By Alexandra Hall
It’s a tender girl summer.
The last time I talked to Cece Coakley, she was in her childhood bedroom preparing to go to college. Music was a side hustle and passion, but not a career. Three years later, she just dropped her debut EP and played at Bonnaroo. College student and heartstring-plucker, Coakley has solidified her step back into the industry with “Tender.”
“Tender” consists of six songs, a few familiar favorites like “Cliché” and “Listerine” alongside newer tracks like “Perfect Strangers” and “Anything.” Coakley’s signature crisp instrumentation and strong, sweet vocals showcase her blossoming musical skills.
“Tender was my hyper-fixation word the whole time I was writing because I feel like everybody has those words they constantly repeat for no reason,” Coakley said. “It kind of documents an emotional and tender time in my life where a lot was changing. A lot of the themes have to do with love or the loss of love, and just how emotional love can be.”
Coakley’s favorite track is “Anything,” a song she wrote about the confusion of having a crush (who she ended up dating). The song follows Coakley as she attempts to figure out what’s going on in the mind of the person she’s falling for: a universally excruciating feeling. She describes her lover’s mind like a mind palace that needs an entrance fee for admittance. In the age of overconfidence, Coakley’s unsure musings on desire are refreshing.
“And I wonder what it’s like inside your mind/ I would pay any entrance fee to understand what you might think of me/ If you think anything.”
In the modern era of vampiric labels sucking up as much young blooded talent as they can, the safety of singer-songwriters comes into question. The risk of artists being thrown aside as soon as they produce one hit is a real threat. But despite the fact that the demand for professional music production has never been higher, artists like Coakley are seeing a lot of a more personal style success. They come to face the industry now with audiences that are intimately involved in their creative processes and a hunger for independence.
When reflecting on the industry and its demands, Coakley said, “I think the hype around artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Taylor swift opened the doors for people analyzing songs more. Everybody’s looking for the deeper meaning. I think people really care a lot more about what the songs they listen to say.”
The maturity in the audience’s tastes is often a reflection of the maturity of the creators’ sound. It seems like TikTok gets a lot of slack for its faults but not enough kudos for the relationship it breeds between artist and audience. There is now a movement towards more meaningful content that honors listeners’ intelligence.
Coakley started posting daily TikTok videos for fun during the early days of quarantine. In her words, people didn’t “hate” them. She’s amassed over 40 thousand followers with covers, clips of her own songs, and her take on trends.
“It was a COVID accident,” Coakley said. “I just had nothing better to do and I would post random songs. I was fully content with just going to college and I never expected anything to come from it.”
A year and some change later and Coakely is just beginning to climb towards the summit of her success. Earlier this spring, Coakley toured with Bahamas for roughly a week on the west coast.
“We found out we were opening five days before we left,” Coakley said. “Since I’m not 26, it costs about a million dollars to rent a car. So my boyfriend and I drove across the country to Seattle… we had two days to do it.”
The cross-country roadtrip and subsequent drive through each tour date taught Coakley a lot about some of the grueling aspects of touring. But Coakley meets back-to-back shows and the constant fickle nature of the music industry with grace.
Although her recent success might seem like another algorithmic “accident,” Coakley’s passion and talent transcends trends. The positivity with which she carries herself and sculpts her sound is timeless and genuine.
“Tender” is not a first step in her career, it is a stride.