Madison Beer: “I have a voice and it deserves to be heard”

The Gen-Z superstar on holding her own in the music biz, why we need more forgiveness online and making a statement with her brutally honest debut album ‘Life Support’

Madison Beer knows that some people have misconceptions about her. Though she has nine years in the music game and a clutch of Gold and Platinum singles to her name, including last year’s dazzling ballad ‘Selfish’, the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter is sometimes misleadingly described as an “influencer”.

This is partly due to her colossal social media presence – she has 22.6million followers on Instagram, and 13.7million on TikTok – and partly because she deals with being frequently “cancelled” by confronting the problem herself on Twitter. Beer isn’t a pop star who hides behind PR statements or tries to cultivate old-school mystique.

“You know, sometimes someone will meet me and be like, ‘Wow, you’re much smarter than I thought,’” she tells NME. This might sound like a humblebrag if it weren’t followed by some crushing honesty: “But even though people can sometimes meet me and be pleasantly surprised, it does make me sad as well. For a long time I’ve been trying to prove my intelligence and artistry and the fact that I’m someone who should be taken seriously. That does get a bit exhausting because I shouldn’t have to be constantly proving that to people.”

NME Cover 2021 Madison Beer
Credit: Jonathan Weiner for NME. Shirt: Vivienne Westwood, Corset: Andreas Kronthaler for Vivienne Westwood Jacquard corset, Rings: Boneye Jewelry, Mon Cher Moi, Earrings: Jiwinaia

Beer says she hopes her debut album, ‘Life Support’, will prove once and for all that she’s a “legitimate artist”. It’s definitely strong enough to do so: unfolding languidly over 17 tracks, it’s a bold and ambitious pop-R&B record with lots of surprising moments. Though the sad-eyed ballad ‘Blue’ owes a debt to Lana Del Rey and Beer’s angelic vocals have an Ariana Grande-like quality on ‘Effortlessly’, the overall impression is distinctive, not derivative. Just shy of her 22nd birthday, Beer sounds like an artist who’s pushing herself musically and pouring her heart out in the process.

Here’s a little pill, here’s a little fix it all,” she sings on ‘Effortlessly’, referencing her experiences with mental health issues and prescription meds – Beer was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2019. She’s equally plain-speaking on ‘Stay Numb And Carry On’, telling an ex: “Truth is, it was never love / Your fault if you thought it was.” Later, the album pings from her hit break-up ballad ‘Selfish’ to the industrial stomp of ‘Sour Times’, then from electro-glam on ‘Boyshit’ to seductive R&B on ‘Baby’. It’s a thrilling listen that feels cohesive because Beer is so compellingly honest throughout. When on ‘Boyshit’ she tells an immature male, “I don’t speak boyshit”, you’ll wish you’d thought of the put-down yourself.

NME Cover 2021 Madison Beer
Madison Beer on the cover of NME

Along the way, she’s also pretty imaginative. ‘Homesick’, a balmy ballad written from the viewpoint of an alien trapped on earth, ends with a sample from Beer’s “favourite show ever”, Rick & Morty. “I wanted to make an album that was just purely ‘Madison’,” she says. “Me and my writers were like: ‘What song can we make that no one else could?’ That was the idea the whole way through.” Beer doesn’t just have co-writes throughout ‘Life Support’; she also has co-production credits – a rarity for a pop artist on her first album.

She says that though she’s no dab hand at Logic Pro or Pro Tools, she definitely had a clear musical vision. “[My collaborators] would send me a song, and I’d be like: ‘Can you add this and change this?’ So I was very heavily involved with a lot of the production notes,” she says. “I do think I deserve the [production] credit, but I think it also says something about the people that I work with: that they don’t have egos that get in the way of stuff. Because there are a lot of producers in the industry who would be like: ‘Fuck no! I’m not giving you a producer credit.’”

In the past, Beer says that music industry gatekeepers weren’t quite so willing to listen to her opinions. “When I was younger, I felt silenced in almost every room I would step into,” she says. “Everyone was like, ‘Oh sweetheart, we know better than you – you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ And that didn’t feel good at all.”

NME Cover 2021 Madison Beer
Credit: Jonathan Weiner for NME. Full outfit: Dolce & Gabbana via Albright Fashion Library Los Angeles, Rings: Bondeye Jewelry, Shoes: Dr. Martens

Beer’s career began in earnest nine years ago when she started posting covers on YouTube. According to industry folklore, Justin Bieber was so impressed with her rendition of Etta James’ ‘At Last’ that he tweeted it, then signed her personally to his record label, Island Records. So at 13 years old, Beer swapped Long Island for Los Angeles, where she still lives today. Bieber also appeared in the video for her 2013 debut single, the perfectly serviceable pop banger ‘Melodies’, and for a time she was managed by his manager, Scooter Braun. But the label’s attempt to mould her into a “very pop, very Disney queen” sat uncomfortably with Beer, and by 2016 she and Island Records had parted ways.

