Seconds before storming Elsewhere’s stage in Zone One, Mel 4Ever grabs the wrong mic. “I don’t use cord mics, that’s a no,” she tells me later. “I need it wireless.” And if you’ve ever seen the New York pop artist perform live, you’d understand why: she thrashes all limbs at once, spitting venom from her fingertips and wildly whipping her fire-red hair like she left every bone at home. “Everything is ruined,” Mel remembers thinking, wrapped in adrenaline with a packed crowd screaming her name. But then a quick reframing: “Just do whatever the fuck you want because it’s already not perfect, so now get naked.” (Which she did — at least unintentionally, when her bottoms came undone, leaving fake blood as the closest thing to clothes.)

“Mel 4Ever” first emerged from a sober manifestation to win a Grammy. At the time, she didn’t sing, she didn’t write, she didn’t even perform — but she did have enough drive to make her delusions a reality. Although “maybe it's not delusional, maybe it's something inside of you telling you where to go,” as she corrects, which led to creating her debut “hyperpunk” EP, Tranic Attack — an absolute purge of dysphoric, horny, villainous emotion. She sings about self-creation and perseverance on her shiny, glam-pop single, “PUSH,” and the explosive anti-label anthem, “About Fashion.” On “Big Tits (whoopsie),” Mel raps through her transition anxieties (“Big tits to match my ass, big tits to match my ass"), while “OOO Daddy” sees her teasing a hookup (in a fake British accent, no less).

Now, Mel is deepening her obsession with perfection — er, imperfection — with a new single, covering Hannah Montana’s 2007 classic, “Nobody’s Perfect.” Looking back, she relates to the character’s life of constant in-betweens. “This girl is putting on a wig and she's a pop star, and she takes off her wig and goes to school,” Mel laughs, connecting the Disney plot to her current life. Of course, Mel’s take on the teenage bop pushes things in a much darker direction, imagining Hannah as a “coke whore” BFF to Lindsay Lohan, complete with bruised knees, a bloody nose and ankle bracelet. “Nobody’s perfect, I gotta work it/ Again and again, ‘til I get it right,” she sings, her voice pitched up against relentless, electro production. “If things don’t turn out the way you planned, don’t stay down... Try again, you fucking bitch!”

Below, Mel 4Ever talks through her "insatiable need to scare people," the power of fellow internet pop provocateur Slayyyter, and why killers and psychos are often more relatable than the protagonists we're told to love.

I went to the Elsewhere show in November, which was one of my favorites in a long time. When you see a new artist and there’s genuine excitement, everyone in the room wants to see that person on stage succeed. You’re in an exciting position, as someone who’s on-the-rise, when everyone feels like they’re part of your success. How did that night feel for you?

That show was a huge achievement. Elsewhere has always been this place where I go to see the girlies I’m fucking obsessed with, like that’s where you go and see Ms. Slayyyter before her moment. So that was weird, I was like, “Why am I fucking here?” But as soon as I stepped on stage, I had the wrong mic. I don’t use chord mics, that’s a no. I need it wireless. I was like, “Everything is ruined,” in my mind, but then I was like, “Actually it's not ruined, just do whatever the fuck you want now because it's already not perfect, so now get naked.” [Laughs]

There are so many artists that grow their online audience, but when they perform live there's a disconnect and nobody shows up. You might have numbers on social media, but there's no real grassroots excitement. You, over the past year, have been building a real physical fanbase in New York. What has that experience been like?

I feel so grateful for the community I'm in. For 2021, I had this goal of doing one song and one music video. I did one song in-studio and then I had five songs and then I was like, “I really want to perform.” I felt this insatiable need to scare people, mic in-hand, or get people to listen. You need to release that type of trauma, but in a shared way and be like, “Let's do whatever the fuck we want together.” My biological sister, [Charlene], is a drag queen in New York, so I'd been going out as the gay boy version of me [laughs] for quite some time. I was really drunk all the time and I wasn't a name or anything, but people knew me as like, “That drunk faggot who will piss your bed.” I disappeared for a little bit and then I came back and I was like, “Hey girls, I do pop now. Come to my show.”

So I had to baptize myself just by doing it. There's no easy way, so I booked a show at Piano's, which was 150 capacity and it ended up selling out right before I went on. I was like, “What the fuck is going on here?” I didn't know what to expect and I'd never performed before. So July 21, 2021 was my first performance, and there was no green room and I had to go through the crowd to get to the stage. It just felt so raw. I was like,” This is the scariest thing I have ever done,” and then I was like, “I have to do it again.” After that I started getting booked with drag shows, which has been so helpful and people have really supported me that way. A basic gig for me is like: Drag queen, drag queen, then I go, drag queen, drag queen.

