Fans of HBO’s “Euphoria” may already be well-acquainted with the meditative rhythms of rising indie artist Ai Bendr — her debut single “Love Me Low” appeared in the most recent episode of the hit television show in January. The song now has over one million plays on Spotify and thousands on YouTube.
For those who don’t yet know about Bendr, though, the introductory period happens quite quickly: Her soothing music bounces in between the walls like the warm hug we’ve all so desperately needed since this time last year. Give it a minute — maybe two — and you’re left with the oddly comforting sense that this woman must know you personally, for how else could a few notes be so exactly what you needed to hear?
Despite the intimacy of her sound, Bendr remains relatively unknown as an artist — but her story is actually quite interwoven with Michigan. Originally born in Australia, Bendr moved to Ann Arbor as a toddler, where she spent most of her childhood. She then went to boarding school in Massachusetts before returning to Lady Ann last fall when she started as a freshman in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
Bendr studies performing arts technology or, in her words, “basically music production.” This semester, she’s taking advantage of online classes by living in Los Angeles, meeting with producers and putting the content of her coursework to practical use. More recently, she signed with Interscope Records — her first-ever record label — and now has a year of exciting new releases planned under their management.
But most of the story behind “Love Me Low,” the track featured in HBO’s glittered show, starts long before the glamour of these dreams became a reality.
“I was peeing when I came up with the tune,” Bendr told The Daily from her room in Los Angeles. She laughed at the memory, which perhaps feels quite distant after a year of such turbulence. She wrote the song last February, in the last weeks that she would spend at her boarding school before COVID-19 prematurely ended her senior year. At the time, she was in a relationship and thoroughly in love.
“I was thinking about graduation and having to say goodbye to this person that I really loved,” Bendr said. “I was sad because I was happy, and I knew that in the future I would be sad.”
In this sense, Bendr says, “Love Me Low” is essentially just a goodbye song.
“It’s really a combination of this sad feeling because you’re letting go of this person that makes you so happy,” she said. “But you’re also just grateful that you were able to have them in the first place.”
The song tells the story of a heartbreak that you see coming but do not try to stop: a feeling of melancholic happiness, of holding on to each moment because you know that soon, one of them will be the last.
Bendr took this inspiration with her back home to Michigan and eventually recorded the single in her parents’ boiler room. “It was the best place for acoustics,” Bendr said. She lined the walls with couch cushions to avoid echo — now one million people on Spotify have heard the end result.
Since then, a lot has changed. Press attention grew, and record labels came knocking. Bendr started making plans to move to Los Angeles in January, and more projects started falling into place. Then, one day last fall, she was sitting at her desk doing schoolwork when her phone buzzed with a notification from her producers.
“They were like, ‘Hey can you give us a second, could you FaceTime us, because “Love Me Low” is going to be in “Euphoria,”’ ” Bendr said. She smiled at the memory of it all happening so quickly and simply.
“I just kind of spammed them, I was like ‘wtf wtf — you can’t just say that.’ ”
But it turned out to be just that simple: An agent who had appeared in Bendr’s Twitter direct messages a few months prior had been the one to facilitate the deal. A few weeks later, Bendr’s song echoed in the background of Jules’s (Hunter Schafer) bedroom toward the end of the second “Euphoria” special episode which was released on Jan. 22.
The song’s placement feels especially fitting for Bendr; she still remembers watching the first season of “Euphoria” with the person who eventually inspired the “Love Me Low” tune.
“It is so full circle,” she said.
And from here she hopes that that circle will only grow. “It’s really crazy for me to just be this random person also following their dream in a huge crowd of people all following their dreams,” Bendr said.
After our interview last Tuesday, Bendr left for a rehearsal for an upcoming music video shoot. The project is one of many planned for the coming year.
“It’s very surreal to me,” she said. “I don’t even know what surreal means, but I feel like that’s the right word.”
Once she is done with this semester, Bendr will defer her education at the University of Michigan to make time for more music. Nevertheless, Ann Arbor will keep watching out for Ai Bendr. It seems as though she will only keep moving up.
Managing Arts Editor Zoe Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.