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Sophia Somajo talks Private Dancer, women in pop and writing with Max Martin

Last week Stockholm-based pop polymath Sophia Somajo released an intimate bleakpop reimagining of Tina Turner’s 80s behemoth Private Dancer, and in the coming weeks she’ll be featured on a fairly high profile collaboration with a song she wrote in the same way she’s written music for many massive pop artists in the past — she imagined someone else would eventually sing it, so she finished the song and moved on.

Ultimately the collaborator liked Sophia’s vocal so much that they persuaded her to stay on the track, and the timing of Private Dancer, the first new music from Sophia’s upcoming Freudian Slip II EP, is no coincidence. “I want Private Dancer to be something you can listen to if you want to know more about me,” she says, but she’s already released an EP and two albums of idiosyncratic, personality-packed original material so at first glance it seems strange to that she hopes to introduce herself to new listeners with a cover version. “I’ve heard Private Dancer a billion times,” Sophia explains, “and I’ve always thought: ‘What a great chorus, but what’s up with the saxophone?’ Then one day I listened to it differently.”

Sophia’s ears opened when she heard Tina’s version on the radio during a late-night cab journey. (Songs always make the most sense in late-night cab journeys and that’s just a pop fact.) “I realised that in my career and in life in general I’ve been dancing, quote unquote, for men,” she says. “I’ve come to realise that in a room where a man has the last word, which is almost every room except the rooms in my apartment, you have to dance, in a way, to be heard. You have to strip. Many times in my career I’ve had meetings with very powerful men where I feel like their interest in me has a lot to do with that energy. The possibility of… Something.”

Sophia spent her early years in Stockholm and lived in Paris for three years in her teens, before a spell in an American high school led to a school concert performance that caught the eye of a parent who also happened to be a record executive.

“I was signed to a development deal but didn’t put out any music because apparently I was ‘stubborn’,” she says today. “I wasn’t comfortable just being a ‘girl singer’, but I was quickly put in with teams of producers and songwriters, and they were always men, and they were always a lot older than I was. They would work nine to five, banging out hits. I’d been writing for years, but wasn’t invited in to write songs at that point, let alone produce. It was always a case of ‘don’t touch the buttons’. Being young and a woman I could only be a singer, and that was it.”

Sophia says that Max Martin, with whose team Sophia’s been working as a writer for about a decade, proved to be a rare exception. “Max is actually one of the few people that isn’t like that at all,” she adds. “He was the one giving me a voice, because he wanted my perspective. He is the one who gave me a chance and treated me like an equal. He gave me my first real honest shot and I’ve seen him use his position again and again to empower women’s roles in the industry, with artists like myself, Tove Lo and Laleh, and with backing The Equalizer Project. But elsewhere, it hasn’t been so positive.”

She talks about producers who’ll want to work with her, but really they’ll just want to meet in a bar over drinks. Then there are the recording sessions that happen to take place in hotel rooms, where she’s invited to stay over. It’s all fucking grim to be honest. “So anyway, “ Sophia says, returning to the theme of Private Dancer, “when I listened to the song in the back of that cab I thought: ‘Yeah. Keep your eyes on the wall, keep your mind on the money and just fucking dance, then go home and have a shower.”

There is, of course, the fact that Private Dancer was written by Mark Knopfler — quite literally, a man. “The whole full-circle irony is that he wrote that song,” Sophia laughs. “I think he did a good job but the irony is genius. It resonated with me. But it’s interesting that so often in popular culture when women relate to women, they’re actually relating to women as interpreted by men. Pop culture shapes us, we all accept that. We grow up listening to music and watching movies. When I think about a lot of my heroes in film, a lot of the time the directors and screenwriters have been men. It’s the same in pop: men write women from a male perspective and young girls shape their identities based on those perspectives.”

Sophia herself is familiar with writing in character. Search for her songwriting credits alongside Max’s team and you’ll only find a few examples, like Robyn’s Time Machine, but that’s because the vast majority of her work has been written under a number of pseudonyms — about ten, she reckons, “and I come up with different characters for each of them.”

