The story of a song: Anchorage’s Bethlehem Shalom on what inspired her latest, ‘Owe Me Money’

Personal turmoil has long inspired Bethlehem Shalom to write music. For years, the Anchorage musician’s voice, production knowledge and pop sensibilities have allowed her to vent her otherwise bottled-up feelings of unease.

That’s still true. But lately, Shalom is stirring a new ingredient into her songwriting recipe: fun.

Weeks before her single “Owe Me Money” was released to streaming platforms, the 24-year-old artist and clothing designer talked about what’s inspiring her evolution.

“I wanted to have a fun, positive vibe to the song, something you can dance to,” Shalom said.

“Owe Me Money” opens with an airy introduction and a message of empowerment. A dance-floor bounce follows. The song’s upbeat vibe contrasts with the emotional burdens the lyrics describe. That’s intentional, she said.

“If they owed you money

I won’t need a penny from you


You’re stronger than you think

Don’t let these wounds sting

I promise soon”

“The basic idea is kind of about when someone owes you an apology, but maybe they don’t know they owe you an apology,” Shalom said. “After a while of dwelling over it, maybe hoping you’d get some closure, (instead) just using that energy and focusing on yourself.”

Though the song builds on the idea of feeling emotionally unresolved, its lyrics embrace a spirit of acceptance and renewal.

“Let’s stop blaming ourselves. Let’s just move on,” she said of the thoughts that inspired her words. “I’m my own person. I have control over my life. I’m going to take the next steps forward.”

“Owe Me Money” isn’t the only song to grow out of this thawing ground. In March, Shalom posted a home performance of her recently written song “Lemons” as a submission to NPR’s 2023 Tiny Desk Contest. She called it “an ode to the popular phrase ‘When life gives you lemons.’” The piano-and-voice performance showcases Shalom at her most vocally unfiltered. Commenters on her own social media reported chills and tears.

Though she said she still writes sad songs, Shalom said she’s at the start of a new journey and hopes “Owe Me Money” will entice listeners to come along for the ride.

“It’s a positive way to look at something that’s hard to go through,” Shalom said. “That’s what music is for sometimes.”

Marc Lester

Marc Lester is a multimedia journalist for Anchorage Daily News. Contact him at