The singer-songwriter gives us the story behind her upcoming EP 'You + I' and shares an inspirational playlist inspired by its themes.
The name of Madison McFerrin’s latest song is taken from an argument with her boyfriend when he wrote the word “TRY” on a piece of paper before storming out of their Brooklyn apartment. A couple of months later, when she was trying to write the lyrics for her upcoming EP, that word kept coming back to her. “That’s why it’s in capital letters,” she tells me over the phone from her home, “because that’s how he wrote it.”
The daughter of jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin, Madison McFerrin lays bare some of her deepest, life-affirming moments on “TRY.” The video for the song of the same name opens with what most people know Madison for: a public humiliation on a seismic scale. It opens with footage of Snoop Dogg, lying on his side talking to his smartphone asking, “Who saw the terrible rendition of ‘Oh say can we see’ for Hilary Clinton. If you didn’t the video is coming right up. Oh wow, this is fucking horrible.” The video cuts to McFerrin sound checking, a stream of tweets telling her to leave music and questioning who told her she could sing cascading down the left side of the screen. One tweet simply demands she “STOP SINGING…FOREVER!”
The entire video references an incident in 2016, when McFerrin was asked to perform at a rally for Hilary Clinton’s election bid. Watch the footage now and all you can see is McFerrin singing by herself, with the audience muffled out, clearly not singing to a normal tune; instead, she’s missing the melody and mostly hitting flat notes. At the time, after two minutes of the broadcast, the song was cut short with CNN’s Anderson Cooper apology to viewers for the sound saying, “Clearly we had some audio issues there– we were working out there during that.”
“I was in a room of 5,000 people and you can’t hear any of them,” McFerrin explains when I ask her what happened that night. “I was supposed to sing my own version and then this room started singing with me and instead of stopping we all sang together in this beautiful moment and then all you could hear was me. And I suddenly got all this hate sent my way, without any context of people even knowing me.”
It’s not an experience most people would want to remember, let alone highlight in a video, but it seems to have been a watershed moment for the singer. “It’s a reminder for me, anytime I try and think, ‘Oh, I feel bad about myself, I doubt myself’ or whatever,” she says. “It’s like I had a very big flop on national television, and I’m still alive, and I’m still kicking. You know, this is my career, I make a living off of it.”
McFerrin calls the mood of her music introspective vibes. “It’s deeply personal but highly relatable,” she adds. But despite the lyrics being incredibly personal, they’re not what comes first when McFerrin makes music; the melody is always the initial component—the words simply follow.
She says the character behind this new EP is someone who is struggling to find their inner selves; someone who’s mental and physical blocks are preventing themselves to live life to the fullest. “There’s a great deal of anxiety, especially with millennials and generations lower,” she tells me. “That has come about because of blocks, be it student loans or health care, or other factors.”
We asked McFerrin to put together a playlist of songs that inspire and motivate.
Madison McFerrin’s U.S. and Canada tour kicks off November 5. See her website for details.