After a TikTok Hit, corook Gets 'Serious' (Sort Of)

The humor and sincerity of "if i were a fish" struck a chord with alum Corinne Savage's listeners. Their new EP proves it was anything but a one-off.

June 9, 2023

It's a story as old as music: Have a bad day. Write a great song. Maybe have a better day tomorrow.

That's more-or-less the experience that launched corook—the artist project of Nashville-based songwriter and producer Corinne Savage B.M. ’17—to new levels of notoriety. In April, their song "if i were a fish" exploded on TikTok, where the video has received more than 18 million views and 380,000 shares to date. The song's core question, "Why's everybody on the internet so mean?" was deeply serious for Savage, who wrote and performed it with their partner Olivia Barton B.M. ’18 in response to online bullying they'd suffered. But the song they pulled from the depths of that struggle was such a gloriously weird and funny celebration of individuality, and it spawned such an overwhelmingly positive and openhearted response, that for one moment in the spring of 2023, it actually managed to make one corner of the internet seem a little less mean.

serious person pt. 1 album artwork

serious person, Pt. 1 album artwork

This month, corook released their new EP, serious person, Pt. 1—a batch of songs that reaffirm Savage's talents as much more than a social media phenomenon. With each song on the EP, corook skillfully balances sincerity and humor, unpacking serious themes such as romantic commitment, body image, and queer identity in a series of witty, sharply observed sonic time capsules.

"A lot of the ideas that I have on that EP are centered around those magic moments of, I don't know what this is, but let's chase it," corook says. And in this interview, conducted a few days before they announced their first-ever North American headline tour, they dig into the craft of shaping those magic moments into songs. We also talk about the challenges of balancing internet fame with real-world connection, the significance of their Nashville Pride performance later this month, and much more.

Read the full conversation (edited for length and clarity):

From the outside, it sure seems like you've had kind of a wild couple months. It's not like "if i were a fish" came out of nowhere, because you've been at this for a while, but that song really did seem to put you in front of a lot of listeners who connected with you in a new way. So I'm wondering how you've been processing that response, and if there have been moments in the last couple months where you really knew something was different about the reaction to that song.

corook: You know, I've only had like one other moment like that. I've posted a lot of songs on TikTok—that's kind of what we have to do now. My song "it's okay!" kind of had a moment. And the biggest difference between that and "if i were a fish" was the way that it felt like "if i were a fish" already existed in people's lives. For "it's okay!" people would take the audio and make a video to the audio, but for "if i were a fish," there were thousands of videos of people singing it around the house or to their kid, or, like, a children's choir singing it. It felt like the song had been around and had a life of its own already.

It's been kind of impossible to process. And one of the things that I did to try to process this online world of people accepting and listening to the song was, I wanted to meet people. I wanted to see if these people were real people. And so I did a little meetup in New York a few weeks ago and just asked people to come, just to see who would come. I thought maybe 25 people would show up, and it must have been like 300 people that came to this park and just showed up to sing the song.

And that's when I was like, "Oh, wow. This is not just me gaining a few fans. This is gonna be an actual fan base after this."

It's difficult to be an artist nowadays because the numbers can go up and my phone can ding a bunch of times, but it doesn't totally feel like I'm a successful artist. So I'm really excited to have shows and see people in real life reacting to the song and just telling me their stories as to how the song affected them, because that's what really makes me feel like I'm held by my community.

The internet, and social media specifically, has been an engine for a lot of your notoriety, but at the same time, clearly also a source of a lot of anxiety and heartache for you. So I'm really curious, as an artist who has to work on these platforms and also is pretty critical of them in some of your writing: How do you think about your own relationship to the internet? And maybe related, how do you keep yourself grounded in the real life side of things?

corook: I think, like anything, I go through seasons. Some seasons it's really difficult to have a relationship with social media, and others, it feels just like a creative outlet for me. I think it's been a weird time to be an artist because we kind of don't have a choice. We have to be online in some capacity, and it can be difficult to not only find your voice, but also to deal with the reactions coming at you in real time, whether it's wildly positive or wildly negative—because they're both there.

I haven't figured it all out yet. I think I'm in a season right now of it really affecting me, which is why I'm really excited for these shows to see these people and to connect in real life and kind of not have to worry about the online thing for just a moment.

