More about: Madison Beer
First propelled into the spotlight at thirteen following a life-changing endorsement from Justin Bieber, Madison Beer is now more than a decade deep into a thriving career many would dream of: think world tours, eye-popping streaming figures, and cover shoots galore. At times, however, it’s been truly testing: she’s had to wrestle for her freedom when it comes to creative direction, and was subjected to a devastating photo leak when she was still underage, a traumatic experience that exposed some fundamental flaws in the music business when it comes to safeguarding.
In the years that have followed, the now 23-year-old has cultivated a distinctive style of self-aware, pensive pop that’s unafraid to tackle systemic issues in the music industry as well as other subjects like relationships and mental health. After years of agonising over her debut LP, Life Support, which finally dropped last year, the process of recording its follow-up has turned out to be a comparative breeze, and it’s said to contain some of her best work yet.
Gigwise linked up with Madison on World Mental Health Day, days before the release of her new single, 'Showed Me (How I Fell In Love With You)', to chat about everything from her creative process to her studies, life with borderline personality disorder, and her appreciation for UK rap.
If you’re affected by any of the issues discussed in this piece, UK-based readers can contact Mind for confidential support with their mental health on 0300 123 3393.
GW: Thanks for joining us today! I’m calling from London – how about you?
MB: Right now, I’m in LA.
I hear you held a writing camp over the pandemic. Was this a totally new process for you or something you’ve done before?
Yeah, I do writing camps a lot. That’s the best way that I like to write my music. I can’t remember which one we did in the pandemic, but I think we went to Palm Springs, because we felt like it was safe to stay and not have to go on a plane. We all tested and quarantined together for 14 days and whatnot. It was great to get away from sitting in bed and doing nothing all the time. But we’ve done a bunch! We all went to my house in Long Island that I grew up at, and we went to Cabo. They’re so fun and such a great way to sit down and pick each others’ brains, because it’s nice to be outside of our home base.
Your lyrics are super personal. How do you make sure you preserve your own voice when you bring in co-writers like Lowell or RAYE?
I mean, they’re amazing. I think they both understand me so well, and every time they come in, they’re able to articulate things almost exactly like I would. We’re really able to come to common ground very, very easily when we’re together. And with the crew I work with for everything – that did the entire album – which is Kinetics, One Love and Leroy Clampitt, it’s so past the point of them asking “would you say this?” What they say, I would say, and vice versa. I feel like we kinda have the same brain at this point; we think about things in the same way.
I feel really lucky that I have a crew around me that I can write so honestly in front of. I’ll come into the studio sometimes with a wacky idea, and there have been times in the past where I’ve worked with people who are like “hmm, I think we should stick with something a little more mainstream.” [The current crew] are never like that; they’re always like “just do it. If that’s what you feel you wanna write about, we’re gonna write about it.” I can’t even express how truly special that is to me.
I know you co-produced a lot of ‘Life Support’ - do you usually have a clear idea of the sounds you want in a song or does that get workshopped?
I go in with a list of inspiration and sounds that I wanna work from, so I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want.
I get the feeling you’re a real perfectionist. How do you know when a song is finished?
My fans would say I have a really hard time with that. It took me like five years to finish my first album, solely because I was like “wait, I wanna add one more thing!” I’m letting go of that a bit now. When I listen to the album we delivered a month or two ago, I am like “I wanna do this different”, but I think that’s how it’s always gonna be, and I just have to allow myself to grow in other areas. It’s okay if something changes, and I can always perform it differently live! It’s fun to give songs a new life when they’re out, so I’m trying to let go of that a little.
I’m sure you’re not thinking about what would be ‘a hit’ when you’re writing songs, but do you feel pressure when it comes to things like chart positions?
No, I don’t because I don’t really chart anyways! It’s something that I’ve changed my perspective on a lot. Growing up, hits and charts were everything and that was what I was always told needed to be achieved, whereas now my focus has changed. I want [to make] something that really resonates with people; something that people organically listen to and love, and if it’s not top five on radio or the biggest hit in the world, that’s totally fine. “Selfish”, for example – my biggest record – that’s not considered a hit, because it was never on the charts. It started streaming massively a year after it came out. I stopped playing those games with myself and I’ve freed myself from the shackles of thinking “this has to do this”. That’s not my goal. My goal is to make music and if it clicks, it clicks. If not, I’m proud of it regardless.
That’s good to hear. I guess that must help it to feel less like a job, too—because I imagine there are times that it does.
