searchsearch
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Nathalie Joachim On The Haitian Musical Roots Of 'Fanm d'Ayiti,' Community Building & Standing In Her Truth

Nathalie Joachim

Photo: Josué Azor

news

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Nathalie Joachim On The Haitian Musical Roots Of 'Fanm d'Ayiti,' Community Building & Standing In Her Truth

"I feel like the whole country's standing behind me and that feels amazing," the Haitian-American artist said of her GRAMMY-nominated debut solo album, which is dedicated to three pioneering female musicians from Haiti

GRAMMYs/Jan 16, 2020 - 11:35 pm

Meet Nathalie Joachim. The Brooklyn-born Haitian-American flutist, vocalist and composer received her first-ever GRAMMY nomination this year for her debut solo album, Fanm d'Ayiti. The project, whose name translates to Women Of Haiti, was inspired by her late grandmother and is a tribute to three pioneering Haitian female musicians—Carole Demesmin, Emerante de Pradines and Toto Bissainthe, weaving together their voices, stories and traditional Haitian folk music traditions.

The beautiful project, which Joachim recorded with Chicago's Spektral Quartet, is in the running for Best World Music Album at the 2020 GRAMMYs.

The Recording Academy spoke with Joachim to learn more about the rich stories and in-depth research process behind Fanm d'Ayiti, her classical training at Julliard and why she sees using her platform as a vital necessity. She also shares what gives her the most hope in the world right now and how she has found strength in her identity.

What does it mean to you to be nominated for a GRAMMY for Fanm d'Ayiti?

It's huge, honestly, on so many levels. It's a humongous triumph. I mean it's my first solo record so to do that, to put myself out there in this way. I think most people know me from a classical world, and to put out a vocal record that's really personal and tied to my family's heritage in such a deep way, to really step into myself as an artist in this way and to have the record be received really positively was enormous. To receive this kind of attention for it and acknowledgment of the work feels tremendous.

And on top of that, again, bringing in my family and our heritage and history and just being able to represent Haiti in this way, and to highlight some deeply important music and political and social history of Haiti through this project, is really such a huge honor. I feel incredible about it.

What was your initial reaction when you found out about the nomination?

It's the kind of thing where you don't really know how to react. You're like, should I scream? Should I run out of the room? I actually was in the middle of this mountain town in Sweden. I was so far away and I got a text message from Allison Loggins-Hull, who co-produced the record with me and is a long-time creative collaborator. She's like, "You got nominated for a GRAMMY!" I was jet-legged, in a car on my way to a venue for a performance in this little town. And I was just like, "Oh wow," and the friend sitting next to me was like, "What happened?" "I got nominated for a GRAMMY." It was this interesting moment where you just wanted to be able to put out all of this energy but I was sort of stunned into silence a bit.

It was absolutely unexpected. I think we're all always watching in our industry to see who gets nominated and it's been so many years of seeing so many of my colleagues get nominated. So it just felt a little surreal for it to be happening to me.

Can you speak to the message behind the album and the Haitian women you chose to celebrate within it?

Absolutely. The story behind the record really came out of the passing of my maternal grandmother, who was just a hugely important voice in my life and such an inspiration to me personally and musically. We spent so much of our time together singing songs. She was really one of the first people to encourage me to use my voice, not just to make music but also to share stories. So, the loss of her voice really got me thinking a lot about women's voices in Haiti. That led me to become more curious about female artists from Haiti because the popular music scene is so male-dominated.

I started to talk to my parents about women who are popular musicians that they could recall. And that small list of women really led me to not only a lot of really gorgeous music but some extremely powerful stories of women who truly use their voices to highlight the strength of the people of Haiti, to uplift them and to help the country continue to move forward. I had such a deep pleasure diving into my research of these women and meeting with them if they were alive, both here in the United States and also in Haiti. And meeting with their family members, going to the spaces and places where they made music throughout their careers. I found such a kinship in their stories as artists, and specifically female artists, really trying to make it in a field where women's voices are ever-present but really under-represented.

And so, those stories led me to thinking about myself and what it means to really be a part of that legacy. The three women that are really featured on the record are Carole Demesmin, Emerante de Pradines and Toto Bissainthe. I chose those three because they're all different generation but their work and their missions were so connected. Also on the record is my grandmother, whose voice I recorded years before she passed away, and the girl's choir from our tiny little farming village in the southern part of Haiti called Dantan.

It's amazing to be able to hear the voices of all those little girls here. They are all grown now but when I hear them, I think of each of them individually and know that our families have all shared so much. For some of us, it's nine, ten generations of growing up in that small farming community together, of our families having really grown together. I feel really lucky to have been able to share my own voice in a space with all of them.

That's so cool, it's really like a collage.

Yeah, absolutely. The three women are established artists who didn't have to share their stories with me but really opened up their homes and hearts. I shared some really powerful and meaningful moments with them that helped bring a beautiful sense of place to the record and a deeply personal connection.

Do you feel that working on the album shifted or further developed your connection to your Haitian roots?

Yes, of course. I'm a first-generation Haitian-American and most Haitian parents really want their children to become nurses, doctors, lawyers or teachers, something practical. My family has always been really supportive of my career, but they were always like, "We don't know, you're always in there making strange sounds with your instruments, we don't really understand." Especially coming from having studied classical music and then really being quite focused on performing contemporary classical music.

For my family in Haiti, music is such a huge part of how we engage with each other culturally as Haitians. And so, all of them are like, "Yeah, you make music, so does everybody else." This project was really, really incredible because it was my first professional project that my family was deeply involved and engaged in. I think it was the first time that they really got to see the connection between my art and my passion behind the music; just really understanding why making music means everything to me.

I think it was the first time they really saw it and understood it. This was something that, from the very beginning stages of the project, they were a part of conceptualizing it. They were a part of helping me research and understand the history as I was going through it. They really got to be with me and work with me through every single phase of it. I think it deepened all of our connection to our heritage and our celebration of our culture that felt really beautiful.

So, being able to have my family be a part of it helped me have such a deeper appreciation for our culture and heritage. It was something that was always important to me but has now become that much more valuable to me. Also, being able to see the reaction, especially after the GRAMMY nomination, of the Haitian community. I feel so incredibly celebrated and supported by them. There's just been this outpour of love and support and everyone cheering me on. I feel like the whole country's standing behind me and that feels amazing. It's like, I feel more deeply connected to every Haitian person that I meet now more than ever.

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: FINNEAS On Billie Eilish & "Doing Production That No One's Ever Done Before"

"There's just been this outpour of love and support and everyone cheering me on. I feel like the whole country's standing behind me and that feels amazing."

I'd love to learn more about the overall creative process of the album and what it was like working with the Spektral Quartet.

Totally. This project has really changed my artistic practice in a meaningful way. It's my first really research-based project of anything I've ever made. It is also the first time that I really had to give in to the process for it to be successful. Rather than going in and being like, "I'm going to do this music and it's going to take this form and be this shape," I spent about a year and half of what was really a two-year process building this project, mostly meeting with people and collecting oral histories and field recordings. I did a lot of deep listening and being open to what was presented to me.

