Turn on a radio in any city around the United States, and the odds of hearing Demi Lovato’s “Confident” or Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” are through the roof. While this recent trend toward positive — and even body-positive — music is infiltrating the world of mainstream pop music with catchy beats and encouraging lyrics, one musician is taking a different approach to body-positive music, and her movement may be just the thing the industry needs.
Meet Ilana Harkavy, a Los-Angeles based singer-songwriter whose latest EP, The Just, Girl. Project, is a five-track record infused with her own personal struggles to inspire girls to persevere through their own obstacles.
Ilana Harkavy. Photo by Instagram user @justgirlproject.
The Just, Girl. Project, described as “a fiery musical movement that empowers girls to embrace their passions, be blatantly honest, and to take ownership of their individual struggles,” followed stints in electronic music and TV placement writing, both of which the 27-year-old Harkavy said she didn’t find personally fulfilling. After finding both paths to be stifling her creativity, she decided to take a chance and invest her savings into recording an EP. But when she began to write tracks for the EP, Harkavy strayed from the normal pop-song topics of boys and heartbreak and decided to get personal.
“I felt like I had written about heartbreak a lot, and I got really tired of it. I didn’t feel like I was helping anyone with my songs,” she said. “So I started writing about my struggles with being a woman and the things that I went through when I was 15 and 16 that I still go through, like body image and my relationships with other girls and my relationship with myself.”
After co-writing songs for the EP with her best friend, Harkavy let three years pass before revisiting them for what became The Just, Girl. Project. In that time, her music took a back seat to her online branding company, Nailed It! Media; this move proved beneficial, as it provided some funds for her EP.
But the funds from her business were not enough to produce a music movement that would reach her intended audience. Harkavy knew that she had to reach out to the public to help fund her project and get the exposure it needed, but she also knew that for the project to succeed, it had to have a specific goal.
“I knew that I wanted to do something more than just ask people for money to help me promote my record. I wanted to make it mean something,” Harkavy explained.
Thus, The Just, Girl. Project was born. Harkavy said she started the project to create “functional music for girls to help them get through really tough stuff,” which could include handling everything from body image issues to eating disorders to depression.
“I wanted something for those girls because I don’t feel like they really have anything right now. I feel like most of the music I hear is ‘I love myself,’ and … as much as that music’s awesome and wonderful, I wanted to hear a song that’s ‘I want to love myself,'” Harkavy said of the goal of The Just, Girl. Project. Because of this, Harkavy wanted her songs to not only resonate with girls who may not love themselves yet, but also give them subtle instructions to help them accept themselves.
Harkavy’s The Just, Girl. Project EP includes five songs, each of which has a specific message for her listeners that stems from her own self-reflection. In discussing the track “My Body,” Harkavy explained that it was the product of a six-hour process of reflecting on her own insecurities.
“I am going to write about something that I hate talking about, that I’ve avoided in every therapy session, and it’s going to be humiliating and I’m going to hate it, but I’m going to do it,” she said of the writing process for “My Body,” the song inspired by her own struggles with eating disorders.
Ilana Harkavy of the Just, Girl. Project. Photo by Instagram user @justgirlproject.
The honest, raw writing process of “My Body” spurred a similar method of songwriting for the rest of the EP’s tracks, prompting Harkavy to face uncomfortable situations from her past and present. While the songs fall into the pop music genre, she said that their meaning is very dark, allowing her to infuse her “artisticness with commercial appeal.”
But make no mistake: while Harkavy is trying to reach 13 to 17-year-old girls with her music, she doesn’t strictly follow pop’s formula for songwriting that appeals to this demographic.
Harkavy described the structure of her songs as mimicking the process of change. “The verse is allowing people to say what’s upsetting them — don’t hide it, say why you’re upset. The pre-chorus … says ‘I’m going to do this, watch me be awesome.’ And instead of the chorus being, ‘I did it,’ it’s more like, ‘Now I want to do it.'”
Because The Just, Girl. Project is so personal, Harkavy hopes that her listeners will not only relate to her struggles, but also find comfort in knowing that she has experienced similar difficulties.
“My music is supposed to give a sense of comfort and motivation. I really want girls to look at me like a big sister,” she explained. “A big sister is not always right, but she can help, and she often knows exactly what you’re going through.”
And just like a big sister, Harkavy wants nothing more than to make a difference in the lives of the girls listening to her music.
“If I got an email from a girl that said that something I did made her want to get help, I think it would make my life.”
To learn more about Harkavy and The Just, Girl. Project, visit the project’s Tumblr.