Evidently, the message hit a nerve. Following its release in late January of this year, “Undrunk,” produced by Frank Ocean collaborator Malay, became the most-added song on Top 40 radio and debuted on Billboard’s Pop Songs chart at No. 31 on the chart dated Feb. 16. (It’s currently sitting at No. 18.) Now the NYU grad -- who counts Maggie Rogers as a friend and former classmate -- is readying a six-track EP for sometime in the next few months.
Below, she tells Billboard about how the song came together, writing about the #MeToo movement and becoming the artist she wished she knew as a kid.
What happened after you realized the word “undrunk” could be a great concept for a song?
We just started talking about our exes and what we had been through. The inspiration behind it is really just wishing you could undo loving that person that ruined your life, broke your heart into a million pieces, stomped on it, lit it on fire and then fucking ate it and threw it back up. We just kept saying, “What can you undo? Unkiss? Unlove? Unfuck?” And the melody just kind of came to us.
This song tells such a clear story, but some parts of it unfold backwards. Do you have to stop and plan out how the pieces fit together as you’re writing?
No, not necessarily, I think it was really just about me having gone through a breakup. I was with somebody that had cheated on me, so I was in this space where I literally felt like I wanted to go out and make out with a bunch of people just to be like, “Fuck you, I can do that too!” It’s about when you go out and get a little too drunk and are in the taxi cab by yourself thinking about that person. I wanted to capture that feeling of being alone with your thoughts and being angry and sad -- feeling every emotion.
As you’ve shared this EP with friends and family, do you have people reaching out to you like, “Uh, are you okay? Are you going through something?”
Oh my God, somebody literally said that to me! I played them the whole EP, and they were like, “I need to give you a hug.” I played it for my parents, and during the part when I'm singing about touching myself to photos, I get so cringey. When I see my parents listening to this song I'll literally sneeze or cough over the beat or something.
You posted a great Kacey Musgraves meme about it!
Yeah, that literally is me when my family listens to the song. Every song on the EP is just a moment in time of the emotional rollercoaster of a heartbreak, you know? It literally is up and down every second.
Does sharing it all make you feel exposed in a way?
A little bit. I felt that way when I was writing “Undrunk.” But then as the rest of the EP went on, I was just like, “I’m going to commit to the confessions, commit to the craziness and maybe the psycho-ness of it all.” Because I promise, as much as nobody wants to admit it, we’ve all been in that situation where someone makes you feel insane and insecure, like you literally can't fucking breathe without that person.
That was where I was at, and I never thought I would get over it -- but I did. My whole thing with this music is I just want people to feel something, and I think people are craving sincerity now more than ever. At least I know that's what I want. I want to be the artist that I needed when I was a little girl -- the artist who tells real-life stories about the female experience and what it means to be a woman in 2019 and go through a heartbreak. I think that's just such a real feeling that there's so much taboo around. But heartbreak is the most universal thing. No matter who broke your heart, it sucks.
A lot of fans on Twitter seem to relate to the part in the second verse about drunkenly cooking.
I played the song for somebody recently, and they were like, 'I'm not kidding you, I came home at 4:00 in the morning from the bar the other night, hysterically cried about my ex and started cooking the most random shit. And then I woke up in the tub with all of my clothes on.” [Laughs.]
I love hearing people's stories about how they're relating to “Undrunk,” because we all go home after a night of being wasted and cook something weird. One time I came home to my college roommate cooking an avocado -- she literally cut an avocado and put Hershey’s milk chocolate on it and put it in the microwave for like 16 minutes. I came in and was like, “Are you good?” And she's like crying and sweating over the food. I didn't really know her that well. It was one of our first nights of going out. It seemed like a weird drunk choice -- I go straight for nachos or pasta when I’m wasted.
How did you link up with Malay for these songs?
I've been such a fan of Malay and all the work that he did with Frank Ocean, Alessia Cara and Lorde. And I was such a fan of his sonic palette -- as edgy as the words are, I wanted the production to match that. He really made it a safe, collaborative space to come up with crazy ideas, and his production is really what brought it to life. I was lucky enough to also get to work some really sick writers on all the songs, too, so that helped me get what I was trying to say into words. It’s such an amazing process to be able to work with people that I admire and look up to.
One thing that really stood out to me about the songs on the EP was the dynamics -- when things swell and get loud, when things get quiet, when you belt it out and when you practically whisper. How much time and consideration goes into that?
Honestly, that kind of stuff always comes to me as I'm recording the song. It’s dependent on whatever emotion I'm feeling that day and also just the emotion of the what the song is about. And then for those cool little production elements, I don't know -- they're things that I just hear and feel should happen. I literally will listen to the song and say, “The production needs to fully drop out here” or “It'd be sick if we had like this kind of sound” or “Put in this type of bassline.” And that's what was so cool about getting to work with Malay: He had ideas for stuff like that, I had ideas for stuff like that. Getting to make music in a collaborative environment I think is the only way to make music.
When you first broke out as an independent artist and had success on Spotify, you said you were in no hurry to sign a label deal. Now you’re signed to Capitol. How did you know this was the right time?
When I started writing all these songs and realizing how special they were to me, I realized I wanted to give these songs the opportunity to be heard on a level that was bigger than just me putting them out by myself. I wasn't ready at the time [that “Warpaint” went viral], because I wanted to figure out more about who I am and what I wanted to say and go in with a perspective so nobody else could alter it.
To have a team behind me that believes in my music and my vision and is helping me bring it to life on the biggest scale I could ever imagine is everything I dreamed of. All the other stuff that comes with it is really cool, but the only reason I do what I do is, like I said, so I can be the artist I needed when I was growing up. If I can reach people that are from a different part of the world? That’s the coolest thing ever. Because we all just want to feel connected and loved and understood no matter who you are or where you come from.
It seems like people are connecting: The song was one of the most-added songs on Top 40 radio shortly after it came out.
It's been so crazy. I used to drive from New Jersey to New York with my parents all the time, staring out the window listening to the radio and picturing myself in a music video. I was, like, fully acting it out. And the fact that that's me and that maybe some other little kid is doing that to my song -- well, hopefully they're not saying “unfuck you” yet -- is just the most surreal thing ever. I'm confused and stoked and very grateful and just taking it one day at a time.
You put out a song last year called “I Believe You” that referenced the #MeToo movement and addressed victims of harassment and sexual assault. What kind of response did you get?
I had so many people reaching out to me and thanking me for putting that out. I am fortunate enough to work with so many women and female collaborators, and just being in the studio and hearing their stories of abuse and assault and what they had to go through to get to where they are is something that I just felt so compelled and moved to talk about. Because they deserve to have a platform and a voice too, and I wanted to be that and have that be my contribution to the conversation. Just hearing everybody's feedback made it so worth it.
And I think that's a connection between “I Believe You” and “Undrunk” -- though they're talking about two very different topics, they're still very real things that we experience as women. The honesty in it is what ties all of the music together.