Yeah! And it sucks the fun out of it, ‘cause you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment when you might not chart; you might not do those things. I just don’t think my music deserves that. I don’t even put it on myself; I’m like “you’re amazing, if you don’t chart, that doesn’t mean I love you any less”, you know? That’s the relationship I have with it now.
Like success is an added bonus.
Yeah, if it does it, it does it. If not, that’s really okay, and I’m proud of it no matter what.
You’ve been quite vocal about the problems with the industry on tracks like 'Dear Society', where you said the magazines had treated you like you were “21 since 17”. Do you think there have been any cultural shifts since you wrote that track?
That’s really interesting that you bring that up. I was just talking to someone recently about how I had photos leaked when I was like 15, 16 and I wrote a lot about that on International Women’s Day a couple of years ago. It’s definitely mind-blowing because – I say this as cautiously as I can – I don’t think that a girl in my position would be treated the same way today. I received a lot of hate at the time, my photos were spread everywhere, and I do think the internet has changed in that regard.
I see a lot of younger, underage girls who are more protected now, but I’m so sad that it took people like me to get there and I do think we have leaps and bounds still to go. I don’t think the priority of the internet is child safety, or protecting influencers or artists who are super, super young, and I wish that it was seen as more important. But I do think that it has changed a lot and I don’t think someone in the same position would get the same backlash as I did.
I know you’re into horoscopes and a true Pisces, plus the theme of fate came up very clearly on 'Everything Happens for a Reason'. Does spirituality play a big part in your life?
Yeah, it does! That’s really cool, thanks for asking that. A lot of people don’t really touch on that. I think I started my spiritual journey – whatever that means – a couple of years ago. I’ve always struggled with really serious death anxiety and it’s been something that’s riddled my life forever, but I think that a couple of years ago [spirituality] began for me and ever since, I’ve been trying to feel in tune with the universe and it does play a big part in my life. It’s something that I do really whole-heartedly believe in. I used to feel really hopeless, and I used to have a lot of existential crises, and I feel like it’s freed a lot of that for me.
A lot of your last album came from a dark place - are you in a better headspace now?
In ways, yeah, for sure. I’ve realised that healing is not linear and neither is your mental health journey. I think there are ways that I’m better and there are ways that I’m worse, but I’m taking things day by day and I’m definitely in an overall better place than when I wrote Life Support. I was very suicidal then; I was going through a lot of really dark things. I feel like I’m in a better place with my healing; I’m more at peace with things that have happened in my life, and that feels really good.
"Loving those parts of yourself that are unchangeable is important – I’m always gonna be a sensitive person. I’m always gonna be someone that takes things to heart. I don’t look at these things in a negative way anymore..."
Shot by Niamh Louise, during the life support tour
If you don’t mind, I’d love to chat about borderline personality disorder (BPD) briefly. There’s a lot of stigma and misinformation out there online – how have you found the journey to understanding your diagnosis?
I think that mine is a journey, for sure. BPD isn’t the only thing that I’m diagnosed with – although I think it’s the most significant, there’s also other things that are crippling to me everyday – but what I can say about it is that the biggest shift and the biggest blessing has been my perspective change with how I view myself. For a long time, I was surrounded by people – in relationships, or on social media – who made me feel awful. They made me feel like everything I thought was right was wrong, and that screwed me up in ways that I can’t even describe. There’s been a lot of undoing for me. I used to hate what I now know as my BPD ‘outbursts’, I guess you can call them, but what’s beautiful now is that I actually look at them at a bit of a strength sometimes.
I don’t hate that I overthink stuff. I think it’s awesome that I can run through things thoroughly. And although it might feel like the end of the world when someone cancels plans, I love my capacity to care. There are of course times that I’m like “relax”, and moments that I wish I didn’t have to struggle with this, but with a lot of therapy, learning, healing, and looking at things in a different light, I think that’s been a big change in perspective. Loving those parts of yourself that are unchangeable is important – I’m always gonna be a sensitive person. I’m always gonna be someone that takes things to heart. I don’t look at these things in a negative way anymore.
If I can say this to anyone listening – whether you’re diagnosed with BPD or you’re just someone who’s mean to yourself – give yourself some positive affirmation. ‘Cause a lot of stuff in society is down to conditioning; being sensitive is deemed bad, and having your own back can come across as being defensive. As long as you have good intentions, speak from your heart, and mean well, I think everything else is gonna be okay, and that’s the biggest thing for me.
What’s been inspiring your lyrics recently?
