her debut at 18 years old, and now.

Early Life and Career 

Fefe Dobson grew up in Scarborough Ontario, in a household filled with music. Her mom played music ranging from pop, to rock, to electronic, to musical theatre, and as she grew older, punk and alternative artists became inspirations to her as well. A huge fan of NSYNC, she even announced to her peers in high school that one day, Justin Timberlake would know her name.

Her mom often encouraged her to sing, and one Christmas, she bought Dobson a karaoke machine which she used to record her demo tapes, sending them to record labels, hoping to be discovered. And, in 2001 at just 16 years old, she was contacted by Jive Records, who wanted to sign her.

The experience was a negative one, as producers saw her as “a Black girl with a white pop voice” labelling her “Brandy Spears” and trying to force her into performing music that she didn’t connect with. This changed, when the members of Canadian band Prozzak came into the studio looking for a demo singer for their pop-punk song “Get a Clue”. Finally, she was in her element, and Prozzak saw her potential as a rock musician. This led to her leaving Jive Records and signing with Island Def Jam in 2003.

2003 was a huge year for Dobson, as she released her self-titled debut album accompanied by singles “Bye Bye Boyfriend” and “Take Me Away” launching her into stardom. While promoting this album, she toured with Justin Timberlake in 2004 for his “Justified” tour in Europe, proving her high school manifestations true. 

While everything was going wonderfully for Dobson, the first real low of her career came soon after. In 2005, just days before she was set to release her second album, Sunday Love, the album was shelved, and she was dropped from her label. 

She moved from LA, back to Toronto, and stayed busy, acting in film and television and writing songs for others such as Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez. She was also busy writing and recording music, and in 2010, released her second album, Joy. This got her re-signed, and she enjoyed a huge amount of success with singles “Stuttering” and “Ghost” being certified Platinum by Music Canada.

In 2014, she relocated to Nashville where she now lives with her partner, while dividing her time between Nashville and Toronto. She’s still been writing and creating, even though publicly she’s been pretty silent. Now, she’s back, and she’s ready to reintroduce herself with an album that cements her as an icon in the pop-punk scene.

Charity Work 

Dobson has said that she always looked up to artists who support and stand behind things they believe in. Among many other efforts, in 2012 she was one of many musicians who re-recorded Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” to raise awareness about bullying and raise funds for Kids Help Phone. In 2020, she teamed up with Tyler Shaw to assemble some of the biggest names in Canadian music like Avril Lavigne, Justin Bieber and Michael Bublé to record Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” and raised over $200,000 for COVID-19 relief funds in Canada.

Impact 

Of course, Rock ‘n’ Roll has a rich history stemming from Black music and musicians, a history that most people choose to forget. Being a young Black woman in pop punk caused her to face a lot of challenges, but it has also helped her serve as an inspiration to young racialized alternative women today such as Olivia Rodrigo, Willow and Meet Me @ The Altar. With Willow even telling Spin Magazine in 2021 that among others, her album was an ode to Fefe Dobson as she was one of the only Black women rock singers she knew of.

For young Black women who are not musicians, Dobson serves as permission to be unapologetic in their anger and identities. Writer Kathleen Newman-Bremang wrote for Refinery29, “Dobson’s singularity gave unspoken approval to millennial Black girls to just be — whatever that may look like.” 

Lily Frances | Staff Writer

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