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ONES TO WATCHFor 2020 and Beyond

by Malvika Padin

As 2019 drew to a close, these rising stars stood at the beginning of a beautiful musical journey.

Rising star Birthh—real name Alice Bisi—has built a cult following for herself and her upcoming track Yello/Concrete further establishes her abilities as an artist.

Speaking of the track, which she wrote while touring the U.S., she says: “I spent 12 hours in a hotel room in L.A. writing this song. It was meant to be a beat for a friend but I ended up keeping it because I liked it! The first part of the song is about small talk; about superficial conversations. Then it gets deeper, becoming more introspective. It was me thinking about my life; the lyrics talk about how I’m always in a rush to do things.” Delving a bit more into her song writing process, she explains: “I tend to use a lot of imagery in my writing process. I have synaesthesia, and my brain tends to make unusual connections so I draw from that—because it’s what I see in my life—to write my music. I find it easy to use music to explain what my brain sees.”

Speaking on her experience with synaesthesia, Birthh explains that it helps her break creative boundaries. She says, “Society tends to put things into categories: ears are for hearing, eyes are for seeing. But when you listen to music it’s not just your ears at work, you might build an image in your head while listen to a song; synaesthesia helps me break these boxes.” Humble and shy, Birthh denies that there’s anything unique about her. But as she reminds her listeners that they are lucky to be born, lucky to be alive not only through her music, but through her being as well, it’s easy to see she’s a special talent set to go a long way

Words by Malvika Padin

Stylist: Sergio Pedro

H&MUA: Aimee Twist

Rising Swedish artist Brother Leo has the ability to connect with music lovers across the pop spectrum, balancing groovy pop songs with deep, introspective lyricism. Describing his sound as “free and organic”, he explains that he writes for himself without locking himself into a genre.

Explaining his evolution during the course of 2019, he says, “It’s not a conscious evolution, but people tell me that my music mixes ‘happy’ sonics with melancholic ‘lyricism,’ and I quite like that juxtaposition of darkness and happiness.” Speaking of his music, he explains the inspiration behind latest track “Barcelona.” He says, “It’s inspired by my two weeks in Barcelona when I was much younger, where I experienced a lot of things for the first time; it made me grow up a bit too fast. It’s just memories from that trip stuck within me for years.”

Explaining that the track came into being naturally, Brother Leo says he values spontaneity in his music but he still has dreams – the one that came true being the moment he heard his music played on the radio in UK – as well as plans for the new year. But even with new music, tours and shows in the pipeline, his biggest dream is connecting to people with his music.

Words by Malvika Padin

Only ten months into her career, Charlotte has already garnered attention from some of the biggest names in music including Lewis Capaldi and Ed Sheeran, for her personable music written and sung from the heart.

Charlotte explains that there were never any calculations behind her music-making; it was never about setting out to achieve a particular sound and, for that reason, she cannot articulate what exactly her genre is. But what she knows without a shadow of a doubt is that song writing is cathartic for her. She explains: “I wear my heart on my sleeve; there’s no sugarcoating anything. I hope that, if anything, listeners can take away that honesty from my music.”

Based on this honesty and her love for her family, comes her latest track “All My Life.” Explaining the intent of the song, she says, “The song (is) about my nephew, who is a year and half old now. He was born with hypoplastic right heart syndrome, and his life was in the balance two days before the writing session out of which this song was born.” And while initially leaving this particular message out, and keeping the track open for interpretation, Charlotte has opened up about it in partnership with the charity who saved her little nephew’s precious life.

It’s not just her nephew who inspires her, it appears to be her entire family—her grandparents in particular. She explains, “My grandparents were and still are musicians. I watched them and wanted to be them when I grew up. As soon as I was able to walk, I was up on stage with them and as soon as I could talk I was singing with them.” Describing her first year as an artist as “off the scale,” Charlotte is taken aback that it’s only been a year. Taking a look at what she’s managed to achieve—as she prepares for what is set to be her 110th show in Hull this December and later supporting Dennis Lloyd across Europe—it is truly remarkable the natural star quality and startling humility this young singer radiates.

