Connie Lim had been sitting on the song for over a year. The 30-year-old singer/songwriter from Los Angeles had spent nearly a decade trying to break into the music business with varying levels of success, but it wasn’t until she unlocked the raw feelings about the trauma of domestic violence and anorexia she suffered as a 14-year-old that the creative dam burst open. The result was the cathartic, empowering anthem “Quiet,” which, thanks to an almost too-perfect-to-be-true path has bloomed into an unofficial anthem of last weekend’s massive Women’s March on Washington.
“I had been trying to write this particular feeling into song for years now,” Lim (who performs as MILCK) told Billboard on Friday afternoon (Jan. 27) as she and her manager drove around New York taking meetings with labels suddenly interested in working with her. “I wrote songs that alluded to it, but I never quite got it out.” And then, last year she had a nightmare in which she was being assaulted and a bystander in her dream told her she just needed to stay quiet until it was over. A switch went on.
“I went into a writing session the next day with my writing partner in a trance, and I told her about it and she said, ‘That’s your frickin’ chorus!'” Within a few hours she finished the song with the stirring chorus, “I can’t keep quiet, no oh oh oh oh oh/ A one woman riot, oh oh oh oh oh oh oh/ I can’t keep quiet/ For anyone, anymore.” Her team at the time convinced Lim to hold onto the track until they found a label that might want to release it.
“I waited and waited, but once the election happened I said, ‘Sorry, ladies, I have to release this and I will do it now.'” That decision set off an unlikely chain of events that landed Lim in D.C. last weekend, where she joined a group of strangers she’d only rehearsed with one time to perform the single over-and-over for adoring crowds. Among them was filmmaker Alma Har’el, who captured a performance on her phone in a video that went viral and has since been retweeted hundreds of times, landing Lim and her compatriots on Full Frontal With Samantha Bee on Wednesday night.
Billboard spoke to Lim about her unlikely viral success — which resulted in everyone from Emma Watson and Paramore‘s Hayley Williams to Tegan and Sara retweeting the performance — and what’s next for her #ICANTKEEPQUIET movement. (This interview has been edited for space.)
Why was now the right time to release “Quiet?”
Before the election people were keeping quiet and political conversations in Los Angeles were few and far between. But once the election happened nobody could keep quiet. The words of violence towards women … about grabbing the pussy … brought up a lot of issues for my friend, who was abused. She got really traumatized, she couldn’t leave her house and when I was writing with her she shared her emotions with me. I said, “Holy crap, this is not casual words to fly around. We need to step up and protect people and make them feel safe and loved again.” And then the Women’s March became this beacon of light and hope, something for us to do that was positive. I wasn’t expecting all this attention, I thought this would just be for my small following as a nod to the march.
With President Trump’s strategist Steve Bannon telling the media this week to “keep it’s mouth shut” it seems like the timing is perfect.
Oh yeah, it resonates so much more. I didn’t understand it at first when it went viral. I was like, “This is crazy… what is happening? It feels like I’m dreaming.” When we sang it on Samantha Bee on Wednesday, I was watching her on set and I was getting messages from all over the world with people saying they’re holding on to this song to get through the day. They listen to it when they get up so they can get out of bed and at night so they can get to sleep. It’s becoming this therapy song. I was just telling my manager that I’m not sure if the song would have had this impact if we’d released it last February. The timing is impeccable. Things just happen in a crazy way.
How did Alma end up filming the performance that went viral?
I was trying to get the choir on stage but we got separated from a few of them so we got held behind and Alma also happened to get separated from a friend and we were at the same intersection. Her phone’s battery died and she managed to get it working again during our last performance and seven or eight hours later I got a massive amounts of notifications on Twitter and then Emma Watson retweeted the video and I was like “Who is this Alma person?” We didn’t plan on collaborating but now we talk on Twitter every day. It’s hard not to believe in the power of the universe after that.
love this so much https://t.co/DwcjUU24sN
— hayley from Paramore (@yelyahwilliams) January 22, 2017
How did you meet the 26 women you performed with?
I wanted to create some kind of street art, but it’s hard to do that standing in front of a wall, so I thought, “What if I had a wall of sound and just gave the marchers some sound healing?” I wanted to recruit women from Los Angeles but I couldn’t find any who were going at the time, so I said, “Screw it, I’ll find groups in Washington.” I emailed a bunch of groups, and one got back to me and the other ended up in my spam folder for a while. It was winter break, so everyone was home for the holidays, but I caught the GW Sirens before they left for winter break, and I asked them to rehearse but they were going to be home with their families. So I wrote up the score and recorded the vocal parts so they could sing along and I hoped they would practice. By the time they came back, it was the Wednesday before the march and the only time they could rehearse was that Thursday and not everyone could make it. I figured we could at least get the foundation of people who can rehearse and I’ll meet the rest on Saturday. The rehearsal was amazing, really emotional and they really put their hearts into it.
So really? One rehearsal?
I remember telling my friend, “I am crazy and shooting myself in the foot and this might be terrible.” But they all pulled through and I didn’t tell the story for the first couple flash mobs, but it was kind of cool that we were all just meeting so I wanted to share that part of the story. Luckily I shared that and it inspired people that women who didn’t know each other could come together and make something beautiful. Like Alma said in her caption, “When we harmonize, we can’t be divided.”
What was the reaction to the performances?
It was lovely. Phones immediately came up and started recording and by the end people were in tears and hugging. I printed 300 pins that said “I can’t keep quiet” and I ran out of them.
Were you surprised that Samantha Bee’s show called?
Samantha Bee herself saw the video on Sunday and she contacted us and wanted us on the show immediately.
What did that performance feel like? I assume it’s the biggest gig you’ve had to date?
To sing my own original song on that platform… it felt really good. I felt like, “This is my purpose.” The whole day I was realizing whatever the powers that be up above, whether you call it God or the universe, it’s giving me a chance after seven years of working my butt off to say what I need to say and help people heal. It was the right place, right time and all the preparation and hard work and opportunity intersected. I felt like I was singing for the people. It was not really about me at that moment. Samantha Bee’s crew said they were putting Kleenex out on every aisle because they didn’t want [tears] on all their chairs. I felt really calm. My heart was beating [hard] right before and I thought, “This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
(performance starts around 4:23 mark)
You’ve now launched a project to collect stories about “everyday people who have braved extraordinary distances to speak up, and speak out” that you’re planning to post on the #ICAN’TKEEPQUIET site later this year and donating 20 percent of the proceeds from merch sales to the Los Angeles chapter of Step Up, a nonprofit that provides after school and mentorship programs for underprivileged girls 13-18. What have the stories been like so far?
There’s so many I can’t keep up. One that keeps bouncing around in my head is someone who wrote a note after she heard the song and said she told her family about being raped because she hadn’t told them for years and that was really powerful for me. That it galvanized someone to feel strong enough to do that. Another one was more in depth about a girl who was being starved by her mother and her mother was bringing her to school and telling them she wasn’t eating. It was this weird possessive, abusive relationship and she said at the end “I will rise and not keep quiet.”
What’s next for you?
I need to decide how to take care of this, because “Quiet” is kind of like my child… I have a slew of songs, and I’m figuring out the emotional spectrum and which one should be the follow-up to this.