“Every now and then I’ll have a full-circle moment where one part of my career ties right into the other,” Hailee Steinfeld tells Apple Music. Writing Half Written Story, the first in a two-part EP series, was one of them. The actor and pop singer had just finished filming her first season of Dickinson, the Apple TV+ Original series in which she plays poet Emily Dickinson, when she began writing these breakup songs, and she found herself channeling her onstage character in her studio sessions. “I was going through a lot—in my personal life, in my work life—and really feeling the weight of it all,” she says, “but playing that role changed my creative methods. One of the things that made [Dickinson] so brilliant was that she wrote about absolutely everything, regardless of whether it was forbidden, because it made her feel alive. I was so inspired that when I went into the studio, I promised myself I was going to be brutally honest and transparent.”
Half Written Story is exactly that. Tracing the aftermath of a grueling and highly public breakup, it’s full of raw attitude and rich, expressive lyricism—the kind of personal heartbreak record that resonates with anyone who’s been through it. Most impressive is how she refuses to rein in her pain. On the sneering send-up “Man Up,” co-producer D’Mile backlights her commanding chorus with the sounds of crying babies (burn!). And on “Wrong Direction,” she calls out his ego, character, and deceptive tactics: “Lookin' back, I probably should have known/But I just wanted to believe that you were out sleepin’ alone,” she sings. Read on for the story behind these five evocative tracks.
I Love You’s "I like to think of 'I Love You’s' as the thesis statement for this project. When I was feeling lost and confused and sad and frustrated and angry—all of the emotions that come with heartbreak—I realized that the only thing that was going to make me feel better was time alone, without the distractions of another relationship. Like for the first time, I realized I needed to focus on myself in order to feel whole again. There were parts of me that were missing. I would look in the mirror and not recognize who I was, and get mad at myself for getting to that point. So I guess finally I just said, ‘No more I love yous. No more of this s**t until I'm okay.’ When I finally heard the song with the sample [from Annie Lennox’s 1995 hit “No More 'I Love You’s’”], I was floored. It was perfect. I knew it was track one.”
Your Name Hurts “Okay, so, you know when you're thinking about buying a certain car, and then as you’re driving around, suddenly it's the only car you see? Like it's everywhere? And you’re like, has it always been that way or is it because it's the one I've got my eye on? Well, breakups can be like that—all of a sudden, that person is everywhere, in the most random places, as if you're manifesting it but you're also running from it. I wanted to write a song about how something as simple as a person's name can go from being the one word that lights you up inside—making your heart skip a beat when you see it on your phone, putting the most ridiculous smile on your face—to something that suddenly...makes you nauseous. It stings. It hurts. It hits different. This song is about something so simple turning on you, and never really being the same.”
End This (L.O.V.E.) "I had been dying to use an acronym in a way that felt surprising. Bea Miller has a song called ‘S.L.U.T.’ that stands for 'sweet little unforgettable thing,’ and I love that, the flipped meaning. I didn't get much further than coming up with the word ‘love,’ but I thought, ‘What if we make it stand for everything love isn’t?’ When we started riffing on what ‘L.O.V.E.’ could stand for, we immediately fell into the melody of 'L-O-V-E' [first recorded by Nat 'King' Cole in 1965], and we ran with it. I love singing in that lower range.”
Man Up “Those two words came out of a conversation I’d had with my dad. I was on the East Coast, he was West Coast with my family, and I was going through it. He gives great advice, so I’d call him to talk things out. One day we were going back and forth about my situation—like, just when I thought my relationship couldn't get any more absurd, this guy would take it to the next level—and at one point, my dad just said, ‘This kid's got to man up.’ Obviously I know the phrase can be thrown around in ways people have different feelings about, but generally, in this song, it just means 'grow up.’ Hold yourself accountable. Own up to your mistakes. Be an adult. I have to say, I had so much fun making this song, especially when we started experimenting and, like, Auto-Tuning the babies in the background. It's this fun record that represents that time of a breakup where you're still a little pissed off but you're gaining your confidence back and feeling your attitude.”
Wrong Direction "I love this song so much because I feel like I actually wrote the song that sounds like how I felt. It was as easy to write as it was difficult. I knew what I wanted to say, but saying it felt weird and it was hard. It was a very strange session. I found myself pacing around a lot and having to leave the room and come back. And again, I think it was me not wanting to accept the reality of my truth. But I was in a room with amazing people who I love—and who by that point I had spent a lot of time with—and they kept me on track and brought out the best of me in that moment. It’s crazy—I put this song out on New Year’s and didn’t perform it until months later on a late-night show. You’d think enough time had gone by that I wouldn’t be as affected, but performing it, I felt like the wind got knocked out of me. I'd never had a moment like that before. Singing it there, for the first time, it felt like my whole heart was in the middle of the room.”
I Love You's
Your Name Hurts
End this (L.O.V.E.)
5 SONGS, 17 MINUTES
MAY 8, 2020
℗ 2020 REPUBLIC RECORDS, A DIVISION OF UMG RECORDINGS, INC.