Aly & AJ on 'Potential Breakup Song' getting 'bizarre second life' on TikTok and their new album
"It was a year where a lot of people didn't feel safe and listening to old music or watching an old movie was a comfort," AJ Michalka tells EW. "And it was one of those things where it's like, yeah, 'Potential Breakup Song' — let's break up with Trump."
From students with their friends, to Gordon Ramsay and the Baltimore Orioles players, everyone and their moms have made a TikTok with Aly & AJ’s 2007 bop lambasting bad boyfriends. Literally, as one of the most popular videos to utilize the song starred a group of girlfriends’ moms dancing at a bar. That video has garnered 78.6 million views and counting, inspiring its own series of TikToks and even prompting sisters Aly and AJ Michalka to make their TikTok debut teasing their first album in over 13 years.
EW can exclusively reveal that on Dec. 2, the duo will be releasing the currently untitled collection’s first single, “Slow Dancing." Ahead of that, on Nov. 21, Aly & AJ will also be live streaming a set they did at the Viper Room in Los Angeles earlier this year.
Although the Gen Z kids lip syncing to the song might recognize the sisters separately — AJ, from ABC’s Schooled and her older sister from the CW’s iZombie — those who grew up in the early 2000s knew Aly from the Disney Channel series Phil of the Future and the network’s Cow Belles, which also featured AJ.
When the pair first wrote “Potential Breakup Song” as teenagers, they didn’t even have their licenses yet and had no idea fans would “respond so heavily” to the tune. Released in 2007 as part of their third album Insomniatic, it peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100, and now with its second life, has skyrocketed to 60 million streams and counting on Spotify, surpassing the duo’s second-most played track five times over.
Their longtime fans have seen them through a name change (they were 78violet for a period), three albums, two EPs in the last 3 years, and a lot of growing up. More outspoken than ever, the sisters, now 31 and 29, had been phone banking and taking to social media to support Joe Biden’s campaign before the elections, and, of course, celebrated his win with a TikTok featuring their mom.
Aly & AJ spoke to EW about why they think “Potential Breakup Song” blew up again, how their political growth has informed their new album, and the possibility of a Cow Belles 2.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How have you guys been adjusting to the TikTok fame? That’s definitely a sentence I couldn’t have asked anyone even a year or two ago.
ALY MICHALKA: It's funny, even hearing "TikTok fame" is hilarious, because the song is quite old, and it had its day in the sun. And it's just funny that now this younger generation has no idea what the song is and who the artist is necessarily. We always wanted to join TikTok and really never knew how, so this is a perfect excuse to finally start our own page on the platform. So hopefully if we keep up with good ideas, we'll try to post a TikTok once every week or two.
When did you first see that the song was blowing up — was it the moms one?
ALY: I had some girlfriends that were messaging me and telling me like, "Oh my God, have you seen this video? This is trending on TikTok." I obviously knew what TikTok was, but I didn't really get it when they said it was trending. I was like, "What do you mean it's trending? Huh? Why?" So it was more my girlfriends texting me funny videos that were random with people singing the song, and then eventually we got word about the moms video, which is the one that really started it all. And that was probably my favorite and then seeing people do their little version of it is pretty funny as well.
It's funny to see guys lip synch to it. Last night — we're big RuPaul’s Drag Race fans — a friend of mine freaked out and texted me that Jackie Cox had just released one with a bunch of queens from season 12 and that one fully made my day.
What do you think it is about the song that made it go viral and connect with so many people?
ALY: I don't know, I think maybe the lyrics are kind of cheeky and the repetition of saying, "It took too long, it took too long, it took too long." I think it's one of those little earworm moments that just happen. And we're happy that the song is getting this bizarre second life in 2020.
AJ MICHALKA: Yeah, and I think people are falling back now on nostalgia and memory and it was a year where a lot of people didn't feel safe, and listening to old music or watching an old movie was a comfort. And it was one of those things where it's like, "Yeah, ‘Potential Breakup Song' — let's break up with Trump."
