Salem Ilese Is Turning Brand Names Into Playful Pop Songs
Her love is more important than a “PS5.”
In Elite Daily’s I Can Explain… series, we’re asking celebrities to revisit their most memorable photos and tell us what really went down 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 thing for brands. Following the massive TikTok and Spotify success of her July 2020 single “Mad At Disney,” the musician released a slew of singles with brand 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 the K-pop group TXT, shows off her penchant for clever references. “It’s me or the PS5. Tell me how you wanna spend your night,” Ilese sings on the track, which is about feeling “played” by a romantic partner with a wandering eye for a gaming console.
She tells Elite Daily 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 LA, she came home to find the duo engrossed by the machine. When they didn’t ask her about her big day, Ilese was inspired to write. “It was just made to be kind of a funny song,” Ilese says. “But I showed it to people and they were like, ‘You should actually release this.’”
The song has gone through a few iterations. After PlayStation debuted 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 her vocals on Walker’s single “Fake A Smile” and helped write TXT’s b-side “Anti-Romantic,” so it’s a “full circle” experience to have them on “PS5.” “I hope to meet [TXT] in person one day. Same with Alan Walker. We've spoken a bunch but never gotten to meet face-to-face,” Ilese says.
“PS5” appears on her new EP, Unsponsored Content, which dropped on Feb. 25. The EP also includes the 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 purposely set out to create an album solely about brands, but she’s happily leaning into the aesthetic. “I'm a very observational writer. I feel like I pull from reality and put that in my music,” she says.
Below, Ilese discusses the inspiration behind some of her most popular songs, plus her favorite behind-the-scenes 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 Aug. 19. So the week before, I really wanted to go get some promo shots just in front of the building eating some ice cream to kind of tease the song coming out. I told Bendik to come and take photos of me, and I’d buy him ice cream for breakfast. That was actually his ice cream that I used [in the photo]. I've turned him into the epitome of an Instagram boyfriend where he has to stand there and take photos of his girlfriend all the time.
ED: What inspired your outfit of the day?
SI: I have so much Ben & Jerry's paraphernalia on me. I have nails in the theme of Ben & Jerry done by the most incredible 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'm also wearing a bracelet and a necklace that my mom made for me and they're in the same colors as Ben & Jerry. She's a professional jewelry maker so she's very good. She always makes my bracelets for me and makes me cute little necklaces.
ED: How did you come up with “Ben & Jerry”?
SI: That came from a conversation over text with my manager. We were talking about brands that work with artists and do collaborations of some sort. I told him I really wanted my own Trader Joe's product, and he was like, "Does Trader Joe's do that?" I'm like, "I don't think I've ever seen Trader Joe's collaborate on a staple item with an artist. That's a goal of mine." He's like, "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 favorite Ben & Jerry's flavor?
SI: Non-dairy Phish Food is my absolute favorite. Because, first of all, I like the little fish-shaped chocolate. Those are really good, and the marshmallow is just chef's kiss.
ED: What do you enjoy about incorporating wordplay in your music?
SI: That's just my favorite thing to do in songwriting. I don't really know where that came from...I always, always, always start with a concept or title or some clever phrase that I can flip somehow.
ED: On TikTok, you teased a song about The Powerful Girls and Patrick Star.
SI: Neither of them will be on the EP, but you never know. I might end up putting them out some time down the line. I definitely do love those songs, especially The Powerpuff Girls one. That was inspired by [The CW] remake. I can't wait to watch it because I had originally [auditioned for the show]. I don't really have much acting experience at all, but I find it fun to try new things. My agency only sends over auditions if they think it's a role that I could connect with. I grew up on The Powerpuff Girls, so I appreciated that I got to read the script. I didn’t get the part, but it inspired that song. Now, my goal is to somehow get it to the makers of that show and if they want to use it, that would be cool.
Celebrating The Release of (L)only Child
ED: You’re holding an alpaca! Please tell me where and when this was taken. What's the story behind it?
SI: [The photo] was taken the day that my EP (L)only Child was released. Bella Poarch wanted to get me something as a little congratulations, which is so sweet. She knew that I really liked animals and she is the queen of alpacas, so she texted me that day to come over. I assumed [she was going to show me] her music video for "Inferno."
I go over there, and there are all these alpacas and farm animals and this dog. It was amazing. She literally brought a portable zoo over, so I could play with the animals. It was the sweetest gift and just the best way to celebrate my EP release.
ED: You have a bearded dragon named Lil Cow that you featured in your “Coke & Mentos” music video. What made you want to include him in the video?
SI: I moved to LA and really wanted a pet, but knew that I wasn't responsible enough for a dog quite yet. My roommate Cameron and I are both big fans of lizards and reptiles, but Bendik isn't. So we waited until he was in Beijing for a week to get Lil Cow. Bendik came back, and there was nothing he could really do about it then because [Lil Cow] was already here, part of the fam. They've learned to accept each other.
Lil Cow's awesome. One of his eyes is impaired, unfortunately, so he's a bit more high maintenance than most bearded dragons because he can't catch worms or food properly. I have to hand-feed him things. He's very sweet.
ED: You also have a dog named Bowie. What inspired you to name him after one of the greatest musicians ever?
SI: My old dog was named Chadley, and now we have Bowie. It's just a really nice reminder of David Bowie and his music. We call Bowie “David” when he's sleeping as to not wake him.
ED: How did David Bowie influence you as an artist growing up?
SI: It was the music that my dad forced me to listen to in the car. I was kind of like, "Oh, let me just listen to my music. Put on Hannah Montana, the Jonas Brothers." And he'd be like, "No, listen to this Bowie record." Now I'm fully obsessed, and I listen to him all the time. I have such a deep appreciation for his art. I think what I like most about Bowie is just how experimental he is and how unafraid he is to do something unexpected in a song, whether it be lyrically or production-wise. I feel like I try and adapt that in my own music.
Touring With LANY
ED: What was your reaction when you heard you were going on tour with LANY?
SI: I was so stoked. I remember I FaceTimed my parents and they were really excited. I called my band members, and my drummer, Jacob, who also is now partly my MD. He immediately [went into] business mode. He was like, “OK, amazing. Let's make a setlist. Let's figure out rehearsal space, the dates, travel, accommodations.” He was so ready to go. [Touring] has really been my dream come true ever since I was young. I've been picturing exactly what [would] happen, which is being on a stage in front of a bunch of people that actually know the words to [my songs]. I cried almost every show.
ED: How did it feel to finally be able to perform in front of a live audience again?
SI: It was just an insane 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 put their phone lights on, and then suddenly it was just like a sea of beautiful fairy lights. I just started sobbing, and I was trying to sing but I was also just crying.
ED: Do you hope to go on your own headlining tour in the future?
SI: Definitely. The last few years, I've been on a computer for so long, just grinding and making as many songs as possible and sculpting them. Then [touring] felt like such a payoff, just being able to perform to an audience. I write songs to sing them and to perform them and share them with people, so that's always the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm hoping to get back out as soon as possible.
Salem Ilese’s EP Unsponsored Content is now available on all streaming platforms.