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Madison Beer: A Rising Pop Star Looks Past Her Bubblegum Roots

Singer discusses being dropped from first label contract at 16 and her long-finished debut album, ‘Life Support’

Courtesy of Madison Beer

Madison Beer has been hunkered down on Long Island since the coronavirus pandemic led to lockdowns across the country. The 21-year-old rising pop star has spent her time picking up hobbies: learning French, chipping away at a long list of movies she’s been wanting to watch. Between activities, she’s been looking back and caring for her mental health.

“This is a scary and difficult time for a lot of people, including myself,” she says, calling from her home. “So I’m making sure that I’m aware of when I spiral or get upset.”

Self-reflection is also helping prepare Beer for a major career milestone: the release of her debut full-length album, Life Support, which has been finished and ready to put out for months. But Beer’s fans have been patient with her for eight years now: The singer was signed to Island at age 13 after Justin Bieber discovered her singing Etta James on YouTube. Being signed to a label, of course, didn’t mean Beer was automatically shot into superstardom. She was put on the Radio Disney bubblegum-pop track due to her young age, but had more soulful aspirations in the vein of the icons she had been covering on YouTube, like James and Lauryn Hill.

“I was always told, ‘Well, one day when you’re older, you’ll be able to make that stuff,’ ” she says. “But then I realized that I don’t need to be older to do it.”

She started verbalizing her feelings about her sound and refused to align with the box she had been put in, leading to a planned album being scrapped. By 16, with only a few singles released, Island dropped her, leaving Beer with unfulfilled buzz and an uncertain future. “I felt like I had failed. Especially at 16 years old, obviously it feels like everything is the end of the world, so it just felt like everyone had given up on me,” Beer says. “It really hurt and discouraged me in a lot of ways.”

Instead of quitting the business, she found a way to make do on her own. Beer persisted as an independent artist, partnering with entertainment company First Access to release her debut EP, 2018’s As She Pleases, and a string of singles that have helped her rack up more than a billion streams on Spotify. Her music during the past year has become more focused on what authenticity means to her, while turning a mirror on beauty standards (“Dear Society”), toxic relationships (“Selfish”), and mental health (“Stained Glass”). In the midst of releasing those songs, she found a new home at Epic, while still retaining her creative freedom.

“With my album, I made a promise to myself that this is going to be my time to express honestly and truthfully how I’ve been feeling. I could finally tell my story the way I wanted to tell it and touch on things like medications that are harmful for young adults that I’ve been put on, and real shit I’ve never been able to talk about,” she says, referring to still-unreleased songs. 

As she gears up for Life Support, Beer is returning to songs she’s been sitting on since long before signing to Epic last year, including her most recently released track, “Stained Glass.” She had recorded it in 2018, but while sitting at home in quarantine, she sang a snippet on Instagram Live. Fans demanded its immediate release, filling up the comments on Epic’s own Instagram page until she put it out officially in late March.

“I remember as we were writing it, I wanted to be open about how I’ve been put up for interpretation time and time again,” she says. Artists like Radiohead, Kid Cudi, and Tame Impala — all of whom have long been on heavy rotation for Beer — inspired the song. “I walk into a room and everybody has their mind made up about me. They don’t care to get to know me. With ‘Stained Glass,’ I was trying to channel all those feelings.”

Beer plans on releasing the album this summer, and fans should expect the same level of vulnerability she’s displayed on her most recent tracks to define the LP overall. Given the reception to “Stained Glass,” she’s thrilled that they’ve already responded positively to the mood shift from the empowerment pop of her early career. 

“I have so much more to say than ‘boss up on your ex and move on,’ ” she says. “It’s awesome to see my fan base reacting positively to it. It’s restored my faith in humanity a little bit.”