Bülow Is Already a Big Deal and Now the Pop World Has to Catch Up
The 18-year-old German-Canadian artist tells us about readying herself for greatness, and the success of her 'Damaged' EPs.
Photo courtesy of the artist/label
Megan Bülow, like many burgeoning musicians, took to the streets to busk. At age 11. She did it simply because she thought it was a fun thing to do, not yet fully cognizant of how much music and performance would impact her life long-term. When the German-Canadian singer lived in England (a stop among many during her exceptionally nomadic life), she fell in love with Ed Sheeran. (Which pre-teen girl didn’t in 2011?) “The A Team” was a personal favourite to play on her acoustic guitar on the streets of Windsor and Kingston while she went busking, along with The Kooks’ “Naive.” She didn’t tell her parents that she would travel to other cities and set up on a street corner to perform for folks. “I told them… probably a month before that I wanted to [busk.] I remember having the conversation with them. But we never… it was never a plan,” bülow says. “Then one day I just got on the bus with my guitar and just set up my stuff and started singing. I remember my dad texting me like, ‘where are you? I don’t know where you are.’”
Fast-forward seven years later, and Megan is simply known as bülow now, her pop repertoire is much more diverse, and she’s a bonafide viral hit. She’s not playing indie rock or pop tracks from the early 2010s to strangers on the street anymore. Instead, bülow has a mega-hit, “Not A Love Song,” which currently has almost 20 million streams on Spotify and the video has over one million views on YouTube. She recently played her first music festival—Brighton’s Great Escape—where her tent was so packed, it was overflowing out. She’s only released one EP, Damaged Vol.1, where the hit track appears with two other songs, and she only just released her second EP Damaged Vol. 2, via Republic Records, Wax Records, and Universal Music Canada last Friday.
She also just went to her prom and graduated from high school.
Bülow music is sonically catchy and specifically of this moment in pop, blending and bending genres, with witty and sharp songwriting. At 15, bülow was discovered at summer camp. She’d been travelling back and forth from Europe to Canada since she was a kid, attending the same summer camp in the Muskokas, when an A&R rep heard her singing and pursued her as a potential signee, which, sure, is a fairly common story for young teens nowadays. Bülow, though, hasn’t slid into this gig easily. While it may seem like her rise is fairly immediate, that’s not really the case. Years of travelling to Toronto and the UK to attend writing sessions, and then going home to the Netherlands to do school work and, you know, be a teenager, have been part of bülow’s routine since that initial discovery.
Nevertheless, Bülow is still relatively unknown, which really doesn’t matter much in terms of metrics. Streaming has upended everything in music and is one of the markers of modern music (and music journalism, too.) The Internet catches an artist first and they connect with their fans there—or via whichever social media platform they choose—and generate their own kind of self-promotion and access that writers can’t specifically touch. Discovery of them through a publication isn’t the first point of access anymore—we’re mostly just catching up.
“Not A Love Song” was released last late year. At that point, the then 17 year-old was in the middle of her last year in high school, finishing up an International Baccalaureate program (which is high-level and supposedly mirrors university curriculum, but it’s really just painful and rigorous) and that track essentially blew the hell up. And that’s funny, she tells me, because it initially got shelved in a writing session; laying dormant for a year, almost never seeing the light of day. “I remember being in a room with [Mike Wise, the producer], and we were going over old track ideas, and we came across this one, and were like, ‘oh my god, why were we sleeping on this!’”
The track, she tells me, has been so well-received by her fans because of its reversal of gender and power dynamics in a relationship. “I didn’t write with this intent of gender role reversal, which people have been kind of seeing, and making their own interpretation of. It’s usually the guy that doesn’t want to be in the relationship and it’s the girl that does. And in this song, I’m kind of like flipping it around.” It’s anthemic and simple; sweet and self-effacing, kind of.
The Damaged EPs follow similar themes of insecurities, anxieties, and a general fuck this attitude that only a tried and true teenager could muster on a beat. Bülow says a lot of this comes from her years of moving around as a kid. While she was born in Germany, where she lived in three different cities as a small child, she has lived in several European countries and even Texas for a spell. Teenagers just want to connect and belong, no matter the generation, so moving around and starting over did indeed embed itself into her very core. “I think there are pros and cons to moving [a lot.] I don’t think I necessarily dealt with it well but I think that a lot of the emotions—anxiety, fear, excitement, nervousness—that built up toward moving,” bülow tells me. “I kind of channeled it into my music. So I felt like it also helped me a lot in expressing myself.”
Though she hasn’t had a typical teenage experience, bülow taps into sentiments the modern teenager faces—some feelings that are universally felt well beyond these precocious years of discovery. She sings about Tinder on “Lines,” and she tells me in person, laughing a bit, that, of course, teenagers use Tinder. The dating app aside: “You and Jennifer” [from Damaged Vol. 2] and “Lines” have a similar outlook,” she tells me plainly. “Both are me standing my ground, standing up for myself, and not letting someone walk all over me. It’s so important to have that kind of fuck you attitude and cut people out of your life if they don’t want the best for you.” On the Damaged Vol. 2 EP, bülow enlisted rapper Duckwrth for “Sad and Bored” to fill out the malaise, industrial-tinged track where she references Hennessy and smoking weed; feeling trapped by her only limitations. It’s not exactly a cry for help, which, someone, somewhere will surely read it as. It’s a deeply felt, specific kind of boredom that rests in your bones. On “Honour Roll,” she sings about edibles, Adderall, and the painful reality that being young doesn’t last forever, though she’s willing to damn well try.
Bülow was sure she’d have a few more years of so-called normalcy and build toward her career but that’s not exactly how the Internet works these days. She has, somehow, managed to coolly grab onto her own hype and steer it in the creative direction she wants. With school behind her now, she can focus solely on her music, along with a few other projects where she is the songwriter in the studio helping an artist. She’s moving to Toronto later this month, playing a few festivals, such as Rifflandia in September, and looking forward to whatever comes next in her burgeoning career, yet she doesn’t want to sacrifice appreciating all that it has given her now. “I try to take it day-by-day and not think too much of the bigger picture or the future. It’s important to stay in the present and enjoy it. I’m not trying to live up to anything. I’m trying to find my own path and see wherever it leads me.”
Sarah survived the International Baccalaureate program, too. Follow her on Twitter.