What do you do when a cherished relationship crumbles into dust? When what you thought was going to turn into the romantic Audrey Hepburn-type film of your dreams takes a nasty plot twist? Some binge on vices to numb the pain of heartache, while others find solace in toxic people who come to them deceivingly masked as angels. Still others — like Snoh Aalegra — use music as therapy.
The 31-year-old Iranian-Swedish singer writes songs like diary entries. On her 2017 debut album, Feels, Aalegra fell in love frighteningly deep and worked hard to make it last. After the relationship ended, she began putting the pieces of herself she thought she lost back together for Ugh, those feels again — her sophomore album, out today (Aug. 16). The new music might leave you crying on the floor, laughing at the lies your partner told and feeling reckless to the point where you want to run off the end of the earth and just scream “Fuck it!” But throught it all, Ugh carries a spirited light that will keep you from breaking.
Executive produced by Aalegra’s mentor and hip-hop luminary No I.D., Ugh is a journey of self-discovery. Aalegra realizes the end of that relationship doesn’t mean the end of love, and she remains hopeful for a fresh romance, one that won’t be laced with the poison she’s already experiened. “I’ve learned to really listen to your family and friends,” she tells Billboard. “Because they want the best for you. Even if it’s not what you want to hear, they’re gonna tell you the truth. Love blinds you, and those people can see your partner with a clear vision.”
Below, Snoh Aalegra speaks to Billboard on the hardship of being vulnerable and why she won’t repeat the same mistakes in future relationships.
I don’t often see titles that are so straight to the point. Like, “Ugh I have to deal with this guy again?”
Well, it’s like a continuation of Feels, the previous album. [Sighs] I’m still that emotional, passionate, sad girl — but a hopeful sad girl. The A-side is more positive and you can feel that spirit in those songs more than on Feels. Because I’m in a different place in my life compared to how I felt two years ago. So I put that on this new album.
Did your relationship change your mindset?
I was in a relationship — I’m not anymore. I’ve been single for a year. That’s why I wrote “I Want You Around” and “Situationship,” because I started living my life as a single woman. I’m having new experiences and I’m meeting new people. When you have those positive butterflies feelings — those are the kinds of emotions that inspired these songs. But then I’m also looking back at the past on the B-side with songs like “You,” which is about my previous relationship.
Was it hard for you to relive those moments during the writing process?
Yeah, I was just trying to think what I wanted to say. What I had that was unspoken towards that past situation. I sit a lot with my lyrics — I don’t write just to write or put a line in just to have one. Everything has to mean something to me. I speak three languages — English is my third language — so I take my time with lyrics. It’s almost like having a conversation with somebody. If it’s really important, you want to think about what you wanna say with that person, especially if it’s for the last time.
You’re very open in your lyrics. There are few artists now who are unafraid to go full force with their emotions.
It’s interesting you say that because in the past, I’ve heard that the first impression of me is that I’m kind of hard to read. I think I’m pretty reserved when I meet people in the beginning — but I’ve opened up more now. I’ve always been in my own world, even as a young girl. But I fell in love with music because it made me feel something that I can’t explain. When I sing and make music, that’s when I’m myself. That’s when you get me. That’s part of the reason why I feel so free when I’m on stage singing. You’re getting all of my emotions in a frequency that I can’t really communicate in other ways, unless I have a boyfriend and they get to see that intimate side of me. But I get to share that side in music, and I think that’s a beautiful thing. To be able to reach people that way.
There’s a lyric on “I Want You Around” that stood out to me: “I try not to show how I feel about you/ Thinkin’ we should wait, but we don’t really want to.” It sounds like emotional tug of war, when you’re not really wanting to take the next step — but you really like this guy…
Precisely that! [Laughs.] And then it became a situationship, and then it got messy. There was a situation where I met someone and we both knew we were on different paths in life. But we were still into each other. You know how it happens when you hang out with somebody too much — it goes into that next phase that you were trying to avoid.
“Situationship” discusses that confusion. There’s this blurred line where you’re thinking, “I kinda like you but I’m not really ready to put my all into this.”
I’m the master of ignoring warning signs.
I’m the same way! Even in my past relationships, I look back and realize all the red flags were there. I was just so stupid in love.
That’s me, always. But I’ve learned that when people show you who they are, believe them the first time. Don’t try to change people. If you really like someone, you really have to accept them for who they are. I think past a certain age — like after 25 — people don’t change.
