Buckhead Shaman, the brainchild of Atlanta musician Tyler Hobbs, has a track record of glossy, sparkling pop music under its belt. Most exemplified in the 2019 album Truly, Hobbs has shown his ability to produce a genre-fusing record of baroque pop, lo-fi r&b, and new wave. The group’s latest track, “Poor People,” written and produced by Hobbs in his time of self-isolation, doesn’t stray too far away from the group’s pop-driven, new-wavey formula. Here, Hobbs attempts to illustrate something many artists are grappling with today: the culture shock of being stuck in quarantine.
“Poor People” oscillates between optimism and discouragement both lyrically and musically, perhaps mirroring what seems to be the emotional ups and downs of this part of our collective human experience. It begins with wanting to cling to positivity in a time where hopefulness is a slippery concept. The track begins with a spoken plea of love, but swells into an ominous choral chant. It gives way to a bouncing synth line, but ultimately lands in pillowy, melancholy, 70s-inspired soft rock. It is at that destination we get the dissatisfied lyrics, “From the empty bar comes sudden truth / And I’ve got such a bad fucking attitude / And I’m calling you / Out.”
While it is politically driven, “Poor People” is like a sluggish protest song, if it can be considered that at all. This is most notable in its reference to the nation’s impending stimulus check rollout with the lines, “And my God won’t give me equality / My check won’t comfort me / But showing some perspective / Won’t get me to Heaven.” There is a sobering amount of acknowledgement of unrest, but ultimately, “Poor People” is never quite a call-to-arms. How could it be? Teetering on the edge of empowered, it is ultimately listless. In the end, “Poor People” succumbs: “Money feels like freedom / Only when we’re having fun.”
And we are not having fun.