If Loren Gray’s debut independent single “Piece of Work” feels like a time machine to the golden age of early 2000s pop, packed with nostalgia and low-rise jeans, she has done her job. The artist once known for being the most followed person on TikTok is reshaping her image into a “pop fantasy,” a confident version of herself that reflects her love for millennium-defining pop artists like Christina Aguilera while embracing self-governance in a way she was not able to while searching for her identity while simultaneously building an online following and creating under a major label.
The inspiration is shaping what will be the throughline of her releases beyond “Piece of Work,” a nod to the timelessness of leading women in pop while paving new ground as an artist who has always lived in an age with social media propulsion. What later iterations of that sound will become is up to Gray, whose artistic evolution is only just beginning with her first step into independent stardom.
Though at first glance it seems to be treacherous territory when taking the road less traveled, Gray is only looking up.
“To me, that vibe is what speaks to me as pop music, the golden age of pop stars,” Gray tells EUPHORIA. “But I think we’re just going to continue to elevate it and make it more me and see where it goes.”
Essentially, Gray is concurrently redefining both Loren Gray the artist and Loren Gray the person. The result of that journey is an onscreen, carefully curated pop star and an even more empowered Gray behind the scenes; one that takes autonomy over her image and sexuality without the influence of outside minds placing her into an already vetted mold. “Piece of Work” is just the first foray into complete ownership and, if it’s any indicator for the future, Gray’s stronghold on the rest of her likely subsequent success will be just as impressive.
Gray isn’t plotting the road to becoming the “next big thing.” Rather, she is simply making music with the intention of creating the most authentically her thing.
“Now that I don’t have a label, there’s no one calling the shots,” Gray says.
That leaves Gray with one solution: call her own.
I was just watching the “Piece of Work” video for probably the 30th time. [laughs] So, congratulations on that release. It reminds of a young Christina Aguilera music video. The first thing that I thought was, like, “This is Christina.” You are really embodying this 2021 nostalgia, which is so cool. How are you feeling about that blend of a more modern sound and look with this throwback hit-making formula?
I was definitely heavily inspired by the Christinas, Pamela Anderson, Transformers Megan Fox, specifically, in the video. That’s what I grew up watching, so it makes a lot of sense for me. And I have a lot of dance background, so sort of incorporating that as well. I feel like not a lot of people do that anymore, which is so crazy to me because that was always my favorite part of watching performances and videos was choreography and performance. I am really glad that I have the opportunity to blend now and then make something really special.
What was like the rehearsal process? What was it like getting that dance in the video?
So it’s been probably a year, a year and a half since I’ve done real rehearsal. Because of the pandemic, we haven’t really gotten to do any real production. There hasn’t been an opportunity for that. But I did two days of rehearsal, and the first day was a little rough, because I haven’t done choreography in a long time. I’m a two-day-er, so I have to wake up, try again, and usually by the second day I have it, and this is actually my first time using male dancers. I always work with female dancers. So, having male dancers in the video was really different for me, but it was really fun. It was really great, it was awesome just to be back in the swing of things and getting to dance again.
Can we talk about the fact that you did that in two days? That’s really impressive.
A lot of the choreography isn’t in the video! Obviously, there’s only so much you can fit into a two-, three-minute video. But yeah, there was choreography for the whole entire song. There was choreography for the very end, there’s choreography for the middle, beginning, everything. Only so much of it gets used, unfortunately, but there’s a lot that goes into a video.
We’re going to be waiting for this in a tour moment, we’re going to be waiting for the full “Piece of Work” choreography. Was there a favorite moment when you were concepting this video and getting the dance together? What stood out to you as, “This is how I envision my first independent song looking”?
I feel like being with a label, I was told over and over again that I was too mature. And this was the first time that I was like, “I’m going to go for it because I’m really comfortable in my sexuality and myself as a woman.” I felt like that was something that everyone tried to pull the reins on a lot. Obviously I was 16, so at that time, it made sense. But as I got older, my personality online wasn’t really aligning with who I wanted to be as an artist. So this was the first time where I felt like I could be confident and empowered and look how I wanted to look and embody that fantasy, rather than trying to tame it down or do less.
You really got to show who your identity is as an artist on this track.
Absolutely. I wrote the song, three years ago now in 2018. So, this song has been around for a while; I recorded it, like, five times, we’ve planned for it to come out so many times and it never did. So, it felt right to bring back the song. I’ve always felt like it was my strongest song, and I never understood why it wasn’t out. Obviously, now we have a lot more that’s in the works, a lot more in the vault since I did my last writing camp independently … But yeah, this is the first time where I’ve really gotten to put the pieces together myself and create the vision that I wanted.