It was the first time that I ever really just allowed the material to tell me what it needed to be. I think that the work really benefited from that because a lot of people have really commented on how it's able to bring together, like you mentioned, this collage or this hybrid of all of these different sounds with the field recordings and the interviews. I think that was really because I took a lot of time to just genuinely interact with people, to really listen and connect with them.

When you allow yourself to do that, the stories begin to take shape in a beautiful and brand new way and you allow yourself to be present for when the through-line or the common thread begins to emerge from the experiences you're having. By the time I sat down to really get to writing the music, I had been in this really deep listening space for a long time. It felt much easier for it to be the vehicle that all of these things could exist in and that I could also express myself in as well.

That is a new way of working for me, so it's also terrifying. For a long time, there was no music being written and you're like, I hope I come up with something. In the end, it showed me that this way of engaging with people makes us stronger. It makes the work stronger, it makes my understanding of what is necessary or what is valuable about the stories that much more clear. I already have a few new projects underway that are really influenced by this change in my practice. It has really allowed me to center how I would like to work going forward because I feel so deeply interested in connecting with people through my work. With the state of the world right now, that feels particularly important to do through my work as an artist.

One of your projects I'm really interested in learning more about is Discourse with Carolina Performing Arts. Can you speak to that a little bit, and how you hope to engage in community building with it?

Yeah, absolutely. I'm glad you mentioned it because the process for that project has really been influenced by my experience creating from Fanm d'Ayiti. Allison, my creative partner in Flutronix, she and I have been embedding ourselves in the Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh community. The whole project is commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts, which is through the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And so, for the past two years we've been doing exactly as I described I had done for Fanm d'Ayiti. We've been going down there, engaging with community partners, doing everything from holding music workshops to just simply breaking bread with people. It's been about embedding ourselves in the community and connecting ourselves to their leaders.

We've been doing that in an effort to really gain a deeper understanding of American history and that has been incredible. I think you learn so much more about a space by simply sitting and having a conversation with an elder of the community, with a young person to get a sense of what they feel like, or a homeless person who has to engage in a community where they're overlooked. And the transient university community; how does their engagement change the shape and the history of a place? We've also been talking to members of the indigenous community there as well, and how have they been impacted as people who've been there long before any of these other people.

So, that's been beautiful. Allison and I were both really dismayed after the last election, not just about who was elected but about the fact that there is this huge divide in America that we have lost a sense of connecting with each other on a personal level. And so, we're really hoping that through discourse, by connecting with real narratives of real people and by showcasing the value of those narratives, that we are fostering connectivity within a community, creating a sonic representation of a history of the space. And again, doing that through an evening-length musical work that deeply features the stories and the collected histories of the community itself.

We are very excited for that to premiere this Spring, April 2 and 3 at Carolina Performing Arts. It's been a deeply moving process and we feel a great responsibility to honor the stories of the people who have been so generously sharing their time with us. And we're just excited that an institution like Carolina Performing Arts would get behind such an experimental work about social change. This will be our first iteration of it in Chapel Hill.

We do have future iterations planned in cities across the country, which is also really exciting. And each space sounds different, every story has been completely different and beautiful but also universal in that it brings us back to our sense of humanity. North Carolina is not just some distant place that's far removed; it's full of people who all have stories and love and light in them just like the rest of us. We're hoping that this project is able to travel the country and show that there's a lot of good to be had in simply opening yourself up to truly connecting with people.

"You can start to feel small but then you realize music is a universal language. It's something you can share with anyone across the globe and that in itself puts you in a position of power, where you can use your platform to connect to people anywhere."

Why do you think it's important to use your music and platform as an artist as a catalyst for social change?

It feels important to me. Historically, if you look timeline-wise, just about every major artistic movement coincides with a major change happening in the world. So, I think artists have always been really tapped into what's happening with communities and have always taken on the responsibility of commenting on it because we have a platform to do so, whether it was 1,000 years ago or now.

I think it is the job of an artist to be reflective of our time, I don't think it's enough to operate in a vacuum. And I think that the reflection can take many different shapes and forms. Even just looking at the Best World Music Album category, you see such a beautiful reflection of our times in every single album that's represented. Which is another reason I'm so proud to be a part of such an incredible group of artist and thinkers who are really tapping into that.

It can feel daunting when you wake up and the news is sort of dismaying every single day. You can start to feel small but then you realize music is a universal language. It's something you can share with anyone across the globe and that in itself puts you in a position of power, where you can use your platform to connect to people anywhere. For me, it feels like the right thing to do because you're moving the needle even just a little bit and I think every bit counts.

Yes, it does. And what is the biggest thing you hope to see shift in the next couple of years?

So, we're living in a digital age which is a blessing and a curse. But if there's one thing that Fanm d'Ayiti and Discourse have shown me is the value of coming off the computer screen and talking to people in real life. We all have very busy schedules but it's important to get to know your neighbor. Know that you can step out into the world and really connect with people. I hope that is something people elect to do more often.

I think that the internet can be an awfully expanding place but an awfully isolating space also. I'm hoping to see more people really reaching out person to person and getting to know their communities and that is maybe the best first step in helping us move forward. I think the more we're connecting with one another, the more we're able to help each other, whether you're talking about climate change, social justice or politics.

I think it's all connected to us really taking a good look at one another and appreciating who we all are in all of our shapes and sizes and colors. I hope to see people move more towards a sense of togetherness and to step away from the sense of divide.

When you were younger, what drew you to making music and to the flute specifically?

I started playing piano when I was four years old. It was the first instrument that I played and I was very bad at it but I obviously really loved music. At that age I was spending a lot of time with my grandmother; we would always sing tons of songs together as a way of doing stuff around the house or just making up stories and songs together. When I was nine, I had the opportunity to choose an instrument at school and I pretty randomly chose the flute. I took to the flute much more quickly than I took to piano, and my band director recognized that right away. She was a flutist herself and gave me private lessons during our lunch period and I started to excel pretty quickly.

At that point, the Julliard School had started their music advancement program, in response to a lot of music education getting cut from public schools throughout the five boroughs [of New York City]. It was essentially Julliard's community schools program for students who weren't necessarily beginners and showed promise but were losing access to music lessons in their schools. I got in and started going when I was 10 years old.

A few years later, my teacher there had me audition for Julliard's pre-college program and I got in. I've spent most of my musical life at Julliard. People often ask me how I decided to be a musician. My honest answer is I think it chose me more than anything else. It's truly the one thing that I have always loved and could never imagine my life without. I feel really lucky to have been able to find something that I genuinely love so deeply, so early on.

Julliard gets all the credit for my musical training of course, but I have started openly crediting two other kind of funny sources. One being my grandmother, who in truth was really one of my first music teachers without really knowing it. Also, for anyone who's an old-school New Yorker, there used to be a Tower Records right across the street from Julliard and I used to spend all of my free time over there at the listening stations. That's really where I found my love for electronic music, hip-hop, jazz, you name it.

