At 19, Alex Porat was running circles around most of us. It was 2017 and the Toronto-based singer-songwriter had been uploading covers to YouTube, weaving her own delicate vocals into familiar tracks, to the point where it became difficult to imagine the original songs without them. She soon left business school to pursue a career in music (a dreamy sentence already), and received praise from fellow Canadian singer Shawn Mendes, who deemed her cover of “In My Blood” “incredible” and perfectly sung. At 23, she now has over a million monthly listeners on Spotify, and is nearing the one-million subscriber mark on YouTube. Like I said, running circles.
After releasing two EPs in 2020—Alexandra Porat, a collection of covers, and bad at breakups, a soft but biting post-split manifesto—Porat and her pipes are giving us even more: her latest single, “girlfriend,” drops today on all major streaming platforms. A well of lo-fi, high-confidence Gen-Z goodness, “girlfriend” is as unforgiving as it is inviting. It’s a song for all our little fantasies that spin out of hand, only this time, Porat isn’t having it.
From the acidic lyrics, you might not immediately gauge just how sweet the singer actually is. Before the interview, we chatted about high school in the suburbs (hers was a five-minute drive from mine), and her love for the restaurant where I work. That’s all been omitted for clarity, of course, but I promise it was lovely.
Adolescent Content: First off, how has the last year been for you, personally and professionally?
Alex Porat: Personally, very difficult. Everyone’s had their fair share of struggles this past year, so what keeps me together is knowing that everyone’s going through it together. I’m just hoping that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Everything that’s “good” right now feels like such a high, which is nice because everyone needs a bit of light. Professionally, it’s weird because my last EP was pretty much done on the internet. I think the last song dropped March 11th, right when the pandemic started. Being online means that I haven’t been able to perform live, which is sad. I’m hoping I get to do that soon.
Adolescent: Your new single, “girlfriend,” is directed at someone who brags about dating you, when that’s really not the case. Tell me a bit about how the song came to be.
Alex: “girlfriend” is the take from a girl’s perspective of a guy who isn’t able to fully commit, and is scared of doing “boyfriend things.” It’s been a common thing that I’ve heard from friends’ experiences and from my experiences that guys love being cuddly and doing all the boyfriend things, but then there’s a double standard… When the girl does it, it’s unacceptable. I had an experience where I was on that other side for a brief moment, and I felt that double standard.
Adolescent: In this song, and in your EP, bad at breakups, you’re speaking very confidently to somebody. Do you find that daunting?
Alex: I find that, for some reason, I’m able to get away with it. (Laughs.) I’m not sure the people that inspire the songs will ever know [they’re] about them—I leave some things out or I’ll change little things to throw people off. The worst thing would be someone just knowing it’s about them. I don’t want to give someone who’s hurt me that feeling.
I think my duty is just to tell my story and deliver something that they can relate to. You know, this is my life and if they accept it, they accept it. Or if they come after me later, they come after me later! I think I’ve been pretty good at keeping it full of small inspirations made into a bigger concept.
“girlfriend” is very inspired by moments, and it’s not necessarily about one person. It was a very fun day in the studio. We were just brainstorming and thinking “what works with this?”, and pulling small fragments from friends’ stories.
Adolescent: From the title alone, listeners might expect a love song. Were you hoping to subvert expectations?
Alex: Sort of. One of my songs from the last EP had a super long title, so I felt like I had already done that. I didn’t think I could do “why’re you calling me your girlfriend?” because it would be another mouthful. I do think people will be thrown off though. You’re the first person to tell me that the title is kind of conflicting and I love that.
Adolescent: Other girlfriend anthems—like “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne or “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” by Ariana Grande—tread a somewhat anti-feminist line, in wanting a guy to leave the less-cool girl he’s with for them. Your song seems to affect the opposite.
Alex: Yeah, it does! It honestly wasn’t a conscious choice because I didn’t know what the song was going to be called when I wrote it. On the day of writing, the question was “what can we do that’s just fun?” while also getting something off my chest. Especially with the last year feeling so dry of experiences, I was picking and finding concepts from ideas that were buried in my brain. Stuff that I wouldn’t really be thinking about—the little things. It was one of those natural progressions of finding the title through the writing process.
Adolescent: You started off your musical career by doing covers. Did leaning into others’ sounds help you develop your own?
Alex: From a very young age, I started to idolize Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera, Celine Dion… These big, powerful voices. I only took one or two vocal lessons when I was younger, and I just didn’t love it. So I used those artists as stepping stones for my singing progression.
As the internet became a bigger part of my life, I just started finding karaoke tracks of songs that I loved. It’s very interesting because when you cover a song, you automatically mimic their sound. So it’s a process to try and find your own voice in that. It took a while and I finally landed somewhere where I knew that this is me and this is what I sound like. But I swear, some of the covers I used to do… If the singer was British, I’d have a British accent in the song. (Laughs.)
Adolescent: You’ve definitely landed your own sound. When I listened to your EP [Alexandra Porat], it took me a second to realize that they were even covers.
Alex: That’s such a nice compliment. I love those covers and that project so much. I would choose covers based on which songs really affected me. I wanted to add my own perspective to them.
Adolescent: We’re coming on three years since Shawn Mendes reacted to your cover of his song. How does that feel?
Alex: It’s so weird and surreal. I still remember that day so well, it really impacted me. In that moment, I realized that being a musician is possible and that people will show up for you. It really push me to keep going. And watching it was crazy. I’m forever grateful that it happened because I needed it.
Adolescent: It’s the ultimate validation.
Alex: Exactly! As a kid, I would audition for so many shows, and everything was a “no.” I was crying left, right, and center. It’s so cliche, but it’s true that it takes so many nos just to get one yes. But then that yes is so validating and worth it, and you become stronger from all the nos anyways. You’re gaining either way.