Lizzy McAlpine isn't paying attention to all the attention she's getting lately
- Lizzy McAlpine recently spoke to Insider about her breakout year and rising stardom.
- In 2022, the singer released her acclaimed second album and embarked on her first headline tour.
In the past year alone, Lizzy McAlpine has opened for Coldplay, collaborated with Finneas O'Connell, surpassed 3 million monthly listeners on Spotify, caught the attention of the Grammys, and embarked on a star-making headline tour.
Most importantly, McAlpine released her sophomore album "Five Seconds Flat," a cinematic and tenderly wrought journey through heartbreak, regret, and rebirth.
Since its arrival in April, the album has amassed a devoted cult following online, inspiring tens of thousands of fans to agree that McAlpine "reignited my love for music" or created a "perfect" album, comparable to "Punisher" by Phoebe Bridgers (who also counts herself a "big fan") and "Folkore" by Taylor Swift.
Placed beneath any microscope, it's clear that McAlpine has enjoyed the kind of breakout year that most artists never have — except through her own custom lens.
"I don't know what a 'breakout' would look like. It feels like a slow, natural growth," she told Insider during a recent Zoom interview, suspended between concerts in Atlanta and Houston. "Also, I don't really pay attention to that very much. I'm just making the art."
However, she did allow that "Five Seconds Flat" helped her arrive "somewhere new," adding, "That's what I'm focused on because I never want to be in the same place for too long. I always want to be growing."
The 23-year-old singer-songwriter has spent a lot of time thinking about how to evolve, expand, and still remain authentic — as well as the symptoms of modernity that may complicate that goal.
McAlpine saw an early-career spike in popularity two years ago, when she offhandedly shared an original snippet on TikTok. To this day, fans will flood her comments with demands for the cheeky breakup song, nicknamed "You Ruined The 1975," often crossing the line between admiration and entitlement.
"I had a lot of people that were like, 'You should release it and you'll make so much money and you'll be famous,'" she explained. "And I was like, 'I don't care about that. I don't like the song and I don't want to put it out.' And I feel like that should be the only reason that matters."
McAlpine remains convinced that musicians work in service to the art, not the whims of social media.
"There are a lot of people that feel entitled to everything that an artist does," she continued. "People just think that they know someone so well when really they only know a fraction of what that person is choosing to show on the internet. It's so interesting and it's scary, honestly."
McAlpine has always been 'outspoken' and headstrong, even as an introverted child
McAlpine grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where she always harbored dreams of becoming a musician.
"I have so many videos of me as a child just forcing my family to listen to me sing," she said.
She began releasing music on SoundCloud as a teenager and even dabbled in theater, which she said helped her become less anxious and more confident in public. Though she was never shy when it came to her art or values.
"The things that I find important, I'm not going to compromise on," she said. "I don't want to do what someone is telling me to do, just because they're telling me to do it. I want to do something because I feel it's right."
She nearly went to college to pursue acting, but instead, McAlpine enrolled at Berklee College of Music. She dropped out after two years and released her debut album that very summer, 2020's "Give Me a Minute." Its fan-favorite trifecta of songs — "To the Mountains," "Pancakes for Dinner," and "Apple Pie" — has racked up nearly 100 million combined streams to date.
Despite the album's success, McAlpine's relationship with those songs has soured somewhat, especially after she put together her tour setlist.
"I don't like playing 'Pancakes for Dinner' that much," she admitted. "I don't want to speak bad on it because I know a lot of people like that song, but it doesn't feel like anything that I would write now. It just feels like a very specific moment in my life when I wrote that. I don't relate to it anymore."
Compared to the spring palette and naivete of "Give Me a Minute," McAlpine said, "Five Seconds Flat" is much darker and more angsty. "It feels dark blue and brown and black," she said.
Save for the heart-wrenching outlier "Chemtrails," which is about the death of her father, "Five Seconds Flat" is loosely divided into three acts: leaving behind a relationship she had during college ("Doomsday," "An Ego Thing," "Erase Me," "Called You Again"); feeling lost and lonely in the aftermath ("All My Ghosts," "Reckless Driving," "Weird," "Ceilings," "What a Shame"); and healing enough to fall in love again ("Firearm," "Hate to Be Lame," "Nobody Likes a Secret," "Orange Show Speedway").
These songs are brought to life with tactile details that apply the scents, tastes, and textures of memory: "We made sangria and failed," "My shoes are now full of water," "Push me up against a wall," "Nails on the floor and soot on my tongue." McAlpine is wide-eyed and inquisitive, cataloging each sensation with scientific precision.
"I'm surprised to see that people resonate with any of my songs, because they're just so specific to my experience," she said. "I write such specific details into my songs, like going to 7-Eleven and getting a slurpee on Free Slurpee Day. But I guess people can relate to that even if they haven't specifically been through it."
She said it's particularly fun to see these lyrics come to life onstage, with many crowds screaming the lines she least expects to land.
"In 'All My Ghosts,' they love the 'I spilled mac and cheese on my pants' line. They love that one," she said with a laugh. "That's one that comes to mind. I was like, 'That's an interesting line to resonate with, but I guess, go off.'"
Indeed, McAlpine has a knack for straightforward storytelling, which can make her songs feel ripped from your own therapist's notepad: "I still play with my food / I'm a child at the grown-up's table," "I hold my anger in my stomach / And I'm starting to have side effects from hating you this much," "That could be the end of it / But I never know when to stop talking."
Asked if she's ever removed a lyric or considered pulling a song because it felt too intimate or frank, McAlpine replied, "No. I just release it anyway."
The End of the Movie Tour kicks off in April and McAlpine is currently working on her third album
Even though McAlpine said she has "scaled back" the personal details she publicizes online, her music has come to be a safe and connective space for overthinkers, overfeelers, and oversharers. During one performance of "Apple Pie," she said, the crowd held up matching signs that read, "Home is wherever you are." At another show, fans tinted their phone flashlights with tangerine-colored paper while she sang "Orange Show Speedway."
"Stuff like that is so cute and I love it so much," she said.
McAlpine will continue touring in the new year, traveling across the US in the spring and returning to Europe in the summer.
But even as she collects applause and acclaim, don't expect her to rest on her laurels or rely on old formulas. The next album — which McAlpine said is coming together, if slowly — may not sound anything like the music that put her on our radar.
"I'm not actively thinking, 'OK, this album is going to be completely different from the last one, it's going to go in this direction.' I'm just making the music that I want to be making right now," McAlpine explained. "That usually is different from album to album, because of my growth as a human and also discovering new artists and being inspired by new people."
"I am not the same person I was when I wrote 'Give Me a Minute,' and I'm not even the same person that I was when I wrote 'Five Seconds Flat' anymore," she added. "I've completely moved on."
She'll be somewhere new, once again, before we know it. And before long, she'll be itching to leave.
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