Following American Idol alum Catie Turner’s 2019 debut EP, The Sad Vegan, the 21-year-old pop singer feels “less scared” as she steps into the next chapter of her artistry. On July 16, she makes her Atlantic Records debut with a candid six-track EP, Heartbroken and Milking It.
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The Langhorne, Pennsylvania native began writing songs and playing guitar at a young age to cope with the myriad of pressures and problems that blossom from adolescence into the teenage years. The rising star quickly outgrew her bedroom and hit the talent show audition circuit at 11 years old. After trying for America’s Got Talent, The Voice, and the 15th season of American Idol, Turner finally landed a spot on the 16th season in 2018. She stunned the judges with her audition performance of an original composition, “21st Century Machine,” and continued round-by-round until she finished in sixth place.
Capturing national attention on the Idol stage set her music career into full motion. In March of 2019, she introduced Sad Vegan with the highly acclaimed, anxiety-ridden underdog anthem, “Prom Queen.”
“I absolutely love my family, thank God for them. But there were certain topics I would avoid, like cuss words,” Turner tells American Songwriter in a recent phone interview. “My mom would be like, ‘Why do you say that?’ Coming off of reality TV, where I was naive, innocent, and doe-eyed, I feel like people expected that from me. But I was going through all of these life experiences that I couldn’t write about because I was scared people would be offended about cussing or kissing boys. Now, frankly, I don’t give a shit anymore.”
Turner says her mother will still let out a “sigh” when certain subjects arise in her lyrics, but there is a mutual understanding of the necessity of her music as a therapeutic outlet. Her first track off the new EP, “Therapy” captures the healing nature of Turner’s songwriting process as she lays her burden of concerns to rest on paper. In the slow-burning pop track, the artist addresses an unhealthy dependence of a romantic partner, urging them to seek counseling. Throughout the chorus, she emphasizes her helpless position: I’m tryna make you see how I ain’t the enemy / And all that I can give is love and empathy.
As the lead track, she feels “Therapy” is a well-suited personal introduction because “it doesn’t take itself so seriously.” Turner adds, “It’s a pop song about going to therapy, and I kind of like that. Listen, I love writing gut-wrenching acoustic songs, but it was nice to be able to finally like shake my ass to something I wrote. It was a unique way of me finding out how to write a pop song. But it was still me in the end.”
COVID-19 came at an unfortunate time for the breakthrough artist. For Turner, the pandemic was a major roadblock, not just because everything was shut down, but, as she says, “When you’re in lockdown, what can you write about?”
Being back home in her childhood bedroom conjured up emotions dwelling well beyond her typically present psyche. In Pennsylvania, under her parents’ roof, Turner’s songwriting came full-circle. Regressing allowed her to unload her past, yielding an unrestrained next step for the artist.
“When you have nothing to write about during a pandemic, what can you do? You can milk from past heartbreak,” Turner laughs, playfully responding to her own rhetorical questions. “So that’s what I did—hence the title. I was in my bedroom, doing nothing but eating cookie dough, and I didn’t think anyone would want a song about that. So I started pulling from that experience that affected me.”
Turner credits her fan response to previous releases for the confidence that allowed her to move past the inhibiting fears and put forth something that feels authentic. She wrote her 2019 song, “I luv him,” the day her first heartbreak happened. Quickly, she recorded and released the track while the wound was still fresh.
“Seeing people respond to that in real-time, and relate, I was like ‘I’m going to write from the heart, and write how I feel when it happens.’ I’m not gonna think, ‘What can I leave out or omit?’ It’s a lot of mental energy to process the situation itself, nf too much to think about omitting or worrying about ‘I can’t say that word’ or ‘Oh God, what would they think if they knew I had sex?’ I want to tell my story exactly how it happened.”
This realization shaped her evolving sound into a sure-footed sonic space. Turner’s ethereal pop-shere aims toward an arrival of sorts, while her stripped-down lyricism suggests a pinnacled confidence.
“Funeral” feels like growth to the artist. She says, “It meets me where I am sound wise. It gives me emo vibes and brings out my inner-Paramore stan because it’s about friendship breakups. And I feel like it brought a different meaning to Heartbroken and Milking It because you can be heartbroken over a friendship, just like a romantic relationship.”
Creating Heartbroken and Milking It broadened Turner’s self-concept, while also healing old wounds.
“I always thought, folky singer-songwriter, and that’s all I can do. But with this project expanded the idea I had of myself and showed me I can do whatever I want, and letting me be more creative and be more imaginative,” says Turner. “For the next project, it’s freeing, because if I want to do a rock song, I can. I don’t feel like anyone else put me in a box—the sky’s the limit.”
Listen to Catie Turner’s new EP, Heartbroken and Milking It, here.