But yeah, I do have contradicting feelings around it because it's obviously brought me such a wonderful, vast community of sensitive, wonderful people to sing to. But it's also the internet, and it's filled with people that don't really know me or like me or whatever. And that coexisting together is a difficult thing to process as a human.

As this was all happening, I assume you were also actively working on this batch of songs that's now the EP. So I'm curious how these songs came together. Did you have a vision for it as a whole project from the outset, or did it sort of emerge song by song?

corook: So when I wrote the song "serious person," and I picked the title, I was like, that is more than just a song title. That encapsulates so much of what I feel like corook is, which is just kind of poking fun at serious topics. And so once I had that title, I knew that I wanted to make something out of it whether it be an album, or an EP, or whatever. And I would say the songs kind of came one by one. I'm not so much of a concept person. I just wanted to write about my life. And I knew that starting with that base, it would fall into some kind of pattern.

I like to believe that I am the through-line, and whatever I want to put on the EP is gonna work because I made it. But yeah, I think that it was a really nice process to think about songs as more than just one song. While I love making worlds out of each song that I make, it was nice to think about making a larger world where all of them kind of connect and are talking about, like, growing up. I think that really, the main theme of this is: things that have made me the person that I am now.

When I heard that "if i were a fish" came together in like 10 minutes, obviously I found that impressive. But I have this suspicion that a song like that is way more likely to come together for a person who's already had a lot of practice shaping intense feelings into words and melody and harmony. Which makes me want to ask: How do you prepare yourself to write a song? Are there any particular strategies that you rely on to develop that initial idea into something that feels complete and cohesive?

corook: You know, I have always been the kind of writer that lets my intuition do most of the work upfront [before] all of my skills in my brain inevitably kick in and try to ruin the process. Just leading with that initial magical, I don't know what this is about, but I know that this feels good.

"If i were a fish" was just this little idea that I came up with Olivia [Barton]—and I'm sure you've heard the story—I was being bullied online and told Olivia, and she wanted to make something weird. And she said, "What's your weirdest idea?" And I said, "Well, if I were a fish, I think all these people would like all the things that I am more." And she was like, "That's super weird. Let's just do that." So, going into that world of, like, Dr. Seuss. Like, we can say anything. And also, we're not gonna release the song. Who cares? Let's just say something stupid and feel better.

And I really think that that is a magic trick for artists and songwriters—letting go of like any expectation. There will be times when I'm in a room with songwriters and we're writing a song and we get stuck...and I'll just be like, "Okay, let's stop and write a whole new song in five minutes." And it can be about like hand sanitizer. I don't care what it's about. It should be stupid. And sometimes that idea is so much better and so much more magical than whatever we were making that we'll move away from there and go to the hand sanitizer song. There's something about our subconscious mind and its ability to just create something that we've never thought about. And so honestly I will lean so far into that world to get that little piece of magic, and then allow my little Berklee-songwriter mind to come in and make it a thing.

And what does Berklee-songwriter mind tell you to do once you've committed to the idea that, okay, we're making a song about what it would be like if I were a fish. You have that impulse. And then you put it up on TikTok, and all of a sudden people are super responding to it, and you and Olivia are turning it into a full song. So what's the next step for you?

corook: Just to speak specifically about "if i were a fish," it was once again, how do we get our subconscious minds active again? The song was just so natural and it had so much pressure behind it because of how many people loved it. We knew that if we got into a room and tried to act like songwriters, we would just totally blow it. I personally love writing lyrics when I'm doing something else, like doing the dishes or driving. So we wrote a lot of the song in the car just tapping on the steering wheel and singing back and forth to each other. I also think that that's just kind of my writing style. I like things that I can sing immediately back to you and you can sing it, you know? So it felt natural for that song to be just like a sing-along-in-the-car kind of thing.

I'm curious if there are other songs on this EP that, for your experience of it, came together in that magical intuitive way that has really stuck with you.

corook: I feel like most of them. I feel like that's just what makes a good song. There's a song on there called "ok getting older," and it was the first time I met my friend Ben Abraham. It was our first session together and he was just like, "I've had this piano riff for, like, five years. I've been playing it over and over again and I don't have anything to write to it."

