Matthew Koma has solidified himself as an important voice in pop, both as a singer and songwriter, but his new single sees him leading an important and deeply personal conversation. While you know him for singing on hits like Tiësto's "Wasted" or writing tracks like Zedd's "Clarity," listeners will get to a new level of familiarity with the just-released "Dear Ana." The video details his struggle with eating disorders via a tune that's accessible as it is moving.
On first listen, the Jai Wolf–featuring track may seem like a moody-yet-uplifting electro-pop track about a mysterious "Ana" figure. But when Koma sings, "I'm obsessed with protecting you" and how he's got a "a mouth of diamonds, but the shine, it's counterfeit," it's all referring to years of body image issues. While he's hesitant to put a name to his battle—he refers to his eating problems as "restrictive"—he's spent the last year and half focusing on his health and is now at a place to sing about and share his story. Read below as Matthew Koma details how the song came about, why it was so tough to talk about initially and what else we can expect in the latest chapter of his career.
FUSE: Congratulations on "Dear Ana." Can you introduce the song for us? Clearly "Ana" is not about a girl.
Matthew Koma: No, it's definitely not. This was a bit of a hard song to write. I battled for a bunch of years with an eating disorder that almost killed me. Because it's not something you hear a lot guys talk about, I never really said it out loud or admitted it to myself. It was to the point where you're sitting in a hospital, your heart isn't working, they're going to put a pacemaker in you and you don't really have a choice but to take it a bit more seriously and realize there's a problem here.
For me and my lifestyle, there's always been a lot of distraction from anything that has to do with myself or my personal health; it's very go, go, go. I think I dealt with a lot of body image issues when I was younger and it never quite went away. Unfortunately, it catapulted until I was really bad place and one day I decided, "I'm done. I'm done feeling like a prisoner to that idea." As much as its empowering to have that moment, it sure as hell isn't one positive road up to success.
How long have you been dealing with this?
I was kind of chubby when I was a young kid and I think I became overly conscious and overly aware of body image and feeling insecure. There wasn't this platform or conversation being had where I could see someone who was similar to me in this respect. When it got its worst, believe it or not, was kind of at the height when I first started having successes in music. When "Clarity" was taking off [in 2012-13], I think a lot of people would look at that as a really exciting time, and to be quite honest, I was going through a personal hell.
How did your story come to life musically?
Different things fall into your lap at different times and for whatever reason when that piece of music came my way, I was ready to talk about it. I don't know if it was conscious, but it's what I was experiencing in an all-consuming way that I didn’t have much choice. I was just really fortunate to link up with Jai and I think it happened to be the right day. Honestly, I didn't even have the nerve or the awareness to talk about it from a personal standpoint. I remember trying to talk to explain the song to the guys working with us and I was like, "Oh yeah, it's about this article about this girl." Of course, I was researching so much about it at the time, but it was so much more personal than I was even really ready to say at that point. I don't know, that was a tough song to play for my parents.
“It was being honest with my support system and saying, ‘I obviously have a problem.’”
You totally nailed how this isn't something we hear a lot of men speak about yet. Why do you think that is still?
I wish I had the definitive answer. I would make the educated guess that when it's brought to light in conversation, it has generally been female-oriented. I think painting it as a "female thing" or a "non-masculine thing" or "it's more vain if a guy thinks about his self image." In a lot of ways, it's actually not because I wish I could tell you that it's a rational decision, like "Oh, I look in the mirror and I want to change this." It's not that as much it’s this obsessiveness of having control over something. During the time it spiked was when a lot of good things were happening, but it wasn't necessarily how I pictured it happening. This was the one little secret in my grip. I think it's something a lot of people, and guys, deal with, but it's been brought to light more with females.
I don’t know statistically how it affects men versus women. But I know that for me personally, when I started being even just a little more open about it among friends, it was a lot more common even amongst my group than I had thought.
If there are men who think they are struggling with this, how would you suggest they find help?
I can only speak from my personal experience, but I think the hardest thing was listening to the voice that was there. In your heart of hearts, you know what it is you're dealing with whether it's this or anything. It's having that awareness that may have a problem. If you're questioning it, I think that's enough to warrant a little research about it—that could be talking to friends, talking to family. I think for me it was being honest with my support system and saying, "I obviously have a problem. I need help getting on my feet with this." And as soon as you put it out there, it's no longer this dark thing in the closet. And it's okay. It doesn't need to be this dark thing or this terrible asset, by any means. I think I've turned it into a strength and something that has given me a life, a lot of understanding, a lot of compassion, and appreciation for where I am. It doesn't need to be viewed as this scary thing that can't be beat. I think with the awareness comes a lot of strength and relief that you don't have to live like that.
What else is coming up for you? What songs from your album are you looking forward? Any exciting collaborators?
With this upcoming record—and I don't even like to say record, but just with this body of work—I've been kind of forced to say, "What's the difference between this collection of songs and songs I've collaborated on previously with other artists as a feature, producer, whatever?" The common thread has been this overall real, genuine honesty from everything to relationships to relationships with myself and that was how to make it more of a personalized body than just love songs in the what you've heard attached to other DJs I've worked with. This is the first time I've gotten to be blatantly honest and come from such a real place that I feel like every time someone hears a song form this album they're getting such a real snapshot of me that I really don't give a fuck what happens to it, or how many people listen to it or like it, I'm just happy it's out there. We're putting out a song called "Suitcase" that I can't wait for people to hear a recorded version because there's been a live version floating around that people have gravitated towards. There's a song "Palm Trees" that's really autobiographical
I'm putting out a song with Ghastly called "We Might Fall" which is really fun and I think he's super talented. I'm just starting to do more studio stuff now that my record's done, I just did a bunch of the Shania Twain record. It was really cool, I produced four or five songs, which was a joy. I'm really excited for people to hear because it's such a different thing than what people hear from my work. It's a country-pop record, it's very true to who Shania Twain is, but a graduation of that.
Throw it back to a classic interview with Matthew Koma from 2013 below: