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Lea Michele Opens Up About Emotional New Song ‘Hey You’: ‘Songwriting Is a Form of Therapy’

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When it came time to write and record her new album, Lea Michele got personal — and she says creating the album was a cathartic experience.

“This is exactly how I’m feeling in my life right now,” Michele, 30, tells PEOPLE of her sophomore LP Places, out now. “I want the world to hear it.”

While her debut album (2014’s Louder) was more of a pop departure for the Broadway veteran, Michele returned to her theatrical roots on Places, flaunting her Streisand-esque pipes on soaring anthems and tear-jerking ballads.

The lyrics of one of those ballads, “Hey You,” read like a letter to her late boyfriend Cory Monteith, who died suddenly in 2013.

“Final days were the hardest / I didn’t think they would be your last,” she sings on the emotional album closer. “I know you had to go away / I’ll tell you every day I miss you.”

Jeff Lipsky

Michele won’t confirm the track was inspired by Monteith, saying, “I like to keep certain things private,” but adding: “Songwriting is a form of therapy.”

The Glee actress cowrote “Hey You” with songwriters Ali Tamposi and Wrabel and says it serves as a follow-up to “If You Say So,” a song from Louder which she wrote with Sia. (In 2014, she told Billboard “If You Say So” was about Monteith, telling the magazine: “It will always represent the most devastating thing that’s every happened to me in my whole life.”)

“I love it. I think it is such a beautiful song, and it has such a beautiful message,” Michele says of “Hey You.” “Despite it being about a more sensitive subject matter, when I listen to it, my overall feeling that I get from it is just joy and love.”

Watch the full episode on Lea Michele, streaming now on People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN, or download the app for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Xumo, Chromecast, Xfinity, iOS and Android devices.

Lionel Hahn/AbacaUsa.com

Indeed, Michele says she’s in a very positive place in her life these days.

“People have a perception of who I am and where I’m at right now,” she says, “because of everything I’ve been through … But I am so happy. And I feel so strong.”

For more on Lea Michele, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.

With the release of Places, Michele will hit the road on tour this week; she’s signed on to a new ABC comedy from Hamilton Tony winner Daveed Diggs; and hopes to return to Broadway soon. But she’s found an equilibrium between her career and life, too.

“I’m always making time to work out, to take care of myself, to just sit on the couch and binge-watch Netflix. That’s what keeps me grounded,” she says. “I feel very hopeful right now. I’m so blessed to have really incredible friends and my family … and that personal-professional life balance. Whenever things are in that great sweet spot, that’s when I’m most happy.”