Holly Humberstone Lays Herself Bare on Paint My Bedroom Black

The English pop singer explores the corners of her mind in vivid and emotional ways on her coming-of-age debut album.

Music Reviews Holly Humberstone
Holly Humberstone Lays Herself Bare on Paint My Bedroom Black

“And now I’m pulling out your driveway / Finally I’m living, not surviving / And it’s funny you said I’d never have the guts,” English pop singer/songwriter Holly Humberstone opens on the title track of her debut album, Paint My Bedroom Black. It’s an immersive first chapter, projecting feelings of rebirth after leaving an unfulfilling relationship. Humberstone built a dedicated fan base while making music from her bedroom—releasing her breakthrough single “Falling Asleep at the Wheel” in March 2020 just before bunkering down for a series of lockdowns in the UK. Now 24 years old with two widely received EPs under her belt, she offers a vivid and emotionally raw coming-of-age story on Paint My Bedroom Black, illustrating her journey from being an emerging artist to one of the most captivating alt-pop sensations among her generation. Within a carefully-crafted, dreamlike atmosphere, Humberstone’s lyricism captures experiences that are deeply personal yet unflinchingly honest.

The album takes a noticeable shift in both tempo and perspective as it progresses into its second track and leading single, “Into Your Room.” Where “Paint My Bedroom Black” bottles up the ecstasy of leaving a toxic relationship, this song expresses guilt for not being fully present with her new partner. “I hate to think how bad I treated you,” she repeats, calling her lover the “centre of this universe” as she professes her affection. Taking on this apologetic role, Humberstone introduces a conflicting emotional dimension to the album’s narrative, a throughline that’s carried across 13 tracks.

Though much of the album explores coming into her own power, Humberstone doesn’t turn away from exploring the darker sides of her mind. “Cocoon” carries an upbeat tone, even as it holds some rather depressing lyrics. It’s reminiscent of that feeling every teenage girl can resonate with—looking at yourself in the mirror, attempting to convince yourself that you’re truly happy while, on the inside, you’re holding back tears. “I’ve been paralyzed for more than a week / But don’t let it scare you / This is fairly routine,” Humberstone sings. “Now I’ve become a taxidermy version of myself / The laundry’s piling up / The plants are dying on the shelf.”

As the song flips between a fragmented love letter to her partner (“I’ll be swimming in / The pools of your fragrance / When you’re in proximity / I’m totally weightless”) and a depiction of her inner breakdown, the theme of needing one’s lover through these challenging moments emerges, raising the timeless question of whether love endures through both the highs and lows, asking, “For better or for worse?” The question is almost answered in the album’s standout track, “Kissing in Swimming Pools,” where she explains how being together doesn’t have to be complicated—she just wants time alone with them. “I want to be the one that gets to fix you, honey,” Humberstone protests softly against melodic guitar strums. “So, can we kiss in your swimming pool? / In this bathing suit / I would die for you.”

It’s when “Ghost Me” hits that listeners can truly grasp that, through all the hardships, this album is truly a love letter centered around keeping your friends and family close to your heart. The track is a humorous approach to the necessity of love and the fear of losing someone who brings goodness to your life—explored through recounts of late night karaokes, chaotic childhood adventures and phone scrolls laced with “impending doom.” “If you try to ghost me / And quit being in my life / Don’t you dare,” she demands. As the track slips away, it includes a voice memo from a friend: “There’s this SpongeBob line which I always think of, and it’s this guy who’s really sad, and he goes: ‘I was born with paper skin and bones made out of glass, every day I wake up and I shatter my ankles,’ or something like that. Like, he’s really sad, I’ll find it now. But that’s how I feel at the moment.”

Following a beautiful feature from d4vd on “Superbloodmoon” comes a brutally self-aware, electronica-influenced ballad, where Humberstone grapples with her own wrongdoings in love and recounts a desire to escape her own mind. “Am I the antichrist? How do I sleep at night,” she repeats. “Cause I gave you bad love only.” You can always count on a song called “Antichrist” to arrive as a crushing slap in the face. “Girl” bleeds desperation and desire, as Humberstone feels helpless in lust or love—it’s hard to say which, exaclty—with someone who she believes sees her as second-best. “In a perfect world / I’d be your girl,” she sings. “I wanna be on your lips / Like a cigarette / I wanna be somebody / That you just can’t quit.” Her vocals reach an all-time catharsis when she powerfully sings “But you don’t even look at me.” Jealousy seeps through the bridge, tapping into the album’s recurring theme of not feeling good enough and wanting to be someone else.

Paint My Bedroom Black is as much a love letter as it is a nuanced exploration of self-growth and a discomfort with love that stems from insecurities and past relationships. The album follows much of the same pacing and sound throughout, with the lack of variety occasionally making it difficult to distinguish between songs. However, offerings like “Girl,” “Antichrist” and “Kissing in Swimming Pools” are distinct standout tracks. It’s clearly a liberating piece of work, and Humberstone’s honesty and alluring delivery is bound to resonate with listeners near and far.

Read our recent feature on Holly Humberstone here.

Alyssa Goldberg is a writer and photographer who recently moved from New York to Boston, where she is pursuing a Master of Science in Media, Medicine, and Health at Harvard Medical School. Her work appears in Teen Vogue, Sounds of Saving, Hobart After Dark, Melodic Magazine, Pleaser Magazine and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @alyssaegoldberg or at alyssaegoldberg.com.

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