Momentous Mondays: Influential artists of the next 5-10 years – Week 5: Rachel Platten

I have never felt so free creatively. I wrote every single one of these songs without getting in the way and I let whatever needed to come through me just come. I didn’t judge my art or feel the need to please anyone but me and that freedom allowed my inner artist to run wild. I played with colors and sounds and rhythms and I didn’t adhere to any rules… I honestly just had so much fun making it.

I have never been more proud of anything I’ve created in my life. With Wildfire, I was trying to catch up to the massive success of “Fight Song.” I was on tour the entire time I was making it so it was a version of me that was, honestly, kind of exhausted, popping into the studio, listening to mixes in buses, airplane bathrooms, green rooms and doing my best to create while a little spun around. On Waves, I took an entire year off from touring and I just wrote songs and played.

I felt like I wanted to continue and do my part to give a message of hope through music and promote girl power. Even though we have a long way to go to get equality between men and women, we’re making progress, and when we lift each other up, that’s dope. ‘Broken Glass’ is kind of about that message…I think maybe a misconception people have about me from ‘Fight Song’ is that I’m always encouraging and always in a good mood and always positive — and that’s beautiful, I love that people think that, but it is not true. This album allowed me to go into some of the darker places in my mind, just because I needed the release and I needed that freedom to be honest with what I was feeling.

Over the past couple of months or so I’ve pondered a little bit as to how I have defined ‘up and coming influential artists’ in the past. I’ve also sat and wrestled with the very notion of my definition of an influential artist changing in relation to my world view, values and morals over time; plus how my definition stacks up to how the world perceives influential ‘new’ artists. Is a ‘new-ish’ artist’s place in time, space and in our memories contingent on how new they are, or whether their impact in the world is in the least number of albums possible? Is rising influence determined by the number of albums an artist sells per album, or number of hits they have had play on radio, or even how quickly they’ve risen to the top- from obscurity to stardom in the shortest possible time? Is it a quantitative measure of number of meaningful songs vs number of vapid songs in an artist’s career, or the number of letters and posts from fans outlining how certain songs have shaped their lives in ways unimaginable?

Is it Spotify streams, Twitter or Instagram followers, or number of Youtube subscribers? Or is influence determined to be correlated with something a bit more lasting, a bit more deeper if you will- perhaps the extent to which the artist in question has toiled throughout the years, to relative popularity or success, or no success at all? If an artist has been popular from day one, is he/she more influential than an artist who has gone through many trials and tribulations, having weathered many storms to finally eke out a personal and emotional debut album? Hard-hitting questions and stuff to make your head hurt, I’m sure; yet through all of this exploring of different kinds of artists, I think I’ve found the type of artist that I have connected with on a deeper level more so than any other type of artist. Because when it all comes down to it; every artist is influential- at least in different ways to different people- and we all have our favourites and preferences, and others we just don’t seem to empathise with (while others may think they’re the greatest). Whom I enjoy listening to may not be your cup of tea, and vice versa; but I’ve come to a conclusion that even in the category of ‘up and coming’ artists whom are/could be influential, I’ve resonated much more with the artists who have toiled hard and have a story to tell, rather than others who have just popped up with a hit with less of a talent, but more airplay because of looks or unwarranted popularity. And one such artist is Rachel Platten– born in New York in ’81, and having grown up in a Jewish home in Massachusetts.

While Rachel herself still isn’t that popular in terms of hit songs (aside from “Fight Song”) and compared to rising artists like Shawn Mendes, Camilla Cabello, Halsey, Chance The Rapper, Logic, Jess Glynne, NF, BTS, Billie Eilish, Blackpink, Lewis Capaldi and Lil Nas X to name a few (of which I reckon some of the aforementioned artists are more influential than others, of which I will write more about in the coming instalments!); what sets Rachel apart from most artists today is key and paramount in my opinion. It’s that Rachel possesses a genuine passion for music, for connection with people, for the authenticity of the art and the meaning behind the song even more so than popularity and sales. I’ve never once heard a song of Rachel’s I didn’t connect with, and she hasn’t sung about drugs, sex, the love of money, and other pleasures of this world that seem to be the ‘in’ thing these days. Not that I’m hating on other artists, whom may have put their blood, sweat and tears into their hard work- however I have found the trend to be that quite a number of artists are currently preferring to use explicit language and more often than not delivering to us songs that are more superficial than deep. These guys may have started out genuinely and may have had good intentions, but somewhere along the way they may have lost their way and compromised some of their morals and values.

