Salem Ilese on “PS5”, “Unsponsored Content”, TikTok and Bella Poarch
In Elite Daily I can explain… series, we’re asking celebrities to revisit their most memorable photos and tell us what really happened behind the scenes. In this piece, we chat with singer Salem Ilese about her latest single “PS5”, featuring Alan Walker and TXT, and her new EP, Unsponsored content.
Salem Ilese has a weakness for brands. Following the massive TikTok and Spotify success of her single “Mad At Disney” in July 2020, the musician has released a slew of singles with trademark references like “Ben & Jerry” and “Hey Siri.” She’s done it again with her latest track, “PS5.”
The song, which features DJ Alan Walker as well as K-pop group TXT, shows his penchant for clever references. “It’s me or the PS5. Tell me how you want to spend your night,” Ilese sings on the track, which talks about feeling “played” by a romantic partner with a wandering eye for a game console.
She tells Elite Daily that she came up with the song years ago (when it was called ‘PS4’) while sharing an apartment with her boyfriend Bendik Møller and their friend Cameron. After attending her first writing session in Los Angeles, she returned home to find the duo engrossed in the machine. When they didn’t ask him about his big day, Ilese was inspired to write. “It was just meant to be kind of a fun song,” Ilese says. “But I showed it to people and they were like, ‘You really should post it. “”
The song has gone through a few iterations. After PlayStation launched the PS5 console in November 2020, Ilese rewrote the chorus. Now she’s excited for fans to hear Walker and TXT on the song. Last year, Ilese lent his voice to Walker’s single “Fake A Smile” and helped write TXT’s “Anti-Romantic” B-side, so it’s a “full-loop” experience to have them on “PS5.” “I hope to meet [TXT] in person one day. Even with Alan Walker. We talked a lot, but we never had the opportunity to meet in person,” says Ilese.
“PS5” appears on his new EP, Unsponsored content, which fell on February 25. The EP also includes previously released songs “Ben & Jerry,” “Hey Siri,” “Mad At Disney” and “Coke & Mentos,” as well as the new song “Jake From State Farm.” Ilese says she didn’t deliberately want to make an album just about brands, but she happily leans into aesthetics. “I’m a very observational writer. I feel like I’m pulling from reality and putting that into my music,” she says.
Below, Ilese discusses the inspiration behind some of his most popular songs, as well as his favorite backstage moments with artists like Bella Poarch and LANY.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Bringing “Ben & Jerry” to life
Elite Daily: When and where was this photo taken?
Salem Ilese: I was about to release “Ben & Jerry” on my birthday, which is August 19th. So the week before, I really wanted to go and take promotional photos right outside the building eating ice cream to tease the song coming out. I told Bendik to come take my picture and buy him an ice cream for breakfast. It was actually her ice cream that I used [in the photo]. I turned him into the embodiment of an Instagram boyfriend where he has to stand there and take pictures of his girlfriend all the time.
ED: What inspired your outfit of the day?
IF: I have so many Ben & Jerry’s accessories on me. I have Ben & Jerry’s themed nails done by the most amazing nail artist. Her name is Caroline and her Instagram is @1.800.nailme. She does all my custom nails every time I have a promo shoot like this. I also wear a bracelet and a necklace that my mother made me and they are in the same colors as Ben & Jerry’s. She is a professional jeweler so she is very good. She always makes my bracelets and makes me pretty little necklaces.
ED: How did you find “Ben & Jerry”?
IF: This is from a text conversation with my manager. We were talking about brands that work with artists and do some kind of collaboration. I told him I really wanted my own Trader Joe’s product, and he was like, “Does Trader Joe do that?” I think to myself, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Trader Joe’s collaborate on a basic article with an artist. That’s one of my goals.” He says, “Yeah, I don’t think they do that. I know Ben & Jerry’s does that. I was like, “Wait, Ben & Jerry’s is actually a really good song concept.” It was like, the only guys that don’t make me cry are Ben & Jerry.
ED: What’s your favorite ice cream flavor or Ben & Jerry’s favorite flavor?
IF: Non-dairy Phish Food is my absolute favorite. Because, first of all, I like the little fish-shaped chocolate. These are really good, and the marshmallow is just the chef’s kiss.
