NME Radar: Breakout

Bea Miller: political pop to inspire millennial masses

After nearly a decade in a game, the 21-year-old enters the next phase of her career completely unafraid to say what's on her mind

Each week in Breakout, we talk to the emerging stars blowing up right now – whether it be a huge viral moment, killer new track or an eye-popping video – these are the rising artists certain to dominate the near future

Bea Miller is worrying about getting old. Her new song ‘Wisdom Teeth’, a Lorde-meets-Billie Eilish belter taken from upcoming EP ‘elated!’, sees the New Jersey-born singer examine the loss of childhood innocence she felt after having her wisdom teeth removed. She’s just 21, by the way.

“I remember making some kind of joke in the studio that pulling out my wisdom teeth makes me feel old,” Miller explains over Zoom from her home in LA. “And I know this is stupid, because I’m young!”

“I was on a whole rant about how we get dumber as we get older in some ways, because we lose touch with our creativity and our imagination and our ability to ignore the opinions of other people. When I was a little kid, I didn’t give a shit about other people.”

The slick pop tune is a tasty glimpse of her upcoming EP, and of the journey so far. Miller first appeared on the US version of The X Factor in 2012, aged 13, and since released two albums, a bevvy of EPs, collaborations with the likes of UK duo Snakehips and US rapper 6lack, and a whopping 1.7 billion streams. But, crucially, ‘elated!’ shows a side to Miller that’s yet to be uncovered; one that’s fiercely political and unafraid to get personal.

On the eve of her revelatory new release, NME catches up with Miller to talk politics, the new EP and growing up in the public eye.

Your new EP ‘elated!’ is out on Friday. How long have you been cooking that up?

“I’ve been working on that EP for close to two years now. Originally we thought we were going to put on an album, and then as we went along, we were like ‘maybe we should start with something a little bit more digestible’, because it’s quite a change from my previous music. And I didn’t necessarily want to shove too much of that down people’s throats without giving them a taste of ‘here’s kind of where I’m thinking of heading with my music, and what do you guys think about it?’”

What’s changed?

“Musically, as much as it’s very different from the things I’ve done before, it still makes sense as part of my artistry and my progression. I think lyrically is what I was concerned about. I’ve always written about my own life, I’ve always written the truth, I’ve never just made up a story for the sake of being relatable; but I have altered my stories or taken details out in my lyrics to make them more universally understood.

I think in the past I was really afraid of speaking my full truth. And now I don’t feel afraid anymore. I feel hopeful that it still connects to people, because above all is the most important thing to me, but I don’t feel scared. I’m not really scared of getting cancelled over my lyrical content in the same way that I used to be.”

“People had this idea that a young woman in pop music should not be sharing her worldly views”

Have you ever been in the studio and had somebody tell you how you should be writing?

“I’ve had moments in the studio where I wanted to share something, or even use a certain BPM or a certain sound. Where in the past, when I was writing with a larger group of people because I was newer to writing and I hadn’t exactly found my people yet.

I was younger, too. I think that a lot of times people were very afraid of that, because whether they would admit it or not, I think people had this idea that a young woman in pop music should not be sharing her worldly views, and that maybe nobody even cares about a 16-year-old girl’s opinion of the world. And I think that a lot of people care about that. I think other 16-year-old girls of the world care about that!”

There’s a lyric on the song ‘Hallelujah’ where you sing “how am I supposed to work on myself/when there are Nazis in the big White House”…

“I never get nervous writing lines, but I get nervous after I write the song and I’m listening back to it a couple days or a couple of months later. I’m thinking to myself ‘hmm should I really say that? Is it going to offend people in a way that’s genuinely uncool?’

Personally, I would place a lot of the people in the White House in a similar kind of fucked up little bubble. But I didn’t know if that was taking away from the seriousness of one thing by equating it with the other. I had a moment where I was like, ‘maybe we should change this to something else’, but I don’t know. As time has gone on since we wrote the song it’s just become more and more and more relevant.”

Bea Miller
Credit: Gina Manning

How much do the politics of the US impact you as a young artist?

“I think it scares me more as a young person. I had legitimate conversations with my mum recently where she basically said if we need to pack our bags and get out, we’re gonna go and we’re gonna find somewhere else to live. Especially after [Supreme Court Judge] Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away. I know all of my friends who are young women felt really horrified by that because of the things that can be taken away for our rights.

On top of that, generally to have been living in a country for the past four years that is run by somebody who is so blatantly disrespectful to most groups of human beings is really sickening and embarrassing and frightening. And I can’t say that I have a strong feeling that it’s going to get any better anytime soon, which is also really hard to say.

‘Feel Something’ went viral on TikTok, but there’s a growing sense that artists are tailor-making music with 15 catchy seconds for the platform. How do you feel about that?

“I hate that to be honest. I noticed sometimes now when I listen to certain artists’ new song I literally think to myself ‘this was written for TikTok’ and that infuriates me. And as much as I think it’s really cool that this app has the power to connect the artist to the rest of the world more than just their own fans, I don’t necessarily think that artists should be writing songs with the intention of them blowing up on TikTok. You would hope they always write songs that they love and that they lyrically mean and stand behind, and then just kind of hope that it connects on TikTok.”

How did your experience on The X Factor as a teenager impact you?

“Sometimes it really scares me, because I realised that out of nowhere, I went from nobody caring about what I was doing or looking up to me in anyway, to many people watching what I was doing it and telling me they were inspired by me, which is really cool; but at the same time scary, because I make mistakes all the time.

I get scared sometimes to Tweet certain things, because I’m like, ‘it’s important that I say this, but also I don’t want this to be taken out of context and for it to affect people in a negative way’. Sometimes I get nervous that if I do something, because I’m just a human doing things and sometimes making mistakes, other people will look at that and be like, ‘oh my gosh, I should also do that’. And I’m like: ‘No no no, I was just fucking around!’”

Bea Miller’s new EP ‘elated!’ is out October 23


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