Unfiltered and unapologetic, L Devine dives into the depths of self-discovery with ‘Digital Heartifacts’.
Words: Ali Shutler.
We’re a few weeks away from the release of L Devine’s brilliant debut album ‘Digital Heartifacts’, and Liv is trying to decide which song she’s most excited for everyone to hear. At some point during the conversation, she mentions every track by name. Still, she ultimately settles on ‘Hater’, a vibrant, shimmering number that tackles self-doubt, identity, and broken dreams with cartoon violence.
“The lyrics are funny but worrying. It’s peak L Devine,” Liv grins, knowing she’s finally embodying the sort of anti-pop pop star she’s always wanted to be. There’s the same swaggering confidence and trembling uncertainty across the rest of ‘Digital Heartifacts’ as well, with Liv refusing to second-guess her own big moves or quiet revelations.
“All the songs might be about second-guessing myself, but I’m pretty sure of the fact that I second-guess myself,” she adds with a laugh.
“The lyrics are funny but worrying. It’s peak L Devine”L Devine
Still, despite a back catalogue of huge pop bangers and years of justified hype, L Devine’s debut album almost didn’t happen. When she walked away from her major label after the release of 2021’s ‘Near Life Experiences Part 2’, Liv reached out to several industry contacts for advice about her next move. A lot of those people supposedly in the know said that her time as a pop star was over. Perhaps she could focus on writing songs for other people instead, they offered.
“I didn’t want to, but I really started to believe that it was the end of the road for that chapter of my career,” she explains. “I figured it was time to be realistic.” Then she started writing the songs that would become her defiant debut album ‘Digital Heartifacts’.
At first, she did what she’d always done. “I was just trying to write the biggest pop song possible,” she shrugs. But hidden beneath all that polish was this “self-deprecating character who was talking about deep things, but deflecting it all with humour. I just saw so much of myself in those songs,” she continues. “This album helped me get my confidence back.”
“It feels like this album doesn’t give a shit about what other people think, and I reckon that’s so cool,” Liv explains, which makes sense considering she felt like she had “nothing left to lose” making it. “If you look at my career as a whole, I was definitely in a down period when I was writing this record, but honestly, that was the most freeing place to be.”
“It made me realise I still had something important to say,” she continues with a grin. “As a 26-year-old woman who’s been making pop music for a long time, and as someone who was with a major label and has gone independent, I hope this new era proves that it isn’t an end. This is the beginning,” L Devine promises. “I want to represent that staying true to yourself pays off.”
L Devine has never felt like she fit neatly into the world of major label pop. Yes, the likes of ‘Like It Like That’, ‘Panic’ and ‘Die On The Dancefloor’ are all stone-cold bangers, but an identity crisis was never far away either. “To be honest, I’ve never known what music I wanted to make,” she admits. As a kid, she’d perform Sugababes songs in front of the bedroom mirror with a hairbrush microphone, but she never thought it would get any bigger than that.
“In the 00s, a pop star was still someone doing full dance routines with the Britney Spears headpiece microphone. It was super feminine, and that was something I was struggling with,” says Liv. Instead, as a teenager, she started dabbling in indie, house, and electronic music around her local scene. Even when she packed her bags and moved to London, it was to become a writer rather than a star. That’s when she got signed to Warner and started polished pop anthems of her own. “I’ve always been redefining what being a pop star means to me, though,” she says. “I’ve always been trying to do things on my own terms.”
“This album helped me get my confidence back”L Devine
‘Digital Heartifacts’ combines the best of both worlds. “I love hooks and have an instant, emotional response to big pop songs. All the best songs in the world are pop, in one way or another, because they’re just undeniably good,” says Liv, but there’s also a scrappy, lo-fi feel to ‘Digital Heartifacts’ that gives the record a sense of warmth. “I tried to unlearn some of the things I’d learnt over the past few years. When you first start writing songs, it’s instinctive, and you’re constantly pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. It just makes for better music,” she says.
A lot of L Devine’s biggest swings so far have been drenched in female empowerment. “I have made some sick pop songs, but I was always shooting for those universally succinct messages that everyone could relate to,” she explains. “I’d put out a song like ‘Girls Like Sex’, and sometimes that would feel so incredibly empowering, but then other times it would give me an identity crisis because I don’t always feel like that girl,” she adds.
By contrast, ‘Digital Heartifacts’ drops the bold, universal, feel-good messages for something less sweeping and more personal. “A lot of the themes on this album are about the longing to be genuinely understood by someone. It’s also about feeling disconnected in an overly connected world,” says Liv. “It might sound anti-empowerment at times, but it felt incredibly empowering for me to do that.”
The result is intricate, complex and very queer. “I spent the majority of time in High School pretending to be someone I wasn’t. Then, I went into an industry where it’s best to be anyone but yourself. It feels like most of my life was this identity crisis. I’m still unpacking that, but over the past few years, I’ve come into being truly, consistently myself,” says Liv.
She explores that across ‘Digital Heartifacts’, with recent single ‘Misscommunikaty’ including raw lines like “I was fucking ashamed since 2008, I felt wrong”, summing up her experiences as a young, queer woman. “That was the year I went to High School, and I was really confronted with the fact that I was gay because everyone was starting to talk about sex. High School just comes with this whole load of shame, and that’s the biggest reason I have problems communicating and telling people who I am and how I feel now,” she offers.
“Going from those empowering pop songs to this pretty sad album, I hope people aren’t too worried about me”L Devine
Elsewhere, ‘PMO’ is the spiritual follow-up to L Devine’s early hit ‘Daughter’. “That was the first song where I felt like a proper songwriter. ‘PMO’ is very different, but I felt like I needed to write another song about a queer experience that was really specific to me,” says Liv. It’s about misogyny and the sexualisation of lesbian relationships, but it also finds space for rage.
“The place I’m coming from is fraught, jealous and insecure,” she grins, not wanting to project images of perfection.
“There is a lot of self-deprecation on this album,” she admits. “There’s a lot of me giving a voice to the inner chatter of self-hate, but I didn’t ever want it to become too negative.” Yes, it’s been a struggle for Liv to get here, but “I never wanted to be ‘woe is me’ because I would cringe so much,” she explains, with humour a constant throughout the record. “It’s very self-aware, I guess.”
“It has really helped me, though, and I hope it helps the people that listen to it,” says Liv, who’s spent years wanting to be genuinely understood by others. “I hope it makes people feel like they’re not alone in how they see themselves. I hope they can heal through it.”
“There isn’t actually a hopeful song on the entire record, but that’s what was real to me at the time. Going from those empowering pop songs to this pretty sad album, I hope people aren’t too worried about me,” she continues.
“This album is the real me, and there is such joy in that. It’s probably the most revealing stuff I’ve done lyrically. It was fulfilling to just be unapologetically myself. This album might be a hot mess, but I guess I’m pretty messy as a person.”
Taken from the February 2024 issue of Dork. L Devine’s album ‘Digital Heartifacts’ is out 2nd February.
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