In conversation with the Dance Moms alumni on the eve of her debut album.
Back in 2011, a TV show aired in the US that left the entire world shocked. Premiering on Lifetime, 13-episode series featured one-hour episodes of hysterical crying, bellowing screams and physical altercations under the title Dance Moms. It was an all-American, unexpected look at the world of youth dance competitions, and the relationship between the competitor’s moms and the controversial choreographer / studio owner, Abby Lee Miller.
Fast-forward to now and the series is about to start it’s 8th season, with many of the original stars established as household names. However, no one has perhaps obtained quite as much prestige as the Ziegler sisters. Easily the most talented dancers on the show (and often the envy of their peers and the moms alike), siblings Maddie and Mackenzie have established themselves as worthy breakout stars. While the eldest of the two, Maddie, has appeared in string of music videos for the likes of Sia and Todrick Hall, younger sister Mackenzie is coming into her own with the launch of her own make-up range, a book, an appearance on Dancing with the Stars: Juniors and the impending release of her hotly anticipated debut album, Phases.
“I’m definitely very thankful for the show,” Mackenzie announced when we link up via phone from LA. “It has brought me to where I am now. I mean, of course I’m trying to start my own name other than ‘the dancer’. I want to be the dancer, the singer, the actor.”
For Mackenzie (or Kenzie, if you’d prefer), it’s all about focusing on ‘the singer’ label right now. Her first foray into music came at the (very) tender age of 6, when her mom recognised her vocal capabilities and encouraged her to take up professional training. While most 6-year-olds are engrossed in cartoons and plastic dolls, Kenzie was already prepping for global pop domination. Admittedly, she hated it at first, but she soon came to find fun in her music lessons. By the age of 11, she was already writing her own music – although she admits that her music taste back then wasn’t quite as up-to-scratch as it is now.
“Oh my god! I used to love listening to High School Musical. I had a CD player in my basement and my sister and I would constantly be dancing to High School Music. We would dance as a boy and a girl, and I would always make her be the boy,” she explains between fits of laughter. These days, she admits that her musical influences are a little bit more respectable, citing Billie Eilish, Rex Orange County and Post Malone as some of her fave contemporary artists. Rex tops the list of her dream collaborators.
And if her current collabs are anything to go by, a Rex OC team-up doesn’t seem too far out of reach. For new album Phases, she called upon lyrical genius Sia to write her first album track, “Wonderful”. “She wrote me a song and a week later, she sent a demo of her singing it, and it was the best thing ever.” The 14-year-old explains. “Her voice was amazing and I was honestly so scared to record her song when she sang it because she just sounded so amazing and I knew I would never live up to that.”
"Wonderful" by Mackenzie Ziegler
This bigger body of work has been a long time coming for the dance sensation. She admits that she’s been writing for an album since the age of 11, but all the tracks that appear on Phases are ones that she wrote in the past year. As for their subject matter, it’s about the diversity of emotions and mind-sets that Kenzie has been experiencing, from boy trouble to her very own personal problems. “I just wanted my first album to show the real me. People think that my sister and I are perfect and that we don’t go through anything, but honestly, we’re going through the same troubles as other people. I wanted to show that in this album.”
As if promoting the release of her debut album wasn’t enough to digest, she’s also preparing a major UK tour with her sister Maddie for the start of 2019. It will be a full-scale dance show combined with a couple of live musical performances. She’s also currently performing on Dancing with the Stars, and is one of the final 6 contestants. It’s clear to see that Mackenzie is a girl who likes to be on the go – and for her, this kind of lifestyle is totally the norm. All considered, I wonder if it’s strange being a fully-fledged business woman and not even old enough to drive yet. “It’s a lot to take in. It’s a lot to manage.” She confesses, and the adolescent tone to her voices fades into sincerity. “I feel like I’m just doing so much at one time. But honestly, I love it so much and I love working. It’s definitely hard being a teenager and doing so much, but I love working and I’m so fortunate to have this life. I really wouldn’t want to have any other life I guess!”
With 15m Instagram fans, 2.8 million YouTube subscribers and over a million fans on Twitter, there’s no denying that a lot of people are going to be listening intently to Phases when it finally hits the mainstream – but while most of us would crumble under that kind of pressure, Kenzie will be taking it in her stride.
Phases is out 20th November.