By Hannah Connolly
at Burns has been busy, really busy. Since lockdown, the 21-year-old singer-songwriter has taken TikTok by storm, reached #3 on the UK charts, kicked off festival season and has now, as of today, released her EP emotionally unavailable alongside announcing she will be joining Ed Sheeran on tour.
"I just want people to feel like when they are going through stuff; they can listen to my songs and actually have a song for pretty much as many scenarios as I can think of and write."
Catching up with Cat Burns over Zoom, the importance of vulnerability in her work is plain, "I want people to know they are not alone, that what they are feeling isn't something to be scared of," she says. "I think that it's about people being able to have songs for specific times in their lives; that is the reason why I loved music in the first place."
Her single go, a sweeping anthem of love lost, originally dropped in 2020, and it struck a major chord, tapping into an emerging zeitgeist; people want music they can relate to. With hundreds of thousands of videos under the TikTok sound snippet of go, Cat Burns knows how to give voice to experiences most of us feel at times in our lives, but somehow, still feel alone with.
"I like to talk about a range of topics, so it won't just be breakups; it'll be friendship breakups, it'll be mental health, it'll be [about] people pleasing – it'll be loads of stuff that maybe songs today don't necessarily talk about in the pop world."
"This generation, because of how fast we can date, swipe and meet people, we have commitment issues, and we have a lot of situationships, lots of unserious things and then it's quite hard to make deep connections."
Burns' music hits you, a veritable soundtrack to life. Be it the demise of a relationship or the end of a friendship, dealing with anxiety to being comfortable with who you want to be, Burns is right there with you. Inviting you to feel the feelings, but importantly come out the other side with hope.
Here, writer Hannah Connolly caught up with Cat Burns to talk influences, TikTok, writing the EP and what she really wants you to take away when you hear emotionally unavailable…
Who are some of your favourite artists?
Tori Kelly, Ed Sheeran, India Arie, Tracy Chapman, some Gospel artists [like] Jonathan Reynolds, Donnie McClurkin, are the main ones. Those are the ones that have majorly influenced me.
When did you realise you wanted to work in music?
I have always loved to sing from when I was young. But I went to Brit School when I was 14; that was when I knew that it was an achievable goal rather than it being a fun hobby. So I think 14.
What has TikTok meant for you, and what opportunities does it represent?
Tiktok is just a great way to share your music. I think because it is such a new app and it is so young; people are still figuring out how the algorithm works. It means that anyone still has the ability to go viral.
So you can start a TikTok with absolutely no followers, which is what I did and grow it to a large amount just because people really love what it is that you do. I think it shows as well that you should just put out your music because when it is time, it will happen.
The app is so unique in terms of you being able to actually get your art or whatever it is that you want to share out there quicker than any other app.
"Around that time, I really started to figure out how I wanted to present myself and how I wanted to look and having a song where I could kind of talk to myself and say I would like to be this way, and you're like limiting me, so stop that."
Do you think TikTok feels less pressurised than say, Instagram?
Instagram is more of a highlight reel, so people feel a bit more pressure to put their best stuff on Instagram vs TikTok. Any video of yours can go viral, and it is usually the one where you don't look as well presented as you would have wanted to.
TikTok just forces you to make whatever video it is and not care too much about how you look vs Instagram, where you have to share your best self.
How do you want people to feel when they hear your music?
I want all my songs to be relatable so that people feel listened to and heard when they hear my music and feel like they are not alone and that they can relate to something.
I like to talk about a range of topics, so it won't just be breakups; it'll be friendship breakups, it'll be mental health, it'll be [about] people pleasing – it'll be loads of stuff that maybe songs today don't necessarily talk about in the pop world.
I just want people to feel like when they are going through stuff; they can listen to my songs and actually have a song for pretty much as many scenarios as I can think of and write.
I want people to feel listened to and heard, basically.
"I want to actually explore that without that thing in the back of your head saying *no, you shouldn't* actually, you don't need to dress like everyone else you can look how you want to look."
Do you think people want more vulnerability and honesty in music these days, especially young people?
I think so; I think that's why so many people love Olivia Rodrigo because the music that she makes feels like, for her demographic, it's been written for them. It is so specific but broad, and you can put in how it would be for your own life but also listen to it as just a great song.
People are wanting pop music to really talk about more stuff. I think because more artists these days are being more vulnerable about what they want to speak about, it is helping more people feel heard and taking away a lot of stigma. But I think definitely the consumers want to hear relatable stuff and not feel so far removed from these artists.
And do you think this helps build a sense of relatability from artists to listeners?
People want to feel that you are a normal person as well, that we go through the same things. No feel so well, all you talk about is living this lavish life that I am not living, so why would I want to listen to that? vs someone just talking about their struggle with having low self-esteem then it feels like oh, we're all human, we all go through the same things.
Okay, let's talk emotionally unavailable; how did it come together, and what is it inspired by?
So I wrote the majority, no all of the songs in 2020, and it was just a time at my life where I was quite emotionally unavailable for, I guess for all of the reasons that EP kind of states.