One of those characters is Tiffany Amber. Tiffany wrote 3 and Criminal for Britney Spears, for instance, as well as Christina Aguilera’s Your Body. It’s fun to write as Tiffany, Sophia says, because Tiffany feels like she’s farthest from Sophia on the artistic spectrum. “Tiffany Amber does her nails on the regular,” Sophia decides. “She drinks everything through a straw and she’s written for Britney, Christina and Backstreet Boys — all her idols.”

“It’s nothing to do with me being ashamed of these projects,” Sophia says of the multiple pseudonyms. It’s more about managing expectations when it comes to her own work. “If you listen to my first album and think ‘Max Martin’, my music will come off as unfinished and unpolished and, well, just badly executed. If you listen from the perspective of ‘here’s a DIY artist with little or no budget experimenting in her bedroom and she has no professional training’, you can maybe hear something.”

She made a rare exception and used her own name on Time Machine by Robyn — “a Swedish artist who’s really paved the way for me and so many other Swedish artists.”

There are hints of Robyn’s vision, artistry and fearlessness in what Sophia’s been doing since 2008’s The Laptop Diaries but last year’s Freudian Slip felt like her most fully-realised moment yet so it seems reasonable to have high hopes for Freudian Slip II. In the meantime, Sophia’s forthcoming collaboration may introduce her back catalogue to some new ears. “It’s never happened before that I’ve written a song like that and thought, ‘ah, actually, let me sing this’,” she says. “It’s exciting. Maybe there will be a bit of noise around the collaboration, and hopefully my music will be exposed to a larger audience.”

Private Dancer is out now. Follow Sophia on Twitter, Instagram and Spotify.

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Lauv interview: “I’m trying to focus on doing positive things for the world”

When he’s on tour Ari Leff takes a box with him, and each night the box sits on his merch table. Fans throw in anonymous messages. The whole thing is called My Blue Thoughts and one such thought has already inspired a song — Superhero, which came out last month.

While all that’s been happening a song Lauv released 16 months ago — I Like Me Better — has taken on a life of its own and become the absolute definition of a sleeper hit: nearly a year and a half after its first release it’s now on the Radio 1 playlist, and Lauv’s currently pulling in over 14m monthly Spotify listeners.

Popjustice spoke with Lauv in July about some of this, then the recording of that interview was lost, and then a second interview was scheduled, then the original recording was triumphantly retrieved, but only after the second interview had taken place. A little peek behind the curtain, there, readers. Anyway here’s an interview made up of two interviews. See if you can spot the joins!

Have you noticed people’s blue thoughts differ from country to country? It seems likely that, say, UK teenagers will express different concerns to US high school kids. 

Yeah that’s really true. I haven’t noticed a specific difference. It will be interesting to see how it changes now Superhero is out there. It’s generally about stuff that’s going on in their family, or someone they’re in love with… But it will be cool to see if people are writing about things that are specific to their upbringing and their cultures.

What sense of responsibility do you feel when you read these notes? When I was a teenager I did work experience at a teen magazine and one day I was sorting out letters that would be sent to the magazine’s agony aunt — more than she could have answered. It struck me that not everyone would get help, but everyone really needed it.

That’s a really good question. 1 I’ve been taking all the notes and putting them in photographs together. There is a kind of responsibility — people are sharing all sorts of that stuff with you: what is the best way to handle all that? I wanted it to be a place where people could share, and it’s not necessarily about how prominently or non-prominently that stuff is shared, it’s about being able to put that thought somewhere and not have your name attached to it.

And as Superhero has shown, the box is a good jumping off point for lyrics. 

Some people have been tweeting me asking if I’m planning on doing a whole album out of it. I didn’t intend to make any music out of it, but when I found that note in the box it felt so natural to me that it would become a song. Because it’s an anonymous thing it might be hard to give credit to do a whole album, but I’m actually going to meet Martin, who wrote that superhero note, in Germany at one of the shows I’m doing.

How’s Martin getting on?

The last we spoke, it was a complicated situation — there were difficulties with it being a long distance thing. When I see him I’ll be curious to hear whatever he has to share. [Note: this meeting has now taken place!]

