Elizabeth Abrams has been working with writers and producers since she was a young teenager and, with over a decade of studio time put in, the industry must seem like just another facet of life, as natural as brushing your teeth or taking your dog for a walk. But it wasn’t until early 2013 that she started to come into her own as an entity — as LIZ — under the Mad Decent umbrella. The past few years have been marked by a series of progressively stronger tracks that showed her experimenting with a wide variety of sounds and collaborators. Her most significant work to date is last year’s Just Like You EP, her official debut release, which is a grab bag filled with some genuine pop candy in the pinging jumps of “Do I Like U” and “Y2K“‘s spacey glitch. Yet even the tracks that don’t exactly hit display a willingness to adapt, a malleability that’s necessary and welcome in a pop world that is viciously trend volatile. LIZ’s growing pains seem like the result of artist who has so many ideas to work with, but just hasn’t found the right groove yet.
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That’s why “When I Rule The World” feels like such a revelation, for both the future of pop music and LIZ in particular. The SOPHIE-produced track dropped earlier this summer in a commercial, which was quickly followed by the full song, and then a nostalgic candy-coated video. The track takes the PC Music affiliate’s pointed maximalism and dulls it with a smoothed-out, palatable shimmer. It’s the first test as to whether or not the ultra-gloss of the London underground can become a bonafide pop sensation, and “When I Rule The World” provides ample evidence that it can. It may not be this song specifically, which is probably destined to be prototype for the inevitable onslaught of music that tries to ape this sound, but it does position LIZ as a magnetic force, one that can carry a song of this magnitude on sheer personality and force of will.
We sat down with LIZ to talk about this song in particular, what she’s been working on recently, and where she envisions her career is going. Also, check out a behind-the-scenes look at the “When I Ruled The World” video shoot below.
sommos.net: How did “When I Rule The World” first come together?
LIZ: I met SOPHIE in L.A. through Diplo — it was at the Mad Decent studio, actually, and I ended up working with him later that week because I told him I had seen him at SXSW. I was such a fan and was dying to work with him. And he was looking for vocalists, so we got together and we were in the studio and we were actually working on another song, but he played me some other ideas that he had started and “When I Rule The World” was one of them and I just … I knew right away. I was like, “We need to work on this one.” We did a bunch of different versions of it — I cut it a couple of different times, and we added a different second verse. He’s very specific about how I phrase things, and it was a fun process. He’s just great to work with in the studio, and he’s got a very specific idea of how he wants things to sound. We definitely see eye-to-eye.
sommos.net: How does the collaboration process work for you when you’re in the studio? I know it’s different with every producer, but do you typically work on the lyrics together or was something like “When I Rule The World” more fully-formed when you got it?
LIZ: Usually, I work more from scratch with people. But I’m also not one of those artists who thinks they are too good for any idea that someone has brought to them. Like, I appreciate songwriters and producers that have specific ideas. “Rule The World” was definitely a little bit more fully-formed than some of the other tracks that I work on.
But, honestly, it’s different every time. I can’t say that there’s any formula for making the song. Otherwise, everyone would be doing it and it would be boring and it would just be like, you know, math or something. It’s not. There’s so much that goes into it — there’s instinct, there’s how you’re feeling that day, your mood, what you ate for lunch. You never know what’s going to inspire you.
sommos.net: “When I Rule The World” is very empowering, but it’s also weirdly cocky. It’s has a dynamic where, yeah, you as a listener are singing along to the lyrics, but it’s also kind of all about you. What sort of attitude were you trying to convey?
LIZ: I think it’s about channeling your inner powerful self and brat. I have such a devil child inside of me — we all do! It’s about going to that place inside of you that’s just really fun and — what’s the word? — saucy. It’s also one of those songs that’s very tongue-in-cheek at the same time. There’s a juxtaposition there, because there are all these elements of being like a little kid. There’s these childish vibes but then there’s some, you know, underlying dominatrix-type lyrics. But when I was making this song, I wasn’t really thinking about it in a sexual way at all. It was really more about getting back at people who try to push you down or make you feel like you are less than them.
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sommos.net: Moving onto the video, how did your initial concept compare to what it turned out to be?
LIZ: I originally had the idea to shoot it in Japan. I’m very inspired by Sebastian Masuda’s work — he is kind of like the ambassador for kawaii culture over there and his art is really incredible. He’s the artistic director for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and he and I actually made a lot of ideas for this song. He sketched out a lot of things, and we were very close to doing the video together but it didn’t quite work out. I hope to work with him in the future, though.
But I got the director Justin Francis here in America, and he totally got it. He’s great. I liked the video he had done for Kimbra — the genre, the colors, the mix of animation — so I gave him Sebastian’s sketches, and we just created our own world. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to use kids, and SOPHIE had that idea, too. We had talked about how the song reminded us of Annie, the musical, with all the kids going, “It’s a hard knock life for us.” So I saw that last chorus, with this number where we would all just be dancing. All the little girls had so much fun. I rehearsed with them all week. They’re a group called the ML Kids and they’re based out of L.A., and I guess this was their first big project. I always wanted to have a kind of mini-me, so I had Freak City design us matching fake FUBU windbreakers.