LØLØ’s Not Your Pop Star Princess; She’s Your Unapologetic Pop Punk ‘debbie downer’ [Q&A]
Photo: Steph Verschuren
Toronto singer-songwriter LØLØ, née Lauren Mandel, is back with her third, sonically addictive EP, debbie downer. LØLØ's creative genius continues to shine in this six-track project, taking listeners on a journey that is equal parts infectious and introspective.
The EP opens with the standout eponymous single "debbie downer," leading the way hand-in-hand with fellow rising pop-punk star Maggie Lindemann, whose unique voice takes the track to unbelievable heights. The two artists take listeners on a nostalgic ride with punchy, catchy guitar riffs, powerful drum beats, and grungy, sarcastic, and modern lyricism.
The rest of debbie downer is chock-full of guitar-driven tunes featuring LØLØ's signature witty and rowdy sonics, with each track standing on its own. Songs like "u turn me on (but u give me depression)" and "junkie" give fans that unapologetic LØLØ they're accustomed to, showcasing lyricism that is heavily unrestricted and candid, backed by infectious instrumentals that become instant earworms. "THE FLOOR IS LAVA!!" doesn't shy away from examining heavy topics like crippling anxiety, while the record's closing track, "asking for a friend," released on National Suicide Prevention Day, sees the artist fearlessly open up about depression.
Ones To Watch was able to chat with LØLØ about the record, what it means to be the odd one out, and the importance of being yourself.
Ones To Watch: What does the record's title, debbie downer, mean to you, and how does the concept express itself throughout the narrative?
LØLØ: I'm so bad at naming EPs. I'm kind of just writing stories from my life into songs. I usually have a bunch of songs, and then I put them together at the end, and I'm like, "Ok, I guess this will be the EP," but for this EP, it was different. After I wrote "debbie downer," I was like, "Oh, this feels like it has a whole story." I felt like Debbie wasn't just this one song. I felt like she had this whole story about her. Obviously, in the song, I say, "It's me, Debbie Downer," so Debbie is me. I found a therapeutic way of writing about this character of a girl that doesn't necessarily feel like she fits in, has anxiety, that sometimes gets sad, or she just has resting bitchface. People think she's sad because of what she says or how she dresses. So, after I wrote "debbie downer," I wanted to write a whole EP around this girl being me, and it was the first time I've ever written in the third person. Then another song on the EP, "asking for a friend," is also in the third person because it's her/me. It's very weird and meta to explain. Basically, the whole theme of it is just about being authentically you and navigating growing up and this crazy thing we call life and relationships, or just trying to get the fuck out of bed. It's also kind of making fun of myself, saying like, "Yeah, I'm a Debbie Downer. I write songs about having anxiety or hating boys or whatever."
So, you're satirizing yourself a bit?
Yeah, totally and embracing it. It's definitely satire for sure.
Do you feel like your songwriting process has changed since the overkill EP, or do you feel like your process right now has stayed pretty consistent?
I think it has been pretty consistent. I always write lyrics or a title/concept person first. I have always written things out since I was a little kid. Like, I was writing out in a diary, and now it's just moved to my phone app. I'll just start writing things when I experience something. For "u turn me on, (but u give me depression)," long story short, I thought the night would turn out one way with the guy, and it turned out the complete opposite. Like I was in bed, crying, and I was like, "Ah, fuck, I could have been having sex right now on this bed, but instead, I'm crying in it." So, like through the tears, grabbed my phone and wrote, "You turn me on, but you give me depression," and I was like, "This is a song." So, I think my process has pretty much stayed the same. However, I think I'm better now at being honest with myself. I don't know if I would have written a song called "u turn me on (but u give me depression)" a year ago. I feel like I would have been too scared to say that and would've thought, "Is that too much?" Now I've gotten to the point in my life where I'm just like, fuck it. I think I've turned a little bit crazier, or just honest.
How do you stay present and in a grounded headspace when writing emotionally intense, stream-of-thought music?
It's funny. I feel, for me, it's actually the opposite. I write this stuff out, and I'm feeling it, and then once the song is done, I feel like I’ve closed the chapter. I’ve moved on from it. After I write it, especially after it comes out, I'm like, "Ok, that was a feeling that I had." Sometimes I still continue to have it, but it definitely feels like therapy. It helps me move on from it, and then I can be in a new headspace.
