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Why Nao’s new album is the perfect soundtrack for anyone feeling ‘stuck’

WORDS BY BEN ILOBUCHI
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH SONY MUSIC

“The album is hopeful and positive, but not in a cloying way and not in a way that denies that life is fucking hard.”

I’m 24 years old, I’ve been at the same job for ten years, and I’ve been in a lockdown for the better part of a year. To say I feel stuck is an understatement, and for anyone in a similar situation to me, I’m sure you feel the same. I usually turn to media to escape but I couldn’t find anything out there that didn’t either make me focus on the past or catastrophise the present. That was until I listened to And Then Life Was Beautiful by Nao.

And Then Life Was Beautiful is the new album by R&B artist, Nao. Raised in East London, she began playing the piano in early childhood and started taking singing seriously in her teen years, attending Guildhall School of Music and Drama to study vocal jazz. After graduation, she moved to South London and started making music of her own.


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The album is hopeful and positive, but not in a cloying way and not in a way that denies that life is fucking hard. In fact, it acknowledges the difficulty as a part of the journey that’s necessary for the good parts to exist. For a myopic twenty-something like me, an older, wiser person saying that persistence actually pays off was exactly what I needed to hear.

‘Glad That You’re Gone’ for example, is a song about that bittersweet emotion often felt after the end of a bad relationship, when you realise you’re now without someone you cared about but in a better spot than when you were with them. ‘Rather be alone than to beg you to stay’ Nao proclaims proudly, releasing herself of her ex but also releasing the past version of herself that needed them.

The song obviously refers to the end of a romantic relationship, but its message can be applied to any type of terminus to a part of your life that was holding you back, and the freedom to be felt afterwards. An end is just the first part of a beginning.

If ‘Glad That You’re Gone’ is about the beauty of letting go of someone, the song that follows straight after, ‘Antidote‘, is about the gifts on offer by opening back up again. Nao sings alongside Adekunle Gold, in a way that almost sounds like the vocalists are serenading each other, the rhythmic, dancehall backing track conjuring images of a couple locking eyes in passion.

All the components come together to create a sound that imbues the listener with a taste of one of the most simple but powerful feelings one can have; that they’ve found someone that makes all the bad in their life fall away.

‘Nothing’s for Sure’ is another track that stood out to me, and another example of the obvious wisdom that Nao has procured on her journey into adulthood. Your twenties are quite a gruelling time in your life, mentally. Chronologically you’re a grown-up, but you’re still very much a child, leaving you with all these internal expectations for yourself; you fixate on the disparity of where you are and where you should be.

It seems like all you do is gauge your potential and feel down on yourself when you don’t reach it. The thought process described in ‘Nothing’s for Sure’ is the antithesis to this. In the chorus, Nao sings ‘Nothing’s for sure, just let the moment take you on its wings / Just go with the flow, let your spirit run free’.

Being ‘stuck’ isn’t a real state of being; time just doesn’t work that way. It moves forwards whether you want it to or not, so ‘let[ting] the moment take you’ as Nao says, is often the best way to relieve the feeling that you’re going nowhere. By letting the current take you rather than fighting against it.

But perhaps the most powerful song on the album, and the one that gave me the idea for this piece, is the album’s titular track. ‘And Then Life Was Beautiful’ directly references the elephant in every room all over the world, covering the COVID crisis and its consequences with the simple lyrics ‘Change came like a hurricane / 2020 hit us differently’.

Yes, I feel stuck for many reasons, but being locked in my home by the government was perhaps the most literal and taxing one. And I, as Nao admits later in the song, turned to ‘Smo[king] it out till it fade[d]’ away, drowning my thoughts, ignoring the problem and feeling sorry for myself. Hearing an artist on a professionally released song fess up to dealing with COVID the same way I did was comforting and cathartic.

But her solution to the problem is what really hit me. ‘Been in the rain for a while / And then life was beautiful’. It’s a simple line but it spoke to me. There was no pulling up of bootstraps, no gigantic sea change. Nao didn’t move mountains, nor did she change the world, she just took control of how she saw it.

The coda of the whole album, at least to me, is how you can ‘control’ the universe by controlling your life. It’s about seeing the good in the bad, going with the flow, taking the reins of the narrative, and the chorus to ‘And then Life Was Beautiful’ is the best example of that. How do you get unstuck? You don’t look at yourself as stuck. Why was life beautiful to Nao all of a sudden? Because she said it was.

Nao’s new album And Then Life Was Beautiful is out now. Listen to it here and keep up with Nao here.

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