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On Instagram, 23-year-old singer and songwriter Sasha Sloan is @sadgirlsloan. Her two EPs are titled Sad Girl and Loser. Before she dropped the latter at the end of November, she posted a steely selfie with the caption, “my ep comes out in less than a week i hope it doesn’t suck lol.” That self-deprecation is integral to her persona, likely both a natural extension of her actual personality (low-key and pensive, but friendly) and the fact that she first gained exposure through a viral Reddit photo where she was the butt of the joke.

Aided by a strategically placed SoundCloud link in the comments, that online fame led to songwriting opportunities in Los Angeles and eventually a chance for her to showcase her own voice. A few years (and day jobs at a coffee shop and a gym) later, she’s helped write songs by Louis Tomlinson, Steve Aoki, Tinashe, and Charli XCX. Perhaps most notably, Camila Cabello’s “Never Be the Same,” which she also worked on, blends the lyrical vulnerability and skeletal beat found on her own tracks. But it’s the midpoint of Loser — a plaintive, confessional piano ballad called “Older” — that shines a most direct light onto the person lurking behind those songwriting sessions, winking album covers, and tweets like “who’s coming to see me in march?? plz come so my self esteem doesn’t get lower than usual lmao.”

“Older” doesn’t package any of its sentiments with a quick “jk.” Instead, Sloan opens it starkly in medias res: “I used to shut my door while my mother screamed in the kitchen.” The verses bring the song’s real-life inspiration, the dissolution of her parents’ marriage, sharply into focus. Before long, though, Sloan adds her own found wisdom on the chorus, proclaiming, “The older I get, the more that I see / My parents aren’t heroes, they’re just like me.”

“I’ve been trying to write that song for a really long time,” Sloan recently told MTV News. “I’ve always been trying to write about my parents’ divorce because it’s such a crucial part of my life, but I never wrote it right. It was always too bitter.” One listen to “Older” reveals the opposite: a careful, loving study of a messy situation, viewed both from the center of the storm and from a safe distance years later. Here’s how it came together.

Xavier Guerra/MTV News

A Joint And A Hotel Room

It began in a hotel room in Germany. Sloan and her pal Danny Silberstein had just secured a joint. “We smoked it, and he just started playing this guitar riff,” she said. “I was like, whoa, that’s really dope. I feel like writing right now.” In about 10 minutes, the pair had etched out the song’s first verse, a pre-chorus, and its main hook in the chorus. Sloan typically starts writing lyrics, then works on the rest of the song, ensuring she’s constructing a good story.

With “Older,” the story was simple and sad. Her impending 24th birthday got her thinking about how her “very foreign” father (“he’s kind of like Borat”) had watched her mother give birth to her at that age. She thought about how her mother worked toward getting advanced degrees while trying to raise her. And she built a song around it with Danny.

“We both looked at each other, really emotional. I was like, I think I really like this, but I can never tell if it’s good,” she said. The only thing to do was wait a while.

From Voice Memo To Finished Version

Armed with a demo recording from the hotel room, Sloan was in no rush to finish the song. In fact, spending even a few minutes with her reveals that she’s not in much of a rush to do most things. She takes her time walking around a room, moving deliberately. But she knows when to strike. “I’m the master of ‘it’s done,'” she said. “I’ll spend time on lyrics, but if I get something I love, I don’t second guess it. You always have that feeling when it’s not totally there yet, and you push through that.”

Sloan called Danny to her place back home to smoke hookah and work on refining it at their own speed. She estimates it took about two months, with most of the time spent narrowing down the lyrics to the second verse. Once it felt right, she enlisted her producer, frequent Major Lazer collaborator King Henry. “I finish a song and I hand it off to a producer like, make it work,” she said. When she sings it live, her crowds almost always connect with it. She takes that as a good sign.

Breaking The Rules

In its final form, “Older” cycles through melancholic piano chords and Sloan’s solemn but wise voice, delivering the story taken from her own life. Despite her past work with other artists, it wouldn’t have made sense coming from anyone else, and she seems convinced that “pop singers don’t want” such specificity anyway. Early in her career, an A&R bigwig told her the “pop rules” she was to adhere to during songwriting sessions: No songs about growing old; only songs about dancing and being young forever. She appreciates the twist of “Older” resonating as it has.

Perhaps predictably, Sloan doesn’t necessarily feel the thrust of the industry machine toward making a proper album any time soon. Too much pressure, she said, so maybe another EP, or maybe some further tinkering with her own sound. Whatever she wants, really. In the meantime, she’s played “Older” for her mom, now an English teacher, who lovingly labeled it “realistic fiction.” She doesn’t talk to her dad much, but she feels like her music has brought them closer together.

“‘Older’ is also just an appreciation song to them, maybe in the most back-handed way of all time. But it was, OK, I get what you did for me now,” she said. “I get to live a pretty fucking dope life now because of that.”

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