Let’s discuss the colour blue. It’s a good colour.

A lot of things in my life happen by chance. One of my best friends from growing up, I remember I talked to him about this idea of a blue rose, and he actually brought up Yves Klein 2 and I checked out some of his stuff and fell in love with that. The feeling of blue is always going to be part of my brand and how I see myself moving forward.

What was on your mind when you were, say, 15?

Oh man. Well I was straight edge at the time; I wasn’t drinking or smoking or doing anything. A lot of my friends started to smoke weed and so on, and I was really starting to dive into writing and producing, so I was just concentrating on that.

Did you avoid hanging out with friends because they were drinking and smoking?

I remember at the time one of my best friends — we’d do everything together — starting to smoke and I felt like I was alienated. I didn’t want to go to parties. I didn’t want to do that. I felt a little bit like I didn’t click with a lot of people, or fit in, at high school. I never really enjoyed small talk — if I’d feel a connection with someone I’d want to dive deeper. But at the time I was also struggling with finding ways to feel like I could fit in more. At that age I started to lift weights and work out. And I wasn’t even playing sports. It was a self conscious thing.

Do you still work out, and is it still for the same reason?

Now I have a different relationship with it. I love to work out but it’s more overall health stuff. I run and stretch but I lift minimally. I used to be obsessive, lifting heavier and heavier, and eating all this protein, and getting muscular. It was definitely for superficial insecurity reasons. Now my relationship with fitness is about feeling good.

Is the difference that now you’re doing it for yourself, but in your teens you were doing it for other people?

I’d definitely say that. Over time I’ve become way more comfortable with my natural state and being who I am, and focusing on what I love and makes me happy. Rather than focusing on what I think will get me gratification from other people. I realised it was an endless cycle of me trying to become a certain type of man, and feeling like I had to do all these things, but for a while I wasn’t really happy with myself. I look back on photos of myself and it doesn’t feel like me.

What do you enjoy doing that has nothing to do with your career?

I’ve been reading more than ever. And I’ve been trying to do more art museums.

The last time we met you talked about Patsy Rodenburg‘s book The Second Circle, which to cut a long story short is about how to be confident without being an arsehole. What can you recommend today?

I just read a book called The Way Of The Peaceful Warrior, which is interesting. It’s part-autobiography, part-fiction, and it’s about meditative practices. It’s not a self-help book, but I’m trying to get better in terms of mindfulness and stuff. You’re on a journey of trying to find happiness in small things, and grounding… And I’m reading this book You Are Here: Art After The Internet, and it’s about how the internet has affected everyday life and how it’s transformed art.

You had a sort-of-album out recently —  a playlist of all your music so far. How’s your actual first album coming along? 

I can’t say anything in particular but I do have music very very soon, and yes I’m working on a bigger project. In my head I’ve gone through multiple album concepts. It’s exciting but frenetic, and in the early stages. But it’s going to be awesome and I’m not going to put it out until it’s, fucking, the best shit ever.

Fucking the best shit ever!


As things get bigger, career-wise, do you still feel like you’re in control?

Sometimes, yes. But honestly, a tonne of times, no. If I’m being totally honest. Like a lot of things in my life… Well, I haven’t been diagnosed with OCD but I definitely have quite a need to control… Some days I just unravel into total self-destruction and can’t get things done because I’m feeling totally out of control and I’m desiring control. It’s definitely a constant struggle. I’m really lucky to be where I’m at, so relatively speaking I’m extremely grateful, but definitely as more and more things happen… I just try to stay focused on things I know I can control, and things I feel most connected to — like making more music and staying focused on the future. But it’s definitely a struggle. There are definitely things I’ve had to let go of. Things I thought mattered so much. Like, I used to mix and master 3 my own stuff, it sounds so stupid now but it’s about the ego and letting go. It’s similar I suppose to the CEO of a company who had an original vision, but to have the most impact you have to delegate a tonne of things. And put trust in them. I’m lucky — one of my best friends helps me with creative direction and we always come up with ideas together, then he can execute things while I’m continuing to focus on what I’m best at.