Could I be surmising and making a guess of things in artists’ lives that I don’t have any business commenting about? Most definitely I could be. Yet for the casual listener who doesn’t go deeper, who doesn’t think to investigate about the story behind the songs- well some of the tracks I’ve heard that are indeed popular right now…are just balls of fun, with not much substance. You may disagree with me and that’s ok. You may be offended and that’s ok. But I can only speak from what I’ve heard from Rachel Platten’s music and her interviews. And what I have heard and immersed myself with over the past while, is pure genius. Rachel is a pretty underrated artist, and these others I have mentioned earlier in the paragraph are way, way more popular than she is and maybe could ever be. But it seems to me that Rachel has some pearls of wisdom for us all. Though only having released 2 albums via a label (signed to Columbia Records from 2015 onwards), and 2 others independently, there is something about Rachel’s music that has me declaring that one day she’ll be considered one of the all time greats like Celine Dion or Whitney Houston. It’s premature, yes I know this- but just listen to every song from Wildfire and every song from Waves. Tell me you don’t feel the goosebumps, and tell me you don’t think she deserves to be front and centre at every awards show? Sure, “Fight Song” may have been a good song back in 2015- it may have been THE song of 2015- but Rachel is more than that, contrary to the opinion of some. Rachel’s love of music and of her fans extends greatly past the first big hit, and it would be nice if more people saw this and believed it. To tell you all the truth, I’m a bit confused and perplexed as to why Rachel isn’t as popular as I believe she should be- but I guess it’s better to be influential than popular. Influence I feel stands the test of time, while popularity fades. Number of followers or fans will fade, but the impact a song has on a person won’t. Popular Rachel is not. But influential? Yes she could very well be one of the most influential artists ever in the coming years!

So let’s start off with “Fight Song”- the song that kickstarted Rachel’s career, and the song that I reckon everyone knows. And I do in fact mean everyone. For me this song was very special- in that it was the song that kickstarted my journey into discovering all of the good parts of mainstream music. While I predominately was listening to Christian music when I was younger- and I still am even to this day, with the ‘genre’ being my main go-to when I am down and need inspiration; it was around the year of 2015, when “Fight Song” debuted and was playing in the shopping centre where our café was, where my musical tastes were expanded. You can read more of my journey of mainstream music in my blog I wrote a couple of years ago, but to quote verbatim a few points about “Fight Song” and Rachel Platten and how she influenced my musical preferences, not really in an overt way but in a more subtle way…you guys can read on. If not, skip over, but I hope you keep on reading!

It’s no secret that probably the song of 2015 was Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song”. Right now as of November 2017, there’s around 300 million views of the music video of YouTube, and with the song having a message so empowering and inspirational, without even talking about God or Jesus; it’s remarkable. The first time I heard it was one day at work, where one of the neighbouring stores (Chicabooti, back when they still existed!) was playing it as background music. I think over a period of a few weeks, the store played that song non-stop, and I probably had memorised all of the words. One night when the four of us went our to dinner at the local pub, there was a TV playing current video hits above our table, and “Fight Song” was showing. It was the first time I saw that video from start to finish, and boy was it powerful- the message being that you can rise above any adversity with determination and belief in yourself. I still didn’t know who the artist was, and at the time, I didn’t want to. This song didn’t fit in my box of ‘Christian artists singing songs for and about Jesus’ so I shelved it. Didn’t want to think about it, as I didn’t want to face my idea of God only speaking through Christian music shattering. So I forgot about the song. I though ‘well, that was an ok song, but it’s mainstream. So it’s a good idea to forget about it. Cause God wouldn’t speak through that anyway’. Boy was I wrong.

