When a Pop Star Writes a Song About You

On ‘Girl With No Face,’ indie-pop singer Allie X’s fourth track, “John and Jonathan,” is about my partner and me. Here’s how and why that came to fruition.

<p>Courtesy of Allie X/ Amanda Lauro</p>

Courtesy of Allie X/ Amanda Lauro

Situated on the corner of Bowery and Delancey Street in New York City’s notoriously gritty Lower East Side neighborhood is Bowery Ballroom, a legendary repository of live, intimate performances that propelled once-lesser-known acts like Lana Del Rey and Harry Styles to stardom.

It was there, on a chilly Easter Sunday in 2018, that my partner, John Monaco, and I waited with bated breath to watch Allie X (born Alexandra Ashley Hughes). For the uninitiated, Allie X, now 38, is a Canadian indie-pop artist who has written absolute bangers for Troye Sivan, BTS, Violet Chachki, and The Vamps. “You’ve got to listen to this bitch—she’s weird as hell, and she’s everything,” John told me a few months prior, singing her praises. Trusting his taste, I obliged, and immediately gravitated towards her synthy, angsty anthems like “Bitch,” “Casanova,” “Paper Love,” “Not So Bad in LA,” and “Girl of the Year;" I’m a pop music fiend.

<p>Courtesy of Allie X</p>

Courtesy of Allie X

The solo show was a sensation, Allie X commanding the room with electronic instruments I cannot identify, plus a delightfully playful dance of perfectly-choreographed neon lighting. What a better way for two cosmopolitan gays to spend a holy holiday, sipping one two many double-vodka sodas before rolling into work hungover the next day? After the show, John and I patiently waited in line to purchase Allie X merch—I bought a denim cap, he swiped for a T-shirt—then meet her. She was a joy, and got a kick out of our similar names: “Maybe one day I’ll write a song called ‘John and Jonathan.’” I laughed performatively and thought to myself, She’ll never remember this moment.

John and I attended Allie X’s performances at Soho House and the LadyLand Festival at the Brooklyn Mirage that same year. We were, for lack of a better phrase, unapologetic fanboys. Fast-forward through a pandemic, plus lots of artistic introspection on her behalf, and she and I met again (virtually) for a 2021 interview conducted for my then-employer, EliteDaily, about her single, “Mistress Violet” and her musical trajectory. Shockingly, she remembered us and then, on-camera, began riffing, “John and Jonathan / are on, the town / John and Jonathan / they go up, they go down.” Surreal.

Today, February 23, Allie X released Girl With No Face, her magnum opus (imho) of a fifth, goth-punk studio album that, to John's and my surprise, includes a song called “John and Jonathan,” partially inspired by our first interaction nearly six years ago. Working in media has its perks, and “John and Jonathan” has been number one on our getting-ready playlist for months. Of course, I could wax poetic about how cool it is to have a pop artist write a song about you (!!!), and just how good this body of Allie X work is—really. But there’s so much more to Girl With No Face than the aforementioned track; my favorites include “Truly Dreams,” “Galina,” and “Off With Her Tits.”

At NYC’s Public Hotel earlier this month, John and I met Allie X for coffee (her order? A large drip with a Splenda) to discuss the album, “John and Jonathan,” and what’s next.

InStyle: We’re less than 10 days away from the release of Girl With No Face; describe your state of being. 

Allie X: "I’m definitely enjoying myself now more than I have been through making the record and the campaign; most of my work is done at this point. It’s been an enormous lift. I don’t even know how I’ve done it—producing and writing myself, and then I took over management as well. Every aspect of my business, I oversee. There’s not enough hours in the day, and I’ve been pretty stressed. I’m glad to just talk about it, and be dressed up, and perform. This is fun. It’s a celebration."

<p>Courtesy of Allie X</p>

Courtesy of Allie X

InStyle: John first put me on to your music, and we stan. How would you describe your relationship with your fans?

