Let Sabrina Song put a picture in your mind

Tisch senior Sabrina Song, shares her inspiration for her latest track, “Thaw,” released April 30.


Clara Jeanne Reed

Inspired by modern pop idols, NYU senior, Sabrina Song, explodes onto the scene with her new single “Thaw”. A stunning showcase of her vocal and production prowess. (Photo by Clara Jeanne Reed)

Sarah John, Contributing Writer

Tisch senior Sabrina Song began her musical career as a vocalist and violin player. Now, the senior in the Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music has emerged as a singer, songwriter and incredibly sharp producer.  Her new single, “Thaw,” came out Friday. It’s an eclectic, emotionally haunting track that meditates on needing connection yet dreading connection while seamlessly showcasing Song’s accumulated range of talents.

Song grew up listening to powerhouse vocalist pop artists like Adele, Avril Lavigne and Christina Aguilera. The music she creates — rhythmic alt-pop with clean, full-bodied production — draws influence from a wide range of artists. She routinely admires work from artists like Solange, Mitski, and The 1975. The production on “Thaw,” Song said, was inspired by contemporary artists like Ryan Beatty, Charlotte Day Wilson, Frank Ocean and Caroline Polachek. Her music is full of unconventional transitions and experimental choices like including audio of her own laughter or samples from home videos.

(Photo by Clara Jeanne Reed) (Clara Jeanne Reed)

“She has a wonderful voice,” Clive Davis professor Mike Errico said. “Harmonically she is unencumbered by anything — and vocally, lyrically, and production-wise. They call people like that 100-percenters.”

I talked to Song this April, ahead of her upcoming release, about her process and inspiration.

“I love making visuals in my music,” Song said. Her approach yields work that feels speculative and abstract, distancing itself from what the listener may expect with vivid depictions of everyday life. The visuals created by her songwriting might remind listeners of a scene in a movie where “nobody is speaking and yet you can still see what’s happening very clearly,” a sensation Song always marvels at in films. In fact, it’s an integral part of her process. She starts music-making with this question: “What’s the best way to distill this feeling without being too direct?”

(Photo by Clara Jeanne Reed) (Clara Jeanne Reed)

Sometimes, she said, that sort of approach can make the feelings more meaningful including universal details and snippets, rather than clear narratives. Song cites a line from Mitski’s “Washing Machine Heart” as an example. “I’m not wearing my usual lipstick/I thought maybe we would kiss tonight.” 

“It’s that thing where you think, ‘I can’t believe you put that in the song, because I’ve totally done that too,’” Song stated. “I think writing and making music has helped make me so much more observant in that way. I know that some of my friends who are artists feel the same. It’s almost like you’re always looking. You want to notice those moments that you can capture.” 

In “Thaw,” Song sings, “Let me thaw/I’ve been scared of what I’ll say/Living in the space.” Throughout the track, she reflects on change, apathy and control while referencing frigid April days and other attention-grabbing images.

Song is also shaped by everyday personal experiences. Her usual run through the city or trip on the subway might be interrupted by a fragment of interest, demanding that she pause and sing a line into her voice recorder app; observations of others’ lives might evoke the same response. She also draws from the age-old feelings of insecurity through her process of creating an album. 

“Thaw” is another reflection on important moments in her life. She compares the song to a “stream of consciousness trying to capture conflicting feelings.” It discusses emotional uncertainty over delicate harmonies, steady drums and striking piano chords. 

“It’s about how many different conflicting feelings go into choosing to ask for help with something you’re dealing with: the relief, the catharsis, the motivation and the scary parts,” Song said. Her art tackles “how people might judge you, and how it can be painful to change, even for the better.”

Even through Zoom, Song’s self-assured demeanor radiates through the screen. With her bleached blonde bob, patterned jumpsuits and propensity towards using the phrase “that’s sick,” she already has the charisma and look of a star. She is graduating from Clive Davis this year and appears ready to take the next steps in her career. 

Song’s friend Emma Botti, a fellow Clive Davis student, explained that Song is always applying, strategizing and “dragging keyboards around New York City” to do shows in her spare time. (This all seems to pay off – “Say It Like That” from Song’s 2020 EP already has over 25,000 Spotify streams.) 

Given her strong work ethic, it’s no surprise that “Thaw” showcases her ongoing musical growth. She leans further into her artistic impulses with each release. After graduating this year, Song will presumably continue her career the way she always has — collecting life’s little moments in her back pocket and transforming them into songs that tell gripping, visual stories. 

Contact Sarah John at [email protected].