ALY: There was a really fun one that was edited with Biden and Trump. It was pretty great.
We’ve seen Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” reenter the charts because of TikTok too, like that’s the power of social media.
ALY: Yeah, I guess I underestimated the power of TikTok in terms of what it is bringing to people on the charts. We've seen a lot of growth on a lot of our platforms, on Instagram, on Spotify. It's really cool. I think that the reason why people relate to it so much is that people don't take themselves seriously on that platform in a really refreshing way. Whereas Instagram is very curated, it's like, "Look at my perfect life." TikTok is just funny.
Do you still remember the process of writing and recording it?
ALY: I want to say that we started writing that with a beat; we usually didn't write that way. But there were two co-writers that we were writing with that day that decided we'd start with a little beat that was looped. I feel like we wrote that in a day. Or at least we had, like, 75 percent of it after that one session.
AJ: And then we brought in the little, repeated "dun dun dun dun dun,” like the little arpeggio. It was a fast process.
ALY: Which hasn't always happened for every song, but I think we just had fun with that song. And we didn't know that it would necessarily be something that the fans would respond to so heavily, but I feel like we knew that we'd written a great song at that moment. That day we were like, "Oh, great. It's a good day. We got a good one." And it was literally just us and two other people who were making the record at the time. And I want to say it was maybe towards the end of that album.
AJ: We'll never forget, we were in Santa Monica. I don't think we had our license. So we would get driven to the studio. And I would say that song was done in a day.
Now you’ll be releasing your first full album in over 13 years, that’s exciting!
AJ: Thank you, yeah it's huge for us. Being on tour the last couple years and releasing these last two EPs has really inspired us to create a full body of work. It's been 13 years since a full album came out from us, and we ended up with more material than we ever expected. Aly and I are planning on releasing a pretty hefty record, but we plan on doing it a little differently than we have in the past, where we really introduce people to the sound before the album comes out by releasing quite a few singles. So we'll release our first single in December. And then shortly after that, we'll just continue popping off singles until spring of 2021 when we release the full album.
Can you talk a little bit about its subject matter and how the record will be different from past ones?
AJ: Aly and I, our political involvement has grown, our involvement with mental health awareness has grown, our involvement with the LGBTQ community has grown. All of that does play into the lyrics and the meaning behind a lot of these songs. It's not necessarily a love song album. There are love songs on the album, but the record is really authentic and carries a lot of depth and weight that I think people are going to feel refreshed listening to. Also a lot of positivity and optimism behind it. And that was the goal that 2021, we'd be able to turn a new leaf and put out a record with a new president, where we felt like, “All right, we can get back on the road safely.”
What was it like working on the album?
ALY: COVID was obviously happening, and we had already planned this album and we were able to [work] with our producer and keep it really limited on people and to test regularly each week and we just didn't go out anywhere else. We would just literally go from our house to the studio, house to the studio, house to the studio. So if anything, it kept us sane during this time, and I think I would have gone a little crazy just being at home, watching TV and reading books for the last six months.
You’re releasing the album’s first single in December, can you talk a bit about the track?
ALY: It's actually a song [where] the melody was started a few years ago, but the actual song subject matter and the lyrics were worked on over COVID. We worked on this as one of the last songs we were writing.
AJ: During the L.A. lockdown is when Aly and I reapproached the song and changed the meaning of it.
ALY: And we did some Zooms with our producer to put the bow on it. We ended up shooting the music video on our mom's ranch out in Santa Ynez. And we chose to use a Steadicam operator for this music video, so it feels different than other videos we've done in the past. We used my mom's truck, we used my mom's horse, Theo, he makes a cameo in it. We styled ourselves and did our own hair and makeup. There's just a trade-off that has come with this new album in terms of getting to express ourselves creatively. We feel like we are fully in control of the ship that we're steering. Yes, I know it'd be great to have more crew on hand, but that's not an option. So you just have to pivot and I think that you get some really interesting creative ideas out of it.
