Don’t Regret a Single One
Liv Austen shares her thoughts on how the meaning behind her new single has changed for her over the last year. “So… How many boys have you kissed?” is the question I would get the most when I first started playing my new single, Don’t Regret a Single One, live. The song’s verses list out my previous love interests, all real life experiences, almost like they were Friends episodes (“there was the one I pretended to hate”), and the chorus hook “I remember fondly every boy I kissed, and I don’t regret a single one” makes it pretty clear what the song is about. If you were to go through the whole song however, I am actually only referring to 4 concrete examples of ex-lovers; depending on how you interpret the lyrics (there is also a mention of “more than one who didn’t like me back” and “those I’d agree to meet up with one time”).
For a grown woman, I’d argue that this is no shocking number. And to answer the initial question, I’ve kissed more than four boys in my life. Even a few men, would you believe, and one or two women. A couple of times I was in love, most of the time I was just having fun.
“Do you really not regret any of them?” is the next question I get. The truth is; Well… On a good day? No. Mistakes really do make you a more interesting person, and more importantly; they are inevitable, so you might as well embrace them. Would I have loved to not have had my heart broken, or feel unimportant to someone I liked? Of course! But what kind of songwriter would I be (probably a boring one!), and how much would I appreciate eventually meeting the love of my life (most likely not as much as I do now!) had I not made those mistakes?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few years, it is that being a young woman singing country/pop songs about (among many other topics) ex boyfriends, has a tendency to make people want to compare you to Taylor Swift. This is quite amusing to me as I didn’t properly discover Taylor’s music until I’d been a songwriter for years.
I grew up on a diet of Shania Twain and Alicia Keys, and feel that anyone who will look at my writing and music in detail will find as much of a trace of their influences as anyone else. I love their ability to both be strong and empowering, yet honest and vulnerable in their songs. Don’t Regret a Single One definitely has that “I’ll say what I want to say” attitude that got me hooked on Shania back in the day.
I don’t think she is celebrated enough for her incredibly unapologetic and feminist lyrics, which she has stayed true to throughout her career. If you’re a fan you will know what I mean. “Honey, I’m home and I’ve had a hard day. Pour me a cold one, and oh, by the way, rub my feet, give me something to eat – fix me up my favorite treat”. (Honey, I’m Home is on the album Come On Over, which came out 20 years ago.) Her lyrics are always feminist, fierce and even funny. I hope I can keep that tradition alive.
The events unfolding over the last year – where sexual harassment has finally seen responsibility put on the actual perpetrators, rather than the victims, has given me courage, almost doubly, being both an actor and a musician, to speak up for myself. To hear, for example, that Rose McGowan’s lawyer initially told her she wouldn’t have a case against Harvey Weinstein because she had appeared nude in films, was the most bizarre (but not surprising) example of how far victim blaming and slut shaming has gone in our society. How are the two connected at all? And why are only women responsible for being “modest” and control how men view them – why are we not allowed express our sexuality (be it in our art or in our private lives), and at the same time still be treated with respect? Why can a man, and I realise this is a cliché as I am writing it, speak freely about having had several partners, but when a woman does it, like I do in Don’t Regret a Single One, she worries about what reaction it will get?
Being blamed for my sexuality is nothing new to me (as it won’t be to most women), and dates back to incidents like being a teenager in school, and told by a female teacher that the girls in our class needed to think about how we dress, as it can be “very hard for male teachers to concentrate” (yup, that happened), to being fresh out of musical theatre training and land an ensemble role in a big show, only to realise that the job entailed wearing a bikini on stage every night (not optional) and having to do quick costume changes backstage next to a group of older actors who made us feel incredibly uncomfortable, but learning to live with it, because “what do you expect, prancing around in a two-piece?” Luckily, we are seeing so many great role models who are speaking up against the slut shaming lately. Young women are learning that they can be sexual beings and sing about whatever they want, and not have to take any crap – the aforementioned Taylor Swift being a great example, who, love it or hate it, has been consistent in her songwriting style and favourite subject (successful and unsuccessful relationships) from the start – and when sued for “causing” a radio DJ to lose his job when she spoke out about being groped by him while taking a photo, countersued him for said groping, and explained in court, matter-of-fact, that the reason why you can’t see any movement at the front of her skirt in the photo was that “my ass is located at the back of my body”.
Even though a few women like Shania were outspoken 20 years ago, this frank and unapologetic way of speaking feels new and liberating to me, and I am definitely here for it. Her new songs seem to have taken on a more confrontational and unapologetic approach too (Look What You Made Me Do), and if we can bring this attitude in to our music as well as how we speak outside of our art, I think we can make a huge difference for the young women following us.
I realised, in the process of releasing Don’t Regret a Single One as a single in the context of a year like 2018, that it has more of that unapologetically feminist flavour to it, and less of that “this is how my ex-boyfriend made me feel” thing that you may notice on your first listen. It is truly remarkable to discover that you had more to say with your song than even you realised at the time of its conception, but believe me, it happens. And seeing this song for what it is and can mean today, I am the proudest I have ever been of it. I want to speak up both in real life and in my songs, because to me, they are interchangeable.
I hope to empower and inspire young women who are growing up now, and I want them to learn from the start that they don’t need to dial down their own sexuality to protect themselves from shaming and harassment. A song that I thought was about embracing mistakes and a broken heart, is so much more than that; it’s a positive feminist anthem, a celebration of female sexuality, and a statement, making it clear that I don’t care that you know what I’ve done in my life – because “if I stayed with my high school sweetheart, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”