Ingrid Michaelson and Zayn dropped a surprise sultry duet, “To Begin Again,” on Wednesday (March 17), in which the pair sing about a reboot following a near-apocalypse. The ballad, which they co-wrote with Sarah Aarons (co-writer of Zedd’s “Stay” and “The Middle”), is a snapshot of the moment most of the world is going through right now as the COVID vaccine brings the promise of rebirth after a harsh year.
“When the world was ending/ I’d hold you in my arms/ And we talked about the places we’d never been/ When the world was ending/ We’d hold on to the past/ Because it’s all we thought that we would ever see,” Michaelson sings over gentle, muted piano before she slips into a more hopeful mindset. “But then the sun came right back/ And the birds sang as if nothing had happened/ And, it’s alright/ It’s OK/ We will get/ Another day/ To begin again, to begin again, to begin again.”
The song, produced by Sam de Jong (Alec Benjamin, Pale Waves), is described in a statement as a one-off collab from Michaelson as she continues work on the music and lyrics for the upcoming Broadway adaptation of The Notebook. “I wrote ‘To Begin Again’ the night that Biden won. There was so much joy in my neighborhood. Pots and pans being banged out of windows. Horns and whistles. Clapping. Singing!” said Michaelson in a statement.
“The collective sigh of relief resonated with me in such a way that I had to get it out musically. I sat at the piano and wrote most of the song right there in 15 minutes,” she added, noting that Aarons helped her with the second verse, at which point she realized it needed to be a duet. “I love ZAYN’s voice, especially when he goes high and sweet and sad. It was the perfect fit. The song is a song of hope and of release. Of beginning again…”
Malik’s verse finds him feeling equally eager to find hope in the dawn. “When the world was ending/ We looked up at the sky/ And we talked about the last song that we’d play/ So far from comprehending/ They’d lift us to the stars/ Never seen each other from so far away,” he sings. “But then the sun came right back/ And the kids played as if nothing had happened/ And, it’s alright/ It’s OK/ We will get another day/ To begin again, to begin again, to begin again.”
In an interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe on Wednesday, Michaelson said she was not planning to work on any new pop tunes as she hammered down on The Notebook and an animated children’s show. But she suddenly felt compelled to write “To Begin Again,” which she hopes will give people a “collective sigh” of relief.
“It was more than it just came out. I had to. Who writes a pop song that’s like when the world was ending,” she said to Lowe. “Like, that’s not very happy and joyful. People don’t want to hear that.” Luckily for her, Zayn’s management had reached out in January 2020 to let her know that he was a fan, which left her shellshocked that someone she considers to be on a totally “different level of famedom” wanted to work with her.
Then, COVID happened, followed by last summer’s protests over the police killing of George Floyd and Aarons adding the pivotal second verse, which led Michaelson to think that Malik’s “beautiful high voice” would be the perfect compliment. “So, we reached out to him, and they immediately were like, ‘Yeah. He loves it. He wants to do it.'” And though they still have not spoken, a few weeks later his vocals landed in her inbox and the song was complete.
“I think he’s a private guy. I think he does what he believes in,” she said of the press-shy former One Direction member. “And he doesn’t do what he doesn’t believe in. And the fact that he chose to sing on my song is like extremely amazing. And the fact that he chose to do that now, especially knowing what I know about him, which is he is very elusive.”
Watch the lyric video for “To Begin Again” below.
— zayn (@zaynmalik) March 16, 2021