I Like Me Better is on the radio a lot in the UK at the moment. It originally came out over a year ago! Do you feel a sense of “thanks for the attention and I’m glad you like the song, but I’m ready to move on now”?

Um, there’s definitely a part of me that feels that, but whenever I have feelings like that I check myself because I’m so lucky that people are paying attention at all. It’s beyond anything I could have imagined. The sequence of how it’s happened is so crazy to me: I put it out last May, and when things happened with it I kept thinking: “This is the threshold of the song.” “No, this is the threshold’. Like, it was on the radio in Germany but it wasn’t happening in the US, then it was Top 10 at radio in the US, and now it’s on the radio in the UK. I think we had our biggest sales week ever in the US last week, which is great.

You’ve described it as a happy song, but it strikes me as sad as well. If you were in a relationship with someone and they said “I like me better when I’m with you”, what would you think of them?

What do you mean?

Well. It implies a certain level of dependency. It suggests they maybe don’t like themselves very much…

Well… Well. Okay. That’s interesting. That could get really deep. So yes, for me, on the surface it’s a happy song. And there’s a bit of that dark truth that comes in. I wrote it about being in love for the first time. From the perspective of being in college, and I was very unsure about a lot of the things about myself, and I was exploring everything from the types of clothes I was wearing to the types of people I was hanging out with, and how I was spending my time… And being in that place of falling in love with somebody, and it distracts you from that unsureness — it’s like: “Wow, I love being around you, I need to be around you, this is incredible.” Whether it’s first love or not I think it’s something people can connect to. I think there are shades of it where it could be total dependency, or it could just be: “You make me forget the things about myself that I fucking don’t like.” Because everyone has things about themselves that they don’t like, whether they’re willing to admit it or not. It’s… An honest weakness.

Let’s pull together a few threads here. So we talked before about that book The Second Circle, and we’ve talked about your My Blue Thoughts box, and we’ve talked about how some people need to be in relationships to feel better about themsleves, and we’ve talked about why you worked out as a teenager. So pulling all that together the question is: do you think you can manufacture self esteem?

Wow. I don’t know what other people feel but I know that for me there are days when I’m not feeling extremely confident, and it’s fake-it-til-you-make-it a little bit, for sure. I think there are a lot of factors: there are patterns of things you tell yourself over and over and over, that may or may not be true. Some days you’ll feel bad about yourself but all it really takes is one moment to break you out of a bad pattern. At least for me. I can be having a horrible day and be hating things about myself and feeling like I’m the worst artist, I’m the worst everything, and then one small interaction or breakthrough will happen and it becomes like a landslide of “okay, I’m good again”.

But this is complicated isn’t it, because on one hand you don’t want to be the sort of person for whom one small thing can bring you down. You don’t want to be dwelling on the one person saying “this new song is shit” when a thousand people have told you it’s incredible. So you don’t want to be affected by one small thing. But on the other hand, you do want to be the sort of person who can focus on one small thing, if it’s positive. You want to be emotionally volatile in one way but not the other, even though they’re sort of the same thing.

For sure. I guess it’s just about trying to retrain your mind so that you find positivity in every situation, whether that positivity is small or large. Sometimes when I think about self esteem issues I feel like there’s so much narcissism happening today with social media. It’s super-individualised, which is cool, but I think everything comes with a consequence and there’s a level of sadness, self-loathing and negativity that comes just from the fact that people are so focused on themselves. So focused on figuring out ‘who really am I deep down’, beyond what we were designed to really do. In the past humans were designed to be together in a society and survive in it and help each other, and sometimes I think there’s an additional struggle that’s been put on us just by having this luxury of being able to focus so much on ‘me’.

Who’s setting the bar for you in music at the moment? Who’s the one to beat?

I feel like pop music’s in an interesting place. The ones I’m looking up to are the ones who are the most effortlessly honest: I’m obsessed with Phoebe Bridgers album, I think she’s absolutely incredible. I always feel like Kanye sets the bar in terms of innovation. I think the Charlie Puth album is fucking incredible, he’s an incredibly talented dude.

