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The Statesman


Mariel Loveland takes on societal norms in solo project Best Ex’s debut album “With a Smile”

The official cover for Mariel Loveland’s debut album “With a Smile” under a solo project known as Best Ex. In her debut, Loveland explores themes of romance, societal pressures on women and mental health. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARIEL LOVELAND

Having begun her musical journey with the band Candy Hearts, Mariel Loveland is redefining several dramatic life changes — including meeting her now-husband and losing her grandmother — under a new solo project known as Best Ex. 

After trading the energetic guitars of Candy Hearts for fuzzed-out synths and dreamy acoustics, Loveland discussed her debut album, “With a Smile,” in an interview with The Statesman. She reflected on her personal journey and described it as a genuine “coming of age” story. The album was released on Oct. 6, 2023. 

Loveland writes for female audiences, specifically for those experiencing betrayal, agony and romance. Her evocative lyricism provides a sense of seamless intimacy with listeners.

One of the album’s standout tracks, “The End,” is rooted in her frustration with the disheartening sociopolitical state of the world. While the initial inspiration for the song came to Loveland during the COVID-19 pandemic as she “watched politicians transform a deadly disease into political rhetoric,” the lyrical significance was further “exacerbated” by the overturning of Roe v. Wade. This landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, which decriminalized abortion in 1973, added another layer of meaning to the song. Additionally, a school shooting that took place during the track’s writing and recording process intensified her frustration, which bled into the song’s overall aura.

“It was obvious hatred with this undertone of, ‘I’m better than these people,’ or ‘I’m doing [this] for [the] greater good,’ but the foundation for it is really government control and hatred,” Loveland said. 

Recently diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Loveland wanted the chorus to mimic an OCD fear spiral, repeatedly asking herself, “Is the world ending? No, it’s not. But it could be? Oh god, what if it is?”

The album embodies the indie-pop genre and delves into various themes, including societal pressures placed on women to maintain cheerful facades in moments of pain, injustice, love, loss and uncertainty. 

“Women are always told that they are too emotional, that expressing your need[s] makes you [a] nag,” Loveland said. 

Loveland aims to challenge the perception that men who cannot communicate or keep their promises ultimately force women into the role of a “nag, because the only other alternative is accepting unhappiness.”

The album’s first single “Tell Your Friends,” released on May 25, 2023, tackles the societal tendency to label women as overwhelming or demanding, especially in relationships. Loveland also explores universal topics which include mental health issues and falling in love. “Salt On Skin” feels like driving through New York City with the windows down on a warm July evening, and “I Promise To Ruin Your Life” captures the feelings that come with experiencing an innocent crush — the nervousness and excitement of it all.

Regarding her recording process, Loveland said she typically writes songs alone in her room and records demos using the Voice Memos app on her phone.

“I would hear so much in my head about how I wanted the song to sound, like I could hear it in my head recorded,” she said. “My favorite thing is going into the studio with someone, who understands what I’m saying and hearing back what I hear in my head for the first time.”

The song closest to Loveland’s heart is “Stay With Me,” which encapsulates a pivotal shift in her love life when she entered a healthy, meaningful relationship with her now-husband. She said that many of her previous relationships had often been toxic. 

“Men are told that girlfriends aren’t serious, and women are told that that’s your future husband, and you need to prioritize them at an expense to yourself,” Loveland said. “[When] I wrote that song, I was just feeling like, ‘Can someone love who I actually am and can they accept the problems that I have without me having to pretend they’re not there or shrink them to make them feel less annoying?’”

Through the 39-minute indie-pop album, Loveland embraces change while addressing the societal pressures women face. She aims to connect with listeners on a deeply emotional level, sharing the highs and lows of being a young woman in the modern world and serving as a voice for those who do not have one.

“The album in [and of] itself, I wrote to be a concept album about the pressures that women face in a patriarchal society that expects [women] to be happy and be grateful and carry the weight and the consequence[s] of the decisions [made by] the men around them,” she said.

Loveland and her team are currently working on producing a “With a Smile” album tour for her solo project, Best Ex. She will be performing a pre-holiday show at the Heaven Can Wait venue in New York City on Dec. 10 at 7 p.m.

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About the Contributor
Clare Gehlich, Assistant Arts & Culture Editor
Clare is the Assistant Arts and Culture Editor for The Statesman and a senior journalism major with a minor in political science. Since transferring to Stony Brook University in 2022, she has written for both Herald Community Newspapers and WSHU Public Radio.
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