Under the influence: Madison Beer

On the cusp of releasing her debut album, we head to Los Angeles to meet the Madison Beer behind the mythology and internet stardom, revealing herself as a self-possessed artist doing things on her own terms.

“Are you a Pisces, too?” interjects Madison Beer after I reveal that, like her, I am also Jewish. “It’s because you’re like, my vibe. I can tell,” she smiles, thrilled, telling me that every time she guesses someone’s sign her “powers grow”. Madison Beer and I are just two strangers sat cross-legged on a sofa in another stranger’s home in Los Angeles, “People here are much more Catholic and when I say I’m Jewish, people are scared by it,” she says. From here on in, every profile cliché suddenly comes true: we are basically best friends despite only meeting today! She is surprisingly real and we are, right here, having a profound moment of connection.

 

Dressed down but still impossibly glowing, she wears camo trousers and an oversized orange hoodie with a necklace that spells “Madison” in gothic script. She’s friendly and emphatic, asking about my life and offering advice. Despite being six years my junior, her sudden exposure to the world of celebrity as a teen means she’s acquired wisdom beyond her years and, to be honest, I’m more than happy to listen to what she has to say—after all, we are now “Pisces sisters”.

 

Born March 5th 1999 in Jericho, New York, Madison Beer rose suddenly to stardom in 2012 after Justin Bieber shared a video of a then 13-year-old Madison singing a cover of Etta James’ “At Last”. “wow. 13 years old! she can sing. great job. #futurestar”, Bieber tweeted to his 100 million followers and, like magic, he simultaneously made a bold prediction and sealed her fate when, shortly after, he personally signed Madison to Island Records.

 

A huge Belieber herself, Madison says, “Having him give me that validation was amazing. I didn’t even understand at that point that that was what he was doing, that he was giving me a stamp of approval, but now that I’m older and I realise… it just means the world because he’s so talented, so having him like me and my voice means a lot to me”. Less eloquent but no less appreciative at 13, Madison’s iconic reply to Bieber’s original tweet read: “OMGOGMFHAHDBSBAWHEBSBSHHWEHHDXHSHHAFBBAGEEHYBT I CANT BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING. I AM CRYING.”

Despite having amassed her own modest fan base via her YouTube channel, the Bieber effect catapulted Madison to crazy new heights of fame and made her the subject of speculation and hyper scrutiny. Madison subsequently spent her teenage years growing up in the spotlight (her Instagram now has 12 million followers), becoming a regular fixture on the Daily Mail ‘sidebar of shame’ for reasons like ‘existing’ and ‘having legs’. The involuntary attention has given her reason to be defensive with those corners of the press who take aim at her, posting gross and provocative clickbait headlines like: “Wet and wild! Madison Beer, 18, flaunts cleavage”. It’s hard to know what to expect from someone who’s had to endure all this, but Madison’s fire will clearly not be smote so easily.

 

“I don’t know any different, but from 12 to 20 I’ve been watched. It’s just been very strange”. She pauses, again looking for the bright side: “I’ve navigated it the best that I can and I’m really grateful, but it’s been tough, man. At 13 you’re supposed to be worrying about the boy you have a crush on, and that’s about it.”

 

“And just with your group of friends”, she continues, awkwardly playing with her sleeves, visibly upset by the realisations, “with me, I have to worry about anything and everything. It’s definitely made me a little bit more cautious, a little more self-aware. I don’t drink because I never built up a tolerance, I never went to high school, I never went to parties, and if I was at a party I wasn’t drinking because I was scared someone was going to film”.

 

She shares an anecdote from when she tried, briefly, to live the simple life:

 

“When I was 16 and I tried weed for the first time, I was so scared someone was going to take a video of me smoking that I never did it again.” She says that the scrutiny has made her behave, but that she feels “like everyone should have a chance to grow up and make mistakes and be able to shape themselves as a human being. I think it’s given me a lot of social anxiety and it’s hindered my life in a lot of ways”.

 

Madison laments that some interviewers have only seen her as an “outlet for drama”, only asking about Justin Bieber and Hailee Steinfeld instead of her own music. Growing up at warp speed in the spotlight means that Madison’s cautious about who she trusts and so when she starts to open up, it’s a trust I’m careful not to betray.

 

“I’m trying to make my stamp. I’m also patient with the process. I don’t want to rush myself or compare myself to other artists because I feel like I’ve been very blessed and a lot of people would love to be in my position,” Madison offers. Many artists who have risen to fame at a very young age have struggled to navigate growing up in the public eye, but Madison, who credits her family with her wisdom and sanity, has it together: “I have great parents and a great family and I think that’s definitely kept my head on straight”, she affirms.

Having just turned 20 years young and left her teens behind, Madison is on the brink of delivering her debut album, which she recently described when speaking to NME, as “taking a crowbar” to her heart. The full length release follows her first EP, As She Pleases, and is set to drop in April 2018.

 

“I really love all of the music on the album. I’m really passionate about it. I wrote every song and I’ve just been really involved with the creative process whereas I haven’t always been, so it’s felt really good to have every single thing be mine. To have a piece of my creative ability shown in there.” Her voice rises as she talks about her album and her passion is self-evident. “I’m just excited to have people really be able to say, ‘that’s Madison Beer’s sound!’” she says.