How about outside music?

My mom is a really big role model for me — she works in vaccine research. She works at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, she’s the senior director of HIV/AIDS vaccine research. She’s a big role model for me. It’s easy to get lost in other bullshit. I’m trying to focus on doing positive things for the world.

Other bullshit is quite good sometimes though! For instance your interest in large fluffy coats. We’re heading into coat weather. You seem quite autumnal as an artist. Autumn is a good season for coats. Is large coats your thing?

I do love a big fucking coat. Super cosy stuff. And sometimes it won’t even make sense — I’ll come off stage and I’ll be so sweaty. But there’s such a comfort in a big coat. It’s the best. The absolute best.

Lauv plays Koko, London on September 18, but it’s sold out so good luck with that. More tour dates here


  2. French artist who did a lot of stuff with the colour blue. To the point where Klein Blue is actually a thing, as well as a very good song by Sophia Somajo.

  3. This is music biz terminology for faffing around with how loud drums are and making everything sound better while still being the same, or something

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Lauren Aquilina interview: “I’m seeing this as completely starting again”

“Sorry about the construction noise — they’re knocking down the whole of fucking London around here.” Lauren Aquilina is speaking to Popjustice from a balcony, but not like that bit in Evita. Partly because she’s in Acton, and partly because in this instance she’s only on the balcony because there’s no mobile signal in her apartment, and her BT line isn’t working. She’s been on the phone to BT all day, she says. This is not how popstars should spend their time.

Mind you, two years ago it seemed as if Lauren’s popstar days were done. After the release of her album Isn’t It Strange?, the 21-year-old singer announced her retirement from music in an emotional post, telling fans: “I’ve known for a good few months now that this ‘Lauren Aquilina’ album was not only going to be the first, but also the last.” On the topic of being a full-time artist she acknowledged that “the cons now outweigh the pros and I’ve been pretty unhappy for a long time”; she was relieved, she added, “to be able to leave something behind that no longer makes me happy.” In another part of the note, she wrote: “Although this industry isn’t an easy ride for anyone, the truth is I’m not sure I was ever cut out for the pressure of being an artist. When I realised what a negative impact my career was having on my mental health, I realised something needed to change.”

Long story short, her excellent new Psycho’s single’s out tomorrow and it sounds like the YouTube embed below. Keep scrolling to read about how Kylie Minogue unwittingly helped turn things around, Lauren’s failed attempt to become an air steward, and the tax benefits of crying on doorsteps.

You’ve got a new single out! I thought this wasn’t going to happen again. And for a long time, I guess, you thought the same thing?

I did. I really, really did. I promised myself! I promised myself this would never happen again, but here we are.

Let’s do some scene-setting here. Do you remember where you were when you made the decision to leave music?

The moment it clicked was the morning my album came out. I woke up alone in my apartment, and I was so depressed. I thought: “This isn’t what it’s supposed to be like — when your album comes out it’s supposed to be a happy thing.” But I felt so shit. I didn’t want to ruin music for myself or be bitter about it. I thought: “I’ve got to get out now.”

It’s not unusual for artists to feel a sense of anticlimax when a debut album comes out, but the situation was clearly very different in your case.

The anticlimax thing was definitely a big part of it — I’d built it up in my head to be this amazing thing. I’d been telling people when I was five years old that I was going to sign a record deal, not that I understood what ‘record deal’ meant. Then when I did sign one, for about a week I was like: “Great! I’ve made it! Career sorted.” Obviously I quickly realised that of course when you sign a record deal that’s when the actual work starts. I felt like my team had a lack of faith in me, I had a lack of faith in me, nobody really believed it; it felt like a very forced thing and it didn’t feel fun. I’m still proud of the album and there are songs on there I still love, but musically now I’ve come on in leaps and bounds in terms of creating the thing I actually wanted to create. Before, there was always an element of compromise.

Can you remember how you felt as soon as you’d posted on your socials saying “album’s out, I’m off”?

