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On 'Collapsed In Sunbeams,' Arlo Parks Welcomes Endings And Change

Arlo Parks' album <em>Collapsed in Sunbeams</em> is a collage of joy, pain and heartbreak.
Alex Kurunis
Courtesy of the artist
Arlo Parks' album Collapsed in Sunbeams is a collage of joy, pain and heartbreak.

It was poetry that first captured Arlo Parks, not music. As a teenager in West London, the artist read Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," which she remembers emanating a sense of yearning and longing, while also challenging ideas of form and rhyme. Parks says the poem gave off an air of humanity, but was equally strange and intense.

When she first tried her hand at poetry, it all seemed to revolve around escapism — a Hollywood fantasy, moving off the grid or falling in love. But music eventually made its way into Parks' creative practice when she started speaking poetry over beats. Art, poetry and songwriting all meshed into what would become her first EP, Super Sad Generation, a collection of vivid and confessional songs from a Gen Z perspective.

Now, at 20, Parks has put out her debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams. It's brimming with story songs — vignettes — about joy, pain, heartbreak and depression. It centers the mental health and struggles of her and her friends. "Talking about mental health and talking about the difficult parts of adolescence," she says. "It's what I was living through and what the people around me were living as well."

At one point, Parks found herself holding a friend's hand through a period of depression and hopelessness. It's chronicled in the album's midpoint, "Black Dog," which Parks describes as "essentially me, as a friend, experiencing the pain of a loved one." The song is an emotional outpouring, but muted. There's a lump in her throat, but Parks is calm as she sings, "I would do anything to get you out your room."

Writing specifically for Generation Z was never the artist's intention. "It's more of a conscious attempt to tell my story, and I happen to be 20 years old," she says. More than that, many of the artists she admires these days are vulnerable about their own mental health, whether it's a matter of working through anxiety, depression, OCD or trauma. "I think the conversations are opening," she says. "And the fact that it's becoming easier to speak one's truth is really comforting and positive to me."

To Parks, unpacking difficult situations and revealing the truth is as important as highlighting the possibility for joy. The world operates on a balance — "Nothing lasts forever, whether it's pain, whether it's joy. I think that's just, kind of, part of what it is to be a human being," she says. It's a hopeful upswing for her, especially in the current moment. It also rings true to an Audre Lorde quote that she holds dear: "Pain will either change or end." Parks says she knows what sadness, fear and grief can do, but even so, she's optimistic that things will get better someday.

Arlo Parks spoke about poetry as her gateway to music, mental health in creative work and the making of Collapsed in Sunbeams on All Things Considered. Hear more of the conversation at the audio link.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alex Ramos is an artist, writer and editor who specializes in media journalism and music criticism. They're a recent graduate of California College of the Arts, where they were trained in filmmaking and animation. Outside of their work at NPR, Ramos is editor-in-chief at Sunstroke Magazine, an independent publication that centers Generation Z, culture and activism.