Olivia O'Brien Has No Filter, And That's Why We Adore Her

Olivia O'Brien Has No Filter, And That's Why We Adore Her

Olivia O'Brien Has No Filter, And That's Why We Adore Her

The emotive songstress tells V about her journey with mental health and her relationship with Los Angeles.

The emotive songstress tells V about her journey with mental health and her relationship with Los Angeles.

Text: Dylan Kelly

For the purple-haired recording artist Olivia O’Brien, songwriting is a deeply personal craft, one that requires vivid introspection and heart-toiling self-discovery. “I literally can only write about my own life,” she explains. “It’s so annoying because I am constantly searching for experiences to inspire me in probably very unhealthy ways. I’ve accepted the fact that it’s me subconsciously sabotaging myself for my art.” Through self-inflicted, emotional vandalism, the 20-year-old vocalist commits her entire existence to her songwriting craft, and although that choice often provokes treacherous repercussions, each of her raw, love-inspired compositions boast an incredible catharsis and a powerful relatability factor that ultimately make the process worthwhile. 

While songwriting now holds a melodic healing power for O’Brien, it was an extensive, internal exploration that led to that discovery, one that began in her early childhood. “I’ve had depression since I was literally eleven years old,” she says. “I don’t know why. I don’t know what I was possibly feeling at eleven years old, but my mom used to put me in therapy and that’s one thing that everyone loves that I just can’t do—therapy.” Frustrated with the outcomes of various practices along her journey with mental health, the young songstress searched for a therapeutic method that worked for her, ultimately turning to music as a resolution.  

In her teenage years, O’Brien advanced her songwriting abilities as an outlet to find clarity in her emotions; however, her peers didn’t initially perceive it that way. “In high school, my music caused me so much turmoil because I got made fun of for it so much,” she says. “I never really thought of music as something that could be a career.” Writing songs about her high school love interest, the budding pop star’s lyrics resembled that of one’s personal diary; the only difference was that hers was posted online and open to the public’s criticism. “When I think about how I felt about myself in high school, I’m almost uncomfortable,” she explains. “My self-esteem was pretty much destroyed from all of that.” In the face of ridicule, O’Brien wrote “hate u, love u,” the chart-topping single that skyrocketed her into the public eye and altered her perception of music’s magnitude entirely. 

With newfound fame and a beaming spotlight, O’Brien traveled back-and-forth to Los Angeles in pursuit of a full-time music career, slowly distancing herself from high school’s persistent negativity as she became more in touch with her true identity. “I had to start over as a human being,” she says. “I had to ask myself, what do I like? What do I want to do? What do I want to wear? How do I want to look?” The blooming singer-songwriter finally felt free to truly explore every facet of her creative mind without judgement alongside a supportive, new friend group in Los Angeles. “All my friends in LA were free-spirited people who did whatever the fuck they wanted,” she explains. “If I wanted to dye my hair purple or I wanted to cut my hair off in my room by myself, they didn’t think I was insane. They thought it was cute.” 

After moving to Los Angeles and grasping a firm identity amidst growing fame, the pop star also witnessed the potential toxicity of Hollywood first-hand. “I saw the ugly, weird side of L.A. when I was really young. I was unimpressed by everything, and it enabled me to see things with a clear mind,” she explains. “I’ve watched a lot of friends change and I feel like I’ve somehow managed to pretty much stay the same.”  Circulating among the fame-seekers of L.A. tarnished O’Brien’s once picture-perfect image of Hollywood, initially forming a love-hate relationship with the city while trying not to lose herself in the madness. “I think people are attracted to the allure of Hollywood. Everyone’s here chasing a dream. It attracts people that are really driven and hardworking and also people that want the same things, but are going to try to get it in different ways.”

Diligently working to form a strong musical identity while navigating the city scene, O’Brien released several singles and two studio albums, It’s Not That Deep (2017) and Was It Even Real? (2019), both of which shared fiercely honest thoughts on relationships, mental health, and her experiences in Los Angeles. “I wrote songs like ‘No Love’ and other songs about my experience in L.A. and about how it sucks,” she explains. However, through writing those lyrics and recognizing the source of her dissatisfaction, O’Brien ultimately put the power into her own hands to reverse that negativity. “I realized probably in the past year or so that you can’t blame a city for your problems,” she explains. “If you really want to find good people here, you can. I really stopped hating on L.A. because I do have a lot of people here that I love, and if you just say no to all that bullshit, you can get away from it.”

Today, O’Brien showcases her tremendous journey of self-growth and her elevated vocal techniques in two recently released mixtapes, It Was A Sad Fucking Summer and The Results Of My Poor Judgement. Honing in on a dreamy guitar vibe for the former and seeking inspiration from her love life for the latter, the pop polymath returned with the same open, lyrical dialogue that her loyal followers find solace in listening to. “I think my fans and I are growing up together,” she says. “We’re all learning things at the same time. I feel like every time that I’m feeling something, I always want to post about it or write about it because they’re probably either feeling the same things or they will at some point because it’s like we live the same lives.” 

Looking to her future as a musician, O’Brien expresses a clear goal: “I want to be honest about everything I feel and to share it. I want to keep an open conversation about mental health and self-image and how I feel about love and relationships. There are definitely people that talk about those things for sure, but I think I do it in a way that is pretty ridiculously open.” The famed singer puts herself on the same playing field as her listeners, discussing hardships in her love life with no fear of consequence and utilizing social media to be the most authentic version of herself. It’s that refreshing honesty that fosters such a strong connection between O’Brien and her fans, and it’s the reason her musical prowess dominates the emotional pop genre.

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