Stef wants you to feel something. The 21-year-old singer and songwriter makes music that is deeply felt and close to the heart, exploring tenderness and toughness with equal parts honesty and attitude. Her second EP A Glitch In Our Virtual Reality is the latest fascinating step in this young artist’s career, with genre-blending songwriting and forward-thinking production providing the perfect pairing for Stef’s lyrical expressions. This is music that captures generational fears and ecstasies, as Stef documents her own pain and triumphs in a way that’s impossible not to relate to.
Stef was born and raised in Huntsville, Alabama, where heading down the path of a creative-based career was far from the norm: “Everyone’s pretty close-minded there, so the idea of me pursuing anything other than a college degree was very frowned-upon.” After an adolescence leading worship in church and becoming increasingly involved in theater and acting, Stef eventually decided to pursue music more seriously. “I was always around music, I just didn’t know that I wanted to do it as a career up until that point.”
While honing her songwriting craft in high school, Stef regularly traveled back and forth to Nashville, eventually moving to the city full-time in 2018 to pursue a career in music. Initially, Stef pursued a more country-leaning sound, but in 2019 she shifted her focus to pop music, inspired by emerging stars like Benee and Lennon Stella—and, as she puts it, “The rest is history.”
Her first EP, 2019’s Why Do I Laugh When I Cry?, came together after she wrote “Voodoo” with producer and regular collaborator Christian Fiore: “I remember listening to it at midnight and realizing it was my vibe, and that I couldn’t wait for it to be out in the world. I thought, ‘This is me.’” “Lucid” and “Sour” soon followed in just a couple of weeks, and Stef chose to assemble the three songs as her debut release: “What if we release all three songs at once and drop the bomb on people?,” she remembers thinking at the time.
The EP’s title was inspired by a real-life sensation that Stef often experiences: “I do cry when I laugh,” she explains. “Tears start streaming out of my eyes for a reason. I was in a writing room with a friend and I said, ‘Why do I cry when I laugh?’ And they said ‘Why do I laugh when I cry?’ And I was like, ‘Wait a minute! That could be a winner!’”
In between that EP and A Glitch In Our Virtual Reality, Stef has focused on building out different elements of her artistic vision (“Visuals are really important to me. When I write, I see visuals”) while assembling the five gorgeous tracks that make up this new release—including the first single, the sparkling sigh “i used to build dreams about you.”
“I just started dating my boyfriend, and it’s the first serious relationship I’ve been in. You grow up with these expectations of what you want your partner to look like, and as you get older you want different things. Your whole life, you’re thinking of this person that you envision, but now that they’re right in front of you, you realize you’ve been building dreams about them.”
Meanwhile, the booming “Here’s what we’re not gunna do.” is a self-empowerment anthem in the vein of like-minded artists like Dua Lipa and Charli XCX about, in Stef’s words, “Having high standards for yourself and knowing your self-worth.” And knowing herself is an essential element to Stef’s journey so far as an artist.
“When I started releasing music, I had a fear of, ‘Is this the best it’s gonna get?’,” she admits. “As I get older, I realize that I don’t know anything, and that I’m just evolving and growing as a writer and person. This music represents where I am in life right now, and I’m so lucky that I get to embrace my creativity through these avenues.” And that’s exactly the message Stef is looking to bring to her listeners, too. “You have enough time in the day to accomplish anything that you want to do if you have the drive. If you’re sitting in your bed wishing you want to do something else, you can do it.”