Entertainment

Sara Bareilles Says the True Story Behind ‘Love Song’ Isn’t What You Think

We all know Sara Bareilles writes absolute bangers—songs with driving beats and almost sermonic messages. Her anthems make us want to write a letter to an ex and burn it by the flame of a scented candle. After “Love Song”—reportedly an angry response to a record label looking for more bankable lyrics—became a staple, we thought, Okay, we get it. Sara Bareilles is a pop-star with a twist of integrity. She rocks a side part. She makes us wish we had taken piano lessons.

But we’ve underestimated Sara Bareilles every step of the way. First, she became a major pop star without selling out. Next, she’s succeeded where many, many successful musicians have failed—we’re talking Bono, Sting, and Sheryl Crow—in that she wrote original music and lyrics for what became a hit Broadway musical, Waitress. The songs of Waitress have touched people so deeply, they’ve inspired countless covers and a full-on TikTok trend.

Okay, we thought. We get it—she’s a singer-songwriter, and she’s also a theater nerd who got the last laugh. Then, in May, Bareilles starred in Girls5Eva, a TV musical comedy on NBC’s Peacock from Tina Fey and Meredith Scardino. Bareilles is so effortlessly funny, it’s almost crazy-making—how is this the same woman who we’ve been bopping to on the radio for so many years? Why hasn’t she hosted SNL?

Bareilles isn’t offended that people are surprised. “I’m surprised too,” she tells Glamour, laughing. Her funny, acting self is the part of her that only her friends had known before Girls5Eva. “I think humor is one of the secrets to making it through this life.” 

Now, she’s back at the piano—she just released her new live album Amidst the Chaos: Live at the Hollywood Bowl, recorded in 2019 and delayed during the pandemic. Recently, she performed her first live show in New York City since 2020—a fundraiser for a non-profit that brings free meals to homebound people.“It was just a tremendous gift to return to the stage and to return to human beings in seats,” she says, her voice catching in a very real, very Sara Bareilles way. “It was just—a miracle.”

In some ways, Bareilles even underestimated herself—she never thought she would write a book, produce a show, or act on TV. “Life has showed up bigger and better than I ever could have imagined,” she says. Celebrating her new album and the return of live music, Glamour sat down with Bareilles to break down the real stories behind some of her greatest hits, for an installment of our new series, 5 Songs, 5 Stories.

“Gravity”

“Gravity” is Bareilles’ sleeper hit—she wrote it as a teenager as a kind of letter to her high school boyfriend, long before she was attached to an agent or a studio. When her first album, Careful Confessions, was released in 2004,Gravitywas the first track. It’s the oldest song Bareilles plays in public and a fan favorite. 

I wrote “Gravity” when I was about 18 years old. It’s the first time I processed my intimate personal experience in a song in a way that expanded out to deal with metaphor and these larger themes. “Gravity” is really about having my heart broken by another person and feeling physically unable to keep myself away. It didn’t matter how much I would give myself pep talks, or feel my own resolve in moving forward, or think, He treated me poorly so we’re over. I just felt like I physically didn’t have the strength to not respond to his calls, or not go see him if he asked me to. Those kinds of things felt like a gravitational pull. I think the reason that song remains so special to me is that I got to see for the first time that as brave as I could be in sharing my vulnerability, the more connective it was for my audience. I couldn’t possibly have imagined that the song would have this life. It was never on the radio! To have a song that never ended up on the radio be probably my number one most-requested song is a very special thing.

“Love Song”

Love Songwas the debut single on Bareilles’ first studio album with a major music label. The song, released in 2007, rose to number four on the Billboard Hot 100, spending more than forty weeks in the charts. Bareilles earned two Grammy nominations for itSong of the Year and Best Female Pop Performance.

To be perfectly honest, over the years the story of Love Song has gotten shortened to a one-liner that’s less factually accurate. The song wasn’t a specific response to my record company. Nobody sat me down and said, “I need this kind of song from you.” There was more of a subtle, nuanced…withholding. I was getting ready to release the first record, and I had a whole boatload of songs so I was like, “What’s the deal? Let’s get in the studio. Let’s make the record.” There was a withholding of the green light. I was encouraged to keep writing and meet with co-writers. The co-writer thing was a total disaster, devastating on every level. I felt invisible and unimportant and manipulated and all the things. But I knew—because I’m a smart person—that they didn’t have a song they felt they could go to radio with. So I shifted to the idea of a love song.

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