Words by Malvika Padin

Stylist: Morgan Hall

H&MUA: Emily Wood

Having made a name for herself following collaborations with Charlie XCX, Alicia Keys and Sam Hunt, Nashville-based singer/songwriter Ingrid Andress describes her growth as an artist in 2019 as “craziness.”

Reflecting on the year, she says: “I’ve been to so many cities and countries I’ve never visited before, and I’m absolutely loving it. Experiencing other cultures and meeting new people is such an essential part of my song writing process. It allows me to step outside of my perspective and learn about other people and their stories. Gives me new things to think about, which turn into new songs.”

Speaking of new songs, she takes a moment to talk about what inspired her latest single, “Lady Like.” She says, “I grew up in a household that didn’t really acknowledge gender stereotypes. But the older I got, the more I sensed this unspoken divide between guys and girls that started to make me feel like I was ‘different,’ that I wasn’t very ‘ladylike.’ This kind of messed me up for a little bit, but I finally got over it and wrote this song because I realised I have a far better time in life being who I am and not apologising for it. I wanted anyone else who felt the same way to feel empowered.” So what does “ladylike” mean? Ingrid describes it as being “self-aware, confident and compassionate,” as she urges her listeners with this message: “It’s OK to be emotional. Sadness, happiness, anger, etc. It’s all OK. The more honest we are about how we feel, the more we come to understand one another.” With genuine, empowering messages such as these, Ingrid moves into 2020 with her first album, tours and much more on the horizon!

Words by Malvika Padin

Stylist: Scott Cruft

H&MUA: Alberto Papparotto

English-born, Scottish-raised singer/songwriter James Gillespie has spent a lot of time honing his abilities and sound, as the quality of his debut album Safe so clearly proves. Aside from his own album, James has had a great year with selling out several dates of his own headline tour across Europe after years of playing as a support act.

Describing his sound as “dirty-bluesy indie guitar mixed with soulful vocals,” James is now confident enough in his own vibe, ready to extend beyond solo music collaborating with other artists who inspire him. Speaking more on his debut album, he reflects on his excitements and frustrations during the creative process. He says, “The most exciting part was having the physical vinyl to hold after putting so much work into it. There isn’t anything frustrating, but it can be a bit nerve-wracking to put out such personal stuff into the world for people to hear. It’s like your secret is out!”

Evolving to become a natural writer and singer, James draws his inspirations from his own experiences, and hopes to always stay true to himself even as he grows as an artist – wanting his music to leave listeners with the comforting message that they aren’t alone in their struggles – for as long as he can.

Words by Malvika Padin

New-York based artist Julian Lamadrid establishes himself as the future of pop music with the release of his latest project Mala Noche and lead single ‘Moment,’ as he draws from the solitude that surrounds him to make music which he describes as “a record for the lonely, the heartbroken and the dreamers.”

Talking about his creative inspirations, he says, “The solitude I felt these past three years living in New York. I moved here with no friends and no real direction of where my life is heading. All of that confusion and longing kind of boiled up into this album. Solitude was my greatest inspiration, the idea of being alone and yet completely satisfied.”

While the album is based on the idea of being content, Julian admits to certain frustrations while reflecting on the evolution of his sound. He says, “I’ve been quite frustrated recently, about my life and the state I’m in, about the environment and my place in it, about love and ultimately just about what I’m going to do to make my time worth it. That frustration and angst has found its way into my sound. I’m currently writing and recording my second record, and it’s a lot more punk. I’m wearing my anger on my sleeve.”

But even the anger doesn’t dim the Dubai-born singer’s excitement and love for music. He explains, “Every time I write a brilliant new song, I kind of feel at peace in the world for at least a day or two. Nothing else really gives me that feeling, except for maybe playing live. I love the feeling of making something that is mine and truly mine. It’s like discovering a new little secret that the world doesn’t know about.”