I would spend hours in there hanging out at the listening stations. It expanded my musical pallet in a beautiful way, and you have to imagine that it had some impact when I was having such deep musical training at Julliard. While my brain was being shaped in that way, I was spending a lot of time not just listening to the music at the music stations but on some level analyzing or really understanding like "how does this Bjork album relate to what I just learned in my music theory class?" All of that, I think is reflected in my musical style today. On the record there's this huge influence of my classical training but also the electronics and bringing in these other voices in this way and the folk elements.

I think a couple questions ago you asked me about Spektral Quartet and I didn't talk about that.

Yes, please do. Thank you!

I would be so upset with myself if I didn't mention that they are incredible collaborators. The project was commissioned by Kate Nordstrum, who is the curator of the Liquid Music series. I originally premiered Fanm d'Ayiti with members of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. After that, I was asked to do a performance here in Chicago, so I reached out to Spektral Quartet there. They weren't available for that date but where totally game to record it with me. It felt great that we all got to work on it and record it here in our home city, which was really wonderful.

They're exceptional musicians, and if there's one thing that's true about making music in Haiti, it is really more than about being about any individual, it's about every single person contributing a deep part of themselves to the process. That was something that I really learned through my grandmother, that it was really about you sharing what you can for the group. Music-making in Haiti is about a communal practice and so much of the music that we have is not written down in a western way, but it in fact is passed down through an oral tradition. Spektral Quartet was incredibly flexible; everything thinks of classical musicians as being totally rigid and they are the exact opposite. They really gave themselves to the process and opened up to experimenting. It was really that spirit of their musicality that allowed for the project to become as beautiful as it really did on the album and is now even still growing as we're touring it together. People should try to catch it live; it's definitely been growing and evolving ever since we recorded and I'm so happy and lucky to be working with them.

"It is important to seek out the people who are living the life that you want to lead and if you don't see that person, to have the courage to become that person so that somebody behind you can see you as a role model."

Do you have a message for young people, especially young women and/or people of color, interested in pursuing a career in music now?

You know, it wasn't until very recently that I felt like I could stand in my whole identity as a black woman, as a Haitian-American artist creating new work in today's climate. For a very long time, it was hard for me to call myself a composer because I came from a world where composers generally didn't look like me or live a life like me at all. Or to call myself a vocalist, when I had come up in this oral tradition of singing with my grandmother, which felt very different than my very buttoned-up conservatory training took a lot. It took a long time for me to really embrace all of the pieces of my identity as assets, as the true beauty of who I am, not just as a person but certainly as an artist.

I feel a huge responsibility to be standing in that truth and to really be embracing that side of me because I know how valuable it would have been for me at nine years old to have seen someone doing exactly what I'm doing. It would have helped me more easily step into that space because it feels so much more possible. I don't think I had even played a piece of music by a person of color probably for decades with my training. That's insane to think of that.

So, to every young artist out there today, it is important to know that it is absolutely possible for you to stand in your truth and for it to not necessarily look like Beethoven or Mozart and to still have it be real. To still be able to claim those titles as your own because what we see is that each of these practices, whether it's folk tradition, or hip-hop or something incredibly fringe and experimental, each of them is really valid in their own right. It is important to seek out the people who are living the life that you want to lead and if you don't see that person, to have the courage to become that person so that somebody behind you can see you as a role model.

"To every young artist out there today, it is important to know that it is absolutely possible for you to stand in your truth and for it to not necessarily look like Beethoven or Mozart and to still have it be real."

I think what's true on the record and I'll echo what Carole, Emerante and Milena Sandler [the daughter of late Bissainthe] say on the very last interlude of the record, which is to be yourself and to keep moving forward and to know that there is a little one behind you who's looking to see if they can become what you are. It's really huge. It can be life-changing for someone.

I know that in researching this album and talking to all of these women, I left almost every single interview in tears because I felt more capable in talking to them, knowing that they had a led a life where they really were able to stand in their truth and to make the world a better place against all odds, in a world that was really against them.

If you look at Emerante, she was somebody who came to popularity in the '40s and '50s, at a time where women were not supposed to be doing anything and she really defied that. She's a true hero and without women like her, it would've been really hard for me to even me to have the career that I have now. And so, it is important for each of us to stand in our truth and in doing so, stand against anything that says that we cannot do so because you absolutely can do. I hope that every little girl, every little person of color is out there seeing role models. I think that's happening a lot more today but it's been possible at moments where there was no one else doing it. And so, it's totally possible for each of us and for every person who's coming up behind us.

What gives you the most hope right now?

Honestly, the thing that gives me the most hope right now is the voices of young people who I think are more courageous than I ever was at their age. I think who are really coming together in a way that's really beautiful. And also, becoming much wiser much sooner, I think in my opinion. I would have been terrified as a little girl to stand up to authority or question the adults. I think there is space for both. I think adults can learn a lot from the young and there's nothing better than having a conversation with somebody who's been on earth for almost 100 years, like Emerante.

Children are honest and more aware and tapped into their spaces in a way that adults can sometimes become too busy to be. I feel a lot of hope when I'm going into communities and talking with young people who are really just able to say, "I'm young and I have a lot of life to live but I also know what's right and wrong and I'm here to lend my voice." You see this in young people like Greta Thunberg.

That does truly give me hope, I think we all have a lot to learn by talking and listening to young people and understanding where their hearts and heads are at. I think the generation of kids coming up right now is a generation to be admired and they certainly have their work cut out for them.

Don't forget to tune in to the 62nd GRAMMY Awards next Sun., Jan. 26, live on CBS at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on CBS, and the Premiere Ceremony and Red Carpet live streams right here on GRAMMY.com—your home for all things GRAMMYs.

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Jessie Reyez's Best Urban Contemporary Album Nomination Is For Her Parents

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: How Carly Pearce's Darkest Personal Moments Helped Her Reach Milestones
Carly Pearce

Photo: Allister Ann

interview

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: How Carly Pearce's Darkest Personal Moments Helped Her Reach Milestones

Blending her personal story of heartbreak with her passion for traditional country storytelling, Pearce’s "Never Wanted to Be That Girl" earned her new career highs — including her very first GRAMMY nod.

GRAMMYs/Jan 25, 2023 - 04:10 pm

Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde may reflect different corners of the country music spectrum, but they share a reverence for tradition and a penchant for heartbreak songs. The singers explore their stylistic common ground in “Never Wanted to Be That Girl,” a duet that tells the story of two women who have been cheated by the same man.

The country ballad resonated deeply with audiences, both because of its traditional leanings and its gripping personal narrative. At a spring 2022 show in Albany, N.Y., Pearce even saw two fans holding a sign saying that the song told their story of being romantically entangled with the same unfaithful man. The experience brought them together, and they wound up becoming friends.

