Artist to Watch: Cry Baby Usher in a New Era on “Pretend,” a Soul-Stirring Eruption of Noughties Nostalgia & Modern Charm

Cry Baby © Gabe Ruckus
Cry Baby © Gabe Ruckus
Brooklyn’s Cry Baby channel the alt-rock sounds of the noughties into a soul-stirring eruption on their sonically and emotionally charged new single “Pretend,” ushering in a new era for their band that’s as nostalgia-inducing for fellow millennials as it is undeniably fresh and viscerally modern.
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Stream: “Pretend” – Cry Baby




We tiptoed the line of Y2K cheese that gave ‘Pretend’ its sparkle, while staying grounded in a modern sound.

It’s not that “Pretend” is exclusive to late-stage millennials, but there’s something deeply nostalgia-inducing about Cry Baby’s new single, and it hits especially hard for those of us already in (or currently entering) our third decades around the sun. Tender and turbulent, the sonically and emotionally charged “Pretend” aches with raw intimacy and visceral passion: Brooklyn’s Cry Baby channel the alt-rock sounds of the noughties into a soul-stirring eruption of inner friction and heavy-hearted fracture, and the result is as breathtaking as it is gut-wrenchingly beautiful.

If you were a fan of songs like Goo Goo Dolls’ “Acoustic #3,” Counting Crows’ “Mr. Jones,” Five for Fighting’s “Superman (It’s Not Easy),” and Eagle-Eye Cherry’s “Save Tonight” back in the day – and let’s face it, who wasn’t a fan of these poignant power-ballads? – then “Pretend” will feel like a familiar, yet fresh-faced friend. Get ready to get all up in your feels.

Pretend - Cry Baby
Pretend – Cry Baby
I swear all the words I say are true
It wasn’t a joke
And everything you want I want ’til
The moment I don’t
It’s something you wanted
It’s something I said
But your not the only one
That’s in my head

Independently released August 18, 2023, “Pretend” is the irresistible second single from Cry Baby, the pop-alternative band we’ve been fawning over for years now. Originally formed in Charleston, South Carolina and now based in Brooklyn, New York, the five-piece – which recently welcomed Alex Carlson as their new lead singer, replacing longtime vocalist Jamie Gray, who left on amicable terms earlier this year – have never sounded more comfortable in their skin or confident in their sound.

July’s hypnotic, synthy and smoldering re-debut single “Hollister” offered a seductive reintroduction to Cry Baby’s “new era” (yes, we’re calling them eras now) earlier this summer, immersing listeners in a sound not that dissimilar to The 1975’s “About You” – that singular, ethereal and atmospheric alternative immersion that sinks its claws deep under the skin. “Pretend” arrived the next month as both a throwback gem and modern reverie; dreamy and dreary all at once, the track aches with the pain of two souls’ untwining as the narrator sees himself slipping away from his love, reflecting on how they’ve grown apart and no longer seem to walk the same path:

Ooh, I’m always running away
Ooh, I really wish I could
Stay here with ya
We could pretend
This ain’t wrong
This is wrong, you know
Cry Baby © Gabe Ruckus
Cry Baby © Gabe Ruckus



Cry Baby © Gabe Ruckus
Cry Baby © Gabe Ruckus

“‘Pretend’ is Cry Baby’s take on a bubble gum radio rock song we would have grown up listening to,” the band’s longtime bassist Joey Haines tells Atwood Magazine. “The result was a great contrast between soft, pretty verses that crash into heavier guitar driven choruses. Starting from just an electronic drum break and acoustic guitars, the beginning of the song remains untouched from its initial conception. The placeholder name for this track was ‘Ashlee,’ with the sound really reminding us of [Ashlee Simpson’s] ‘Pieces of Me’ era.”

“I remember when we first landed on the melody for the chorus of ‘Pretend,’ it felt like we had struck gold,” he adds. “[It] was something we were so proud of – we immediately felt like it was so distinct, like it had been a song for such a long time. I couldn’t believe this wasn’t a song already, and that made me really excited. Also the drum break was so infectious to me, taking me back to all of the early Y2K rock songs that blended both electronic breaks and real drums super seamlessly.”

I feel like there’s always something new
Can’t leave it alone
Looking at me you see right through
Is it getting old?
It’s something you wanted
It’s something I said
I swear that I’m sorry about it
Can we try again?

For Cry Baby’s lead singer Alex Carlson, this song balances past with present – a quality the band seeks to continuously achieve as they pay homage to their inspirations, while carving out their own space in the 2020s canon.

“Listening back to ‘Pretend’ felt like we had found our stride in our songwriting process,” Carlson shares. “We tiptoed the line of Y2K cheese that gave ‘Pretend’ its sparkle, while staying grounded in a modern sound.”

Ooh, I’m always running away
Ooh, I really wish I could
Stay here with ya
We could pretend
This ain’t wrong
This is wrong you know
Cry Baby © Gabe Ruckus
Cry Baby © Gabe Ruckus



To add to the nostalgic glitz and glamour, Cry Baby released “Pretend” alongside a grainy, up-close and personal music video.

Courtesy of director and cinematographer Neil Shukla (whose credits include Annie DiRusso, The Criticals, and Medium Build), the visual feels straight out of 2002: Moments of monochrome delirium (name that reference!) are delivered hand-in-hand with oversaturated scenes and even the occasional greyscale shot to create a sense of intimacy, intensity, and even familiarity: And while it’s anything but, this music video feels homemade, like a couple of friends just shooting one another playing their instruments and having a good time in their tiny apartment.

You’re not falling just impressed
(Wrong)
You think I’m better than the rest
(Wrong)
So easy to break
So sick of the way
Swear I made a mistake
And it’s not enough
So easy to break
So sick of the way
Swear I made a mistake
Swear I made a…



Bridging the brilliance of Y2K pop rock with the charge and charm of 2020s alternative, Cry Baby are well on their way to defining their own place – and filling a much-needed gap – in today’s music world. Heavy and light, soaring and stirring, “Pretend” is utterly intoxicating – surely a hit in the making, if music trends continue to go in the direction they’ve been heading, and the late ’90s / early ’00s make their long-awaited comeback.

Stay tuned for more from this definitive Atwood artist-to-watch, and get lost in the wondrous world of Cry Baby’s intimate, visceral, and – for more reasons than one – undeniably nostalgic “Pretend.”

Ooh, I’m always running away
Ooh, I really wish I could
Stay here with ya
We could pretend
This ain’t wrong
This is wrong you know

Cry Baby are headed out on tour later this fall from September 28 through October 8, and will be joined by Tennis Courts, Whitehall, and The Backfires as they head from Brooklyn down Eastern Seaboard, hitting spots in Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Richmond, Atlanta, and more before finishing their run in Greenville, South Carolina. Find tickets and more information here, and find their tour poster here!

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:: stream/purchase Pretend here ::
:: connect with Cry Baby here ::
Stream: “Pretend” – Cry Baby



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Pretend - Cry Baby

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? © Gabe Ruckus


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