Frontwoman Aluna Francis breaks down the origins of "Mean What I Mean"

Credit: Lloyd Pursall

When British pop duo AlunaGeorge began work on their second album, they planned to make more of the downtempo electronic music they showcased on their 2013 debut, Body Music. Instead, I Remember, due Sept. 16, is stacked with empowering club-bangers like the dancehall-esque “I’m in Control” and “Mean What I Mean,” which explores consent with the help of rappers Leikeli47 and Dreezy. Below, frontwoman Aluna Francis—who handles the lyrics and vocals, while bandmate George Reid handles the production—breaks down the song’s origins and why she was initially embarrassed of the song.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made you want to write a song about consent?

ALUNA FRANCIS: It was certainly a real-life situation. It was the classic scenario of having somebody tell you that you don’t mean what you’re saying and that having an affect on your ability to stand up for your own boundaries. That really hit me hard. I didn’t have confidence about this situation. You can’t stop people from treating you badly if that’s the way they are, but you can certainly be very outraged about it. That’s one of the things that can help you in a situation, to be immediately outraged: “How dare you!” And to get out, get away if you can. The song is about bringing a positivity to that idea. To bring consent into the bedroom, it’s not the opposite of sexy. Really, I think it’s a deeply sexy thing to know that somebody is definitely into it as much as you are.

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Do you think making a four-minute club jam about consent underscores that idea? That it’s not some big, burdensome, unsexy topic—it’s so easy you can put it in a pop song?

I just wanted to feel good about it. I was desperate to feel good again. I was desperate to not be the victim. I didn’t want to get stuck in the kind of whining, angry emotions of the situation. That’s very depressing. So how do I just burst out of this and feel really good about myself and not feel scared again to protect myself? I’m going to feel confident saying, “These are my lines and you’ve crossed them—that’s it, bye!” If you want to cross them, you’ve got to say the right things, you’ve got to get the right permission.

One thing that struck me about this song was how much it stands out against songs like “Blurred Lines” and “What Do You Mean”—the idea that you can’t take women at their word is so coded into popular music.

It’s very hard to feel like it’s worth the energy to even bother whining about it or complaining about it. For me, it’s much better time spent just saying the opposite, saying what I think is right. But I’ve noticed that that brainwashing goes both ways. It’s one thing telling women that what they’re saying is not what they mean. But you’re also telling other men that women don’t know what they mean, which is even more damaging. It’s a lie that gets fed to young men. In the situation I was in, I don’t think this guy really believed what he was saying. He was just going by some rubbish media rules that [imprinted] on him, “This is how to deal with this situation.” I’m not taking away the blame from him or anything, but all this sh-t comes from somewhere.

The song is a collaboration with rappers Dreezy and Leikeli47. Did you always know you wanted to have rappers on the song?

I didn’t, because when I first started trying to write this song, I was like, “Oh no, this is going to be terrible, this is going to be corny.” I really felt like it was sitting on a cheesy place because it was so honest. I was a little bit embarrassed by it. But I knew it was a really important thing to say. What got me through the situation is my friends, so this song needed friends on it. It needs that vibe. The only way I got through this situation was my friends going, “Girl, that was sexual harassment!” I was like, “Yeah, it is, isn’t it?” I didn’t even realize it. My self-esteem was so damaged that I didn’t want to talk about it.

As soon as I got the verses from Dreezy and 47 I was like, “That’s it! There we go!” There’s a validation in having other women decide that that’s an important thing to talk about as well. They’re willing to stand out there with you and go, “Yeah, I’ll talk about consent! I’ve been through it myself!” You realize you’re not alone—that’s the whole point of writing the song. With Leikeli47 and Dreezy, it became the perfect balance of different voices and different women. We all come from totally different backgrounds, and we’re coming from entirely different perspectives on the same subjects. I don’t think it could have been the same song without them.

What was it like shooting the video? It looks like it was a lot of fun.

Oh my God, it was hideous. That is a deserted water park, and I swear to you the very reason it was deserted is because it’s uninhabitable. It’s in the middle of the Mojave Desert with strong sand-filled winds that just get stronger throughout the day. If you watch the video again, there’s absolutely no point at which my hair is not my face. Not a single shot! I’m constantly flipping my hair out of my mouth. It’s ridiculous. I had contact lenses and had to change them like three times.