You also shout out Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions album on “I Want You Around.”
I’m a huge Stevie Wonder fan. He has the best catalogue of any artist of all time. He’s one of my last heroes alive and I think it’s important to celebrate people while they’re around. I think there’s a whole generation that may not listen to artists who were big in the ’80s and ’90s the way we are. I’m just trying to highlight and tell my story, so that was just natural to have something with Stevie Wonder in there. I’ve been so inspired by him, so I just wanted to thank him.
Is there a particular song on that album that was more difficult to write?
The song that hit me the most when I was making it was “You.” That’s about my past relationship and it just reminds me of how much I fought for that to work. It never did and I felt like I wasted so much time. That song reminds me how stupid I was, basically! But in a very emo way.
It reminded me of my past relationships, where you become so into the person and end up losing —
You lose yourself, you lose your friends because you told them, “Fuck this person, I’m not gonna go back to him.” They support you, but then you end up going back and you’re afraid to tell your friends. You kind of start avoiding them or you have to lie because you don’t want them to know you’re with this person. You naturally create a distance because you’re trying to protect that person, although you know it’s wrong. You’re with that person until you know you’re really back on, and then you tell people. Like, “This is the last time! I can’t be without him.” That’s what “You” reflects, that toxic relationship.
What’s some advice you can give for women who are trying to leave a toxic situation?
I’ve learned to really listen to your family and friends, because they want the best for you. Even if it’s not what you want to hear, they’re gonna tell you the truth. Love blinds you, and those people can see your partner with a clear vision. In the past, the people who really loved me would tell me that my [relationship] is wrong. But there’s always that one friend that says, “I think you guys are so cute together! You should really give him another chance.” And I would listen to that one person because that’s what I wanted to hear. So don’t listen to that friend!
“Nothing to Me” caught me off guard a bit! I thought, “Snoh is having a hot girl summer too!”
I appreciate that. The funny thing is, when I’m out in the clubs I’m listening to Lil Baby and all these trap songs. I love to turn up, but my own music is never like that. When I hear “Nothing to Me,” it just makes me automatically move in a different way. That’s a fun one.
“Charleville 9200 II” sounds like the broken-hearted sequel to the 2016 version with James Fauntleroy, as if the romantic movie came to an end. Did you see that coming?
I hoped for the movie and I worked really hard for it. I was in a three-year relationship that was very shaky — it’s with the same person that “You” is about too. I used to be low and depressed, because that relationship was very depressing. I tried to make it work so many times, and that’s exhausting for your spirit. “Charleville” part one is when I first met him and we were the most in love. In part two, I sing “Paris don’t feel the same.” That’s where we broke up. But I met him in LA, and even that doesn’t feel the same. I’m from Sweden, so when I first moved to LA he was one of my first friends. I really associated the whole city with him. How am I going to be in this city and not have this person in my life? So I learned how to create my own love for LA and have a new circle of friends.
Have you ever lost faith in love?
I’m very hopeful when it comes to romance. I mean, I know that “The One” is out there somewhere. Where is he? [Laughs.] But I love love, and I’m not going to give up on it. It’s hard to find love in Los Angeles though.
Do you believe in astrology? We’re both Virgos, and I see the way that I act in your lyrics. Just wanting to take control and putting your own expectations on a person who may not want that.
Mhmm, I definitely agree — we’re very reserved. I do believe in the characteristics of each sign, but not daily horoscopes. I have the Pattern app and it’s really creepy! I read it and it’s crazy accurate. Virgos are the best sign, but Sagittariuses are really cool too — we get along with them.
I’m currently talking to an Aquarius, but we’ve been friends for a while.
Aquariuses can be overthinkers, but they have good qualities. That transition must be awkward. Isn’t it crazy that someone can be in front of you for all these years, and you don’t even notice? It’s like, “Oh let me put on my glasses!” I had that happen to me too. But I didn’t know if I started liking him because we were hanging out too much or was he just always there and I was blind.
But I don’t want the friendship to be affected…
Oh good luck, it’s gonna be affected. It’s never gonna be the same. Don’t even try to lie to yourself! I once told a guy, “Oh we should just be friends. I value the friendship more than anything.” And we never spoke again.
We’ll see what happens! Last question: what kind of legacy do you want to create?
What I hope and wish for is that my music will live on way after I’m no longer here. I want it to have that effect where it can be timeless. It needs to stand the test of time so my future grandchildren’s children and their children can be proud.