Elle Varner

I love our first lady.

She can Dougie. She can Oscar. She listens to Frank Ocean. And that’s just what we learned about her this past weekend.

It all started on Friday night, when she appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Not only did Mrs. Obama participate in an “Evolution of Mom Dancing” skit with Fallon, demonstrating how hard it is for people who can dance well to act like they can’t (and how oddly convincing Jimmy Fallon looks in drag), she also sat for an interview and talked about the music that the first family’s been listening to lately. Two of the names she mentioned — Frank Ocean and Beyoncé — were familiar, but she mentioned another, less-familiar artist — Elle Varner.

The context in which Varner’s name came up is my favorite part.

As Mrs. Obama told it, Malia’s the one who spread the word around the White House about Varner, a 23-year-old singer who was nominated for a Grammy this year in the Best R&B Song category. And the more I think about it, the crazier it seems that, in a household that hosts private performances by Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney and other legends, the parents are still opening their ears and hearts to younger musicians who belong to their children’s generation. There’s something really amazing about that. It’s easy to sit around and decry the state of new music, or to complain about the proliferation of dubstep, but every generation leaves its own mark on popular music, and it’s hard to argue with the results so far (even McCartney was young and controversial at one point). Without kids, nieces or nephews, I don’t have that avenue for hand-me-up music sharing, but hearing about the Obamas has me excited for whenever those avenues do open up. I just hope I’m as receptive as the first ‘rents are.

To get a taste of the songs that are bouncing around the halls of the White House, check out Varner’s stripped-down performance above. After making her way through “Only Wanna Give It To You” with just a beatboxer at her side, Varner picks up a guitar and conjures the rhythmically playful “So Fly.” Both songs appear on Varner’s Perfectly Imperfect album, which you can buy here.

Elle Varner — “So Fly” (live) [YouTube]

Elle Varner — “Only Wanna Give It To You” (feat. J. Cole) [Spotify/iTunes]

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