John-Robert hates being a hopeless romantic. He’s tired of music poeticizing unrequited love. Instead, the singer-songwriter has been reflecting on himself, realizing that he should have “more self-esteem, and to ask more of a partner.” However, bad love does make for good music, and the 20-year-old (who bears a resemblance to a young Ryan Phillippe) has channeled his frustration — and perhaps any cruel intentions — into melodies.
The Virginia native understands that people are unpredictable and he accurately portrays this in his music as lyrics build up the idea of a romantic storyline only to have it end in a dissatisfying way. Pulling from his personal experiences of one-sided love, songs such as the lead single “Adeline” or “Fav Boy” with Reed and Alessia Cara off his Bailey Barely Knew Me EP (out on Nice Life/Warner Records), feature John-Robert singing of the love he desperately wants, but will never quite have.
“In ‘Adeline,’ I write this whole story about reconnecting with someone in the future,” John-Robert tells SPIN. “And things may be picking up where you left off or having hindsight after years of living apart. And then at the end of the song, the message is: people don’t change. I don’t even give myself the satisfaction.”
On his latest single, “Healthy Baby Boy,” John-Robert shows his depth as an emerging songwriter by his understanding of the poignancy of life. Around the time that this song was written, a close friend of his lost their brother to suicide while another childhood friend was just welcoming his first son. These two contrasting circumstances are what inspired this song, “about the duality [of life],” he says. “People leave, and people come.”
John-Robert isn’t without his own personal battles, including one with anxiety that’s gripped him since the pandemic began. “I’ve just been dealing with the rise of COVID,” he says. “A lot of anxiety translates into insomnia, so I stay up for late, late hours to the point where I start hallucinating and start seeing colors; and the perspective of things starts to zoom in and zoom out.”
He keeps some of that “healthy baby boy” alive in himself as well, beginning with his strong affinity for Swedish Fish. In lieu of a traditional bio in his social media accounts, the singer has filled all of them with the statement: “All the music I make is dedicated to the company that makes Swedish Fish. They don’t sponsor me, but I’d like them to.”
“It just feels so silly sometimes to be an artist because it’s very self-promotional and can get uncomfortable. You can definitely take yourself too seriously, and I didn’t want to just put a stereotypical thing in my bio.”
Though he still hasn’t received an official sponsorship from the candy company, his love for the gummy fish has never faltered.
“Yeah, I fuck with Swedish Fish,” he says. “It’s a very share-able snack, pairs well with fruit and it’s all one flavor: red!”
Perhaps he’s a hopeless romantic after all.