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.
When Hope Tala first popped into our Zoom room for our interview, my eyes were immediately drawn to her floor to ceiling bookshelves in the background. The singer smiled sheepishly but shifted so that I could get a better view of her expansive book collection.
"Please don't look too hard because it's absolute chaos," she laughed. "I've read almost all of these but still have some others to finish."
It's the library of a bookworm because that's exactly what Tala has always been and will always be — a born scholar. Growing up, Tala would often spend her days reading the likes of William Shakespeare, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Zadie Smith, losing herself in their new worlds and colorful realities. When she wasn't jotting down lyrics on the Notes app on her iPhone, Tala was hitting the books at the University of Bristol's library, piecing together her senior dissertation on Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly. This innate love for education was only eclipsed by her burning passion for music, but as a singer-songwriter, Tala gets to put both sides of her brain to work. Just like the multicolored spines lining her walls, each of her songs is a story of its own.
"Cherries" is one of those tales. The single, one of six on her newly released EP Girl Eats Sun, is an effortlessly brilliant blend of different sounds; plucky Spanish guitars and airy flutes complement Tala's uniquely airy vocals (a stark contrast to the rich timbre of her speaking voice). In the accompanying music video, premiering exclusively here on Refinery29, Tala is whisked back in time to the Renaissance Era. Somehow, she fits into this Geoffrey Chaucer-esque scene perfectly, a deceitfully demure heroine alternating between palming a sword with ease and answering a FaceTime call from Aminé.
"Don't leave me here alone," Tala sings in her feather soft voice, her strong stance belied by the song's emotional plea. "Drink up the tears I cry, drink up the tears I cry."
Ahead, the singer talks about her new record and gets candid about her untraditional quest to be equal parts academic and musician.
Refinery29: What was the inspiration for the "Cherries" lyrics? Where were you mentally when you were penning the words to this song?
Hope Tala: "I think of 'Cherries' as being about the human body. When I was writing its lyrics — lines like 'The tears I cry' and 'pulling teeth' — I was thinking about how I could use the body and its functions to craft complex metaphors that talk about emotions and feelings. I've always been passionate about lyrics being seen as what they are: poetry and high art. For 'Cherries,' I had like half a poem written already, which is probably why it's so vivid in imagery."
"Lyrically, this might be my favorite song on the EP just because it feels so me. It draws on themes and other ideas that I've always used but in a new way. I'm using the symbol of fruit as a vehicle in the song, and I've been doing that ever since the beginning, so it feels familiar. I think I'll forever be interested in fruit as a symbol."
"Cherries" is such a beautiful, dreamlike track — the the visual matches it perfectly while also being unexpected. What sold you on the Renaissance influence for the music video?
"I can't take credit for the idea because it was a treatment sent by the director Anna Fearon, this talented Black British director. She had this idea of having a Renaissance theme but flipping the gender and typical race of the people in the video."
"I just love all things Renaissance and using historical, nostalgic imagery. I'm really into the 90s, but I'm also really obsessed with Shakespeare, so going back to that time period for the theme was really cool. And flipping the script to play with the idea of who the muse and who the artist is was so interest."
How did the collaboration with Aminé come about? He's a great feature.
"I was really blown away! I've been a fan of his for a few years and have actually known him for awhile. He's one of my favorite artists, so I knew that I would be blown away by the quality of his feature. The thing that I was so moved by when I heard Aminé's verse was the fact that had obviously spent so much time listening to what I was saying in the song; we're both talking about the body, but exploring the concept different ways. I don't think that I'd expected that level of attentiveness and thoughtfulness, so it was amazing."
Growing up on classic neo-soul and R&B music, was it difficult to develop your own unique style within the genre?
"My style has always been something that's quite innate, so I've always just done what feels comfortable for me. I love R&B music, but a lot of R&B singers have a sort of power and range that I don't necessarily have. I've always crafted my music to my voice and its capabilities. That means that I also tend to gravitate towards indie and bossa nova influences and pull what suits me."
"From the jump, I abandoned any ideas of 'genre.' Obviously, it's kind of a cliche that genre isn't really a thing, but that feels true to my experience and to my music making process. I just go with what's natural and with what I like."
You passed up an opportunity to get a master's degree from Cambridge University so you could pursue your music full-time, but you're obviously a lifelong scholar at heart. Do you think you'll ever go back to academia?
"I really miss writing essays. Sometimes, I get really hard on myself about missing academia and university because we're often taught that you have just one passion. I'm someone who has multiple passions, and music is obviously the strongest one. But I also love reading and academia, so I'm trying to work on understanding that it's okay to want to share my time between things. I've always been between two cultures — my dad's Black, and my mom is white — and I have a very dual perspective as a result. That has actually helped me think of my music and my literature in the same vein. I don't have to choose."
"That being said, one day, I'll definitely go back to do my masters and my Ph.D, so I'll be Dr. Hope. Win a Grammy, be a professor."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.