A couple of months later, in November 2015 I think, Chicabooti started playing background music of Rachel’s latest hit “Stand By You”. Again, I memorised all of the lyrics, and again, I dismissed the song, despite its inspiring message of standing by someone through thick and thin, regardless of what they’re going through. But later on, my brother Jon wrote [a few blogs about “Stand By You” and “Fight Song”]…well I read all of those…word for word, and investigated Rachel Platten. I looked her up on Wikipedia. I thought ‘maybe she’s a Christian, and that’s why I resonate with her music so much!’. Wrong! I don’t know what Rachel identifies herself as in terms of faith and religion, but I am now a hundred percent sure that even if she is a Christian, she’s not overtly showing it to the world. So what about my view that only Christian music artists can inspire us to walk the Christian life? Did it shatter? I mean at the time of late 2015, Rachel was an anomaly in the type of artist I was listening to- did that mean I was backsliding in my faith? Were “Fight Song” and “Stand By You” great songs, or would I find flaws if I dissected them long enough, knowing that it was sung by someone probably not even a Christian? Later on in 2015, I realised that there weren’t any flaws in Rachel’s music. I was stumped.

Now you may not empathise with my plight and struggle of wondering where mainstream music fits in with Christian music. You may think that I’m being pedantic and nit-picking. You may be wondering why I was making a big deal in 2015 about mainstream music when that ‘genre’ has been alive for a long, long, long time. Yet at the time of 2015, these emotions above of feeling like a song isn’t worthy of existing because of the absence of Jesus or God, was what I was going through. Though I now know that God can use (and most often does!) the weird and wonderful things that we don’t expect for His glory in order for us to grow more as people, as believers, and for us to learn more about Him; at the time I was a tad more naïve and believed otherwise. Now that I have sat with mainstream music for the better part of 9-10 months (through listening to most of what Jon has listened to!), I can say with confidence that songs about this road we’re on called life, songs about heartbreak, joy, pain, loss, confusion, worry, doubt, the human experience and everything else inbetween…are just as valid as their Christian counterparts. They’re just as powerful and maybe even more relevant today in a society that is more superficial and progressive than I would’ve thought, and more ‘atheistic’ and ‘agnostic’ than I would have thought.

This line of thinking is a far cry from what I believed 4 years ago when I heard “Fight Song” for the first time…yet I reckon that ultimately I would not be sitting here listening to and enjoying mainstream music had it not been for Rachel Platten’s first bonafide hit “Fight Song”, and to a lesser extent her second single “Stand By You”. This is a big statement, but personally it is these two songs that mean the most to me out of all of Rachel’s hits. And objectively- what’s not to love about them. “Stand By You” is an inspirational, emotional, pick-me-up ballad where Rachel fervently relays to us that ‘…I’m gonna stand by you, even if we’re breaking down, we can find a way to break through, even if we can’t find Heaven, I’ll walk through Hell with you, love, you’re not alone ’cause I’m gonna stand by you…’; and is a track that I can never be sick of. It’s a true pop ballad, and one that always brings a smile to my face when I hear it. While “Fight Song” is extremely relatable, to me, and I’m sure to everyone else; as Rachel delves into identity and self-worth and believing in the notion that only your own opinion matters, and no one else’s. It’s a ‘get-up-and-go’ type of song; a track that gets your blood pumping with adrenaline and determination- and seriously a song that can encourage you to be active in your life choices to be more like the person you want to be in 5, 10, 20 years’ time. According to the words of Rachel herself, ‘Fight Song’ was inspired by a lot of experiences that were hurting me and that were making me feel like maybe I didn’t have a chance in this industry. I wrote it because I needed to remind myself that I believed in myself. No matter what, I still was gonna make music, even if it was on a small scale. Even if it was just for me. I really challenged myself in writing the past couple of years to be vulnerable in my lyrics. I didn’t want to skate past what was hurting. It didn’t scare me to be vulnerable because I think that’s when you get something great. Probably the most personal song Rachel has ever recorded- it was “Fight Song” that put her on the map, and with one listen it’s not hard to see why.