ED: What do you like about incorporating puns into your music?
IF: It’s just my favorite thing to do in songwriting. I don’t really know where it came from…I always, always, always start with a concept or a title or a clever phrase that I can somehow reverse.
IF: None of them will be on the EP, but you never know. I might end up turning them off a bit later. I really like these songs, especially The Powerpuff Girls a. who was inspired by [The CW] remake. I can’t wait to watch it because I originally had [auditioned for the show]. I don’t really have much acting experience, but I find it fun to try new things. My agency only sends out auditions if they think it’s a role I could relate to. I grew up on The Powerpuff Girls, so I enjoyed being able to read the script. I didn’t get the part, but he inspired this song. Now my goal is to somehow get it to the creators of this show and if they want to use it, that would be cool.
Celebration of the release of (L)only child
ED: You are holding an alpaca! Please tell me where and when this was taken. What’s the story behind it?
IF: [The photo] was taken the day my EP (L)only child has been freed. Bella Poarch wanted to give me something as a little congratulations, which is so sweet. She knew that I really love animals and that she is the queen of alpacas, so she texted me that day to come over. I assumed [she was going to show me] his music video for “Inferno”.
I go there, and there are all these alpacas, these farm animals and this dog. It was amazing. She literally brought a portable zoo for me to play with the animals. It was the best gift and the best way to celebrate the release of my EP.
ED: You have a bearded dragon named Lil Cow that you featured in your “Coke & Mentos” music video. What made you want to include it in the video?
IF: I moved to Los Angeles and really wanted a pet, but I knew I wasn’t responsible enough for a dog yet. My roommate Cameron and I are both big fans of lizards and reptiles, but Bendik is not. So we waited for him to be in Beijing for a week to get Lil Cow. Bendik came back, and there was nothing he could really do about it because [Lil Cow] was already there, part of the fam. They have learned to accept each other.
Lil Cow is awesome. Unfortunately, one of its eyes is impaired, so it requires a bit more maintenance than most bearded dragons because it cannot catch worms or food properly. I have to hand feed him. He’s very nice.
ED: You also have a dog called Bowie. What inspired you to name it after one of the greatest musicians of all time?
IF: My old dog was called Chadley, and now we have Bowie. It’s just a very good reminder of David Bowie and his music. We call Bowie “David” when he sleeps so we don’t wake him up.
ED: How did David Bowie influence you as an artist growing up?
IF: It was the music my father made me listen to in the car. I was kind of like, “Oh, just let me listen to my music. Put on Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers.” And he was like, “No, listen to this Bowie record.” Now I’m completely obsessed with it, and I listen to it all the time. I have a deep appreciation for his art. I think what I love most about Bowie is how experimental he is and how unafraid he is to do something unexpected in a song, whether it’s lyrically or production. I feel like I’m trying to adapt that into my own music.
On tour with LANY
ED: What was your reaction when you learned that you were going on tour with LANY?
IF: I was so happy. I remember I FaceTimed my parents and they were really excited. I called my band members and my drummer, Jacob, who is also part of my doctor. He immediately [went into] business fashion. He was like, “OK, amazing. Let’s make a setlist. Let’s find rehearsal space, dates, travel, accommodation. He was so ready to go. [Touring] is truly my dream come true since I was young. I imagined exactly this [would] happen, which is being on a stage in front of a group of people who actually know the words for [my songs]. I cried almost at every concert.
ED: How did it feel to finally be able to perform in front of a live audience again?
IF: It was just a crazy experience. I remember the first night of the tour in Seattle, I sat down to sing “Hey Siri”. I didn’t really know how many people were there until they all turned on their phone lights, and then suddenly it was like a sea of beautiful fairy lights. I just started sobbing and was trying to sing but I was crying too.
ED: Do you hope to do your own headlining tour in the future?
IF: Absoutely. For the past few years, I’ve been on a computer for so long, just grinding and making as many songs as I can and sculpting them. Then [touring] felt like such a reward, just being able to perform in front of an audience. I write songs to sing and perform and share with people, so it’s always light at the end of the tunnel. I hope I can get out of this as soon as possible.
Salem Ilese EP Unsponsored content is now available on all streaming platforms.