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How Wafia Used Her Experience Escaping A Toxic Relationship To Write The Year’s Most Unconventional Breakup Record

Wafia’s new EP Good Things is more than a breakup record. It’s a love letter to herself and the ones who lift her up. The six tracks live within a larger body of work that the singer-songwriter promises is coming soon.

The EP is ultimately the aftermath of a toxic relationship, but it draws inspiration from the subsequent self-discovery and flourishing friendships, rather than her ex. She sings of choosing herself on ‘Pick Me’ and showers her friends with shout-outs for sticking by her on ‘Hurricane’. The ethereal ‘Flowers & Superpowers’ is inspired by a three-day psychedelic trip, while the melodic ballad ‘Lose A Friend’ mourns the breakdown of a friendship.

Wafia has always had a knack for coupling raw subject matter with danceable beats, and Good Things is no exception. She also really hones in on her musical influences, which range from Arabic pop to early ’00s RnB and disco. On ‘Hurricane’, she fuses whimsical electro-pop with thumping hip-hop bass lines. Meanwhile, the title track transports us to the sweaty dancefloor of a ’70s discotech. Polish this eclectic palette off with fresh-as-fuck production and Wafia’s crystalline vocals, and you have Good Things.

It’s also notable that Wafia has been continuing to release music videos and promote the new tunes in the midst of COVID-19. And like many artists, this has forced her to get even more creative. In the lyric video for ‘Hurricane’, we see Wafia dropping off baked treats to her friends’ doorsteps in the middle of the LA lockdown. It’s a sweet, yet slightly heartbreaking video that many of us can relate to in these ‘unprecedented times’. Then there’s the FaceTime-turned-virtual dance party with her pals on ‘Pick Me’. It’s a wholesome montage of her friends hyping each other up while they perform a lip-sync extravaganza that brings all of our bedroom concert fantasies to life.

As a Muslim, Iraqi-Syrian queer artist who was raised in Australia, Wafia has always had a compelling point of view that has dubbed her work as ‘purposeful pop’. After finally putting herself first and trusting her musical instincts, we see her evolve further, and the result is her strongest work yet.

We caught up with Wafia over Zoom to chat Good Things, making an unconventional breakup record and diving deep to harness her influences.

Music Feeds: Hi Wafia! How are things in LA?

Wafia: It’s been okay. I really miss my family back in Australia. It would be really nice to see them. But I think this is just where I need to be right now. And I’m trying to constantly remind myself of that, and some days it’s harder than others.

MF: Yeah, of course. Good Things is almost here. Are you feeling excited or nervous?

Wafia: I’m so excited. I honestly only realised last night that this is coming out in a week, and I sort of hadn’t allowed myself to feel that kind of excitement till now. It’s been so great to have things in my calendar to look forward to as well. Because I’ve definitely missed that.

MF: You’ve already dropped a few singles and I saw that Elton John gave you a shoutout on his Rocket Hour radio show! Were you just dying when you saw that?

Wafia: I was! He is a god. He’s one of the gods of music. And also just to be able to call up my parents who are from a completely different generation and also cultural backgrounds and I’m like “Elton John says I’m great”. And they actually understand that. Very early on Pharrell gave me some praise and my dad didn’t understand that. But Elton John, he can understand and that is so sick that he transcends that.

MF: It’s been a few years since your last EP, so how long has Good Things been in the works?

Wafia: It’s been a while. I’ve been doing sessions every day for the past two and a half years, up until this pandemic. It has been a long time in the making. I’ve been working towards an album for a really long time. This is part of that bigger body of work and It’s just like, I forgot what this
feeling feels like. Having a collection of songs and getting to do the rounds and everything. This is so cool and I’ve never really quite understood birthdays, but this is something I can understand because I’m like, “Oh, this is my hard work. Do I deserve attention now?”

MF: Oh my god, really? Are you the type of person who hates when you receive attention when everyone is singing “Happy Birthday” to you?

Wafia: Oh, 100% (laughs). I don’t do well with attention. Sometimes I get offstage and I get applause and I’m like, “that was really nice”. I don’t really know why, but I find that more warranted than just being born (laughs), which is worth celebrating. But yeah, I like celebrating the things that I’ve worked especially hard for.

MF: I want to talk about a few of the tracks individually, so let’s start with ‘Hurricane’. It’s so sweet but also such a bop. What’s the story behind that?

Wafia: That song is for my friends. A lot of these songs circle the topic of this very toxic relationship that I was in. And I had so many people that were just there for me. I think when you go through a breakup, there are so many losses aside from the actual person that you’re breaking up with. So when you lose that person and then lose their family, and then a lot of mutual friends, you’re left wondering “do I have anyone?” And the answer is always, always always yes. It’s sort of like you have just been distracted or whatever it may be.

So this sort of breakup was a big wake up call for me to show appreciation to my friends that were there for like, all of it. All the breakups. There were multiple breakups with the same person. I had friends that were there to pick me up anytime I needed it. And I think that those are really my heroes because I think that’s what friendship is. It’s no judgement and just there for you. It doesn’t matter that maybe you shouldn’t have done that thing or whatever it’s like, “let’s deal with the present”. And sometimes the present just looks like pick me up for frozen yoghurt (laughs).

