Even if you don’t frequent TikTok, you’ve likely heard Conan Gray’s viral song “Heather,” which exploded on the online platform. The song is a tender and mournful portrayal of young, unrequited love accompanied by gentle acoustic guitar and simple vocal melodies laid over the main motif.
Now, composer and performer Sam Spector ’24 (originally in the Class of 2023 but currently on a gap year) has released a new single covering the internet sensation with a punk rock twist.
“I think this version of the song is going to surprise people,” Spector said in an interview with The Daily Princetonian.
And, while Spector’s single does keep core elements of the original song — like chord progressions, general vocal melody, and lyrics — her arrangement stands in striking contrast with the “Heather” listeners are likely to know.
The piece is immediately distinct, pulsing with palpable energy and forward motion. Uptempo and in a new key, Spector’s layers of guitar, bass, drums, and vocals have a certain vigor and passion that instantly engage the listener. Juxtaposing the almost ethereal, lilting melodies of Gray’s arrangement, Spector’s “Heather” is intense and spirited, adding a new emotional side to a classic story.
“The song deals with teenage angst, the visceral heartbreak that is unrequited love,” Spector said. “I think the original song captures the sadness, but I think my version captures the anger … I hope that listeners will see this as another perspective in the story of the song.”
Multifaceted storytelling doesn’t just feature in Spector’s music, but also figures in the prospective English major’s academic, as well as personal, life. She said, “My whole life, all I’ve been interested in is performing and storytelling … I don’t think storytelling is something that I’m ever going to let go.”
Spector first played with the idea of an “angry Heather” on her TikTok account. After releasing a short, 30-second clip of a punked-out version of the song’s chorus, Spector received an unexpected amount of positive feedback. A growing fanbase, along with her friends and musician community, encouraged her to produce a full arrangement.
Once she had decided to produce a full version, it came together remarkably fast.
“I went to my living room around 2 p.m.,” Spector said. “I sat down, just wrote all the parts, recorded it directly into my computer, and around 7 p.m. I was done.”
Spector mentioned the benefit of engaging with fans in a “virtual landscape” while promoting the release of the “Heather” single. As she spoke with the ‘Prince’ prior to the single’s release, Spector checked her streaming analytics on Spotify, noting 36 new listeners, 376 more streams, and 127 new followers. She credits social media promotion and the reach of TikTok’s For You page for her expanding audience.
Most of these listeners, however, were tuning in to Spector’s previous work, such as her extended play, or short album, “Inky fingers, Swollen Hearts” — stylistically distinct from her current work. Spector described her earlier compositions as “a singer-songwriter vibe with some rock influence — Taylor Swift meets Avril Lavigne.”
Now, as Spector continues to write, perform, and produce, her music has moved towards “rock, punk, [and] emo,” bringing in “heavier influences.”
To hear that raw punk-passion for yourself, check out Spector’s “Heather” single, now streaming on Spotify.