A huge weight had been lifted. I was so relieved. Everyone was really nice about it. I thought I’d get mean tweets — “you ungrateful bitch! Why are you giving up a record deal!” — but everyone was very understanding, and it opened up a conversation for me about mental health in the music industry. I ended up going on BBC Breakfast and talking about that, and it was good to end up being part of that discussion.

It was only a couple of years ago but it feels like even in 2016 people were reluctant to speak frankly about how the music industry deals with young creative minds. In 2018 it feels as if labels and managers better understand the duty of care they have, but the conversation was in a very different place two years ago.

Yes, it felt like a completely different time. I’m glad people are talking about it now. It feels like the whole music industry is different now too, actually — 2017 felt like a weird, cursed year, where the UK didn’t break any artists and the labels didn’t quite understand how to make the most of streaming. It feels like everything is in a better place now.

In the note you wrote in 2016 you talked about how much money had to be spent on launching an artist, and how lack of radio support could kill a career. Both those things are still true to an extent but since then the continued rise of streaming seems to have made a huge difference to both those things.

It’s all in a much better place now. It’s back in the artist’s hands now, a bit. You don’t need loads of money and loads of backing to make something good and for it to get traction online. Which is very cool.

Over the last two years how have things changed for you? How did you come round to thinking, “actually, maybe I do want to go back into this shitshow”?

Well. I was going to quit forever. I was applying to be an air hostess at the end of 2016, and—

Hold on, we need to talk about this. Had air hostess always been Plan B?

To be honest, I was just really having a crisis. There was an element of wanting to be running away, and being able to be far away. That was appealing for me.

I mean, air stewards do always have to come back on another flight. That’s kind of part of the job.

Yeah, that’s true. I wasn’t really thinking about it. I was thinking: “What would be the furthest thing possible from music?” It was really sad. I had a breakdown. At one point I was on the British Airways application form — a really long form — and I was seven pages in, and then it went: “Oh, by the way, if you’ve got any visible tattoos on your arm then you can’t apply.” And I do have tattoos on my arms. I just burst into tears. It was like: “I’ve fucked music, and now I can’t even be a fucking air hostess!” It was a really low point for me.

What tattoos do you have?

I have an ocean wave on my wrist, which was to do with my song Ocean, and I’ve got a sun and moon symbol on the inside of my arm, which I just got on a whim. It’s supposed to signify dark times leading to better times, or whatever.

And now here we are!

Here we are. The tattoo came true.

So what happened after the British Airways debacle?

I’d got rid of all my team — I didn’t want to do music any more, so I was like: “Sorry guys, have good careers, but bye.” But then I got an email from a guy I didn’t know, who is now my manager. He’d heard a song I did, and informed me that Kylie Minogue was going to use it as the lead single on her next album. It was all, “Kylie needs this song, what’s your management situation.” And I was going: “Look, if Kylie uses the song it’s great but I don’t want to be in the music industry, sorry but thank you.” I eventually took a meeting with him and he persuaded me that I should be a songwriter for other artists, which wasn’t something I’d thought about before. Kylie didn’t end up using the song 1 but I did get to work with her and she was amazing, and everything I hoped she would be. And I started writing with and for other artists, which is what I’ve been doing ever since. Last year I worked harder than I think I’ve ever worked in my life, and it felt really good after the great depression of 2016 when I’d spent most of my time sitting alone in my apartment. To be out and hustling again was good. I started going on writing trips to LA and Nashville and all these other cool places, and sort of re-fell in love with music.

You talked about being pursued by the guy who’s now your manager, and how he talked you into getting back into music. We’ve also just talked about how labels and managers have a duty of care towards artists, but I suppose there’s also an element of self-care, isn’t there: seeing red flags, and not allowing yourself to get into situations where your mental health will be impacted. How did you know this guy had your best interests in mind, and that he wasn’t just thinking: “Amazing, someone to make cash out of”?

