Anna Clendening On How Justin Bieber Inspired Her New Track "Boys Like You"

Photo: Chris Charles
Welcome to The Drop, Refinery29's new home for exclusive 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.
In 2014, Anna Clendening took the America's Got Talent stage with a haunting version of "Hallelujah." She shared more than just her voice with the judges: she also discussed her battle with anxiety and depression, which kept her bedridden for months prior to her audition. Clendening is comfortable getting candid with her fans (she has amassed over 535,000 followers on Instagram) and, these days, shares both her thoughts and her music online.
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Her latest music video, which was shot in her home state of North Carolina, is "Boys Like You." The song is an ode to the boys that moms everywhere warned their daughters not to date...but dated anyway. In our conversation, Clendening talks how Justin Bieber inspired the song, the pros and cons of connecting with fans online, and what went into crafting such a lush, gorgeous music video.
What is your songwriting process like?
"I usually write these hooks for Instagram. Kind of like field testing ideas and such with my followers and seeing what they respond to. It’s easy when I have the piano with me. I was thinking about Justin Bieber’s 'Love Yourself' and that line, 'My momma don’t like you and she likes everyone.' It kind of just stuck out. I remember growing up and you know, your parents telling you like, 'Watch out for these boys! Boys are trouble!' And this phrase stuck in my mind, 'Momma said there’d be boys like you.' I wrote out the hook and posted it online and a lot of people really liked it... [To me, the song says] 'You know, I’m interested in this guy but I’m nervous because my mom warned me about guys like you, but I think I’ll take that risk.'"
How did you come up with the theme for the video?
"I started with the idea that I wanted to have hands in the [album artwork.] You could read into [the image] however you wanted. Like two people coming together or one person possibly pulling away. And I kind of wanted to keep the theme around that. Then Daniel [the director] came up with the idea of playing with that in the video. So in the video you’ll never see a guy’s face but you’ll see his hands.
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"The video, I won’t say vague, but it gives the listener expression and freedom to interpret it however they want...In the beginning, I’m walking into this house. You see plastic over everything and I look at that as kind of like past relationships and [being] stuck in a cycle. And then I go throughout the video, and [at the end] I walk out of this house having broken all these bad cycles. I grab his hand and I go for it. I think that goes perfectly with the song. At the very end of the song it says, 'For you, I’ll take that risk.'"
How did you choose where to set the video?
"I actually suffer from very severe anxiety and depression. I live in Los Angeles, but I had to go home at the end of January becuase I had this huge panic attack. I had to get my anxiety under control, and I had to go back to North Carolina. I couldn’t get on a plane...I’ve got to be close to the house. And the director Daniel just found a really great waterfront on a lake near my house. We actually filmed at an Airbnb and put plastic over everything. It looked like a scene from Dexter! It actually turned out incredibly awesome. It gave this really great atmosphere with the smoke and the plastic.
"I was skeptical shooting the video in North Carolina. I was like, 'Oh you know, I grew up there. What is there to shoot?' And Daniel took this simple lake and this house with furniture covered in plastic and then this neighborhood and turned it into something incredible. I didn't want to put any expectations on it and kind of let Daniel do his thing. I trusted him and I really think that is when artists flourish."
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What is it like connecting and sharing with people on Instagram at this point in your career?
"It’s absolutely wonderful because the people that reach out to you and the people that you connect with…it is a feeling I can't describe. Like the first time someone reached out to me with like, 'I have anxiety and I have emetophobia too, I thought I was the only one!' That is such a great feeling to be able to connect with someone. And not only make yourself feel not alone but for that other person to not feel alone as well. This is an opportunity that I wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for the internet. Like someone in India could message me and be like, 'I saw your video and I think it’s amazing. It made me feel this way and I’m so glad I’m not alone.' And that’s the great part about it.
"I try to read my messages as much as possible. I went through a break up last year and was able to be really really raw with people and say, 'You know, I’m not a professional public speaker. I’m just kind of giving my advice as a real person. This is what I’m going through. This is what I’m doing.' And it really connected with a lot of people.
"The downside is anybody can say whatever they want on the internet and a lot of people have a lot of opinions. I still think that is a wonderful thing, that no matter who you are, you can express your opinion but sometimes people’s opinions do hurt. And I’ve gathered some very thick skin over the years. Sometimes I’ll come across a comment and it will get to me but you have to realize that these people that are just passing by, that don’t even know who you are, they don’t see you as a person."
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What advice would you give to young women trying to break into the music industry right now?
"I would say be genuine. People can tell when you’re not. And if you’re not genuine, you will never be happy doing music. Music first and foremost needs to be something that you love to do. If you’re doing it to become famous you are not going to like it and I found that out the hard way. Trying to find my style over four or five years and trying to make people happy and write in a certain way. But one day I was like, 'You know what? I’m just going to write what makes me happy.' Then it lead me here. And practice. That’s obviously a big thing. I write every day. And I sing every day because I love it."
Check out the video for "Boys Like You" below:
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