Like you said, it's this weird thing where I'm looking at people who I shouldn't be, but I compare myself to and their Instagram is hot and fun and they have the streams, but I go to their show and the dolls aren't there. I'm like, “Where are the girls?” But I have the opposite thing, where at least right now you kind of have to be there, which is a cool place to be in. You have to experience it to know what the tea is.

Is your goal to be a massive pop star? What feels like success at this current stage of your project?

I have a delusional answer and a non-delusional answer. I kind of sit in my delusion because it literally got me here, so what the fuck ever. I got sober two and a half years ago, and someone was like, “What do you want in your life? Now that you're sober, you can go and get it.” I was like, “I want a Grammy,” and everyone laughed. They were like, “Do you do music?” And I was like, “Not yet.” They were like, “Do you sing? And I was like, “Not yet, I'll figure it out.” To this day, a goal for me would be to create the perfect pop song. I really intensely study pop music, like Bonnie Mckee, who wrote “Teenage Dream” for Katy Perry. That bitch is everything, she is a witch. I'm like, “What is going on in your cauldron, girl?” And lots of Taylor Swift writing, because she reaches her hand into her fans and she's like, “Fucking losers, you're all obsessed with boys, I know it.” So my delusional answer would be like, I want a Grammy or a VMA. Growing up in Alabama, I'd watch that shit like it was church. Obviously, [Lady] Gaga, “Paparazzi,” the blood, everyone knows where they were, type of moment. And that's so true for me. But my short term goal is, I have a show at Elsewhere on the rooftop during Pride and I'd like to sell that out, which is about 600 people. [Laughs]

How big is the first Elsewhere zone you played?

250.

So it's a little more than double?

It really is, so I'm like, “Fuck, how am I going to get 400 more fans?” I don't know, I'll figure it out. That's a short term goal, but I genuinely am obsessed with pop music. This obsession kind of fucks with my listening experience cause I break down every little thing. I have a new EP I'm working on, right now. I got a lot of anger out on the last one, [Tranic Attack]. I got to stomp on stage and now I really want to get into entrancing people and earworm-type shit. How can I get something so stuck in someone's head?

Your unreleased song, "Internet Crush," is such an earworm. Didn't you play it twice at Elsewhere? Which I think is the most iconic thing to do: play a song nobody's heard twice. [Laughs] But that really is a perfect hook. Everyone was singing it by the second round.

Girl, I gave myself an encore. I was like,” I'm doing an encore now,” and everyone was like, “What?” You were supposed to cheer, I guess. I love that song. My friend took me to Nantucket and I was the only visibly queer person there. I was like, “Fuck, I'm all alone,” so I was going on these runs and I found a dude on the internet. I spiraled about him and all of the sudden I started singing, “I'm gonna fuck my internet crush,” and it ended up being this freaky little song. I like that it kind of sounds like a children's song, like a nursery rhyme.

It's crazy that you just decided to embark on this career one day. Do you have any performance background?

I really didn't know what was going to happen when I first got up on stage. I was dry heaving before, I was so nervous. Someone literally brought me a ginger ale. But for me, it's been this deep desire for so long, ever since I was a kid watching Britney Spears. I watched this girl shake her ass on MTV and I was like, “I have to do that.” I let myself release and whatever happens, happens. I don't know how close you were to the stage at Elsewhere, but you could literally hear my feet stomping. It's so embarrassing, I was like the big bitch on stage ready to go. Watching performers who're clearly really into their own shit is cool and you can feel it as an audience member. Those are the performances that stick out most to me. My sister [Charlene], obviously, has been a huge inspiration for me and she really feels her shit. I also watched a bunch of Tina Turner before I started performing and she does something to me when I watch her. I'm like, “This bitch is a Tasmanian devil.” It's in her soul and guts, like she's got to get it out. So I knew I wanted to make music that made me feel that in a really visceral way.

What was the process for developing your sound? As a new artist, it's often difficult to land on something as focused as your debut EP.

When deciding what sound I wanted everything to be like, I was really dysphoric about my voice. I assumed I needed to be hyperpop because that's where it's accepted and not questioned. But I was coming out of this really dark time towards the beginning of my transition, so I wanted it to be really bombastic, hard-hitting and a bit aggressive. I was listening to songs that made me freak out, like Ayesha Erotica and Timbaland and Taylor Swift. It's this weird melting pot of influences. And then I landed on, I call it “hyperpunk,” only because I was getting naked on stage and that felt punk to me. [Laughs] But I don't really know what that sound is.

