The title track of Nao’s anticipated third album opens with “Change came like a hurricane”, perhaps a perfect poetic description of the unpredictable chaos and precarious instability we’ve all experienced the past 18-months. However, if you were to assume this album is in any way melancholy or pessimistic, you’d be greatly mistaken. It’s a story of rebirth, a warm fresh breeze, the calm after the storm – And Then Life Was Beautiful.
Serenading her song lyricsto me over an early 8:00am phone call, Nao explains the tale of change that hit her during 2020 and inevitably inspired her songwriting. She was ready to rebuild because “nothing lasts forever because a moment always changes.”
At a time when the world felt cataclysmic amongst the backdrop of the pandemic, negative reports of the climate crisis and the profound trauma experienced by the Black community due to the series of brutal murders by police officials, Nao also became a mother to her first child.
“Those opening lines for the whole record, I just kind of wanted to bring everybody together, like, we can all identify with those first few sentences. How COVID has affected everybody, Black Lives Matter… but then thinking, hope will come, someday soon,” she explains. “For me it’s also about becoming a mom, giving birth for the first time.” The experience has made her stronger, finding even more power in her sound.
“There’s something so sacred about having a baby, especially if it’s your first. During the pandemic, everything just kind of fell still. There was a lot of time to kind of go inwards and just do some work on becoming a mother, doing deeper work on the things that were and weren’t serving me,” she tells me. “I definitely got more into my spiritual side. Before I was so busy, it gave me time to disconnect.”
The sunflower, if it’s winter or summer, if it’s night or day, the sunflower always follows and tries to find the sun. There’s something really kind of beautiful about that. No matter what, you will always find the sun.
Spirituality and Nao come hand in hand. Her second, critically acclaimed studio album Saturn explored the theory of Saturn Return, an astrological event that occurs every 27 to 29.5 years, when the planet Saturn returns to the sign and degree that it was at when you were born. It’s apparently associated with major life changes, like breakups, career moves and relocations.
Discussing that period of her life, she explains; “It was really confusing. Personally, I found my purpose really early on. I always knew that I wanted to sing, and it didn’t really matter in what capacity, as long as I was doing it. But I think other things I found really confusing. Like decision making. What were the right steps to take in life? Where was it going to lead me? But I think you do have to go through that period that is kind of messy and confusing because on the other side of it, you grow up, do you know what I mean?”
If Saturn was about navigating and soul searching in your 20s, And Then Life Was Beautiful is about enjoying what was learned, celebrating the things you’ve found in this new chapter. For Nao, as well as learning about the joyful experiences of motherhood, it was also about the art of finding balance and learning to slow down.
Amongst the huge success of her career with global tours, a Mercury prize and a 2020 Grammy nomination: each high cascaded after the next, but no matter the success, she notes she hardly took a moment to just breathe. It’s something she describes through the lyrics of her track ‘Burn Out’.
There’s that thought that someone out there is always better than you. Like, you need to keep going. You need to show your best self and you need to keep grinding, keep hustling.
“Burn out is definitely something that is hitting our generation really, really hard, especially women.”
Earlier this year, CNBC reported that 53% of those who identify as women said their mental health suffers to thepoint of burnout because of their jobs, all or some of the time.
“There’s that thought that someone out there is always better than you. Like, you need to keep going. You need to show your best self and you need to keep grinding, keep hustling.” ‘Burn Out’ is a friendly reminder to yourself about the importance of taking a break.
Another stand out track is ‘Better Friend’, a platonic love letter to a “really good friend that has depression and had to cut all ties with friends and family to work on himself, alone.” She tells me. “I’ve never experienced that before and it’s really sad because I can’t speak to him. So this track is for him to know we’re still here for him when he’s ready.”
What’s so beautiful about Nao is her poetic, caring nature. It’s something that not only shines through her music, but everything single she does and says.
The day before the new release, along with a copy of the vinyl, Nao sent sunflowers to my office. “I use the sunflower to kind of represent that life is beautiful, even with all its dark moments there are happy moments as well.” She continues. “The sunflower, if it’s winter or summer, if it’s night or day, the sunflower always follows and tries to find the sun. There’s something really kind of beautiful about that. No matter what, you will always find the sun.”
Nao’s third studio album, ‘And Then Life Was Beautiful’ is out now, listen below.
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