I knew Cat Burns’ music before I knew Cat Burns. The melodic sounds of Go — the songwriter’s first single to top the official charts — have followed me on TikTok, in the car, and in the cute coffee shops where I go to work. Without thinking, I would find myself singing the lyrics, “So don't call this number anymore, cause I won't be there for you like I was before,” almost as if they were embedded into my psyche. Now, I’m hooked.
But the singer-songwriter has already completed the trajectory from cult social-media following to mainstream success, a result of her authentic presence on TikTok, where she has amassed, quite literally, millions of fans. I’m now just happily jumping on the Burns bandwagon. And I’ve come to learn that to know Burns’ music is to know the singer herself. Burns, 22, has a powerful pen, writing and singing the innermost parts of her life — relationships, identity, sexuality, mental health, commitment issues — to a generation she says has become detached yet so connected in the current age of social media.
And that’s what Cat Burns aims for her music to do: “help you get through shit one song at a time,” as per her Instagram bio. It’s why her first EP, released in May, is entitled emotionally unavailable, a collection of six heartfelt tracks, including single “Ghostin’, “we’re not kids anymore” — dedicated to a friendship breakup — and the addictive breakup anthem Go, recently covered by Grammy-award winning Sam Smith during Pride Month (The harmonies!!). Before the EP’s release, Burns’ dropped the single, “Free,” which served as an inspiration to Cat’s followers to share their journeys of coming out or finding themselves. It’s a journey the artist is currently on herself after sharing she is queer during the first lockdown, as she writes and sings in the song, “Now I'm free, Oh what a feeling, Oh what a fucking relief”.
We snuck in some time to speak with Burns amidst the busiest period of her career: she’d just finished sell-out dates in her hometown, supporting Years and Years and Mae Muller on their tour, and just before she embarked on supporting Ed Sheeran (“Uncle Ed’” as she calls him) on his European tour.
Life’s very busy for you at the moment. How are you feeling about your career and life right now? What’s been the craziest part of the journey so far?
Cat Burns: “I’m feeling good! Everything is super hectic and I’m feeling really hopeful about my life right now honestly. I feel proud of myself for achieving what I have thus far and I’m excited to move forward and release more music.”
Sam Smith has covered your song Go — wow! — how did the collaboration come about and what did they bring to the song?
CB: “The collaboration came out of nowhere! It was such a surprise but the best one ever. They added an extra layer of depth that I honestly could have never imagined.”
"Music is the one place I’ve never struggled being vulnerable."
Your new EP is out and sounding beautiful. Why did you choose ‘emotionally unavailable’ as the title track?
CB: “I came up with the name ‘emotionally unavailable’ back in 2020 because that was where I was at in my life, I was extremely closed off to love of any kind and had so much to work through. I chose it as the title track because I felt like it summed up our generation so well. We’re not just emotionally unavailable for no reason; there’s a lot we go through on a daily basis.”
You’re such a profound writer. Have you always found it easy to be vulnerable through music? When did you start writing?
CB: “Music is the one place I’ve never struggled being vulnerable. I struggle to say how I’m feeling normally and get overwhelmed when trying to express it. Music is a safe space for me to sing what I’ve always wanted to say. I started writing back when I was about twelve. The songs were awful then but I learnt so much about how I wanted to write.”
Tell me about the song Free. When did you write it and why? What have been the best/most personal responses to the song?
“I wrote it last summer with Jimmy Napes at his studio. Our session was actually cancelled but no one told me so I showed up and we ended up writing ‘Free’ in an hour! I then took it to Aston Rudi (a producer) and he added amazing production to it which took it to another level. The most emotional message I received was from someone who can’t come out because of safety reasons. [They said] that they can listen to this song in their head and that made me really emotional.”
How was life after you released “Free”? Do you feel that freedom you sing about — if so, what does that currently look like?
CB: “Life got so much more hectic! My diary just filled up and I felt like my purpose was more defined by how much people related to the song. I feel like I’m here, there, and everywhere.”
I read that you want to help “Black queer people tell their stories” — why is this so important to you?
CB: “Because I am a Black queer person and feeling seen, heard and represented means everything to me.”
How important is it to be just as authentic on your social platforms as you are in your music?
CB: “It is extremely important. I’m quite private about personal things but I still want people to feel a part of my journey because they are.”
I loved this video about your changing personal style away from the male gaze. What have you learned about yourself through this style switch-up?
CB: “That I loved menswear and not men! [laughs] I learned that I feel much more confident and attractive when I dress for myself.”
How would you advise your generation — particularly young, Black, queer people — to show up as their authentic selves in their lives?
CB: “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be anything or do anything. Just take things at your own pace.”