In a post-internet world, what’s up with pop? We live in a world where we are defined by our Google search results, where streams have surpassed album sales in importance, and where a well-curated Instagram account is as crucial as a well-produced music video. It often seems that the role of musician is taking a backseat to the role of influencer, to the detriment of the music. In a past life, during the primordial stages of social media, I worked with early influencers, in a culture of characters that built their careers solely off of appearances and association. Any mention of politics and sexual liberation were deemed far too taboo. Hollowed, I left in search of something that was more impactful for future generations. So I have to admit I’m a bit biased.
Cut to a particularly humid day at the Hollywood Roosevelt. I’m on my way to interview Madison Beer, fresh off headlining her sold out, 30-city international tour. I knew the mythology—you might as well—but, I admit, I was worried that in my campaign to find hope for the future I might hit a dead end with Beer, that this was going to be another fill-in-the-blanks story of internet stardom. I needn’t have worried. Following further research, it became clear that Beer not only possesses true talent, but is also in command of a palpable sense of self-possession that illuminates her in sharp contrast against the hazy, over-produced background of contemporary pop. My diminished expectations for the new generation of emerging pop artists, I realized, is a double standard. Why don’t I think the same about musicians from past generations, who spent as much time getting drunk and going after groupies as they did writing songs? Beer, I come to understand, isn’t spreading herself thin—she’s strong enough to take it all on. And rather than letting a big record label define her, she’s using the tools of social media to take command of her own identity.
While we sit in a sultry, dimly-lit room by the Tropicana pool, her fluffy new puppy Zero bounces around the carpet. Madison is bubbly and conversational, but she sternly manages her pup, making sure it doesn’t pee on the cabana floor. After the sound of hair guru Aaron Light’s blow dryer shaping the Sophia Loren wig goes quiet, we begin to chat. I tell her of my delight in her approach to pop: an unadulterated vision plus a one-in-a-million voice. She is a unique force, standing out in a crowd of those preoccupied with just being cute, speaking only when spoken to. Beer is adamant that she is in control of her identity. “I have such a strong sense of my artistry and I want that to be conveyed. I don’t want people to think that I’m just a product of the industry I want people to understand that I actually love music and music has been my life.”
Beer’s personal crusade is clear and direct. She offers a guiding light to girls in search of a similar sense of self-possession. Her videos display the typical visuals of our zeitgeist—rebellious PYTs, skate parks, dirt bikes, coy over-the shoulder glances at the camera—but instead of vying for affection, her statement is confrontational. In her new single ‘Home With You,’ she sings, I’m not being rude, can you give me my space/ ‘Cause I do what I wanna do/ And I’m not going home with you. It’s a stark contrast to the sentiments of pop ballads past—remember Britney’s “I’m a Slave 4U?” “I want people to watch my stuff and my videos and even read interviews and see the way I am. I feel like a lot of fans of mine, and even myself when I was younger, I kind of wasn’t able to say no to certain things,” she tells me. “I felt scared and pressured to— let’s say hook up with a guy—because I didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or I didn’t have enough confidence to say no. I want to never let girls who are fans of mine make that same mistake, and I want them to realize they have the right to say no, and if they are put in an uncomfortable situation, they can walk away from it.”
Her 2017 single “Say It To My Face” flipped the script on the typical pop music video. Cast as a worshipped tyrant, surrounded by a harem of shirtless men—men cleaning her kitchen, giving her massages, tied up to her bed—Beer is the queen of her castle. Emancipating women one obsequious, shirtless man at a time.
At just 19 years old, Beer is the first independent female solo artist to ever break the top 20 radio charts. Hitting #19 by age 19 is a feat we can attribute to her uncompromising vision. “Being independent, you do everything. I create everything—everything that you see is me. My cover art for ‘As She Pleases’ was shot in the elevator in my apartment building on my friend’s point-and-shoot film camera. I made the font, I made the edit, I made my entire tour design, I made the stage set, I directed my music video and I edited it. I do everything myself; it’s not even an exaggeration. My entire team could tell you,” she explains. “I do so much that I don’t necessarily have to be doing because, now that I am independent, I really want to make sure that everything I do portrays the most accurate representation of me possible. ‘Home With You’ was a demo, I didn’t write ‘Home With You,’ but I still took it, I made the edit, and I changed certain lyrics to match my style. I made it more for me.”
With business-minded parents and a no-nonsense NYC upbringing, Beer’s uncompromising autonomy comes naturally. “I found myself moving into that space when I first became independent. I had a song called ‘Something Sweet,’ which was my first independent release. I remember it was just me and mom managing my career. My mom is an interior designer from New York; she’s not from the music industry or anything of the sort. We were trying to have just us and my fan base just do it. It was kind of scary and super intimidating. For a long time we felt like this was never going to work without a label—slowly but surely it began to. People liked that I was doing it on my own.”
After a stint with a large management team, Beer, along with her family, decided to go with what was best for her career. It seems to have been the right choice, and being independent hasn’t limited her ambition in the slightest—she just headlined Lollapalooza, recently wrapped an international tour, and maintains a social media following numbering in the 16 millions. “I was signed with the biggest manager, arguably in the world, and it didn’t work out with him. A lot of people could have just said, ‘Well this is the end of the line, I could give up, I’m just 15 years old.’ I could go to school and party and be with my friends and date boys and do what 15 year olds do, but instead I made a decision to say music is my number one and that’s what I want to dedicate my life to. So I moved to LA and never went to summer camp again.”
As the photo shoot commences we are forced to wrap our conversation. With the reins of her musical career taut around her hands, I ask a final question: what does Madison Beer see for herself in the future? Giddy, she answers, “I would love to do something with Rick and Morty or be a voice of something... I feel like I am never going to be fully satisfied until I have like a TV show, and a movie, and I’m directing. I want to be the next Quentin Tarantino.” I, for one, won’t make the mistake of underestimating her again.