PREMIERE: Jillette Johnson Encourages Understanding with “Forgive Her”

Photo Credit: Betsy Phillips

Forgiveness is one of those concepts that sounds great in theory but is difficult to practice, especially when someone wrongs us in a way that feels unforgivable. But whatever grudges you’re hanging on to, Jillette Johnson makes a compelling case for letting them go with her latest single, “Forgive Her” — not just through its sage lyrics but also through Johnson’s soothing voice and a sweet melody that spreads a message of love.

The Nashville-based singer-songwriter penned the song after reflecting on times she had trouble forgiving other people, as well as herself. “I feel myself put up walls and hold on to little shards of glass all the time and find myself having to remember that someone else is probably in pain, that there’s probably some insecurity happening or story that I don’t know,” she says. “Or, opposite to that, I’m certainly not immune to being hurtful to the ones that I love. And instead of doing what I usually do — get mad at myself, which then makes me do it again — it’s a process of trying to be compassionate to myself and understand what, maybe, is driving that.” 

The song opens with gentle chanting and piano chords that pull at your heartstrings, then escalates into angelic singing reminiscent of a parent teaching a child: “Forgive her, she becomes a little kid/you never should have been treated that way.” The refrain, “It’s not okay but you’ll forgive her anyway,” speaks to the difference between excusing a behavior and forgiving it: forgiveness is a choice we make to free ourselves from the consequences of another’s actions, regardless of how inexcusable those actions are.

“‘Forgive Her’ is about compassion,” Johnson explains. “It’s about being able to see in yourself — or in this case myself, and in other people — that there are wounded children in all of us, and those wounded children usually need nurturing and can come out in ways that are hurtful to others. The song is about being able to find compassion in those moments where you realize you’ve hurt someone or someone else has hurt you, as a means to be liberated from the cycle of perpetuating that hurt and of putting up walls.”

A visualizer for “Forgive Her” repeats soft-focus shots of Johnson’s recording process, adding to the track’s soothing vibe. The song will appear on her third album, It’s a Beautiful Day and I Love You (out February 12), which was recorded live in the studio, aside from background vocals she layered over herself. Working with producer Joe Pisapia, she played piano and had other musicians come in for the guitar, bass, and drums. “It was very natural,” she says. “I made a record with some incredibly talented musicians who I really trust, and I just started playing, and everybody else started playing along, and it all kind of fit together pretty seamlessly without much intellectualizing of it.”

The rest of the album covers other poignant lessons Johnson has learned, like finding gratitude and joy in the little things and not comparing oneself to others. Four of the songs — “Graveyard Boyfriend,” “Annie,” “I Shouldn’t Go Anywhere,” and “What Would Jesus Do” — are available on Spotify already.

Johnson has been busy with one-off singles as well: “Cancel Christmas,” a somber holiday song that makes no effort to sugarcoat the sadness implicated by the pandemic; and a laid-back, minimalistic cover of 1995 Oasis classic “Champagne Supernova,” a song she listened to growing up that also seemed appropriate for these times. “To, me that song has always been about a loss of control and a reflection on mortality – how what we think we understand, we don’t really understand,” she says. “I know that the band has said in interviews that they don’t really know what the song’s about, but that’s been my interpretation of it.”

Johnson grew up in New York City and played her first live show at age 12, then moved to Nashville after releasing her first two albums Water in a Whale (2013) and All I Ever See in You is Me (2017). “I think I wrote my first song at eight, and that has kind of been my main coping mechanism/passion ever since,” Johnson explains. “In Nashville, it’s a different vibe than making music in New York, in a beautiful way – there’s a lot of community.”

At the moment, Johnson is focused on making DIY music videos – in her own backyard. The video for the defiant, country-influenced “What Would Jesus Do” features her singing on top of a friend’s car, and the candid, heartfelt “Annie” video shows her playfully strumming on guitar, playing a tiny piano, and hitting drums against a bright backdrop.

“I had the constraints of the pandemic work in my favor,” she says. “It was super DIY, but that was really liberating for me. I’ve come from being at a record label for ten years and doing things in a particular way, and being indie and scrappy about it was really exciting. It’s fun to release them into the world because people are connecting with that spirit of just trying to make art out of whatever you have.”

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