This Singer Isn’t Just a Woman on the Internet

Photo: Karina Barberis

It was impossible not to immediately fall in love with Orla Gartland’s music when I first heard her angsty, self-blaming “Did It to Myself” on an episode of Normal People. Like most of Gartland’s earlier work, the song cuts deep without revealing too much of herself (as she says, she’s a big fan of using metaphors and abstract language). Her February 2020 EP, Freckle Season, includes five songs that play into that idea of ambiguity — most notably one titled “Oh GOD,” the meaning of which she finally revealed on Twitter earlier this summer. But now, Gartland is ready to show the world who she really is. The 26-year-old Irish artist drops her debut album, Woman on the Internet, today under her own label, New Friends.

Woman on the Internet reveals a new side of Gartland. The songs are almost entirely her own creations, as she put in more work as a producer for this project than she had before. But more important, she considers this album closer to her heart and a better representation of who she is as an artist. She spoke to the Cut about her artistic evolution, the meaning of the phrase “woman on the internet,” and coming out as bisexual.

How does it feel to be finally releasing an album after making music for so many years?

[Making music] is not a job where you are validated very often. It’s not a job that’s like, Now you get promoted from this to this. All you can do is bookend all these stages of your career with milestones — by playing a certain venue or whatever. In that sense, releasing albums has obviously been something I’ve been building up to for what feels like forever. I thought the process was just going to feel like an EP, but it definitely feels more significant than that. It’s really nice just having a body of work. Like, a big meaty thing feels really good.

Your sound for Woman on the Internet is a lot different from your earlier stuff. What kind of production did you want for this album, and how did you want it to change from what other people had produced for you? 

It’s probably a little bit less pop and a little less shine than before. That was not deliberate but came from my tastes shifting over the years. I pulled from a lot of different things [for inspiration], but overall I wanted to be very instinctive — much to the frustration of my co-producer, Tom Stafford, because it’s easier to use references to get on the same page.

I’m happier to have my debut be all over the place and chaotic but still very me, rather than streamlined. There’s also a lot more live elements than I’ve had before because I let my band be a part of it, which I hadn’t before. I’d always kept them at arm’s length because, as a solo artist, it’s difficult to decide how much power and choices you want to give to people around you. I used to think I had to wear all the hats. It was a process of learning to take control but also delegate when the time’s right and not micromanage every tiny bit of the process. That was something I really found my stride with on Woman on the Internet but I hadn’t really understood before.

The phrase “woman on the internet” comes up in both “More Like You” and “Pretending,” and it’s the album’s title. What’s that all about? 

When we were recording in the studio, my co-producer would be like, “Any ideas for the album name yet?” And I’d be like, “Seems like a problem for future me.” I didn’t know what it was going to be yet. Then when I was finally trying to think of titles, I had a really long list. I noticed that two songs made that reference to “woman on the internet,” and I honestly had recorded both songs before I realized it was in both of them. In my head, [the woman on the internet] is like a Wizard of Ozthis advice guru that totally should not be giving someone advice. It’s the kind of thing I would be totally susceptible to if I was just feeling alone or feeling bad or had low self-esteem. Like, inject it into my veins when I’m feeling low. I know I’m searching for something both metaphorically and literally [when I seek that out].

I started on YouTube to do music — I would never have considered myself a YouTuber — but I ended up at a few of those conventions and I’d see these really influential people still trying to figure it out in real time. I was so fascinated by that. So I liked the idea of that kind of person, or more so a character, to be the name of the album. I knew it would also sound like a reference for my journey in music. I didn’t mind that, either.

By starting on YouTube, you grew a lot of your fan base online. What was it like to jump-start a career from the internet?

I have a love-hate relationship with it. Sometimes I’ll say something like, Oh, it made me, I can’t hate it. But I don’t think it made me want to be an artist. It definitely allowed me to have access to an audience — and as an independent artist, it felt like doing a massive trust fall into people and just hoping they will hold you up. That puts a lot of pressure on my relationship with the internet because sometimes I want to throw my phone across the room when I see something [that upsets me], but then I’m like, Oh my God, wait, I need them. I need them to like my album. I feel like I was lucky because when I started putting stuff up on YouTube, the attitude wasn’t Build an audience so you can do this; it was just Make stuff and put it out. My relationship with that idea changes all the time. I don’t love what it’s done to the music industry, but it’s also the industry that I’m in. I try to use it as a way to get music out there. I feel lucky that I didn’t grow up with it. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be 13 right now. It sounds terrifying.

You recently came out as bi. Congratulations! Right now there are a lot of conversations about the pressure on the queer community to come out at all — what made you want to do that?

I’d like to pretend that I was really blasé about it, but that’s 100 percent not the truth. I don’t really put that much of my personal life online. I knew I wanted to say it online, and I sat with that for a couple of months to be like, Why do I really want this? Is it for attention? Because if so, don’t do it. But I just thought, Why am I getting these instincts? I told a friend of mine that I was thinking of saying it online because people in my real life knew. She was like, “Oh, it’d be so great for your following. They’ll relate to you. Maybe you’ll help them.” I didn’t even think about that for a second. I was way more selfish about it. I had a super-Catholic upbringing, and feeling comfortable with my own sexuality was a process that I’m still going through. I think just putting it in a tweet is not gonna change anyone’s world, but I just thought it might help me a bit more — as part of my identity, growing into myself, and trying to try to own it.

If you could sum up Woman on the Internet in one word, what would it be?

That’s tough. I think a word that always comes to mind is undiluted. This album feels very me. There’s not anyone else that is speaking through me, and I was very hell-bent on that.

Woman on the Internet is now available to stream on Spotify.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

This Singer Isn’t Just a Woman on the Internet