And he played it and I just immediately was like, "This is just my song. You haven't written anything to it cause it's my song." And the lyrics and the words just kind of poured out of me. I just knew the second I heard it that it had my story. And so I think we wrote it in an hour or so.

A lot of the ideas that I have on that EP are centered around those magic moments of, I don't know what this is, but let's chase it. You know? I don't know how we're gonna grab this, but we have to. Once you have that little magic moment shaped into something, maybe it's a little verse, maybe it's a chorus, I feel like it makes rest of the process easier, as somebody that is a songwriter and is a puzzle maker and understands pieces and where they're supposed to go. But having that magical piece, that is what makes a good song.

"Ok getting older" is gorgeous. You can tell that that emerged from a very concrete moment in time, and I appreciate the production choice to keep it that way too. Which is the other part that I want to talk to you about. On this new EP, you have some songs, like "okay getting older," that are pretty stripped back and raw—and others, like "CGI" and "natalie," that are much slicker and more exuberant in their tone. I'm wondering, where does your producer brain kick in as you're making these songs? Do you know how the song is supposed to sound when you write it, or does that emerge somewhere in the process?

corook: I think for this EP I really followed the way that I wrote the song. So, the song, "tiny little titties" I wrote, and it was a voice memo that I'd been listening to for like a year. And I really wanted it to have drums. I wanted it to be really lo-fi and fun, and I just couldn't get it to work. I was just like, I think that this song just is the voice memo. And I didn't wanna master the voice memo, so I just decided to do a really stripped-down acoustic version of it. 

"Natalie" and "CGI" I wrote to the production. I was producing a little seed—I think "CGI" was the drumbeat and the synths...and "natalie" I wrote on the bass. I had the bass line of the chorus and I was with my friend Max and I was just like, "I think this is a cool idea. Let's write something with it." And obviously you can't have a bass song—if I could have an acoustic bass song, I would. But it just felt so poppy and fun, and so it's just a really big production.

But wherever the idea starts, I like to finish it that way, because that's just how it sounds the most natural.

You studied songwriting and contemporary writing and production (CWP) at Berklee. I'm curious if there are any particular lessons or people from that time that have stuck with you and whose influence you can see on what you're doing now?

corook: Yeah, I mean, I learned so much at Berklee. There was a teacher in the CWP Department, her name was Chrissy Tignor. She taught me so much about production and arranging. And Melissa Ferrick and Scarlet Keys were my two favorite songwriting teachers. I mean, when you go to Berklee, there's just no escaping it afterwards. It lives in your brain. And I think the best teachers at Berklee tell you, "I'm gonna teach you everything that you should be doing, and then ignore me. Go in the room, ignore me, and it will still happen." All of the tools, you're still using them, whether or not you know them. But don't think about them. And I always appreciated teachers that kind of wanted us to be ourselves first.

The best teachers at Berklee tell you, "I'm gonna teach you everything that you should be doing, and then ignore me. Go in the room, ignore me, and it will still happen."

— corook (Corinne Savage B.M. ’17)

You've said you're about to play a few shows, which you're excited about, and it sounds like they are sold out [in Brooklyn and L.A.], which is really cool. How do you think about translating these songs into a live setting?

corook: It's been a little different, because every show I've played as corook up until this point was with my band.... These shows are just me. I really wanted it to feel intimate, and like I was just playing the songs and introducing all of these new people to me. And I think the best way to do that was to take away all the party tricks and just focus on the songs. So, yeah, it's just going to be me. I have a guitar. I'm gonna bring my banjo. I have a keyboard, I have a kazoo. It's going to be really sweet, and intimate, and I am very nervous. We'll see how it goes, but I think it's gonna just be fun to meet all of these people and to sing along with them.

You're also performing at the end of this month at Nashville Pride. I'm wondering if you could say a little bit about what that gig means to you as a queer person living in Nashville.

corook: Yeah. Obviously there's a lot going on in Tennessee around drag and trans people, and queer people in general. I think if there was any year that I wanted to play Pride, it would be this year. And I am just really excited to—how do I say it? Not just heal, but feel all of these feelings that we are all obviously feeling around what's going on together.... I'm excited to be mad with everybody, and to experience that feeling and that healing that will come with all of that.