Allie X: "It’s multi-faceted. First and foremost, I’ve come to understand that fans are the only thing that matters—truly. In the music industry, we have as many as 30 people on our extended team at times, and they’re all advising you, and some people are associated with big artists and have a lot of money and can advance you, blah, blah, blah. When I first started in the industry, I really thought those were gatekeepers, right? But what I’ve realized is that all I need is fans. I just want people to consume my music, to buy tickets to my shows, to purchase my vinyls. My fans can provide my livelihood. I appreciate that there are people in the world that want to hear what I have to say and interpret it and relate to it. What a privilege.

At the same time, I do find—and this is in the song “John and Jonathan”—fame sort of strange. And I’m not that famous, but I do find this idea of being someone that’s worshiped or whatever a strange position to be in. Seeing fan culture or being adjacent to it has always been a bit strange to me. People say (and not in these exact words), 'You’re so perfect!' I’m so, so flawed. I barely ever get recognized, and I really like that. I like having some sort of anonymity."

InStyle: So far, you’ve dropped “Black Eye,” “Girl With No Face,” and “Off With Her Tits” as singles, inspired by music legends like Kate Bush, Giorgio Moroder, and New Order. What’s the thematic through-line; what “era” would you say you’re in?

Allie X: "I’ve never written something where I’ve referenced an era so hard (with exceptions): the U.K. in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s; there’s a little bit of New York in it as well, but that transition from punk music into post-punk to synth-pop. I love the spirit of that time, and I love the experimentation that was happening, so if you know that music and you listen to this record, you hear all those references. That’s not something I’m trying to hide. By putting it through my own lens, it doesn’t exactly feel like that time—what came out of me is my eccentric and theatrical side, in my singing style, and lyrically. This is truly a goth-pop record."

InStyle: I’m sure, in a way we don’t understand, you’re thinking of how to please music executives when making a record.

Allie X: "On the other records, for sure. On this one, I shut everyone out. For sure, I had people being like, ‘That’s not really commercial how you’re singing. No one’s going to listen.’"

<p>Courtesy of Jonathan Borge</p> John (center) and Jonathan with Allie X at Bowery Ballroom in 2018.

Courtesy of Jonathan Borge

John (center) and Jonathan with Allie X at Bowery Ballroom in 2018.

InStyle: OK, this is where I get stupid. We met at Bowery Ballroom. John and I wanted in line to buy merch and to meet you. What’s your recollection of that night?

Allie X: "I remember that! When people ask about ‘John and Jonathan,’ that’s the story I give: I was at a meet-and-greet at the Bowery Ballroom and I met these two boyfriends named John and Jonathan…who introduced who? I can’t remember. I was like, ‘Wait, wait! So you’re John...and Jonathan?’ I was like, ‘That would be an amazing song.’ I remember it very well."

InStyle: Let’s talk about the production of the song itself.

Allie X: "The producer that did ‘Mistress Violet’ (Lecomte De Brégeot is his producer name)... when I heard the beat for ‘Mistress Violet,’ I was working on Girl With No Face, and I was like, Hm, this is interesting, this is very much in the world of the record that I’m making, even though I hadn’t considered working with a producer at all. He sent me a beat and it was an early iteration of what became ‘John and Jonathan.’ It had the rolling bass-line. He had already done a melody with no words. Then, it just went in a bunch of different directions where it really lost me, but that first bit was really good, and so I was trying to crack it. We had that conversation [about your relationship via Zoom in 2021] and I was literally walking around my parents’ hometown [in the Toronto suburb of Oakville] and we were on the pier and I went home and recorded and added a lot of production and that’s how it happened. That’s how it works! It just hits you sometimes."

InStyle: I want you to know it’s so special to us.

Allie X: "I know, you’re immortalized!"

InStyle: Ok so…is “John and Jonathan” about us? Be real.

Allie X: "Yes! [laughs] But no! Even songs that I write about me aren’t really necessarily about something that I’ve experienced. This stuff’s so abstract, you know? What I took from our interaction is the name John and Jonathan, which is so iconic and culty; I took the idea of two metropolitan gays going about…I don’t know what you guys do, but I made an idea: Two classy New Yorkers, what are they doing? And then I took it in a whole different direction where I’m observing someone and then I go inside of my own head, which has nothing to do with you guys, it’s just my feeling about being a public figure."