She released her edgier, R&B-leaning debut EP, ‘As She Pleases’, as an independent artist before signing a new deal with Epic Records the following year. By this point, Beer already had two Gold US singles under her belt: the anti-bullshit break-up song ‘Dead’ and the coolly empowering tropical bop ‘Home With You’. “Why you persistent? You know I am not gonna sleep with you,” she sang on the latter.

With age and experience, Beer says she has learned “how to stand my ground” in rooms full of record executives who think they know better. “But I’ve also learned how to pick my battles,” she adds. “You can’t always stand up and say: ‘I need to be heard now.’ Because there are certain times when they probably do know better than me. I’m at a point now where I’m almost 10 years into this game, and I have a voice that I think deserves to be heard. But for a very long time, I felt very silenced by older men in the industry who actually didn’t know what they were talking about and steered me in all the wrong directions.”

“Being ‘cancelled’ is so triggering and traumatising and scary”

More recently, Beer has sometimes felt “bullied” online. “The worst for that is TikTok, which in my opinion has sparked this whole new wave of bullies,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll see a video of myself on my ‘For You’ page and I want to scroll past it as fast as I can. Because I know if I look at it, the comments are going to be horrible and hateful to me and below the belt. That stuff is really tough for me to look at.” (A statement on TikTok’s website reads, “Online bullying can take many forms, from a trolling video to an unwanted comment… It’s important to us that users feel safe and comfortable within the TikTok community,” before offering users advice on how to “control your TikTok experience”.)

Even the staunchest Madison Beer stan would concede that she is sometimes a polarising online presence. Beer says she has opened Twitter to find #MadisonBeerIsOverParty trending “probably five or six times over the course of the past few years”. It happened most recently last June when Beer had to deny using a Black Lives Matter protest as a photo opportunity. “I will not allow anyone to make me protesting day after day into something it is NOT,” she tweeted, alongside screenshots in which a photographer said he was being “sarcastic” when he told media outlets that his photo of Beer at the rally was a “set-up”.

NME Cover 2021 Madison Beer
Credit: Jonathan Weiner for NME. Full outfit: Marc Jacobs, Bracelet: SHAY jewelry, Rings: David Yurman, Jennifer Fisher, Bondeye Jewelry, Shoes: Giuseppe Zanotti

In the same month, Beer caused a furore by saying she “romanticised” the controversial novel Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial 1955 novel about a middle-aged professor’s obsessive sexual relationship with his 12-year-old stepdaughter, and later apologised on Twitter. She was also supposedly “caught” by paps outside an L.A. cosmetic surgery clinic.

On Twitter, she told fans that she was at the clinic “for a consultation to get a mole removed”, something “I shouldn’t even need to clarify cuz it’s my business”. When I ask why some people seem to be so fixated on her appearance, Beer’s response is both nuanced and bullish.

“There’s a lot of layers to it, but I think we live in a society that is fixated on how people look more than anything else,” she says. “With me, the conversation tends to lean towards: ‘Oh, she’s pushing a false beauty standard if she’s had work done and not telling us about it.’ There are people out there who think I’ve had my whole face reconstructed, which is just so funny to me. But I think that’s such a counterproductive argument. Just because people follow you on social media, that doesn’t mean you should feel obligated to make a post saying: ‘Hey guys, I just got my boobs done.’ It’s no one’s business but your own.”

“It’s been a long journey, but I’ve come through the other side stronger. I’m a fighter”

Beer also argues that the pressure to be “open” about cosmetic procedures has a toxic side effect. “I’m seeing girls who don’t want to deal with the same backlash I had – ‘Oh, you got lip filler and didn’t say anything’ – posting videos of themselves getting injections at 16 years old,” she says. “How are we not seeing how much more damaging that is to young women? That’s basically saying, like, ‘Hey, to be pretty, this is what you should do.’” For the record, Beer insists she has always been “transparent” about any cosmetic enhancement: “I came out and said, ‘I got my lips done, hated the way they looked, got them dissolved, and have never done anything since. But I think some people just can’t accept that’s true.”

Though #MadisonBeerIsOverParty hasn’t trended again since June, the repeated “cancellations” have clearly taken a toll on Beer. “At this point, it’s so triggering and traumatising and scary – there aren’t really words for it,” she says. “There have been times where it’s trended and I’ve been like: ‘You guys are spewing shit out of your mouth; you have no idea what you’re talking about and nothing you say has any validity to it.”