Having had a year that any artist would dream of—hanging out with and playing his album to Shawn Mendes, meeting Mick Rock for drinks and signing his first record deal—Julian radiates a wisdom and passion that’s sure to take him a long way, with 2020 being only the beginning of what is sure to be a beautiful journey.

Words by Malvika Padin

Stylist: Phoebe Brannick

H&MUA: Laura Pusey

London-based artist Lily Moore wants all her listeners to know “that it’s all going to be OK.” She wants everyone who listens to her music to go away with a smile, feeling like it was worth it.

Going into music with no idea what she’d sound like, 21-year-old Lily has done incredibly well for herself working up to a 2019 that she describes as “busy, fun and exciting.” Having supported George Ezra for two nights at the Royal Albert Hall – as well as supporting Tom Walker on his tour – Lily has already crossed off major points on her bucket list and now returns with her mixtape More Moore.

An extension of Lily’s More Moore club nights, which started out at West London’s fashionable Mau Mau bar before moving recently to a debut night at the legendary 100 Club, the mixtape – much like the club nights – represents the loose, spontaneous nature of Lily’s song writing as she invites friends along to perform and collaborate over drinks.

Explaining the inspiration behind the mixtape, the young talent says, “In Brighton, I knew of so many places where I could just go and sing, so when I moved to London I started my own thing as a way of clinging onto that. The mixtape was a natural extension – one because it’s a lot less pressure than an album, two because it meant it could be collaborative.”

More sure of herself, of the music she wants to make and the kind of artist she wants to be, Lily is excited at the prospect of new music, touring and just making a career out of her passion for music.

Words by Malvika Padin

Stylist: Phoebe Brannick

H&MUA: Georgina Hammed

Coat: Off-White; Sweater: Dsquared2; Pants: J-brand; Sweaters: Lands End; Chains: Martine Ali

“See, me and music got a weird relationship,” Nimic Revenue ventures. “Music became such a big part of my life that now it just is my life.” The 20-year-old rapper from St. Paul, Minnesota, is taking a rare pause from her home studio to chat through her sharp rise that’s found her positioned as the next big thing to break through from the Upper Midwest. In the words of Minnesota mayor Jacob Frey: “This is our next big star.”

Revenue has been doing music “since I was in diapers,” and recorded an entire album with her brother at the age of 11. Struggling with her identity as a teen, she had a habit for getting into trouble and found herself getting locked up nine times, but music always pulled her back. “I just remember it being my only healing mechanism,” she says.

You wouldn’t think it from her face tattoos, but she broke into the rap game through an unconventional entry point: a love of pop. A die-hard Michael Jackson and Prince fan, Revenue also cites the anthems of chart-scaling acts like Linkin Park, Justin Bieber and Owl City as having made an impression on her sound. It’s rap but channelled through a pop prism, and “Butterfly” taps into the country-rap format popularised by “Old Town Road.”

Revenue also rejects the themes that much of hip-hop revolves around these days as “too much about killing people.” Instead, her lyrical content tackles her battles with depression and being an openly gay female rapper at a time when it’s still something of a rarity.

Vest: Private Policy; T-shirt: R13; Pants: Prabal Gurung; Sneakers: Filling Pieces; All Chains: Martine Ali

‘Lifeline,’ her debut EP, came out earlier this year and found her lacing go-to producer Frankie Bash’s beats with her hyper-melodic, sung-rap style. It’s just been replaced with an elongated ‘Reloaded’ version, boasting guest slots from Chief Keef and fellow Def Jam signee DaniLeigh. “Every song (on ‘Lifeline’) has a message in it for everybody all over the world,” she urges.

Her label, AWLORN (standing for ‘A Whole Lot Of Revenue Now’), was created to offer a helping hand rather than, as the name might imply, generate income. “It’s really something to help artists that are struggling, that struggle just like I did. The industry can be scary sometimes because, being young and shit, you don’t know a lot of stuff. One thing that’s really helped me overall is being able to tell these people, like, you could be exactly where I’m at. It takes nothing but focus.”