That’s exactly what I thought until I met him, when he turned out to be the nicest person ever. He was very clear in saying that he didn’t want to make me do anything I didn’t want to do, but that he wanted to tell me to my face that I was too good not to do it. He suggested a trial period, without a contract, so I wasn’t tied into anything, and he just put me into some sessions to see how it would go. Also, to be honest, the air hostess thing hadn’t worked out for me, so I was like: “Okay, sure.”

And I suppose by definition the experience of writing for other artists instantly removes some of the pressures that had forced you out of music the first time round? 

It’s so nice being able to go into a studio, and to write a song, then to then leave. And that’s it. If an artist uses a song that’s great, but if they don’t that’s also fine. Rather than constantly having all this other shit to do that comes with being an artist, and all the mental pressure, I could put on a different hat every day. It made me way more creative and it made me a better writer.

What songs have you had out so far? There was the Baby Ariel track a few weeks ago, right?

Yes. There was a Fletcher song I did — I’ve been working a lot with her, she’s just signed to Capitol and I think she’s going to be a huge popstar. I’ve also been working a lot with Rina Sawayama, who’s been an angel. I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say. I potentially, well, I’m 90% sure that I’ve got the next [REDACTED BECAUSE HOW AWFUL WOULD IT BE IF THE ENTIRE THING WENT TITS UP AS A RESULT OF AN ARTICLE ON POPJUSTICE DOT COM] single, which is featuring [ALSO REDACTED BUT THIS SONG SOUNDS LIKE IT WILL BE AMAZING]. It’s the kind of song that could drop any time! It could drop this Friday! It’s pretty much confirmed. Which is a really big thing for me — the biggest thing yet. I’m a huge fan of both those artists. And it’s such a banger, too. Such a bop.

Where are we with bangers and bops? Bangers feels quite 2016, and bops 2017.

I don’t know what the 2018 version is. I’ll come back to you on that.

As for your own music, how are you releasing Psycho?

I’m going through AWAL 2 who I used at the very beginning of my career, and they’re great because they’re kind of giving me all the services a record label would provide but without any of the scary contracts and throwing loads of money at the wall. I’ve spent quite a bit of my own money on this release but I feel like you’ve got to invest in yourself, you know? It feels nice to be in control of it again: being on a major I felt like I was just watching it happen, and I couldn’t change anything.

Can you give me an example of something that felt like it was out of your control?

There’s a song I have out that I actively don’t like, and didn’t want to release, and I was made to release. It’s a song called Echoes. I don’t hate it, but I just didn’t want to put it out. It was different to all my other stuff, and it still is. I expressed all that to the label, but they were like: “No, this song is coming out, this is the right thing.”

I wonder what would happen if there were an international pop amnesty day where every artist could be totally honest about the songs they’d released in the previous twelve months. Because I think a lot of artists find themselves in situations where they’re releasing music they’d rather not. And the question is: do you trust your team enough, so that when they say “this is the best way for us to move forward”, they’re saying that in the best interests of your career, rather than because they don’t have a clue what to do and they’re just taking a stab in the dark?

Yeah. Of course you have to trust your team but usually you should trust your gut instincts more. Especially when you’re a solo artist and you’re the face of it, and you’re the product, and everyhing’s about you. I think fans know when something isn’t authentically you.

What’s the story behind Psycho’s lyrics?

I wrote it last August — a year ago. I wrote it with Jonny Hockings, who has become my writing partner in a lot of things. He’s very good. We wrote it with just a bass guitar and vocal, and that’s how it stayed for ages, and I thought it was one of the best things I’d ever written. Every A&R I sent it to was going: “This is fucking amazing!” But nobody had any ideas about who could sing it.

Who did you want to sing it?

Little Mix were sniffing around it for a while, which could have been cool. But I still knew it wasn’t quite right. That was the main problem: I couldn’t hear anyone else on it. And it’s totally my story — it’s a true story about how I went to my ex-boyfriend’s house in the middle of the night, sat on his front step and cried until he came out and found me.

Paint a picture with words for me here. Had you just split up with him?

Maybe three weeks before. He already had a new girlfriend but I didn’t know that yet.

That’s suspiciously quick!

