With a UK arena tour, a lineup of probable top 10 singles, and her highly anticipated second album scheduled for 2020, last year was set to be a monumental year for Anne-Marie. But it wasn’t to be. Once the pandemic hit, those plans were put on hold, and in many ways, the newly empowered singer is glad. “I was supposed to release an album in 2020 and do a tour, but the album was definitely not ready at the time,” she says. “Now, none of those songs are on the record. It’s a completely different record; it’s almost like it was meant to be.”
During the nationwide lockdown in the UK, the songwriter spent a great deal of time with herself and a good portion of it with a therapist. This much-needed break allowed Anne-Marie to hone the craft of self-love and really come to grips with who she is as a person and consequently as an artist. “After the first album, I was adamant that I wanted to be someone completely different, and I wanted to make completely different music with a different genre and vibe,” she shares. “I made it my goal to be different. I realized after a while that just was not who I was.” The pressure on artists to follow up their debut record with an equally successful and groundbreaking project is no secret, and for many in the industry, the creation of a second album is nothing short of anxiety-inducing. And, with a debut record that reached No. 3 in the British album chart, Anne-Marie feels that pressure more than most. “It is stressful and worrying writing music because it’s almost like you are only as good as your last album. So, I’ve had to realize that if I like it, that’s good enough,” she says.
Thankfully, since embarking on a brave journey with therapy in 2020, Anne-Marie has rediscovered the artist she wants to be and the reason she loves making music. “I want to help people through situations,” Anne-Marie shares. “I turned to music when I was younger, like when I’d broken up with an ex, or sometimes I’d think, ‘I feel really shit about the way I look, so I’m going to put on some Christina Aguilera.’ It was always like music was helping me through. So, I want to be that person for others.” She continues, “Going through that ‘I want to be different’ phase felt authentic at the time, but not now that I know and remember why I’m an artist.” And so, with that newfound clarity, Anne-Marie began writing what would soon become her second full-length release, Therapy.
As the title suggests, the songwriter’s sophomore offering is an ode to her journey with mental health and how therapy changed her life for the better. “I’ve learned so much from my therapist,” she reveals. “Seeing a therapist helped me learn about myself, learn to love myself, and to know what I deserve.” All of those oh-so-important discoveries occurred during the writing of the record, and so, Anne-Marie realized, “It just made sense to call it Therapy.” Elaborating on her decision to speak out about receiving therapy and choosing such a candid title, she continues, “In a therapy session, you feel everything: You feel angry, you feel happy, you feel sad, you feel confused. And, that’s exactly what the songs on the album are: a mixture of emotions and situations.”
Just as life does, Therapy will take you on an emotional rollercoaster ride. Although, one theme evident throughout the record, particularly on unabashed tracks “Don’t Play,” “Kiss My (Uh Oh),” and “Who I Am,” is a seemingly newfound self-assurance and power. However, that self-assurance may not be so new after all. “I’ve always felt really strong-minded and like I’m not going to deal with anyone’s shit,” she says.
“But, that doesn’t mean I was outwardly portraying it. Inside, I was very strong-minded, but on the outside, I was so worried that people were going to judge me or not like me that I would do whatever they wanted. I would please people and bend and twist, just so I didn’t get a bad reputation,” Anne-Marie reveals. Thankfully, she is no longer ashamed to stand up for herself and be the commanding woman that she is. “Writing those songs made me believe that I could be that self-assured person outwardly as well,” she shares. “And, it’s nice to know that you are still liked for being a strong-minded person. I feel like being confident and loving yourself is actually quite scary because you think people will think you’re a right prick. But, you become a better person when you love yourself, and people will actually love you more.”
Finding the strength to embrace self-love and self-acceptance is so important but, for many, also sodifficult. Anne-Marie is no stranger to this struggle, but as she sings, “Ain’t no time to play pretend /What you see is what you get ’cause that’s just who I am / If you don’t like it I don’t give a damn,”on the track “Who I Am,” it seems she’s made a breakthrough. Hearing the previouslyself-confessed worrier express such confidence is both refreshing and encouraging, but she didn’tcome to this realization quickly.
“I think this outlook comes from not being a massive fan of the ideaof dying,” she admits. “I realized that we don’t have much time here, and that’s quite scary, but alsowhy waste it worrying? For most of my life, I’ve worried about other people before myself, worriedabout what they might think of me or if they liked me or not. I’ve always lived through other people’seyes, and I really hate that. So, I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that you have to makeevery decision based on your own happiness.”
