Performance date: Thursday 20th June 2024

Paloma Faith’s comeback single, How You Leave a Man, is a zero-tolerance barn-burner about not sticking with the monotony and neglect of domesticity. Instead, the British pop superstar suggests packing your bags, emptying the bank account and driving off into the sunset, ideally soundtracked by epic violins and a distorted guitar solo. “Remember what I told ya,” she sings, her voice towering and severe: “This is how you leave a man.”

End scene, happiness guaranteed… right? Not quite. The clean break of How You Leave a Man is a fantasy in many ways, one that Paloma knows the brutal reality of well. Since she released her last album, the silver-certified Infinite Things, in 2020, she split from her partner of nine years and father to her two children. If her acclaimed 2021 BBC documentary As I Am showed the brutal realities of being a mother and a pop star, the challenges of being a single mother and a pop star (not to mention also a lauded actor and homewares designer) are even starker. The “co-parenting” that still puts all the mental load on the mother. The public’s assumption that the split must be her fault, or that she should have tolerated misery for the sake of her kids. The realisation that just because you leave in search of greater happiness doesn’t mean you’ll find it quickly, or even ever.

Paloma’s ferocious sixth album, The Glorification of Sadness, is an epic, expansive, deeply personal record that turns over these feelings by taking a chronological journey through the cracking of an adult relationship, and with it a family. There are no conclusions, just empathetic questions from an artist obsessed with interrogating the status quo and upending assumptions. (Plus one petulant rager called, brilliantly, Eat Shit and Die.) After she completed Infinite Things by learning how to self-produce in her basement during the pandemic, Paloma is billed here as executive producer, having meticulously tweaked mixes, orchestrated the writing teams and co curated the album’s visual world. The documentary showed her previous creative struggles with her label; this time, she made the record privately, inspired by her earliest musical experiences in a rock band, and delivered the completed product, to the surprise of her team. “It sounds how I wanted it to sound,” she says. “My note, most of the time, was either ‘angrier’ or ‘darker’.”

Despite Paloma’s clear creative directive, the album’s title sums up her ambivalence about a culture in which “there’s quite a sick and twisted call for any artist to turn the most awful things that happened to them into a commodity,” she says. “It’s a strange idea, to sell your own grieving process. Writing about it was a therapeutic experience for me but at the same time now that I’m left with this object for sale, it is a bit sinister.” She felt she had no choice but to write about her experiences “because it’s all I think about”. Compelled by the nuanced television adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage, Paloma also wanted to counter the prevailing societal concept of victims and villains in the breakdown of a relationship. “How You Leave a Man is meant to be empowering,” she says. “It’s about taking control and responsibility for your own happiness as a woman. And not listening to the din of social pressures saying: you’re only accepted as a woman if you’re a victim. There’s no room for a woman to say: actually, I just wasn’t really happy. It’s not really seen as acceptable, especially when there’s kids involved. You’re just a bad mother, selfish or whatever. So in this album, I’m trying to pull it in the direction of it being OK to take ownership of your own happiness and not be a victim. Re-establishing ideas of how we demonise women.”

The striking video, conceived by Paloma and  creative director Theo Adams, shows a provocative, vamped-up version of her walking out on an unseen man then “decadently sprawling all over the car bonnet”, she says. “Then I land back in the driver’s seat and the camera pans across to two children sitting in the back, and they say: ‘Can we go home now, mummy?’ I’m trying to make this big statement about women that’s so complex, words don’t even do it justice.” Throughout the album’s visuals, no man is ever seen. “The overarching theme is about a woman’s personal internal journey and experience of life,” she says. “Quite often people make breakups about two individuals: what was his side? But in a psychological sense it’s not really ever about who did and said what because you can survive anything if you choose to, maybe you just choose not to.”