Objectively it is these two songs that form the foundation of who Rachel is as a songwriter and as an artist, yet for me and my journey into fully enjoying mainstream music for what it is- these two songs sure played their part in getting me to where I am today in terms of the music that I like. And even though these two songs are instantly what comes to mind when you think of Rachel, there still is a lot more that meets the eye. Both “Fight Song” and “Stand By You” are present on Rachel’s label debut Wildfire– with many more tracks from that album impressing me greatly in terms of lyrics and theme. “Better Place”, a piano only track where Rachel earnestly relays to us about the love she has for her husband, is a tear-jerker and an emotional ballad where we can take this ‘prophetic’ track and claim it for our significant other as well; while “Lone Ranger”, though a depressing pop number on the surface of how Rachel feels like she doesn’t need to be tied down to one person romantically because she is a ‘lone ranger’ (and a bit weird because Rachel was already married when that song released!- perhaps the song is about somebody else!), does have its place, as the song could also be about how we don’t need anyone telling us about our worth and our identity because of the security we have in who we are as a person. “Superman” is a heartfelt personal track with Rachel writing the song about her husband Kevin, a song that says he can be vulnerable, that he doesn’t have to be Superman all the time (a song that all men need to hear- as we do have the tendency to be strong for everyone, when we don’t have to hold it all together all the time!); while the fun songs of “Angels In Chelsea” and “Astronauts” start off whimsically and jovial like Owl City, but so contains heart, meaning and poignancy also. All in all, Wildfire was a great and near-flawless debut album, and with each passing year, I’m amazed as the quality of such a project more and more!

Over the years since Wildfire, Rachel has been delivering even more hits and wowing us with much more music, much more inspiration that we can all grasp and learn so much from. Even though most of us were searching for another “Fight Song”, inside I knew and I’m sure others knew also, that it wasn’t possible. To emulate something from year’s gone past, instead of writing something authentic about what is happening in your life now; is in my opinion a recipe for disaster. Even though “Fight Song” peaked at No 6 on Billboard Hot 100 in U.S, and Wildfire was indeed certified as Gold, I reckon that it’s great that Rachel decided though that her subsequent work shouldn’t be compared to her previous. As a musician and as a singer, Rachel has evolved. So naturally, her sounds and her subject matter would also. Just like how the independent Be Here from 2011 is stylistically and musically and lyrically different from Wildfire in 2016 (and by the way, Be Here is awesome, with songs like “1000 Ships”, “Nothing Every Happens”, “Overwhelmed”, “Little Light” and “Take These Things Away” being the personal highlights); so too has Rachel’s work post-Wildfire compared to Wildfire!

I feel like I went through so much. Climbing the top of this mountain with success that I had after years and years of trying. Then I got to kind of survey and look around me, and understand, ‘Okay. How am I now, now that I’ve achieved all these goals?’ And I still noticed that there was a lot of fear and insecurity and anxiety, and all the stuff that was there before I achieved those things. So I got to understand and dive into myself, and try to figure out why that hadn’t made me happy. The music in the record was the place that I explored all of that. So, it’s really emotional… [Rachel talking about Waves]

Waves was one of the low-key albums to be released in 2017- and it’s sad that that album hadn’t lived up to the lofty expectations that Wildfire set. While Wildfire peaked at number 5 on the Billboard 200, Waves only peaked at 73. But don’t let that fact scare you all off and think that Rachel is having her sophomore slump and may not ever recover musically. In fact Waves is pretty underrated, and in terms of subject matter, quite impacting and needed in today’s society. “Broken Glass”, the album’s first single, speaks about female empowerment, and while only just under 3 minutes long, packs plenty in in terms of thematic material, as Rachel emotionally relays that a a women she will ‘walk on broken glass’ i.e. do something so radically different and challenge the status quo- indeed a daring song and a track that we all can and should listen to whenever we feel like we’ve been told we cannot do something for whatever reason. A song to silence the haters, “Broken Glass” wasn’t as successful as “Fight Song” as a lead single. But I reckon it’s equally as important, maybe even more so! While other enjoyable tracks from Waves that have resonated with me on a deeper level include “Perfect For You” (a groovy pop/dance number where Rachel explains to her fans, her haters and the label executives that she can’t be perfect for everyone, that she needs to be allowed to make mistakes in order to grow as a person), “Hands” (a personal acoustic guitar and keys driven ballad, with Rachel fervently singing about her grandmother who was a major force in inspiring Rachel to be the person she is today), “Labels” (a song where Rachel could be singing about not needing labels in relationships, or not needing labels in the music business!) and “Good Life” (a gospel inspired track about living the best life possible and just being in the moment). Album ender “Grace” also caught me by surprise in an extremely good way, as Rachel had previously not sung about any religion or faith even though she is Jewish. But “Grace” delves into Rachel asking perhaps God, for guidance, for grace to live her live as best she can. It’s a track that is loosely described as a ‘inspirational song’ (or maybe it’s a ‘spiritual’ song?), but whatever you call it, songs like “Grace” are only positive in a sea of songs that promote self and self-gratification.

