On November 16th, Lennon Stella released her EP Love, me. Stella is an anomaly in that she is a pop artist with singer-songwriter writing sensibilities. Her songs are never simple or one-dimensional. They may have that catchy pop hook but there is a maturity, a non-black and white perspective that singers’ decades older haven’t been able to understand let alone capture it in their writing.
Her songs are reluctant to point fingers but are more self-portraits of how a relationship, a fight, a feeling or a person made her feel. Love, me is a study in introspection and a way to have a conversation with someone you can’t in person. Perhaps that is why the EP is called what it is, because it’s Stella signing off the songs to each person or experience with, “Love, me”? Or maybe, like all of us, she is quietly asking to be loved in spite of these pieces and experiences?
I think the expectation of Love, me was that it was going to be typical pop – cool and synthesized instrumentation set to simple and shallow lyrics that fail to paint the human experience as contradictory, messy, unnecessary painful, and at times, self-destructive even though we know we know better.
‘Feelings’, a song about your ex coming to the realisation of wanting you after the bags are packed and the indentations of your feet are no longer in the carpets. It builds on that old adage that people only want what they can’t have, or in this case, no longer have. The Jackson 5 sung a whole song readily admitting to wanting the girl when she was no longer around. Stella takes what they started and weaves her own perspective into it. The all too familiar feeling of knowing what it is like to want something that is no longer there.
“I wish you’d known then/ What you say you know now/ But you didn’t”
The snappy beats and quick delivery in the chorus, makes the lyrics feel like they are tripping over themselves. As if Stella can’t get the words out quick enough to tell the person their feelings are no longer welcome. It’s too little too late.
‘Feelings’ at moments feel mocking, with the lyrics laughing at the clichés of why it couldn’t work before “They blame it on the timing/ Like the planets not aligning”. But then there’s the moments when Stella brings the sadness of what came before and the if only’s into the story. Of the times when you tried to make it work, and for having the foresight that the person would realise they wanted you but only when it was too late.
“And now… Reach out your hands/ You know it’s late/ And I understand/ You thought I’d wait.”
Perhaps ‘Feelings’ is a study in how strange, ephemeral and frustrating feelings can be, and how in relationships, both platonic and romantic, they rarely coalesce, with unnecessary hurt being the only outcome.
‘Bad’, the upbeat, musically disjointed break up song, takes the contradictory route in which Stella sings about wishing a guy had treated her bad so she could get over him easier. That is until Lennon throws a knife into the pulse of the song, readily acknowledging that she was the other woman. Except of course, she had no idea she was…
In the midst of the EP is the already released ‘Breakaway’, an ambient heavy track with a wistful jazz instrumental about being in the midst of instability with no way out.
The final two songs to close Love, me are before and afters of a toxic relationship breaking apart and the shattered aftermath. As the saying goes, no one here gets out alive.
‘La Di Da’ opens with a dark lullaby piano line and Stella’s soft and despondent vocals, telling the story of a relationship that turns toxic when the sun goes down.
“Some things don’t sit right/ This close to midnight/ You’re someone else in this light”
The darkness of sound and story against the childlike title and refrain, creates a perfect juxtaposition and leaves the listener having to think it out.
“So just before you take it too far/ I’ll hold my ears/ Say la da da di da”.
Like with ‘Bad’, the song’s title gives you a false sense of security, of the song perhaps something fun and light-hearted, or even a ‘kiss-off’ to a lover. But with the words acknowledging that the problems are never that of one person and that no one is just bad news entirely with the will to fix relationship and a person, Stella takes makes the song wise beyond her years.
“It’s just like you/ To take me down with you/ Feed off each other’s issues/ We both know there’s no use/ Talkin’ ’bout what I owe you/ I want back the old you”
The EP closes with ‘Fortress’, perhaps the saddest song the record, about the painful and resigned feeling of having to rebuild your walls after being hurt.
‘Fortress’ has the inhale and exhale that ‘Breakaway’ does. The sparse versus with its hand claps, steady drum beat and Stella’s isolated vocals. Like ‘Breakaway’, the sound and feeling steadily grows in each pre-chorus and chorus, and then retracts back down, but never completely.
“Thought that you meant it/ When you spent all those quiet nights on me/ Told me all about the secrets that you keep /I thought you were so deep”
The chorus is where all the feelings and hurt meet. Where those feelings go after a toxic relationship has broken apart. It’s the moment where Stella brings the walls back down and that resigned feeling begins of having to rebuild yourself piece by piece. But like all endings, there is still that question hanging, did the other person ever feel what you felt.
“I’ll never be the same/ So I’m cutting my losses/ I’m not letting you in/ Now that I’ve built a fortress // When you call I ignore it/ I built a fortress, mm no/ Did you ever feel the way I did at all?