Aly & AJ released a video for their new single “Listen!!!” Friday, the latest from the pop duo since recording an explicit version of their 2007 platinum cult classic “Potential Breakup Song” after the old version went viral on TikTok. “Listen!!!” is the band’s newest single off their forthcoming album, expected to drop sometime in 2021.
The video — directed by Susanna Howe and choreographed by Milka Djordjevich — features the sisters thrashing with their guitars in front of AJ’s new home. (The boxes in the video — presumably filled with the sisters’ stuff as they get ready to leave an oblivious partner — are actually AJ’s real move-in boxes, the sisters say). The two other dancers featured in the video are wearing face masks, a fitting nod to the quarantine era.
As the sisters prep their first full album release in over a decade, they spoke with Rolling Stone about the new song, writing tongue-in-cheek breakup tracks, TikTok virality, and how to organically lean into millennial nostalgia.
“Listen!!!” doesn’t feel entirely dissimilar to “Potential Breakup Song” in its message and sound — and it carries some of the same expressions of frustration as before. What led to writing it?
AJ: We thought we could make a song a lot of people could relate to: Feeling like you’re stuck in a relationship or having nothing to do with a relationship. We all feel stuck right now with what the world is. I think there’s hope and light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s a matter of finding that light and getting out of a place that feels like you’re imprisoned.
It’s funny that Aly and I can’t really speak to the relationship side because we’re both in really happy relationships. Aly is married and doesn’t feel trapped with her husband; I feel wonderful with my boyfriend. We’re like, “Maybe we should write a letter to Huffington Post saying ‘Aly & AJ are OK, we’re not held hostage by the guys we’re with.'”
“Listen!!!” was written before the pandemic in January of 2020; it’s interesting to see it live long enough to change and feel fitting to now.
Aly: We had taken inspiration in the frustration and the desperation of wanting to get out — get out of your hometown or your relationship or out of this shitty administration. And now there’s wanting to get out of the pandemic. We had 90% of the record fully written before, and at that point, it was just about dusting it off lyrically. We had the melodies. As AJ said, it really gives it a new meaning.
What’s the story behind getting Nancy Wilson on backing vocals and guitar?
AJ: We’ve known Nancy for years and she’s been a mentor of ours for a long time. I think obviously coming from an iconic band as a duo, she has an incredibly strong relationship with her sister. It’s always been something Aly and I have looked up to.
We connected years ago. We actually wrote a few songs that never came out together, and we always had a running joke about if those tunes are ever going to come out. And it’s like, “No, sorry, Nancy, those aren’t going to ever exist in the real world.”
We texted her when we were recording the song and she clicked with it. It didn’t necessarily become like a quote-unquote typical feature, but it was more like a friend and a mentor who just wanted to add an extra layer to this music.
How long did it take before you’d started seeing “Potential Breakup Song” resurfacing on TikTok?
AJ: It’s hilarious; it all happened in such an organic way. Our friends would not stop texting us. Eventually, TikTok reached out to our manager when things were really hitting and they were like, “How can the girls get involved? Is there anything they can do that shows that they’re jumping in with this swell? Because it’s really hitting hard.” We ended up deciding to make something around these girls and their moms because that was our favorite kind of video that was going viral. It wasn’t something we’d expected.
You’d written the song for a younger fanbase over a decade ago. Does it feel any different seeing this new generation taking to it in the same way?
Aly: I’m almost 32; we wrote it when we were teenagers. We always looked at this song as tongue-in-cheek — to make light of a situation with a breakup. It obviously has a lot of sarcasm in it, and it was always intended to be that way. The fact that people took it and ran with that is great, and now it’s seeing its second life. And seeing that younger generation taking it now is great, too.
AJ: It’s neat because a lot of these kids, their siblings knew the song when it came out. And now this younger generation of Gen Z says, “There’s this new song out called ‘Potential Breakup Song’ by Aly & AJ.” My friend was telling her younger sister, “No, this song was out like 15 years ago.”
What’s neat with the song is that, as Aly said, it’s a tongue-in-cheek song that has also helped some people get through a breakup as a fun anthem. There aren’t as many songs that I’ve come across that do the same thing.
Aly: A breakup song that’s not around wanting to cry yourself to sleep at night.
Nostalgia has worked well on TikTok. After seeing what happened with “Potential Breakup Song,” is it tempting to lean into that even more? Would you embrace calling back to your Disney days like Cow Belles and Phil of the Future to help market your new music, or is it something you consciously avoid?
AJ: I think if you push nostalgia, it just doesn’t work. The beauty behind “Potential Breakup Song” having this sort of second-coming was that Aly and I had nothing to do with it. Obviously, we jumped on board and said, “Oh, let’s re-record this. People want an explicit version; let’s give them what they wanted since they were teenagers. Let’s drop an F-bomb or two and call it a day.” But I think people don’t want that forced.
Pushing to do something like a Cow Belles sequel or to re-record “Like Whoa” wouldn’t do it. We could give those old songs to people on tour. We’re happy to play older music when we’re in a live space, to bring them back to their childhood. But pushing nostalgia isn’t something we want to do. We want to move forward, and if something from our past hits, then that’s great.