On the second night of Harry Styles’ 2023 European tour, American singer-songwriter Madi Diaz celebrated her 37th birthday. Diaz had been hand-picked by Styles to open for him in North America earlier that year and was then invited to join his touring band to play guitar and sing backup for the European leg. Styles brought out a cake and invited the crowd of 40,000 in Horsens, Denmark, to join in singing “Happy Birthday” to her. “The whole thing was so overwhelming,” she says from her home in Nashville. “My dad’s Danish, so I had a couple of family members at the show, and it was just this beautiful moment.”

Afterwards, Diaz had some wine, some cake and a shower and then changed into her cozy Carhartt sweatpants to hang out with a few crew members outside and revel in the glow of the night. “Then, out of fucking nowhere, this bird takes the biggest shit all over me,” she says. “I thought that somebody had thrown a cup of water at me. It was dripping down my scalp and smelled like putrid diarrhea. It was just the most grounding, humbling experience.

Muriel Margaret

The contrast within Diaz’ night is not unlike that found in “Same Risk,” the first single from her new album, Weird Faith. Her voice is sweet, yet her tone is deadpan; she swears right out of the gate while strumming an acoustic guitar: “What the fuck do you want / ’Cause I’ll give you all that I’ve got / If you lay in my bed, I know we’re gonna have sex.” It brings Liz Phair’s seminal 1993 album, Exile in Guyville, to mind—a similar polarity can be found in the song “Fuck and Run”—and when this is mentioned, Diaz says she was “literally talking about that record less than 24 hours [before].”

Turns out Phair is a huge influence, as is Kathleen Hanna, another ’90s-music feminist icon (and co-founder of influential riot-grrrl band Bikini Kill and electronic-rock group Le Tigre). Diaz got to see Bikini Kill right before she left for Styles’ tour. “[Hanna] said this thing about how the lyrics [in the song] ‘Rebel Girl’ are from her diary from when she was in high school,” she says. “And she said: ‘Never throw your diaries away. Your whole life is your art.’ When she said that, I was like, ‘Oh, now I have permission from one of my heroes.’”

It’s hard to not see all of my past relationships as failures on some level because they ended. That was one of the things that was scary to me when I started my last relationship.

Not that she had been waiting for it. Diaz’ previous album, 2021’s History of a Feeling, was a full-on examination of every emotion—including grief, confusion and anger—she’d endured through a traumatic breakup from a partner who then transitioned. Though she’d been actively making music since the late 2000s, the album—her fifth—was a bit of a reset for Diaz, and it was the first time she wrote from an extremely raw and honest place. The switch paid off, as the album boosted her profile considerably. She booked daytime and late-night TV appearances, got glowing reviews from both Pitchfork and Spin and, of course, got the attention of Styles, who found her on a playlist and then went down a rabbit hole exploring Diaz’ material, which led to that tour offer. Oh, and Hanna tweeted about it too, thanking her for the record, which Diaz intends to commemorate. “At some point, I want to get a T-shirt made of the tweet just for me.”

On Weird Faith, she’s still mining her personal experiences, but this time she’s delving into the anxiety that accompanies a new relationship. “It’s hard to not see all of my past relationships as failures on some level because they ended,” she says. “That was one of the things that was scary to me when I started my last relationship. I just wanted to pick a good person—somebody who wasn’t going to lie to me and wasn’t going to run from me.”

Mackenzie K Moore

On “Girlfriend,” Diaz sings about an awkward situation with a partner’s ex, inspired by a real encounter she had at a music festival. “God, I was so triggered at that moment,” says Diaz. “That song is very much a panic attack, like trying to survive this interaction.” There’s also “Kiss the Wall,” in which she sings something that’s become a mantra for her: “Nothing is a waste of time.” (She even put the phrase on one of the T-shirts in her new line of merch.) It’s something she’s told herself many times, whether about mundane stuff like standing in line or taking the wrong exit on the interstate or bigger stuff like spending 10 years locked into a publishing deal that ultimately amounted to nothing. “I could have a chip on my shoulder about [my past] and be so resentful,” she says. “But I’d rather say I wouldn’t be exactly where I am if I hadn’t spent 10 years in that deal or gotten off at the wrong exit. It’s a way to make myself present—to stay in the moment and know that this is the most important moment.”

She’s also bringing that mindset with her when she starts her tour in February for Weird Faith by planning what to wear onstage. (She defiantly refused to consider her performance wardrobe for a long time as she doesn’t love being in the spotlight, a reason she was happy to be in the background with Styles.) “I’ve bought a couple of very shimmery, sparkly things,” she says. “It’s sort of a distraction, but if I am wearing something that’s sparkly, I think I’ll just have to be in the moment. I am trying to find a way to, like, let myself shine.”