Interviewing Syd starts the way most interviews do these days: I apologise for inevitable Zoom issues, and Syd, relaxed in loose pyjamas and a cap in her neat apartment, graciously waves this off. Then a wildcard element enters the chat: the singer-songwriter is accosted by a furry bundle on her couch. Said bundle is Rocky, a tiny, “anxious” yorkshire terrier. “He absolutely loves me. He doesn’t like many people,” she says, and this is clearly a point of genuine pride.
Born Sydney Loren Bennett, the 29-year-old made her name as part of the hip-hop collective Odd Future. Subsequently she fronted the neo-funk outfit the Internet, and now she is recording as a solo artist in her own right. Rocky is new to her life, as is his owner, Syd’s girlfriend. While making her upcoming second album, Broken Hearts Club, Syd was processing the bitter end of a two-year-long relationship and the minor matter of a global pandemic. As lockdowns swept the world, the relationship began to crumble; her ex revealed that she no longer wanted to be in a relationship with a woman. Syd, for the first time in her life, was heartbroken. “I thought it was going to last for ever,” she says. “We had talked about it lasting for ever. We talked about getting married and having kids and all of that.”
On top of the breakup, Syd had to contend with the fact that she could no longer bear to listen to the music she had been making before it happened. “I was writing an album full of love songs!” she laughs. “One of the working titles was literally In Love.” It took a while to deal with the fallout, creatively and emotionally: “I definitely had to sit by myself for six months and just get over it. And also, I was like: ‘Let me use this as fuel, to make a great album. Something compelling.’”
And that is exactly what she has done. Syd rethought the record, and created the glistening, vulnerable Broken Hearts Club, which chronicles a love story from its happy beginnings until the end. She gave her album that title because, when her relationship was over, she felt as if she had joined a club “of stronger people. People who had a plan, and someone else just threw a wrench in it.”
Breakups can be lonely, but Syd has enlisted a starry cast of vocalists – such as Kehlani, Mamii, Smino and Lucky Daye – to join her on the album. “Honestly, what made me want to collaborate more was really Mac Miller’s death,” Syd says. Miller, a much-loved rapper who died of an accidental overdose in 2018, had been a longtime friend and musical co-conspirator of the Internet. “He was just a chronic collaborator. And at the end of the day, that’s the community that we all talk about. He made everybody feel so special. I wanted to be more like him.”
Syd was just 16 when she joined Odd Future, performing under the name Syd tha Kyd alongside fellow members and Matt Martians. (Their careers took off so fast that Syd had to ask her father for a $200 CD mixer for Christmas so they could play live.) For the past decade, she has also been lead vocalist for the Internet, her band, which includes Martians as well. So Syd is used to finding inspiration in the people around her. While she produced parts of Broken Hearts Club herself, she also frequently wrote to beats submitted by others, including the producers Brandon Shoop and Troy Taylor, who has worked with such luminaries as Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin. (“He’s like this legendary producer who made songs that I grew up on,” Syd says.)
While Broken Hearts Club is populated by Syd’s signature slick synths, as well as the same soft but sure sexuality that made her 2017 debut, Fin, so arresting, what feels new is the emotional truth. Goodbye My Love is one of the few songs she wrote in the thick of her breakup, but it wasn’t recorded until much later because singing it, she says, made her “sob”. Spanish-style strings animate Right Track, a Christina Milian and Destiny’s Child-esque pop crossover moment, while chunky Prince-style guitar riffs pop up on Fast Car and Could You Break a Heart. Out Loud, which features Kehlani, is especially important to her, she says: “It is a really personal song, based on a conversation I had with my ex, when I realised that she hadn’t told everybody about me.”
It is a deeply personal topic, especially for a musician who has never particularly wanted to place her queerness at “the forefront of the press”, as Syd puts it. “I’ve always made it a point to just be gay,” she says. “It was just like: ‘Look, there’s a girl in the video with me. What else do I need to say?’” In the four years since Syd released Fin, however, the R&B landscape has bloomed as a space for LGBTQ+ artists, with gay acts such as Frank Ocean and Lil Nas X flourishing. Syd understands that Out Loud is the song that “the people around me really want me to push”, but she feels wary.
“On one level I’m like: ‘Dang, I’m glad that you guys want to support this equality thing,’” she says. “‘But are you trying to make money off of it?’ That’s where it gets confusing and tough on the morals. I definitely love the fact that I can be a role model. I love the responsibility of providing representation. But I think I’ve always tried to do that in the most natural way possible. I’m trying to find the right way to really let [Out Loud] shine, without corporate agendas being involved.”
Soon, this will be less of a worry. Although Syd is grateful to her label, Columbia – “They gave me money when I had no money. They gave me time, and opportunity, to make three, four albums with my friends, and two albums on my own,” she says – Broken Hearts Club is her last record with the label. “I think I’ve got my wings now, so I’m gonna try it out on my own after this.” She bursts into laughter. “Maybe I’ll push my gay agenda once I’m independent!”
For now, however, Syd’s focus is on all the new things in her life: new album, new relationship (“much better” than her last), and of course a new companion in Rocky. He has joined her again as we say goodbye, curling up on her lap after being taken outside. Rocky’s living the good life, I say, and Syd agrees: “A nice lap to sit in and somewhere to pee! What more could you ask for?”
Broken Hearts Club by Syd is due out later this year.