Olivia O'Brien spoke to Insider about her new single "Bitch Back," a collaboration with FLETCHER.
The song is a celebration of single girls and female friendship, inspired by a true story.
O'Brien also opened up about her experiences with plastic surgery and "insane" beauty standards for women.
When Olivia O'Brien answered my call on a Wednesday afternoon in July, she was holed up in her bedroom, hiding from her roommate's COVID with her 6-year-old dog Dexter whining at her feet.
This scene might sound out of step with O'Brien's 1.4 million Instagram followers and her arsenal of glossy pop songs, but she's actually the first to admit that things aren't usually as glamorous as they appear.
When O'Brien was only a freshman in high school, she posted a cover of a Gnash song on SoundCloud, which miraculously made its way to him. After they connected, she sent him an original song that he asked to produce and include on his next EP. The next thing she knew, "I Hate U, I Love U" was a top-10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
"It just randomly blew up," O'Brien said. "It was the first song I ever put out. So then I was like, 'Oh, OK. I guess I do music now.'"
The transition to Hollywood "wasn't that bad," O'Brien added. "I really was ready to leave Napa. No one was very nice to me, especially after I started doing music."
Now 22, with a debut album and hundreds of millions of Spotify streams under her belt, O'Brien continues to take everything in stride. Her new single "Bitch Back," featuring FLETCHER, is an ode to being untethered, carefree, and maybe a little reckless — especially with her newly single best friend riding shotgun.
She opened up to Insider about dealing with breakups, writing songs for "my girlies and my gays," and learning to separate beauty from self-worth.
Tell me about how you came to work with FLETCHER.
Fletcher's A&R at Capital is one of my best friends, Carter. So I've known her through him for a while.
I remember one time we were at a party and we were all drunk and it was at my friend Bazzi's house. He has a piano right underneath the stairs, and me and Carter and FLETCHER and like a couple other people were sitting there and we were just like drunk, playing piano and singing together. And it was just so funny.
That's like my core memory that I have with her.
How did that friendship turn into a song?
I had this song that I originally wrote myself, and it was just for me. And then I was like, I just really think this song would be cool with a female feature because it's about having your friend come back from a relationship and being single and going out.
I just figured FLETCHER would be the perfect feature. We have similar fan bases. I really like her as a person. I'm obsessed with her music. I think she's super talented and it just made sense. So I asked her if she would be down.
She came to the studio and we rewrote the second verse for her. Well, she mainly wrote it, but we had to fit it into the song, right? So it ended up being her version of what I originally wrote, which I think is really cool.
Do you remember any of the original lyrics that got cut or reworked?
Originally it was, "Remember the time we double-dated brothers, started arguing if one was hotter than the other." And then FLETCHER's version is, "Remember the time we double-dated twins, I was fucking her and you were fucking him." So we reworked it into being more like her.
But the melodies, I believe, are mainly the same. We just flipped all the lyrics around.
One line that stands out to me is, "Because he sucks and now we can admit that." I feel like that happens so often in friendships — when you're torn between being honest and not wanting to overstep a boundary. Have you come across that in your own life?
Definitely. I just went through a breakup a couple months ago and once you break up with someone, everyone comes out of the woodwork, like, "Wow, I can't believe you dated him. He sucks," blah, blah, blah. It's like, where were you when I was in this relationship? You know?
I actually wrote the song for my friend Kelsey after her breakup. And it's funny because I did really like her boyfriend, but obviously when they broke up, we realized they weren't right for each other at that time. So I'm going to be on my friend's side and be like, "Yeah, he sucks."
So it kind of depends on the situation, but you know, that's just what happens when you or your friend go through a breakup. You're there to support each other. Especially if you're the one that gets broken up with, or if your ex did something bad. My ex-boyfriend literally cheated on me. So obviously my friends were ready to be like, "He fucking sucks. We hate him."
When someone's in a relationship, you don't want to overstep. Especially if they seem like they're happy, you don't want to impede on their happiness. You don't want to tell someone that the person they love isn't right for them. It's hard for them to hear that. And they're probably not going to listen to you until the relationship is over.
Another lyric I love is the specific reference to drunken shenanigans in Ibiza. Is that based on a real experience?
Yeah. I just basically tried to include all the things that me and Kelsey did before she was in a relationship so that I could say, "Don't worry, we're just going to be doing more of that stuff. More of our stupid things that we used to do when you were single."
I also want to circle back to that lyric you mentioned earlier about double-dating twins. The reworked version subverts the heteronormative image of two girls with two guys. Did you and FLETCHER discuss giving this song a queer element ahead of time?
Not really. I mean, I obviously know that for FLETCHER, that's one of her main things. She's very prominent with her queerness in her music and she's a queer icon. So I knew that was the direction that we would probably go in. And I think it gives the song just that little extra thing that it needed.
[Editor's note: O'Brien came out as bisexual on Twitter two weeks after this interview was conducted.]
While you two were in the studio, where did you imagine people listening to the song? What's the ideal environment for it to be played?
