“I wanted to heal with this album,” Alina Baraz tells Apple Music of It Was Divine, her first official full-length. “I wanted to nourish myself, to understand myself, to mark a fresh start.” The R&B-soul singer isn’t new to the music business (she was formerly part of a duo with Denmark producer Galimatias), but she does want this album to serve as a new introduction. It details a painful breakup, yes, but it’s also about her—how she thinks, feels, writes, and processes emotions. She’s big on symbols and dreams, for example, and wanted her album title to wink at divinity for its implications about power, control, and destiny. Baraz began by releasing the teaser track “Trust” in January, and even though it didn’t make the final album, it offered a glimpse at what was to come. “Trust became such a theme in my life,” she says. “I had to learn to trust myself, to let go, and to start over.” On Divine, she uses her journey through a painful relationship—from her initial butterflies to broken heart—as a framework through which to tell a story about transformation and self-worth. The woman at the end of the album is stronger and more clear-eyed than the woman we meet at the start. The relationship the album details is “pretty nonexistent,” Baraz says. “But the relationship with myself is thriving. I’m glowing. We love it.” Here, she shares the inside story behind five of her favorite songs on her proper debut.
My Whole Life “This is a good entry point to the album because when I first met this person, these were genuinely the first thoughts that came into my head. And as extreme as that sounds, it's very telling about me as a person. I genuinely saw my entire life, with them, flash before my eyes. So for fans, I wanted it to be like, ‘This was how I entered this world.’”
Off the Grid (feat. Khalid) “Khalid is one of my favorite people ever. In music, there is absolutely nothing like working with your friends. We're so in sync at this point, because we've done this so many times together, that it feels effortless. I was in the studio and wanted to write a song that I could drive to. And I think of Khalid when I think about driving—he's just perfect for a drive. So I texted him, he came by, and it was as simple as that. I loved his vocal melodies so much that the next day, I scratched the entire production and worked backwards from there.”
To Me “This is the most important song in my career thus far. It's really altered my life as a person, not even as an artist. I got the beat a week before my birthday and started calling it ‘Birthday Freestyle,’ and treated it almost like a toast to myself. In that spirit, I decided to just say all the things I needed to hear. Sometimes, I find that writing gives you a second voice that you'll listen to more than yourself. And when I wrote these lyrics down, they felt different. I left that relationship that day. This song gave me the strength to do that. When I first released it, the response was incredible. I got all these messages from people around the world telling me, ‘I left this and I quit that, and I left this toxic thing behind.’ That's the most gratifying thing to me in my career, if I could help someone do that.”
Until I Met You (feat. Nas) “Ever since I started singing, I wanted Nas on my debut. As it happens, this track is heavily influenced by Amy Winehouse. And every time I’ve ever sat down with Nas, all I wanted to do was talk about Amy. I remember worrying that it was annoying for him, but it turned out that he agrees. He had spent some time getting to know her, and when he told me that, I lit up. Because she's my roots. When I get frustrated with this industry, I go back to her and she keeps me going. And her aura just weaves in and out of him. It made perfect sense for him to be on this song.”
The Beginning “The beginning is the end. The end is the beginning. I wanted it to feel like an endless loop, because that’s how life feels. You never really know where the story starts or finishes. I guess it’s also a window into how I operate. Even after I'm done talking shit about someone, I'm still like, ‘Hey...’ That’s just how I can be. If I loved you once, I’ll love you for the rest of my life. I don’t think we have much power over that. We are who we are because of love. Even if we don’t end up together, I think we’re forever changed and inspired by that love, because at one point, it was everything.”