Margaret Glaspy has evolved. In the nearly four years since her debut album, Emotions and Math, dropped, the California-raised singer-songwriter has enrolled at Harvard University via distance learning, pushed her guitar-based sound into more rhythmic and electronic dimensions, and taken a particular interest in writing songs about life’s gray areas. Her forthcoming second album, Devotion, is the perfect showcase for this next chapter; its title track sways with the confidence of knowing that whichever decision you make is the right one, no matter what. In this case, it involves one of the biggest concepts she could ever make a decision about: love.
“It’s a sign of my devotion when I show you my emotions,” she sings over a purring bass line and a slinking rhythm that feels as intimate as an overheard conversation. That’s thanks to drummer Tim Kuhl “playing his lap, basically,” Glaspy told MTV News. “That was an exciting little find in the studio to be able to figure out how to do that in a way where it’s rhythmic, but it’s not just all drum kit. It’s something from another kind of world.”
The world of “Devotion” — which Glaspy released today (March 16), and which you can hear for the first time above — is humid and probing, yet as vulnerable as it likewise asks its subject to be. Glaspy said her songwriting reflected “a slightly more settled place” this time around.
She’s back in school, working toward a potential humanities concentration. (“They’re not really giving you very many breaks, as I’ve experienced in trying to do it while I’m being a full-time musician. They’re like, ‘I don’t really care if you have to be in Berlin on Tuesday. You still have to turn your homework in.’”) She’s more comfortable as a musician, chasing impulses to create electronic-tinged tunes that focus on performance over machinery. And yes, she’s fully committed to her partner. “It’s a very earnest concept to be devoted, really devoted, and I think it’s maybe not even really super in vogue right now. It’s kind of why I like it.”
As piano chords ring out against the song’s minimal groove, “Devotion” finds Glaspy defining her place in the partnership, even as she reassures that “I’m on your side.” A savvy guitarist, she unplugs for this one, letting her band handle the instrumentation so she can focus on singing alone. While Emotions and Math’s lyrics and sharp-edged guitar lines captured a snapshot of Glaspy “a little angry, a little bit clever at times, and kind of young,” the entire Devotion album dives right into earnestness and vulnerability.
“In relationships with people you love especially, you want things to evolve, but sometimes it can be scary,” she said. “So is it worth it to kind of stir the pot and say how you feel? That’s what that song focuses on.”
Glaspy spent much of the time between albums on tour, playing the same songs every night and feeling like she’d entered a loop. She wanted to keep challenging herself, so she began writing new material without the guitar. That exploration is splattered all over the album, which kicks off with a sea of mechanized voices and finds color in synthesized sounds. “Finding new ways to do it, that was a little scary, but it was a good scary,” she said. “I think you need to be a little scared sometimes, otherwise maybe you’re not doing it right.”
“Devotion” itself lived a previous life as a “slamming pop song” before it found its furrow. That could be due to Glaspy’s own love of some gargantuan pop bangers she sang on the phone for MTV News in order to wring out the joy in their melodies. These included Demi Lovato’s barn-burning “Sorry Not Sorry,” Kehlani’s infectiously soulful “Keep On,” and her most listened-to song of 2019, Cardi B’s “Be Careful.” “The verses in particular, I think she just kind of kills it.”
Glaspy also drew inspiration from iconic fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s bold runway innovations — robots, aliens, underwater creatures — and strived to create sonic accompaniments to those looks. “It kind of kept me in check,” she said, echoing a mantra that kept her motivated in the studio if an idea wasn’t working: “I feel like Lee McQueen would feel like this was kind of stupid. Next song.”
The Devotion album cover finds Glaspy in a black dress with large, wonderfully ruffled pink sleeves. It’s not a direct McQueen reference, although “he’s just kind of in my ethos at this point.” Instead, it’s a chance to connect with the connotations of the word “devotion” and capture what’s both “regal” and “archaic” about it. “Things feel a little more fleeting these days, less devotional,” she said. “It’s kind of like a sampler plate all the time.” Maybe we’re all still evolving.
You can stream both the studio version of “Devotion” and a live version above. Pre-order the Devotion album here.