"Never Wanted to Be That Girl" reached the top of the country radio chart — one of only three female-female duets to do so since 1993. One of those, Reba McEntire and Linda Davis’ “Does He Love You,” specifically influenced Pearce and McBryde. In addition to its chart success, "Never Wanted to Be That Girl" won Musical Event of the Year at the 2022 CMA Awards, and earned Pearce her first GRAMMY nomination, for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. 

Pearce’s personal missive is at the center of a breakthrough personal and musical era ushered in by two enormous heartbreaks: Her highly public divorce from fellow artist Michael Ray and the untimely death of her producer, Busbee. Rather than retreat from the spotlight, Pearce used her grief and trauma to create 29: Written in Stone, a grippingly personal artistic statement. The singer’s authenticity paid dividends: She started seeing more commercial success, more critical recognition and extra passion from her fans. 

Ahead of the 2023 GRAMMY Awards, Pearce caught up with GRAMMY.com to discuss her first nomination, her powerful musical friendship with McBryde, and why she considers 29 to be the album that changed everything. 

After you learned you were nominated, what was the first thing you said to Ashley McBryde?

You know, this isn’t her first GRAMMY nomination, but it is her first No. 1 song, and so we’ve kind of had this thing where we’ve given each other firsts. It wasn’t my first No. 1 song, but it was my first GRAMMY nomination. So we were just texting, and I said thank you. 

I wanted so badly to collaborate with her  — and I knew that it was an unlikely pairing  — but I knew that if we really tried to write a song together we could do something really special. And we did.

Take me back to the day you wrote the song. 

I feel like this song in particular wasn’t written like any other song I’ve been a part of. We were in the room and we had zero ideas of what we were gonna write. No riffs, no hooks, no musical hints at all. We just started talking. She was privy to what was happening in my life, and obviously [co-writer and 29 producer] Shane [McAnally] was too, so when we wrote that song, we started a story. We had no idea where it was gonna land. 

We wrote this song in top to bottom chronological order. But we wanted to make sure that the choruses were the same, even though the women were experiencing different perspectives. I think we very carefully wanted to not pit the women against each other, but to show that you can both be burned by the same man. 

You and Ashley have known each other since early on in your time in Nashville, just from being at the same songwriter’s nights and shows. How has your relationship evolved?

I’ve always loved her. We did kind of come up together in a lot of ways. We would play shows together and sing each other’s songs, and I just felt like she understood my voice and I understood hers. I was making this album and brainstorming with one of the members of my team, and he said, "Wouldn’t it be so awesome if you had a collaboration with Ashley? She’s so different from you, but we miss those female-female duets. There haven’t really been any since the ‘90s." So I just texted her and asked, "I don’t know if this would ever interest you, but would you write a song with me for my record?" And she was in, immediately. It just felt like it was always destined to happen. 

Speaking of female-female ‘90s duets, one of your fellow nominees in this category is Reba McEntire’s new version of "Does He Love You" with Dolly Parton. I know the original version of this song with Linda Davis, in 1993 helped inspire "Never Wanted to Be That Girl."

We definitely referenced "Does He Love You" that day in the write. We knew we couldn’t touch that, but we were striving to make something as impactful. So it feels very full circle to have watched this song climb the charts, and watch it win all these different awards, and now be nominated in a category with the same woman that inspired us to even sing that song. 

Have you talked to Reba about your song’s connection to "Does He Love You"?

I haven’t seen her, but I’m hoping to get to do that. Maybe at the GRAMMYs! Not that she needs any other women to tell her she’s a trailblazer, but certainly, she inspired us to double down. 

When you think back to the beginnings of 29, when you were preparing to release all these personal songs. What were some of your biggest questions or fears, and how have they been resolved?

I remember turning in the first half of my album and wondering if my record label would even put it out, because it felt so personal — almost to a fault. And I remember thinking the production on it was so country that I wondered if it was going to be commercially accepted. I actually have a distinct memory of playing my song "29" for a group of friends and none of them were divorced, but they were crying, because they were inserting their own story into it. 

I think this is the album that I will look back on in my life and say it was the one that changed everything for me in my career. It gave me such direction. It gave me hope that I’m not alone. That’s been the most amazing thing;  when I look at it now, I go, Gosh, this album brought so many people to a place of feeling not alone, and in return, through their stories and their showing up for me when I needed it, they made me feel not alone. That’s all you ever want, when you’re an artist, to have that kind of connection.

Do you feel like people,  even outside of country fans,  are connecting with your story and responding to your music?

I’ve had a few albums out — this is my third — but I feel like in a lot of ways it was my first. I think we all go through the same struggles in life, and I think that people really resonated with me on a human level with this record. Everybody’s experienced heartache. And sometimes people need to feel hope, and that they’re not alone. So yes, I feel that very much. 

You’re in the middle of making a new album now. What can you share about that process?

As a writer, I wish I could go through a divorce every time I make a new album, because it makes you feel so inspired. But I think what I learned through making that record is, people wanna hear how I see the world. They wanna hear what I’m going through. From [age] 29 to 32, almost 33, there’s been a lot of life that I’ve intentionally kept more private. [Now], people say to me, "Oh my gosh, you’re so happy, but we’re not gonna get those Carly Pearce heartbreak songs." 

Honestly, yes, you can be happy and struggle to get there. I think there are songs that are reflective, there are songs that are nostalgic, there are songs that are in love and happy. But  you don’t realize how much you’ve been affected until you try to love somebody else. I don’t think that’s a topic that’s really talked about, but it’s something that I think a lot of people go through, and I kind of share my take on that. 

You’ve teased a little bit of a song called "Trust Issues." How does that song fit into your new music?

I felt very overwhelmed when I first started writing — just, you know, what this direction was. And I wrote in my phone, "trust issues." That’s kind of on the theme of, you never know how hurt you are until you try to love somebody else. But I wanted to spin it into a hopeful and happy thing, because I love titles where you look at them and you think it’s gonna be one thing, but it’s a totally different thing. 

So I got in the room with two of my favorite people, [songwriters] Nicolle Galyon and Jordan Reynolds, and we crafted this song that felt so hopeful. It’s a love song, but it’s a love song out of pain. And I remember when we wrote it — I see my albums in pictures, and I thought this was such an important facet to this transitional period of my life —of moving on. 

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Måneskin On Redefining Success, Staying Inspired & Honoring Italy

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Wet Leg On How A 6-Week Sleepover Spawned Their "Jaggedy" Indie Rock — And Global Fame
Wet Leg

Photo: Hollie Fernando

interview

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Wet Leg On How A 6-Week Sleepover Spawned Their "Jaggedy" Indie Rock — And Global Fame

The Isle of Wight duo detail how they overcame fear through collaboration, which resulted in their viral hit "Chaise Longue" and a debut album that earned them three nominations at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

GRAMMYs/Jan 23, 2023 - 04:50 pm

When Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers first started making music together, they never imagined their silly tracks would ever be heard — let alone get nominated for GRAMMYs.