Well, I’ve finished my album and when I was finishing it up, I was honestly really inspired by my therapy sessions! I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself and I’ve really been able to make peace with things that have transpired in my life. I have a song in my album that’s about… a lot of things, and I’m not gonna tell you too much because I’m trying to be good and keep things secret for now! But there’s one song that’s about feeling a bit dissociated from my younger self and feeling like I kinda had formative years of mine taken, in a way, and just giving myself that; acknowledging that, and being like “hey, it’s okay to mourn homecoming, prom or camp”. Allowing myself to be empathetic towards myself has been amazing, and I think that’s been really inspiring for me. There’s a lot of that on the album that you’ll hear.
Interesting! So was that because the lifestyle prevented you from experiencing those landmark events in an average kid’s childhood?
Yeah, and it was shitty, man! I wanted to do all that stuff, and I was not anywhere near famous enough that I couldn’t. It’s just that I was in LA, and I was pulled out of school in seventh grade. I started working when I was twelve, so I didn’t get to do those things. In hindsight, my family and I thought “well, what I’m doing instead is so much better.” It was – it was amazing – but I think that while I’m allowed to say what a cool life I’ve had, I’m also allowed to be like “there are things I feel like I missed out on, and I wish I could have participated in for sure.”
If you’d gone to university, what would you have studied?
I’m actually taking online courses right now, and I’m trying to put things towards a degree, hopefully, in psychology in some capacity. My dream is to go on to become a therapist eventually down the line, in some way. I just feel really passionate about being able to educate. I love talking to people about mental health stuff, or just life and who we all are, and I think that if I had a degree to show for it, I would be able to talk about it a little bit more confidently.
Your next single, 'Showed Me (How I Fell In Love With You)', is inspired by the Turtles version of a ‘60s classic. Can you remember when you first heard the original?
I love the Turtles. I think they’re incredible, and I first heard the original years ago, but it kinda went over my head. In more recent years, I was looking for more inspiration on the album and I was just like “I wanna bump a Zombies album, a Turtles album, whatever,” and started playing this song. The second that I heard the swell of the violins, I was like “I wanna use this for something.” I’ve never interpolated or sampled anything, so this is my very first. I’m really excited, and I feel honoured that I’m able to give this song a second life, potentially.
It feels like a nice segue from the Tame Impala and Lana Del Rey influences on your last album; the psychedelic influence is still seeping through.
I hope so! I hope there’s still some of that on the album when people listen to it. I think this one definitely leans more ‘60s sounding, but there are still modern influences, for sure. That’ll always run through my veins.
'Dangerous' could easily fit into a film soundtrack and I know you’ve described it as your Disney princess song. You also mentioned on Twitter that the song came from “a very wounded place” - could you elaborate on that?
Yeah, 'Dangerous' is a special one. I released that with the intention of segueing into this more mature, evolved sound. The song was very sonically focused: we spent a lot of time arranging the strings, which was such an awesome experience, but I think I did write this from a wounded place. I felt reflective on a lot that has transpired in my previous relationships, and I think it’s important to ask yourself what you could have potentially contributed to a negative outcome, in this case a breakup. It was a really genuine place that I came from, and I think it’s important to have that reflection. A lot of my other records are all about me feeling hurt, and in this one it’s clear that I hurt someone, and it’s me asking for answers.
Was it one of the first songs you wrote for the new album or did it come later on?
It came later on, actually, maybe six months ago? Maybe more like nine months.
I ask because I understand that you were in a relationship when you wrote some of this album – so is that where you’re at now, or…?
Yeah, I’m still in the relationship that I started writing this album during, and I do have a track about him on the album. It’s really lovely. I think that’s also why this album doesn’t feel like a breakup record, which is important to me. There are still songs which are about past things, because I think it’s important for me to pull inspiration from things I’ve experienced that have changed me forever, but I’m lucky to be with someone that understands and supports that.
Can we expect more ballads and acoustic arrangements on album number two? Is it less electronic?
Definitely less electronic, but I would say 'Showed Me' is the better representation of more of the album. I think 'Dangerous' stands alone, and with 'Showed Me' there’s a few songs that have a similar sound.
Rapid fire questions:
If you could collaborate with any UK rapper, who would you choose?
Maybe Skepta, ‘cause I think Skepta was the first UK rapper that I loved.
What’s your death row meal?
There’s this place in Miami called Joe’s Stone Crab and it’s my favourite restaurant on the planet, so that’s my death row meal. I’ve thought about it before; that’s why I know the answer!
What’s a new place in the world that you’d still like to visit?
New Zealand and Australia. I really, really wanna go.
Imagine there’s a karaoke machine in front of you right now. What song are you picking?
Ooh! 'Fallin’' by Alicia Keys.
Madison Beer’s new single 'Showed Me (How I Fell In Love With You)' is out now.
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More about: Madison Beer