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Most people instinctively try to mask their deepest insecurities. We shove them into a dark closet and lock the door, refusing to acknowledge them, much less confront them. We brush them off with humor and become blasé about them, even when they continue to wreak havoc. We overcompensate for them in ways that are wildly unhealthy. This is just part of the human experience, particularly for people in their formative years.
Samia Finnerty, who records music under her first name, faces all these same conundrums, but she deals with them in a fairly unique way: writing hyper-specific songs about them. The 23-year-old New York-based singer/songwriter recently released her debut album The Baby via Grand Jury Music to critical acclaim, and it trots out painful details with poetic ease. “Fit N Full” wrestles with body image, “Is There Something in the Movies?” describes a betrayal from an industry type and “Winnebago” recalls the moments she’s wiped away tears just before becoming the life of a party. Samia’s music invites a wave of life-affirming togetherness by chronicling moments of loneliness and struggle.
For Samia, music gives her a space to address apprehensions she would’ve been too shy to discuss in conversation. “That’s the only way I work through them, which maybe is a crutch,” Finnerty says over a Zoom call from her family home in New York. “I should find other ways to work through them, but a lot of the time, the way that I communicate my real feelings to someone, if I feel like I can’t, I’ll just hope that they hear it [in my music] and put the pieces together, which is probably an unhealthy way to be.”
Samia is currently in her mother’s living room, surrounded by candles. There’s a somewhat terrifying, clothed mannequin in the background, and her dog is relaxing nearby. Lately, she’s been taking walks through Central Park, “writing a lot of bad poems” and reading The Catcher in the Rye for the first time. During our call, Samia listens intently, gazing into the camera with her bold, brown eyes while donning a ponytail, a t-shirt with the sleeves rolled up and an affable grin. She’s protective of the meanings behind certain lyrics but is sincere and at ease with practically every other topic.
Her origin story began in Los Angeles, where she took an interest in singing and acting at a young age. Her parents Kathy Najimy and Dan Finnerty are both in the entertainment business—Najimy is best known for performances in films like Sister Act and Hocus Pocus, and Finnerty has acting credits such as The Hangover and The Terminal. Samia moved to New York City when she was 15 and began singing at open mics, lugging her guitar to play Fiona Apple and Tori Amos covers and then eventually singing backup for bands whose tastes didn’t exactly match her own. She later formed her own project, which went through a number of styles and bandmates before she settled on her current iteration. During that time, she studied music at The New School, but she found far more inspiration in the local music scene.
“I was just skipping class and hiding in my dorm, paraphrasing Father John Misty lyrics all day long,” Finnerty says. “That was pretty much my whole college experience. I’m just really grateful for being immersed in the music community in New York at that time in my life. I just begged everyone to let me into every band, and I had a fake manager and would just cold email these venues that I didn’t deserve to play at and convinced them to let me play there.”
Samia was surprised when one of her early songs, “Someone Tell the Boys,” ended up on a popular Spotify playlist called “Badass Women.” Though it contains the refrain “Someone tell the boys they’re not important anymore,” Samia says the song was meant to be more confessional than empowering. She doesn’t approach songwriting with an aim to manifest a better version of herself—instead, she thrives on divulging how broken she feels. Her debut album The Baby is littered with instances of hesitancy or desperation. She recounts a missed opportunity to befriend someone she admired on “Waverly” and throws herself into unhealthy situations just for the artistic inspiration on “Triptych.” However, you can still find moments of playfulness and triumph. “Fit N Full” fantasizes about baring it all in a restaurant, and “Is There Something in the Movies?” cuts a toxic person out of her life.
The Baby adds to an ever-expanding collection of impassioned indie records from the past decade by young women and for young women. These albums provide space for singer/songwriters to be as funny, reckless, love-struck, anguished or seductive as they want, and Samia embodies all of those qualities. When asked about a record that best encapsulates young womanhood for her, she opts for Okay Kaya’s 2018 debut Both, and its raw, brooding revelations aren’t too dissimilar from Samia’s.
“I don’t think I’ve ever related harder on a first listen through of a record than I did [with that one],” Finnerty says. “I think that record helped prove to me that you can be so specific about your life and cite examples from your experience and still have it be relatable and accessible to a wide variety of people.”
While Both rests on dark, stylish bedroom pop, The Baby contains more sonic joy and a wider variety of reference points. Samia’s voice is rather soulful—almost jazzy—and though it has a gentle airiness, it also has unsuspecting might. Her voice carries, often with a quick, steep liftoff—as if she’s just swung a mallet at a carnival strength tester and shattered the bell. “Fit N Full” and “Winnebago” are certainly worthy of teddy bear prizes, if not hoards of adoring, teary-eyed fans. Her music is grounded in 2000s pop/rock, touching indie-folk and atmospheric synths, but she’s keen to let the songs take whatever form necessary to best communicate her message.
Samia worked on her album with close friends—members of Active Bird Community, The Happy Children and Hippo Campus—along with Lars Stalforz (Soccer Mommy, St. Vincent), who she quickly got along with. Initially, she worked with big-name producers in Los Angeles, but found that she needed a tight-knit group of people she loved and trusted to make an album with this level of candidness.
“I know a lot of people who are so good at writing with strangers and being able to open up in that way around people they don’t know, but I think I just might be too shy for that,” Finnerty says.
It’s a somewhat ironic statement given that Samia reveals her true self with vulnerable details to strangers across the world every time they listen to her music. She’s infatuated with lyricism and poetry and has been since she was younger, often obsessively searching for the perfect word for how she’s feeling. Her songs are usually stitchings of 10 or so poems she’s written within a month, and some of them contain word-for-word conversations she managed to type into her phone after making a quick beeline to the bathroom. As someone who used to print out and annotate lyrics, constantly trying to get inside the minds of her favorite songwriters, she loves to hear how listeners are interpreting her music—even admitting to reading Genius annotations of her own songs.
“Way before this album came out, someone sent me [an analysis of] one of my songs for their English class,” Finnerty says. “It was just the coolest moment of my life to be able to send it to my English teacher from elementary school who was my favorite, most influential teacher I’ve ever had. We just totally gushed about it. ‘Cause he was like, ‘This is all you’ve ever wanted—for someone to cite you in an English class!’”
Samia doesn’t see herself as a powerful role model, not like her late grandmother who sings in a voicemail on the album’s opening track, “Pool,” and who Finnerty describes as a “matriarch Lebanese queen” and “so representative of femininity and strength to me growing up.” Samia views herself as someone who simply writes self-deprecating songs that help her process her feelings. But her songs give people, especially women, so much agency—to live and just be, no matter how emotionally messy or flawed—and it’s a welcome break from the graceful, idealized women we often see in mass media. The more times we’re presented with scenes of women getting their heel stuck in a sewer grate, making rash decisions after getting ghosted on Tinder or refusing to worry about aging out of desirability, the better.
“Do I wish that if I could just be 18 and know what I know now, and have learned everything I’ve learned and just be in the body of an 18-year-old?,” Finnerty asks. “I really don’t think I would. I’m fucking so young, and I just feel more confident and less anxious with every year that I grow and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
The Baby is out now via Grand Jury Music. Purchase the album here.
Lizzie Manno is an associate music editor, Coldplay apologist, bread obsessive and lover of all things indie, punk and shoegaze at Paste. Follow her on Twitter @LizzieManno