With over 100 million YouTube views and quickly on her way to hitting 1 million Spotify monthly listeners, it’s obvious Toronto singer-songwriter Alex Porat was destined to be in music. It just took her leaving university to figure that out.
Porat is the music industry’s best-kept secret; a unique artist with complex and layered songwriting skills that many should be envious of. Although her music career began with posting covers of other artists’ music, it wasn’t until she realized how unsatisfied she was pursuing a law degree at university that she decided to change gears, leave school, and try to make it as a singer-songwriter.
And when it comes to making music, Porat can seamlessly blend her punchy-pop vocals with nostalgia-inducing upbeat melodies. ‘never say ily again’ follows ‘only hanging out cause i’m lonely’ and ‘happy for you’ — all tracks that showcase Porat’s ability to capture exactly what she was feeling inside of her heart during the moments that made her happy, sad, angry; or all three at different times.
The video for ‘never say ily again’ is the fourth directed by Toronto director Iris Kim, who captures both Porat’s lyrics and aesthetics perfectly. It is a collaboration between two creatives that not only understand exactly what the other is seeking but champion and push one another to be the best they can be.
1883 had a chat with Alex about her new single and video for ‘never say ily again’, how she feels about Asian representation in the Western music industry and why her collaborators know more about her stories & secrets better than anyone else.
At what point did you decide to leave university to pursue music as an actual career?
Even as a little girl, I’ve always wanted to do music. But as you’re growing up through high school, there’s this weird pressure that you should further your education. I’m fully supportive of that when you don’t know what to do; education is definitely a great option. It was more of a self-pressure. I didn’t feel it from anyone, specifically in my life, to go to school. I first really wanted to be a doctor, then I wanted to be a lawyer and I started taking law really seriously. I ended up in university for business law and along the line something hit me, and I realized I was not satisfied with how I felt and how happy I was in that moment. I think music was the only thing that gave me that satisfaction, so I just decided I’m going to give it a shot and then left school after two years.
You started gaining traction online when you started posting cover songs. What was the transition like between covering other musicians’ work, and writing and releasing your own?
The transition is interesting because you’re going from interpreting other people’s lyrics and melodies, and I have always found that so fun. I love singing other people’s songs. But the process of songwriting turns out to be extremely therapeutic, and it just feels so different and more vulnerable when you’re writing your own music. It’s just a different type of satisfaction and it feels so much more rewarding. I still love covers and I love singing them because they are all up for interpretation, like reading poetry and/or interpreting someone else’s art for your own life.
Your songs, in particular, are so obviously about something or someone specific… Do you ever feel hesitant to be too open or too vulnerable? Are you ever nervous about the person hearing it?
Before I would just write songs in my living room by myself, and they would go nowhere; no one would ever hear them. Then, when I started working with producers, I began opening my life up and now there are several people that know everything about me! With ‘never say ily again’, I wrote it with Jeff Hazin and DCF in Toronto and now they know so much about my life and my secrets, but I feel so safe with them. I know they would never say anything, but it’s also funny because they end up being really close friends since they know so much about you. I trust my collaborators and everyone I work with so much, so it’s very interesting when I don’t hold back. People that work with me know that I’m very open with the situations I’m going through because I love writing about current things that have been bothering me or are on my mind and the song just comes out so much better when you’re open and honest and vulnerable.
How have your own identity and heritage as a Chinese-Polish woman influenced your music or songwriting?
Growing up in Western culture, I never really had any Asian women in Western culture and music to really look up to. I turned to media for that; I watched a lot of movies and TV shows and dabbled in a lot of foreign media like Studio Ghibli films and Mulan which is based off Asian culture. Going forward, it’s really important for me to be a role model for people that are growing up and don’t feel there’s anyone that really looks like them and they can see someone pursuing an industry that is sparse right now in Western culture. In Asia, they’re doing great, but over here it’s just starting to take off; we have a lot of people that are breaking through, like Joji. It’s really exciting for me especially to feel like the industry that I’m heading into is warming up to this beautiful diverse culture. We have such a long way to go, but it’s exciting.
It’s amazing to see the rise of diversity through Gen-Z artists.
I totally agree. It’s really cool to see more and more young, diverse artists.
How do you feel being one of Canadians breaking through — like Drake and Shawn Mendes?
