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“Did you ask them to play this?”
Ant Saunders’ “Yellow Hearts” is pouring out of Pinz Bowling Center’s speakers on this Los Angeles afternoon, and the singer-songwriter is wondering if I encouraged a staffer to spin his hit single. It’s been played upwards of 330 million times on streaming platforms and its music video has more than 5 million watches. But somehow he still has to ask.
No, I didn’t. “Oh, okay!” he says exhaling, almost relieved. It’s easy to forgive Ant for his skepticism. He’s new to this. Saunders only signed to the Arista Records division of Sony Music last year. And since then “Hearts” has simmered from viral smash to certified gold status to playing-everywhere ubiquity. “It just boggles my mind to see all that ‘Yellow Hearts’ has accomplished,” Saunders says. “The song has changed my life.”
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Prior to joining the big leagues as a pro musician, Ant’s life was simpler. An Army soldier’s son, Saunders was born in Germany, then moved to Woodbury Heights, New Jersey at age 3, where he pretty much spent his time avoiding attention. “Growing up, I was always the nice, shy, sensitive kid,” he says. “Generally, I was the type to stand in the corner at a party and stick with my other shy friends.”
During his high school days, time alone was spent quietly teaching himself to play guitar, singing into his laptop via USB microphone and self-producing tracks with Audacity software “in hopes that someday it would be noticed.”
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As his senior year crept towards graduation, it seemed that enrolling in college would be a reality before his dream came to fruition. “I didn’t have much time left to have my big break,” he says. “I thought that I had the talent, but I wasn’t sure if my creative abilities were strong enough, or if I was able to reach many people. I was always so doubtful that it would ever happen.”
As if that wasn’t stressful enough, Saunders was also in the midst of a confusing digital love story. A girl that he was crushing on kept signing Snapchat messages to him with yellow heart emojis. Confused by her mixed signals and deliberate choice of hue (Why not red?!), he did what we all do: Googled it. Urban Dictionary told him yellow hearts typically stand for friendship. So he wrote and produced a song about it.
“I turn to music to figure out what I’m trying to say,” he says. “Most of ‘Yellow Hearts’ was just everything that I wanted to say. Like, ’I feel misled. What’s going on?’ I didn’t know how to say that in person.” Saunders whipped up the track’s artwork using Microsoft Paint and released the cut on his graduation day in June through independent digital music service DistroKid. Then when summer passed, he hopped on TikTok to ask his buds to share it. And they responded.
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Two million TikTok videos—ladies playing the role of the “crazy” girl, guys starring as a bewildered Ant, and more—were created. In the following weeks, Saunders was courted by record labels, eventually signing to Arista in November. And now less than a year removed from earning his diploma, Saunders is dropping a major label EP, entitled Bubble.
“You’ll learn about my weird personality,” Ant says of the handful of R&B-tinged pop songs. “How I’m vulnerable. How I have trouble communicating with people. I didn’t tell [the girl who inspired ‘Yellow Hearts’] how I felt and that I was basically talking about our experience until she found out after the song released. That’s how bad it is.”
Soon he’ll have to share his feelings with many more. Multi-platinum songstress Camila Cabello just announced that Saunders will open for her during the North American leg of her Romance Tour this fall.
“It’s just so motivating to see that people really do like my music,” Ant says. “I really hope to keep this momentum going. My goal is to keep touching people with my music.” He spent years fantasizing about the stardom he’s on the cusp of. And now that Saunders is here, there’s no way he’ll let his bubble burst.
Video Executive Produced by BradWete ℅ He Tells Stories
Video Produced by Sir Fleming
Photos by John Marquez
Story by Brad Wete
Location: Pinz Bowling Center
Listen to Ant Saunders’ Bubble
Special Thanks to Arista Records and Sony Music