Yet probably the most personal song of Rachel’s career, and one that has me respect her all the more, is the haunting and hopeful “You Belong”, a song she recorded to her unborn child at the time in 2018. A single off Rachel’s unnamed forthcoming album (or maybe just a single that will not be attached to any album!), “You Belong” earnestly relays to her child that no matter what, they will be loved unconditionally by Rachel herself and her husband, a song that is only a fraction of the love that Jesus has for each of us. A song that is bound to get anyone emotional (especially when the intro and the outro of the song includes the literal heartbeat of the baby!), this song definitely shows us good signs of Rachel’s upcoming album being nothing short of flawless and remarkable- particularly because I don’t think many artists go that deep, as in sing a song about their kid before they’re born! With Rachel also gifting her vocals and song-writing prowess to the 2 minute orchestral soundtrack theme song “Wonder Park” for the cartoon kids movie of the same name in 2019, and also lending her vocals for “Little Bit Of Love” with Tritonal; it seems that Rachel is everywhere. So as a fan, I’m asking the question- when is the next album, Rachel? Cause we all want it! Just joking…Rachel can take as long as she wants. Cause it’ll be great whenever it arises!

I’m not really sure where I’ve heard it said- perhaps it’s been Jon countless times in this blog series- but what I have learnt recently is that whether an artist is influential or not (on in this case on the cusp of being influential!) doesn’t really depend on the music or even the song. Sure, the inspiration behind how a smash hit song was written can sway me one way or the other as to whether I believe an artist is more than just popular; but really what it boils down to is life away from the spotlight. Is the life in question the same even when the attention isn’t on them? Do they act out what they ‘preach’ from the stage? I mean sure we all have masks, but do people strive for authenticity, honesty, and vulnerability, even though it may not be the ‘hip’ or ‘cool’ thing to do? All of these are really important questions that won’t really be answered at length in this post (maybe in a future post next year or something like that!), but in terms of Rachel Platten, her time away from music is just as remarkable as her time on stage! Having worked for the Ryan Seacrest Foundation, and also being an Ambassador for Live Below The Line (a call to end world poverty) as well as an ambassador for Music Unites; Rachel also is graciously a part of Musicians on Call, where she sings to patients in hospitals. With Rachel’s music also being a part of TV shows (“Begin Again” in PLL, “You’re Safe” in Finding Carter, “Don’t Care What Time It Is” In Basketball Wives); it’s evident that Rachel’s influence is growing more and more by the day!

“…[I love] Gospel music. I sang in a gospel choir back when I lived in the Village and I fell in love with Kirk Franklin and Mary Mary especially. Music [like that] reaches into your soul and is way deeper than anything we like to put labels on. I can’t help but feel so moved and connected and fired up when I listen to gospel…” It’s strange how a Jewish singer can love gospel music, which is predominately about Jesus…but I reckon it’s cool that Jesus is moving in Rachel’s life in ways that we could never possibly imagine. Though not as popular as artists right now, there’s a sense of roots and a grounded foundation that Rachel relies on in order to create the sublime art she’s recording right now and has done in the past. Whether Rachel is active in her religion and relies on God is anyone’s guess- but I reckon that Rachel would excel beyond words at a Christmas album or an acoustic album, or a live album, or even a gospel album should she want to do something like this in the future. Is it too early to start thinking about a new album from Rachel? Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But what I do know is this. That Rachel’s bubbly personality shines through on her songs, and it’s clear that from the calibre of the artists she’s toured with previously (Andy Grammar and Alex & Sierra in 2015, Colbie Caillat and Christina Perri also in 2015, Faith Hill & Tim McGraw in 2017, and  Pentatonix in 2019); that Rachel can probably sing the phone book and still sound great, and tour with the most untalented person ever, and still sound great. I believe that sky’s the limit for this talented, underrated, freakishly brilliant female singer- and as long as Rachel is in the music business, I will keep on advocating for her music and telling others about how great her songs are! And yes, I will also tell of how she helped broadened my mind about mainstream music- I will be forever grateful for that! So, without further ado, as I listen to more of Rachel’s hits and lesser known tracks, let me leave you with a couple of words of wisdom from Rachel. One an inspiring message from Instagram and one a piece about “Broken Glass”. Enjoy reading and be amazed by one of the most inspiring artists of this generation!

