Sarah Barrios’ latest single, “Happy,” is a sunny self-love anthem for anyone who’s ever been skeptical of their own joy. Released last week and featured below, the track finds Barrios confused and concerned about why she’s feeling more upbeat than usual.
“I woke up this morning, and I didn’t feel like I was gonna die / My head wasn’t crowded, and I didn’t feel like I was gonna cry,” the Connecticut native marvels in the opening verse, sounding relieved and surprised.
“How come happy makes me feel lost?” Barrios sings in the chorus, “I just don’t understand it.” Later, she asks the universe if there’s “a handbook or some sort of potion that makes this feel easy / some sort of secret that makes you believe you’re finally healing.”
“‘Happy’ was really the starting point for a new way of writing for me,” Barrios tells American Songwriter over email. “I was feeling happy for the first time in a while, which naturally made me nervous that things were going to fall apart at any moment. So, I spent the night before the session writing down everything that I was feeling in my journal and most of the first verse and chorus are lines from there!”
Barrios wrote the track with Julia Karlsson and producer Anton Rundberg. “I wanted to have the production mimic the feelings of the lyrics,” she adds, “so we put sounds in that felt both anxious and upbeat.”
“Happy” also arrived with a music video featuring dozens of visuals from Barrios’s blissed out fans. “This year has been really difficult for everyone, myself included,” Barrios says, “and what kept me going was connecting with the listeners, so it only felt right to have the video be about them! I also wanted to give people a little moment of happiness and show that there is always light in the darkness.”
That theme of finding light in darkness is a major thread in Barrios’s sophomore EP, Conversations With Myself, which was released alongside “Happy.” “While the first EP [2019’s Letters I Never Sent] was about self-realization and making mistakes, this EP was me diving deeper into my own mind and questioning pretty much everything about myself,” says Barrios. “An existential crisis if you will. The things I wrote about were conversations I literally had with myself at 3am, so this one is definitely more personal.”
The five-track EP is rounded out by Barrios’s previous singles “Somebody I’m Proud Of,” “Help” (with Rence), “Bedroom Floor Feelings” (with Marc E. Bassy), and “All My Sins” (with syd hartha). Despite the personal nature of the EP, Barrios says all three collaborations “came about very naturally.”
“Rence wrote his verse on ‘Help,’ which I think really made the song feel even more vulnerable because we got to hear his personal experiences with asking for help and feeling isolated,” Barrios explains. “Marc brought so much energy and life into ‘Bedroom Floor Feelings’ and I think really captured the idea of trying to run from your feelings in a way that wasn’t voiced beforehand! [And] Syd was an angel and brought so much raw vulnerability and soul into ‘All My Sins’ and really showed that, even if you are across the world, speaking a different language, we all feel haunted by the mistakes we’ve made or things we’ve gone through.”
Another artist who lifts Barrios up—again and again—is Hayley Williams. “[She] will forever be my biggest inspiration and influence,” says Barrios of the former Paramore bandleader, who just released her own sophomore solo effort, FLOWERS for VASES / descansos, last week. “[Williams] continues to create music that I can relate to and also heal to at the same time and I think that’s really hard to do,” says Barrios. “Every interview I see of her she’s constantly reminding me that there is a strength in vulnerability and that your wounds and fears are not who you are and do not dictate your fate. I think about that everytime I write a song: ‘How can I be more honest with myself and how can I make this a song that has more than one purpose?’”
Barrios describes herself as a “singer/songwriter, book lover, coffee drinker, proud lgbtq member and animal crossing addict,” but she wasn’t always so comfortable in her own skin. In a press statement about “Happy,” she shared, “I had spent so many years feeling anxious and scared, that when I came out, happiness felt foreign and kind of undeserved because I still felt like I didn’t know who I was.”
Throughout that journey of self-acceptance and self-love, Barrios has turned to Williams’ music for solace, but she’s also turned to tunes by Avenue Beat, UMI, Carlie Hanson, Miley Cyrus, Blackpink, and her “All My Sins” collaborator syd hartha. “The list goes on,” says Barrios. “They’re all teaching to embrace yourself in every form and that we are constantly evolving as people and that’s really important to me.”
Asked what’s next for her in 2021, Barrios promises “A LOT more music” and “a new chapter of music,” but stops short of announcing her next project.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to play some live shows and travel,” she adds. “I would love to see and meet the people who have supported the music all this time.” For now, you can see and meet those people in the “Happy” video below.
Conversations With Myself is out now via Arista Records / Visionary Records.