Madison Beer’s decade in the music industry has been fraught with public and private drama. Undeterred, the resilient and divisive pop star is running towards the future while therapising her past.
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“I’m in a really good space and mindset,” Madison Beer explains over Zoom from her home in LA. There’s a hopefulness in the air when we speak. The rollout of vaccinations around the world has started to pick up speed and the news cycle’s main item is now being delivered with a slightly less depressing tone.
Madison first came into the spotlight in 2012 after Justin Bieber tweeted about her impressive cover of the Etta James classic ‘At Last’. Bieber is reported to have played an instrumental part in signing the then 13-year-old to Island Records, and into a deal with his manager Scooter Braun. Releasing a handful of singles under this partnership, she quickly realised her voice wasn’t being heard.
It's a voice she’s learnt to rely on and trust over these past ten years. Whether she’s transforming trauma into lyrics she can belt out on stage, making the final call on which track becomes a single or giving herself a pep talk on days when it seems like the world is against her, Madison channels everything into her music.
“I have a very big voice that I use, and I know when to use it,” she explains, discussing the power she’s earned through her previous struggles to manifest her vision into reality. “I know what I’m saying and that feels really good… I realised that it’s my career, it’s my face and my name and I have to be proud of everything I’m doing.”
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With no veritable line to draw between Madison Beer the artist and Madison Beer the person, she remembers a constant feeling of anxiety. “I was always kind of sad, and I think a big reason for that was because my heart and my mind were being put up for [sale] and it was like you don’t get to say anything.”
Opposed to forfeiting her integrity and becoming a Disney-esque star, Madison shone as an independent artist. Her already dedicated fans and social media following quickly jumped aboard when she re-emerged with ‘Dead’, the lead single from her 2018 EP ‘As She Pleases’.
“There's different moments that I let different versions of myself step up and take the floor,” Madison explains, when it comes to addressing rumours, sharing a personal moment with her fans or making huge business decisions, Madison’s focus shifts as the trials and tribulations of her past have taught her valuable lessons.
Three years on, now with major label backing and full creative control, she’s transformed the ups and downs of her rollercoaster life into her 17-track debut, ‘Life Support’. Communicated through the loose conceptual lens of a break-up, Madison tells me “the album was my best way of telling my story, every time I try to articulate it outside of making music I can never fit [in] as much as I want to say.”
Sorrow, heartbreak and hope are scattered through the record’s lyrics and there’s a genuine openness to her songwriting, especially when it comes to her mental health, something which Madison admits has been difficult to talk about. “I’ve discussed them, as much as I can and as much as I’m comfortable with and it’s been pretty hard,” she says.
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As intended, album standout ‘Effortlessly’ does a lot of the heavy lifting through its lyrics alone. Documenting her diagnosis with borderline personality disorder, her subsequent relationship with medication, the track also deals with self-harm. It’s not an easy listen once you read between the lines, but it’s potentially the most important track Madison has released to date. Beautiful in its composition, as a listener progressing through the album, she reassures you that things can and do get better.
It’s followed by ‘Stay Numb And Carry On’ which she describes as “tongue-in-cheek, [referencing] those cheesy t-shirts that say things like keep calm and carry on.” It’s about being told to “never show somebody how you’re actually feeling,” she adds, “I think that’s a narrative which is pushed on people, like don’t have feelings, don’t have emotion.”
Not one to shy away from spelling out what her lyrics mean, the pop star knows that leaving things open to interpretation isn’t always the best step for your art… “I didn’t know if people were gonna understand the irony of it,” she adds, “I’m just very happy that my fans are so receptive and they really do get it, it’s been very eye-opening.”
“I’m somebody who used to care, much more, about what people thought and it would literally keep me up at night,” she adds, referencing the handful of social media takedowns she’s combatted and myths she’s debunked. “Knowing that so many people had such false misconceptions about me… it would break my heart.”
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Thanks to therapy, the continued support of her team, fans and family, this is something Madison has worked on, summarising her healthier outlook, she knows “if I’m out here doing as much as I can humanly do to showcase my true colours, if people don’t want to see it and people don’t care to, then I can’t force it down people’s throats.”
Focused on her positive relationship with herself and her fans, this closeless she has to her most ardent supporters makes Madison feel “pretty indestructible.”
“They see me and they hear me,” she explains, “they know me and my heart and I think that’s a very beautiful and important thing.” She counts it as a blessing, adding that “they’ve given me a lot of motivation to keep going.”
This community is something which Madison now uses as her true north. “I don’t play the numbers game anyone,” she shares, “obviously [the album] debuted at number in many countries and I was screaming my head off, but I think I’ve learnt to value my fans.” She knows if they’re reacting in a positive way, “if it’s helping and healing and touching people, that’s a win.”
