Lily Rose’s first single “Villain” signaled she had something different to say than many other country upstarts. In the smoky midtempo ballad, Lily Rose offers to be the bad guy in a recently ended relationship so her ex can shine, even though the story reveals a different truth.
“Villain,” which exploded on TikTok last December and ended up landing Lily Rose a manager and label deal with Big Loud and Republic, peaked at No 6 on Billboard’s Emerging Artists chart, as well as reaching No. 2 on the Country Digital Song Sales chart and No. 36 on Hot Country Songs.
Follow-up “Overnight Sensation” was ripped from Lily Rose’s own life story of playing clubs in her native Georgia and her emotional journey to remaining committed to her passion, while her latest release, “Remind Me of You,” laments how her new romance holds no thrall over her because she doesn’t remind her enough of her previous love.
“I’ve been lucky to get a lot of really flattering feedback that people resonate with my songs because of their emotional depth,” Lily Rose says, adding that she does have more upbeat tracks on the way.
Lily Rose, who is our May Rookie of the Month, talked to Billboard about signing with both Big Loud and Republic, being openly gay in a conservative format, loving Bruce Springsteen, and her dad’s famous college friends.
How did “Remind Me of You” come to your attention and what was your first thought when you saw Sam Hunt was a co-writer?
The day after I signed with Big Loud, our publishing division of the company sent over an entire list of songs for me to potentially cut. I saw that Sam Hunt had written it, and I’m such a fan of his, but, honestly, the song itself was just so good, that was just a bonus. I love the song. It is so representative of what I want to say as an artist, and all the writers on the song are people I look up to.
You co-wrote your two previous releases, “Villain” and “Overnight Sensation.” Does it matter to you if you write the song?
I really look up to other artists who always just cut the best song whether they were a writer on it or it’s an outside song. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t super thankful that we cut songs that I do write, but I’m always just going to try to go after the best song at the end of the day.
You chose to keep the pronouns in “Remind Me of You” intact, making it from a female-to-female romantic perspective. Is country radio, which can lean more conservative than its listeners, ready to play a song from that perspective?
The coolest part about “Remind Me of You” is all the pronouns of she/she her/her. For me, I’m not going to change pronouns in every single song, but I’m going to sing whatever serves the song. If one day my label thinks this song is what should be sent to country radio, then I hope that it’s undeniable and people will want to listen regardless.
You posted music on TikTok, which is how your manager, Rakiyah Marshall, found you. What advice would you give to someone discovered off of TikTok?
That’s kind of the wildest part of this story… that TikTok is what launched “Villain” and my career, even though I actually downloaded the app so late in the game. If I could give any advice to anybody on TikTok in general, just be authentic. Don’t try to do anything that doesn’t feel comfortable to you. Even if it’s through a screen, people connect with authenticity.
Why do you think “Villain” struck such a chord on TikTok?
I think because it’s telling a story that is relatable, but maybe hasn’t been told in the format a lot… The story of falling on the sword and always taking the high road. You think the relationship ends amicably, but it doesn’t. You’re left with a choice and I think a lot of people have had to make that same choice in that same scenario.
How did you celebrate when it topped the iTunes chart?
The night that it went No. 1, I was at Rakiyah’s house with my girlfriend and Rakiyah’s boyfriend, Seth. We all stayed up and drank champagne until 6 in the morning and really soaked it all in. We were tired the next day, but knew it was a moment we’d never forget.
“Villain,” “Overnight Sensation” and, now, “Remind Me of You” are weighty songs, with deep emotional heft. Is that part of what you bring to the country format?
I’ve been lucky to get a lot of really flattering feedback that people resonate with my songs because of their emotional depth. I love the songs I’ve been able to put out so far, and I’m glad that they are connecting with people on that level. We just cut a bunch of new songs, so our setlist is filled with a lot of fun high-energy country songs too. I love the variety and I’m excited for the world to hear some of the more lighthearted stuff.
You’ve been writing with a lot of different people since you got signed. How has your approach to songwriting changed as you’ve gotten into writing rooms with new songwriters?
It’s been wild getting to write with so many heavy-hitters on Music Row. I’ve just learned so much. I’m trying to be a sponge this year. It’s all so new to me and I’m doing my best to try to just walk away from every write learning something new. I think I’m a better songwriter just being around these people.
You wrote “Overnight Sensation” several months before you got signed to Big Loud and Republic. One of the lines is “I’m an overnight sensation…13 years in the making.” What kept you from giving up and how close did you come?
One of the coolest stories I have so far is that “Overnight Sensation” was written in 2019, so it became really cool foreshadowing for everything that’s happened. “Overnight sensation, 13 years in the making”… there were definitely thoughts of “how much longer is this going to take, what more do I have to do?” I can honestly say I’ve never thought about giving up. The best advice I’ve ever gotten from someone in town is that if you have a backup plan, you’ll already have one foot out the door. I was going to go nose to the grindstone and do whatever I had to do to make it happen. It’s pretty special to have those memories captured in that song.
You first saw Bruce Springsteen when you were 8. What influence did he have on you as a songwriter and performer?
In my opinion, Bruce Springsteen is the best songwriter of all time. I think he is incredible the way he’s able to tell stories and also put on this insane show. He tells stories in the song and leading up to the song about how it was written and things he’s gone through. He’ll go out there for 2.5 hours with no set break, doesn’t leave the stage, and I’m just trying to match that energy for my live show. He’s been a big inspiration for that.
You grew up in Atlanta, which is a great music town. Were there local or other Georgia artists that you gravitated toward growing up and how did that influence your sound?
I also have always been so enamored by the rap scene. Everything that Atlanta had with the rap and R&B game from 2005 to 2010 heavily influenced me and I think it heavily shows in songs like “Villain” and “Remind Me of You.” I’ve been a big R.E.M. fan from [living in] Athens. I know that is a stereotypical answer when you think of music from Athens, Georgia. My dad was also in school with them while they were there so I’ve just grown up on R.E.M. and loved their songwriting and how different they were sonically.
What was the first country song that you loved?
The first song that I ever heard that I was like, “Holy cow what is this?” and made me fall in love with country music was “I Go Back” by Kenny Chesney. That was the first time that I heard someone with that country of a voice that grabbed my attention. I was in seventh grade, so I was only 13 years old, and haven’t looked back since.
You’ve talked about how important representation is and how proud you are to be an openly gay artist. You, Brooke Eden and TJ Osborne are all out. What has your experience been as an openly gay artist in country music?
I think the beautiful part about Nashville is that we are in the South, but we are an industry town that can be very open and accepting. I haven’t had any issues in town personally, and I am so proud and excited to be one of the people knocking down doors so folks after me can come in and feel accepted too.
The country music community is looking at ways to be more diverse and inclusive. What is your suggestion to make it more so?
I think that when it comes to diversity in country music, it has to start with the song. The song is going to be the thing that brings anyone in whether you’re Black, white, gay, straight, Asian, whatever it is. The song is going to be what sparks people’s interest and gets on their radar. As long as you have songs that people cannot turn off, it’s going to help when it comes to different looking, sounding, and loving people in this industry.
Who is your dream duet partner?
This question always fluctuates, but right now my dream duet partner would be Demi Lovato.