The Meaning Behind “Light On” by Maggie Rogers and Why She Needed to Regain Control of Her Own Work

Maggie Rogers accidentally became famous after encountering producer/singer/songwriter Pharrell Williams at the Clive Davis Institute at NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

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She had presented her song “Alaska” for an artist-in-residence critique featuring Williams, and the internet reacted with millions of views. Soon, the Easton, Maryland-born singer received offers from several major record labels.

However, Rogers felt like she’d lost control of her work. Caught in a storm of fame and expectation, she hesitated. Delaying music is not the usual response to viral fame. Rather than quickly releasing music to capitalize on the moment, Rogers took her time to craft precisely the kind of album she wanted.

She needed to wrestle back control of her own work. Much of Heard It in a Past Life, her debut album, deals with the swirling three-year emotional storm that followed the masterclass with Williams.

Somewhere amid the sudden intrusion in her life, Rogers found space for gratitude. “Light On” is the final song she’d written for the album, and it’s the calm she found inside the unpredictable storm she’d arrived in unexpectedly.  

A Thank You Letter

On Twitter (now called X), Rogers tweeted that “Light On” is about gratitude. She said, “It’s the most vulnerable I’ve ever felt in a song.”

Oh, I couldn’t stop it
Tried to slow it all down
Crying in the bathroom
Had to figure it out
With everyone around me saying
“You must be so happy now.”

The surreal moment felt exciting but also out of control. Rogers told Apple Music’s Zane Lowe her album captured feelings of uncertainty, but she also wanted to speak to the moment’s joy. “Light On” is a thank you letter to her fans.

Oh, if you keep reaching out
Then I’ll keep comin’ back
’Cause if you’re gone for good
Then I’m okay with that
If you leave the light on
Then I’ll leave the light on

Being Vulnerable in Front of a Legend

Rogers’ viral NYU clip is an interesting peek into her creative life. Songwriting is inherently vulnerable, but the moment you play that song for someone else—let alone Pharrell Williams—is an entirely different level of exposure.

And can you feel me now?
That I’m vulnerable in oh-so-many ways
Oh, and I’ll never change

An audience quickly brings to light flaws you might have missed from being so inside the creation process. It’s why artists test songs out live before committing them to an album. You’ll know immediately whether or not a song is any good.

Artists now have something called TikTok for that kind of public analysis.

Still Dancing at the End of the Day

The “Alaska” artist co-wrote “Light On” with Kid Harpoon (born Thomas Hull). He’s an English songwriter and producer best known for his Grammy and Brit Award-winning work on Harry’s House by Harry Styles.

Kid Harpoon played various instruments and co-produced the track with Rogers and Greg Kurstin. Kurstin is a nine-time Grammy winner, including Producer of the Year in 2017 and 2018. He also co-produced Adele’s 25 and 30.

Following the NYU moment with Williams, Rogers worked for two years to record Heard It in a Past Life. Apart from Kid Harpoon and Kurstin, she collaborated with a large team of producers, including former Vampire Weekend co-founder—and Swiss Army knife—Rostam Batmanglij.

Her album is a beautiful combination of folk and indie pop songwriting that sounds immediately timeless and fresh. Even with the team of high-profile producers covering her songs in corporate veneer, Rogers’ consistently powerful songwriting and enchanting voice ground (and rescue) the whole project.

The Ground Beneath Her Feet

Remembering the student whose production left Pharrell Williams amazed, it would have been nice to hear what Maggie Rogers might have produced independently. It’s an unfortunate sign of the times when albums are bullpen-by-committee efforts.

What’s the point of all these other fellows on the album?

Thankfully, Rogers’ songwriting and production instincts are strong enough to sneak through the over-cooked production and all the other voices in the room musically talking over her.

Speaking with Elle about her overnight success and the Williams-approved classroom video, Rogers said, “There’s something about that that’s so f–king dainty,” She said, “It skips over the fact that I made my work.”

“Light On” may be the most emotional moment of the album. It sounds like the instant the sky meets the earth. After all the chaos of sudden fame, Maggie Rogers felt her feet touch the ground.

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Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images

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