Symon, who prefers to go by her mononymous stage name, is an avid lover of sign language, which is why she chose to sign the entire length of "Lonely Girl" for the song's lyric video, which premieres today.
"My passion is connecting with people. I am a connector," she told Refinery29 over the phone before the video's premiere. Lyric videos are a strange new beast. Somewhere between music video and song release, they're low budget expressions of what a song is trying to say. (They're also born of YouTube, which was making lyric videos way before musicians were making lyric videos.) Taylor Swift used cartoonish drawings for her August single "Look What You Made Me Do." For her last single, titled "Say," Symon spoke directly to the camera while the lyrics exploded across the screen.
But "Lonely Girl" requires a different sort of energy. It's a power ballad about being dumped out of the blue — "I am not your one and only, now I'm just another lonely girl," the chorus chimes. That being said, the song is not pure melancholy, nor is Symon melancholic.
"Recently, people keep asking me, 'Do you feel lonely?'" she said, bristling. "And they're like, 'You're not lonely.' And it bothers me that people are asking me that. I've been wanting to make this point clear: You can be surrounded by people and feel completely lonely. You can also be alone and not feel lonely at all."
So, the Los Angeles native turned to American Sign Language, a form that would lend the song a full spectrum of emotion, not just pure sadness or loneliness. Refinery29 spoke with the industry veteran — Symon is an alum of the band The New Officials and a Sirius XM radio host — about lyric videos, sign language, and what it means to make music in 2018.
Refinery29: Why did you choose to use sign language for this lyric video?
Symon: "When I was in high school, I remember a lot of languages were mandatory to take, and just for something to be a bit easier for me, I decided, you know what? Maybe I'll just take sign language. Maybe it'll be easy. Which was a cop out for me, instead of taking another language.
[But then] I became so obsessed with the language, I became immersed in it. I had to learn it. I would sit with my teacher, Shula, every single day at lunch. Just getting the language down. Practicing, practicing, practicing. I would be interpreting for her in school meetings, anything I could do, I did. It just became such a love of mine in such another way that I could connect with people. And with the deaf community. It almost felt like it was another outlet for art for me. And it's such a deep-rooted passion for me.
And so, when 'Lonely Girl' came about, I just thought, Wow, wouldn't it be so cool to bridge two of my biggest passions together. Especially compassions that have been my longest love, that mean so much to me. Bring sign, which is a side of me that publicly people don't know about, wouldn't that be cool to bring together to have as an art piece?"
What is it about 'Lonely Girl' specifically that made you want to use ASL?
"I think it's because in high school, I went through a period where these girls were being absolutely nasty to me. And I felt very lonely. I felt like an outcast for a while. Because people were being so nasty — you know how kids are. And people are mean! It's insane. That was such a time in my life, and during lunch, when I didn't want to sit with these people, sign was my outlet. Sign was what made me feel good! Sign made me feel safe. That was when I would go sit with my teacher, because I didn't want to sit with these nasty girls. The song 'Lonely Girl' is not about that period in my life, but it's another period where I was feeling a sense of being lonely. So, I thought it would be a cool way to connect the two together, because it's so meaningful in my life."
I think there's something to be said for feeling lonely and not having the tools to express it too, maybe.
"I mean, definitely. It's funny, I have this quote that I always say, 'It's a silence full of sound.' That's been a quote that's led me ever since I was little. It's just that's the truth — [sign language is] so expressive, so loud, but people don't know that."
How did you go about learning to sign this particular song?
"Basically, in American Sign Language, people think there's a sign for every word. Which is true, but for deaf culture, it's a little bit different. So, I had to figure out what exact sign for a specific word would get the meaning across. And so I sat down with my teacher, and I said, 'These specific areas. What would be exactly correct?' Because I am fluent. We just put together the right thing that made that exact sense of what the song really means to me. For deaf culture. For people to understand. "
This might be a little inside baseball, but what do you think the purpose of a lyric video is? They've become more prevalent in the last few years.
"I think a lot of people sometimes tune out lyrics. And they really get into melody — there's so many layers to a song. I think it's really fun for people to get to see the words. It kind of takes their brain to another place. It's that other level to get that much more into the song. And it's exciting! You get to put out another art piece before you put out that music video. And I love it. I think it's fun!"
Given the political climate in 2018, do you feel a responsibility to make politically charged work?
"I think that right now — this last year — between Time's Up and #MeToo, there's been such a movement, and I'm so proud of women. I'm always proud to be a woman. But this year, we're fearless. Yesterday, I was marching in Los Angeles, and I felt that it was just so important and so beautiful to be out there. When I realized that 'Lonely Girl' was going to come out right around the time that everything was going on politically, I thought, Oh my God, this really will resonate with people on that level of abuse and people taking advantage of you, whether you're a girl or a boy. Am I outwardly saying something political? I want people to take it the way they want to take it, but I do think that I am making a point and I am making a stand. No more being treated less than! I just hope people feel from it."
Watch the lyric video for "Lonely Girl," below.
Editor's Note: This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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