Words by Felicity Martin

Stylist: Douglas Wright

H&MUA: Kaori Chloe Soda

Lighting Director: Clay Howard Smith

Songwriting can be a hard, thankless task. Performing the role of a cog in the well-oiled music industry machine means that many talented writers never enjoy the glory generated by their song’s performers. L.A.’s Saint Bodhi, however, recently inked a solo deal with Def Jam after earning writing credits for the likes of Beyoncé and ASAP Rocky. “I’m not gonna lie, I was, like, about to piss my fucking pants!” she laughs down the phone about her decision to take things solo. “But you have to take the bull by the horns. … Def Jam is the birth of so much music. It was real.”

The 27-year-old singer-songwriter is cruising around L.A.’s Woodland Hills when I call. She’s running errands, dropping off some mail and seeing her grandma who, it turns out, is pretty cool. “When I was 16, she went to Canada and left me the house for a week,” she remembers. “I threw the craziest house party while they were gone and fucked shit up, people got arrested. … My grandfather was scorching red, but my grandmother just hugged me and acted like nothing happened. She taught me compassion.”

Strong black women like Saint Bodhi’s grandma are the inspiration behind her debut single, “FlowerChild.” It’s a brutally honest portrayal of her childhood growing up in South Central, a place that “can get really dangerous at times—really, really dangerous,” she says. Just as Kendrick did so skillfully on ‘Good Kid, mAAd City,’ ‘FlowerChild’ paints an unflinching portrait of a bleak existence, surrounded by drugs and prostitution: “My daddy bangin’ on the walls / N—a drunk, always throw another fit / I go to 95th / South Central’s where I live / Selling white widow to the kids / Lord, get me out this bitch.”

Her knack for words might come down to the time she spent as a kid badgering her grandfather about the meaning of words in Edgar Allen Poe poems, or her “Tumblr girl phase,” she laughs. There’s an element of Missy in her visuals, too, in their cartoonish, technicolour glory, and ‘FlowerChild’s delirious melodies are one part Erykah Badu and another SZA, yet distinctly her own.

With a promise to “flood my music everywhere,” 2020 is firmly in Saint Bodhi’s sights: “I have a whole project done already. It is a funnel of emotions and experiences that I’ve dealt with in my past. I wanted to show people that it’s OK to speak up for yourself as a woman, and it’s OK if you feel anger sometimes…”

Words by Felicity Martin

Fashion Director: Jenn Tachavichien

H&MUA: Seiya Iibuchi

Stylist Assistant: Misaki Hayashi

A quirky, feel-good brand of indie pop.

Weaving joyful music with impactful, encouraging imagery—the best example being the quirky ’80s-themed music video for latest track “Play It Right,” which pushes forth an anti-bullying message as a young girl finds the confidence to stick up for herself—alt-indie trio KAWALA are a shining example that you can still be powerful without taking yourselves too seriously.

North London-based KAWALA don’t make music with any particular message, happy with whatever a listener wants to take away from their upbeat acoustic sound. But if there’s one thing they hope for, it’s that they are spreading happiness and hope with it.

Speaking about their sound on the back of their latest release “Play It Right,” vocalist Jim Higson describes it as “Happy, sad and everything in between,” while guitarist/vocalist Daniel McCarthy delves a little deeper and says, “It’s always been very rhythmic so when we put the band around it, we just built around what we had. While our sound has definitely become more upbeat and dancey, we’ve maintained the core of our music still being based around the acoustic and two vocals.”

In keeping with their description of their sound, “Play It Right” combines stunning vocal harmonies with upbeat rhythmic guitar to bless listeners with their sonic optimism. Lyrically, Daniel explains, “Ironically, we wrote the track about the struggles of songwriting. The stages and hurdles you have to face while desperately trying to write bangers.” Jim adds, “The song is told from the point of view of our creative conscience, in response to our own creative pressures.”

And while this particular track is drawn from personal experience, that’s not always the case with KAWALA. Talking about what inspires them, they say: “Some are personal, but I’d say we more commonly just try to get creative with our writing and focus more on the song than a personal story. If people create pictures in their minds after listening to our music then we feel like I’ve achieved something.”

