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Hayley Gene Penner’s Debut Album “People You Follow,” Tells the Story of Being a Teenage Girl Who is Confused and in Love



During a time when society is becoming hyperconscious about the treatment and pressures of young females in Hollywood, more and more artists are willing to bear their story through their craft.

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba as the daughter of iconic Canadian performer Fred Penner, singer-songwriter Hayley Gene Penner became exposed to the ups and downs of fame from a young age.

In 2011, Hayley moved to Los Angeles to sign a publishing deal with “BMG Chrysalis” and “The Messengers,” and has since gone on to write with and for some of the biggest artists and producers in the industry such as The Chicks, Sabrina Claudio, Lennon Stella, Charlotte Lawrence, The Chainsmokers, and Alina Baraz.

Later that year, she signed with Universal Music Canada and began releasing and writing music under the name “W. Darling.” In 2015, she released two EPs, but in 2017, Penner split from Universal and began releasing music through AWAL, under her full name — Hayley Gene Penner. The reason for the change was Penner’s conscious choice to move away from an electro-pop sound and back to her roots as an acoustic, folk, singer-songwriter.

Born out of this decision was Hayley’s full-length debut album, People You Follow.

Released in the fall of 2020 alongside her memoir of the same name, Penner’s 12-track record is a crazy, sad, happy, and lovely combination of songs that tells a story of the “morally slippery things we do as young women trying to figure ourselves out in the 21st century,” while exploring themes of self-destructiveness and self-protectiveness.

People You Follow is the perfect example of what many young females go through as teenagers; the pressure of being not too loud, but too quiet, respectful, and nice but also not too “respectful and nice,” or it could be mistaken as flirting.

Music is the 21st century’s personal diary, and what makes Hayley Gene Penner’s album so special, is her ability to connect with not just the females of Hollywood, but every female who has ever felt pressured to be something or someone else.

“People You Follow”

The first track on the album is not only about the societal pressures females feel in general, but how that translates into jealousy, especially with the rise of Instagram and Facetune.

Females, of any age, will see a beautiful woman online and wonder why they cannot look like that, and from there, jealousy can grow and turn into a toxic way to live for the female experiencing the inability to meet today’s beauty standards — especially on social media.

You can assume through the lyrics that Penner is referring to someone she has feelings for and her inability to stop comparing herself to the beautiful girls he may follow or know on social media. In the 21st century, every girl can somehow relate to this scenario, whether you’re famous living in LA, or living in a small town, with a population of 500.

She discusses her inability to stop comparing herself to beautiful women. And like many females, she knows it is not healthy or accurate, but yet she convinces herself it’s alright.

“White Stripes”

That one boy you cannot get out of your head is exactly what “White Stripes” is portraying through the lyrics: “And I don’t know where this is heading or how the story ends. But I know right now we’re together and that’s really all there is.”

Penner hangs on to the idea of hope as she imagines what used to be. As time passes and she has now become older, she longs to feel what she felt when she was with “him,” listening to the White Stripes in the back of his truck. “Never is just a

word that people throw back at each other when nothing seems to work,” sings Hayley in fear of drawing any conclusions. It is clear through these lyrics that giving up is not an option.

Though Hayley finds it difficult to let go of someone from her past by reminiscing on past memories, “White Stripes” is a song that can relate to many as it provides a glimpse inside the minds of many girls after their first heartbreak.

“’White Stripes’ is in some ways about my tendency to let men casually string me along for years. It’s about my horse-like endurance and my unwavering belief that eventually, one night, you’ll be sitting alone in a room somewhere and the light will catch your filthy ponytail and second-hand Beyoncé sweater in just the right way and suddenly, he’ll go for it,” said Penner in a blog article.

“Get Away”

At the halfway point of the record, the track “Get Away” tells the story of being in a relationship with someone you adore, to the point where you adore them so much even when they don’t deserve it anymore. The line: “I hope you know what you’re holding before it’s too late,” serves as a warning to Hayley’s significant other that their relationship may be in danger. Seemingly, Hayley is so invested in the relationship and the idea of what could be, that this may be seen as a way to show just how much she still cares to stay, even though she’s been through hell.

Sometimes, we fall so hard in love with the idea of someone or something, that even if treated poorly, we love them enough, that letting go feels even worse.

“Love in the Way”

“Love in the Way,” is one of the last tracks on Penner’s debut album. The song is a retrospective look at how much energy she puts into falling in love. Her whole album is her fighting with her subconscious who knows she deserves better, but yet continues to follow the path of destruction.

The song allows for her to admit her self-destructive behaviour, which is something females have a hard time putting into words and admitting. When young females fall in love, they fall in love a hundred times, and each time is just as bad as the last when it comes to an end.

With the simple saying, “I must love drowning,” Hayley has described how many females feel after chasing something that is already lost.

Hayley Gene Penner gives a raw and emotional take on her love life as a young female in a world of social media and a newly hyperconscious society. Much like her book with the same name, her album People You Follow straddles the line that separates the ethical and the unethical behaviour of young females in love.

Stream the album below:

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    Written by Julia Lloyd

    Multimedia Journalist with bylines in Pulse Music Magazine, J-Source, Collision Repair Mag and their Bodyworx Edition, as well as the Caledon Citizen, Orangeville Citizen, Sudbury Star, Peterborough Examiner, and the Ryersonian. Graduated from Ryerson University in 2019 with a Bachelor of Journalism and a Minor in Politics.

    "I feel my most honest self when I’m putting together a story from beginning to end. Writing takes me out of the current world and into another world that’s just at the tip of my fingers."

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