Was the plan to drop it in December or did having “Potential Breakup Song” go big on TikTok shift that forward?
AJ: It was actually for November and we were getting a little worried about coming too close to the elections period. “Potential Breakup Song” having a moment on TikTok really didn't have anything to do with it funny enough, but it does only help. The December release is just something that we felt strongly about, it feels like one of those songs that you could listen to by the fire with a cup of tea on a nice cozy couch with a blanket wrapped around you, like the song feels like a hug. The production is really warm and inviting, and it worked for like fall/winter vibes, without being like "we're releasing a Christmas song.” We felt like, "All right, that'll be our send-off of the year, and then we'll really hit people with a 2021 kind of ‘turn a corner’ type music.”
What’s in your future? Are you thinking about focusing on the group full time, or will you still be weaving Aly & AJ into your acting careers?
AJ: We're open to it all and we love it all. Our heads right now are really in music, and we want to get out and tour. But we also know we can only do that once it's safe. So we're willing to drop a bunch of singles before the full album comes out in 2021. And in the interim, if we were able to work on a set and that's on location or a film or a TV show, then great. But really the music at this moment, it's front and center because we have no real commitment that's tying us down for anything in the new year.
As you mentioned before, you both have been really politically active on social media. Is that something you became more vocal about in recent years?
Aly: I think it really happened with Trump's administration. AJ and I were pretty active about getting our friends to vote when Hillary was running, and we voted for Hillary. But after she lost, it just showed us that we obviously weren't doing enough, and we needed to hit our platforms harder. So we worked with organizations like the Sierra Club, like Vote Save America. For the two of us, we've realized that having knowledge in politics feels really good, and not having that knowledge actually feels a lot scarier. We got into it a little bit later in our life, and there's a little bit of regret in that, but I'm also like, “You know what? It's never too late to start being active in your community or trying to actually make something change.” It was really cool to see how many fans got out and voted or voted for the first time because of us or spoke to their grandparent or their mother or father. That just shows that I think we're trending in the right direction as Americans if we're willing to have those tough conversations.
I’ve seen a lot of artists speak up about how it’s not just politics vs. other things, it’s part of everything we do. Was it the same for you?
ALY: Yeah, I think that they go together. I feel like as an artist, you listen to an artist's viewpoint and their beliefs and their thoughts on the world. And so why would politics not be a part of that? It's kind of annoying when people say, “Shut up and just stick to the music.” Because that's not fair. I want to utilize our platform to be able to inform our followers and so if we can do that with poise and class and education, then it should just help that.
A lot of your OG fans remember you from your Disney days. Do you still remember being a part of those projects?
ALY: Yeah, we do. It does feel like another lifetime ago, because it was like half our life ago, which is really wild. But we have really great memories from it and I think the fact that we shared them together makes them even better than them being just isolated memories on our own.
I read last year that you were thinking of doing a Cow Belles sequel, is that still happening?
AJ: I think we've turned a corner a little bit on that idea. [Laughs] Again, I feel like never say never. But you know, it's been a blessing that “Potential Breakup Song” has gotten this new moment. Like that happened authentically and in a really cool way. And fans have wanted Cow Belles the sequel, but it just feels like if that's supposed to happen, it'll happen and we'll get it together. But at this point, like I'm so forward-thinking now about the music we're making and the movies we want to be in and the television we want to be in, and how we want to be portrayed as artists, that I don't really feel the need to go back to something we made so many years ago. But at the same time, do I think it'd be hilarious to see Courtney and Taylor 15 years later trying to figure out life? Yeah, absolutely.
Maybe it'll make it into a TikTok.
ALY: There you go. We can provide a Cow Belles TikTok, we will do that. We will give the fans what they want.