You said that you’ve re-recorded the song a few times — has the way that the song sounds evolved over time?
I sound a lot different now that I’m 19 than I did when I was 15/16. Obviously, voices are going to change … I actually recorded it this last time after a year of not paying any attention to it. I re-recorded it, and my boyfriend actually mixed and mastered the song because he’s a talented engineer. I got the new vocals back, and he was starting to mix them — and I can just walk down the hallway and hear it, which is great. And I was like, “Man, I like the old vocal better from last year.” It just had a different level of excitement and attitude that I didn’t have this time, because I’ve done it so many times. You just get sick of it. So, I went with the last take; I liked the old one better.
When you were writing the song, what inspired you to kind of hit the gas on it? What inspired you to write this track back then and why is it still relevant to you now?
I had the conversation a while ago where I was like … I don’t even remember how this came about. I know at the time, I was writing a lot of super sad, depressing music. I walked into that session, and I’d never written with these people before. And I was like, “Yeah, I just want to make something fun with really cool lyrics and something empowering.” I was just in a place where all I was writing was sad, depressing music. I don’t even know what the song was about itself; I think it was just me wanting to feel confident and empowered through the song. So yeah, we wrote the song. Then I kept making music, but none of [the songs] had the same energy that one carried. It wasn’t something that I just wanted to throw away. I’ve always felt really strongly about it. Every time I’ve made new music, I always went back to that song, so it was definitely a good kickoff to the beginning of this new era.
How would you describe this era? What does this era feel like to you?
I had a lot of managers in the past, and a lot of people who told me that I needed to be deep and really connect on this emotional level. That’s something that I haven’t unlocked in myself yet. I’ve been through a lot, and expressing that through music is still difficult for me. I feel like there’s a lot of therapy I need to go through before I’m able to actually write about that kind of stuff. I have, but I’m not comfortable releasing that. I remember I had a manager who told me that I wasn’t taking music seriously because I wasn’t writing about my deepest, darkest secrets, and I came to the conclusion this year that I don’t have to do that. I can just empower myself through my music rather than … you know, everyone expresses their art in different ways. For me, it’s the fantasy and feeling confident and feeling beautiful and having this really magical performance. That’s what I really shine in. I really love just putting on the show, and that’s what’s really therapeutic for me — the look and the fantasy and the music being really empowering that people could dance to and feel beautiful to because that’s what I look for in music. Of course, I have my sad songs and I have my breakup songs, but I was forcing something that didn’t need to be forced. I am happy right now. I feel like a lot of times, everyone was trying to make me make music that I wasn’t happy [making]. It was a really weird situation. There’s room for every type of music, and I just want to live the pop fantasy.
You keep mentioning this fantasy. What is that fantasy to you?
I really wanted to bring that [early 2000s pop] back in my own way. I love creating looks that are beautiful and not necessarily what I look like every day, because Lord knows what I look like on a daily basis. But you know, having the full performance and the full choreography and the looks for the music video — [they were] some of my favorite looks that I’ve ever had. We had the low-rise denim and, even though it’s not me from a day-to-day basis, it’s something that I’ve created. It’s sort of a character that I really enjoy being; it’s like the elevated, empowered version of me.
Outside of this pop fantasy and embracing your sexuality, how would you describe the change in your sound now releasing and writing as an independent artist versus when you were under a label?
I feel like when I was with the label, I was doing a lot of sessions that were sort of one-off, random. I didn’t really get the chance to form relationships with the people that I was writing with, so no one really understood what I was trying to do. Because writing music is a really intimate thing, right? Regardless of what you’re writing about, you have to trust the people that you’re writing with, and that’s where the best music comes from. So after I left, I was still doing a bunch of random sessions, and I was like, “We just need to do a writing camp with this group of people that I really love, and I just want us to all be in a house for a week and wake up and make music and go to sleep and wake up and do it all over again.” Everyone agreed. There’s Bardo, Cole [Hutzler], and Brent [Burdett], who are incredible. They have a band called Beauty School Dropout and they’re these super cool rock and roll guys but incredible producers. Bardo is an incredible producer. They really took the time to listen to what I had to say, and they were able to translate that into production. I’m not a producer, so a lot of times I struggle trying to explain what I hear in my head. But they took the time to listen and really understand that. So, on the next project, the next songs that are coming out that are new, we have a lot of really cool elements of dance breaks and a lot of really cool guitars. Everything just hits. It’s all this empowering, embracing your sexuality vein. Of course, I have the breakup songs, because those are my favorite songs to write. But I just really wanted to come out of this whole situation of leaving the label and being really unsure of what I’m supposed to do and where I go from here, and I just wanted to have fun and make music that I like with my friends that empowers me as a woman and that can empower other people as well. That’s sort of where I’m at sound-wise, and it was just a little group of people that made it happen. But sometimes, most of the time, that’s all you need.
