If there's someone who knows about being popular on social media from a young age, it's Madison Beer. Hell, she was just 13 years old when Justin Bieber shared her cover of "At Last." Now, Madison is 21, and her debut album, Life Support, is finally complete. Over Zoom, Madison sat down with BuzzFeed to chat about the record and what the process has been like so far.
What’s the first album you bought?
It was probably the American Idol soundtrack album — or it was Cheetah Girls. I honestly have no idea and I can't give an honest answer, but it was most likely one of those two.
Who’s your dream collaborator?
Daft Punk. Definitely my number one. [Writer's note: This interview was conducted before Daft Punk announced their split.]
Who’s an artist you’re loving right now?
Angèle. She sings about really important topics that I think that a lot of artists don't sing about. She has a song called "Balance ton Quoi" — the lyrics, if you translate them to English, are really powerfully about feminism and sexism. She's just awesome, I just really love her.
Have you had a moment where you’ve been totally starstruck?
I met Kevin Parker, who's Tame Impala. I was very awkward and did not know what to say or do, and I was super excited. We actually met on an airplane — we played Austin City Limits the same day, and then we flew back to LA the same day, and he was literally sitting in the row in front of me on my flight. It was ridiculous. So cool.
BF: It blows my mind how he does everything [in Tame Impala].
Madison: I said that to him. When we met, I was like, "I heard you mix and master your own stuff." I was just word-vomiting. It was kind of embarrassing, because I know so much about him and I was kind of trying to bring up every point so that when we parted ways, I wasn't going to be sad — like, "Oh, you didn't mention that you knew X, Y, and Z, I want him to know you're, like, a real fan!" But I just ended up looking ridiculous and not able to form a proper sentence. But yeah, he's amazing. He's one of my idols, for sure.
Your debut album has been in the works for a while. How does it feel to have it finally coming out?
Feels so good! It's super surreal, and it's just so exciting because, you know, it's been in the works for so, so long. It just feels unreal at this point; I can't believe it's finally actually here. The day has come, my time is now, it's just crazy. It's very overwhelming and exciting for me. Really, really looking forward to it.
Do you have any anxiety and nerves about the release?
I feel like I would have anxiety and be a bit nervous if it was brand new, but because I've had so much time to sit with this album, I've been able to marinate with it. Anything I was nervous about or that I wasn't 100% sold on, I fixed and changed.
Describe your album in three words.
Honest, brave, and badass.
What’s your favorite lyric on the album?
I really love the song "Effortlessly." It's one of my favorite songs, lyrically [and] overall. The whole first and second verse of that song, I think it's really beautiful. I think that the second verse in "Sour Times" is awesome. I love them all so much.
I do think that "emotional bruises" is probably my favorite lyric overall. It stemmed from years of me telling an ex-boyfriend that you could say, verbally, really mean things to me, and you apologize, but that hole will always be there. I'll be able to forgive you, but there's gonna come a point where there's gonna be too many holes to stand up anymore. That was an analogy I always presented him with, and so I wanted to use that — someone can really bruise you and affect you emotionally. Your words are super impactful and they stay with you for so long. So I think "emotional bruises" is kind of my favorite play on words throughout the whole album.
"Words are super impactful and they stay with you for so long."
How has the past year affected your songwriting and recording process?
I mean, it's affected it in the sense [that] we have to go on little writing camps. Every time we do anything, we have to, obviously, get tested and we all quarantine together. So it's been a bit strange, and I thought creatively it was going to affect me really negatively and be hard to focus — but it actually hasn't at all, it's been really great.
We've gotten a lot done, we're already halfway through the second album, so we're actually just still pumping out music and doing relatively well, considering all things. It's definitely been weird, everyone's a little bit emotional and it could be obviously demotivating. We just all try to be patient with each other and do our best, and that's all we really can do.
BF: I think it's a scale, from feeling completely demotivated to Taylor Swift-ing it and just dropping a bunch of music at the same time. Everyone's different.
Madison: Yeah, I think I'm gonna try to go down the route of dropping a bunch of music. I just want to keep on doing it, because it just feels so good and I love releasing stuff.
