“Whenever I feel upset about something bad happening, I’m always like, well at least that’s going to be a great song,” says New York-based artist tigerlily. Her latest track “lisbon” illustrates the very visceral anxiety and insecurity that can come along with falling in love – which she personally experienced last fall during the breakdown of a relationship, something she now terms as a “five-year misunderstanding” that came to head after a holiday in the titular Portuguese city.
“It was such a cute relationship. I met him in a club in Barcelona and I remember thinking he looked like the Spanish version of Adam Levine, which is a good look!” she recalls. “When I visited him in Lisbon over the Thanksgiving holiday, we had the best weekend and at the end of it we had this talk where we were like ‘what have we been?’ I said that I’d been in love with him for five years but he was really blindsided by that. Maybe it was an error in translation, but I was heartbroken so I came back and wrote ‘lisbon’ about that trip.”
Expressing herself through writing music and performing is embedded in tigerlily’s psyche; she’s been performing music since her teens, starting out in a Seattle-based grunge-tinged dream pop trio with her sister and cousin called Bleachbear. They released their debut album in 2016, and a follow-up EP called Deep Sea Baby came out last year. But as she began writing more and more pop music, tigerlily wanted to ensure that both projects could reach their potential in their respective genres. ‘lisbon’ is a testament to that departure with its calming, poppy acoustic vibes.
The track, in tandem with the music video, works as a Trojan horse – its breezy tones indicate positive reflection on the relationship in question (“I think about you when I think about forever” she sings in the chorus) but the single is a retrospective look at what she didn’t see in the moment because she was blinded by love (the next line is “I know you’re gonna say you’re not the one for me and I’m just confused”). The entire song is built around the push and pull of these feelings, with tigerlily narrating the very honest thoughts swirling in her mind.
“People always used to tell me, ‘You write a lot of love songs,'” she admits. “But none of my songs are super sweet; my songs center on that nostalgic, bittersweet feeling of love, that element where you know it’s not going to last but it’s so beautiful in that moment. That’s really what I wanted to capture.”
The music video emphasizes this mood, cobbled together from footage the singer shot on a handheld camera of the holiday in Lisbon that started it all. Set against the slightly desolate backdrop along the Portuguese coast in the off season, the music video perfectly amplifies her melancholic lyrics, while vintage effects edited by tigerlily’s friend Gaby Bajana evoke the feeling of a fleeting memory. “Ultimately, I know nothing about film but I wanted to achieve that retro, DIY aesthetic which is so beautiful,” tigerlily says. “Gaby was on stand-by for the video, and to work with people who understand film is so inspiring. It was important for me to get the video right.”
Largely void of people, the video is dreamlike in this aspect and plays with the notion of the romantic getaway where a couple are lost in each other. “It was actually kind of eerie because none of the villagers or people who lived there were really about either,” she explains. Despite the window of vulnerability it initially opened, producing the video provided some closure; by using the footage in this way, tigerlily used the pain caused from a confusing relationship to lift herself up. “It was kind of like a ‘screw you’ moment – in a friendly way,” she says. “He broke my heart but he won’t even believe what I made from that heartbreak. It was overall a mix of funny, heartbreaking and exciting all at the same time.”
Using the footage in the first place was born out of necessity. “I was dying a little bit… going through the footage. Most of the clips are of us singing in the car and they’re so cute! But it was a situation where quarantine was happening and I was like how am I gonna make a music video?” tigerlily explains. Still, out of respect, she re-cast her love interest in the video with Adria Gordillo, an exchange student her family had hosted in Seattle whose family she’d also visited in Barcelona. “The scenery is me and my ex’s trip but the shots of the face that you see in the video aren’t him. I replaced my ex for a guy with a better jacket,” she says. It’s a nice twist that creatively works toward the notion that tigerlily and her partner weren’t on the same page – her reality diverged from his, and realizing this, she saw everything through a different filter.
Exploring those emotions and everything that played into them in such a productive way has only led to personal and creative growth, and a newfound ability to construct something positive out of upsetting events. Ultimately, tigerlily is quite the romantic at heart and she’s always ready to give love another shot, despite the pain. “I grew up thinking ‘Love is great!’ and I think everyone wants that on some level,” she says. “It’s what we all aspire to – productive, civil relationships.” That, or a heartfelt, nostalgic love song.
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