A far cry from the road she was initially on, Madison remembers the healing power music holds for her, “[I’ve] relied on music since before I can remember,” she says “so I want to create music, that hopefully people around the world can rely on as well. That’s my ultimate goal.”
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Aside from the escape and relief Madison experiences when she puts her headphones on, music was a part of her life before she began creating it herself. With a passion for musical theatre she remembers monumental occasions like the first time she saw Wicked and The Addams Family on Broadway, and her first forays into performing at summer camp.
“I felt like I always wanted to be a singer and I felt like that was always my destiny, to create music” she recalls. “I didn’t know if I was going to do pop music or be on Broadway, but that was my dream.”
And for a while it was just a dream, “it seemed way out of my reach as a random kid from Long Island,” she says acknowledging the way it happened all was surreal, but now she’s keen not to lose the Madison who saw those shows.
Her love for all things theatrical is set to trickle into the live shows she’s planning around ‘Life Support’, inspired by the visual oddities of Melanie Martinez and her K-12 tour, Madison lets slip that, as soon as it’s safe to do so, she has big plans.
Another visual inspiration is Lady Gaga, and notably her jaw-dropping performance of ‘Paparazzi’ at the MTV VMAs back in 2009. It’s also the moment when Madison began to realise her pop star ambitions, she remembers thinking “I need to do things like this.” “It was so creative, and so groundbreaking and I felt like it was so artistic,” she continues, “I understood the message even as a young, little girl and that’s a moment I can always recall.”
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Being able to perform these songs to fans is what Madison describes as coming full circle. “It’s honestly the most meaningful part of it all,” she reveals, “I really sat in the room creating [these songs] and now I’m on a stage with thousands of people singing it back to me, it’s so fulfilling.”
It’s something she’s thinking about right from the moment she starts work on a new song. How will it feel live? As well as picturing the artwork and music video treatment, “there are certain songs where you just know this is gonna be so crazy live,” she smiles. “That’s a huge part of my process, envisioning what it’s going to look like on stage.”
I remind her of the first time she played in London, three sold-out shows at Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen packed into a single Sunday afternoon in June 2017, which sounds exhausting, but to Madison it was one of the most exciting things she’d done up to that point. – “I felt like I was not worthy of all these kids coming to my show,” she laughs, “it was so crazy.” Knocking out her first three headline shows, all sold-out, with the 200-capacity room filled to bursting, the decision to keep things small just added to the hype.
“To think back to that and where I’m at now, sometimes I lose sight of where it started,” she admits. “It’s nice to remind myself and remember when [I was] literally mind blown by selling 200 tickets, that makes me so emotional. It makes me so proud to see the progress that I’ve made and I just hope to continue, because I’m really honoured to have such loyal fans.”
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Self-care is a theme which runs through ‘Life Support’, and it becomes even more present in the second half of the record, notably thanks to ‘Homesick’ which ends with a sample from Madison’s favourite TV show. “It’s a very metaphorical song… about how I feel disconnected from people all the time,” she explains, “and Rick and Morty touched on that a lot.”
Having had the show recommended by friends during a time she was going through a really bad episode of anxiety, Madison states “they were a really big part of my healing process and my ability to get back on my feet.” Swimming, long baths and even karaoke helped too. “There’s certain routine things that I do all the time that help me stay afloat.”
Though seeing a therapist regularly, through her songwriting, Madison and her collaborators act as an outlet for each other too. “They definitely serve as therapy for me,” she adds, “they’re who I vent to,” with co-executive producer Leroy Clampitt being one of Madison’s closest confidants.
“I thoroughly enjoy working with him due to the fact he’s so collaborative,” listed as a producer on all tracks Madison explains “there’s not a lot of people who are down for that,” given that most of her input was verbal rather than hands on. But she played a key role in making the album sound the way it did, which of course deserves to be rewarded.
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We’re set to hear more from this creative relationship sooner rather than later as Madison reveals her second album, tentatively set for release later this year, “is almost done.”
“I’m really eager to get it out, it’s its own sound and it’s very new,” she adds. Drawing inspiration from the music of the ‘50s, she explains how it’s a decade of sounds and artists she’s always turned to in her life, often for comfort, but something she hasn’t fully incorporated into her own music until now.
“It’s not too different from ‘Life Support’, but it’s pretty different,” she hints. Determined, focused and working harder than ever Madison is following her own example and she strides into an exciting new chapter. Leaving behind some of the turmoil she channeled in ‘Life Support’ behind, one thing is clear, Madison’s overall vision hasn’t changed while putting together the new album.
“I’m trying to make music that I feel good about and that feels like it’s me, so I guess we’ll see where that takes me.”
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Words: Matthew Kent
Photography: Meg Myfanwy Young
Fashion: Scot Louie
Glam: Meli D. and Brooke Hill
Creative Direction: Rob Meyers
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