Birdy 2023 press shot

I Wrote That: Birdy on the 10th anniversary of Wings

A fan favourite to this day, Birdy tells M Magazine the songwriting story behind her enduring 2013 hit Wings.

Sam Moore
  • By Sam Harteam Moore
  • 3 Aug 2023
  • min read

Let us transport you back to Worthy Farm, June 2017: it's here that we find Birdy waiting to take to the stage at Glastonbury Festival for the very first time.

'I was playing on the Avalon Stage on the Saturday night, and I remember two minutes before I went on there was nobody in the tent. I was terrified!’ she says with a laugh when recalling the moment to M. ‘Foo Fighters were due next on the Pyramid Stage, but then just before I went on stage everyone flooded into the tent. There was such relief and excitement to see such a big crowd in front of me.’

There’s one song the 27-year-old fondly recalls performing during her debut Glastonbury set, which just so happens to be celebrating its tenth anniversary this week. ‘I remember my guitarist getting so into Wings and being so excited to play it that he forgot we were playing Skinny Love first! Playing Wings was a really nice, cool moment.'

Originally released on 29 July 2013, Wings served as the lead single from Birdy’s second studio album Fire Within. The record, which was the follow-up to the Hampshire-born singer/songwriter’s self-titled 2011 debut, saw Birdy write and record a host of original songs for the first time in her professional career.

'After Birdy, which had one original song on it, this was my first time doing all my own songs,’ she explains. ‘It was also my first time co-writing with anyone, and I went to LA to work with the likes of Dan Wilson and Sia. I wrote Wings with Ryan Tedder, and writing with him was amazing. He'd worked with Adele and had huge hits of his own, so it was quite scary going in and working with him.’

'Writing with Ryan Tedder was amazing.'

Speaking about the inspiration for Wings, Birdy continues: ‘We talked about what I'd been doing with my summer. I was 16 and I'd been to my first-ever festival, and we ended up writing the song about that experience and how freeing it was being in the moment with your friends. It was a very cool experience working with Ryan: he's such a fast writer, it's quite scary!

'Wings was something we then came up with on that day in the studio. Normally I have ideas hanging about in my head, but I remember just starting with a melody for the verse. It then all went very fast: I remember we finished it in just over an hour! It's weird how stuff just sometimes flows, and the best songs are the ones that are natural like that.'

As well as helping introduce Fire Within to the world, Wings went on to become Birdy’s highest-charting UK single to date after it reached number eight in July 2015, while it also went to number one in Ireland. Birdy thinks that the ‘hopefulness and nostalgic’ qualities of the track likely connected with her listeners like never before.

'I remember when we finished it, I was actually a bit unsure of the song,' she tells M. 'I felt it would be something that a lot of people would connect with, which can be quite scary. I could feel it was quite powerful, so there was a bit of reluctance just after we'd written it as it was quite a big production. I was like, 'Is this me?' I'd done all these ballads [previously], so Wings was kind of a new sound for me.

'But while it was scary to release it, the reaction was amazing. I had a feeling [it would do well], but I didn't expect it would be quite so popular. Being so young, it was a strange time for me anyway: a lot of my memories from that time are quite blurry, as there was so much happening.'

Wings has long been a staple of Birdy’s live sets, and it often proves to be a highly emotional point of her live show.

‘The people who come to see me perform now, there's often a lot of crying! It's very emotional. Me and my audience have grown up together: a lot of my fans were 14 when I was, so they've grown up listening to Wings and Fire Within. It's so nostalgic: for me, it brings back those early memories, and I reconnect with it that way.'

Those emotions have regularly resurfaced over the past 10 years, and Birdy admits ‘it feels strange’ that Wings has now been out in the world for such a significant period of time.

‘That song has taken me to so many different places around the world. I can't believe it's been 10 years!' she says. 'We just did a European tour, and it always generates such a special reaction. It's the song the audience often waits for at the end: it's nice that it's still doing that after all this time.'

'Wings has taken me to so many different places around the world.'

While more than willing to look back on a highlight from her back catalogue, Birdy is focused on the here and now. Her latest album Portraits, set for release on 18 August, will see the artist take a bold step into a new creative world.

'It's very different: it has electronic moments, big drums and commanding, powerful vocals,' Birdy tells M about Portraits. 'It's probably more similar to my third album [2016's Beautiful Lies], but it's a big departure from my last record, which was a folk album – so it's quite extreme when you compare the two! But the [writing] process felt really natural. From being in lockdown and not able to play live, and the last record being inward and about heartbreak, Portraits is the opposite. I wanted to do something where I could have fun with the process, and enjoy playing live and move a bit.'

Citing the likes of Caroline Polachek and Christine and the Queens as key influences on the new record ('It's been interesting to hear pop music in a more alternative space, which opened doors for me: I've never known how to make something so up-tempo and energetic that felt authentic'), Birdy is now excited to share her latest creation with the world.

'With the last record and this record, I've felt very much in control of the whole process and the vision of it [compared to] the past,' she says. 'So [this album] is more special because it's really intentional. I hope people can connect with the new record. I think there's the same emotion [in my music] that there's always been, and while there are differences, there's a lot of sad power ballads in there as well!'

Birdy’s new album Portraits will be released on 18 August via Warner Music