For years there, Livingston felt like an outsider. “And the reality is there are millions of others who feel the exact same way,” the ascendant singer-songwriter says, looking back. “Down to details and their exact waking and sleeping thoughts.” Knowing he was hardly alone in feeling different, though, the artist born Drake Livingston began crafting music that helped him connect to others. He was confident that so many out there could relate to his struggle and feel hope and connection via his music. “It’d be great to write a song for everyone,” he clarifies of the creative approach he takes to his emotional, highly personal, and intricately crafted pop songs, “but I want to write a song for the kid who feels exactly like I do.” It’s in this way Livingston speaks directly to his listeners.
The creative, ever-engaging result of his work marks a stunning introduction to one of the most exciting new voices in pop music. On the heels of his 2020 debut EP Lighthouse which amassed over 50 million streams on Spotify, Livingston released An Unlikely Origin Story, undoubtedly his most fully realized and accomplished work yet. Whereas his debut, he says, centered on youth and identity struggle, his latest is “as much about facing a huge brave new world, a massive new environment and feeling like you don’t know how to process it all.” It’s not surprising such themes would emerge from Livingston: over the past year since he signed with Elektra Records, the 20-year-old has been on a rollercoaster ride that’s taken him from his native small-town of Denton, Texas to New York, Los Angeles, and back, all as he introduces himself and his music to the world. To that end, “As much as I still feel like the kid in the back of the class, I hope those are the kids I’m speaking to,” he explains. “I hope those are now the kids my music is reaching.”
Raised on a healthy dose of 2010s pop music — Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Imagine Dragons — Livingston says he was “conditioned from early on” to gravitate towards pop-influenced sonics. But what makes his music so dynamic is the way in which he plays with pop convention and by using outré production choices, then flips them on their head. The constant in his music, however, is simply that it carries with it a pristine sense of storytelling. Whereas the pop music he consumed on the whole regularly had “incredible hooks that felt empowering and uplifting,” oftentimes Livingston says, “they were so big and so universal that I felt them difficult to apply to my life in particular. By contrast, “I noticed the artists I loved the most” — from J Cole to Jon Bellion — “were the ones that were speaking to me and no one else in the world.”
This same sense of direct connection lies at the heart of Livingston’s music, and it speaks volumes about how and why his songs are so incredibly personal and often feel like dispatches ripped directly from his diary. “I’ve made peace and closure with so many chapters of my life just by making a song out of it,” Livingston says. “Superkid,” for example, he notes, was the “springboard” and entry point into his new EP. It was the first song he penned for it, and over plodding piano and gently rising strings it details the moment a kid enters the big city for the first time and feels a bit of imposter syndrome. “You went from small town/to kicking it with Superman,” he sings, and Livingston says the picture of “the kid with the cape and being the underdog” started to form in his mind as he wrote that song. “And it just kept going from here” with the rest of the EP.
The second single from this EP, “Message in a Bottle”, now sits at over 10 million streams. Other highlights of the EP include “Echo,” a cautionary tale about placing all your happiness in your environment and surroundings. “Who am I / if I’m one of the lights trapped in the Manhattan sky?” several characters, each in their own version of stasis, wonder aloud from their New York City balconies. And then there’s “Hercules,” a tale of having the ability to be vulnerable and not so strong as to feel you’re impermeable.
Throughout it all, however, there remains a wily spirit to his choices, both vocally and via his risk-taking production. “I definitely do have a desire to be different,” Livingston says. “I want to bring stuff to the table that I haven’t heard before. In order to have music worth talking about I need to try things that I’m not used to hearing.” Discovering his voice, he goes on to explain, was its own journey in self-realization; it required Livingston to understand exactly what he was trying to convey via his music and apply this using his natural instrument. “It was all about how do I break down all the weird walls I have with my voice and make it sound as true as just having a conversation,” the singer, who laughs describing his earliest recordings as super amateur, says of coming to know and embrace his fantastic, soulful vocals. “Developmentally it was about getting my singing voice to a place that was deserving of narrating my story.’”
Where Livingston takes his story now is as exciting a prospect as the music itself. “I made an entire EP about what it feels like to go up against the world and you’re battling for yourself,” he says, and now he’s on a quest to not only show the world what he’s capable of but continue to build strong connections with those whose lives he touches via his music. Since his second EP release, Livingston has released two singles with “The Author” amassing over 3 million streams since its release in May of 2022. Since their release, Livingston’s catalog passed 100 million streams on Spotify alone.
“I’m incredibly grateful right now,” he says, noting that he’s itching to take the stage and perform for his growing fanbase when the time is right. “Nothing is gonna match the feeling of a room and a soundstage and people singing along. I consistently look forward to that.”
“I could not in a million years expect I would get to do this,” Livingston notes of the excursion he’s currently on to share his music with the world. “I wake up every day freaking out a little bit. But I’m never complacent and never idle. I’m still the underdog. I still like being in the back of the classroom. Because I know there’s millions of other people there right with me.”