British pop singer L Devine loves a challenge. The 21-year-old up-and-coming singer-songwriter could have sipmly put out her critically-beloved 2018 EP Peer Pressure and been done with it. But instead, she decided to produce an entire short film surrounding the release, only adding to the project’s inherent artistry.
So when the star teamed up with electro-pop duo INDIIA to write a new song, she wanted to take on something new. After hearing a number of beats and backing tracks specifically produced for her sound, she asked for something outside of the box. “They played this beat, and they were like, ‘We’ve got this, but we were kind of saving it for a rapper,’” she tells Billboard. “Even before they played it, I was like, ‘This is the one I’m gonna write on today. I’m gonna prove them wrong.’”
The product of that session is “Naked Alone,” a groovy, R&B-infused pop song that the singer describes as “a loner’s anthem.” Taking her music to a more sexual place that she ever has, Devine croons about needing a casual hookup to make her feel better. “All I really need is some sex/ Ya feel me?” she asks.
Devine spoke to Billboard ahead of her new single’s release about following up her last big project, her adoration for Charli XCX, and how pop music defies classification.
What was your goal when you were writing this song?
I wrote “Naked Alone” quite a while ago, I’ve been sitting on this song for some time now. So, when I wrote it, there was no goal really. I was still so new in the music industry, and I was still… not naively writing songs, but no one had listened to my music yet, so I didn’t really have an audience to think about when writing songs. I was very much writing songs for myself. But, in a way, the goal was probably just some self-therapy [laughs]. I had just moved to London, I was super lonely, I didn’t know anyone at all, and I kind of wanted to flip those lonely feelings on their head and make this super tongue-in-cheek pop song. And yeah, here it is, a loner’s anthem!
We love a loner’s anthem. But the song also features your most sex-positive lyrics to date. You’ve said in past interviews that you wanted to avoid falling into the stereotype of a girl singing about being sexy — how did that mindset inform the way you approached this track?
At the end of the day, I write about my life! And sometimes, I do want to have sex, so I’m gonna write about it at some point. But yes, after I wrote Peer Pressure and put it out and got such an amazing response, I did feel all of this pressure to write songs with a message. And I still do — I still feel like I’ve kind of got a responsibility, you know, to write songs that really say something. But I’m a young girl, I’m in my twenties, and I feel like this sometimes. And I know so many other people feel like this, too. Sometimes, you just want someone in bed with you to keep you warm!
The music is also a bit of a departure — it’s got much more of a funky R&B sound. Where did that sound come from for you?
I make pop music, and the reason I love pop music is because you can break the rules, and constantly reinvent the way you sound. There’s no boundaries there. That’s why I like to make this music, because I can kind of fuck around with whatever sound I want, and they’re still my songs at the end of the day, so there’s a sense of cohesiveness through all of my tracks. Like, they’re just me. I didn’t go in the studio and say, “Hey, I want to make this huge funk song!” I’m just open to what my collaborators are feeling.
This one came about because these two producers, they go by the name INDIIA, they just had… like a bunch of beats for me that they pre-made for the session. They were all of these kind of really Scandi, pop-esque stuff. I was like, “Aww, have you got anything else? Anything a bit… not for me?” So they played this beat, and they were like, “We’ve got this, but we were kind of saving it for a rapper.” And even before they played it, I was like, “This is the one I’m gonna write on today. I’m gonna prove them wrong.” They played it, and all I heard was that bassline and the vocal sample, and I was like, “Yeah, I’m jumping on this.” So I went in the booth, and wrote some melodies, and there it was.
2018 was obviously a big year for you with the release of Peer Pressure. A lot of people have labeled that project as your “breakthrough” — do you agree with that sentiment?
That’s a big question! I don’t know — parts of me feel overwhelmed to everyone’s response to every bit of music I’ve put out, every time I put something out. The responses are getting bigger, so I don’t really know about my “breakthrough,” but I hope that the responses to my music can keep getting bigger. I hope twice as many people listen to “Naked Alone” as they did Peer Pressure. But, I’m just so grateful for the response I got to Peer Pressure, especially because it was something that I had honestly written. It was really good to have people come relate to it, and to respect me for putting it out.
You mentioned earlier that you feel a “responsibility” to producing meaningful songs — there is this ongoing discussion in the queer music community about whether or not queer artists have a responsibility to make music specifically about being queer, or whether they should write about whatever they want without their queerness informing their music. Where do you fall on that debate?
Oh yeah, that is something that I definitely kind of asked myself in my head before I put out “Daughter.” I had this weird thing constantly, where I thought, “Am I cashing in on my sexuality if I put this song out? I don’t want people to think that I’m trying to capitalize on my identity.” Which, looking back now, is the most ridiculous thing I could think! [Laughs.] I’m writing about my life; I make music, and I also happen to be gay, so… I was inevitably going to release a song about me being in love with a girl. I’m gonna make music that’s about my life, and being gay is my life, so that’s that!
The last time we spoke to Charli XCX, she shouted you out and called you the “motherfucking future” of pop music —
That was the craziest thing ever! I lost my mind when I read that! It was crazy, I saw that she’d mentioned me in the interview, which was crazy enough as it were. The first thing that I saw was her asking “Have you heard of this girl called L Devine?” And I was like, “Oh, that’s so cool.” And then I kept reading, and she was still talking about me a few lines down! Like, whoa! She’s having a whole conversation about me and my music in a conversation that was about her! I freaked out.
I’ve been such a huge Charli fan for a long time. She does exactly what I mean when I say that pop music can be reinvented and reimagined. I think she is one of the most exciting people in pop music. So to have someone like that rate you is the craziest thing ever. She’s such a legend.
Aside from Charli, who is someone that you’d be really keen on working with soon?
Hmm … I mean, I’ve got a lot of people for different reasons. Artistry-wise, I love Christine and the Queens. She is just unbelievable. She is definitely the benchmark for me when it comes to creativity. I saw her live last year, and it was just so theatrical, yet so slick at the same time. It was so cool and so subtle, it was absolutely crazy. I love her. Just plain music-wise, I love Koffee, I think she is amazing as well, and I would love to collaborate with her as well.
Obviously, last year was a big undertaking with the EP — this is your first song after it. Are you planning another big project, or are you thinking of entering a singles stage?
Yeah, so the plan is to keep putting stuff out. I want to start releasing a few songs now. I’ve done the two EPs now, Peer Pressure and Growing Pains, and I’m so proud of them, but they take a long time to put together. It ends up being a year or two in between the releases of those things, and when it comes to the short films I make with them, they do take a while. Within the next couple of months, I just want to put a few songs out to see how it works.