With ‘Ceilings,’ Lizzy McAlpine Reaches New Heights
If you have opened TikTok at all in the last few months, you have probably heard Lizzy McAlpine’s song “Ceilings.” The sped-up version has inspired a host of creators and celebrities like Victoria Justice and Jimmy Fallon to channel an indie movie fantasy with the song, having a friend film them as they walk solemnly before taking off in a melodramatic run.
Released last April on McAlpine’s second album Five Seconds Flat, the track was never intended to be a single. But like all great songs, its audience took matters into their own hands. After attracting fans everywhere, it entered the Billboard Hot 100 in early March, marking McAlpine’s first entry on the chart. The song also became a certified Top 10 hit on the Official UK Singles chart.
“It’s been very surreal,” McAlpine says over Zoom. “I wasn’t expecting this song to be the one to blow up, and it’s really cool to see the community that has formed around the song on TikTok. The feeling that the song encompasses is so universal.”
The success of “Ceilings” is emblematic of McAlpine’s own career rise over the last few years. She was a student at Berklee College of Music when the pandemic hit in 2020 and caught some attention through the school’s #BerkleeAtHome Instagram Live series. That summer, she went viral with a video performance of an unfinished song called “You Ruined the 1975,” shot in her bathroom.
“I started building my fanbase in the middle of the pandemic so I didn’t really have a concept of how many people were really following me,” she says. “When I first started touring, it was surreal to see those people materialized in front of me and be actual real humans.”
Part of McAlpine’s increasingly far-reaching appeal is the mix of musical influences that have helped form her as a storyteller. As a Philadelphia-raised kid, she absorbed her grandma’s love for musical theater, making regular trips to New York City with her to see Broadway shows like Beauty and the Beast. Her mom and dad would play Sara Bareilles, Shania Twain, Adele, or the Police in the car and at home for her, as well. She started singing then eventually learned the piano and, later, the guitar.
By age 12, McAlpine was posting both covers and original music on SoundCloud, not really knowing how or if she could gain and audience.
“All of the theater kids in my high school were also writing music and they would perform at coffee shops around town but I never really did that,” she says.
While studying abroad in Spain during her time at Berklee, she wrote her first album Give Me A Minute. The album came out as she was beginning to find an audience on social media, in August 2020.
“I was inspired by the Sara Bareilles, folky-type singer-songwriter vibes for that one,” she explains of her debut. “It was close-ish to what I actually sound like as an artist but it wasn’t quite there yet. That album feels very young to me.”
For Five Seconds Flat, McAlpine wanted to go in the “opposite direction,” pulling inspiration from artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Holly Humberstone. The result is a series of indie-pop gut-punches that solidify McAlpine as the up-and-coming songwriter to watch.
Of course, the ascent comes with lessons along the way. McAlpine set out on her first tour last year, opening for Dodie. It was harder than she imagined.
“It was very isolating,” she recalls. “I was having panic attacks every day on that tour. It was not great for my mental health.”
She was worried all tours would be like that, but found that a little more experience helped her equip herself with what she needed to get through. By the time she went on a headline trek last fall, she better understood how to make sure she’s in the best place emotionally to handle the constant travel and overwhelming nature of sharing yourself with so many strangers.
“I get overstimulated easily and am so sensitive to everything in the world,” she adds. “Giving myself to an entire room of people is very draining to me. It’s tough to find a balance but I’m working on that. It gets better with every tour, I think.”
McAlpine was originally due to open for John Mayer — who was featured alongside her on Jacob Collier’s Grammy-nominated “Never Gonna Be Alone” — on some dates of his current solo acoustic tour. Learning her limits on the fly especially as she is juggling her first real hit led her to drop out and focus on her upcoming headlining tour, where she’ll be playing her biggest shows yet.
“It was a hard decision,” she admits, “but I need time. I just would be so burnt out and exhausted. I want to start my headlining tour feeling good about it.”
“Ceilings” and the next tour come at what was intended to be the tail end of Five Seconds Flat’s cycle. She has long held two big goals for 2023, the first of which is to get back into acting.
“I’m a theater kid at heart I want to I miss acting so much. And you know I’ve been self taping here and there but I’m waiting for the right project,” she says. Her dream project would be a movie-musical, specifically an adaptation of the Broadway show Next to Normal.
And her other big goal? Finishing her third album, of course. Her next LP has been written for “a long time” and is just going through the arduous production process to get it finished. She feels like this next one is even closer to what she “actualy sounds like as an artist,” and pulls inspiration from Seventies-style singer-songwriters as well as Elliott Smith and Andy Shauf.
“It’s definitely not Give Me A Minute. And it’s definitely not Five Seconds Flat.”
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