InStyle: Right. I understood it to be about being perceived and having fans. I love the lyric, “Jon likes coffee black, and John, au lait,” because it mirrors what John and I actually like and our aesthetic. How did you come up with that, considering you don’t really know us?

Allie X: "There’s a lot of wit in this record and it’s a nice, witty line. I cracked myself up with that one."

<p>Courtesy of Allie X/ InStyle</p>

Courtesy of Allie X/ InStyle

InStyle: You seem to be having fun musically.

Allie X: "I am! Parts of me were so fun, and parts of it were absolutely tortuous and that’s because the writing process does not really lend itself... it’s one thing to sit at a guitar or piano and be like, This is the melody or the idea. A lot of writers are comfortable doing that by themselves; it’s another thing to build an entire track from scratch—all the melodies, all the lyrics, come up with all the harmonies, figure out all the gear to use. It was a huge technical challenge and learning curve."

InStyle: Stan culture is all about begging for more, more, more, but good work takes time.

Allie X: "It takes time. And if you want to sacrifice quality, or, for instance, on Cape God, it was so easy and so collaborative, I had less than a month in the studio [for that album]. But when I wrote ‘Catch’ [the EP] and I wrote ‘Prime,’ [for CollXtion I] those took months and months."

InStyle: How are you thinking of performing Girl With No Face?

Allie X: "I’m not an artist that can dream—maybe for a music video, definitely for stills I can. But in terms of live, I can’t dream of my fantasy production and then go execute it. When I think of live production, I think, full-on hack, full-on thrifty mindset. I really like what I did for my ‘Secret LA’ show, which was sort of a museum vibe. It was basically boulders, red rope, and chalk powder… One day, if I have a huge budget I’ll do amazing things. There’s a clip of Lady Gaga from very early days, when she hadn’t broken yet, and I’ll always remember it—someone in the audience commented on her disco stick, and she was like, ‘Yeah, you love my little disco stick, you wait until you see the things I’m gonna do.’ I don’t know if I’ll ever reach a level where I can actually do all these crazy things, but I feel the same way. You can’t imagine the things I’d do if I had the budget."

InStyle: It seems like you’re shedding past versions of yourself on this record. Who is Allie X, and how has your artistry evolved?

Allie X: "Who’s Allie X today? I wish I knew. I’m sure you guys, John and Jonathan, relate to this idea that it’s one thing to... as longtime partners, you probably see progression in each other better than you see it in yourself, right? I know with my partner, I can see how he’s changed, or where he’s at—it’s easier from an outside perspective. When you’re inside of yourself, you can make certain observations, but at least inside me it's so chaotic—I don’t really know how to analyze, but I will attempt to.

The changes in me from doing this record have been pretty profound. I’ve let go of a lot of dreams, and I’ve found new ones, which has been beautiful. ‘Weird World’ is about seeing the reality of who I am in the world, and that hurts, but it also is so empowering to understand the truth and to see things as they really are. When I started Allie X, I was terrified to even reveal my eyes, I was so, If they see me they'll think I’m ugly. If they know my age they’ll think I’m too old. If they know about my health struggles, no one will want to work with me. It was so much. 

At this point—and this ties back into what I was saying about how it comes down to the fans—I don’t care what anyone thinks except my fans. If my fans don’t think that it’s a liability for me to be someone with chronic illness that’s also doing pop, if my fans don’t think that I’m too old, if my fans don’t think that I’m whatever, then I don’t care what anyone else thinks, you know? It feels good to have honest interviews and conversations like this where I feel comfortable just saying that. That’s been a big transition. Looking forward, I’m hoping for some peace that comes into my life. I feel like I’ve been fist-out, fighting for the last few years, in a private and lonely way. I’m hoping to manifest a calmer era, to enter my adult years in a way."

Girl With No Face is out now.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Read the original article on InStyle.