Cha'ves Jamall
November 2, 2017 11:02 AM EDT

Michael Blume doesn’t shy away from music with a point. “You’ve got to love yourself,” he repeats sincerely on new single “Lifting You,” premiering here on TIME. The refrain might just be your new self-love and mantra: “External validation is not a prerequisite for self-appreciation.”

The rising singer-songwriter from New Jersey has a sound that’s meditative and soulful on “Lifting You,” every word imbued with a honeyed melody over subdued instrumentation. Other songs, like early release “Manufactured Love” and recent single “I Am Not a Trend (No Rules)” see him finding, in turn, a pensive groove and a more jazzy energy. Like a lower, funkier register of Sam Smith, Blume — who has traveled the world as an a cappella singer, lived in Brazil and intended to pursue a career in academia before going all-in on music — effortlessly hits all the notes, even veering into sing-rapping at times. But the through-line across his growing catalogue is music that harnesses and reflects on the power of individuality and self-knowledge, a message he matches in his bold fashion, exuberance in live performance and advocacy for equal rights. The combination of his buttery, neo-soul voice and meaningful lyrical content has earned him plenty of fans and critical nods after the release of his 2016 EP When I Get It Right and breakout shows at festivals like Governor’s Ball and Lollapalooza, too.

Now Blume shares some of the inspiration for this new song, off an upcoming EP, with TIME.

What’s the story behind “Lifting You?”

“Lifting You” is a letter to someone I love dearly whom I saw drowning in a constant search for validation from others. Through his moments of self-doubt, I continued to see the unique beauty, talent and perspective he had to offer the world. But in order to grow, he had to see that worthiness himself.

Today our relationship is much stronger because we are building within the framework of self-love first. Each one of us needs it, and it looks differently for everyone. “Lifting You” aims to expose the profound necessity of self-love as a bedrock for building stronger partnerships and communities.

Have you figured out how to “love yourself first,” or is that still a work in progress?

100% a work in progress! I don’t want listeners to misconstrue this song as if I am saying I have it all figured out. I definitely do not. I think learning to love yourself and taking care of yourself is a lifelong task for all of us. With the song, I hope to remind all of us to keep self-care on the forefront of our minds. Let’s talk to our friends and parents and children about what it looks like to love the self. And let’s remember it’s different for each and every one of us.

As an artist, what do you stand for?

I stand for justice, equality, and kindness. I approach these goals with both a realistic, sometimes cynical view of our dark present and a deeply sincere belief — which I sometimes call faith — that things will get better. I believe in the power of each of us, and I believe that together humans can harness energies and accomplish things that were previously unimaginable. By telling my story in raw, personal terms, I aim to encourage listeners to do the same.

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