Which song was the most cathartic for you to write in this body of work?
Probably "boohoo." I had just moved to LA in January, and I had a Zoom session with this guy. He was like, "Ok, what do you want to write about?" I showed him some of my titles and what I was thinking, and he's like, "Ok, well, what are you actually feeling?" because I gave all these titles, probably about boys or whatever. So, I was like, "Well, honestly, I just moved here." I was living alone at the time, and I was lonely as shit, and I was like, "How the fuck do I do my laundry? I don't know how to work the dishwasher. Oh my god. I have no food in my fridge!" It was my first time ever being out of my family's house, and I was just feeling it, and he was like, "Let's just write about that." So, then I wrote that, and it made me process growing up and moving on to this phase of my life where I'm on my own, and it felt really, really good. I think that's my favorite song on the EP as well.
What has been your favorite song to perform live?
It's "junkie." 100%! I don't know why, but it just feels so good when I sing it. It's my favorite song that I wrote, besides "boohoo." I wrote it, and I was like, "Oh, I love this," and it's funny because my whole label didn't like it, and my manager didn't like it. I mean, they didn't not like it, but they were just like, "Ok, we've heard this. It's good, but like, whatever." I liked it when I wrote it, and I love singing because it's upbeat. It's a pop-punk banger, and it's funny because I, later on, met my absolute idol, Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day, and out of all my songs, he was like, I really liked "junkie."
If it gets the Billie Joe Armstrong seal of approval, you must be doing something right. Speaking of "junkie," the Breaking Bad-inspired music video for it is just so perfect. How did you develop the concept for it?
So funny enough, the day after I wrote "boohoo" in January, I was really lonely in LA. I had a few friends and had made plans with them, but everyone canceled on me, and it was a Saturday night. I was sitting at home like a loser feeling bad for myself, and then I got a notification on my Instagram that said Aaron Paul was in LA at a Bevmo! signing autographs. I was like, "You're kidding," and went to check how far this was from my house, and it was a five-minute walk. I literally ran there and ended up meeting him, and Bryan Cranston was there too. It totally made my day way better. I went by myself, and they were like, what's up, like, and I was like, I just moved here, and I was sitting at home feeling like a loser, but now I'm meeting you guys. I always wanted a Pinkman tattoo, and I told Aaron Paul I wanted it, but my parents said they would disown me if I got it. He's like, "Give me your phone," and he grabbed my phone, and this is on my TikTok, and he's like, What are your parents' names?" and I'm like, "Iris and Jonathan," and he made this video where he was like, "Hey, Iris and Jonathan, I really think that you should let Lauren get a Pinkman tattoo." It was this whole video, and I was in it, and then I put it on TikTok, and it went viral. Then a lot of people commented, "Oh my god, he probably loved you because you look like Jane," and I never thought that I looked like Jane until that, but I guess we both have darker, emo features. At that time, I was getting ready to figure out the concept for "junkie," and I was like, Jesse and Jane are junkies, and they're junkies for each other. This is so smart. I don't think I would have done it if I didn't meet him and people weren't commenting.
That's amazing! You also got to work with the incredible Maggie Lindemann for the "debbie downer" music video. What was it like working with her?
I got introduced to her by one of her main producers Josh Merde, who produced her whole new album. He called me and said, "Hey, I think you'd be great to write with this artist, Maggie Lindemann," and I was like, "Oh, yeah, she's so fire. I'd love to write with her." He brought me to one of her sessions, and we got along really well. We wrote a great song for her album, and after that, because that song was so great, she just asked me to come back for other writing sessions, and we ended up writing a handful of songs. Three of them will be on the album, but from that, we became friends, and when I wrote “debbie downer, it was initially going to just be me. But then I thought it'd be cool if there was another badass girl on this. It's a "who the fuck cares" anthem, so I messaged her right before Christmas. I asked her if she wanted to be on this track, and she was like, "Oh, my God, this is so sick, but the timing isn't good. I'm going home for Christmas. I'm not going to be in LA," and I was like, "Ok, no worries." So I uploaded it to Spotify with just me on it. And then I was trying to think of the music video for it, and I realized it'd be sick if we did a high school stereotype thing and had all these different characters. Som I asked Maggie to be one of the goth girls, and I was like, "Hey, would you want to be in this music video? Do you remember this song?" Then all of a sudden, my manager calls me, and he's like, "Maggie's manager just called. They want to be on the song," and I was like, "Ah! what do we do? It's already uploaded to Spotify?" He was like, "Take that shit down!" So we took it down, me and Maggie got in, and we rewrote her verse, she sang all of her parts and we remade it. I'm so happy that happened because I like it so much better with her on it and what we changed it to. I just think it's so much cooler.
