In September, G.R.L. lost their friend and bandmate Simone Battle to suicide. On Wednesday, they joined first lady Michelle Obama in Washington, D.C., to help launch the national mental-health campaign Change Direction.
As ambassadors for addressing mental0health issues, it’s the most public spotlight yet for G.R.L., who have been working with the nonprofit organization Give An Hour.
“This charity was the first reason we wanted to continue forward,” group member Lauren Bennett says. “It’s the perfect opportunity to make something positive out of an awful situation.”
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Bennett and G.R.L. mates Emmalyn Estrada, Natasha Slayton and Paula van Oppen performed an emotional version of their single “Lighthouse,” an uplifting paean to love and friendship that they wrote in tribute to Battle. Singing with their hands clasped in the air, Bennett at one point broke down in tears and thanked Battle’s mother for being in the audience before she resumed singing. They’ll travel next to LaCrosse, Wis., to perform the song at a local Change Direction launch.
“Lighthouse” and its accompanying video have sparked a swell of conversation about depression and mental illness across the band’s social media outlets — something they welcome. “Because we are music artists, we can influence a younger generation and hopefully reach other people who will listen,” says Estrada. “It feels good to get the conversation started. So many people want to talk about it; you just have to crack the door open a little bit for them.”
Slayton says taking the stage at Wednesday’s summit, which included government, business and nonprofit leaders, as well as Silver Linings Playbook producer Bruce Cohen, was an unforgettable moment for the group. “We’re making our own history by being able to perform for the first lady and have this amazing group of people come together,” she says. “To be in Washington, D.C., feels very powerful.”
As they head into the studio to record new music — they were set to rejoin producer Max Martin this week — they’ll carry some of the greater musical depth and layering that surfaced on “Lighthouse.” But don’t expect these G.R.L.s to abandon their pop roots. “We’re a pop group, and we’ll continue to be a pop group,” van Oppen says.
On tour, the band gets particular joy performing first single “Ugly Heart,” a song that prominently featured Battle. “That song just lifts our spirits and lets us remember her in a happy, positive way,” Bennett says.