This is the story of a girl.
She goes by the name of Alice Merton. Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Merton has bounced from Europe, to the United States, to Canada and a few other places in between. She's lived in 11 different cities in four countries, and she's just 23.
This nomadic artist, while she's struggled to call one physical place home, has still found her footing in the world of alternative music. And it’s quite a footing: She’s the first female solo artist since Adele back in 2015 to top Billboard's Alternative Songs chart. And she's the first since Lorde in 2013 to reach the top of that chart with her first single.
Merton, it turns out, wrote her very first tune, "Little Lighthouse," at the tender age of 16. She told Billboard, "My first song ... was basically just about finding my way back home." Seven years later, rock-fueled “No Roots” expresses a similar sentiment. Here, Merton belts out a wanderlust anthem that insists our true place in this world can never be defined by our location on a map. (And that's a message that's just now connected with American listeners, more than a year after this slow-burner's initial release.)
Here, There and Everywhere
"No Roots" begins with a catchy guitar line that recalls The White Stripes’ similarly infectious “Seven Nation Army.” “I like digging holes and hiding things inside them," Merton tells us. "When I grow old I hope I won’t forget to find them.” These lyrics suggest that she's left a piece of herself everywhere she’s ever been. And her always-roving existence doesn't seem to be over just yet: “I’ve got memories and travel like gypsies in the night.”
In fact, Merton is so accustomed to this nomadic lifestyle that whenever she moves into a home, “I wait for someone to tear it down/Then pack it up in boxes, head for the next town, running.” She seems to be driven by an innate fear of connection, one that won't let her stay in one place for too long. It's a path she knows all too well: "And a thousand times I've seen this road/A thousand times."
Not surprisingly, the song's chorus then exclaims: “I've got no roots," though Merton quickly adds, "but my home was never on the ground.” A line like that offers room for interpretation. But (as we'll soon see) she's saying that when you're never in one place very long, you realize that your roots are really in your cherished relationships, with those you love. And as Merton sings these lyrics in the song's accompanying video, she’s pulled out of one room of an urban apartment and into another, further symbolizing the reality that she's always moving.
Elsewhere in the song, Merton confesses, "I like standing still," even though she's quick to add, "but that's just a wishful plan.” And if you asked her “where I come from,” she’d tell you she’s from “a different land.” Because, really, she is. From Europe to the United States and everywhere else, she’ll “count gates and numbers, then play the guessing name” in each new home. But be assured that “it's just the place that changes, the rest is still the same.”
Now, all that might sound just a bit depressing. But Merton playfully belts out those lyrics as she dances from room to room in the video. The result? A video that's less about the sadness and loss of moving around so much, and one that seems more about just giving viewers and fans a sense of Merton's perspective. Indeed, in an interview with Nylon, she said, "If you listen to the song, you basically know my story."
Where the Heart Is
Slightly melancholy vibe aside, there is something very sweet about this song. Merton boldly, honestly voices the difficulties in moving often, and all of the feelings associated with constant change. She shared with Billboard that she loves “writing about things I know, and I like to be very honest in my music.”
And open and honest she is, saying of this song's inspiration, "I was on the beach, and I was just thinking to myself that I have no one place where I actually feel like I’m at home ... I came up with the idea of having no roots—never being grounded to a certain place, but having your home with people who you love."
I think this is a great message for those who move often, as I myself did as a child. Moving is tough and change is hard, but it’s rewarding when you realize that home is not a physical location, but rather something that's found within the arms and hearts of those you most cherish.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Topped Billboard's Alternative Songs chart and reached No. 4 on the rock chart.
Paper Plane Records
December 2, 2016