You may not recognize the name Dawn Richard immediately anymore, but you’ve likely heard of the band that brought about her proverbial big break. Hint: She was a pop star, a reality TV pop star, and a trademark of music and culture’s most superficial tendencies. She sung alongside three to four other women in the pop-culture, hair-flipping phenomenon, Danity Kane. Now, she’s regained popularity with a new name, style, and approach, all under the retro brand, D∆WN.
In 2005, Dawn Richard, the southern songbird whose life was uprooted by Hurricane Katrina, beat out numerous contests in MTV’s show Making the Band to secure her spot in the group. P. Diddy pieced her together with Aubrey O’Day, Wanita “D. Woods” Woodgett, Shannon Bex and Aundrea Fimbres to create the female powerhouse behind top singles “Show Stopper,” “Ride For You,” and, the one that’ll be stuck in your head for the rest of the week now that you’re reminded of it, “Damaged.” But like literally all our favorite pop bands, Danity Kane’s days eventually came to an end.
In 2014 Fimbres, Bex, and Richard reunited in the studio to create the group’s first single in six years, “Lemonade.” And, well, let’s just say Beyoncé did it better. Bittersweet efforts to reunite Danity Kane officially ceased the same year when Richard detailed violent meetings in an open letter. The girls began to go their own ways, almost all attempting to use their time in the band to springboard into solo careers.
Richard’s quest to become an independent singer seemed the most focused from the get-go. In 2011, she announced that her major solo debut project would be a trilogy of albums entitled Goldenheart, BlackHeart, and Redemption. She dropped her last name, stylized her first in all caps (with a triangle instead of a capital A) and emerged as an ambitious solo artist. In four years, D∆WN released all three planned full-length albums and an additional four EP’s.
That success didn’t come easily, though. Becoming someone more than “a former member of Danity Kane,” required shedding her girl group identity and establishing artistic autonomy. Set on making it on her own, she had to be her own PR firm, her own agency, and her own producer all at once. Failed Kickstarters prevented D∆WN from recording at the same rate she wrote, complicating matters further.
“Everyone laughed at it and told me I was overambitious,” she told Rolling Stone. “At first I wanted to say, ‘Fuck everybody,’ but now I get it – people don’t do well with things they don’t understand. That gave me the story: I was in love with an industry that didn’t love me back.”
Despite certain setbacks, the New Orleans native caught her second big break when she earned a slot at the SXSW festival in 2016. Showing off a mix of covers and original songs brought much needed attention to D∆WN. Her dynamic performance finally proved her ability to do it on her own, and in extraordinary fashion nonetheless. She sang hard, danced harder, and partied the hardest with a receptive and lively crowd. Her radiant energy alone illustrated her passionate personality and outrageous style.
D∆WN can’t be classified into any single genre. A single album can feel like a jump-cut montage of sounds that take inspiration from a wide net of musical foundations. In her recent releases, you’ll hear the keyboards of nostalgic nineties pop, frenetic percussion that hints at drum ‘n’ bass, a flavor of basement party EDM, minimal hip-hop, and even the occasional power ballad.
On top of a kick-ass collaboration with Dirty Projectors and Solange on the song “Cool Your Heart,” D∆WN has recently taken to virtual reality. She performed YouTube’s first 360-degree concert and released the VR experience “Not Above That” last June, demonstrating her attention to both the power of technology and the audience for which she creates.
D∆WN is the unusual story of a true artist evolving from a reality TV pop star. She’s no longer someone you stumble upon while listening to pop radio, and that’s a major part of her appeal. You may need to look a little deeper to find her sound, but hey, when is anything in the mainstream actually any good nowadays?