It was December 2019, and the two singer/songwriters — now better known as indie rock duo Wet Leg — were in the midst of a six-week long sleepover at Chambers' house in the Isle of Wight, a small island off England's South coast where they both grew up. In between doing cozy activities like baking cookies and following Bob Ross tutorials, the two would stay up in the living room quickly getting out unserious song ideas with Chambers' boyfriend, Joshua Omead Mobaraki, who is now their touring guitarist. 

Two years later, a song birthed from those delirious jam sessions called "Chaise Longue" almost instantly took off. The quirky track hooked listeners with its effortlessly cool post-punk guitar riffs, sardonic vocal delivery, Mean Girls-referencing lyrics, and sexual innuendos. 

The viral popularity of the single — as well as of the other impishly upbeat tracks on the duo's 2022 self-titled debut — has propelled Wet Leg's whirlwind success, which includes landing three nominations at the 2023 GRAMMYs and an opening slot on Harry Styles' tour in the spring. (Their album also received two more GRAMMY nominations, Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical and Best Remixed Recording for the Soulwax Remix of single "Too Late Now," but those nominations go to the engineers and remixers, respectively.)

Though the two first met at Isle of Wight College — where they both studied music and subsequently dropped out — they first set out as individual solo artists. After becoming a little defeated from playing countless gigs with no certain direction, they both decided that they should stop taking things so seriously — and having a friend certainly helped.

"I feel like we're quite encouraging of each other," Chambers tells GRAMMY.com from a hotel room in New York City, where she and her bandmate had just arrived the night before. Teasdale grins, "Sometimes quite aggressively." 

This emphasis on joy and camaraderie has led Wet Leg to writing their most gutsy, hilarious lines ("I went to school and I got the big D," goes one cheeky line on "Chaise Longue") as well as lyrics that capture the modern anxieties of directionless millennials. Any sense of unease is erased when their songs descend into cathartic guitar strums — making the magic of Wet Leg as blissful as it is fun.  

Ahead of the 2023 GRAMMYs, Wet Leg reflect on their unexpected nominations, having retro sensibilities and leaning on goofiness.

Welcome to New York! How are you feeling?

Teasdale: A bit dozy, a bit tired. We went to see LCD Soundsystem [during their residency at Brooklyn Steel] last night. The night before that, we were flying from LA on a red eye. So a little bit weary, but it's good to be in New York. 

Congrats on the GRAMMY noms. How have you been processing them?

Teasdale: Well, it's so weird to see us nominated, for one. Then it's so weird to see us sandwiched between like, Karen O <a href="https://www.grammy.com/artists/yeah-yeah-yeahs/15944">of the [Yeah Yeah Yeahs] and Björk in the Alternative Album [category] — all these really legitimate artists. 

Chambers: It's surreal.

Do you have any hopes of winning?

Chambers: I don't really think it's for us to say. Maybe it's common for musicians to not really think about that part of the music industry. The main thing is that we're getting to make music, it's not really about the wins. To be honest, being in New York and getting to go to all these places and play music — that's the win for us that we're most focused on. 

Teasdale: It would just be nice to go. When we got nominated for the Mercury [Prize], it was just cool to see the show and how it all works. I've always dreamed of going to the Mercurys in particular, since it's Brit-centric. But I wouldn't have even thought, "I want to go to America and go to the GRAMMYs." So long and short of it is, I'm very excited to go and see the ceremonious happenings [Laughs]. 

I know you two met in college, but only started making music together in 2019. When you decided to become a duo, what kind of things did you connect on?

Teasdale: I'd say… fear? [Laughs.] I think when we started Wet Leg, we had just been to see some local bands at Isle of Wight Festival, and we were watching a lot of people playing music kind of nonchalantly and not being scared. We were like, "That looks really fun. Why don't we stop caring? Why don't we have a fun time?" It sounds simple and a little bit dumb, but before we started Wet Leg, both of us made music separately, and it was just scary. 

Chambers: Yeah, scary. I found [myself drifting] into not really wanting to do music when I was by myself. When we started [Wet Leg], I definitely felt this feeling of sunshine [wiggles fingers]. It was a big shift, and it's much easier to face the fear when you're not alone. 

Some of the big themes that stood out to me on the album was being a little dissociative and antisocial, and navigating weird sex stuff. When you were writing the songs, were you stopping to talk about these themes, or was it more fast and intuitive?

Teasdale: No, it was really funny when we finished the album and looked back at the patterns in what all the songs were about. It's funny, it's like a snapshot of that point in life. We were 26 and 27, and for me, I didn't really know what I was doing with my life, career-wise, and I had just been through a big breakup. I was feeling like all my friends around me were getting legit jobs and getting married, and I was just going to the same kind of festivals and parties. I was getting that feeling of like, "OK, maybe it's time to knuckle down and find my way." I guess that kind of all [leaks] it's way in there. But we didn't discuss it, because we also didn't really think that we could make an album. 

Chambers: Or that anyone would listen to it. 

Teasdale: Yeah, so it's gonna be interesting going into writing the second album knowing that we can do it. 

What was the vibe of the writing sessions when you were writing these songs on your debut? Can you set the scene? 

Teasdale: With "Chaise Longue" and "Wet Dream," they were both written off the cuff at Josh and Hester's house, in the living room. They were written quite late at night. 

Chambers: Not even writing for Wet Leg, it was just a fun thing to do.

Teasdale: Yeah, they were just supposed to stay in the folder on the computer and never see the light of day. Those ones were just kind of [born] out of silly energy. Oh, and "Ur Mom" was written in a Hilton hotel in Croydon [England] after a long day shooting an ad for KFC. 

Some of [the songs] were written in solitary, then we sent each other the demos. Then some of it was written together. "Too Late Now" would've been written in a band practice environment. So, there's no set way, which is maybe why the album is so jaggedy.

Watching your music videos, you two are wearing prairie dresses and there are retro television sets. I feel like your aesthetic calls back to an older time. Is there any particular reason?

Chambers: I think we do generally have an appreciation for old things. All of the furniture in our room is secondhand, and we wear a lot of vintage clothing. When we get to a city, we always [search for] vintage clothing shops, it's a really good hobby. Aesthetically, in movies and stuff, it's just comforting. 

Teasdale: I also think it's because we shot most of the videos on the Isle of Wight, where we're from. If you ever go there, it's like it's still the '70s over there. 

Chambers: It's also a nice juxtaposition. Because we're making music now.

Teasdale: Yeah, making music with the times, I suppose. 

In the "Wet Dream" video, you have lobster claws on. How did you think of that as a character?

Teasdale: Me and my friend Emma, who was the stylist I used to work for before we started doing music, were somehow like, "Yeah, let's make some lobster claws." Then we were like, "Should we dress everyone in blue, so it looks kind of cult-y?" I don't know where these ideas came from, it just kind of happened. 

Also, the song is "Wet Dream," so obviously the video had to be very sexy. I think that the only way for me to be able to [perform sexy moves in the video] is put on something goofy, like big lobster claws, to embrace my sexuality. There has to be something offsetting it. I'm getting a bit embarrassed saying that.

