For Rebecca Lucy Taylor, her entire 20s were flooded with self-questioning like: “What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I have that? Why aren’t I like that? Why haven’t I got that?” Once she stopped trying so hard to fix her life, it changed both on a personal and professional level. “Because I’m less fucking desperate for a hit or for my circumstances to change, there was no agenda really other than to create,” the singer says over Zoom from a London flat.
Sporting bleach-blond hair and a black sweater that radiates off of the surrounding white walls, Taylor, who goes by the moniker Self Esteem is appreciative for the success she’s found from her sophomore album Prioritise Pleasure.
“I think it’s cool I’m not a young, hot thing,” she quips. “I’m a 35-year-old hot thing.”
After spending the majority of her 20s as one-half of the indie rock duo Slow Club before they called it quits in 2017, Prioritise Pleasure hit the reset button. An explosive pop record filled with cathartic, self-aware bangers, Taylor was able to find humor in her own shortcomings (“When I’m buried in the ground/ I won’t be able to make your birthday drinks but I will still feel guilty”) and also tackles the general malaise women experience daily in a world full of predatory men (“Do you understand the pain you cause/ When you see a body just for sport?”). She was finally able to say what she needed to so that she could heal.
Taylor is proud that, despite the pandemic, she was able to perform 18 of her 19 shows for Prioritise Pleasure. She knows there are no guarantees, so she is just trying to prepare as much as possible for when she might be onstage again. “I can’t control how a pandemic rolls off, but I can control how ready I am,” she says. “When we can tour, then we will, and it will be all the sweeter for it.” In the interim, she’s already working on ideas for her next record, composing music for a theatre piece and a book. “I never stop, and that used to be a problem,” she says. Now, her hard work is celebrated.
Speaking with SPIN, Taylor reflected on her hard-won journey to self-acceptance and fostering her unwavering work ethic during uncertain times.
SPIN: So, how was your 2021?
Rebecca Taylor: Obviously, it’s very odd, isn’t it? I’ve had a really amazing year in my career, or I suppose just even personally, as well, feeling validated. It has been something I didn’t expect. Since my record came out, every day has been quite exciting. But obviously, it’s tough with the backdrop of how fucked everything is. It’s hard. I’m trying this new thing where I’m like, “It’s the journey. Everything’s meant to happen when it’s meant to happen.”
Why do you think Prioritise Pleasure really resonated with so many people this year?
I keep doing this joke where I’m like, “Oh, it’s because everyone’s as depressed as me.” I don’t know if that’s it, or what, really. I don’t believe I’m saying anything that radical. I don’t think I’m saying anything that new. I’m just saying the truth. My personal experiences are politically kind of interesting it turns out.
What do you mean?
I used to try and have much more of an agenda and stop trying to intellectualize myself as a woman. The record just works through a lot of shit for me that I can’t get justice for in real life, or I don’t understand, or that I’m ashamed of, and to put it all out there is sort of a way to become free of it. It’s armor to admit the truth about myself because then no one else can come back and have a problem with me, I’ve told you it all. The pandemic has done really weird things to everybody and it’s made everyone pretty reflective and, and angry, especially for women or people who aren’t straight, white men. Even slightly saying, “Fuck this,” has just resonated.
Obviously, the album is pretty personal. Is there anything that you either regret addressing on the record?
I don’t think so. The fact that I’m more successful than I was proves that people don’t want bullshit: They want the truth, especially now. I would feel uncomfortable regretting anything. I wouldn’t want to. It’s important to me to be real because a source of a lot of the shit that’s happened to me that’s been negative or bad has been a product of not being truthful or prioritizing myself. I stayed very true to myself and my agenda. It’s an underdog tale. It’s very nice.
Now that the Prioritise Pleasure has had time to marinate, what’s your favorite lyric from it?
I think “sexting you at the mental health talk” [in “Moody”] is very funny. And the lyric that it is about the same guy that’s [in “In Time”]: “So I’m going to get drunk and slag you off.” That relationship is very funny to me. It really embodied going back there with somebody even though you know that it’s really counterproductive. The goal is just being alright, but I’m sort of compassionate towards “stupid me” in those moments. It’s a really good timestamp of where I’m at: The fact that I now see that as funny means I’m beyond it.
In hindsight, do you feel like you needed to leave Slow Club behind to get to the level where you are right now?
I needed to do it regardless of whether or not it worked because I was so mentally unwell. It’s nobody’s fault, but I see the lightness I get to feel from life now because I’m not carrying so much around with me all the time. I’ve always been ambitious. I wanted to be a big global artist, and there are things you can do to try and enable that that you can’t do when loads of people don’t want to. I don’t particularly think the music I’m making is any more accessible. It’s probably less accessible. What I’m doing is so direct, so I think that’s part of why it’s gotten better.
One of the tracks that really was pretty impactful was “I’m Fine.” How did that resonate for you and listeners during 2021?
That really helped me deal with some shit. In the UK, there’s a couple of really high profile women being kidnapped, raped and murdered. I had written that song months before these specific incidents, but, I’ve had male journalists be like, “Hey, good timing.” And that’s been cool for me, because I’m like, “No. I’ve been living the life of a woman who’s scared for her safety every day since forever.” This isn’t a new, zeitgeisty thing to write a song about. I haven’t done this in a calculated way. I wrote it because I came to a natural point of, “Wow. Maybe it isn’t me that is the problem.” It’s been interesting for it to come out in a year where there has been a bit more focus on the safety of women or the #MeToo movement. I don’t think we’ve changed at all. I don’t think we’re much safer than we’ve ever been, but that it is a hot-button topic is a start.
Who do you dream of collaborating with in 2022?
Lil Nas X. I think his record is a great sister record to mine. I would love a day in the studio with Jack Antonoff. I’m a really big Bleachers stan. Most people if they wanted to have a day in the studio with me, I would be up for it because I’m quite curious about the way that people work. All I do is with my producer, I haven’t really done anything with anyone else. But it would be interesting to see what it’s like for those huge artists.
It’s also interesting you said Jack because he praised you. What was your reaction when that happened?
I couldn’t believe it. It was the best day ever. More than the fact that he does all of the pop girls’ records, I honestly think Bleachers are amazing. I love his passion, his sincerity, his lyrics. I’m just a big, old fan.
What goals do you have for next year?
I want to carry on learning, growing and understanding how to use the platform that I potentially am going to get now for the things that are important to me. I love working hard, and now I’ve got enough opportunities to grow, to be able to work as hard as I’d like to. I’ve had managers before be like, “You want to do too many things. Stop it.” And now I have a team that are like, “Let’s do all this shit.” And that’s great for me because I hate relaxing.