Alyson and Amanda Michalka are all grown up — and their new music reflects it.
After not releasing music for 10 years, the former Disney darlings known by stage names Aly and AJ returned with albums in 2017 and 2020. Most notably, they revamped their classic “Potential Breakup Song” with profanity in Dec. 2020. The music video for their latest song, “Listen!!!” will premiere Thursday.
"Listen!!!" is reminiscent of their Disney days, mixing an electric and pop sound, with the addition of age and maturation. The song is also just as defiant as “Potential Breakup Song.” In it, Aly and AJ, 31 and 29 respectively, sing about feeling like a hostage, but belt out that they know their way out.
In a virtual event directed toward college students, the sisters emphasized a message of empowerment. Whether in a workplace or with one's sexual orientation, Aly said it’s important to live authentically.
“Now is a moment more than ever that you can be who you want to be,” she said.
The sentiment extends to the "Listen!!!" music video, especially when it comes to expressing femininity.
“I think a lot of it is celebrating womanhood and being a female and how powerful that is,” Aly said. “We feel like we bring a lot of female energy between the two of us, but there also can't be too much of that.”
Aly said they purposely hired women to direct, photograph, choreograph and dance in the music video, which incorporates clips of nude women alongside flower shots. While beauty is highlighted, strength is, too.
In the video, Aly and AJ wear gender-neutral jumpsuits they said were bought from the secondhand clothing app Depop. They said they wanted the look to be casual, yet signifying their “inner angsty feminist” side.
The backdrop of the video is outside of AJ’s new house, which she said she bought to be closer to her sister, now four minutes away. From an early age, the duo’s bond was at the center of their music.
At the start, Aly said AJ would lead and she would sing soft harmonies. Around the age of 10, they became a duo and started writing songs with their mom and vocal coach. AJ said the girls would stare at each other’s mouth as they sang, watching each other’s breathing so they could inhale in sync. Eventually, she said they would do so easily.
“We really found our voices at a pretty young age to the point where we just always felt comfortable never sounding like someone else,” AJ said. “When you hear our voices, and you hear our blend as sisters, there are, I can imagine, quite a few people who are like, ‘Oh, that's Aly and AJ,’ because there is a really specific thing that happens when we sing.”
As teenagers, before the duo ever even dated, they sang about inner strength. Now with more experience, including breakups, Aly said they are returning to that frame of mind.
“It feels a little bit like it was yesterday when we started this all,” she said. “Damn, it's been a journey.”
Kayleigh Thomas is one of many fans who has grown up with the duo.
As a kid, the 19-year-old UF business administration sophomore sang “Potential Breakup Song” in the shower, sometimes holding a hairbrush as a microphone. Now, Thomas is an artist manager with local record label Swamp Records, and she said artists like Aly & AJ inspired her to pursue music as a career.
And through maturing with them, Thomas said she appreciates their ongoing authenticity.
“I feel like it's cool that I still get to identify with that older Aly and AJ while still having a more unique sound that's current and modern,” she said.
Aly and AJ’s TikTok presence is another way they’re staying relevant. More than 1.9 million videos on the app have featured the new version of “Potential Breakup Song," many taking delight in the fact that the song now includes expletives.
"Listen!!!" will be featured on Aly and AJ's upcoming album, to be released in spring.
After the stress of 2020, they said the country is “going uphill” and they want their upbeat music to reflect that.
“For us, it's an album that instills hope,” AJ said. “We feel like this album is something that will just get people up on our feet again.”
Contact Katie Delk at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @katie_delk.
Katie Delk is a sophomore with a journalism major and an anthropology minor. For the Avenue, she writes about music, culture and the environment. When she is not writing, she is outside with the trees, reading a fantasy book or listening to Beach House.