Chartbreaker: Paris Paloma’s Breakout Relationship Lament ‘Labour’ Is Resonating With Women and Men Alike
The alt-folk single reached the top 10 on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart in April.
Rising singer-songwriter Paris Paloma remembers exactly when she realized she had something special with “Labour.” It was the last day in a weeklong studio session with producer Justin Glasco in Los Angeles, and she was preparing to record vocals for the climactic bridge to the stormy alt-folk anthem, with fellow women backup singers Natalie Duque, Nolyn Ducich and Annabel Lee. “That was a moment where I was like, ‘This is coming together as a song now,’ ” she recalls. “Because us women, just all shouting in a room — I was like, ‘This is what it’s about.’ ”
“Labour” has inspired no shortage of women doing exactly that since its March release. The single initially became a sensation on TikTok for Paloma’s mighty vocals and powerful message about having to do all the emotional heavy lifting in a relationship — and, to a lesser extent, for her strikingly British pronunciation of the word “capillaries” (cuh-pill-uh-rees). (“I stand by the British pronunciation of it!” she insists. “I don’t think the American one sounds nice, I’m sorry.”) It has quickly become the 23-year-old U.K. singer-songwriter’s breakout hit, debuting at No. 9 on Billboard’s Hot Alternative Songs chart (dated April 8) and No. 13 on the all-genre Digital Song Sales listing — while in her home country, it entered at No. 29 on the Official Songs Chart.
Hailing from Ashbourne, Derbyshire, in England, Paloma began writing music when she was 14 and started recording and releasing her own work in 2020. At the beginning of the pandemic, she attracted the attention of High Plateau Productions owner/CEO David Fernandez when he was invited to virtually attend a songwriter session. “Paris was the first to sing, and literally, as soon as she opened her mouth, I pinged her on Instagram,” he recalls. “I was like, ‘Hey, look, I’m the weird dude in the room… Let’s take a phone call.’ ”
Fernandez officially came on as her manager in March 2021. “It was basically just me and her,” he remembers of their early days together. “With my limited knowledge of mixing and mastering, [we were] both learning Logic at the exact same time.” While Paloma’s voice was what immediately drew Fernandez in, he soon became even more enamored with her songwriting: “Just the content that she writes about and the meaningfulness of her lyrics — it touches me as a music listener.”
Paloma scored a minor breakthrough in 2022 with her biblically framed relationship analysis “The Fruits,” attracting the attention of Nettwerk Records, which she signed with that fall. Her first time recording in a proper studio was last September for “Labour” — a song she’d originally written as two separate works before realizing they shared a theme. “They’re [about] the same thing — putting too much labor into a relationship where you’re not having it returned,” she explains. “And how common of an experience that is for women because of the way that we’ve been programmed to view heterosexual relationship dynamics. And it’s so normalized.”
Upon hearing the song’s demo for the first time, Fernandez insisted that it would need reinforcements beyond the two of them and a laptop: “I just knew if I could get her in with Justin [Glasco] and add [his] sprinkle of fairy dust on top of the thing — I had a really, really good feeling.” Even before they put it to tape, though, the song was already starting to garner interest, thanks to an early clip Paloma posted to TikTok in August, teasing lyrics for the song that she’d just penned.
“I often do videos whilst I’m songwriting, and I did that the first evening when I wrote the lyrics for what ended up being the bridge,” she says. “It was just a video of me in my room singing these words that I’d written like 20 minutes before… but it gave me a little indicator that was like, ‘OK, I think this is something that I want to be heard, and I think people want to hear it.’ ”
Those early signs proved right on the money when the full song was released through Nettwerk in March, drawing not only millions of streams but countless responses on TikTok from fans who found the themes to be resonant — and not just from women. “I’ve got several messages from men who’ve realized [from the song] that they should be doing better in relationships,” Paloma says. “That’s amazing. Because I keep getting asked, ‘What can we do to solve this?’ And it’s not up to women: That’s the whole point. It’s up to men to listen and to take action.”
Through the success of “Labour” and Paloma’s other songs, she has amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on TikTok. But Fernandez is insistent that neither he nor Paloma want her to be seen as a “TikTok artist” — which is part of the reason they declined to release sped-up or slowed-down versions of “Labour,” instead opting to record a totally reimagined, more orchestral version of the song with production duo MyRiot that’s dropping soon. “It’s just not falling into that trap of, ‘Let’s copy what everyone is doing right now,’ ” Fernandez says. “Let’s try to forge our own way. And if it works, it works, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
Paloma is now getting ready to play some live shows at 300- to 500-capacity spaces in London and upcoming festival dates at Summerfest and Bonnaroo. She’s also beginning to think about a debut album, which Fernandez says fans can most likely expect in July or August. By then, it will have been about a year since she wrote “Labour.”
“It’s already been a lot of time in between,” she says. “In that time, I’ve written a lot newer music, which — not to say that it’s better, but you always think that your most recent stuff is the best because it’s the most accurate reflection of where your creativity is. I’ve got so much work I want to get out.”
A version of this story will appear in the May 13, 2023, issue of Billboard.