"We're already halfway through the second album."
If you could get one person to listen to your album, who would it be and why?
Probably Kevin Parker. "Sour Times" was super inspired by him, so I would love to play it for him and hope he liked it.
What’s your favorite memory from recording?
I always think of "Selfish" whenever people ask me questions like this. It was such a step for me. You know the Frank Ocean song where it's like [sings], "I let go of my claim on you, it's a free world"? [Writer's note: This is his song "Godspeed"] I always, for some reason, correlate them because that song was me letting go of my claim on this person. I mean, to be fair, I got back with this person three more times after that, so I guess it wasn't, but it was definitely a step in the right direction of me articulating emotions that I hadn't faced yet. "Selfish" was just fun, but to me fun is healing and getting to a better place with something that might still be emotionally raw for me.
If I were to listen to the first time you played through “Selfish” versus what we hear on the record, what would be different?
At first, I was a little bit scared to personalize him, so I didn't say the line about him being a Gemini and the line about New Year's. I didn't say any of that kind of stuff. Then I decided I wanted to, and I thought that it was the best thing to do.
There were absolutely no strings on the entire song, which now make up the whole song. When I listened back to a version of it, the fact that we were gonna release it like that is crazy to me. The chorus is so empty, it's so weird, and it's five BPM faster. I sat with it for a while, and I was like the guitars are really cool — but I really think we need an orchestral vibe to this record and it needs to feel like this big event.
The run at the end of the bridge that went kind of viral on TikTok was super different — I went down the first time I did it, because I was scared and I'd never done anything high in a song before. The more I sat with it, the more I was like, this needs to be a moment that goes up in the record.
Are there any Easter eggs, perhaps lyrically or production-wise, on the album that people might not notice at first?
At the end of the album, the outro, we wanted there to be this little — I don't want to tell, I just want them to find it for themselves. So I'll let them listen to the outro and find out.
But there's Easter eggs all over. It's the same key, notes, and chord progression in the intro of the album as "Good in Goodbye" — which is why they kind of bleed into each other. The album is also meant to be listened to from top to bottom — that's how I would recommend and ideally want everyone to listen to it. I mean, the Rick and Morty thing at the end of "Homesick" is definitely a little Madison-ism.
I wrote "Effortlessly" before I had ever come out about the fact that I had self-harmed. I was really nervous when I was writing the song, because I wasn't sure, when it was released, if I was going to have had talked about it or not. That scared me and intimidated me a lot. So, I decided let's just write about it — and hopefully, either I'm gonna have talked about it publicly by the time the album drops, or I'm not and then that'll be the way I'll start talking about it.
There's lyrics in "Effortlessly" that are like, "I hold my breath to breathe, I hurt myself to feel." It was just kind of my way of talking about self-harm, and I was really scared to do that. But then I did it, and I really like how it came out. As I said, that's one of my favorite songs. So there's a lot of things that if you listen to it closely, you'll be able to be like, "Okay, this is what this is, what that is," and so on and so forth.
One of the things I wanted to ask you about is, as someone who's been very open about mental health, why it's important for you to be so candid?
It's very much a multifaceted answer I would give you. There's a lot of talk about false perceptions on social media and how it can affect people negatively. I think there's a lot of hyper-fixation on appearance, people are very hyper-fixated on the outside. Well, I think that a really big flaw.
A problem with social media is that we only put out what we think we want people to see. So, you know, I'll scroll through my Instagram and I'll see a couple that I'm friends with and they post this photo of them kissing, being so cute — and I'm like, I was literally watching you guys throw fucking plates at each other's heads two days ago. You have to just remember it's all nonsense at the end of the day, people are all putting on an act, and everyone would love to make their life seem perfect online, even though it's not.
So I would sit in bed at night, and I would, as I said, make commentary about a couple or a girl I saw, I would just be like, you guys all pretend to be so happy and so fine, and you're not and it's bullshit. But then I thought, I'm guilty of that as well. Like me, being in therapy three times a week, self-harming, thinking about suicide, not even having motivation to get out of bed. You're still massively followed and people think that you're chilling right now; meanwhile, you literally don't even have motivation to get out of bed.