 

The music video for the single “Hurts Like Hell” featuring Offset and written with Charli XCX, shows a darker edge to Madison, a world away from her child star beginnings. We find her in the dark, surrounded by candles in a bathtub, watching several static TVs before wreaking bloody, witchy revenge on a boy while wearing a wedding dress. She described it as being inspired by the movie Jennifer’s Body, but “with elements of 2019 and 2018 American Horror Story and what the Salem Witch Trials would look like in my eyes if they happened now.”

Despite the darker, Megan Fox circa-2009 image, Madison says she’s not looking to go too alternative with her style or music. “I have such a love for pop and R&B music. I have also an alternative vibe in me, I think I have a dark edge so I don’t think I would ever be a bubblegum, clean cut type artist. I am who I am and I’m pretty unapologetic about that,” she tells me.

 

“With social media you can dip your toes into any pond and not have it hurt your career in any sense,” Madison muses. “Before, if an artist were to bring out something that was completely different than their other stuff, people would be like, ‘what the hell is that?’ But now we kind of have this privilege of being able to really experiment with music and have fun.”

 

Madison moved with her mom to Los Angeles post-Bieber tweet when she was 14 to properly pursue her career but the culture shift was a shock to her system. “I still went home a lot to Long Island, so I was able to be in touch with my friends that I grew up with and I would see them a lot, but it was isolating—I felt really alone a lot,” says Madison of the move from the East to Westcoast. She looks down at the sofa again, clearly troubled by the memory of feeling left out. “I didn’t really have friends. LA to New York, to a teenager is the farthest you could be. I mean, it really is the furthest you could be in the US. It’s fucking far away, so I felt really alone. I felt really far away from everyone else.”

Able to rationalise these difficulties, Madison has clearly interrogated her own thought process in a healthier way than people twice her age. “If I ignored it I would be a little off my rocker, but I can think: I do this because of the fact that I never grew up normally, or it’s because I never went to school or I was never raised around this. I think I’m definitely much different than any other person that I’ve ever met”.

 

Despite being only a little older than them, Madison regularly offers her fans advice via social media, being open about everything from a previous experience with an abusive boyfriend to her mental health. When they come to her with questions about drinking or drugs, she tries to be honest: “I’m always making sure that my fans don’t think that I’m saying ‘you’re never allowed to try alcohol in your whole life’. I just want everyone to be safe. I try to be as real with them as I can, I don’t try to front anything ever on who I am, especially… The only kids that go boring are the ones whose parents are like, ‘no!’ then they go to college and those are the kids that go crazy.”

As we dive deep into conversational, Madison’s initial polite professionalism makes way for more candid talk, as she becomes more equally more animated and hilarious—dropping expletives and truths bombs, gesturing with her hands, genuinely passionate. She shares a funny anecdote from when someone tried to say she was a bad influence: “My friend was holding two beers in these photos I was in, and one was clearly my beer. Some mom commented and was like, ‘so inappropriate for a 19-year-old girl to be drinking. My two sons would never’ and I click on her Instagram and she has a 20-year-old son and a 17-year-old son. I wanted to reply and be like, “listen, Susan, Jake and Jackson are in the basement with a bong attached to their face. Like, don’t try me bitch!”

 

Madison’s own experience has led to her becoming a vocal voice against cyber-bullying, she’s even working on a song about her experiences called “Dear Society”. “It’s about social media and how I feel like I’ve aged too quickly”, she explains, “If you listen to it, you could think it’s about like, a boy, but it’s about society and what impact I think social media has had on teenagers who are impressionable.” Never one to just only dwell on the negative, Madison see’s the positive side to social media:

 

“If there was no upside I would have deleted it all a long time ago. It’s not worth fame. I think there’s upsides, I get to speak to my fans at the touch of a button. I get to message somebody. It’s just an easy outlet that we have and I feel very blessed to be an artist in this time period. I can be so in touch with my fanbase, but it definitely comes with negatives and feels like you have to put up a front sometimes.”

 

Her Twitter is full of honesty, inspirational quotes and positive messages like, “don’t lower your standards for anybody. they can step up or step out”, while her Instagram is partly a very glossy, Instagram model-style feed. That said, Madison is more than aware of the paradoxical nature of the contrasting sides of her social media presence: “I tell everyone to stop believing it, because I could literally make you think I’m whoever I want to be. I could post anything on Instagram and be a total psycho in person.” She adds, “I try so hard on social media to show who I am, but I guess looking at it from an outsider’s perspective, I don’t. I’m just posting a hot photo here, a photo of my dog there, a photo of me onstage here. You don’t really know who I am. When it’s time to say goodbye to Madison so that she can go to dinner with her mom, she’s nothing but sweetness, telling me she had fun with her “twin”. It’s easy to see why her fans find it so easy to feel close to her despite her fame. With the release of her debut album, Madison will soon get her wish—people will be able to attach a definite sound to the familiar face they see on their Instagram feed.

 

As a parting question, I ask what she likes to do in her spare time to which Madison replies: “I draw, I paint. I take a lot of baths, I’m sure you do too, as a Pisces” she laughs, and then pauses. “I try to just be a kid, though.” she says, with a reflective smile. After spending a while getting to know who she is as the smart and reflective young woman underneath the headlines and social media presence, I want nothing more for her but that. “I make the best of situations until they end,” Madison smiles, “I’m just like, ‘this isn’t gonna be forever, let me have fun while I’m doing it’.”