I was going through a friendship breakup, and we kind of just went our own ways, and that was really hard to deal with and experience. We were such close friends and then struggling with anxiety too.
Around that time, I really started to figure out how I wanted to present myself and how I wanted to look and having a song where I could kind of talk to myself and say I would like to be this way, and you're like limiting me, so stop that.
Then, ghosting [is about] being an introvert and having a song to be like I am not being mean I just need some time by myself.
learnt to love goodbyes is about commitment issues and abandonment issues and just expecting people to leave before they have even shown themselves to do something like that and I think that was just… they were all written at a time when I was feeling emotionally unavailable.
At first, it was purely just going to be an EP talking about why you're emotionally unavailable in a relationship. Then my team was like oh, theres actually songs that you have written that are more about internal things and it would probably be even more vulnerable for people.
Then it is nice because the whole EP is then rounded off by emotionally unavailable the song.
That kind of sums up the whole EP, being like this generation because of how fast we can date and swipe and meet people, we have commitment issues. We have a lot of situationships, and we have lots of unserious things, then it is quite hard to make deep connections especially if you want to.
So I wanted to make sure that the EP told a story, and that is why the tracklist was super important to me, so that it told it in a way that I wrote the songs in terms of order but also just in terms of the story.
"People are wanting pop music to really talk about more stuff. I think because more artists these days are being more vulnerable about what they want to speak about, it is helping more people feel heard and taking away a lot of stigma."
I love the line, "But since I've gotten older, I kind of want to know what life is like minus you" can you tell me a bit about that?
That lines from anxiety, so that's being like: I have been controlled by being anxious my whole life, and now it's like going into adulthood I know how I want to present myself, and I know how I want to look and I know how I want to be in a lot of spaces. I want to actually explore that without that thing in the back of your head saying no, you shouldn't actually, you don't need to dress like everyone else you can look how you want to look.
How does the songwriting process work for you?
It's basically all at the same time. So, I come up with the lyrics and the melody at the same time. I'll play some chords, and then I'll be like, okay, this feels like a sad song, or this feels like a … song.
Usually, I have something in my notes [like a] song concept, title, something in my notes. Then if I hear chords that blend well with it I will just sit and play the same chords over and over again to figure out the lyrics and the melody at the same time. It kind of just writes all at once.
I struggle to just sing melodies and words, so I know loads of artists do that, which I think is so cool and sick, but I have just never been able to do that. I have to have the words and the melody together. So that's how I write.
But the writing process with all of the people that I wrote the songs with was really good. Everybody was so lovely, and we all got very vulnerable with the topics that we were talking about.
Everybody allowed me to lead and to showcase how I write and how conversational I like my lyrics to be. Once they understood, it was a really nice partnership because they got what it was that I was trying to do and how I like to say things, so I trust them all really to write a song with me because they get how I like to write.
How did you find recording the EP?
The process was good. I kind of did my part relatively quickly. I wrote the song and then recorded it down. Then it was little tweaks that we needed to make production-wise to make sure that everything was authentic to who I am. Also, something after go that shows the growth and shows what it is I am trying to do.
The process was really quick. We'd do the session, we'd have the song done, and then it was just up to the producer to fine-tune and tweak stuff. The writing process was good I am lucky.
So having a team you can trust is pretty important, right?
100% you have to have people who want to be just as vulnerable and can help you verbalise what it is you are trying to say on paper, maybe even in a better way.
It starts from being able to have a good conversation with people in the first hour or two of the session to really see how they think and how they speak and how they write. Then coming together to make something that feels as authentic to you as possible because their job is to help me verbalise what I want to say in the best way.
What do you hope people take away from emotionally unavailable?
That they are not alone, what they're feeling isn't uncommon and isn't something to be scared of.
I feel like, especially with anxiety I wanted to make an almost juxtaposition of the lyrics and melody and production. So it is a sad-ish song because it is talking about struggling with anxiety but also has a hopefulness to it, in that you are almost shedding your old self and becoming a new version of yourself.
learnt to love goodbyes is very dramatic and emotional, and it is a song where you can allow yourself to feel emotional and cry. go is a heartbreak anthem, but it's not a mean song at the same time. It is blunt and to the point. emotionally unavailable is saying, like you guys know, that this is our generation, and it isn't the best in how we handle situations.
I think I want people to take away that we are not alone and nothing is uncommon. If you have gone through a friendship breakup, that's okay. It is a part of life, but also feel sad and feel the feeling, and hopefully, you can listen to that song and feel that feeling. To say okay, I can let that person go, but it's nice that I can listen to that song, and that can be a song that reminds me of all of our good times, and I can think fondly of that person.
So, I think that it's just people being able to have songs for specific times in their lives because that is the reason why I love music in the first place.
emotionally unavailable is out now, listen here. Also, keep up to date with Cat Burns on TikTok and Instagram.
The UK's breakout superstar Cat Burns shares her approach to writing, what she wants you to take away from her music and the power of TikTok as she launches her 3rd EP and announces Ed Sheeran Tour.
By Hannah Connolly