That reminds me of one of my favorite lyrics of yours, which is on "Too Late Now," when you say that you don't need someone to tell you to "shave your rat." I like it because it's a little gross and unexpected, since the typical slang word would be "kitty" or "cat." 

Teasdale: Maybe it's a U.K. thing, because when I was growing up, I'd hear things like, "Get your rat out!" Not that I'd call mine my rat, but some boy across the street would shout that at me. 

Growing up on an island, do you think that affects your mentality as a musician? Maybe it feels insular, or like you're in a pressure cooker environment?

Teasdale: Now that we've made some musician friends [who live] off the Isle of Wight, you can see how they fit into a scene and everything that they do, the music industry is right there [watching them]. There's an A&R person like, sniffing around.

Chambers: Whereas on the island, it's not as sizzling. There's not so many venues, and you don't get bands coming into town. You're much more incubated, I think. Pressure cooker is a good way to put it, because there's so many passionate, creative people anywhere you go [on Isle of Wight], but there's less [outside] influence. 

Teasdale: But part of Wet Leg being busy and doing alright is that, all of a sudden, bands from the Isle of Wight — like, Coach Party, for example — can ride the wave a little bit. [We're] kind of drawing peoples' attention to Isle of Wight bands, and that's cool. 

Do you have any goals for the far future?

Teasdale: To do 20 consecutive nights at Brooklyn Steel? Leave all our guitars up and not have to go anywhere. 

Chambers: Yeah, we were saying that it must be so nice that LCD can just pop home once they're done with a gig, wake up in their own beds, and then pop over to the venue and play a show. Touring is also nice, but it's just that traveling definitely makes you a little tired bean, doesn't it? 

I really like gigging and seeing places has been really rad, so we're just trying to enjoy where we are and where we're going and see what happens. I really can't think too far ahead right now — it's a bit scary. 

Hear The 2022 Nominees For Best Alternative Music Performance At The 2023 GRAMMY Awards

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Kim Petras On How "Lady Marmalade" Inspired "Unholy" & Why She'll Always "F—ing Love Vulgar Music"
Kim Petras

Photo: Jason Al-Taan

news

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Kim Petras On How "Lady Marmalade" Inspired "Unholy" & Why She'll Always "F—ing Love Vulgar Music"

In the last five years, Kim Petras has made a name for herself as a brash pop princess unafraid to flirt with the profane. But in the wake of her hit single "Unholy," the trans artist is ready to unleash her brand of subversive sass on the world.

GRAMMYs/Jan 20, 2023 - 03:53 pm

When Kim Petras delivered her debut single in 2017, she stomped into the spotlight with a single, bratty demand: "Give me all of your attention." And in the five years since, she has commanded it expertly.

Thanks to the provocative pop pastiche and irrepressible confidence displayed on bubblegum-laced favorites like "Heart to Break," "Hillside Boys" and "Can't Do Better," the German pop princess has cultivated a loyal pack of primarily LGBTQ+ fans — known as Bunheads — and become a fixture of constant fascination in indie pop circles. Then came "Unholy," the Sam Smith collaboration that launched her into the mainstream pop stratosphere. 

With help from a ghastly backing choir and a slinky industrial beat, the song finds the two stars weaving a scintillating tale of deceit and infidelity ("Mummy don't know daddy's getting hot at the body shop," Smith intones on the sing-song refrain).  Not only did the debaucherous collab become a global smash, it notched Petras her very first nomination for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance at the 2023 GRAMMY Awards.

As "Unholy" rocketed to the top of the charts around the globe, the song proved to be the embodiment of Petras' potential as a 21st century pop star — one who arrived with a fully formed point of view, a boundary-breaking identity as a proud trans woman and razor-sharp songwriting chops to boot. ("Unholy" also helped Petras and Smith make history, as the pair became the first publicly trans and nonbinary artists, respectively, to clinch a No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100.)

The mammoth success of "Unholy" capped off a momentous 12 months for Petras that was filled with both highs and lows. Months after releasing fan-favorite and unabashedly hypersexual EP Slut Pop in February 2022, she was forced to scrap her major-label debut — reportedly titled Problématique — after the bulk of the album leaked online. But as "Unholy" continues to display its undeniable staying power (it's holding strong at No. 3 on the Hot 100 nearly four months after its release, as of press time) Petras is looking forward to a bright future — and it starts now. 

Ahead of the 2023 GRAMMY Awards — and the release of her latest single, "brrr" — GRAMMY.com caught up with Petras about her triumphant year, honoring the trans music pioneers who came before her, and her no-holds-barred advice for her doubters and detractors.

What does it mean to you to be a GRAMMY nominee?

I think it's incredible to get recognized from something as prestigious as [the GRAMMYs]. I honestly didn't think that that would ever happen for me because I'm such a bubblegum pop girl, and I don't really feel like that's usually something the GRAMMYs go for, you know? I think it's rare. 

Sam is so incredible. For any other song, I would've been like, "Yeah, Sam's gonna get nominated." But we made a slutty song about cheating [Laughs]. So it's awesome and it's a cherry on top for it being my first kind of mainstream moment. I'm super grateful to Sam for having me on the song and for having that vision.

Did you talk to Sam right after finding out about your nomination?

Yeah! We texted pretty much right away. I think Sam was in London but yeah, it was wild. 

You're now part of a line of trans artists in GRAMMY history, including pioneers like Wendy Carlos and Jackie Shane, as well as SOPHIE and Honey Dijon — who also received her very first nomination this year.

So incredible. Like, so overdue.

What does it mean to you to be part of the legacy?

I'm proud. There's been trans women in music for a long time that I looked up to growing up. I mean, if you go all the way back, there was Amanda Lear in, like, the '70s having giant disco, Euro hits and people didn't even know she was trans. I just feel like they've all kind of been overlooked a lot, and never really got what they deserved regarding their influence. 

I'm so proud to have known and to have worked with SOPHIE, someone who I think is a pioneer in sound. Even "Unholy," you can hear SOPHIE's influence in that. I'm certainly forever influenced by SOPHIE's work. And I know that all kinds of producers are as well, and that SOPHIE always comes up as a reference for so many people. It's cool to be in the same category as those artists that I really look up to.

You collaborated with SOPHIE on your single "1,2,3 dayz up" in 2019, which was the same year she was GRAMMY nominated for Best Dance/Electronic Album for Oil of Every Pearl Un-Insides. Did she give you any career advice at the time? Do you have a favorite memory of working with her? 

I definitely learned a lot in the studio from SOPHIE — as in being authentic is the most important thing and the most brave thing you can do. It just came so easy to SOPHIE to want music to be an authentic expression rather than chasing something; chasing mainstream, chasing being relatable, chasing any of these things just never occurred to SOPHIE. 

That's something that inspires me deeply, because I feel like I've spent the beginning of my career just trying to fit in, trying to not stick out in these rooms. I mean, in songwriting sessions, it's mostly guys…I feel like I've spent so much time kind of not wanting to offend anyone and not letting my opinions be that known. And not sticking up for my ideas in the beginning….I always think about SOPHIE and just how dead set she was in [saying], "No. It has to be this lyric, it has to be this way. That's it." That attitude inspires me still.

