Canal Street Online Manchester

Lauren Aquilina

Lauren Aquilina

UK pop singer-songwriter Lauren Aquilina was an Island Records signee, opened for Taylor Swift on her 1989 tour and had just released her debut album “Isn't It Strange?” when she left music in 2016 due to the strain her music career was putting on her mental health. After a brief retirement that saw her applying to be an air hostess (this didn’t work out) and writing songs for other people (this did), Canal St caught up with the Bristol artist ahead of her first show in Manchester in four years to find out why she came back, talk about why music hasn’t had it’s #MeToo moment and ask about her favourite LGBT artists. 

1. What made you come back to performing and releasing your own music again?

It wasn’t really a conscious decision. I wrote Psycho, and pitched it out to other artists and nobody wanted it and I just thought, this is too good not to come out. So I called my managers and was like “Do you think I should just do it?” Once that came out, I felt like I’d made the right decision. 

2. The conversation around musicians and mental health has come to the forefront since you left music in 2016. Do you think the music industry has changed as a result of this?

No. I think artists have started speaking up, but I don’t think the industry has changed. I think you get ‘good eggs’ who are understanding, but in general, there needs to be more done for artists. I am fighting for every label to have one therapist that an artist can see once a month, just to catch up and see how you’re doing. I think labels forget that artists are human and just expect them to work all these crazy hours and then other times you’re sat at home with no work for months.. I think there should be more done to make it a more stable job.

3. You worked as a songwriter after ‘retiring’ as a solo artist. What is the best thing about writing songs for other people?

It’s really, really fun to put on different hats everyday. Today I am going to write as if I am Rihanna, and then another day write a really emo ballad. I felt quite restricted before when I was just writing for me because I had an idea of what I thought my fanbase wanted and I was trying to work to that. Whereas now I just write whatever I want to on the day.

4. Do you think your experience as a songwriter writing for lots of different artists will bring a new element to your music?

I think it already has. Psycho and If Looks Could Kill are so different to anything I’ve ever done, but the next single is much more similar to my old stuff. I feel more comfortable just doing what I want now and everything doesn’t have to sound the same.

5. You recently co-wrote a track ‘I Believe You’ with Fletcher, which stands for fellow women affected by sexual assault and harassment in the wake of #MeToo and tweeted about the music industry standing by a predator just because he hasn’t been publicly outed yet. Why do you think the music industry hasn’t seen the same #MeToo reckoning that Hollywood has?

Someone on Twitter said they think it’s because artists are tied in to really long contracts whereas actors are usually just tied in for one movie and then they’re done. The deal I was in was a five album deal, that’s ten years or more. Those contracts are hard to get out of, so I think there’s a different level of fear artists have. I think it’s seen as more normal in music too. It’s only recently I’ve started talking to female artists and all these things that we thought were ‘normal’ aren’t. I think female artists feel they have to jump through certain hoops to get there, and if they don’t, they don’t want it enough.

6. What kind of things did you think were normal and have since realized aren’t? 

Myself and countless other female friends have been told by industry people to lose weight or to look a certain way. That we have to appear a certain way in music videos, that artwork has to be sexy or edgy whereas guys can get away with just a photo of their face. That’s a really minor level, but on the other end, I know girls who’ve had their arses slapped in venues or at their labels, sexual assault, rape. The abuse of power in this industry between men and women is a real problem. 

7. How do you feel about fans supporting the work of people like R.Kelly who have been outed as predators?

I found myself in a difficult position recently because I love Kim Petras. She’s an amazing trans pop artist, but she works with Dr. Luke. And I decided that as much as I love her music, I just can’t support her anymore. How I feel about people supporting the guy that did something to me.. It’s no different. So I think as fans, you have to make that decision. 

8. Why did you pick Manchester (along with London) as your comeback gig?

Manchester has always been the best night of the tour. It’s always the most fun to play. Statistically, it’s also my second biggest fanbase outside of London. I love London so much, but Northern audiences are rowdier. Maybe it’s because the drinks are cheaper here.. 

9. Would you like to give a shout-out to any LGBT artists? 

Oh my god, so many. Rina Sawayama, who’s bi, I love. Fletcher, who’s gay, I’ve been writing with and she’s amazing. SOPHIE, a transwoman, is amazing. Troye Sivan, Olly from Years & Years, MNEK… I actually mostly listen to LGBT artists, all the best pop is from LGBT artists! 

By Nicole Glennon for Canal St Online.

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