Ashley Zarah Talks New Single and Importance of Self-Love

Dark-pop artist Ashley Zarah just released “Like I Do” – a self-love EDM/Pop Anthem in collaboration with electronic producer, MKBLV. “Like I Do” is for all those who love themselves so fearlessly that they don’t feel lonely when their life is lacking a romantic interest (not-so-ironically timed for valentine’s day).

All about self-respect, self-love, and the importance of being your own lover and best friend, “Like I Do” sees Zarah’s full, resonant voice and cleverly dissonant lyricism that begs listeners to sing along. We sat down with Ashley to talk about the single, the message behind it, and what’s next for the emerging artist.

Tell us why you wrote “Like I Do”.

I wrote “Like I Do” because I was tired of people rejecting me and behaving as if they had won something by doing so. I’ve never felt like I’ve lost something when a relationship doesn’t work out. It just meant that two people’s learning experience with one another was over. But the aftermath always left my friends (bless their hearts) hounding me as to why I was so unbothered. Why I needed a rebound. Why it’s okay to show I’m upset or admit I felt alone… when I truly wasn’t. On top of that, the guys who would end our truly insignificant relationships in an unnecessarily mean or immature way would be texting me at night trying to get a sad reaction out of me. I’d just laugh because it seemed like no one realized how happy I was to go to bed with myself every night. I walked out of the relationship with the coolest person in it, and so I wrote “Like I Do” to officially announce that.

What’s your favorite lyrical line in the single?

It would probably be the first line of the song: “It’s fine – I know someone cuter than you anyway.” It’s a very tongue-in-cheek and bold introduction that perfectly sets the tone. And what a lot of people don’t know about this line is that, though the “someone cuter” could be about another love interest, I wrote it in reference to myself. So we’re starting the whole song by stating, “It’s fine… I know someone cuter than you that I can be spending my time with… Me!” It’s not often that a lyric can sum up a whole track, but I think this one does.

How did the collaboration with MKBLV happen?

I had just moved back from Boston where I was studying at Berklee College of Music, and coming back home to LA, I found my musical circle to be much smaller on the west coast. I knew that I wanted “Like I Do” to come out in February, but I had about 3 failed attempts trying to get it produced and was getting disheartened that it just wasn’t going to happen. Then MKBLV was referred to me by a fellow Berklee alum. His work was very different than what I was searching for and yet there was something about his production choices and his attention to sound design that made me feel comfortable pitching the song. His approach was a lot more psychological than other producers I had worked within the past. It was clear that he really wanted to get in my head and in my ears to understand where I was coming from and what sound would illustrate my story accurately. His first draft blew me away. I immediately knew the song was in fantastic hands.

This song is released right around the biggest love holiday of the year…. how do you hope it affects those who listen?

I just hope it makes them feel empowered – that they find strength and joy in celebrating themselves through the song. There is so much pressure to be loved by everybody else and very little emphasis on having a romantic relationship with ourselves. No matter the dynamic (long-term romance, one-night fling, family dynamics), you set the precedent for how people treat you. If you don’t treat yourself highly, others will take your lead and do the same. That’s why “Like I Do” is here. To remind each listener; regardless of where they come from, their gender, their sexuality; that there is something wonderful about being your own best friend and own lover, and there is no reason to settle for someone who makes you uncomfortable or unhappy for the sake of filling a space. Try filling that space by yourself – whether in a relationship or not, it’s very important to recognize that you are an incredible human being who deserves to be loved by your community but also by yourself. 

You have identified your genre as “dark-pop” – can you tell us more about what that means and how fans have reacted to it?

Dark-Pop is, to put it very simply, emotionally intelligent pop music. I did a lot of soul searching when trying to figure out what made Ashley Zarah, Ashley Zarah; and it came down to where I come from. I’m a product of the emo-wave of the early 2000s combined with generations of western and middle-eastern pop music. But I found this growing disconnect with pop over the years because it just felt artificial. It felt more like a machine pumping out formulas rather than art and I think that’s because it wasn’t embracing the human experience anymore. The music that raised me was built on targeting difficult topics like depression, anxiety, trauma, and denial. So I wanted to fit those messages inside catchy, digestible pop music; because these topics are not digestible content – talking about mental illness is taboo and dark, and there is a huge audience of kids that listen to pop and need that release but don’t have it. Dark-Pop is here to prove that you can be honest about the brutality of life and still make a hit that brings people joy.

I think it’s clear to my audience that when you join the Dark-Pop tribe, you’re joining more than a fanbase, you’re joining a way of thinking. After every song I release, I post an episode to my Dark-Pop Stories series on Instagram where we analyze the music and discuss the stories and meaning behind it. Fans have been really responsive to this because aside from bonding over the music, we practically get to sit down together and just talk about life, talk about our commonalities and bond through honesty and transparency. I was raised on the philosophical rhetoric of my Iranian community. We recognize that the direction of our mind and our will completely transforms the quality of our lives. You can look at “Like I Do” and see it as both an anthem promoting self-love or an anthem rejecting self-hatred. Either way, it’s the acceptance of a healthier mentality. Everybody that enters the tribe is making the decision to listen to their truth by listening to the music.

What can fans expect next?

“Like I Do” was my premeditated musical catalyst for 2020. There is a lot coming up for the Dark-Pop Tribe. In a few weeks, we’re actually releasing a remix EP which takes “Like I Do” through four different lenses, and these were shaped by some really creative and hard-working producers from across the country. Afterward though, a very sarcastic song of mine titled “My Boyfriend” will be coming out in April, and that’ll be the first single off my upcoming LP, The Better Mess – LP which is set for release in June. I am really looking forward to sharing these stories with the world.