Hyperpunk is fair. Some of the songs are horrifying and abrasive, and then you have a gentler pop track like "PUSH." But "About Fashion" is the biggest release. It all feels like this narrative of self-creation and loving the sides of yourself that you have no choice but to embrace because they're there. From a songwriting perspective, did that come naturally?

It really wasn’t intentional. When I was writing "About Fashion," basically some guy was like, “Who're you wearing for this shoot?” And it really pissed me off because I was like, “Shut the fuck up, I just got a bunch of filler, bitch. That's what I'm wearing.” So I sing, “My filler is my fashion.” But I think you're right, each song has a type of release that needed to happen. Each has its theme of purging and getting whatever is inside out.

It feels like watching a really glam exorcism on stage. Why a purge, though?

I held so much in for so long. Growing up in Alabama as a little gay kid isn't the chillest of environments. I've done a lot of work around [my parents]. I'm not that angry at them anymore, I think they were doing the best they could, but the best they could was pretty homophobic. Like what you see in movies of southern homophobia. Everything was packed inside of me and when I got sober I couldn't mask those things, so it was all bubbling out. I had a lot of self-judgement. I was judging myself over wanting to be a pop star or judging myself over wanting to fuck that dude. So I was like, “I need to embrace all of it,” and we were talking about delusion, just giving into that. Maybe it's not delusional, maybe it's something inside of you telling you where to go. It could just be messaging from a higher place. It's not a delusion, you've just been programmed to think that. So when I purge it out, I'm throwing it at whomever in my past or my future is telling me that it can't happen. I'm like, “Fuck you, it is.”

Maybe our delusions are more honest than not. Maybe our delusions are the most honest things we can give ourselves and the world.

I want people to lose their fucking minds [at my shows], as long as you're not hurting someone or yourself. Lose your fucking shit because I'm going to, so it's an invitation for you to, as well.

Are there artists that have made you feel comfortable being yourself?

Two people come to mind. First, when I was in high school, we got to the age where I was supposed to be fucking girls and everyone was like, “Something's going on here.” I got really into Kesha. I was an Animal covered in glitter. I went to her show and she was drinking on stage and really fucked up and dumpster diving. She made me fall into this, “I don't give a fuck,” kind of mood. Maybe in the long-term it wasn't the healthiest thing, but she made me feel hot, drunk and slutty at a really young age. I god made fun of for listening to so much Kesha, but everyone knew every song. You could sing along and she was weird. At the end of "Your Love Is My Drug," she goes, "I like your beard." I would just say that all the time.

But the hyperpop girls took me to this place. I assumed that a pop star was Ariana Grande, but then in 2018-19, I started listening to Slayyyter. When I was a dude, I would DM her and be like, “I want to be your assistant, you’re changing my life.” I deleted all of them because they're so embarrassing. I was like, “I'll quit my job.” She brought this element of unhinged, hyper-feminism with her Macbook photos and the aesthetic. It really helped me come to terms with my own style of femininity. After her self-titled album, Slayyyter, I was like, “I'm full-blown trans.” [Laughs] I don't know if that was her purpose or her point of making that album, to help people come out as trans. I heard "Motorcycle" and I was like, “I need big tits and I wanna suck dick, bottom line.” It was like an awakening, that album was. This bitch isn't doing Ariana whistle notes and she's not giving Adele, she has this really interesting point of view.

She's definitely not giving Adele. [Laughs]

I think Slayyyter ruined my life.

Like Slayyyter, you are also imagining a visual identity that feels very you. Especially in your "Nobody's Perfect" single art, with the strangely contorted body modifications. Is that intentional?

Everything I do has intention. I have a chorus that's like, "Ooo daddy, I love the way you fuck this pussy," and I was like, “This is so personal.” [Laughs] My roommate's like, “Stop!" She's straight and cis and she's like, “I can't hear this!” She hates it, it's so funny. But I was like, “Who were some trans inspirations growing up?” And, obviously, Hannah Montana came to mind for me. This girl is putting on a wig and she's a pop star, and she takes off her wig and goes to school? I was like, “Love it, need it, wanna be it.” So I chose "Nobody's Perfect" because a lot of friendships changed when I started doing music. Suddenly, I was doing shit and out there and people had a lot to say about it. I chose that song speaking from their perspective to me, or Hannah's perspective to me. Instead of being like, “Don’t worry girls, nobody's perfect,” it's a reminder to myself to just chill because it usually always turns out right.

