PROVO — When Sarah Coyne first heard pop singer Colbie Caillat's song "Try" on the radio, she didn't just go out and buy the album — she turned it into a research project.
“Take your makeup off/Let your hair down/Take a breath/Look into the mirror, at yourself/Don't you like you?/'Cause I like you.”
After hearing those final lyrics, Coyne, a professor at Brigham Young University, was more than happy — she felt inspired.
“I thought, ‘I wonder if listening to positive body image lyrics in music can have an impact on the way women feel about themselves, because so much music sexualizes women and puts down women and tells them that they’re nothing more than their bodies,” said Coyne, who studies the impact media has on children and families.
So the professor took that thought to her BYU classroom, and for the next couple of years, she conducted four studies exploring that idea.
“(We found that) when women listen to positive body image lyrics in music, they tend to feel better about themselves,” she said. “So I really like Colbie because she sparked an idea for some scholarly research, but then she’s such a powerful force for good in the music industry and really just kind of a light compared to so many other musical artists who tend to put down women.”
On Friday afternoon, Coyne got the chance to tell Caillat about her research in person. The pop singer, known for hits such as “Bubbly,” “Realize” and “Fallin’ for You,” is a featured guest with David Archuleta at this year’s BYU Spectacular, one of many events during the school’s homecoming week. Caillat took a break from rehearsals to meet and chat with about 200 students on the campus. The singer was honored when Coyne, who attended the Q&A session with her students, raised her hand to tell Caillat about the research her music inspired.
“Well thank you, first of all. That’s amazing. I appreciate that,” Caillat told Coyne. “Forever, women have been expected to be a certain way, look a certain way. I know for me … I was never the girly-girl. When I first started touring, I didn’t even wear makeup — I wore jeans. … And then I started being told I needed to look differently because I was going to be on TV. … All of that starts getting put in your head and if you don’t have a strong enough sense of what you believe or who you are, you can easily get worried by it — I was for a certain amount of time.”
That was just one of many topics Caillat addressed during the hourlong conversation at BYU's Harris Fine Arts Center. The singer touched on a variety of subjects ranging from working with Jason Mraz to overcoming stage fright to her surprising — and initially unwanted — rise to fame.
As Caillat puts it, finding success was “accidental.” For starters, not many people can write a hit song in 20 minutes. But the words came out fast, and when her friend posted a demo recording of "Bubbly" and a few other songs to MySpace — a platform Caillat had never even heard of — popularity came almost as fast. Caillat was offered a record deal, and those demos became her debut album in 2007.
Before she knew it, she was going on her first tour — something that absolutely terrified the singer, as she considers herself an introvert.
“I’ve always had stage fright and when I first started, I would always want to cancel every show,” she told the students. “I honestly would cancel shows at the very beginning of my tour because I was crying and I didn’t want to go out onstage. … I would stand in one place and sing with my eyes closed the entire show.”
But Caillat said things slowly began to change as she realized her music was affecting people in a positive way.
“How could I say no to this incredible opportunity?” she said. “Songwriting isn’t only therapy for me. … It’s therapy for someone else to listen to, and it connects us all. When I’m writing (a song), I feel like I’m the only one going through that, and yet the listener feels like they’re the only one going through that.”
Since her breakthrough in 2007, Caillat has released five more albums, embarked on a number of tours and worked with musicians including Mraz and Taylor Swift. Through it all, she stays close to the message of her song “Try” that has uplifted Coyne and others: Be authentic.1 comment on this story
“For me, it took a long time to realize that I don't need to alter myself … and I wanted to write ‘Try’ to remind myself and anyone listening that we don’t have to be someone else,” Caillat said. “(That message) is for men and for women. I wrote ‘Try’ because I had that realization, and it took me too long to have that realization.”
For commercial music student Josh Andromidas, Caillat's powerful message of authenticity was just one of many takeaways.
“I find self-therapy the same way that (Caillat) does with writing music," he said. "That’s something that I’m really going to try to do in the songs that I write — make it personal, but (also) something that will help me connect to the people who listen to it.”