MF: I think that really comes across in the music video as well. What was the inspiration behind that?

Wafia: Well, it was something I was doing anyway. I was baking a lot and I would make too much. And then me, one other friend and my partner are all in isolation together. We’d just eat way too much cake or way too many brownies. So I was like I’m going to make a really big batch. I’m going to divide it up and I’m going to bring it to my friends. I had already been trying to like buy a camcorder and I was like, “I’m just going to film this” and then slowly I was like “this is just what the music video is”.

It’s a lyric video but to me it feels like a full music video. That’s honestly one of my favourites. I think that there’s so much heart to it. And I’m really proud of it because it genuinely is me hanging out with my friends and collaborators. It was a very rare moment for me to see those people, especially in this time. So that’s my favourite day of quarantine. When I think back about this time, I’ll think back about that day. When I watched the first cut of that video, I cried so much (laughs).

MF: Have you had fun getting more experimental with music videos while in iso? I love the video for ‘Pick Me’, it’s giving me bedroomusic video realness.

Wafia: Yes! (laughs). Do you remember being on Photobooth with a friend who came over that day and like doing all the things? That’s how I wanted it to feel like. Again, it was like that’s just what I do. So let’s just take all of the things I do and turn them into a video (laughs).

MF: It works so well with the message of the song. I loved the footage of your friends strutting and everyone just being like “yas!”

Wafia: Yes! Remember when we could go out and you could have your friend on FaceTime trying to pick out what to wear to a date? I just wanted to encompass that and I’m so glad that translated.

MF: Good Things is a breakup EP, but it’s almost more of a love letter to yourself and your friends. Was this something you were conscious of when writing it?

Wafia: Yeah, it was definitely very intentional. I remember listening with my executive producer John Hill to a bunch of other artists that had released a lot of breakup albums. And they were all great and had great songs that they all came from the lens of giving this person who broke your heart so much air time. I almost couldn’t understand that. We listened to an album called ‘Here My Dear’ by Marvin Gaye and I love that album. That’s one of my favourite albums. There’s no way to tell a story where the ex isn’t involved. It’s about you through the lens of this relationship, what you learn through this thing. Also the aftermath of that is very important. It’s not just about the breakup period. It was the time in a relationship. So I really wanted to encompass that. This EP was very deliberate. I know for myself after coming out of this relationship, I felt like I shed a lot of skin. I felt only more positive and better about my life since this breakup. So why wouldn’t the music reflect that?

MF: I read that you went through a radical self discovery to create this album and songs like ‘Pick Me’. What did that involve and how do you think that informed the final product?

Wafia: I never would have considered putting myself first. I sort of have this blueprint for love, where the way you show love is to sacrifice everything. Sacrifice even your own mental health. That obviously is not great. That’s sort of the messaging that we get from movies, from everything is that the woman gives everything and very rarely does the other partner sacrifice as much. That’s even the blueprint that’s in my parents’ relationship. I went to a lot of therapy and I sort of realised that I can choose whether to be in that kind of dynamic or not and what kind of partner I want. Very quickly when I started to make those decisions that benefited me in my career, I saw that my partner at the time was not supportive. It was very clear that for this relationship to continue, I would either grow to resent him or resent myself. I didn’t want to get to 50 and hate him and then blame him for my inaction. I thought that was like the most loving thing I could do is almost break up. For both his sake and for me, that was the best decision. I think I can only speak for myself but for me, yeah.

MF: It’s obviously a very personal experience but I think that dynamic is present in many types of relationships, which is what makes the EP so compelling.

Wafia: Yeah, and I think boundaries are so important. So when you’re saying I need to do this thing for me, that has nothing to do with the other party involved. Sometimes you have to remove ego from it. It’s not really about you. It’s about this person going on their own thing. If you’re confident that really shouldn’t shake you up.

MF: The EP is almost genreless but you’ve paired a lot of these more serious topics with super playful beats. What were your sonic influences to bring this story together?

Wafia: I think it’s the references that I carry on my back all the time. I’m listening to a lot of Lauryn Hill, so there’s a lot of R&B influence. There’s a lot of Mario and Usher, and I think that shows itself in a song like ‘Pick Me’. I also love folk music and traditional songwriting and that shows itself on ‘Lose a Friend’. Some sessions I’ll go in with references, but I think most of the time I know what I like and what it sounds like and like you said, I wanted this EP to be playful and fun and I’m just so glad that that came across it.

MF: Yeah, it feels like a natural progression from your past work but just amped up.

Wafia: Thank you. Oh, yeah, and Good Things has a little bit of that disco dance element that I think I touched on in ‘I’m Good’. And on Good Things, this is just like going for it. It’s the most on the nose. I wanted it to almost be undeniable to get up and dance to and by the last chorus even myself I am like “This is good, this is really fun.”

MF: I love that. No room for subtleties. You would usually have a tour lined up after the release of an EP, but what else can we expect from you this year?

Wafia: I just need to buckle down and finish this album. I’ve been able to give people a taste of this EP, but I’ve got to finish this album. And I think what better time to do it then right now when I can’t tour. I definitely have more music lined up before the end of the year, so I’m also excited to share that.

Wafia’s ‘Good Things’ EP is out now.

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