When Nadia Tehran recorded the video for High back in January, she had no idea how much more pertinent its message would become. Weaving her own journey of emotional healing with the cultural trauma of the Iran-Iraq war that displaced her Persian parents, the entire album is an irrevocably personal endeavour—but in the ashes of autumn 2020, it hits differently.
Listening to the track and experiencing the video, it’s hard to believe Tehran wrote High at the age of 13. It’s testament to her patience, talent and also her trust that a song originally written about falling in love at a music festival has evolved into an emotive exploration of trauma, police violence and the failure of the systems put in place to protect us. Directed by Marco Stoltze, the music video/ short film hybrid explores ways of dealing with personal and collective trauma. “It’s an attempt to heal,” Tehran explains, “but also a way to explore the theme of community—and how we constantly feel like we’re being interrupted, restricted and contained by systematic oppression.”
Released as part of Dozakh: All Lovers Hell last year, High is just one of the several more tender tracks on the self-reflective record, over a decade in the making. “It was part of me growing up and becoming friends with this vulnerable side of myself,” Tehran reflects. Tracks like High reveal a softer edge, a distinct departure from the aggressive punk persona she’d crafted for herself during her teen years on stage. “It was about growing stronger,” she admits, “in my activism as well. When it comes to politics, there’s this idea that you need to show a hard surface, otherwise you will get torn down. As a Brown woman you don’t really have the privilege of showing emotions, you have to always be this strong character. This album was me maturing, but also getting stronger—strong enough to show my vulnerability.”
But as much as it gave Tehran a facade to hide behind, punk music was also the turning point that allowed her to embrace a part of herself she’d once kept hidden. Growing up in rural Sweden, Tehran’s only access to her Persian heritage was at home with her Iranian parents, and outside of that space, it was a point of embarrassment. Instead, she found herself assimilating. “I was the only Brown kid in my class,” she remembers. “And there was a long part of my life where I didn’t want to acknowledge other immigrants. When you’re too young to understand what racism is, you just internalise it. Growing up as a minority, you believe that there’s something wrong with you, and that there’s something wrong with all immigrants.”