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LILY ROSE: HEROES AND "VILLAIN"

Lily Rose laughs about nearly getting to TikTok too late. “I was so frustrated being off the road. I saw people connecting with their fans. I figured, why not?”

Two months after jumping on the app in late October, she posted the atmospheric “Villain,” a song of heroic dignity amid post-relationship washout. She wasn’t so sure the gambit would work—“It was coming to the end of people getting signed.” But next thing she knew, there were a million likes. “Do it again,” she posted. “I’ll release it.”

Nine days later, the earthy alto did just that. “Villain” broke on the streaming platforms and landed her next to Taylor Swift on the iTunes chart. It was crazy; 50 million streams was way beyond what the Atlanta-born-and-raised, Athens-incubated, Nashville-based drummer/pianist/guitarist could’ve imagined.

The moodiness and spaciousness of “Overnight Sensation” let her voice carry the emotional undertow of this homage to her 14-year journey to right now. On the set of the emerging-from-sorrow “Remind Me of You” video, Rose reflected on her creative process, the power of location and her sudden but solid arrival at the forefront of country music, with the help of Big Loud/Back Block Music/Republic.

“Villain” blew up.
We’ve cut to a nerve nobody’s done yet, and people are connecting—and all platforms too. The day [SiriusXM’s] Storme Warren and J.R. [Schumann] added it to The Highway, Storme called it “heroic,” which I’d never thought of. 

Well, it plays different ways.
I thought it’s only a relationship thing. But it can be relationships within a family, your friends, bosses, people at work. I see it now. 

There’s an actual nobility to the song.
I’d had the title for about a year. I’d been through a breakup and waited for the right co-writers. “Nobility” isn’t a word I’d use but I do remember going through it and telling my family, “I have to choose to take the high road—every day.” So “Villain” is a message of hope. Let people say what they want to say. Just keep being the good person, knowing truth will rise.

Internet bullying changes the game.
The keyboard warriors? The bullies who’d never say it to your face? I grew up in Atlanta, so I never experienced that “small town” talk you hear about. But social media is our small town. That’s where everyone feels free to weigh in.

Atlanta, Athens, Nashville—how did they shape your music?
My dad’s been in radio 40 years. 95.5 The Beat when I was young and learning music. Usher, Yin Yang Twins, Yung Joc. That led me to fall in love with Kendrick [Lamar] and J. Cole, the poetry and beats, how they worked together.

I wouldn’t be the artist I am without all those midnight-to-3am bar sets in Athens. My dad said, “I’m not sending you to Belmont, paying private-school tuition for music. You’re staying in state.” But Athens—even without the internships, the connections—is so rich in music: R.E.M., the B-52’s, even country through Cory Smith. And no boundaries.

Your music is very fluid, but you use beats innovatively.
Cory, until Ed Sheeran came along, was the only rhythmic guy rapping over a guitar. Some of the people I look up to—Sam Hunt, HARDY—have that in their music. I think the beat elevates the song. All these guys connect sonically and melodically.

People don’t even know what they’re responding to. It’s all about one story you’re telling, your tone vocally, but with the more urban beats and how your words land, it’s more. It’s why so many people gravitate to pop and hip-hop.

You’re really a drummer, not just a guitarist and pianist.
I will say I grew up with attitude in my playing. I’m a pretty masculine female in the way I play drums, because those were the drummers I loved. I didn’t grow up listening to country; I didn’t start ’til 2007, with early Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, which was very different.

Country’s changing.
It’s been an interesting journey. Gay artist aside, I don’t really fit in any box sonically, but I’m true to the emotions. I met Rakiyah [Marshall, founder of publishing/artist development company Back Block Music] three weeks before I put out “Villain.” She told me, “I don’t have the bandwidth to sign you, but you don’t have a lot going on. Stay in touch.” When everything happened, she was right there. We put “Villian” out in nine and a half days! It’s why the cover doesn’t have a picture; we just grabbed a graphic. She put the deal together, and we were on.

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