Here’s a big truth: for as long as i can remember I have been striving. Always reaching for something more, more career success, more activities, more perfection, more fun, more love, more acceptance, even my dedication to MORE inner peace was a striving of sorts. Because i wasn’t ever letting myself just be where i am. But when does that stop? Why can’t right now be the place i always wanted to get to? Why can’t it be for you too?
I’m hearing the sounds in the other room of my sweet husband playing with my daughter, the hopeful morning light is streaming into my little Venice beach house, and all is calm right now. Maybe i can be too. Maybe i can just be and allow and receive right now. Maybe i can stop trying to give so much and get so much approval all the time and maybe i can just breathe and give it to myself
🙏🏽 So now, when asked recently by a friend what i want next: honestly my only goal is to undo all the constant doing of the last 20 years and learn to just BE.
Does this resonate with you? When’s the last time you gave yourself permission to stop reaching and just start being where you are?
Ps. here’s a little secret too – you will only get more of what you want once you relinquish all the striving anyway 😉 and once you get it, you’ll find you don’t even need it anymore if the peace and joy is coming from within. I love you very, very much friends.

This year, I’ve personally witnessed so many beautiful examples of people coming together. The electric energy of the Women’s March, with posters drawn in crayon by little girls, and hands held tightly by people of different generations, races, religions and backgrounds. International Women’s Day, with the red clothing that stood out against New York’s grey pavement like a raging fire, was equally inspiring. We are more powerful when we are on each other’s side, and that sense of coming together as a united force was the original inspiration behind my new song, “Broken Glass.”

What I’ve learned in life is this: Even in the hardest of times, there is light. “Broken Glass” is my rallying cry of release, healing, excitement, hope, and joy. It’s a celebration of the power of women — of our unity, strength, and fierceness, and of just how freaking awesome we are. We are badass on our own, but we’re unstoppable when we come together.

Many of us, especially women, are taught that there’s a limit to how high we can go, and that this ceiling is unbreakable. We climb and get close but then have setbacks, and lose hope. I thought of my own struggles as I wrote “Broken Glass,” and my stubborn determination to make it in the music industry. I was repeatedly told that I would never succeed and should just give up, that I was past my prime. But I was relentless in my pursuit of this passion, despite the reality of my challenges.

I don’t always know where this burning drive comes from, but what I do know is that I hail from a line of amazing, unwavering women. My mom put herself through college after her father passed away, and then returned to graduate school to become a social worker when my sister and I were in high school. And my grandmother spent 20 years working as a journalist during a time when women were still encouraged to stay at home with their kids. They were determined and fearless, breaking through gender barriers and shattering the glass ceilings experienced as women of their generations. This is the energy, power, and legacy that carries me, and what I want to amplify with my words and voice.

Feeling suffocated by limitations, and striving to overcome them, is not just a struggle we face alone. We feel this collectively, too, and it’s bigger than any single one of us. So is our ability to connect, unite, work together, cheer each other on, and ultimately, break through. That’s what makes us so powerful and unshakable, and damn right I’m celebrating that in this song.

“Broken Glass” is for all the people who are facing adversity and willing themselves to see the other side of it. It’s for the women who will not be silenced, who are changing the landscape of our country and world without fear. It’s for the young girls out there, dancing without a care in the world and embracing their truest, most authentic selves.

We don’t just shatter ceilings. We dance on the broken glass. Here we go.

Does Rachel Platten make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of the next 5-10 years’ list? Is there any song (other than “Fight Song”, “Stand By You”, “Broken Glass”, “Grace”, and “You Belong”) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far, or even your walk with God? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *