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Live shows, Nudity and Feminism: In Conversation with Lola Young

Still from the video for 'Woman' by Lola Young

“Everyone felt so free and brave and vulnerable, but also really sexy. It brought so many women together and we were all cheering each other.”

This is how Lola Young described filming the video to Woman, her latest single, while chatting to me on Zoom. I asked her what the atmosphere was like on set and how it felt to be fully naked, surrounded by other naked women: “It was super empowering.”

Watching the video is equally empowering. Women of different shapes, sizes and colours are lit in cherry-red hues as they dance unapologetically. It’s the perfect vision for Lola’s deep, velvety tones and feminist message. The women might be naked, but they’re not dancing for the male gaze. “We need to stop sexualising, fetishizing and romanticising women’s bodies” she said to me, exasperated at the notion.

Aged just 19, Lola represents the new generation of music artists who are shaking up the industry. Her message is refreshingly simple: men and women should be treated with equal respect. She conveys this through heartfelt lyrics, often to soulful piano and slow synths. When I spoke to her about the future of music, her answers were thoughtful and insightful, offering a glimpse into her world.

You’re clearly a natural performer and thrive during live shows. Do you think socially distanced gigs can work?

No, it’s just not possible. People will want to dance, move and sweat. That’s an important aspect of live shows.

How about virtual concerts?

I did a few live Zoom sessions, but it just wasn’t for me. Each to their own, but I found them quite awkward. I’ll return to performing live when I can. In the meantime, I’ve taken time to think about what I really want as a musician.

Your music transcends many styles and genres. Do you find it frustrating when people try to pigeonhole you?

Yeah, it’s quite annoying actually. I’m told quite a bit that I make RnB or neo-soul. But I make music of many different kinds. It’s all changing – the way we listen to and digest music is changing.

What are your thoughts on streaming and how it’s changing the music industry?

Streaming has been around for most of my career, so I can’t really judge. It definitely has pros and cons. It’s very fast, portable, and easy. People from all around the world have access. But then again, no one really cares. It’s all about attention span at the moment. With Spotify and Apple Music, you don’t feel like you’re buying songs, so music doesn’t feel like it’s worth anything. When I used to buy 99p singles on my iPod as a kid, I really cared about those songs, because I paid money and bought them.

Still from 'Woman'

What does this mean for albums? Are they still worthwhile?

It’s hard to create a good record. Now, it’s all about the single. But artists should do what’s right for them – it’s important to be free and creative. I’m working on an album right now. I’ve been writing quite a bit during lockdown, going back into the studio too as things have opened up.

How did you spend your free time during lockdown?

I watched series like Little Fires, listened to Tame Impala’s new record and Drake’s mixtape. The one thing I missed the most was going out for food with friends. That, and clubbing. I love dancing and having a good time. You’ll understand because you’re the same generation.

Your latest single, Woman, is bold and empowering. What inspired the song?

I used to struggle a lot with the term ‘feminist’. I struggled with what it meant and how to attribute it to my own life. It’s only recently that I plucked up the courage to be like, hang on a second, I am a feminist, and I’m proud.

What does feminism mean to you now?

It’s very simple. Women and men have differences, but at the end of the day, they should be treated equally. Men are raised to suppress their feelings, but women are raised to show them. If a man puts on weight, he’s not going to run to his friends and talk about it, but this is what women do. Society is set up to make women feel shit about their bodies. I put on weight during lockdown, but who cares? I made the Woman video to show women it’s ok if they don’t look like the stereotypical ideal.

Is the music industry a positive place to be a woman?

Yeah, generally it’s quite a positive place. It’s definitely male dominated, but I’ve not experienced first-hand sexism. Female artists aren’t viewed the same as male artists, but that’s a different conversation.

How do you think wider society needs to change in our attitude towards women?

I would say three things. First, we need to stop oversexualising and fetishizing women’s bodies. Next, we should treat women with the same respect, decorum and common courtesy as men. Finally, women of colour – that’s black women, brown women – really need to be treated the same as white women. At the end of the day, we should just view women through the same eyes that we view men.

Lola Young’s latest single Woman was released on 27th July 2020. Listen to her EP, Renaissance, and stay tuned for her upcoming album.

Interview by Emma Short, Music Editor.

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