She was such a natural. I remember being so scared to ask her because we had to be in cheerleading outfits, and I know she's so fucking tough and cool. I asked, "Would you mind holding pom poms and wearing a cheerleading outfit? Like, is that cool? Is that ok?" I was so nervous to ask her that because I thought she'd say it was so fucking lame, but she was like, "No, I used to be a cheerleader! That's great!" And I was like, "Oh, ok, thank god. Thank god," because I was so intimidated. Anyway, it was so much fun. She fucking killed it. I love how it turned out.
Right now is a super exciting time, but I imagine that, at points, the process of releasing a record can be really stressful. What do you do for self-care or to unwind when you get stressed out or overwhelmed?
I don't even know. I'm going on tour with Leah Kate in Europe in the fall, so I'll be doing that, but I'm taking the whole month of December to come back to Toronto and chill and be with my family because I think I need that. I would love to get a massage too, I'm not going to lie. I would love to just go to a spa one day and do some serious self-care. It's actually tough for me to find, well, ok, not to find time but force myself to take time for self-care. I feel like even on days I'm not writing, which is rare. I'll sit in bed trying to watch a movie and think, "I should be filming TikTok's right now." It's crazy how the industry has gotten so social media driven, and you really feel like if you didn't post something today—it's just anxiety-inducing. I need to take more time to do self-care because I've definitely been feeling it these days. Just like mush brain. So yeah, thanks for the reminder.
What kind of changes do you wish to see in the industry right now?
I wish TikTok blew up and never existed. Like just disintegrated. Only because I feel like it's really hurting... well ok, it's two things. I think it's a fantastic tool for discovering new music, and some artists have had a song blow up on there, and now they're doing so well, and that's great. I think a massive issue with TikTok is that people are now writing songs with a "TikTok moment" so that it will blow up on TikTok, and it's not necessarily, I don't want to say a good song, but there are so many good songs that don't have TikTok moments. I forgot who I was talking to that said this, so if they read this interview and I quoted them, I'm sorry, but someone told me if The Beatles were alive today, all of them, and they released "Let It Be" on TikTok that it probably wouldn't blow up on the app. There's no "moment" on "Let It Be," but it doesn't mean it's not a fucking incredible song. I think it's a huge problem. Even I feel pressure to write a song like that. I wish I could just make music, and it didn't matter about how many likes or if it's going to blow up on social media. It makes you kind of sick of your song when you have to post it every single fucking second and post a million videos on TikTok of it. I worked hard on this, so I'm going to have to promote it. It just feels icky to self-promote yourself. I know this is the life I chose, and I'm going to keep doing it, but I wish you didn't have to self-promote yourself as much on TikTok.
If you could give your past self any piece of advice or encouragement, what would you say?
I would tell them it's ok. Keep going, because even after you think that you're never going to make it, which I definitely thought, try not to give a shit what anyone thinks about and just keep trucking through and just keep writing a million songs. It will work out, and people will connect with your music. If you just put out honest things that you're feeling, they will be ok. Don't try to be something that you're not. Don’t try to be this pop star princess when you're not; just keep doing your thing, and you will get to where you want to go.
Is that similar advice you would give to anyone who wants to start trying to make music themselves?
Definitely! I would say write two billion songs because many of them will be shit. [laughs] I've heard a lot of bad songs, and I think you need to just keep at it. It's like a lottery. You need to buy a lot of lottery tickets, and something will eventually connect with someone. We're all humans here, and we all have so many shared experiences. I would say just keep your head up. Keep trying. If you really want to do something, you can do it. It's the people that give up that don't end up doing it and the crazy people that keep going after rejection that will eventually—I don't want to say "make it" because what is making it—but will ultimately get to where they want to go.
LØLØ's debbie downer is available now.