On the topic of achievements, two-thirds of KAWALA reminisce about the most memorable moments of their career so far: their amazing live performances, as they became one of the first 50 acts announced at this year’s Great Escape festival in Brighton.

Reflecting on the memories they’ve made, Jim says, “Opening the main stages at Reading and Leeds Festival was pretty mad. I still have no idea how we landed those. Thank you whoever you are!”

Daniel adds, “For me, I’d have to say supporting Dodie on tour earlier this year. Playing such incredible venues such as Barrowlands in Glasgow and Roundhouse, which is around the corner from where I grew up. Also I’ve never experienced such a welcoming and engaged crowd.”

Moving from what they’ve achieved to what they’d love to achieve, both artists echo a similar wish. They exclaim, “Doing a track with Jason Derulo is top priority.” Other than that, their bucket list varies slightly with Daniel wanting to sell out their show Kentish Town Forum and Jim hoping for more collaborative projects.

The two talents also seem to take a different approach to who influences their music. Daniel quotes Carlton Cole as his major inspiration, while Jim goes a more personal route and says, “My parents. They work incredibly hard and have multiple projects on the go at any one time. I want to deploy this same ethic in my own life.”

Having started their musical journey as students at the University of Leeds, KAWALA definitely have advice for their younger selves. Sharing their pearls of wisdom, Daniel cautions against trusting people in the industry right away, and Jim puts out a message that is much-needed in this stressful era of constant evolution and growth: “Don’t take yourself so seriously. Relax.”

From the looks of it, KAWALA are doing everything right. Quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with—raw talent, feel-good messages and charming personalities to top it off—the only way is up for the trio.

Words by Malvika Padin

Stylist: Samuel John Borg

H&MUA: Frances Shillito

As I chat to Carlie Hanson, she tells me that she’s chilling in bed having coffee in her L.A. flat and soaking up her morning. Sounds blissful. However, though Carlie is a popular emerging singer enjoying fame right now, life hasn’t always been this sweet. This little pocket rocket of energy grew up in Onalaska, Wisconsin, in a teeny-tiny town in the middle of nowhere. So, how did she do it? I wanted to find out more about how, at just 19, Carlie Hanson discovered her passion and had the courage to follow it to L.A. and then the rest of the world…

We kicked things off by chatting about her inspirations and influences. I wanted to know how this small-town girl who used to work in McDonald’s managed to hustle her way into the music industry.

“Music has always been a massive part of my life,” she told me. “There was nothing to do where I was from, so I had to find stuff to do. My older brother always enjoyed music, and he had a program on the computer and a keyboard and he wrote a lot too. It was in the family, and I was fully immersed in it. We were always going for long drives with a CD, and music became a tradition.”

However, it was Justin Bieber who made Carlie believe that she could actually do it. “I must’ve been like nine or 10 when Justin Bieber made it big, and I watched how he just took over the world from a young age and his talent spoke to everyone. I loved that and ever since I was 10 years old, that’s what I wanted to do.”

Fast forward a few years, and Carlie is 16 and scrolling through instagram when she saw an ad for a contest asking people to post a cover of Zayn Malik’s “Pillowtalk.” Knowing that this was her passion, she submitted a quick video in her car and before she knew it, the radio station had reposted it to millions of followers.

“That whole thing was crazy. I always wonder where I would be if I had never posted that cover. Off the back of that, my producers saw it and they messaged me and wanted to do some writing sessions. Me and my mom talked to them, and we drove to Canada and I made some songs with them and got introduced to my management. I’m still working with that team.”

Amidst chatting about her exciting touring schedule and travel plans, I managed to ask a few questions about her new release. She was refreshingly honest, and I was energised to find that her impish nature is backed by a very pure outlook. Carlie is edgy and complex, yet open and honest in equal parts.

“I wrote ‘Side Effects’ recently actually—a few months ago. It came from a really raw and emotional place. I had told myself I wouldn’t get into a relationship because I want to focus on myself. But you know how life works, I met someone back home. We were best friends before and we started hanging out and we enjoyed each other’s company.” The track explores the “side effects” that we can often feel after falling hard. It’s full of emotion and truth and is very relatable.