Suspiciously quick. Anyway that night I’d sent him an emotional text about missing him — it was my first hearbreak. To be fair he was being really nice, offering to call me and everything. And about an hour later, when I suppose he’d gone to bed, I don’t know what came over me but I ordered an Uber to his house and the next thing I knew I was sitting on his front step crying. Quite loudly. He came out, found me, took me inside, talked to me for a bit, calmed me down and got me an Uber home. It’s so embarrassing. So, so embarrassing.

Had you been drinking that evening?

I was completely sober, which just makes it all worse doesn’t it? I was DRUNK ON EMOTION! Obviously looking at it now it was never a good idea, but heartbreak makes you go crazy doesn’t it? And that’s what I wanted to play on in the song. I mean, the song’s kind of funny. It’s taking the piss out of myself.

Also now you’ve got the song out of it the Uber you took to his front step counts as a business expense, so there are tax benefits.

Absolutely! Any Uber with potential song inspiration is a business expense. Definitely.

Is there a happy end to this tale, other than a song coming out of it?

There’s no happy end. But a few months later I started to find it really funny and started telling everyone the story, and that’s how Jonny and I came to write a song about it. Then when nobody else wanted to sing it, I started thinking: “Fuck it. Maybe I should just release it myself?”

What had changed?

I was having dinner with another songwriter I know, called Evan, and we were talking about it, and he said: “I don’t want to sound morbid, but if you found out you were going to die in a month, would you regret not releasing the song?” And I thought yes, probably. The next day I called my manager and said: “Right. I’m going to do it.”

I’m wondering if, having experienced what you did around your first album, and knowing what you know about how it impacted your mental health, you’re in any way throttling your career this time round. In terms of self-preservation are you trying to ensure it doesn’t get so big that it’s unmanageable, or having learned what you did from your first album are you just better equipped now for whatever happens?

That makes sense and it’s something I’m aware of… We are pushing it, and I am trying to do everything I can to give the song its best chance, but I’m going into this with very different expectations from before. I’m seeing this as completely starting again. The main thing is that I wanted the song to be out. The first step is just seeing how my old fanbase reacts to it — that’s the most important thing to me because it’s what I’ve missed the most, having a connection with them and being able to chat with them about music. I haven’t gone into it thinking “I’m going to do a world tour, get three radio pluggers on board and spend half a million on the video”. It’s much more tentative, but the magic of streaming is that you can do that now.

And what comes next?

There’s going to be an EP at the beginning of next year. I already know what the second single is, and I’m just finishing the production on that one now. It’s a bit more of a ‘pop moment’ than Psycho. And there’ll be a few live shows before then, too. That’s where I’m up to at the moment — there’s no five year plan, I’m just taking it a few months at a time.

Sounds like a good plan.

Thanks mate!


Psycho is out on September 7 (which is tomorrow, but only if you’re reading this on September 6, because that’s how dates work); Lauren will be playing at Camden Assembly on November 8

  1. Pop fact: 87% of all current working songwriters will be buried with this on their tombstone

  2. AWAL is basically like a label but without being a dick about it

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Rina Sawayama’s superstar masterclass has scaled a new height with the Cherry video

Some popstars make their job look so easy, while still clearly giving it everything, that you wonder why the rest of them don’t just knock it on the head and try their luck working in a hardware store.

The next twelve months will clearly be very special for Rina. Every step she takes seems to be in the right direction creatively, and her monthly Spotify listeners have increased by 50% in the last fortnight, which is pretty impressive.

Does anyone else stand in the way of Rina winning the BBC Sound Of 2019 poll? Probably not. In fact the biggest threat probably comes from Rina herself: the poll’s rules state than an artist can’t already have had proper a hit single, which with her current momentum and four months to go until the end of the year might prove tricky.

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Happy birthday Madonna: the playlist, the cake, the liveblog


We’re making a cake for Madonna’s 60th birthday, and will do just that over the four hours and 43 seconds it takes to listen to Madonna’s sixty best songs.


(Direct Spotify link. There’s a strict ‘no remix’ rule, mainly due to the fact that the Miami mix of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina STILL isn’t on Spotify.)


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