In recent years, Paloma has become a lifeline for many women who find solace in her unadulterated honesty as she shares her candid experiences of birth, babies, postnatal depression and the challenges of having your basic needs met as a woman and mother expected to sacrifice herself over everyone else. When she was younger, she admits, she wanted to “achieve global success on a large scale, like Adele or Beyoncé. I’m really happy with what I’ve got now because it’s allowed me to make a work-life balance for my children, and while I get recognised, I have people approaching me in a really nice way because they’ve seen stuff I’ve said and they want to speak candidly and intelligently about those subjects. Particularly after the documentary I had a lot of women approaching me in the street, and sometimes they get quite emotional.”

Paloma is in the final stages of writing a book about her experiences as well and her aims for the feminist movement. Sharing her life, she says, is about several things: it helps her, it helps others, it raises awareness about the reality of women’s lives. “It makes me feel less alone,” she admits. “We live in this very separate society now because of the internet, dating apps, Chat GPT, the illusion of community online. How many times do we actually truly engage with each other? It adds another wall between us. Friends I’ve had for 20 years have said to me recently: why don’t you just call us when you’re not feeling good? And I don’t know how to. I’ve forgotten how to.”

That’s a theme that runs across The Glorification of Sadness: that brokenness is a facet of humanity to be celebrated and interrogated, not smoothed over by technology that only further divides us. It’s been an existential period for Paloma, who mounted her 2022 tour in the wake of the end of her relationship and the deaths of five friends, including her beloved bandmate BB Bones. “All that makes you go inside yourself,” she says. “I think a lot of people had the same experiences post-pandemic. I didn’t feel that during the pandemic I was that affected by it. But afterwards I think we realised that we were. We’re in the middle of a depression historically where lots of things feel unstable. Environmental issues, political issues, community-based issues, there’s less money for everything. It’s all imbalanced.”

The suggestion that we could build a better society in the pandemic’s wake didn’t come to pass, she says, creating a wave of resentment that the government conveniently directs towards marginalised groups such as refugees and trans people. “A lot of the anger is so misdirected – what’s the problem if someone wants to transition? Leave them alone. If you’re angry with your own life, fine, but it’s not really any of your business. People don’t like anyone who makes them think they’re maybe partly to blame for their own unhappiness because they’re too scared to do anything about it, so they’re just going to hate anyone who takes responsibility for theirs.”

Paloma’s ability to marry lavish, skyscraping pop fantasy with funny, plainspoken practicality is key to why she’s become one of the most successful British pop stars of her generation, with four platinum-certified albums (three of them double platinum) to her name and five Top 10 singles. “I’m a female artist that began at a time where female artists’ careers didn’t really last,” she says. “There’s very few of my original female peers that still have a career.” Paloma mentions two recent mirrors to her attitude towards longevity: Doja Cat’s victorious new track Demons, and Madonna’s declaration: “The most controversial thing I’ve ever done is to stick around.” Paloma cried when she came across it. “I just found it so unbelievably moving. I felt seen”.

Paloma has stuck around – and stuck to her guns. Earlier this year, she visited Ukrainian refugees in Poland to learn about the experiences of young mothers fleeing the war. And when she performed at King Charles’ coronation concert in May, she thought carefully about how to do it in an authentic way. “I’ve come up through the British system, the NHS, state schooling,” she says. “I think it’s important that working-class people like me are represented in those situations. And I was helped by Charles’ Prince’s Trust charity when I was a kid because I was from a low-income household, so it felt respectful to do it. A large part of opportunity for underprivileged artists and creatives has come from that charity, which is really important – otherwise all creativity would be ruled by people from privileged backgrounds.”

To the preshow she wore a Vivienne Westwood T-shirt emblazoned with “CLIMATE” to foreground the environmental crisis and acknowledge Charles’ work on environmentalism. “I feel when you’re given an opportunity, you should take it because otherwise change doesn’t happen,” says Paloma. It could be her life MO. After all, every reality starts as a fantasy.

Book tickets

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