This piece is part of the Algorhythms project: artists telling stories about music they discovered from humans. Because where we discover music is an important part of its impact, and not all music is discovered through an algorithm.
In an era of social media virality and music analytics, the conventional pathway to “making it” in the music industry is largely obsolete. Instead of open mics and basement shows it’s on Tik Tok and Soundcloud that artists are discovered and transformed into stars, prized for their follower counts as much as for their artistry.
Against this backdrop, Cynthia Nabozny is not your average pop star. Born and raised in Detroit, MI, the singer-songwriter known professionally as “Cyn” is most often described in conjunction with Katy Perry, who signed her to Unsub Records in 2017. But to begin with Cyn’s record deal, as most articles do, is to erase the decade of persistence and resilience that came first.
After years of piano lessons, talent shows, and YouTube covers, Cyn auditioned for American Idol only to be cut after the first round of auditions. She also applied to DePaul University’s School of Music but wasn’t accepted into the program, so she pursued a degree in management information systems instead. Then in 2011, she bought tickets to Katy Perry’s California Dreams Tour and forged a relationship with Perry’s opening act, DJ Skeet Skeet, via Twitter. Five years, dozens of demos, and countless emails later, Cyn was flown to Los Angeles to perform for Perry, who fell in love with the budding pop singer at first sight.
“Being from a small town, I had all these big dreams,” Cyn explained in an interview with Vogue. “So, my mom raised me with this mentality of doing things on my own, saying, ‘you want to do that? Ok, you go do it because no one is going to do it for you.’” Cyn was no overnight success, and for that, she’s proud.
Cyn’s latest release, Mood Swing (even moodier), offers an instrumental reimagination of her seven-track debut Mood Swing, which premiered last September. Where Mood Swing was electric guitars and infectious confidence, even moodier is piano ballads and acoustic confessionals. “I just wanted to show the songs in one more different light and continue that conversation before I release a new single,” Cyn told American Songwriter earlier this month.
That single, released today, is called “New York” and epitomizes the unwavering optimism Cyn’s retained throughout her journey toward stardom.
For her Algorhythm, Cyn remembers the morning she borrowed her friends’ headphones and iPod to play Florence and the Machine’s “Cosmic Love” on repeat.
I guess one thing that is still guaranteed in life is the satisfaction in finding a song that can help you explain your story further. I believe that music is an extension of ourselves.
One could say, a choice in whether to invest in a song or not (to believe in it’s message, feeling, or purpose) cannot be separated from our own longing to understand something that serves us further. I have been seeking out songs (and art in general) that help me to better understand my life— the characters, events, and happenings within it. I don’t believe that art or any kind of interest can exist without a selfish yearning to understand something more.
I could probably list dozens and dozens of moments where I discovered my new favorite song, but today, I would like to talk about the first time I really heard "Cosmic Love" by Florence and the Machine.
It was late July of 2011, and my mom had just dropped me off in Chicago to begin college. I was staying with my 3 best friends, 3 sisters, in a tiny studio apartment in the neighborhood of Pilsen. It was a time of youth without boundaries and discovery of self. For the first time, we were getting high without much regard to getting caught. I was a fresh pot smoker— the kind that woke up at 4AM, sickened by how much junk food I’d managed to stomach and full of energy because passing out at 8PM wasn’t usual but couldn’t be helped. Wide awake on a half deflated air mattress, the only noise to be heard were the tassels of the ceiling fan clicking as they bumped into each other.
To the left of me were Dominique’s headphones— but not the earbud kind— these headphones were the noise cancelling, over-the-head, can-type— which were rare back then; spending money on headphones didn’t seem like a general public thing to me until 2013. And next to the fancy headphones was Makenzie’s purple iPod mini. So of course, I put the headphones on and began.
I can’t remember how I stumbled upon Florence and the Machine’s “Cosmic Love,” but I fell into it and landed in what felt like a forest from an ancient fairy tale, and I was in the best ancient fairy tale dress, with a black starry ancient fairy tale sky above me… running as fast as I could to those drums, throwing my hair and head around performing it like some kind of love ritual (all in my mind, of course).
Most likely still a little high with my senses heightened, I repeated the song at least 40 times, over and over. I was in a rush of ecstasy which was actually only a better understanding of myself and more clarity of my own experience. It wasn’t until Makenzie tapped my shoulder and brought me out of my cosmic trance, “How many more times are you gonna listen?” she asked, with a smile. Apparently, the headphones were bleeding out into the room and woke up my friend.
We both cracked up— I was caught. I blushed thinking that someone witnessed me repeating the song over and over, but being the biggest Florence fan, I knew Makenzie understood. We look back on that morning, in that full of character neighborhood, in that tiny studio apartment— that song represents a moment and feeling that only exists when we press play. I go back to it often and whenever I do I get to feel that magic again.
I cherish the memory and the song so much. I believe in every single word and every single artful choice that pertains to it. I especially always feel particularly shook when the words no dawn, no day, I’m always in this twilight play— maybe because despite time always leaving, through that sentiment, the feeling can always remain.
Lastly, I would like to add that I don’t believe pot smoking is necessary for anyone to achieve a serious cosmic trance while experiencing a song for the first time. For the sake of truth, I left that detail in, but I’ve had totally magical experiences through art completely sober too.
Listen to Cyn’s newest single, written in collaboration with Jack Garratt, and check out the full Algorhythms playlist here.
Looking for music that transports you to faraway realms? Grey Matter is the music community where artists and listeners discover one another. Learn more and join the community here.