“The challenge has been how to pair dark themes and emotional introspective work with upbeat music”, Tegan Quin said in an interview with Zane Lowe on Beats1. “How can I say the deepest, darkest thing but make you feel good while you’re listening, too?” I don’t know how they overcame that, but Tegan and Sara have managed it really well on upcoming album Love You To Death. Even the title marries a pleasant concept with a negative one.
The sisters’ eighth studio album isn’t just about being the “victim”, many of the songs discuss being “the jerk” as Tegan self-described herself on Beats1. In a feature interview with Gigwise, Sara explains this in more depth and what it means to her:
“It’s so easy to write about [being dumped]. It’s an easy character, it’s an easy, connectible personality for people. With this record, we were like, ‘We need to look at the other side of it. We’ve also been the leaver, or the bad guy, and exploring that side of the conflict, and the tension that comes, was something completely unchartered – for me anyways”.
The opening song – “That Girl” – sets the tone of the album. In this song, “that girl” can easily be translated to “the jerk”. “Nobody hurts you like me / When did I become that girl?” they ask. The track showcases how easy it is to morph into that role without realizing it: “When did I fall so far? Barely recognize me”. “That girl” could also be a reference to “that girl” that Tegan and Sara are used to writing about, but are now applying to themselves.
Don’t be fooled, though – the album has many themes besides this such as: lust (“Stop Desire”), rejection of gender norms and marriage (“Boyfriend”, “BWU”), changing for the better (“U-Turn”), and obsession (“Dying To Know”) are just a few; I’m certain that multiple meanings are also present throughout.
The first single from Love You To Death was “Boyfriend”, a song written by Sara about her current long-term relationship. Sara’s explanation reminded me of how, especially in gay relationships, people often wonder who’s the “guy” and who’s the “girl”.
As someone who isn’t on board with enforced gender roles, Sara would joke around with her partner about being the “boyfriend”. To sum it up though, “Boyfriend” is “really just about that moment before you decide whether you’re gonna make it exclusive and serious with somebody, and your hesitation and insecurity about whether they feel the same way as you do”.
Lyrically, the album is fantastic. The words are easy to hear (a big plus; music drowns out great lyrics all too often), and they come across as simple, yet are filled with so much meaning. Personally, I’m drawn to the lyrics in “Boyfriend”, “Stop Desire”, “BWU”, and “U-Turn” but I could quote and write essays on pretty much every song.
“I love you, I don’t need a ring to prove that you’re worthy” is a strong lyric sung in “BWU” (short for “Be With You”), and “Do you wanna spin the bottle again? / Do you feel the same?” from “Boyfriend” is a significant part of the song; Spin The Bottle is a juvenile game that people use as an excuse to kiss their friends without getting too serious. Also, perhaps Sara is asking her partner if she wants to choose someone else by taking another turn (seriously, I could write a dissertation on this song alone).
Musically, it gives off an 80’s electro-pop bubblegum vibe. For the most part, it’s upbeat, has many interesting layers, is catchy and danceable, but “100x” is the saddest song on the record. It’s about Sara wanting to leave the band, but is flexible enough to be applied to any sort of break up.
Sara finds it “special” when people are emotionally connected to their songs: “I’ve seen people cry during certain songs in our set, […] that that can be pulled out of people by a melody or a certain lyric, it’s really special”. And this song, with lyrics like “I was someone you loved, then I was no-one at all” is definitely a tear-jerker. Even with its unusual music video.
This album doesn’t sound like their previous ones, but the band believe that they have to reinvent themselves to make their audience happy. Sara in particular was looking forward to making music that wasn’t typical of them. For fans of the old stuff though, Tegan says that they aren’t necessarily leaving their guitars behind.
Words by Shanade McConney