Marcus John

The rising pop-R&B singer says "Hanging On" is a subtle protest song

April 06, 2017 at 11:00 AM EDT

It shouldn’t take long for TOTEM‘s new single “Hanging On” to get stuck in your head — but it might take you a minute to realize the slick, R&B-pop jam is actually the singer’s attempt at a subtle protest song.

“This was actually one of the first songs I wrote after the election,” TOTEM says of the track, which is premiering exclusively on EW today. “After being in North Carolina during the returns, I had to take a couple days before finally coming home and getting back to work. I’m a pop songwriter, so I wanted to take all of this disbelief and betrayal I felt and channel it somewhere without making an overt protest song. My co-writers Christian Medice and Stalking Gia were also feeling disillusioned, so we reflected that in this narrative of a relationship that has lost its feeling of safety.“

“Hanging On” isn’t the only time he’s spoken up about where this country is headed: TOTEM, a first-generation Indian-American whose parents immigrated to North Carolina in the ’80s, recently wrote an op-ed for Billboard in response to President Donald Trump’s efforts to pass an immigration ban.

“It’s always important to me that my songs have a real perspective, but the art is making something that people still want to listen to or relate to in their own way,” TOTEM says of “Hanging On.” “I recorded most of the vocals the next day [after writing it], but it honestly took about a month for me to listen back and realize that we had something really cool that could tell its own tale.”

Hear the track and read its lyrics below.

[spotify id="spotify%3Atrack%3A7nQ30ChYW5JGXoDmalQfOa" /]

“Hanging On”
I’m blown away how you can play the innocent
You burned it all down
Why do I stay to catch a glimpse of what we know
Will never be found

Hey, did you ever love me like you say
Did you ever even try to make my heart your home
Hey, did you ever love me like you say
Cause I’m tired of praying for useless miracles

Meet me on the west side
Up here on the high line
Got a couple words worth saying
Talked it out in my head
But all my thoughts are faded
Even though it hurts, I keep hanging on

I can’t escape, been here too many times before
I see em all now
Look how we changed, not the reflection that I know
That’s looking back out

You keep me holding on to hope, I know it’s dumb

Meet me on the west side
Up here on the high line
Got a couple words worth saying
Talked it out in my head
But all my thoughts are faded
Even though it hurts, I keep hanging on

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