Arts and Entertainment

Leith Ross: To Live and To Learn

An analysis of Leith Ross’s artistic style, and a review of their debut album, To Learn, released May 19, 2023.

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Born in a small town just outside of Ottawa, Canada, Leith Ross started writing songs when they were just 12 years old. Even when their lyricism centered around rainbows and the mind-numbing experience of having too much homework, Ross enjoyed the vulnerability and expressiveness of songwriting. Twelve years later, Ross continues to use songwriting in this manner—albeit with heavier subject matter—as seen in their debut album To Learn, released on May 19. 

After growing up as a lyricist, Ross followed their passion for songwriting and music to Humber College in Toronto and pursued a degree in jazz voice. For their final project, Ross produced and compiled a collection of eight original indie folk songs that ended up becoming their Motherwell EP (2020). These songs marked a turning point for Ross, going from “being just [them] in [their] bedroom to the more tangible thing that was going to go out into the world.” 

But what really launched Ross’s career was the popularity of their music on TikTok. Starting their career just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Ross, like many other artists, began uploading their music on TikTok. Ross’s raw, delicate, and honest song “We’ll Never Have Sex” went viral in the summer of 2021, receiving over 41 million streams on Spotify. In 2022, Them listed Ross in “Our Favorite Songs by LGBTQ+ Artists in 2022.” By the end of the year, Ross had signed to both Interscope and Republic Records. 

To Learn, which includes debut single “We’ll Never Have Sex,” continues to exemplify Ross’s vulnerability and the sensitivity they pour into their art. While Motherwell (named after the town in which Ross’s mother grew up) explores the idea of home, To Learn lays to rest the years Ross spent moving toward a place of self-acceptance, letting go of the deep connections they have to the place they once called home. The melancholic acoustics and whispery vocals echoing throughout the album represent a new beginning for Ross: “My priorities now lie with the people that I want to have around forever and form a family-like connection with, which can then be extended outwards,” Ross said in an interview with New Musical Express.

To Learn opens with the hazy acoustics of “5am,” which establishes the album’s dreamlike soundscape through long synth keyboard sounds and muffled guitar pickings. In “5am” and the fourth track, “Interlude,” Ross conveys delicate emotions in lyricless space by incorporating meditative, lush harmonies. 

Ross’s fifth track on To Learn, “Orlando,” revisits the idea of letting go of deep connections to the people and things of their past, painting a vivid picture of unrequited love. With few words, “Orlando” wistfully conveys the “slow and subtle realization that somebody doesn’t love you back in the way you wish they would,” as Ross described in an interview with The Sound Cafe. The song ends with the gut-wrenching lyrics “None of this would be worth the fuss if I hadn’t been in love / I just think I was in love.” Like “Orlando,” Ross’s 11th track, “To Learn,” also centers around a story of love and manipulation; Ross sings “You put a picture up / And it didn’t feel like love / Just a reminder of contractual debt and luck.” These lyrics speak of a false love made up of impersonal agreements, highlighting the artificial nature of the relationship.

Track nine of To Learn, “Everything Ends,” focuses on what it means to part ways with the establishment of home. This track, despite its moody synth acoustics, actually depicts Ross’s journey of cutting ties in a positive light, portraying it as a part of recovery. Ross nostalgically sings “Everything ends / From TV shows to parties / Everything ends / Every song and every meal.” With these lyrics, Ross recognizes the inevitable dilemma of change, especially in the context of actions that have become a daily routine. However, the track ultimately turns into an anthem for moving on and healing, ending with the hopeful lyrics: “But everything ends / Bad dreams and sorrow / Everything ends / The ache that life has lent.” While Ross acknowledges the struggle of overwhelming change, this conclusion recognizes that change can be positive as well, displaying the optimism they have for their future.

Since they first began releasing music in 2020, Ross has used their unique talent to artistically convey their feelings of nostalgia and capture the courage needed to move on. As they transition into the next phase of their life—one of touring and sharing their art across North America and the United Kingdom—Ross continues to use their new music to dive deep into themes of change, closure, and belonging.