Duets in pop music are beginning to experience a resurgence. Ariana Grande and The Weeknd have led the trend in recent years, as they tend to do, with duet versions of the latter’s “Save Your Tears” and, more recently, “Die For You” after previously teaming up for Grande’s “Love Me Harder” and “Off The Table.” “Until I Found You,” a doo-wop-inspired duet by Stephen Sanchez and Em Beihold, another notable pick, has become one of the most inescapable hits of the year.
“Backwards,” a new collaboration by established pop vocalist Alexa Cappelli and rising pop-punk star Knox, is out now.
Who are Alexa Cappelli & Knox?
Cappelli, a home-grown pop star with well-crafted pop tunes such as “Could’ve Just Left Me Alone” and “SAY SOMETHING” under her belt, has built her career from the ground up. Through a combination of an active social media presence, pure pop production and melodies, and raw, honest lyrics, Cappelli has established herself as one of the many rising stars in pop music with plans for long-term success.
She’s accompanied by Knox, a new and exciting name in pop music who has made a name for himself within Nashville’s growing alternative scene with tracks like “Love Letter” and “Sneakers.” Knox, who recently opened for The Band CAMINO and will open for Nightly on their fall trek later this year, has a voice with all the qualities of modern pop-punk vocalists but is perfectly pop altogether. Sweet and slightly affected with a touch of grit, like Alec Benjamin and Ruel, Knox is ready for his moment.
“Backwards,” an acoustic-driven pop banger, begins with Cappelli blasting an ex’s toxic tendencies: “You’ve got sensitive skin / You keep letting me in when you know you shouldn’t / Said you wanna be friends / Making me second guess when you said you wouldn’t.” When she hits the chorus, she goes for the jugular, calling out his resistance to let go while she moves forward: “I’m moving on and you’re moving backwards / You keep dragging us on/Reliving chapters.”
When Knox rolls in for the second verse, he is immediately equally dismissive: “I told you over and over I’m like a broken record / Now I can’t get it in your head that I-I / I took that picture of us and got it off the dresser / I’m doin’ better than I have in a while.” By the end of the tune, they’re both singing, “I’m moving on and you’re moving backwards,” maintaining their individual sense of pride, whether they mean it or not.
The track, at first glance, is simply a trading of narratives between two ex-lovers that expertly displays the, often, varied sides of the story after the dust of a relationship has settled. However, Cappelli admitted to the true inspiration of the concept. “The song wasn’t about a relationship, just someone from my past,” she said. “They messaged me, trashing on my character. Then, I went into a session with another artist and amazing writer, Christian French, and we were talking about song concepts. I had completely forgotten that I had gotten this message… I was genuinely like, ‘I’m moving on. I don’t need to respond or entertain this.’ Of course, there are ‘situationships’ and relationships in my life that I can pull from… that’s the art of songwriting, you can pull from everything.”
The collaboration was a natural fit. Even for Knox, who was swimming in uncharted waters sound-wise. “When I first heard the song, it was a no-brainer,” he said. “I definitely want to do things that are more pop, so it was kind of the perfect transition for me. Alexa and her team just gave me the freedom to be like, ‘Hey, just do what you would do on this song.’” Instead of over-complicating things, he just allowed the simplicity of the moment to guide him. “I wrote my verse in like… 30 minutes,” he said. “It was so fast and so natural. That’s what I think makes great songs, great songs.” Cappelli, who felt like she needed a partner’s energy to bounce off of, praised Knox’s performance. “The song was destined to be a duet,” she said. “I wrote the second verse twice and it just didn’t feel right, then Knox hit it out of the park. I’ve been a huge fan of him for a minute now.”
Finding Themselves Creatively
Knox, who tips his hat to artists like Lauv, Jeremy Zucker, and Chelsea Cutler, says his dive into the pop-punk world was a happy accident. “I got into songwriting because I accidentally found myself writing punk-rock songs,” he said. “I feel like all of my songs are written like pop songs… the structure, the melodies, the songwriting. Then it was like, ‘What would happen if we took those songs and put real drums and huge electric guitars on them?’”
The result is 22 million streams on a song like “Sneakers,” but smiles at the thought of “Backwards” being an entryway to a new sound for him. “I’ve always wanted to make music like that, it just didn’t fit me at the time,” he said. “Now I’m slowly… not transitioning, but I want to be able to step into multiple worlds of music and not be pigeonholed.”
Cappelli, despite being a bit more seasoned, is in the same boat. “I’m still figuring out who I am and what I want to say,” she said. “Even if I know what I want to say, how do I say it? How do I present it in a way that is new, and fresh, and exciting to me? There are so many different avenues that are more than just creating that are more than just the art. It’s also putting it on a plate and hoping people like it too.”
Both Cappelli and Knox, despite having other planned releases looming, are in album mode. Fans can certainly expect much more individual material, but the pair, repeatedly, expressed their desire to work with each other again. “Backwards” may have been the genesis of a trusted, artistically fruitful long-term working relationship between two young and exciting artists.