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Lauren Aquilina: The pop star who gave up singing

Four years ago, Lauren Aquilina quit her job as a pop star.

Lauren was signed to a major record label and worked for years on her debut album. She released it in 2016 but almost immediately announced she was giving up music.

“This Lauren Aquilina album was not only going to be the first, but also the last”, she wrote on Twitter.

At just 21, she decided she’d had enough of music. Her mental health had suffered too much.

“I had a pretty rough ride with the music industry,” she tells Radio 1 Newsbeat. “One of the main problems was that I started so young.

“I didn’t know how to say no to people and I didn’t know how to stand up for myself.”

She’s since spent a lot of time recovering, rediscovering herself, and four years on from quitting, Lauren is finally back with new music.

This is the story of a pop star who learnt to love music again – and why she has Kylie Minogue (in part) to thank for that.

Bristol-born Lauren was just 17 when she found herself in the music industry full-time with many people’s idea of the dream job – singing.

At that age, most teenagers are still figuring out their place in the world, finishing education or deciding on a career. Lauren was already into the rigorous schedule of a musician – touring, constant promo and releasing her.

‘I felt alone in the whole thing’

Following her experience, Lauren has often spoken about the need for the music industry to look after the mental health of its artists. PHOTO/LAUREN AQUILINA

But the novelty soon wore off.

“I felt lonely,” she says.

One of Lauren’s main issues was there were no women on her team or in her inner circle. She was a young female pop star but had no-one she felt she could confide in or get reassurance from.

No-one in her family had worked in the music industry either, so she couldn’t get help there either.

She felt she couldn’t say no.

As a result, she had “a few bad experiences with people who were on my team or who I was working with.”

She doesn’t elaborate but says she “felt alone in the whole thing”.

When she signed to Island Records, a major label, she got it into her head that other artists “were competition”, which added to the sense of loneliness.

“They weren’t my friends and I thought everyone stayed in their own lane. I kept my head down and didn’t have the right attitude.”

She says she was “destined to fail” because she didn’t know what she was doing or “what I was aiming for”.

“I just got lost in the whole machine of it all.”

Deciding to quit

Lauren says she was jealous of other artists and couldn’t work out why things weren’t working out for her. PHOTO/LAUREN

With her mental health suffering, Lauren took the reins of her career and did something unusual.

She quit her record deal, feeling she “would have probably been dropped by the label anyway”.

The album, Isn’t It Strange, wasn’t a big commercial success, despite a lot of time and money being invested.

But she praised Island Records for their response.

“I phoned my A&R (the person usually responsible for an artist’s development) and told him I was pretty depressed. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. He was really kind to me and I’ll always be grateful for that.

She says the head of Island Records phoned her mum and “sort of apologised for the way it had all gone down”.

“He made a pledge to me that they were going to make sure mental health was a priority in the future, which is something I’ve been campaigning for the past few years.”

Kylie’s impact

After announcing she was quitting music, Lauren didn’t do anything for the best part of a year.

“I’d felt out of control and I needed that break. I needed that time to collect my thoughts.”

She started looking for other careers but with no A-levels, she had no idea what to do. All she knew was that it had to be something completely different.

After looking at planes overhead, she picked aviation and started applying for jobs as a flight attendant.

Then, she was contacted by the man who is now her manager. Seeing her talent but knowing she’d quit music, he encouraged her to try writing songs for other people.

“I was absolutely terrified. I really felt like I had such a traumatic experience the first time.”

But she gave it a go and ended up “absolutely loving it” and eventually got to work with Kylie Minogue, which would be the turning point.

“There was a song I’d written that didn’t end up on my album but Kylie had heard it and was interested in recording it.”

As often happens in the world of songwriting, the song didn’t come out but Kylie was the first big artist that Lauren worked with. It was a huge deal.

“That was a little sign from the universe that I was talented enough to get my songs to big artists.”

Lauren went into “machine mode.” She worked six days a week to do as much as she could. She said yes to everything – but this time around, she wanted to do everything she was offered.

Since then, Lauren’s worked with lots of rising female stars like Rina Sawayama, Fletcher and Olivia O’Brien.

She no longer sees them as competition: “I want to see them succeed and they want the same for me.”

“It meant I finally got to the point where I thought I want to release a song again.”

Ghost world

The seven-track Ghost World EP is her first release since that ill-fated debut album in 2016.

“It feels crazy. It’s anxiety-inducing but also amazing.”

She says the sound is more mature and a “new version” of her as an artist, and many of her past experiences have come out in her lyrics.

On the opening track she sings: “You think you got a messed up mind, you should try a piece of mine. It gets dark in here.”

Kylie Minogue was a massive part of Lauren’s childhood and someone she looked up to. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

She says the sound is more mature and a “new version” of her as an artist, and many of her past experiences have come out in her lyrics.

On the opening track she sings: “You think you got a messed up mind, you should try a piece of mine. It gets dark in here.”

On Swap Places she wants to replace herself with “someone who’s kinder to themselves”.

As for her experience in the music industry, she hopes her experience and her “resignation letter” has actually improved things for other artists.

“There’s definitely more of a conversation about mental health these days,” she says. “I think we’re on the way there but there’s still a lot more work to go through.”

“I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do again. I feel like I’m back where I belong.”

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