It took Lena Stone longer than she would have liked to write her latest single “Taking Up Space” – but the ideas and inspirations for it had done just that, in her head, for years. Like many, Stone went through a personal transformation in 2020, and when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, she finally summoned the courage to put words to the way she was feeling.
“So much of making music is presenting it to other people and putting it outward, and it felt like this was a chance for me to create inwardly, create music that I want to listen to. I realized I hadn’t been doing that as much as I should have been,” Stone admits to Audiofemme. “I think I was doing what I thought Nashville wanted from me.”
Having lived in Nashville for seven years, the Massachusetts-raised singer decided to transition from country music to pop. The move was a sign of respect from an artist with a “deep love” for country music, yet realized her lyrics and production were leaning more into the pop realm. It’s a natural step for the talented singer-songwriter, the pandemic granting her the time and focus to create music that fuels her soul. Making music without restrictions was incredibly “freeing” for Stone. “It felt so gratifying to be writing something I wanted to listen to all the time, so that was a really cool change for me,” she says. “Now that I have that, I never want to do anything other than that. I never want to make music that I wouldn’t turn on and blast all the time in my own car.”
Stone isn’t ashamed to admit that she’s often listening to her songs on repeat these days, having reached a point in her career where she’s letting go of others’ opinions and embracing her artistic identity. One of these songs is the deeply vulnerable “Taking Up Space,” a liberating anthem that questions gender stereotypes and lays bare the reality of working in an industry that makes it impossible to fit in.
The synth-laden ballad offers an empowering analysis of the ways women are expected to dim their light in order for others to shine. Stone faces her own insecurities in an effort to break through these barriers and help others do the same. “Even though it was really scary, I was like, ‘I need to write the song that I need to hear,’” she expresses.
One thing she’d been struggling with was having a negative body image. “It occurred to me a couple years ago that many of us are striving to be size zero, and size zero is literally nothing. Why is that the goal? Why is it not okay to just be, and to exist the way that you are?” she confides. “It’s so hard to love your body. There’s so much talk about loving your body, and so few people actually do it. We put these weird rules on ourselves and the pandemic I think has made that worse for a lot of people.”
Stone kept her ideas for “Taking Up Space” under wraps until it was ready to manifest, which occurred one morning at 6 a.m. when she woke herself up mumbling the first verse and pre-chorus into her iPhone. What resulted is an open-hearted song where each lyric is more vulnerable than the next, Stone battling with the inner voices that tell her she needs to fit into an unattainable mold, biting her tongue more often than she’d like. “The whole thing centers on that title, that it is okay to be a presence, whether that’s physically, whether that’s making your voice heard, whatever that means to you,” she says. “It’s being a participant and not being on the sidelines or trying to hide yourself or be less than you are.”
The versatile singer also addresses the pressures that come with being a woman in the music industry, noting how female artists are placed under contradictory parameters that discourage them from being too creative, sexy, or outspoken, yet are still expected to entertain. She addresses this “very complicated game of Twister” head on as she sings, “So I’m getting out of the line/For a prize that maybe/I don’t even want,” Instead, she commits to following her own intuition. “That line is really directed at the music industry and it’s saying ‘I’m doing all the things that you asked of me, but I don’t even know if that’s what I want to be doing. I’m not sure that’s what I’m called to be doing. So maybe I’m just going to stop doing what you want me to do and I’m going to do what I want to do,’” she explains.
The visualizer, premiering exclusively with Audiofemme, perfectly captures the spirit of song. Stone is depicted as a doll-like figure, dressed in an extravagant tulle-laced gown. “We wanted me to look like a mannequin – pretty and not moving, just there,” she explains. On the one hand, the “enormous” dress literally takes up space, she adds, “but there are also assumptions that you’re just supposed to be there and be pretty and it’s like, no – I can be so much more than that.”
Stone lies on a giant chess board, surrounded by life-sized pawns. She was drawn to the intricacies of chess, where players are expected to predict their opponent’s every move. “Chess is a game of power moves and [is] about having control of the situation,” she points out. “I loved the idea of me calling the shots and me making the plays. Being in the middle of that setting felt really like it called that power play into mind.”
“It’s fearless just facing these fears” is not only a line in the song, but a reminder for the singer to push forward, now that she’s finally confronting her demons. “But I’m getting braver every day/I’m done saying sorry/For taking up space,” she assures herself, hoping to bring peace of mind to every woman who hears the song and encourage them to feel validated in their power as a person who deserves to be taking up space in the world.
“The flip side of trying to make yourself small is allowing yourself to be big. Every time I advocate for myself, I feel big,” she says. “I think as women, we’re taught to put everyone else’s feelings first and I definitely struggle with that a lot. Intentionality is such a key to being happier and to taking up space in the space that you want to take up.”
Though the track was a long time coming, Stone feels it was worth the wait to get the message just right. “If I can help anyone get there faster than it took me to get there, that feels like mission accomplished. If it speeds up anyone’s process to becoming comfortable with themselves, then I feel like the song has done what I needed it and what I wanted it to do,” Stone proclaims. “If we could all become a little bit more comfortable with ourselves and our bodies and our voices and our intelligence and our abilities, I think things would change for the better for everyone.”