Ailbhe Reddy – ‘Looking Happy’

You ever just had a bit of a down day and gone on a bit of a rabbit-hole journey on social media?

Mindlessly scroll and then come across a love from a past life, with a beaming smile in a sun-kissed location; Sydney, for example? ‘Looking Happy’ is just the song for you. Dubliner Ailbhe Reddy is going from a jog to a sprint with this new offering ahead of her debut album release, ‘Personal History’, out on the 2nd of October.

The best way to describe ‘Looking Happy’ is reflected in the music video, in which Ailbhe plays a child having a bad time at a birthday party, personally described as a play on the ‘Looking Happy’ title. In other words, looking happy in situations where you’re supposed to be, as opposed to true happiness. The instrumentation and songwriting reflects that incredibly well; it is at once bubblegum and innocent, whilst also being frustrated and mature. The sharp, jangly guitar drives and dominates the track, with mezzo-forte, accented drumming hitting that line of frustration and care-free, and a clean bass blu-tacking the whole arrangement together. It builds beautifully through the song, with the middle 8 introducing a classic bright-eyed space-age synth, as well as the entire song becoming slightly more fast and loose as the ironic frustration builds and builds.

Lyrically, Ailbhe ponders the subject of the song, an ex that she can see “on [her] telephone screen”. The chorus continues to read into that feeling – “See you got a new job, cause it’s staring at me/See you got a new life, but are you still lonely?” either hoping against hope that the ex still thinks of her, or it’s a jab out of bitterness. Ultimately though, it notes almost ironically that “I can make it stop/Just turn it off”, an admission that the social media behaviour is within control, yet it asks the question on the process of a post-breakup if feelings can ever truly disconnect like that. It’s bitter, maybe even a little petulant, but it is still highly relatable and accepting to our view of post-relationship grief.

I do also want to mention Ailbhe’s vocal performance, for it is a highlight of the track. Incredibly assured and strong, it has real shades of Adrianne Lenker from Big Thief; a dream-pop voice that soars heartily above the instrumentals, and works really well with the high-frequency reverb. In times when it is needed, her alto stretches into a broken yet controlled falsetto, it hooks you into the song really well and has some well-deserved commendation.

Artistic and thoughtful, ‘Looking Happy’ is a tongue-in-cheek commentary on love and grief that echoes through all of us. Catch this rising star on her debut album, ‘Personal History’, on the 2nd of October – I will certainly be looking forward to it.

Joel Mallen


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