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Kenzie Cait reflects on first love and teenage girlhood in debut EP “innocence”

The official cover art for singer-songwriter Kenzie Cait’s debut EP “innocence,” released on Oct. 20. The EP explores first love, heartbreak and the essence of girlhood. PHOTO COURTESY OF KENZIE CAIT/GROUNDWORK ARTIST MANAGEMENT

Nashville-based singer-songwriter Kenzie Cait has always wrestled with the idea of growing up — a perspective shaped by nostalgia for her childhood. In an interview with The Statesman, the 20-year-old discussed her debut extended play (EP) titled “innocence,” released on Oct. 20, which was inspired by a recent breakup.

She wrote the seven-track EP during her first year of living on her own in an apartment after “getting [her] heart shattered for the first time.”

“It was important for me to release [‘innocence’] while I was still a teenager, because it felt like I was putting a bow on those years,” she said. “It’s really about how heartbreak and growing up in general can impact your innocence.”

Before moving to Nashville, Cait grew up in Buffalo, New York, surrounded by a family passionate about music. Having performed in restaurants and bars and on theater stages, she briefly attended Belmont University before she left to pursue music; she achieved TikTok stardom in 2021.

In her debut EP, Cait’s music captures the essence of girlhood and explores the profound impact of life-changing love through the concept of innocence. When moving into her apartment, she felt she was letting go of aspects of her identity that she held onto since childhood.

“[Living] alone [for the first time] and going through my first love and my first heartbreak when I was living on my own impacted [the EP] a lot,” Cait said. “I wouldn’t have had all these experiences if I was living alone.”

If it was not for her solo move to the south, the track “buffalo” might not have been created. The track delves into the experience of being away from home, whether it involves missing someone specific or simply missing the comfort of home. She explained that “buffalo” serves as a constant reminder of what could have been.

The EP’s lead single, “that girl,” which was released on Jan. 6, has garnered more than two million plays on Spotify as of Dec. 5. The song explores the complex emotions of lingering love post heartbreak.

“[‘that girl’] was such a pivotal moment for my own growth and my career in a way,” Cait said. “It really helped me find my audience and find people that resonate with my music, and it was a moment of such vulnerability for me — to admit that I wanted to be with somebody who didn’t treat me right.” 

A standout track on the EP, “what i do best” offers a different perspective on love from “that girl.” In this song, Cait confronts the truth that she may be responsible for the demise of her romantic relationship by exploring the internal conflicts, regrets and feelings of self-deception that follow.

Writing the song forced Cait to confront her vulnerable emotions, saddened “because [she] felt like [she] really messed everything up” in her relationship. In the song, Cait describes her struggles of reconciling her persona with the internal conflicts she experienced in her relationship; she sings that she feels “so pretty for the pictures.”

“After you get your heartbroken once, it’s kind of hard to let someone in again and to trust someone again, and ‘what i do best’ was about that process,” she said. “I tried to be optimistic and to fall in love, and I had just ended up not being ready for it and messing it all up.”

Embodying the different sides of the pop genre — from bedroom pop to alternative pop — the EP showcases Cait’s introspective lyricism and distinct breathy vocals, reminiscent of Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Gracie Abrams.

While Cait mainly focuses on piano-led ballads, she has also released upbeat songs with similar introspective lyricism — a direction she plans to further explore in 2024. She believes that “to make good, honest [and] vulnerable music, it doesn’t always have to be the most heartbreaking, gut-wrenching lyrics.”

The EP concludes with the ethereal song “phantom pain,” where Cait looks back on the aftermath of a relationship with a sentimental tone. The term “phantom pain” is metaphorically  used to describe the agony that comes after losing someone she once loved.

“Ending on a song like ‘phantom pain’ was just totally the opposite of [the first track on the EP], ‘innocence,’ [and it] felt really right to me,” she said. “Sometimes after a breakup, you don’t feel optimistic, you don’t feel that light anymore, and so it felt like I had lost my innocence. It is about how your innocence changes — how heartbreak and how love can change you and help you grow up.”

Cait’s EP, “innocence,” is a collection of stories that showcases her poignant lyricism, offering glimpses of the highs and lows of her journey through love, heartbreak and self-discovery. Despite garnering more than 100,000 followers on TikTok, she tries to remain unaffected by the influence of social media — particularly TikTok — as she prioritizes authenticity in her music over listening to the noise online.

“It’s okay to be dramatic, and it’s okay to feel these big emotions and be sensitive,” Cait said. “You shouldn’t feel like an idiot for just wanting to love somebody; I think that’s one of my biggest takeaways from the EP, and I hope people can hear that as well.”

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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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