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Samia: An Emerging Singer Songwriter with a Message for the Boys

Written and Photographed by Vivian Le

Samia opened for Hippo Campus on Monday April 22nd at Blue Moose Tap House / Photo by Vivian Le

Samia opened for Hippo Campus on Monday April 22nd at Blue Moose Tap House / Photo by Vivian Le

22-year-old Samia Finnerty, who on stage goes simply by Samia, plans on carving her name with razor sharp lyrics into the male-dominated music industry. The young singer-songwriter has yet to release an album, but her singles thus far are a mosaic. In her music, she inlays fragments of her own stories and experiences to create unforgettable indie melodies.

Earlier this year, she released her EP Lasting Friend & Paris following her 2018 singles “Milk,” “21,” and “Django.”

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On a breezy April afternoon, I am scheduled to meet with Samia during her stop in Iowa City as part of her spring tour with indie pop band Hippo Campus.

I walk to Blue Moose Tap House, texting her to notify her of my arrival and that I am wearing blue. Emerging from the dimly lit bar into the glaring sun, she squints as she searches for me. She sports a black-collared dress with a squiggly white pattern. Our chunky white Filas match. Samia is as tall as me and only a year older; it dawns on me that we are peers.

I wave at her and she greets me with a friendly smile.

She immediately apologizes to me, explaining her schedule has been pushed forward due to some production issues and that we only have a short while to talk. She elaborates, show days are unpredictable.

We seat ourselves on a bench wedged between a massive trailer and a retail store. The tour bus engine hums throughout our entire conversation and the loud bursts of ongoing Iowa City construction noises often intrudes.

“My barometer of success is a little bit fucked up in that kind of way,” she says, “I saw a lot of 16-year-olds who had a lot of money and very fulfilling careers. I think I was just getting down on myself.

We first discuss her song “Lasting Friend,” which opens with the repeated phrase I’m not ashamed of my past / I’m not ashamed of my / I’m not ashamed of my past. Then she recounts a memory in middle school when boys used to line up to touch her breasts—something she allowed thinking it would make her friends. She names the suspects one by one. Dylan, Phil, Brian, Len and them.

When I first heard the song, the image of young boys groping a smaller and younger Samia made me cringe. It felt like a violation of my own body, dragging the humiliating memories of middle school into the forefront of my brain. I reflected on the loss of innocence and the terrible ways I negotiated my own body as an adolescent to create a space for myself. While the vision initially made me want to stop the song entirely, I realized it was her way of reclaiming her own story.

When I ask Samia about the context of the song, she laughs explaining that it’s an anecdote she often tells at parties, laughing then as she is now while acknowledging it was a traumatizing period of her life.

“I sort of had a revelation about the way that humor and levity and pain can coexist and be linked. They’re sort of essential to one another,” she tells me. “While I was telling that story, people from an outside perspective would try to strip the humor from it for me as a way of helping me through it, but I didn’t actually need that. I wanted to prove with the song that experiences and stories like that can be funny and ridiculous and also painful and it’s up to the person who experienced it to decide how they want to look back on it.”

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Samia’s songs demonstrate an artist who is not afraid to cross genres. Even without an album under her belt, Samia continues to develop herself musically, refusing to be pigeonholed by one specific type of music. However, her songs are often described as “feminist anthems” by other music outlets who liken her to Boygenius, Mitski, and the queen of moody adolescent pop: Lorde.

Her anti-mansplaining song “Someone Tell the Boys,” was the first song I heard from her. It blew up last year when Spotify added it to their Badass Women playlist. In the song, she holds the feet of overly presumptuous men to the fire, echoing: Someone tell the boys they’re not important anymore.

In her interview, Samia expresses to me that her feminist themes are “not super intentional.” She goes on, “I think feminism is inextricably linked with my experience as a woman.” I agree with her, noting that many women artists often have their music labeled as “feminist,” which can often dilute the significance of their art with stereotypes. Women cannot just be people, and artists who are women cannot just be artists, only women artists.

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I have anecdotes to offer / They won't do much for this gentleman / 'Cause his every thought's a sacrament.

Finally, I let her know that her song 21 moved me having recently turned 21 in January. She smiles and tells me, “Happy birthday.”

The song recalls an urgent feeling of first turning 21, which gifts the ability to freely consume alcohol (drink of choice: cider). However, Samia sings about how 21 also ushers in a constrained feeling of suspension between adolescence and adulthood.

I'm alive and I'm on fire / I'll have a cider / I will speak for my generation / Famous by association / I'm 21, I'm 21

“I felt I hadn’t quite caught up with the person that I imagined myself to be at 21,” she says. It’s a feeling that my friends and I who have recently turned 21 understand. Samia captures the disappointment and pressures of what feels like pseudo-adulthood.

Born into a family of performers and thrusted into the industry at an early age, Samia’s upbringing deviates from the typical 21-year-old’s. For her education growing up, she attended a performance high school in New York where students worked professionally while studying.

“My barometer of success is a little bit fucked up in that kind of way,” she says, “I saw a lot of 16-year-olds who had a lot of money and very fulfilling careers. I think I was just getting down on myself. In writing that song, I was giving myself a pep-talk about all of the great things I have been able to do up to this point.”

Samia is an artist that should be on your radar. Her work possess an alluring and fresh energy that keeps me listening, but without an album it’s difficult to gauge how she will be received by the rest of the music industry. It doesn’t matter though. She’s etching an authentic representation of being a young woman with each one of her songs—she heralds some bitter truths and reinforces it with a soft, pleading voice. Samia longs to be heard. She demands it.

My interaction with her is short. Before we part, Samia shares that she will be releasing a new song by the end of the month. By winter of this year or early next year, we can finally expect an album from her.