Still, she appears to acknowledge that sometimes it has provided an opportunity for personal growth: “If there’s ever been a time where someone has said, ‘Hey, I’m actually really disappointed in you and hurt by this’, it makes me sad, because that’s never my intention.” After the Lolita row, she said that she needed to be more “mindful of other people’s experiences”.

NME Cover 2021 Madison Beer
Credit: Jonathan Weiner for NME. Shorts: Viviene Westwood via What Goes Around Comes Around

Given the number of times she’s been “over”, it’s no surprise that Beer has a well-defined position on so-called ‘cancel culture’. “I said something recently about it on my Instagram that luckily people agreed with and didn’t cancel me for,” she says with a wry laugh. “I basically said that we should set ground rules. There are things that are inexcusable and that you can’t forgive and that should make us re-question who we give platforms to. There are things that cross the line of what could be called ‘a human mistake’ and I 100 per cent understand that.

“But,” she continues, “there are also so many instances that I see where it’s just [driven by] this mob mentality, where we basically bully this person and ‘cancel’ them for something that’s kind of an innocent mistake or something they did when they were way younger. We’re never going to be a progressive society if we keep on trying to tear each other down.”

NME Cover 2021 Madison Beer
Credit: Jonathan Weiner for NME. Necklace: Graziela

For Beer, the threat of trolls tearing her down still induces a sense of panic. She says she gets an “anxiety attack” if her phone suddenly starts buzzing in the middle of the night in case another #MadisonBeerIsOverParty is raging. She explains that this anxiety is heightened because it triggers an incredibly painful memory from her teenage years: “I remember being 14 and getting a phone call in the middle of the night from my friend saying that she was just sent a nude of me,” she recalls. “I was so upset and freaked out.”

For years, she says, she was “riddled with anxiety every single day, just waiting for these videos to leak online”. So when an intimate video from the same period began circulating last year, Beer decided to take control of the situation by sharing an incredibly honest post about having her trust abused by a boy she had sent private Snapchats to.

“I want to be that person who can be honest about things like that,” she explains today. “There are so many artists who [project an image of]: ‘No, I’m perfect, and I don’t do things like that’. And maybe those are the ones who actually do the worst things behind closed doors.” Instead she posted her experience on International Women’s Day: “I said, ‘Let’s shame the fucking boys who took your trust and shared a picture of you that was private’. I got such an overwhelming response for that. So many women said, ‘Thank you’.”

“We live in a society that is fixated on how people look more than anything else”

Beer has also spoken with bracing honesty about her mental health issues and says she has no fear of opening up – actually, she thinks people like it when she’s “just really candid”. Recalling the incredibly difficult period she went through after being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2019, she told NME last year: “I was in a dark fucking place and I genuinely wanted to die. My team around me was super supportive, I would sometimes go in the studio, we’d be in there for eight or nine hours and I would just be crying, ranting or raving about how I’ve never been this depressed and I don’t know what to do.”

“People were very receptive to what I was saying, and I think it made a lot of sense to them,” she says today. “I think I’ll forever be accused of not being ‘real’ and ‘doing things for attention’, but hopefully over time those people will start to realise that’s not ever been who I am.”

NME Cover 2021 Madison Beer
Credit: Jonathan Weiner for NME. Boots: Schutz

Beer says she’s in “a better place” now and benefited from talking about her borderline personality order: “I felt a little bit guilty prior to opening up just because I am so close and so transparent with my fan base. I thought, when I disappear on social media for a month, they have no idea what’s going on. And then they’re sad, because they’re like, ‘Where did our girl go?’, and I’m sitting here depressed or, you know, in a psych ward or something.” While it’s important for her to be honest with her fans, she’s also drawn a red line for herself. “I only want to talk about things when I know I’m ready to,” she explains.

With all those Gold and Platinum singles to her name, and with the brutally honest ‘Life Support’ here to set the record straight once and for all, what would Madison Beer like to replace the misconceptions about her? “I’d like people to think of me as an artist who stays true to herself,” she says. “And as a mental health advocate, because that’s a really honourable thing that I would really be flattered to take on. I’d also like people to realise that I’m someone who’s been put through the wringer by the industry. It’s been a very long journey for me, and not an easy one, but I’ve come through the other side stronger. I’m definitely a fighter.”

Madison Beer’s ‘Life Support’ is out now

CREDITS

Makeup by Etienne Ortega
Hair by Melissa Dominguez
Styling by Kristina Fe