"I happened to be visiting home, so I grabbed all these old home videos and spent like two days crying my eyes out and not sleeping,” LA-based singer-songwriter Tori Kelly tells Apple Music. Some of those deeply personal moments are interspersed throughout her third LP—itself something of a home movie documenting her own marriage alongside the dissolution of her parents'. The album arrives less than a year after 2018’s gospel-influenced Hiding Place and serves as a companion piece, as many of the songs were written during those sessions. "It's almost like a big puzzle piece that fits together,” she says. "I felt like I was telling people, ‘These gospel songs, they really helped me get through this hard time.' Now I'm sharing more specifically what I was actually going through.” With the guidance of a host of songwriters, Kelly teases a whole lot of perspective out of some pretty universal themes—growing up, love, absence, aging, hope—and, toggling between between R&B, soul, blues, and acoustic pop, crafts a set of intimate songs. Here are their stories.
"Coffee” "It's about a long-distance relationship with my then-boyfriend. He was in Germany playing basketball, and I was just all over the place traveling with my music. It was hard a lot of times, just being far away from each other. I wanted to make this song feel poetic. With the help of Tayla Parx and Nate Campany, who I wrote the song with, I think we accomplished that. It's one of my favorites on the album.”
"Change Your Mind" "This was written after my husband proposed to me—like a week after. As you can tell in the lyrics, my parents were not super thrilled about it. I imagine it would just be really difficult to let your daughter go—that's a big family change. On one hand, I understood it, but on another hand, I was pretty hurt by it. There was just a lot of confusion and different perspectives and opinions. It was a really tough time for me. Since then, there's been a lot of healing."
“Language” "This was the first song that I wrote for this new chapter of music—the one that I held on to the longest. It's ironic because after I went on this whole musical journey of different genres, I ended up right back in that bluesy spot. This song is about getting on the same page with the person that you love. Anyone who's in a relationship understands that there's going to be arguments and tension at times—it's not always going to be rainbows and sunshine. But it's really just saying that it's okay if we argue, because at the end of the day we're choosing each other. We're just going to come out of this even better than when we came into it. It's kind of sassy too, which I like; there's a little playfulness in there."
"2 Places" “I wrote this with Tayla Parx and Nate Campany. I walked into that session and I just remember being like, 'I don't really know how to explain how I feel. I just know that I'm overwhelmed with my emotions and I think I'm holding in a lot of things.' They were awesome and didn’t need a lot of clarity to go in that direction. I think now, looking back, I'm able to more clearly see what was going on: I was in this amazing relationship and growing closer to this person. Then on the other end, I'm watching [my parents], two people I love, end their relationship. One day I'd be really sad, and then the next moment I would be super happy, and I would just be going back and forth. I call this one my emo song—it's for the person who gets overwhelmed with their feelings sometimes.”
"Kid I Used to Know” "I think the most obvious way that I've changed is I overthink things more now. When you're a kid, you just don't have any cares in the world—you don't care what people think and you're not insecure necessarily. You're just carefree. I missed that feeling, that innocence."
"Pretty Fades” "This came out of a conversation that I had with my then-boyfriend again. We were just talking about getting older together, about this idea of aging. I remember him saying—and he was trying to be sweet when he said this—‘Hey, don't worry, babe, I'm still going to love you when you're ugly.' I got super offended, then I kind of questioned myself, like, ‘Wait, why am I getting offended? Youth doesn't last forever and we all do get older, so why am I tripping about this?' I just started going super internal and thinking about the difference between inner beauty and outer beauty, and the things that last forever versus the things that are temporary. I always say thank you to my husband now, because even though he didn't mean to inspire the song, I think it's a great reminder for all of us."
"Sorry Would Go a Long Way” "When my dad left my mom, it was really hard on the family, and I was holding a lot of emotions inside. Music has always been my way of expressing how I felt when I couldn't find the words. That's really where the song came from. I wrote it with Bruno Major and Jimmy Napes. Bruno just started playing these amazing chords on the guitar; that's actually him playing on the song. We recorded this one live. It was me and him in the booth at the same time. I really like how this one turned out, even though it's not necessarily fully my own story to tell—it's just one perspective. But it's one of those things I felt like I had to sing and I had to get it out."
“Actress” "I was at a dinner once, meeting these people for the first time, kind of like mutual friends, and they happened to be aspiring actresses. So I just asked them, ‘What do you think is harder: to play a character that's more similar to you, or a role that's way opposite of you?' One girl didn't even hesitate. She was like, ‘Oh, it's so much easier to play someone opposite of yourself.' The light bulb went on, and I thought that would make for a cool song."
"The Lie” "It's funny that it comes right after ‘Actress.’ I think in 'The Lie,' I'm actually the actress. I'm the one singing the song and kind of playing a character. The song is kind of imagining how would I respond or what would I be feeling if I did fall for that lie that money buys happiness, and fame can buy happiness—all these things that seem great in the beginning, but if you don't handle it right, then it could be really scary and dangerous."
"Until I Think of You” "At first I didn't really like some of the rasp and imperfections on the vocal. We actually rerecorded it but ended up using the original scratch vocal because there was just something about the emotion in that take. When you're in that dark place and when you feel like you have nobody to turn to, there's always a light, and a hope."
“Your Words” "The interlude right before this song is my grandfather actually doing my baby dedication—he's praying for me. I remember finding the clip and I just broke down crying. This is so special. It was crazy just to see him talking, and it made me really miss him a lot. I never thought I'd write a song like this, because I just hadn't gone through anything like it before. This one goes really specific into his life and even talks about where he grew up, which was Jamaica, and then he moved to Queens. It even describes a fireplace, and a cabin up in the mountains. That's because one of the last times I got to sit and talk with him, that's where we were. When he passed, I was going through a lot with my family and I really wanted to just hear his advice."
"Before the Dawn” "I wanted to end the album with a feeling of hope: It's always darkest before the dawn. I had a few lines in my phone—‘What's a rose without a thorn’—and we all thought, why not write a list of these visuals that are in the same lane of ‘you can't have one thing without the other'? After the song was done, we all said that this was one of the best songs we had ever been a part of. I don't think I could've followed this song up with anything."