Life, as Ronan Keating famously once sang, is a rollercoaster – you’ve just got to ride it. Over the last 12 months, Lauran Hibberd been strapped into a journey resembling hurtling along a loop-the-looping track, being thrown up to dizzying highs before plummeting to life-changing lows and back again.
In August 2022, as her hook-filled triumph of a debut album ‘Garageband Superstar’ was soaring into the UK Top 40, she was grieving for her father, who’d died in the weeks ahead of the release. “A lot of stuff happened to me around that time – I lost my dad, I went through my first big break-up, I was living on my own for the first time,” she reflects now. It would have made sense if this intense period of grief, change and adaptation had left the 26-year-old needing to hit pause and focus on something other than music for a moment.
Writing, though, became a way for her to deal with and continue processing the things she was going through. As she re-entered sessions in the studio, her second album ‘Girlfriend Material’ “just fell out” of her. “It felt like it needed to happen. I felt so much freer and a bit more capable of writing about certain topics than I did before,” she reasons. “It’s like, for the first album, someone sent me to Spain without me knowing any Spanish, and I’ve been like, ‘I’ll figure it out’. This time, I’ve had a year of learning Spanish, and I can ask for the time.”
Now more confident and comfortable in the language of songwriting, the new album takes the foundations Hibberd started laying on ‘Garageband Superstar’ and builds them up several accomplished storeys. The tongue-in-cheek humour that won her praise from the likes of DIY, NME, Rolling Stone UK, Kerrang!, Radio 1 and more is still present, but it’s joined by new layers of nuance and candidness – think songs that can make you laugh, cry and feel less alone, all within under four minutes. Sonically, too, she’s entering new ground, bringing together forever influences like Avril Lavigne, Weezer and Green Day with the likes of Olivia Rodrigo, Liz Phair and Taylor Swift.
The path to ‘Girlfriend Material’ began with ‘2nd Prettiest Girl’, a neat stepping stone between the first album and its successor, in both sound and subject matter. It’s quintessential Lauran, distilling the moment a date told her she was “probably the second prettiest girl in the room”. “I went home and I was like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me? As if he’s gone in and scanned the whole room and been like, ‘Yeah, she’s probably number two’,”
she recalls. “The funniest thing about it was that I said, ‘Thank you’, as if he’d just paid me the biggest compliment.”
It might not have been the most ideal return to the dating scene post-break-up, but it did give Hibberd a new stroke of inspiration, turning the anecdote into a punchy anthem in which she embraces the idea of being second best (“So I guess she’ll take the gold this time / But I look better in silver, it matches my eyes”). “It’s so relatable – I think everyone has that one friend or one person that they’re always falling a little bit under.”
Emboldened by that song, she began to dig deeper and allow herself to move outside of her comfort zone in what followed – even if she needed a little coaxing to get there sometimes. ‘Anti Fragile’ takes her back to her acoustic roots in a song that details the numbness she felt after being hit by a tidal wave of change. Although she started out playing folk music as a teenager, she’s since tried to avoid acoustic guitars, linking them in her brain to what she considers an embarrassing phase. But when she tried to record the track on electric guitar, producer (and Underoath drummer) Aaron Gillespie refused: “He was like, ‘That’s so stupid. Why don’t you want to write a beautiful acoustic-pop song?’”
The bravest moment of the album comes in ‘I Suck At Grieving’, a song that manages to both jangle and pummel as it finds Hibberd lamenting herself for “avoiding” mourning her dad and projecting her feelings onto other incidents and annoyances instead. “I’d just go on to other things I could be annoyed or upset about,” she explains. “It’s one of those situations in life which is so helpless – no one can say or do anything; you just have to get on with it.” Writing the song helped her come to terms with the fact all she could do was learn to live with this huge loss.
‘I Suck At Grieving’ is a shining example of the musician’s evolution as a songwriter, filling its lyrics with dark humour and relatable vignettes (here, via a psychoanalysis of people who rewatch Gilmore Girls over and over) while delivering lines that also punch you in the gut. “Crossing the road to get closer to you / Catching a cold was the best I could do,” she shares at one point, and later assesses how her dad’s death has changed her worldview: “I started watching horror movies, but nothing else will ever spook me.”
It also represents Hibberd embracing surprising people. “I look at bands around me who are still present today – and even Aaron’s band, Underoath – they’ve never done what was expected of them. They’ve always done whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and they’re still around today because of that.” Working with Gillespie on her record wasn’t an isolated dream-come-true experience for Hibberd this time around. The widescreen, glittering duet ‘Pretty Good For A Bad Day’ was co-written with and features Alex Gaskarth, frontman of All Time Low, one of her biggest influences. “My manager told me [about the session] and I was like, ‘That’s so awesome, I don’t think I can go’,” she laughs. “I remember trying to be so calm and chill about it,
but it was amazing. We got on so well. I got an Uber back to my AirBnB and was listening to the song, and it felt like I was in a movie.” After documenting her life to date on ‘Garageband Superstar’, more than anything ‘Girlfriend Material’ captures who Hibberd is in this moment – changed from the artist we met on album one and likely different from the artist we’ll meet in the future. It is, she says, a record that captures everything she is right now. “I’m figuring out who the hell I am,” she smiles. “I’m lighting candles and trying to manifest, I’m reading books, and I’m trying to run – all of these things will fade off in the next two months, and I’ll never do them again, but it’s part of that process.” ‘Girlfriend Material’ courses with that exploratory, sometimes confused, questioning feeling.
“It’s very freeing, and I think a lot of people will be able to find themselves in the record the way I have,” she adds. Bolder, braver and more real than
ever, Lauran Hibberd is about to hit another steep peak on the rollercoaster of life. You’d be a fool not to strap yourself in beside her.