Written by Hero Magnus
Many aspiring songwriters have heard the advice, “In order to succeed, your songs have to be similar to what’s on the radio, but better.” “Sorry Not Sorry” is the latest hit from artist Zay, and it absolutely fulfills this principle. The song fits right in with the best of pop music, but is incredibly creative and fresh.
“In early february I sat together with my friends Loek van der Grinten, the producer of Sorry Not Sorry and Yael Watchman, the co-writer. We first started laying down basic chords to write onto. The vibe was right and the lyrics flowed easily and it was not long into the session before I’d already known what the title of the song had to be: ‘Sorry Not Sorry.'”– Zay
Zay first went viral (isn’t it wild that we can talk about the first time someone went viral?) when she was thirteen with an original song called “L’Opposé.” Now, she sings in five languages and she’s all over the map; Zay grew up with a British father and Yemeni mother, first in Saudi Arabia and then in Austria, and now she’s living between Amsterdam and London, and signed to LINC / Sony Music Sweden.
Zay’s first songs– such gems like “Cry in a Benz” and “Worth It”– were poppy EDM hits, designed for the nightclub. “Sorry Not Sorry” has a clear touch of techno, but there’s no bass-drop dynamism. Instead, she’s subtler, filling in the gaps with twangy guitar lines and fresh melodies.
“It was definitely not going to be a sad song. I really wanted to make Sorry Not Sorry have that “savage vibe” to it, which is why the upbeat and funky elements were added into the production, giving the story a whole other level of empowerment and sassiness. We also invited over one of our friends, Bas Phaff, a guitarist to add an extra guitar touch. 3 sessions later, we were able to wrap up ‘Sorry Not Sorry!'”– Zay
“Sorry Not Sorry” reminds me a little of Clairo and girl in red, both artists who have made music in bedroom home studios, with layered tracks and obscured vocals. In “Sorry Not Sorry,” Zay pares down her danceable side and borrows from the sparseness and simplicity of bedroom-pop music.
This combination is very unusual, and reminds me a lot of another artist named Silver Sphere. Silver came from the opposite direction, starting with the fuzzy, obscured, deliciously popular DIY music of late, and gradually growing to incorporate less obscured vocals and pop sensibility. (Collaboration, please?)
Another thing that stands out about this song is the sweetness in Zay’s voice. Halsey has a similar sweetness, and I think it’s exactly why people find her music so endearing. Usually, pop musicians fake a sense of hardness no matter what their lyrics are about– they’ll toughen and deepen their voice, sound much older than they really are. The song is tough– “if you think I like the conversations / you’re not even close”– but Zay’s voice is sugary, making for a lovely contrast.
The lyrical phrases are simple, but specific and effective. “You play the victim / when there’s something you can’t have / your tricks I know them / by heart and now I’m hoping that / you learn your lesson / you learn to let me go / took a little while to sort that out,” she sings, pausing in between lines in a sonic version of the enjambment that we all learned about in English class.
“The main message that comes across is basically this: “I am not “young and naive” anymore. During the time ‘Sorry Not Sorry’ was written I was going through an “evolving” phase. A series of personal events had led to me having new views on different aspects of life. And being young, I often did not know how to handle those situations, but I certainly learned my lessons. In Sorry Not Sorry, the aspect of my life I sing about is that of dating and of love. I used to go out with someone and the words for SNS were inspired by that experience of my life. Feelings were being played with and ways were being parted, but as you can listen, after a storm comes a rainBOP!”– Zay
There’s also a little xylophone ding before each chorus. By the end, my mouth waters when I hear it, anxious for the Pavlovian promised-for reward of her sweetly robotic lines: “you say so much / it feels good / when I say that I am / sorry not sorry.”
Zay seems to be on the up & up, growing and experimenting creatively from her very precocious beginnings. As for what Zay wants fans to take away from the track, she says:
“Don’t be afraid to NOT be sorry. Don’t be afraid to confront someone about their demeaning behavior towards you. Always know your worth! It takes some time (and a lot of strength!) for you to realise that you do not deserve what you have been putting yourself into… and that’s okay. We all eventually learn to let it go.”– Zay