When I think of it, I think of best friends in a car jamming out. Maybe one of their friends is sad from a breakup and the other friends are like, "Let's fucking rage. Let's go have a good night." And they put it on and it just brightens the mood, or they're pregaming to go out. Something like that.
I just hope that it brings people a little bit of happiness and bad-bitch energy.
I'm sure this will land on a ton of "bad bitch" playlists. Do you have one of those yourself?
Oh, definitely. I have a bajillion of them. I mean, they're all for different moods and stuff, but yeah, I definitely do. I think I have a playlist that's called, "If you're going to call me a bitch make sure you put bad in front of it," or something stupid like that.
If you were going to build a playlist around "Bitch Back," what other songs might be on it?
Ooh, that's a great question. Hold on. I'm going through my Spotify right now.
I would say, "How to Be a Heartbreaker" by MARINA. "Sex With Me" by Rihanna. Some Megan, any Megan, honestly. "Better Than Me" by Doja Cat. "Bad Girls" by MIA. "Motivation" by Normani. I mean, a classic — you know the song "Boss Ass Bitch" by PTAF?
Of course. This is shaping up to be a great playlist.
"Disco Tits" by Tove Lo. "I Don't Want It At All" by Kim Petras. "Rules" by Doja Cat. "Maneater" by Nelly Furtado. "Backstabber" by Kesha. "Hot-n-Fun" by N.E.R.D. and Nelly Furtado. "Bubble Pop Electric" by Gwen Stefani. "What You Waiting For?" by Gwen Stefani. "The Night is Still Young" by Nicki Minaj. "XS" by Rina Sawayama. "Candy" by Foxy Brown. There's lots.
The vibes are immaculate. I love that you said "Disco Tits" because I feel like that's such an underrated Tove Lo song.
I fucking love that song. It's almost like, you know how certain movies don't necessarily do amazing when they first come out, but then they kind of become cult classics over the years? I feel like people are starting to realize that "Disco Tits" is like that. It's literally her best song and everyone's finally coming to admit it.
Absolutely. It's like how "Bubblegum Bitch" by MARINA blew up on TikTok recently, but the original fans always knew it was a hit.
Of course! I was the biggest MARINA fan in high school. Oh my god, she was everything to me. "Teen Idle," like, shaped me as a person.
Similar to MARINA, female camaraderie and empowerment are really important themes in your music. When you sit down to write a song, do you begin with that intention or does it come through naturally?
It kind of depends on what I'm feeling that day. Sometimes I'm writing… not necessarily love songs, but I'll be writing songs about boys, and I still sneak in a "men suck, women are awesome" lyric. [Laughs]. Pretty much all of my songs are like that. I think that's just my energy all the time.
I wouldn't say that I am a man-hater. I have lots of guy friends and whatever, but at the end of the day, my loyalty lies with my girlies. My girlies and my gays. That's just my personality. And because I write all my own songs, it kind of comes out, no matter what I'm writing about.
—olivia o'brien (@oliviagobrien) June 7, 2022
You wrote a thread on Twitter recently about women being objectified by men and you described "the way we look" as "unimportant." I thought that was a really interesting word choice, especially since social media plays such a huge role in pop culture and the music industry in particular. Could you elaborate a bit more on what you meant by appearance is "unimportant" in this context?
Being a young woman in Hollywood, I've always felt like I notice the most insanely tiny minuscule flaws in myself and it causes huge insecurity. Things I feel like I should edit out of photos.
Like when I was 16, I had my nose done because I was constantly bullied from like sixth grade, when my nose hump first developed, I think I was like 9 or 10. And that was the No. 1 thing that I wanted to change about myself. It was an insecurity. I looked in the mirror every single day. Even when I was just walking around, I was like, "Oh my god, everyone's looking in my nose. It's so big and it's so horrible." And it sucks that a child has to think about that.
That is just the standard that society puts on women. I am very pro-plastic surgery — I've gotten things done, I'm very open and honest about that — if it is going to improve your quality of life and make you feel better about yourself.
But it sucks that society has gotten to the point where we make women feel like we need to get something done because it's just so stupid at the end of the day. And I'm a victim of it, or whatever you want to call it.
But living in LA for so long, I've realized that literally fucking anyone is pretty. Anyone can be pretty. Congratulations on your face. Congratulations on your body. That's awesome for you, but that's not what makes someone a good person. If you think being hot is the only thing you need to make someone like you or fall in love with you or to be popular... I would never, ever, ever choose a friend or idolize someone just based on only the way that they look.
I know so many people that are absolutely stunning and gorgeous and they have the most horrible… they're just mean, mean, mean people. Not all of them. But I've just come to realize that looks are so not what you should value someone for.
I wish I had the power to change society and make people see the world differently. But I've also noticed how often men are just like… that's all they care about, it seems to me. Like whenever I post anything on the internet, it's like, "Oh, she's mid. She's this. She's that."
People have the most insane standards for women because of the internet because we have this access to see all these pretty people, all the time. Girls are constantly comparing themselves, we fail to remember the things about us that truly make us special and important.
And it is not the way that you look.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Listen to Olivia O'Brien's "Bitch Back" playlist on Insider's Spotify.
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