I’ve been a fan of Felly for a few years now, and for as long as I can remember, his "thing" was strawberries: he had strawberry merch, strawberries in his music videos, and even an album titled Wild Strawberries that features pictures of him picking the fruit. However, it wasn’t until recently that I realized that it wasn’t just Felly who was using this symbol seemingly arbitrarily.
One day, while I was browsing Anderson .Paak’s store on his website, I came across a t–shirt that had his name accompanied by a single red strawberry. I was surprised, because there aren't any references to strawberries in Anderon .Paak’s music.
The significance of the strawberry for .Paak instead lies in the strawberry farm his mother ran in Oxnard, California during his childhood. The farm was ultimately destroyed by El Niño, but it was an integral part of his childhood.
Oxnard is about an hour and a half away from Los Angeles, where Felly attended college at USC. Although Felly is originally from Connecticut, much of his music is influenced by his time spent on the West Coast, and California by far produces the most strawberries of any US state.
Besides strawberries, Southern California is also known for its beaches and nice weather, themes that both artists hit on —.Paak with his albums Venice and Malibu and Felly with his album This Shit Comes in Waves.
Like Felly, other artists have been influenced by LA culture. YACHT, a band originally from Portland, Oregon, came out with their Strawberry Moon EP upon moving to California. The album has been described as much more “beachy and warm” as compared to their other studio albums and as “a clear departure from their earlier work,” suggesting impact from California culture on their work.
In addition to artists using the symbol, there is even a music festival in California called the Strawberry Music Festival with that same bright red strawberry logo. The festival takes pride in being a California festival and in the fact that it is somewhat of a strawberry field. The prevalence of strawberry branding in California leads me to believe that artists using strawberries as a symbol for branding and merch weren’t just doing it for the aesthetic look and coloring of the fruit.
Yes, I do think these artists are drawn by the fruit's bright, attractive appearance, but the appeal goes beyond that. The current appeal also goes beyond the strawberry's old musical connotations.
While the fruit has long been used as a symbol for summer and has been fundamental in the sunshine–pop genre, artists from other genres (and a festival of many genres) are now applying the symbol to themselves. The strawberry is no longer just a symbol of happiness and the beach, but a symbol of California and L.A., and it takes hold of both native artists as well as those who are new to the city.