“I wanted to write about how you have to let it be and roll with it when you feel strongly about someone. I was feeling all of those extreme side effects and I’m like here I am again, in love. It’s kind of complicated, long distance thing so it was confusing.”

At present, Carlie is travelling on tour with Lauv and will soon be heading to Australia and New Zealand. I could feel her radiance and excitement as she spoke to me about all of the exciting trips and experiences she’s having—she clearly feels very grateful, which is a lovely energy to project.

With a few more singles and another big project lined up for 2020, it looks like we’ll be hearing more from Carlie very soon.

Words by Laura Stupple

Stylist: Billy Tempest-Radford

H&MUA: Aimee Twist

As I picked up the phone to call Casey Lowry, I thought I’d be in for another long chat with a privileged kid who’d made an EP and wanted me to cover it. I knew his music was very good, but I had an inkling that he might give me rehearsed lines and a boring interview. I was so wrong.

I got pretty much everything about him wrong, actually. Firstly, his ethereal good looks gave me the impression that he would be softly spoken and possibly a little posh, so his delightful Northern twang and gruffly voice was a welcome surprise. As we started to chat, it felt like I was talking to someone I’d known for ages. He’s charmingly confident, but not in a “Mummy and Daddy gave me £5k to record an EP’ way.” When I asked him when he realised he was good he replied, “I still fucking haven’t! I knew I must be alright when Radio 1 picked up on it.” That’s when I realised this would be a fun interview.

With long glossy hair that would rival Samson’s, Casey is the poster child for carefree, youthful living. At just 22, his music is still full of just-post-adolescent excitement and playful undertones. We chatted about where the inspiration for his sound came from, and he told me that when he was younger he “was obsessed with Two Door Cinema Club and similar artists, as well as disco retakes of tracks. I loved listening to happy bands that were emerging in my teen years, especially the small indie bands like Eliza And The Bear. Hilariously, it seems like as I get older and more cynical, every song seems to get angrier and sadder, but I try to keep it upbeat.”

And his new music is definitely upbeat—it’s pretty feel-good if you ask me. Prior to interviewing him I had watched a few of his videos and felt like his beaming smile had jumped out of my laptop screen and contagiously washed sunshine over me. When we caught up, I had that exact same feeling—after a few minutes of chatting I was grinning like a Cheshire cat. His new music captures his cheeky and fun personality, whilst also touching on emotional topics. That combination of an upbeat melody that simultaneously tackles the serious stuff makes this EP quite unique.

Although he’s super humble, his success is becoming harder and harder to hide. “I’m actually in New York at the moment touring America with Conor Maynard. Last night was my first show in the U.S., and it was amazing. I didn’t expect anyone to know me, so when they were all singing to my songs it was such a good feeling.”

His down-to-earth nature completely won me over, and I love that he has such a romantic worldview. He’s an avid traveller and explorer who told me he kind of fell into music. “To be honest, I fell into music because I was shit at everything else. That’s not even a joke, I failed my A-levels. I started off wanting to be a doctor—I don’t know why it just felt like a good thing to say. Then I realised I hated blood and when I had a tattoo I passed out.”

Luckily, Casey’s mum had forced him to learn clarinet from the age of six, so he was already well-versed in the language of music. He started taking writing and playing music more seriously and completely fell in love with it. In just a few short years, Casey has built a music career and is now working with some of his favourite producers. He told me he was over the moon to have his second EP produced by Jim Abbiss, who made albums for Adele, Arctic Monkeys & Kasabian to name a few.

I asked him how he planned to conquer the world (a reasonable question to ask someone you’ve only just met), and he said, “I’ll conquer the world with shits and giggles. I’m hoping they enjoy it, if they don’t fuck ‘em.”

Words by Laura Stupple

Stylist: Phoebe Brannick

H&MUA: Laura Pusey

With a lead role secured in Disney’s upcoming ‘Stargirl,’ Grace VanderWaal is proving herself in the sphere of music.

