The most popular genre of music right now isn’t rock or country or rap. It’s personal. I don’t mean “the answer to the question is personal, you are invading my privacy by asking.” I’m saying “personal” music is our current reigning “most popular” genre. People love “personal” music, and music critics love “personal” music even more. If you make “personal” music in 2024, you truly are in your oversharing prime.

But let’s get more specific. There are many subgenres of personal music. There is deeply personal music, which is like regular personal music except it’s 25 percent more intimate. There is achingly personal music, which provokes a physical reaction in the listener akin to the feeling you get in your lungs after running a 100-yard dash. There is radically personal music, which is made for academics who write thesis papers about the dialectics of Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour. There is searingly personal music, which typically involves swear words and/or at least one reference to a public sex act.

I could go on with more adverbs. But you might have already noticed the central flaw in the “personal” genre. If all music is inherently personal — even music with no personality, which is the mark of a personality-free artist, a culturally dominant archetype at the moment — what exactly defines “personal” music? What we really mean is that the song in question has an element of straightforward autobiography that the listener can easily infer from even a cursory reading of the lyrics.

I will give you an obvious example: Songs about romantic relationships gone awry are the bread and butter of the “personal” music genre. Breakup songs are to personal music what nonlinear storytelling is to a Christopher Nolan film. “Personal” music would simply cease to exist without them. This is doubly true if the subject of the song has a level of fame commiserate with the songwriter. In that scenario, the power of “personal” music is fully maximized. This genre is so popular now because it fuses music (which is medium-popular) with reality television (very popular) and the gossipy mindlessness that dominates social media (stupidly popular). Therefore, listening to a “personal” song replicates the feeling of “normal” media consumption in the modern age, i.e. multi-tasking many different forms of content via multiple screens. You are taking in the melody, the words, the lore, and the clout simultaneously, and with peak efficiency.

Historically, I have enjoyed a lot of personal music. A sensitive sad sack airing the dirty laundry of his or her love life while strumming a guitar has undeniable entertainment value. But right now, I’m sick and tired of personal music. We have been inundated with personal music in the 2020s. “Personal” is the MCU of the music business, and it feels like we have finally reached The Marvels stage.

We need an antidote. And that antidote is knowing less about the artists we like. The artists we like need to be strangers again. They need to have a little shame. They need to get out of our grills. They need to seem like fictional characters.

They need to be more like Jessica Pratt.

Pratt is a 37-year-old singer-songwriter from San Francisco who currently resides in Los Angeles. She has put out four critically acclaimed records since 2012, including the new Here In The Pitch, due Friday. In that time she has maintained a remarkably consistent musical aesthetic — quiet and vaguely doom-laden songs played on an acoustic guitar and sung in a ghostly purr that conjures cult-ish folk-pop torch songs from the 1960s and ’70s, like Marianne Faithfull’s version of “As Tears Go By” emanating from an AM radio in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.

“Timeless” is the adjective most often applied to Pratt’s music, but it’s not really accurate. Like all of Pratt’s records, Here In The Pitch is very much rooted in a specific era, which is the opposite of “timeless.” A better descriptor of her sound is “dated but in a good way.” (This retro quality is likely what attracted Troye Sivan to “Back, Baby,” which he sampled for his 2015 track “Can’t Go Back, Baby,” turning the Pratt song into her most streamed number.) For the new record, Pratt’s reference points are the melancholic pocket symphonies of the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and the emotionally sophisticated and musically immaculate compositions of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, especially the hits they created with Dionne Warwick, Jackie DeShannon, and Dusty Springfield. On Pitch, understated orchestrations commingle with featherlight bossa-nova rhythms and Pratt’s own expressive croon, which hints at a well of emotion held in check by a stoic, enigmatic chilliness. It is the best album of 1966 released in 2024.

What’s actually timeless about Pratt is how she comports herself in public. She acts like a pop star from a pre-digital age, back when we knew very little about almost everything. I have been enjoying Pratt’s music for a dozen years, but it wasn’t until I was spinning Here In The Pitch on repeat that I realized I know next to nothing about her. Perusing her recent interviews, the most personal tidbit I learned is that she likes to eat dinner at the classic L.A. haunt Musso & Frank’s with her husband. Surveying the lyrics to Here In The Pitch reveals a similar dearth of insider dirt. Pratt was inspired by her fascination with the history of her adopted hometown. She read Tom O’Neill’s brilliant Charles Manson book Chaos and meditated on the devilish charisma of Kenneth Anger. The result is an album that emulates the “dark seediness lurking in the sunlight” noir feeling that has long beguiled Los Angeles obsessives. But it is hardly a literal L.A. record. Pratt invents vibes, not narratives. She is fond of murmuring lines like “I want to be a vestige of our senses free” that make no sense on the page and all the sense in the world when you’re marinating in this album’s very particular wavelength.

Knowing nothing about Pratt has not detracted from her music. It has enhanced it. Rather than drag me into her real-life world, she’s fabricated an imaginary one that I enjoy exploring. And that’s refreshing during an era in which publicists routinely put the gender identity or the present mental health status of their clients in the subject lines of PR emails. Who you are has become the sum total of what you produce. A song can only be good if the person who made it is noble and mindful and above all relatable. And that has led to a rather stultifying state of affairs. Though I don’t necessarily blame artists for that — it’s the fault of an uncreative media obsessed with celebrity and an insatiably nosy public that abhors mystery and ambiguity. It’s this collective audience that has conspired to make artists more boring.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are other artists who buck the “personal” trend. Some, like Pratt, have constructed personas rooted in music styles from a “timeless” era (Lana Del Rey, Father John Misty) while others transitioned from “personal” music to elude an insane fanbase (Mitski). And then there’s Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, who has benefitted from never being famous to begin with. When I picture Jessica Pratt in my mind, she’s more like a character in a movie than a “relatable” flesh-and-blood person. I imagine her living a vampire’s existence at the Chelsea Hotel, floating from one heartbreaking misadventure to the other. And then I remember that I’m just recycling this mythology from the cover of Pratt’s 2019 album Quiet Signs. My impression of her derives solely from what she gives me on the records. And that, perhaps, is how it should be.