Welcome to The Drop, Refinery29's home for music video premieres. We want to shine the spotlight on women artists whose music inspires, excites, and (literally) moves us. This is where we'll champion their voices.
It's easy to buy into the common notion that every second of life in quarantine should be dedicated to hustling and grinding. Many artists are using the unlimited free time in self-isolation to be as productive as they possibly can, spending all of their energy working on new projects to put out for the public lest they be a mere blip in the culture's collective memory. Unlike her peers, Australian artist Wafia believes that productivity isn't the end-all, be-all at this time. Instead, she's choosing herself (and her peace of mind).
"I don't feel particularly creative in terms of writing music at this time, honestly," she admitted to Refinery29 during a phone conversation. "I know that some of my friends are writing together during Zoom sessions, but I don't know that that's something that I'd enjoy doing...it would feel too much like a job. I didn't get into music for it to feel like a job."
If you'd asked the Wafia of a few years ago to choose what mattered most, prioritising her well-being over work would have been a much bigger, much more stressful challenge. Thankfully, she's since come into her own.
Her new single "Pick Me" reflects that growth. The upbeat song, marked with a curious but clever mix of sounds, is a warning to a selfish lover that also doubles as a self-love anthem. "You make it easy," she sings cheerily over the sunny instrumental. "I'll always pick me."
The accompanying music video, making its world premiere here on Refinery29, matches the lyrics in an interesting way. Rather than telling a story about a failed relationship, the "Pick Me" visuals shift the narrative towards what happens when Wafia chooses herself in the end. Freed from the restraints of a failed love story, she celebrates the new chapter of her life with the people who helped her get there — her friends.
Refinery29: Tell us about "Pick Me" — what was the inspiration for its lyrics?
Wafia: "I was just coming out of a relationship that was really toxic with someone that was, for lack of a better word, a narcissist and wanted my whole life to revolve around them. They wanted me to change so much about myself...wanted me to change to their religion, stop making music or touring — all before I'd even found my stride as an artist. Their love came with so many conditions that just didn't serve me at all, so I realised that I had to pick myself."
"I have no lingering resentment towards this person. I just know now that I should have allowed myself to be more selfish in some ways. We as women, especially, can be so ready to cater to someone else. That tends to be the only way we know, but you can't wait for someone to make room for you, especially when you're not even doing that for yourself."
The subject matter for "Pick Me" comes from a difficult time in your life, but the overall sound itself is very upbeat. What made you lean into that juxtaposition?
"I find it very hard to come back to songs that wallow in sadness because they instantly take me back to those painful moments. But songs that make me feel good are about seeing the person as they are as opposed to thinking about the relationship being over. The distinction is small, but it makes a world of difference, I think."
"Picking yourself is something to be celebrated, so I wanted the song to feel good. It shouldn't be something that should make you feel guilty."
How did you ideate the visuals for "Pick Me?" The Zoom/FaceTime motif is obviously very relevant.
"When I think about picking myself, I think about the people who helped me get there. A lot of my really incredible friends were there for me when I wasn't making really great decisions and are still with me after that bad relationship. In picking myself, I actually get to lean more into those positive relationships with my girlfriends. A big part of my breakup was just me being on FaceTime with my friends, for hours, sometimes crying, something doing absolutely nothing. I saw the music video as an opportunity to be able to get these girls together and just connect with them."
"There was talk about getting a skeleton crew together to film a small video, but that made me feel really uncomfortable. I set it in quarantine because I didn't want to fight what was going on in the world but still wanted to create something that could exist outside of this situation. And I'm really proud of what we made."
You're Syrian and Iraqi, and you've talked publicly about how you struggled to come to terms with your identity as a brown and Muslim immigrant when you were younger. How did you ultimately reconcile with your culture?
"To be honest, it started online for me, before I was even an artist. I felt very insecure because I was fighting who I was, and I was looking really hard for a blueprint when there wasn't one. I didn't really find confidence until I realized that I could find that in the community around me. I didn't have a lot of Muslim or Arab friends around me that felt similar to me or had a similar upbringing — so few of the people I knew personally celebrated the arts and creativity."
"I found my friends on Tumblr. I met this great group of girls that were musicians, Arabs, queer, and I thought, oh my gosh, these are my people! They made me feel like I wasn't alone in wanting to create art or challenge the norm. Having friends that I could relate to played a huge part in me coming into my own. I'm really thankful for them...I don't know if I would be the artist that I am now if not for me finding my tribe at that pivotal age."
What parts do your heritage and upbringing play in your perspective as an artist?
"My family was really good about it, and I know that makes me one of the rare exceptions in my community. My dad has always been gung-ho about me singing professionally, but it took my mom awhile; she needed about two years before she could tell her family back home in Syria that I was trying to be an artist. I'm thankful that I don't have that typical resistance with my family about what I'm doing — I just had to show them that I was serious."
"Their support did put a bit of pressure on me in the beginning, though. There's the unspoken brown way of going about it that says, no matter what you're doing, you still have to be the best at it or don't bother at all — don't embarrass the family! That sense of responsibility and the burden that comes with it gave me the kick in the butt that I needed to work hard, especially in the beginning.
What advice would you give to anyone struggling to pick themselves?
"It can be difficult and a really long process. I know that I can be a complete pushover in relationships; when I love someone, I give them way too much without getting anything in return. It took a lot of work and time for me to feel comfortable enough to say 'no' and to trust that me saying doing that wouldn't cause the right person's love for me to be revoked or for them to punish me."
"Trust yourself. Be genuine about your 'yes' and your 'no.' Your decision to say 'no' should carry just as much weight as what you say 'yes' to. Choosing yourself and voicing that decision is such a valuable thing."
This interview has been condensed for clarity.