Like all of us, Dolly Parton is dreaming of the future. But for Parton, the beloved country music and silver screen icon and longtime philanthropist, thinking about what comes next means writing music that brings that future into sharper focus.
“When Life Is Good Again,” out this week with its music video premiering exclusively during Thursday’s TIME100 Talks, is a tribute to the post-pandemic world she imagines. During her first ever Zoom interview with TIME, Parton shared the emotional connection she has to her new song, written during isolation at her Tennessee home.
“When life is good again, I’ll try to be someone on which you can depend, a helping hand to lend,” she sings in her signature soprano. Parton’s voice is as expressive as ever, breaking into a delicate vibrato as she sings bittersweet lyrics before rising for an optimistic chorus. The music video, also filmed in isolation, sees Parton queuing up a film projector to play a reel of home-video-style clips of life as we lived it before the era of social distancing. The clips are then overlaid with video portraits of masked essential workers, including hospital staff and delivery workers.
The message of song and video together: even when life returns to togetherness, we need to recognize the contributions of these selfless contributors—and strive for better in whatever comes next.
“When Life Is Good Again” is Parton’s first new original solo in a few years. Since her 1967 debut, she has released 50 studio albums, which have solidified her place as the best-selling female country artist of all time—and one of the most prolific. Her most recent, I Believe in You, came out in 2017. She also created the soundtrack album Dumplin’ for the Netflix movie of the same name in 2018, which earned her a Golden Globe nomination, and had a recent EDM hit as a featured artist on Galantis‘s 2019 track “Faith.”
Before life “is good again,” as she sings, Parton is doing her part to make this time a little easier for fans: earlier this spring, she launched “Goodnight with Dolly,” a weekly YouTube video series in which she reads children’s book aloud. Parton has long made children’s literacy her personal cause, donating over 140 million books to kids in five countries through her Imagination Library. She also donated $1 million to the Vanderbilt Medical Center to help find a vaccine for COVID-19 in April.
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