Anyone who has been within 50 yards of TikTok will recognise Beth McCarthy, having seen her sobbing behind her steering wheel to ‘She Gets the Flowers’ – a video with 5.1 million
If you’ve seen the dual TikTok of Will Joseph Cook’s ‘Be Around Me’ and her own ‘Omg Did She Call Him Baby?’, you’ll also remember her distinct, trembling voice. There is something vulnerable and fragile about her music that belies the incredible strength it imbues to her listeners.
McCarthy left many people’s dream job in radio the month that lockdown began, but quickly returned as her pursuit of success in London was “spoiled” by COVID-19. Explained as a role for “if music doesn’t work out”, the radio enables her need for “connection”.
“My main goal has been to write songs that connect with people and that people can relate to and listen to and go, that’s me, that’s my story.”
TikTok provides the perfect opportunity for this, according to McCarthy – particularly during a pandemic where we all have “that kind of want for real moments and genuine emotion.” Three years ago, she tells me, “If I’d have cried in my car and put it online, people would have been like, ‘She’s not okay!’” Now, people need to connect on a “vulnerable and raw and genuine level.”
However, McCarthy jokes that TikTok is still not a wholly comfortable platform. She admits to being “a little bit bitter that I spent ten years grafting my arse off to try and make it in music… and then I literally had to cry in a car. And that’s the thing that everybody’s listening to my music because of… I could have just done this the whole time?” This was something that picked up when she went on The Voice UK at 16 – maintaining that she did it to “get the experience”.
“I chatted absolute bollocks for like, a good 20 minutes,” she laughs. “But it worked for me… they were like, ‘Yes, you’re weird, and so are we! We’ll just stick with you!’” This plays out across McCarthy’s music as she rewrites the charts – from Lewis Capaldi to Noah Cyrus. “There are certain songs out there that I hear and I’m like, wow, that’s incredible. But I-I am the person they’re singing about, like, I’m not them.”
The power of this approach is perhaps best led through ‘Self Love Story” – a fundamental reworking of Taylor Swift’s 2009 hit. The famous, perhaps infamous chorus is replaced by: “You don’t need a prince when you’re already a queen / Write your own story / Where, baby, you are the lead.” She compares her role as singer-songwriter to being “the best friend or the big sister.” Her personal ethos is one based around self-appreciation: “I hate this narrative that people have of, like, needing someone else. The minute you start being, like, happy with yourself and comfortable with yourself, is the minute that all that attachment and sadness goes away.”
“I’m trying to take on everyone’s story on my little shoulders. I’m the Oprah of Music.”
Interaction with her audience has remained an integral element of McCarthy’s work – in the music video for ‘She Gets the Flowers’, a sequence of women write and hold up their stories of heartbreak. Simple and totally devastating, you leave the song consumed by the silence it leaves behind. She says that her next song is going to be building on the power within her rewrites – “We all cried together, and now we’re all going to get over it together.” Her aim is to “take the power back and take that moment where it’s like, okay, we’re really sad about that person, we’re really, really sad about that. But you know what, we’re okay.”