With the influencer-to-music-artist pipeline brimming over it’s easy to dismiss & discredit, but pop singer-songwriter Loren Gray is the artist you should take seriously — her new single Piece Of Work is proof of that.
The 19-year-old self-made phenom came to Los Angeles by way of Pennsylvania, never dreaming her life would take the turn it has. Gray first went viral as a young teen and in the years that have followed has amassed over 90 million followers across her social media platforms. Since going viral, she’s been able to garner other opportunities — from creating a thriving jewelry brand to signing a record deal with a major label in 2018. But after releasing a handful of singles under the label, she did something unexpected — she left.
‘Piece Of Work’ is Loren’s newest single is her first as an independent artist. The track is a spunky upbeat anthem about knowing your worth and what you deserve and refusing to settle for less. When speaking with Gray, it is clear that she knows who she is as an artist and where her strengths lie; this isn’t a ‘strategic branding opportunity’ for her, but simply a sharing of her talents. There is a grace and humility that accompanies her widely shared smile and a love for and knowledge of the music industry that sets her apart from others in her field.
To celebrate her new single, 1883 spoke to Loren Gray about her decision to become an independent artist, her love of music & her eclectic taste, and breaking out of the influencer mold.
Congratulations on Piece of Work! How are you feeling about the release?
I’m really excited. This is the most excited I’ve been for release so far. I’m looking forward to it.
Good! Any nerves at all?
Maybe a little bit, but only because it’s my first completely independent moment. That aspect is a little different for me, obviously, but I’m more excited than anything else.
This new song is very much a love letter to old-school pop, but you blend modern attributes into it as well. What were the inspirations behind the sound and the process that you took when writing it?
I actually wrote this song three years ago when I was 16. At the time, we just wanted to make something fun. A lot of my songs from that period were a little depressing. This one was a change of pace. It was my first time working with Simon, the writer, and The Electrics. It was so long ago that I can’t even tell you what I was thinking when I was working on the song, but I remember we wanted to make something fun because I had just been making such depressing music. [chuckles] Who knows why?
As you said, this is your first song as an independent artist, so I wanted to talk a little bit about your decision to leave your major record label. Why did you feel being an independent artist was what was best for you?
It’s difficult because obviously signing to a major label is a huge accomplishment. I was really grateful for the opportunity to have been signed to a major label, but when you’re in the hands of someone else it’s hard to have creative control and creative freedom. I feel like with everything I’ve done so far, and with social media, I’ve always been in charge of my image and everything that I’ve ever put out. For me, having all these opinions that didn’t necessarily align with my vision for myself and my music was really difficult. Of course, as always, it was a lot of old men making decisions for a 19-year-old girl’s music, so that also didn’t make sense for me. I decided to leave and since then I’ve been the happiest I’ve ever been with my music. I’ve been able to work with people that I enjoy working with, and I’ve been able to form real connections with people while making music. Now everything is coming along naturally which feels great because before it was a real struggle.
It’s so good to hear that everything worked out. I can tell that you’re genuinely happy.
[smiles] I really am.
Did the decision have anything to do with feeling like if you pursued music independently on your own and you weren’t backed by a major label, people would understand that you’re calling all of the shots — that you have creative control and that what you are making is truly yours — rather than people assuming a label was making the decisions?
Absolutely, that was part of it. As I said, everything I’ve done has always been me and it doesn’t make sense for me and for who I am and what I’ve created to then place my music in the hands of someone else and say, “make me a pop star.” That’s not how I function, it’s not how I work. I think it’s important that people know that what was happening before wasn’t me. I cried the night my first single came out, I hated it so much.
[laughs] It’s ok. There were so many moments like that where I wasn’t proud of what I was doing. Now making this transition into creating something that I can stand behind and that I’m confident in is important.
It’s really exciting that now you get to start a whole new era of “you” that coincides with everything else that you do.
Now that you have full creative control over not just the music, but everything that goes along with being an artist, what was filming the music video for ‘Piece Of Work’ like?
It was awesome. I created the mood board and I made a lot of Pinterest boards. It was incredible because I got to pick who I worked with, pick the video treatment that was being used, and pick the directors and choreographers and everything. A lot of work when into the video. We did 8-hour back-to-back dance rehearsals leading up to filming. Then the shoot day was really long, but it was great. I can’t wait to see it. I’m getting the first draft very soon and I can’t wait to start making notes and making it all come together.
That’s exciting! So what was some of the inspiration behind it?
I would say my main inspiration was Megan Fox in ‘Transformers.’ I’m a mechanic in the video. Do I know anything about cars? Not really. [laughs] I also pulled from Pamela Anderson and Britney Spears. Their vibe. It’s very classic, very me, very my style. We worked with Guess on the looks. There’s a lot of dancing, too. I had male dancers for the first time! I’ve only ever worked with female dancers, so that was a change of pace, but I enjoyed it. They were great. It was cool to work with new people and actually be able to give my opinion on things. I was able to get exactly what I pictured. It’s a cool story.
I’m excited to see it! Although you started singing after you became an influencer, you’ve shown you’re incredibly involved in every aspect of the music-making process which differs from a lot of other TikTokers. Was music a natural next step for you or something you’ve wanted to do for a while?
Oh, definitely. Growing up, I sang a lot. My sister, who is eight years older than me would be like, “you can’t sing! Shut up!” So I kinda put that away. I lived in Pennsylvania and you don’t assume that you’re going to have the opportunity to do these things and make music. But then I went on tour for the first time when I was 13 and I sang a cover. I had never sung in front of anyone before, let alone 1000 people, but I really enjoyed it. I think what drew me to music in the first place was the performance aspect. What I’m most focused on is making a good show and putting on a really solid performance. I don’t have the most incredible voice. I’m not the best writer. I’ve gotten a lot better, but my strength is the performance and the dancing and really selling the song live.
