“The story is about someone going through depression and seeing the way they are changing and kind of that fake altered personality, it’s about walking down memory lane and remembering just last year, of feeling so magical, like you were almost dancing in the moonlight.” (Grace in short “behind the scenes “video shown as part of the VEVO watch party for the moonlight release, released July 20, 2017)
“That was one of the first songs that I made to my new album and it was so much fun to make. Moonlight itself happened in a day, but then there is, you know, the mastering, the producing, the e-mailing – “oh how do you think of this?” Or “more choir?” and “I don’t really like this”… I wrote it and produced it with Ido, I actually did a lot of the album with him, he is very, very talented. I like him a lot, and he has a very unique quality and sound to – whatever he does on the computer. I had never heard one of my songs produced and like be able to have that power and control, and it was very fun to just experiment with it. It kind of just started with the first line actually, which usually doesn’t happen.” (MTV Push December Artist of the Month, released Dec. 8, 2017)
“This was my first writing session with a producer/writer named Ido. I was super-duper awkward and super weird, I was like [with a small voice] “are we like … going to create a song now?” I have never been in love; I have never done most of the things I say in my songs. But this one – Moonlight – actually is a specific story. I knew someone struggling with mental health. At the time it was still going on – now it’s all good, she’s all good. When someone’s going through that, they are not them anymore, they lose that spark. Things like that don’t go away, and it only escalates, and watching that – it’s so hard to watch that – I liked to try and put that in the song.” ("Moonlight" Official Lyrics & Meaning | Verified, Genius.com, released Nov. 2, 2017)
“… in chronological order of the song, we kept sticking on this pre-chorus that we wanted, and I was really attached to this pre-chorus, but we ultimately decided it sounded better without it. [and this pre-chorus became unfixable minds]. … It’s a visual song, that’s what makes it good. It’s almost like watching a movie in your mind when you hear it. I think it’s a kind of story effect, about walking down memory lane and thinking about just last year and [it] feeling so magical. Interviewer: Was it inspired by your personal experience specifically? Or was it a friend that was dealing with it? Grace: A friend. (Interview with Nilina Mason-Campbell, for Rookie Magazine Aug. 20, 2017)
Years later, in an interview with Jordan Sparks for a “Stronger Than You Think” fundraiser, about mental health issues, Grace revealed the the "friend" was in fact her sister Olivia:
“Moonlight was a really – I was like 13 when I wrote that song, and still, honestly, I can say that that’s the only “older” song of mine that to this day I still admire. It was such a beautiful release for me. The inspiration behind – what’s interesting about me or my life is, I have never personally struggled with addiction or mental health, yet it has been such a massive component of my life, for most of my life. And a big part of that is my sister has struggled with mental health for a very, very large portion of my life. To see that kind of firsthand and live through that for so many years and like completely, really understanding for what it really [is]. I feel like specifically, mental health is such a misunderstood topic, and it’s like, it’s so hard to even explain it, or explain why it’s portrayed wrong, till you’ve lived through it. And I feel like even that song doesn’t fully do it justice, but that was the inspiration behind it.” (Grace VanderWaal interviewed by Jordan Sparks for the “Stronger Than You Think” fundraiser, May 27, 2020)
Breakdown of the song
In the Genius.com video quoted above, Grace proceeds to break down the song:
: You know, classic, “always happy”, “stay positive” – no one’s always happy, no one’s always positive, don’t pull that mask over you, you know.
: I love dolls, and creepy old antique dolls, I’m obsessed with them. I have brought them in [to] a lot of my old songs as well. People are just seeing that perfect face and the perfect doll and being like “oh – it’s all good” like “you’re still you, “nothing is going on”, “her!? No, she is like the happiest girl alive”. I almost saw, like a shelf, like an old doll, starting to tip over the edge.
: “Dancing in the moonlight” and this beautiful dance party is like one of the most cliché things. You’re looking back on that person and remembering them having that spark. You miss that so much that you kind of change the memory to feel so magical.
: When you are someone having this little “fake” life, it’s kind of about that fake life almost completely taking over, and it’s not even like you get those little glimpses anymore. She’s lost, and this mask is starting to just eat her up and kind of become her.
: It’s hard thinking about mental health and those kinds of situations, t they are so unique. I know everyone say this but get some help man! It honestly helps a lot. It might seem like they might not need it at the time, or it might seem like it’s finally starting to work out, I am finally starting to see them. But that’s usually not how it works. You usually need, you know, professional help.
("Moonlight" Official Lyrics & Meaning | Verified, Genius.com, released Nov. 2, 2017)
“On ‘Moonlight’, Vanderwaal showcases her beautiful, distinct voice. The cracks and nuances provide ample character. The production keeps things simple, with a signature ukulele-driven sound. This simplicity is smart; it doesn’t overpower or take away from Vanderwaal herself. The form is rock-solid – verses, pre-chorus, chorus, post-chorus, and bridge. The pre-chorus sets up and foreshadows an incredibly fun and catchy chorus, the highlight of the song.” (Review, The Musical Hype Nov. 8, 2017)
Use in choreography
Moonlight is one of the three songs used by choreographer Kristin McQuaid to make dance videos based on Grace's music. The other two are "Light the Sky" and "Florets" (See more here
Simlish version of Moonlight
"For the Electronic Arts game The Sims 4, a unique version of ‘Moonlight’ was included and available within the Cats and Dogs expansion pack. Recorded by Grace in Simlish (gibberish substituted for an actual language) the song used the original instrument and backing vocal tracks. Though this expansion pack also introduced the ‘Singer/Songwriter’ radio station, ‘Moonlight’ is accessible in-game as radio station music on the ‘Pop’ channel. Other artists to re-record their songs in Simlish for the series of games include Katy Perry, 5 Seconds of Summer, Jason Derulo, My Chemical Romance, and Carly Rae Jepsen." (The VanderVault 2019-03-02)
In a TikTok post from January 10, 2021 (deleted soon after), Grace talked about recording the Simlish" version. Someone from the game developer came to teach her how to speak it so she wouldn't accidentally cuss in some other language.
The Music video
"I came up with the concept. This is the way I told my idea to Columbia: Intro, Intro, I’m walking down, I’m walking down – oh so grunge, tough life, singing, singing, singing, then all of a sudden – Bridge, running up the stairs, get to the rooftop, sad, remember last year when I told you, DANCING IN THE MOONLIGHT! Then party, party, then it’s over. A lot of the time when I hear the songs produce, it’s like a movie in my mind, I can literally watch the music video in my mind. I literally see it with the cuts and everything." (Interview with Kevan Kenny, Billboard Aug. 11, 2017 After her Billboard live stream performance (performance# 105))
On an IG live in June 2021 Grace explained why she had not sung Moonlight for quite some time: “I feel like I can barely sing that song anymore unless I was screaming it like a freaking rock song. My voice dropped when I hit puberty and it was so high when I made that song and haven’t sung that song in a really long time.”