I felt a little bit of guilt about that. I also am a firm believer that there are certain things I'm totally valid in keeping offline. And just because I am a public figure doesn't mean that I have to spill my guts to the entire world — because I am allowed to not. So I felt like if there was anything I wanted to be transparent about, it was my mental health — because that's so much more significant and so much more important than anything appearance-related. I was like, I want to show these kids: You might think that I have it all going on, you might think that I am happy because in every photo I post, I seem so — but I'm not.
Once I got a diagnosis of BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), and once I had been in recovery from self-harm, I felt like it was an appropriate time to come out and start posting my little mental health quotes. I can't even tell you how many people have been so sweet to me and been like, "I'm so grateful that you do this and say this," and it just makes me feel really good. I at least hope that with all the false standards of everything, I can at least come out and be like, hey, your mental health — if you're not doing well, mentally, and you think everyone else is, you're wrong. You're not alone. We're all struggling. Especially with the pandemic, I felt like it was time for me to talk about it candidly.
"You might think that I have it all going on, you might think that I am happy because in every photo I post, I seem so — but I'm not."
You’ve been in the public eye for a while now. What’s your perspective on being a teen in the public eye now that you’ve had some distance from it?
It's tough. I'm still processing what I went through as a really young girl — I was signed at 12 and I'm almost 22. Growing up as a teenage girl is very difficult to begin with, and I think especially in the day and age of social media — where we have constant people to compare ourselves to and other people's lives to look at and think ours suck and theirs are so amazing and whatnot.
I would make a mistake and do something, and I would be put on blast by the entire world. I would be trending on Twitter, and it would just be really scary and frightening for me. My platform felt more like a chopping block a lot of the time and it felt like people were waiting for me to fail — hoping I would fail more than they wanted me to succeed, which hurt a lot. Because I was like, you guys don't even know me. Why do you want me to fail so bad? I'm at a better place with it, but I definitely think growing up as a teenager is tough to begin with, and being on social media just makes it worse.
How has your relationship with social media changed throughout the years?
I set a lot of boundaries with myself now. I'm very self-aware if I'm in a comment rabbit hole, and I'm just reading stuff that's detrimental to me. That's been a thing with my therapist — that we've gone over setting boundaries in my everyday life and also setting boundaries in my personal life. She has these prompts that I do where she'll be like, okay, ask yourself randomly, am I making the best use of my time right now? Is what I'm reading hurting me? Is scrolling through TikTok affecting me positively or negatively?
If I found myself spiraling, I would just simply cut it off. And I'd be like, you know what, I'm not gonna do that anymore. I'm not gonna sit and scroll and look and nitpick and compare — it just got really bad for me. For a while, I didn't have social media apps for a few months on my phone. Since I've been back on it, and I've been posting again, I just try to just do things that feel good to me — posting photos I like. Not reading comments and not looking at what people have to say about me.
TikTok, I kind of try to stay off of — because on TikTok you'll see a video about yourself, someone making fun of you, and it'll have like 500,000 likes and 30,000 comments. You're just like, oh my god, this is too much. I just try to create boundaries between me and the things that I think might harm me.
What advice would you give to teens trying to get involved in the music industry now?
I would say prepare yourself, and make sure that you are ready to be a public figure. There's not really many artists or people who can just create music and then also simultaneously stay offline. I sometimes kind of wish I would have done a little bit more troubleshooting before I decided to do this whole thing, of "Do I want my life out there? Do I want to be a public figure? Do I want everyone knowing who I am?"
I always say fame is the consequence and the punishment for making music and creating art. It's the bad part. I definitely think anyone who thinks that fame is this beautiful, exciting, cool thing: reevaluate, because it's definitely a lot of smoke and mirrors. It's a big façade. So if you create music or art in any form, go for it. But if your goal is to just be famous, which is a lot of younger people's [goal] these days, I'm definitely like, reevaluate — because I think that you would be pretty bummed in two years from now if it worked out.
Madison's debut album, Life Support, comes out on Feb. 26.
Note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.