The Irish musician gets candid about dating and her debut album

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Photo credit: Karina Barberis
Photo credit: Karina Barberis

Orla Gartland was just 14 when she started posting songs on Youtube. Twelve years and over 270 thousands subscribers later, the 26-year-old Irish musician has independently released her first album, Woman on the Internet. For her dedicated, largely female, fanbase, it had been a long time coming. Released in August 2021, the emotive folk-pop album takes listeners on a twisting journey through the glorious chaos of Orla's early twenties dating life. There's a refreshing frankness to the way she describes dating an emotionally-repressed man, becoming obsessed with a friend of a friend and finding solace in the sobering reality that her problems aren't unique.

Despite being deeply personal, the album manages to be highly relatable, too, touching on feelings we’ve all felt before but have been too afraid to say out loud. Lyrics dissect envy, expose the fear of being left by those you love and delve into a well of all-too-relatable insecurities. Establishing the album’s tone, Woman on the Internet’s lead single, ‘Pretending’, asks; “Am I the only one putting on an act to please people around me?”

“My favourite line from [the album] is 'I'm so fucking self-aware it's exhausting',” she tells Cosmopolitan over Zoom. Is she like this in relationships? “To a painful, inconvenient and unnecessary extent,” she laughs. “I over-analyse everything, and it's exhausting to be around and experience.”

While Orla says she’d rather be an over-thinker than someone unaware of their own emotions and others’ around them, she laughingly admits that she’s trying to just “chill the fuck out a bit more.”

This process of unlearning and relearning who she wants to be has dominated Orla's twenties so far, and has shifted who she is attracted to. “I used to be drawn to quite emotionally unavailable men,” she says. The song ‘Zombie’ is testament to this, exploring her frustration with dating an ex that’s a “carbon copy” of other men lost in toxic masculinity.

“You know that guy who is well-meaning and good at heart, but has a total inability to communicate or latch on to what they feel?” Orla asks. “It's about them. You see something bubbling beneath the surface, but you don't know what it is. You ask, is it anger? Are you sad? And you're just getting this total dead glare. It's completely frustrating.” Since the relationship in the song came to an end a couple of years ago, emotional detachment has become a massive turn off for Orla and now she's embracing her open and expressive nature. “If you retreat into yourself and shut off every potential partner or friend… where does that leave you? You might be protected, but you don't have anyone.”

Photo credit: Karina Barberis
Photo credit: Karina Barberis

She uses songwriting as a way to explore her deep, difficult feelings but is still learning how to best communicate these with people she loves. While attending a Catholic all girls’ school, she was taught that sweeping everything under the rug was the norm. “I've spent most of my 20s trying to undo the grip that has on me,” she asserts. “I'm trying to push myself to the front of my life. Which is not instinctive for me at all.”

During this quest to own, and celebrate, her narrative Orla has pushed herself out of her comfort zone. In the summer of 2021, she came out as bisexual on Twitter. Orla has alluded to her queerness before (FYI, her song ‘Oh GOD’ is about a woman), but this was the first time she'd publicly acknowledged her sexuality. Realising that there was a risk of erasing this part of her, Orla put it online to force herself to have conversations about it in real life. What followed was a slow yet enjoyable self-acceptance.

“I'd known about myself for a while, but I've mainly been in relationships with men so it felt like this invisible thing because it never felt right to bring it up,” she says. “I had this deep fear of appearing to be all the tropes – attention-seeking, performative, going through a phase – which made me silence [my sexuality] for years.”

Orla isn't dating women right now, but vocalising that she is attracted to them gave her a huge sense of relief. It was this that truly made her understand that who you date doesn't define your sexuality.

“It surprised me to realise that it's just a factual part of my identity, which makes it much less about who you are having sex with. There's something so pure about that,” she says with a smile.

Orla Gartland’s debut album, Woman on the Internet, is out now. You can check out the dates for her UK and Europe tour here.

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