The candor Anne-Marie embraces throughout Therapy is at least commendable and at most remarkable, because as we all unfortunately know, with a public platform usually comes public criticism. Shying away from emotional revelations on this album would have been entirely understandable, but for Anne-Marie, that wouldn’t feel right. “I definitely don’t feel scared about being completely honest in a song because I know I needed that when I was younger,” she shares. Continuing with utter frankness, she admits, “When I first started writing, I never used to be honest in my lyrics. I used to pretend and make stories up that I hadn’t experienced because it was scary to tell people the truth.”
But now it’s a very different story. “Once when I had writer’s block, someone said to me, ‘What are you going through at the moment?’ So, I started telling them, and we made a song out of it,” she says. “At the time, I couldn’t believe that it was literally my story in a song. So, that then made writing easier for me because it was so simple to write stuff that I’ve felt or experienced, instead of making something up that I have no idea how it feels.” The now-seasoned songwriter continues, “I honestly had no idea that my music would help people in any way. But, I’ve realized that through me being so honest, other people feel OK telling me about their experiences. So I was like, ‘Whoa, it’s helping them. This is the role I play. This is why I’m doing it.’”
And later this year, she’s taking that openness one step further: On Sept. 30, Anne-Marie will release her debut book, You Deserve Better. “It’s so exciting for me because I try to share as much as possible through my music and in my captions, but that’s only a snippet of what I can say,” she says. “So, with this book, I’ve gone for it. I’ve just said everything that I’ve learned and shared what I’ve been through. I’ve tried to be as real as possible.”
For Anne-Marie, sharing her truest emotions is something she has learned to do over the years, but sharing her art has never fazed her. Since gaining initial success as a vocalist for Rudimental and featuring on tracks with Magnetic Man and Gorgon City in the early days of her career, collaborations have remained close to Anne-Marie’s heart. With five featured collaborations on Therapy, this remains unchanged. “I’ve never shied away from too many collaborations,” she says. “I feel like people in the industry get a bit worried and feel like, ‘Oh god, you’re going to be known as that person.’ But I don’t care, I love it.”
She continues, “Beautiful songs like ‘Rock-a-Bye’ and ‘Don’t Leave Me Alone’ have come from more than one person being in the studio. Collaborations are a beautiful thing.” She’s right, there’s something special about hearing two incredible artists come together to write something amazing, and that excitement is elevated when those artists include superstars like Little Mix, KSI, and Niall Horan. Speaking of her recent single with Horan, Anne-Marie reveals that the song’s novel format is what made the track stand out to her. “On ‘Our Song,’ we sing basically the same verse, but it feels different, and that was so intriguing to me. I’d never thought of having a verse that has the same lyrics, but you can do that because it’s two different people. I’m sure if Niall gets asked what the song means to him, it will be different from what it means to me.” Arguably, it’s with this collaborative and open approach that Anne-Marie stays at the top of the game.
Following a year of self-discovery, Anne-Marie is ready to return to her position as one of the UK’s most successful pop stars. But in 2021, she has a fresh outlook. “When I think about before the pandemic, I loved being on stage, and I loved writing music, but I hated every other thing that came with it,” she says. Explaining further, she says, “I struggle walking into a room first, and I don’t like answering the phone, but that is a big part of what I do: I have to be looked at and talk to people. I was always scared about having to be that version of myself who was OK with that stuff when I’m not.”
Now, the “Don’t Play” singer has the courage of her convictions. “I am more certain of who I am,” she admits with pride. “I also know my boundaries now. I don’t want to wake up feeling sad and have to pretend that I’m happy and then deal with it later on my own after faking it all day. From therapy and figuring myself out, I’ve realized it helps others more if I don’t do that. So, from now on, I’ll know when to say no without being so worried about people thinking I’m rude or a diva.”
With the music industry the closest it’s been to normality in more than a year, the bold, sincere, and playful album Therapy is ready to be released into the world, and so is Anne-Marie. “I can’t wait to get back on stage, perform to people, meet people again and hug and talk to everyone,” she gushes. And soon enough, on her 2022 Dysfunctional arena tour, that’s exactly what she’ll be doing.