Salem Ilese

Salem Ilese — About a Breakup

Sweet angel Salem Ilese’s new single “About a Breakup” has just dropped and it is here to remind your exes they’re not worth it. The vibrant pop star might look like she’s into fairy tales, but like her iconic single “Mad at Disney,” she prefers to write about the truth, which is that life is full of tragedies, not happy endings. And that’s not to say that her music is gloomy or depressing. She’s got a dark sense of humor that she uses to find interesting ways to put her thoughts to music. When referring to how to get over someone, she sings things like “go pick up nicotine try to kill me in your sleep” and “I could drink my body weight.” It’s the artist’s ability to be both bright and full of shadows that makes her so interesting. No one puts it better than she does: “The world’s too fucked to cry about a breakup.”

Ilese’s soft sultry voice paired with airy synths and fun harmonies come together to give us the perfect song to drink to as we worry about the world and not our exes. The song is part of her upcoming EP set to drop on May 21. The Californian singer-songwriter spoke to EUPHORIA. about collaborating with other creatives, the hard part of being a musician, and writing her latest single “About a Breakup.”

What was the inspiration behind “About a Breakup?” What was the process like?

Ironically enough, this song was written right before the pandemic. I feel like I accidentally manifested all of the terrible events that happened in 2020 with the lyric, “The world’s too fucked to cry about a breakup.” Originally, my co-writers Bendik Møller, Ryan Daple and I were actually referencing the fires happening in Australia. This was one of the rare times in which we came up with the concept spontaneously during the session. Usually, I read off a bunch of titles from a list on my phone, but this time it came from a conversation in the studio. I remember saying the chorus lyric in conversation, then going, “that’s the concept.” We wrote the song pretty quickly after that. It’s really meant to be a reminder to myself that no matter what I’m crying about, there is always some less self-centric that I should be focusing my energy on. Something like a breakup feels unimportant next to global warming, BLM protests, Asian discrimination, and a global pandemic. For me, this perspective switch was both comforting and concerning. It immediately took my mind off of my own selfishness, but quickly threw me into the realization that the world is, indeed, fucked. Acknowledgment is the first step to change, though, so I’m glad I reached this conclusion.

You’ve worked with some of my favorite friends Dean Dicriscio (stylist) and Alana O’Herlihy (photographer). Can you tell me a little bit about what it’s like to get to collaborate with creatives from all over? What have you learned about yourself through working with others?

I love them; I was literally just texting Dean. He’s a fashion genius, and Alana has the best energy! I feel so grateful that I get to collaborate with creatives like them every day. Everyone has a very unique perspective to offer, really making it feel like the sky is the limit. When working with another musician in a session, my counterpart always thinks of something that would never cross my mind. Through the past year of Zoom sessions, I’ve learned that I often jump to the least obvious conclusion first. For example, if someone says they want to write a song called “Friends,” my first thought would be to talk about Rachel and Ross and debate whether or not they were “on a break.”

Also, I’ll always choose the weirdest possible way of saying something. Anytime I can sneak a peculiar word into a song, I’m happy. Recently, I also had the pleasure of working with a ton of extremely cool visual artists through shoots and videos. This has been very exciting for me, as my visual skills are pretty bad. Everything I draw looks like a third-grader made it. Working with people who have an incredible eye for things has really helped me find my footing in that world. I’ve been experimenting more with fashion lately, especially thanks to Dean and my creative director, Clare Gillen. I’ve also been able to think a lot about what my music looks like; what color it is, what font, if it’s lower or upper case, etc.

What is the most exciting thing about being a musician? What is the hardest part?

The most exciting part for me is definitely making the music. I’m fully in love with the craft! I think that music is the coolest thing ever; it’s a universal language. Whenever I’m feeling annoyed or irritable, I remind myself that my job is literally to write songs all day. I’m so grateful. I feel the most fulfilled in life right after I write something that I truly love. This doesn’t happen every day, but whenever it does, it makes everything worth it. On the flip side, the hardest part is probably that I can never really go home from work. I’m always a musician, and as of recently, an “influencer” of sorts (that still sounds so weird to say). I’m forever thankful for my newfound platform, but I also recognize that it comes with a responsibility. I hope to be a role model for the younger generation, as well as a positive force of change regarding current events. I also want to stay human, though, and show the world that even meticulously curated musicians are imperfect and flawed. Navigating this balance is difficult and definitely comes with a learning curve. As corny as it sounds, I’m just trying to stay true to myself online, which is shockingly a lot harder than it sounds.

If your music could be the soundtrack to any tv show/movie/game what would it be?

Oof that’s a hard one! I like movies that don’t have happy endings. As I say in “Mad at Disney,” I’m a pessimist. Happy endings are hard to trust, and I pride my music on being extremely honest, so it would have to be a movie that leaves a very bittersweet taste in your mouth. The first movie that comes to mind is one that I saw recently called Promising Young Woman. It flawlessly touches upon themes of sexual assault, dating culture, feminism, and mental health issues. The ending is unexpected, but refreshingly eye-opening. I’m so tired of seeing movies where every problem gets solved in an hour and a half. That’s just not life! Tragedy is the most relatable emotion, in my opinion, because it leaves the biggest impact in our lives. I’d love to have my songs soundtrack a show or movie that offers an unusual sense of realism.