And not wanting to stick out or offend anyone, I'm sure, is how you came up with a project like Slut Pop. 

Oh yeah! That's the thing — I feel like it's so crazy how much the world has kind of changed in what people relate to. I grew up listening to the dirtiest s—. I listened to Ayesha Erotica so much — to Peaches, to, like, Amanda Lepore's quick dip into music. I definitely come from that, and being born and raised in Germany and rave culture and techno music. Slut Pop was just always something I've wanted to do but didn't really have the nerve to do. And I'm so happy I did it.

This year, it's been crazy, because I feel like Slut Pop in the beginning was very dragged by everyone as like, "Agh, she just repeats the words over and over and blah!" But, like, that's rave music, that's dance music. That's what I was inspired by. And I feel like it's gotten this hardcore fan base now that really gets it. 

It appeared on a bunch of lists of best EPs of the last year, and that really surprised me, because I thought that everyone just kind of s— on that record as being vulgar. And I'm fine with that. It is vulgar, you know? That's what it's supposed to be and I'm proud of that. I f—ing love vulgar music, so suck it. [Laughs.]

So getting back to "Unholy" — it's obviously given you so many career firsts: your first entry on the Billboard Hot 100, your first worldwide No. 1, your first platinum record, and now your first GRAMMY nomination...

It's so crazy, man!

What is it about the song that you think has made it connect with people so much and turned it into such a hit?

I just think it's a good song. ILYA absolutely crushed the production. And I just think this kind of dirty Berghain vibe of the song is something that isn't around that much. I think it should be.

I remember hearing "Unholy" for the first time and thinking, "This is giving me the reaction that I had when I first heard 'Lady Marmalade' with Christina Aguilera and P!nk and Mya and Lil' Kim." It gave me that energy, and I remember seeing that video for the first time as a kid and just being like…"I think I want to be a prostitute after listening to this." 

Honestly, that's such a cool reaction to me because, like, your parents don't want you to listen to it and they're like, 'No! It's dirty music!" And you're, like, behind-their-backs listening to it, and that made it so much more special. And we needed that kind of feeling, but with a LGBTQ cast, and I feel like that's what we've kind of done. I can't believe it worked out. I'm just like, "Like, what?"

How did your verse on "Unholy" come together in the studio?

Well, everyone was kind of set on it being the same melody as Sam's verse, being the [sings] "Lucky, lucky girl..." And they had some lyrics prepared and kinda had their idea already of what I was supposed to do. And it honestly just didn't feel like me; it felt like what everyone else would do.

Sam really stood up for me and was like, "No, she has to talk about designer s— and being a sugar baby, and doing her Kim Petras s—. That's why she's here, let's not make her into something she's not." 

And then I remember Max Martin telling me [while we were working on "If Jesus Was A Rockstar"] that the ["Unholy"] verse was exactly what the song needed. That was a huge, huge compliment for me as a writer. So I'm grateful that Sam really stuck up for me — and, you know, likes my slutty bars.

When I first heard it, your verse really felt like "I Don't Want It At All" 2.0 with all the designer name-dropping and other references. Were you thinking of that in the studio?

That's kind of the thing with me — I just turn into a brat on songs [Laughs]. That's just always been like my thing that I love doing. And with "Unholy," I mean, it is about someone cheating. And as a trans girl, I feel like a lot of guys don't necessarily take me seriously. Or want to, like, marry me but they want to f— me and buy me s—. So I like to play with that [idea] and see that as a mirror, like, holding it back into your face — what you think of me and what you think I'm here for. So yeah, that was my intention with it. And it does tie into the "I Don't Want It At All" bratty stage persona that I love and hold very dear.

You mentioned Max Martin. Since "Unholy," you've also released "If Jesus Was A Rockstar," which was your first time working with him. What did you learn from that experience?

I learned that I'm, as a writer, good enough to be in the room with anyone. And be in the room with my biggest heroes. I think that just made me feel really validated. And it was cool that even as big as Max Martin is, he just loves to collaborate with people and see what you want to do and what you want to offer. 

I think there's often this kind of fake narrative that you go in with big producers and they just give you a song. And I wish it was that way — like, that'd be fire, you know? And maybe for some people it is like that. I've been a writer for other people, and I definitely know that there are artists out there who don't write s—. And, like, that's cool, it's awesome, you have other talents like dancing and being hot. But I love writing and singing, and no matter who I work with, I still write my s—. I collaborate with people, but at the end of the day, I'm a writer and I'm proud of that…But it was cool, I really got to be a fan and Max even did some background vocals.

So in the spirit of "Unholy," who would you say were your holy trinity of pop divas growing up? 

Cher. Diana Ross, love Diana Ross. And Madonna. Yeah, and honestly [they will] remain my holy trinity.

What about those three informed the way you approached pop and becoming an artist?

Their ability to be more than a gender, or a person, or a skin color, or a box. They're larger than life, all of them. And they are these kind of escapist figures. Like, maybe you can live your life however you want to and that's OK. You can be glamorous or hypersexual or Cher on a boat with eight half-naked sailors. You can be whatever you want! And I think that's such a powerful thing about them. 

What's next for you? Does "If Jesus Was a Rockstar" point to the direction fans can expect from your new music?

No. It's really the only song that sounds like this on the [new] album. It's like a misleading little thing.

I would say that [with] the album, every song is its own world sonically, and that fits in with the conceptual context of the album pretty well. I just said "conceptual context" and I feel so smart now, for no reason. 

I don't want to give away too much, because I've done this before — I've spoken about an album so much and then it leaked and then it got scrapped. I'm scared of that. So, not gonna happen this time. We're protected. [Laughs]. Hopefully. Fingers crossed. 

I miss my fans. I miss giving my fans full projects that aren't just songs. And most of all, I miss touring and performing. It's time for Miss Album.

The Official 2023 GRAMMYs Playlist Is Here: Listen To 140 Songs By Beyoncé, Harry Styles, Bad Bunny, Kendrick Lamar & More

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: GAYLE On The Real-Life Pain Behind "abcdefu," Nashville Beginnings And Taylor Swift
GAYLE

Photo: Acacia Evans

news

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: GAYLE On The Real-Life Pain Behind "abcdefu," Nashville Beginnings And Taylor Swift

GAYLE’s very first label release became a viral smash and landed her a GRAMMY nomination for Song Of The Year. Now, the teenage star is ready for her next chapter, including a debut album and tour with Taylor Swift.

GRAMMYs/Jan 16, 2023 - 05:00 pm

If you've had an issue with an ex in the past 18 months, GAYLE has probably provided some catharsis for you.

Born Taylor Gayle Rutherford, she's the singer behind 'abcdefu,' a kiss-off anthem that offers both deep emotion and inherent irreverence. And just as much as the song offered release for many listeners, it did for GAYLE herself, too.

