Liv.e admits she’s a tad nervous about what comes next. “I might need to get a drink in me before we go ahead and get started,” she says, laughing as she scans the cocktail menu at a hotel bar on Wilshire Avenue in Los Angeles. In gold double-sun earrings and a glistening pearl necklace, with a bright green trucker hat covering her buzzed head, she stands out in the sparse 4 p.m. crowd. As she banters with the bartender about the price of their ahi tuna tartare and fields compliments from the occasional passerby, though, she couldn’t seem calmer.
The Dallas-born artist (née Olivia Williams) is about to embark on her bravest venture. Her sophomore album, Girl in the Half Pearl, out Feb. 10, marks the beginning of a new era for her, marked by complete freedom. “Thematically, it’s about the rebirth of myself and allowing myself to be who I am,” Liv.e, 25, says. “It kind of deals with what comes with being in love, when you don’t really know what love is.”
Liv.e’s firsthand experience with love since 2020 — both artistically, in her writing, and in her personal relationships — has dismantled her ideas of the emotion. By her own account, she’s tired of talking about romance. Her critically acclaimed debut album, Couldn’t Wait To Tell You, was rife with lines that felt as if they were ripped from the most tender pages of her diary, musing about brand new crushes and potentially finding the One. Her strength was in the specificity of her feelings, tirelessly mapping out the beautiful mess inside someone’s brain when they’re in love.
Those rosy feelings were fleeting. Her relationship with her boyfriend at the time, who she’d been with for most of her adult life to that point, was unraveling. The stress of the ups and downs of the relationship pushed her to join Bronx rapper MIKE on his 2021 tour as a form of escapism. “That shit did not help,” she says. “It was just like, ‘I don’t want to be around you niggas right now.’”
Liv.e started to work on Girl in the Half Pearl in October of that year, writing and recording for a year and some change. From her artist residency at London’s Laylow in April 2022 to her eventual breakup later that summer, she found herself feeling alone for long stretches of time, with only music providing solace in moments. “This is like the first time that I wrote something that I’m kind of still dealing with, versus writing from a perspective of it being in the past,” she says. “[That year] was so shitty. Yes, it was definitely a big balance of things being great in other ways, but bruh, I was going through a lot of stuff.”
Liv.e handles the writing duties on each of the album’s 17 tracks, giving outsiders a glimpse of the turmoil she was going through. The specificity remains, but this time marked with the anguish that she felt fueled her creative process, tinging her lyrics with darkness and melancholy (“When I looked inside myself / I found there was no one to help,” she whispers on the opener “Gardetto”).
“I started to realize that there’s a lowkey sick part of myself,” Liv.e says. “I was hurting myself emotionally, or dealing with certain things I shouldn’t have been dealing with, and it really does feed the ideas and the mindset. I don’t know if it’s healthy or not. I’m still sad about shit that’s transpired, but the difference is, I’ve been able to be alone and process what’s happened to me.”
Girl in the Half Pearl captures the feeling of your world breaking down, then trying to sort through the rubble to rebuild a new reality. With production assistance from Los Angeles-based producers Mndsgn, Aaron Liao, Solomonphonic, and John Carroll Kirby, it’s a departure from the dreamy sounds of her previous project. Chaos rules, bouncing between drum & bass (“Ghost” and “Lake Psilocybin”), spacey keyboard trills (“Our Father” and “Wild Animals”), and cacophonous funk (“Clowns” and “Six Weeks”) to form her own mutant strain of R&B. Her randomness in delivery matches the grab-bag of sounds — switching between shrieks, angelic croons, and whispers at the drop of a hat. Her goal was to make an album that feels like you’re on drugs, mostly because that’s how she wanted to feel most of the time.
Her willingness to incorporate any genre into the fold, combined with an esoteric philosophy in her lyrics, has spurred comparisons to Erykah Badu. “It seems like people don’t know how to listen to music without comparing it to something they already know,” Liv.e says, sounding a little frustrated. “I love Erykah to the depth of my heart, that’s my nigga, my big sister. But there are too many Black people in this world that create different things to compare me to someone else.” She’d rather connect her constant stylistic shifting to her love of jazz and her interest in trying new things. “Doing the weirdest shit ever and making it sound fire,” she says, is at the core of what makes her an artist.
Liv.e makes no qualms about how dark Girl in the Half Pearl can feel when you listen to it. The listener witnesses her honest ramblings on heartbreak, relationships, and how her conception of love has changed. But after taking time to grieve and process the events of the past year, she hesitates to refer to this as a breakup album. To her, it’s more like the first chapter of something new. “Personally, I feel like the album represents myself coming into womanhood,” Liv.e says. “That’s a success story in itself. I feel relieved — like, I’m finally in a place to talk my shit, with a new mindset of being able to say what’s on my heart.”