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MKE Music Premiere: Leah Jean, ‘Hope Core’

A black-and-white image of a young woman with long hair smiling while she walks next to a country road.
Sam Roller

Every week, Milwaukee Music Premiere connects the city’s artists with our listening audience. If you’re an artist with a track you’d like us to debut exclusively on Radio Milwaukee, head over to our Music Submission page to learn how.

Trying something new is scary. It’s also potentially rewarding — provided you’re willing to make, oh I don’t know, 22 attempts at getting it right.

Coincidentally enough, that’s how many takes Leah Jean put down on tape just for the guitar solo about three minutes into “Hope Core,” the single getting its premiere today. But the fancy fretwork you’ll hear (take 17, for the record) is just one part of an experimental track for the typically more folk-focused, introspective artist.

While the subject matter of the single springs from a place of introspection, “folk-focused” it is not. This is a pop-rock banger. With Jean’s gentler approach to vocals, it has a “countrified Avril Lavigne” quality that wouldn’t sound out of place alongside Taylor Swift’s rawk-ier early entries, especially when you take into account the insecurity Jean wrestles with in the lyrics:

I'm drifting and it don't feel good
Something's broken underneath the hood
When I was 16, I must have turned something off

It's all hope core and the American dream
Honey, you can put your mind to anything
But I'm 16 and I just wanna look good at the prom
Yeah I'm 16 and I just wanna look good at the prom

It’s hard not to relate to that notion of always feeling like the unsure teenager you were in high school. Jean’s vocal approach makes sure the melancholy comes through loud and clear, even wrapped in bright and bouncy paper.

You can hear the whole package that is “Hope Core” using the player at the top of the page and on the 88Nine airwaves as part of our playlist. Jean also has more new music in the works that’ll come together on her sophomore EP, Glass Child, planned for release later in 2024. Get updates on all her projects (and, if it’s still Feb. 8, wish her happy birthday) by following Jean on Instagram.