The pop smash was based on a real-life relationship and subsequent heartbreak GAYLE would later refer to as toxic — making the breakup tune a powerful call for independence as well as an outright display of both anger and the strength of moving on. 

"abcdefu" was also a depiction of teenage angst, as GAYLE was just 16 when she co-wrote the song as a fledgling artist in Nashville. Two years later, the song helped the now 18-year-old GAYLE earn her first GRAMMY nomination, and a coveted one at that: Song Of The Year. 

The nomination comes on the heels of monumental commercial success for the young singer, with her hit going triple platinum, topping Billboard’s Global 200 chart and garnering more than a billion streams. Along the way, she’s released her first two EPS (the aptly-titled A Study of the Human Experience, Volumes One and Two). And just recently, Taylor Swift invited her to open several dates on the superstar’s highly anticipated (and Ticketmaster-breaking) Eras Tour, which kicks off in March.

Ahead of the 2023 GRAMMY Awards, GAYLE gets candid about the song that changed her life, the creative community in Nashville and what’s next. 

Tell me about the genesis of "abcdefu" — where were you when it came together?

We were in Nashville, Tennessee. It was me and [co-writer] Dave Pittenger, along with Sara Davis, who I [have been] writing with since I was 12 and she was 15. Me and Sara were two young girls in Nashville who thought, We can curse in our songs and our moms won’t get mad at us? This is cool

We’d write songs in my bedroom, but after a couple years of writing with each other, we started teaming up with producers and writing with guitars and pianos. We started writing with Dave, who had a lot of success with country music and less so pop, so we’d just write songs on a guitar. 

Normally I come in with a vision, because I feel it’s your job as an artist to lead writers where you want to go. But it was in the middle of COVID, and this was my first in-person write in a long time. I said, "I have to be honest, I have no ideas. I really hate being that person." Dave laughed and he said, "Well, I have a bunch." Thank God for him. 

For his first idea, he looked at us, looked back down and looked at us again and was like, "ABCD F— Off!" and me and Sara just burst out laughing. I had never heard that phrase.

The song centers on a breakup where you want nothing to do with your ex. Was there a real inspiration behind that?

My actual ex and my best friend hated each other; they had beef the whole entire time [my ex and I dated]. They never really hung out and I kept them very separated. I was also in a very self-deprecating place the whole entire relationship. 

So you had all of this bottled-up energy you brought into the song?

I had written a million songs about this person, but I was really angry at him and was angry at the people who enabled him and his behavior. One of the reasons why he treats people improperly is because he was treated improperly. So I was mad at him and everyone who enabled him.

Did he actually have a dog?

He does have a dog! It’s a Shih-Poo.

Does this person know the song is about him, and have you heard from him?

I have not heard from him. I blocked him in February 2021, after hitting a point where I said, "I have to be done." It was a very specific moment in time, and I hope he has a happy life. I just want to be as far away from him as possible. I also don’t get any validation from him thinking anything I’m doing is impressive, even if he looked at the charts. 

When did you realize your life was going to change thanks to the success of "abcdefu?"

The first moment I knew something was happening was when it started to hit the Shazam charts in other countries, like Poland or South Korea. That meant it was playing in random places and people were wondering what the song was. I think it was in the top five in Mexico, and it was weird to be in Nashville and know that it was playing somewhere else in a random coffeeshop.

[When a song is rising like that,] whenever it does one thing you hope it does another thing. If it gets on a playlist, you hope it goes higher up on that playlist. So for a while I was playing that game. 

I remember the day it hit the Spotify playlist Today’s Top Hits. I was on tour with the band Winnetka Bowling League as their opener in small clubs. We were just jumping up and down backstage, so excited that it would reach that. But when it hit the radio, I knew that things were going to be different.

You’re also 18 years old experiencing all of this, but at the same time have been working at it for a while. Can you tell me about growing up with these dreams and creative goals, which you’re now experiencing the materialization of?

It’s interesting; why you get into music at 10 is a very different reason why you stay in it at 18. I’m very aware that I’m living my dreams and getting to do all the things I wanted to do as a kid, but at the same time, it’s very real, and there are difficulties that come with those things that I guess I didn’t always expect. [My success] has changed my life and benefited me in so many ways, but it also gave me new difficulties that I have to deal with. 

After this past year, what I’m grateful for is that nobody can make me do something I don’t want to do. The music that I’m making, and the things that I’m doing, I really love and stand behind. I’m trying to appreciate things that happen in the moment and not be too scared for my future as well. I know I have time. 

I just happened to put out my first song through a label that did what it did, and that is amazing. Now I want to build a career that I can stick with. So it’s very exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. Sometimes it’s hard to breathe, but I’m very hopeful for the next year. 

You’ve said in the past that you feel kind of like an underdog in the sense that you’re a pop artist coming from Nashville, which is so known for its country scene. Can you elaborate on that?

It’s interesting because there is a lot of pop music in Nashville, and now more than ever, the lines are being blurred on genres. But one thing I really appreciate about the city is how the community really loves you if you’re developing and have nothing. I’ve never felt like I had more of a family than when I was up-and-coming here. I came to Nashville when I was 12, and found people I felt so connected to because we had this unexplainable and undying love and passion for music — [and we] couldn’t help but be a crazy person and move here. 

Also, Nashville for a 12 year old is very different than LA for a 12 year old. In LA, people would always tell me who I was — "You’re this, you’re that." But any meeting I ever had in Nashville was, "Tell me who you are." I needed to find out who I was there in order to work in other places. It’s a community of writers who want to collaborate with each other, and that’s something really beautiful about the Nashville scene. 

You’re now about to join Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour as an opener, one of the most culturally significant tours in many years. What does that mean to you, both personally and as an artist?

She’s been in the music industry for 15 years, so I was 3 when she got her start. As a young, female pop songwriter in Nashville, it means the absolute world that she’d believe in me enough to put me on that tour. 

She’s been such an inspiration my entire time in Nashville, especially since I started out in country music and moved over to pop. I didn’t even know that was a possibility until I saw Taylor do that very successfully. I don’t know if my mom would have even moved me to Nashville if she didn’t see Taylor Swift’s parents do it first. 

Has she ever given you advice?

It’s never been straightforward advice, but more about just the struggles beginning in music. When I met her, I genuinely was just so happy to have the opportunity to thank her for everything she’s done in the Nashville scene, and the writing community there as an iconic representative. 

I barely know what I’m doing and I feel no guarantees about my future. I’m trying to work on having a stable career. I’ve been in the music industry for a year and I’m making my first album. So it’s like, "I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m really scared and tired" and she’s like "It’s okay, baby." She is the biggest star in the world, and [she understands] that is a double-edged sword. 

She knows what it's like to be a young, up-and-coming woman in the industry with social media; it’s an exciting and terrifying time where the highs are really high and the lows are really low. For her to just take me under her wing in any way with belief, hope and inspiration and kindness [is amazing]. Because when all is said and done, [she sees] I’m just a teenage girl who really loves music. 

A Look At The Nominees For Song Of The Year At The 2023 GRAMMY Awards