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She Met Taylor Swift at 13. Now She’s This Year’s Brightest New Indie Voice

When Annie Blackman was 13, she met Taylor Swift. It was the fall of 2011, and like countless middle schoolers, she’d been listening all year to Speak Now, marveling at perfectly phrased darts like “Dear John” and “Mean.”

“I started the whole music journey as a big Taylor Swift girl,” Blackman, 24, says over coffee at a Bushwick, Brooklyn cafe. “I remember she wrote that album entirely by herself. There was this obtainability to it: ‘Oh my God. She got successful by just writing her own music.’”

So when Swift closed out the U.S. Speak Now tour with two nights at Madison Square Garden, Blackman jumped at the chance to go to a fan meet-and-greet event. Her mom drove her into the city from their home in Montclair, New Jersey, and Blackman found herself face-to-face with her idol. 

“She’s so tall, I feel like I’m staring up at an alien,” she recalls. “I gave her a flash drive with a song that I had written. And she took me by the shoulders and looked straight into my soul and told me to never stop writing.”

Blackman took that advice to heart — and now, more than a decade later, she’s poised for a breakthrough as one of this year’s most distinctive young singer-songwriters. Her new EP, Bug (out April 28), is a tightly composed five-song cycle about bad dates and breakups, with verses full of sly humor and bittersweet truths. If you’re a fan of boygenius, Soccer Mommy, or Swift herself, it just might introduce you to a new favorite. 

Take “The Well,” which she’s releasing as a single today. The song begins with what Blackman describes as “a Truman Show situation,” where she’s lost in her own head, looking for a hidden camera to explain her latest romantic humiliation — can this really be happening? (“Whatever, film me/He can air my grievances,” she sings with characteristically understated wordplay.) When the chorus comes, it’s with a rising melody that surprises you the first time, then sends you looking for a lighter to wave in the air.

Or try “Altitude,” which opens with her at the Austin airport, waiting for her flight back to the East Coast after SXSW 2022, and drifts into barbed thoughts about another doomed relationship. “I wanted to see if I could use ‘seat-back entertainment’ in a song,” she says. She started jotting down the lyrics in her phone’s Notes app after takeoff — “I’ve never written a song with a pencil,” she says — and by the time the plane landed a few hours later, the song was finished.

“Writing a good song is just solving a puzzle,” Blackman says. “Balancing the light and the dark makes it more interesting, and it’s hard. When I feel like I’ve done it successfully, it’s just so satisfying.”

Growing up in Montclair, she was surrounded by families like hers who had left the city but retained a connection to its culture. “It’s a liberal, creative place, very artistic,” Blackman says. “It was sort of the best of both worlds, because you’re in a suburb, you have a backyard, but also New York is accessible.”

She kept writing songs after her encounter with Taylor, though she was reluctant at first to share them with anyone other than the world’s biggest pop star. “I was very private about my songwriting until the end of senior year,” she says. “A lot of my songs were about my best friend, and I was in love with him. So I was like, ‘The world can’t see these.’”

As her teens went on, she got into Joni Mitchell, Frankie Cosmos, and Regina Spektor, honing her lyrical instincts further. She listened to a lot of show tunes, too, and religiously watched The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. By her last year of high school, she’d gotten up the nerve to start posting her music on Bandcamp. And when she moved to Ohio in the fall of 2016 to enroll at Kenyon College, she was set on becoming a singer-songwriter.

Most of her songs in college were about a new guy in the year above her who also played music on campus. “I had a miserable crush on this dude, and having this crush was a part of my personality,” she says. “I can’t keep my mouth shut. I would talk about my romantic afflictions to everyone. I really resented him for not wanting to be my boyfriend.”

Blackman played every campus open mic she could find, and by her sophomore year, she had enough cred to open for Soccer Mommy when she played Kenyon. She also got an early hint that her music might resonate with a wider audience when she spent a semester studying abroad in Paris and took a side trip to Berlin, meeting up with some local teens who had reached out after finding her music online.

A 13-year-old Annie Blackman (right) with her dad and Taylor Swift

“They were like, ‘My dad is out of town this weekend. We’re having a house party, you should come!’” she recalls. “So we’re hanging at the party, and maybe an hour in, they were like, ‘Will you please play some songs for us? We have a guitar.’ And I sat in this girl’s bedroom and this entire friend group of German teenagers sat around me, singing along to all of the songs I was playing. I was like, ‘How do they know all the words?’”

In 2020, the pandemic cut Blackman’s final semester of college short, sending her back home to Montclair. “We left for spring break and never came back,” she says. “It was so weird and sad. I was writing final essays at my childhood bedroom desk and going downstairs and eating dinner with my parents and feeling like I was 15 again.”

She wrote “Glitch,” one of her best songs to date, after watching Bo Burnham’s Inside and getting inspired to make some mordant jokes of her own. (“Simulation theory is religion for sociopaths,” she memorably quips over acoustic strums.)

When she posted the first verse of “Glitch” on TikTok, she wasn’t expecting much. “I didn’t intend it to be a full song, but people liked it,” she says. One of them was Hank Green, the popular vlogger and brother of The Fault in Our Stars author John Green. “He commented being like, ‘Oh my God, the chorus is about to go so hard.’ And I was like, ‘What chorus?’ So then I had to finish the song.”

Around this time, Blackman emailed Father/Daughter Records, the indie label that has helped launch artists like Vagabon, Remember Sports, and Anjimile. “Two weeks later, I had a life-changing deal,” she says.

She recorded her 2022 debut, All of It, in a makeshift studio tent at her parents’ house in Montclair. “I have no engineering or recording experience, so it was sort of a nightmare,” she says. “When I had some more resources, I was like, ‘I’m never doing that again.’”


She’s since moved to Brooklyn, where she works a day job in entertainment journalism, and last summer and fall she recorded Bug at a Fort Greene studio with a producer she knows from Kenyon. It’s the kind of EP that feels as complex and rewarding as a full album, even at half the length. No line is wasted, from the sarcastic opening of “Ash” (“You pity me and I turn my head/Am I upset?/Well, how would you like me to answer that?”) to the self-aware irony of “Need Me,” which she wrote after watching the bizarro French erotic thriller Titane with two male friends. (“It wasn’t a romantic thing with them, but I liked the idea of seeing a horribly disgusting film and then flirting through that,” she notes.)

As she prepares to release Bug, Blackman is continuing to write more songs on her favorite themes, jotting down wry observations in what is now an Iliad-length lyrics file on her phone. “If it feels true and interesting, that’s all it takes,” she says. “There’s always heartbreak.”

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