Music inspires the soul and allows listeners to feel joyful and free, and behind every piece of inspirational music lies a songwriter and a story. Throughout spring quarter, columnist Kaitlyn Peterson will sit down over tea with UCLA singer-songwriters to explore their musical goals, personal inspirations and what makes their songs so special.
Six-year-old Josephine Tehrani grabbed the microphone attached to her karaoke machine and sang Britney Spears songs at the top of her lungs every day after school.
Now 22 years old, the fourth-year communication studies student has set the ’90s hits aside to sing dark pop, a genre embodied by artists such as Tove Lo, Broods and Kiiara. Tehrani’s four-song album “Love Trap” will be coming out in the summer.
Although the dark pop genre typically features haunting chords and lyrics, Tehrani instead promotes the empowering message to “stay weird” with her music.
When first meeting Tehrani, she greeted me with a hug and walked me up to her apartment. She wore a quirky cheetah-print jacket, so I immediately knew it was going to be a captivating conversation.
Tehrani treated me to some Earl Grey tea while she sat on the edge of her bed. I envied her gold comforter and the red tapestry hanging behind us.
She told me about her high school love for theater, a hobby she eventually dropped in pursuit of music. Although she loved to act, she disliked having to follow someone else’s script and instead wanted to have her own voice.
Tehrani felt writing was the only way for her to truly be herself. With music, Tehrani was able to write her own stories.
She moved from Tucson, Arizona, to Los Angeles during her senior year of high school. The late transition made it difficult to fit in, yet her loneliness resulted in emotional poetry and songs about trying to find her place.
In 2015, she travelled to Israel to work for a record label, sparking her most significant personal and musical changes. Tehrani made an effort to say “yes” to as many things as possible, which led to skinny dipping in the Mediterranean Sea at 4 a.m., going to a jazz bar and riding on the back of her boss’s motorcycle along a freeway in Tel Aviv.
Throughout the course of her three months in Israel, she wrote every day, whether it was in her hostel or on a bus. Along with writing lyrics, she took notes of memorable moments or phrases from her conversations with friends and strangers.
After hearing about her spontaneous experiences in Israel, I felt inspired to seize the day. I have to admit, I debated buying an airplane ticket to Italy or Ireland.
Tehrani then gave me a little taste of her music and sang a few short verses. When she sings, she closes her eyes, blocking out the rest of the world. Her dreamy lyrics such as “I still imagine though” from her song “Delusional” transported me to a dreamlike journey, just like the descriptions of her adventures in Israel.
Tehrani has incredible confidence in herself – a fearlessness I envy. She told me at the end of the day, all that matters is being yourself, a message she wants to send through her music.
Part of being yourself is writing from raw moments of solitude and heartache, she said.
Tehrani’s past relationship served as the inspiration for her upcoming album, which explores her vulnerability and the stages of heartbreak.
The writing process began after a hard breakup, consisting of long nights full of tears and writing. Creating songs seemed to be the only way Tehrani could get over her ex, she said.
She took a deep breath and then launched into some a cappella snippets of the extended play’s songs. In “Coming Back,” she sang, “You cut so deep / I wanna let you go, but I feel so weak without you.” Tehrani captures the complexity of a painful relationship in just a few phrases, admitting she’s dependent on her ex despite the pain he caused.
I jokingly told Tehrani she could be an inspirational speaker, but I actually believe she could be a great one.
Tehrani repeated how important it is to make yourself happy, no matter what other people think. She specifically mentioned how she wants to break expectations – whether those are musical, cultural or emotional – by just being herself. As someone who sometimes worries too much about what other people think, this was especially encouraging and freeing to hear.
Tehrani said she didn’t want to waste her life. From what I’ve seen, she hasn’t. Her music boldly declares her vulnerability, and that is fearlessness at its finest.
Stay weird, Josephine Tehrani.