Do you find writing songs challenging then?
I wrote poetry growing up and that made writing music a lot easier. I think my biggest challenge has been writing music that’s honest to me. For a long time, I was trying to write music that was “deep.” Over this past year, after leaving the label where I had so many people telling me, “you need to make something deep,” I realized you really don’t. I just want to make music that’s fun and that people can enjoy and feel empowered by. Obviously, I have my moments for sad songs, but I think I started thriving when I threw out the idea that I had to be melodramatic and deep. I just started having fun writing music, you know?
One of the things that I love about music is there’s space for all kinds of songs.
There’s space for everything! I think I was trying to force myself into this headspace that I wasn’t in. I’m really happy, so I didn’t feel like I needed to write something that wasn’t happy! I feel like if music isn’t deep and dark and emotional, then it’s not seen at the same level as songs that are. As soon as I started writing music for fun and having fun with it, that’s when I made my favourite song.
I agree! I think. I think when you have fun with it, that’s when the best art comes around no matter the media.
So, when you went viral, when the follower count kept going up, when it was clear you were amassing a permanent fanbase, how quickly did you think- “While all this is crazy and amazing and cool and fun, this could be how I get to achieve other dreams?”
That’s hard because everything for me didn’t happen overnight. It was a new life that I transitioned into. I didn’t wake up one day with 20 million followers. It was a lot of falling on my face and trusting the wrong people and trying to navigate this new space that no one really understands before I realized that other things are possible. I didn’t even know that was an option at first. It took a long time, and a lot of trial and error, to learn that there were other avenues that I could take and that I could expand upon this. I never had that “wow” moment.
Do you think because it was a more natural incline, you had time to get situated in this new space?
Definitely. I’m really glad that things happened slowly because I had to work for it. I didn’t just have a couple of viral videos that sent me into the digital stratosphere. It was a lot of building and a lot of work, so I never really got big-headed about it. I was always striving for something more.
I’ve heard you have an eclectic music taste — you’re the biggest Eminem fan and you have a My Chemical Romance tattoo. What is it about those artists in particular that inspires you?
Eminem and My Chemical Romance really inspire me lyrically. I think their music is incredible. Obviously, their music is incredible. End the story. [chuckles] I’m one of those people who listens to songs for what the artist is saying. That’s what drew me to them in particular. But, I do have a wide variety of artists that I love. [laughs]
What are some of your other favorites?
Lil Peep. I had a huge Lil Peep phase. I’m still in it. I’m never leaving it, but it was a big part of my life. Gorillaz, Taylor Swift, of course, Britney Spears, all the pop girls, Sublime. There’s a lot. [laughs]
[laughs] Wow. your music taste really is all over the place.
Yeah, it really is.
You’ve also used your influence to start your own brand. What inspired you to start &Always?
It took a year to sort of bring it together, but I felt like there was a lack of people in the jewelry world. I feel like a lot of people are making clothes and a lot of people are making makeup, but no one is really making jewelry. I wanted to fill that space. Jewelry is one of my favourite parts of getting ready in the morning because I feel like that’s what brings the look together. It’s also more personal and can be more meaningful than clothes or makeup. It was a new experience for me; I’ve never had a business before, so seeing how everything came together and how it worked was really interesting. I’m happy to say it turned out great, and I’m pleased with everything we were able to do and are still doing.
What surprised you the most about starting a business?
There’s a lot more work on the back end that you never really think about: sourcing things and how to make the prices as low as possible with the product still being quality. &Always goes directly from the factory to the consumer which eliminates a lot of costs. Seeing that whole back end process — people actually creating the jewelry — and what it takes to get it from one place to the next was the most interesting part to me.
What about your new Snapchat show “Honestly Loren.” What do you hope your fans learn from it?
That show is an experience, there’s a lot in there. I was very vulnerable. I cried a couple of times. I didn’t expect it to be as vulnerable as it was. Allowing the crew, and now everyone who’s gonna be watching it, into my life for the period of time that we were shooting was a crazy experience for me because I’m not used to that. I’m a pretty private person; I keep a lot of things to myself. I usually pick and choose what I want to share with other people. But with the show, everything was on the table — nothing was off-limits. I share a lot about my past, where I’m at now, my whole journey, and what my life is like. I think people are going to be surprised by what that is. It’s kind of cringe for me to watch it. I watched the cut a couple of weeks ago and was like, “oh my gosh, I cry so much.”
I wouldn’t want to watch a reality show about myself at all, so I totally get it.
I get so emotional. But, as a whole, it’s really fun. There are some good moments. There are some sad moments but I think it’s definitely going to let people get to know me better.
I think your fans will appreciate that.
I hope so. [giggles]
I think they will. So in regards to your next project, whether it’s an album or an EP, what can fans expect?
I did a writing camp for a week and just had fun. It was me and my favourite producers and writers all in this house. What we ended up with is probably the most empowering music I’ve ever made. It’s fun to listen to. We have some good breakup songs, but we also have a lot of really fun, sexy, interesting songs. There’s a lot of guitar elements and little tastes of rock. There are dance breaks. A lot is happening in a good way. I’m really excited about it. It was fun to make and I think that’s what I want my first project to be: something that I enjoyed making.
How exciting! Finally, to end on a fun note, I noticed you’re a Star Wars fan. If you could create a character for yourself in that universe, who would you be?
Oh my gosh, I would probably be a bad guy.
I think that villains are more fun. I think they need more female villains, so I would like to see that. But I wouldn’t want to kill anyone or anything. I just wanna have that aesthetic! [laughs]
Interview by Sydney Bolen
Photography by Markus Klinko
Piece Of Work is out now.