I feel like I have such a long way to go to reach a status close to them, but it’s great to be on my way there. There’s so many when you think about it, like Drake, Alessia Cara, Shawn Mendes. There are so many artists that have made such a great career, it’s very, very motivating. It’s very exciting seeing them like, dominate the Billboards and the top 200. I feel like they’re just doing so well and have really paved a way for other Canadian acts. It’s very exciting to see that.
You did two videos for your track ‘happy for you’: one for the regular, and one for the remixed version with Rence. What was it like doing a music video inside due to quarantine and being your own director?
The second video for ‘happy for you’ with Rence was really fun! It was directed by Iris Kim, who is amazing and she’s from Toronto as well. We brought her on and tried to figure out how we could make a video for this remix with Rence, so she gave us a shortlist and I just knocked out all the scenes within a couple of hours. Rence is actually out in LA, or maybe he was in Seattle. I’m not sure. [laughs]
But he was somewhere over in America and he shot his scenes from there. We weren’t able to see each other’s shots at all; all we had was a shot list and we sent off our scenes to Iris and Jesse, who is the editor and graphic motion designer for the video. They just put together this amazing video and I knew what the concept was going to be like because I saw the treatment of the video, but I wasn’t expecting to feel so emotional about it! I was like, ‘Oh, this makes me feel something!’ I was so happy and pleased with that. It’s definitely one of my favorite videos that I have; I’m so super proud of it.
For ‘never say ily again’, this will be your fourth collaboration with Iris, too, right?
Yeah, counting the remix video, Iris has directed four of my videos so far.
What is it about the collaboration between the two of you that has made you want to work with her multiple times?
I love her vibe so much and I think we both have this level of understanding where the music is going to take us visually. I trust her so much and I think there are just some people in life that you really click with and it makes so much sense, and she’s one of those people for me that really gets the visual aspect of the music. It’s super important for me, as someone who’s trying to put together all of my artist projects; I’m trying to make the songs feel cohesive and she’s onboard for all the pieces of the project. I love our collaborations so much; she’s just young and has a really fun outlook on life, and I think we’re in similar places in life where we’re just really motivated and just getting started.
It’s really cool that she’s also from Toronto as well as an Asian creator. You can champion one another.
Of course! 100%. Yes, yes.
There is a bit of a juxtaposition in ‘never say ily again’, where the lyrics and melody are very different and contrast one another. How do you, as an artist, decide whether you want a traditionally sad song to sound quite upbeat and vice versa?
I feel like when I walk into the studio and I’m about to write a song, I might as well take advantage of this therapeutic moment that is in front of me to heal something that is painful in my soul and it’s hurting my life. I walked in and in the moment, I was kind of sad and thinking back to the ending of this breakup earlier in the year that when I wrote the song, which was last year, I was just so angry and it made me feel like I was back at the end of the breakup and just in the room I was like, ‘I’m never saying I love you again’ and DCF and Jeff were like, ‘I think we can write something about that!’
It was born out of that phrase and we thought it was perfect. It’s so dramatic, it’s so sad. It was very much, ‘Let’s write something that’s totally the opposite.’ And Jeff was cooking up this very fun, upbeat for the song and it was perfect because I use humor as my number one coping mechanism and laugh at myself. And [I] think the way it was juxtaposed was perfect. It’s exactly how I wanted to heal from that moment. Now, when I think of that song, I just have so much fun singing it and it’s so different to how I felt when I was writing. In the studio, I feel like I use it as a therapy session.
Since you previously mentioned Studio Ghibli films and they all just came on Netflix, which one is your favorite?
Oh, man. This is hard! So, Kiki’s Delivery Service like changed me as a child!
Me too! I wanted to leave home and have a talking black cat, too.
Right! I wanted to have a table in my bedroom, I wanted to have my own house and do my own thing. That movie changed my childhood, but I think growing up to this day films like Spirited Away or My Neighbor Totoro both affected me so much growing up; they’ve left such a lasting impression well into adulthood. It’s interesting because in My Neighbor Totoro, I didn’t realize there were some parts that were as dark as they were until I grew up and went back and watched them again.
Even with Kiki’s Delivery Service, I didn’t even realize she was only 13 when she left home to go start her life.
I know! She’s living on her own and she’s flying around and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to do that.’ Yeah, it was really fun watching those growing up because the films are just so beautiful. They’ve really shaped me as a person.
Check out Alex Porat’s new music video for ‘never say ily again’ below!