It seems like “Piece of Work” is a pretty solid reflection of what’s coming next for you.
“Piece of Work” is leading to everything that’s new. [It is] the last song that I’m digging out of the vault. It was what I always felt like was my strongest song, and it’s definitely bridging the gap between my previous music and the music that’s to come. I think the music that’s to come is a little edgier than “Piece of Work,” but “Piece of Work” has this really beautiful innocence to it in the lyrics, and I just think it’s really beautiful and is a great way to kick off this next part of my life.
As for your listeners, looking at your social media presence, you were the most followed person on TikTok for a long time. Do you find that a lot of your music fanbase lives on TikTok? Or do you find it challenging to convert your TikTok audience into your music audience?
The thing with TikTok versus music is you have to build up a music audience the same way that you build up a social media audience. Although it does give you a jumping-off point of pre-existing fans, you still need to build credibility and respect in a different space, the same way that I did with social media. Social media fans don’t always translate; I don’t necessarily expect them to because if I wasn’t on social media, I would be a new artist. So, I have a jumping-off point, but there’s still work that needs to be done to build up the music space. It’s really interesting, too, because I have my social media fans, and then I’ll be at Chili’s and this middle-aged dude comes up. He’s like, “I love your song.” So I’m like, “Oh, cool!” It’s a really interesting demographic switch. But, yeah. There’s people that translate, people that don’t and there’s people that just listen to music and people that just … I’m not going to tell people what to do, but I’m just going to keep working to make people hopefully see that I like making music, and hopefully they listen.
On the social note, your Snapchat show, Honestly Loren, is coming out soon, too.
I did a little show with them way back, where I just did makeup and fun little beauty things. But this show is way different. [It is] very much a real look into my life and what I actually go through on a daily basis. I opened up a lot on that show, and there’s a lot of things that I wasn’t expecting to talk about that I did. And I cried so many times, it’s probably so annoying the show. I’m very emotional. I wasn’t expecting to be, but it was a really eye-opening experience. I watched the show back and I’m really proud of it; I think that a lot of people will be able to get something out of it. Hearing me talk about things that I don’t talk about all the time and seeing me in a different light is always going to be — I’m a little bit nervous because I’ve never been this vulnerable, but I’m excited for it.
It’s really interesting to hear you talk about how vulnerable you are in the show [after] you discussed how that’s even harder for you to discuss in music. So, I’m sure that was way out of your comfort zone!
It’s something that just kind of unraveled. If I go into writing a song and I’m like, “I’m going to write something deep.” For me as a person, it’s really hard because I’m empowered by being empowered and feeling beautiful and confident … I think that hearing me speak about things that I’ve went through, hopefully people will be able to relate to it. And hopefully I’ll get to a point in my music where I’m comfortable writing a song about things that happen to me or things that I’ve experienced in my life. But right now, I just want to have fun.
What is your dream accomplishment as an artist? What is your ideal “I made it” moment?
Everything in my career has been so steady. I didn’t gain a million followers overnight. Everything’s always just sort of been milestones and stepping stones and things like that. But my goal right now is to go on tour, because I’ve never really done a tour on my own with music that I enjoy. So, I think that’s my goal right now, and I think I’ll be happy with that.
When someone thinks of Loren Gray as an artist, what do you want to come to their mind first?
I just hope that people can listen to my music and dance to it and have a good time and get something out of it. You know what I mean? I don’t care what that is or how people relate to it or whatever. I just want people to listen to it and get something out of it… I think it’s the same as me [as] an online personality, I’ve always just wanted people to be able to walk away from whatever they’re doing and watch a video or whatever and just have a good time for a minute. So, I hope that my music can do the same thing, because I’ve had so much fun creating the whole image in the video and the song and it’s been a long time coming. I hope people can just have fun and enjoy it, because everything’s been so serious in my life for four or five years. I feel like this is the moment where I just want to spread my wings and fly.