Some bands break up because of creative differences. Some break up because they can’t stand each other anymore. Some break up for financial reasons. But Chicago indie electro-pop group Celine Neon—aka Emily Nejad and Maggie Kubley, with Maggie’s brother Will producing—are splitting up because Nejad started making cakes.
“I was not a baker when we started Celine Neon four years ago,” Nejad says, with a touch of wonder. “But I started baking cakes as a therapeutic self-care thing about three years ago. And then two years ago, I quit my job waiting tables to pursue it full-time. Honestly, Celine Neon is ending because I have a full-time other job and other passion.”
Nejad’s custom cake business, Bon Vivant, has taken off. She’s in the process of opening her own kitchen and production space in Albany Park, where she’ll have more elbow room to make her obsessively baroque, flower-bedecked pastries. It’s been a thrilling time—but it’s also meant that Nejad hasn’t been able to focus on Celine Neon.
“Maggie was having to do basically all the work,” Nejad says, “and I was like, ‘Oh cool, I’ll respond to that e-mail in like a week and a half.’ I was making her do everything, and it was just shitty of me and unfair. I thought, I need to stop this before Maggie hates me. I need to not do this to my best friend.”
That friendship is of long standing: Nejad and Kubley met 15 years ago at Ball State, where they were both looking to form a band. Since then, Kubley says, “There’s never not been a time where we weren’t friends and working on stuff together.”
They partnered on a number of other projects before forming Celine Neon. They intended the band to be a celebration of their love for the pop music of the past several decades, from Stevie Nicks to Katy Perry. It was also “a giant fuck-you to the patriarchy, first and foremost,” Nejad says. “That’s what we bond over as friends.”
Celine Neon’s final video, released June 1, takes that contempt for the patriarchy and runs with it. It’s for the song “Keys,” which is built on a cheesy, grimy electro-funk bass line and shouted anthemic vocals. “I’ve got the keys to my baby’s house!” the women shout. “I’ve got the keys to my baby’s car! I’ve got the keys to my baby’s bank account! Everything my baby does I know about!”
The baby in question, somewhat unexpectedly, turns out to be Donald Trump. He’s also a pet dog, sort of. The dog is ill-behaved, of course, and Nejad and Kubley beat him, try to train him, and then take him to the vet to have his penis cut off. On-screen text reads “What have we done? So disgusting!” as Nejad and Kubley look at each other in horror and a man in a Trump mask stuffs dog food into his mouth.
“The main theme of ‘Keys,’ from when it was written to when it was performed to when it was produced—the one thing that we always came back to was disrespect. It’s just supposed to be disrespectful as fuck,” Kubley says. “We had a lot of different ideas, but once the election hit, we felt like, we fucking hate Trump and we want nothing but disrespect for him.”
“Maggie called me one day,” Nejad remembers, “and she was like, ‘Imagine a world in which Donald Trump was our dog. He’s the animal that he is, he’s a dog, and he’s a bad dog, and he goes around and he terrorizes people, and it’s our responsibility to bring him to heel.'”
The process of making the video brought together many of the folks who’ve worked with Celine Neon over the years: guitarist Becca Nisbet and drummer Bryan Hart from their live band, makeup artists Tiffany Anderson and Dahlia Velazquez, go-to costume designer Keegan Kennedy Greene, and regular director Matthew John DiMare. “This video is great, because I think it’s our most disrespectful yet—which I love,” Kubley says. “I love it. I think that it’s really a marriage of all the amazing artists that we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know and work with for the last four years. It’s amazing that we all got to come together for one last hurrah.”
Celine Neon have one final show at the Empty Bottle on Saturday, June 16. Nejad and Kubley will keep collaborating, though not musically—since February, Kubley has been working as Nejad’s business administrator. “I would have drowned without her help,” Nejad says.
“It’s good for me too,” Kubley chimes in, “because I felt like—it’s scary to be making art with somebody for four years pretty much exclusively, and then going out on your own. So it’s wonderful to stay close to each other in this way. Because basically any project that I’m working on, Emily knows my work better than anyone else in the entire world—including my brother even, I would say. So to still have her so close and able to look at work and give me feedback is invaluable.”
“Celine Neon is a love letter to each other and women everywhere. It’s a way to say, ‘We see you, we’re doing this with you,'” Nejad says. “And female friendship is 100 percent at the center of what this band has been about.” You can see the affection between Kubley and Nejad in their wonderful cover of the Spice Girls’ “2 Become 1,” which they treat as a love song to each other, trading flirtatious banter, longing looks, and sweet harmonies. Their band is gone, but their friendship continues—with plenty of fabulous music and fabulous cakes.