VanderWaal’s age is frequently cited, and—though I’m sure the 15-year-old is probably tired of hearing about it —it is understandable why. Her music career can be traced back to her performance on America’s Got Talent at age 12. After coming out top of the pile in the talent show, VanderWaal has gone on to release her own material in subsequent years. Alongside her music career, she has recently played the lead role in a film adaptation of Jerry Spinelli’s ‘Stargirl,’ establishing herself as a performer on both the stage and the silver screen.

With a new EP due in March, VanderWaal has recently shared her latest single “I Don’t Like You” via Columbia Records. Produced by Blake Slatkin, “I Don’t Like You” lyrically orientates around the angst of relationships and the duality of both caring for someone whilst also not wishing to see them. VanderWaal herself explains to me that “I Don’t Like You” concerns itself with “having such a caring for someone (but) I don’t necessarily like being around (them).”

Considering VanderWaal’s latest EP is on its way in March, and her latest single has been released recently, I felt it was appropriate to ask where she wants to take her musical career as she moves into adulthood. The impression I gleaned was that VanderWaal hopes to reach a point of musical maturity where she can candidly and clearly articulate her emotions and experiences. “I want to get more and more expressive in the truest way to myself,” she tells me.

Reflecting on how she has developed over the last three years, VanderWaal continues: “I really can now see myself grow in the way of hearing melodically ‘what does anger sound like? What does sadness sound like? What does confusion sound like?’ I think those are really interesting things to experiment with, but I just really want to improve on that.”

We discuss VanderWaal’s recent experience as an actor. After being offered a role in ‘Stargirl,’ and being cast after emailing a video of her reading lines to camera, VanderWaal tells me that “all of a sudden I was in Albuquerque in the blink of an eye.” Although she has interest in acting, music is still VanderWaal’s driving passion. “I don’t want to be an actress,” VanderWaal says, “and I don’t want to do a bunch of acting roles. I would love something to apply that to now.”

On the subject of her acting experience, as well as her musical experiences discussed earlier, it is VanderWaal’s ability to reflect on how she is creatively developing that seems to give her a level of maturity beyond her years. With this, she seems to anticipate how she will develop as she gets older. It made me consider where I’d be now if I’d had a similar level of foresight around that age and wasn’t drinking cheap cider at my local park. VanderWaal continues.

“I feel like I learned so much from just doing that one (acting) experience,” she tells me. “Now I’m very much a person who likes to master something. Just (to) do something and get good at it. I had to be satisfied with it. I feel like now that I’ve done this it’s like ‘OK, I’ve done the practice run, but now I want to do the marathon.’ I really want to do something where I can feel like I’ve used everything I’ve learned.”

Phrased tentatively, I quizzed VanderWaal on how, or rather if, she attempts to maintain some semblance of a normal childhood. With many child actors and stars growing up victim to fame and some of the industry’s darker sides well within cultural memory, it was naturally a concern of mine. WanderWaal tells me that she cannot have a normal childhood. “There’s literally no way for me to,” she tells me. “I just live in the most beneficial way possible.”

“Other than my happiness and stability,” VanderWaal continues, “what are the benefits of having a ‘normal’ childhood? The answer would be to develop normally and not to be crazy and be a diva. The reason why a normal childhood is the standard is so that children will be raised in an OK and stable way. I take that and try and apply it to my life, and try and grow in the most stable way.”

Outside of recording tracks that receive millions of hits on streaming services, performing in front of thousands and starring in a Disney feature film, VanderWaal considers herself a fairly normal teenager within social bounds. “I’m pretty normal,” she says, before pausing and laughing, “like I’m going to go out and get bagels right after this call, and I highly doubt anyone will say anything to me or even look twice.”

“It definitely is hard, though,” she reflects. “I try to, especially socially—and I think that’s the main thing,—be with other children and not always surrounded around adults.”

With her new EP due in March 2020, you can check out VanderWaal’s “I Don’t Like You.”

Words by George Ellerby


Originally published in print inside Volume No. 34

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