But I was like, “What if Hannah Montana was a real life bitch who came up with Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton and went clubbing. What if she did what I wish she had done and became a coke whore? And that was the inspo: I wanted it to sound fucking psychotic, really intense and sharp. I was like, “She is a drug addict, her nose is bleeding, she has bruises on her knees from falling down and sucking dick in clubs.” It's as if Hannah Montana really needed help and the whole world had clawed at her. I was like, “I want her to look emaciated and have huge fake tits.” I wanted her to look like a fucking mess because I have felt that way before. I'm just taking it out on Hannah.

I do think Hannah Montana would’ve turned out exactly the way you described.

She grew up in Malibu.

There's no way she wouldn't have. What is the actual creation of these songs like for you?

If it has a melodic hook, most likely I've written it with my co-writer, Tor Miller. We've known each other for five years and he's been mentoring me through everything. He got signed when he was 18, so he has a lot of experience. But I will basically write lyrics and then come up with hook melody ideas, verse ideas and I have tens of thousands of voice memos on my phone. He and I will sit down at a piano and flesh it out. All of the songs you've heard, except “OOO DADDY,” have been written on a piano. So "Big Tits (whoopsie)" was on a piano.

You're lying.

No, “Big Tits” was on a piano, “Jennifer's Bodice” was on a piano, everything, "About Fashion."

Are we talking a baby grand?

No, we're not talking about a Steinway, but it's a full-blown keyboard. So we'll just write, and it’s about getting the melodies and harmonies and structuring cause I wanna do pop. Then we'll work with producers and that's the best fucking part. I'm working with a guy, named Jack Hoffman, and he's a fucking freak. He picks up random instruments, like guitars or a trumpet, and knows how to play everything. What I'm most comfortable with is: wake up at 3 AM, have an idea like “Internet Crush,” beat it to death in my voice memos and then come out with a psychotic little tune.

What's the day to day to make all of this happen? I can imagine it's a lot of work as a DIY artist.

When I was looking at Slayyyter, I was like, “It's so effortless and she's so fun and hot and slutty. How hard could this be?” Now I'm like, “Oh my god, everyone that does this is out of their minds. This is so hard.” I cry all the time because I'm so stressed out. I think what surprised me the most was how much I care. I don't not care. I care a lot. But for money, I do bottle service at House of Yes. I'm in a bikini and heels with Grey Goose pouring drinks for all the girls. But every single paycheck [goes to music], so I actually have no money. I haven't really stopped since I started. The longest break I've had was Christmas, where I took five days off, because after this EP my next one has to be the best thing I've ever fucking done.

I'm teaching myself how to play piano because I want this Gaga moment. [Laughs] I'm like, playing with one leg in the air. People are going to be like, “Don't do that.” I'm trying to turn away from distorting my voice so much. I sang in high school, which was also not great because I got bullied. I was a baritone, which is a higher bass, so my range is very low. I'm trying to train myself or work on finding a place that makes me feel less dysphoric. Nothing professional, I'm not paying anyone. Just doing it myself, it's very DIY.

Horror has been a common theme in your work so far. What about it is attractive to you?

I felt very villainous growing up. I felt evil for being gay or evil for being trans. What my parents programmed into me was like, I'm not good, and that festered a lot of rage. Blood freaks me out, but I'm obsessed with it so I use it way too often. I often relate to the villains of stories because I'm like, “I don't know if you're born a killer, something happened to you babes.” And luckily, I just happened to want to be a pop star. My trauma has led me to different paths, but I see myself in these fucking psychos because I grew up thinking, “I'm not ok, I don't need to be in the public.” Also, as an alcoholic I felt psychotic. When you're so drunk all the time, you lose cognitive ability to function.

Villains are the best-dressed, they have the most dimension.

They're stylish, or not stylish, but they have their own thing going.

I'd rather be Ursula than Ariel any day.

100%. Ariel kind of sucks, she's a loser. She doesn't know she's not it, fuck her. [Laughs]

Ursula as the brunette fiancé, perfect.

Period. Villains always have something to gain. They aren't satisfied with whatever's going on. I fucking love Urusula. When I was in a really weird place, I would sing “Poor Unfortunate Souls” on my rooftop when it was a full moon. Why not? I did it one time and it became a ritual. In the song, Ariel's like, “I’ll do whatever to go to a different place.” So I was connecting with that, but I was also connecting with Ursula.

You should do a hyperpop cover of “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” People would lose their minds.

Photography: Abi Polinsky
Styling: Dylan Reissner
Makeup: Laurel Charleston ("Nobody's Perfect" Single Art)