Bittersweet, the title of Bronx-born R&B singer Rileyy Lanez’ new EP, might initially seem on-the-nose for a collection of songs about the highs and lows of long-term love. However, for Lanez, the word represents the simplest way to embrace a shift in perspective: Is it possible that relationships don’t always have to be toxic, draining, and difficult? Across its 7 songs, Bittersweet works to acknowledge the good with the bad, and soak up those precious times with a partner when things are actually going right.
The EP’s first single, “4 Life,” was also a landmark step in what Lanez saw as a growth in her process. Before Bittersweet, she had grown used to writing songs for other people; more likely to sing about the things she saw than the emotions she felt. Even though “4 Life” began as a song “for people in happy relationships,” Lanez soon realized that she heard her own newfound happiness in the track. The resulting evolution was an approach to songwriting that involved turning the mirror around and looking inward, inevitably producing her most personal work to date. Below, Rileyy Lanez talks to The Untitled Magazine about Bittersweet, “4 Life,” and why her new music is evidence that she’s growing up.
What was life like growing up in New York City? How was it as a native New Yorker?
I had a good childhood. I had a lot of friends in the building I was residing in, and I had a lot of adventures. I was just being a kid, you know. I got older and I moved away from my childhood home to Yonkers, but I was still going to school in the Bronx and stuff like that. I still had a lot of friends. It wasn’t necessarily on the rougher side – how people talk about being from New York and their upbringing. It was just a child’s life.
And what inspired your path into music?
Well, my father was a dancer. My mom did a little bit of singing when she was younger, but it was different. Music has always been in my blood, like I always knew I wanted to have something to do with music, whether it was singing, whether it was dancing… Actually, in high school, I did four years of dance, but I knew I wanted to be a singer. Music is just in me, so I knew I wanted to pursue it.
You had your first major breakout song when you were 19, which is pretty impressive. What musicians inspired your path? Who would you say you’ve looked up to the most throughout your career?
A lot of women, actually, and from different genres. Mary J. Blige has played a big part in my life, I grew up listening to her. Aretha, Patti LaBelle – all women who influenced my music and my life.
And you’ve been collaborating with some pretty amazing people, as well.
I have! Yes, yes, yes.
Your songwriting often reflects your personal experiences, which you’re getting more and more intimate with as you explore your direction. Tell us a little bit about your new single, “4 Life.”
You know what’s so crazy? This particular song had nothing to do with me. But in the same way, I could definitely relate to it. I write a lot of music for other people, you know what I’m saying? I wrote “4 Life” for people in happy relationships. And again, it pertained to me because I’m in a beautiful relationship with my fiancé – just got engaged, actually. So when that song came about, we were just brainstorming in the studio; it was me and another writer, his name was Missy, and another writer. We were just sitting in the studio like, “What could we write?” A song that’s relatable to a lot of people and that’s not necessarily pulling on your heartstrings, but something you could move to and still sense your significant other or your loved ones. We just thought, “In relationships, this is what you want.” Normally in this day and age, people get into relationships for the long-term. So when we were brainstorming, we were like, “Okay, this is for people who are in a relationship and committed to it. Like, we’re gonna be in this for life.” That’s the way the song came about, and we just started playing with it and it became, you know, a bop.
The video is an acoustic live performance that you released along with it. What made you decide to go in that direction versus the traditional music video route?
It’s always nice to give any of my songs an acoustic vibe because the song has a different feeling without the bass in the back, or the drums, all that stuff. I always lean to acoustics – always have to do one for any single.
The track is off of your upcoming EP, Bittersweet. When is that actually coming out?
It comes out in early December. December 2nd.
And what inspired the title?
The body of songs I have on this EP touches on the good and the bad in relationships. The title is Bittersweet because it includes, literally, the sweet moments and the terribly bad moments. Everything that a relationship has. Not everything’s going to be glitz and glamor. There will always be arguments here and there. I wanted the title to be really broad, but one that allows the EP to speak for itself.
Last year, you released a song called “When I See You,” which is a tribute to your father. Can you tell us a little bit about that song and what inspired it?
I always wanted to write a tribute to my father, and one that could really touch people’s hearts. And the song that I remixed it to, “When I See U” by Fantasia, people will always be singing that song. It’s always going to be around, even years from now. I really wanted to write a song about that particular theme because it could be interpreted in so many ways, even just the three words “when I see you.” So I made it about my father, the type of person he was, and the type of family that he raised with my mom. It was really important that the song was a good tribute to him.
And your first EP, Beautiful Mistakes, came out two years ago in 2020. How do you feel you and your music have evolved since then? Have there been any changes in your style or approach?
Yes, absolutely. Even my voice itself, a lot of things are progressing with the time and as I’m getting older. I’m 22 now, and I wrote Bittersweet when I was in my teenage years. A lot has progressed in my thought process, the process of writing the songs, and where I’m pulling my ideas from. Even my tone and the passion that I sing with on this new body of work. A lot of things have progressed, but in a good way.
You’ve mentioned that your progression even applies to your personal style and the way you’re presenting yourself. How has that changed?
When I first came out, I was definitely battling a lot with my masculinity and my femininity. So it was a challenge of, How do I balance this? I have this tomboy side, but I also have a girly side where I want to do my hair, put some nails on, and stuff like that. I’ve learned to balance those two things in a way that speaks for me and who I am as a person.
How do you feel that signing with a major label like Columbia has impacted your career?
I literally got signed fresh out of high school, so I already had my career set. I graduated, and singing was what I was going to do. It really is still kind of crazy because it’s like, I’m signed to a label? I always dreamed of this as a little girl. I always dreamed of being able to pursue my passion, which was music, any way, and any how. I’m so grateful, and I’m so glad that I’m able to do it now, especially with a record label and a team behind me.
And do you think that growing up in New York has influenced your music or style in any way? Do you take anything from your upbringing and your surroundings?
Not necessarily my musical style, but just how I carry myself. Like, the way I say certain words, and when I sing, my New York is always going to be in my music somewhere. Little hints here and there, like the way I pronounce words. It plays a big part in who I am as a person and as an artist.
You’ve said before that you were once used to writing about a lot of things you hadn’t personally been through. Now, you’re drawing from a lot more personal experiences. Can you elaborate on what spearheaded that transition into being more introspective with your work?
When I was younger, I thought I had experienced a lot. And as I get into my adult years, it’s like, Oh wow. Being an adult is very much a different dynamic from being a teenager and having less to worry about. It’s definitely certain things that I got to experience, whether it was personal or just from being in the industry. They just opened my eyes to a lot of stuff and then I’m jotting it down. Like, I can use this for a song.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
Well, my EP is coming out on December 2nd, so enjoy the singles I’m dropping in the lead up to Bittersweet!