15 Minutes With Miss Madeline
Music

15 Minutes With Miss Madeline

Interview and styling by Meg Yates / Photography by Lauren Davis

After a year of dropping clubby singles, New York’s very own pop star has released her debut EP, Picture This. For PAPER, Meg Yates gets the 411 on the grit and the glam in Miss Madeline’s quest for 15 minutes.

Your new EP, Picture This, definitely feels like a journey to becoming a complete pop package and touches on the theme of becoming famous a lot.

Yeah, I write about fame a lot. I think it's the dream and a lot of people can relate to that. Fame is an interesting concept. Obviously, I'm drawn to it. So many of the pop stars I look up to have been hurt or damaged by the fame, which is part of the whole allure to me. The ugly side of glamour. It's twisted, for sure. But for me personally, my version of fame isn't necessarily like money, cars and clothes, even though that would be nice. My version of fame is arena tours, dancers, smoke fire... the Super Bowl. I just want my music to be heard by as many people as possible.

Speaking of fame, define the term "wannabe."

I think wannabes can be desperate, like someone acting like something they're not or clout chasing or all these gross things. But I think my version of a wannabe is an aspirational person. I'm a hustler and that's what you need to be in order to make it in this industry, so if I can own that then I think it can be received better.

You think trying hard is not a bad thing, right?

Right, I'm trying so fucking hard. I'm trying the hardest. I think it's obvious that I'm not making it look easy. I don't think people look at me and they're like, "Wow, you just woke up like that," and that's fine. You should try hard. Try the fucking hardest.

What pop culture moments come to mind when you think about how you decided to become an artist?

I grew up a competition dancer, so I was in dance class every single day. And so many of the dancers and choreography and people that we idolized in the dance studio were pop stars, like Britney, Janet, Madonna, Paula Abdul. So I would study Britney’s videos, especially "I'm a Slave 4 U." Both the music video and the VMAs performance. I was like, "Oh shit, there's fucking snakes and tigers and smoke and fire and dancers and sweat. I want that and I want to be in the front."

How old were you when "I'm a Slave 4 U" or something like that came out?

I remember being in Kindergarten on the playground, and tying my shirt up and dancing and doing the choreography. I was very, very young. But growing up as a dancer, and specifically a competition dancer, not necessarily a ballerina I was very comfortable with my body and my sexuality or being perceived as sexy. Like I was literally shaking my ass on stage since I was fucking four years old. I never thought it was weird.

Ring: Bond

And did people around you think it was weird or make you feel weird about it?

No, my mom said, "Smile bigger girl." Everyone in the dance competition was doing the same shit, so I was like, "Let me shake my ass the hardest. I’ll win."

What songs come to mind when you think about Miss Madeline's sound?

"Fuck Me Pumps” by Amy Winehouse was the beginning of Miss Madeline. I think the person she was describing in that song is Miss Madeline.

I think a big appeal of pop stars is that package. Whether it's Amy Winehouse, it's still clearly one image. Have you always had a distinct sense of identity that makes it easier for you to project an image?

Yeah, I always thought I was that bitch. Even when I was in middle school and not that bitch. I’ve been training for this since I was a kid. I’ve been in dance class and auditions and everything, and I’d come to school and be like, "What the fuck are you doing going on a playdate? I’m training, bitch." So yeah, I've always had a strong sense of identity. My mom is a really strong lady and she was like, "Don't take shit from nobody and you’ve got pretty red hair, so make it something."

Can walk us through your journey to becoming an artist? You're from the East Coast and you went to college in New York for performing arts?

So I grew up a dancer. I was on Broadway when I was like 13 for two years, which was totally a dream come true. I worked, I auditioned for like two years for that, and I finally got it and it was amazing having a job at 13 on Broadway living my dream.

"A hit is a hit, so go ahead and think I'm a bimbo."

That’s hardcore.

But then I was let go after two years because I grew two inches and I was devastated. I started writing songs that day. I always played instruments, like all of them. I was always in piano class, violin class, cello class, all of it. So I just started writing music when I was 13. There was a studio in Hoboken, where I’m from, that I would go to after school. I started learning the recording and songwriting process early on. And the music was so, so different from what it is now, but I stuck with it. Even the songs I was making in high school, I was writing diss tracks about bitches I hated and playing them in the cafeteria.

And now you've released your first-ever EP, right?

Yes, this is my debut project. Up until now I’ve only released singles, which is a really different feeling. This EP is a cohesive body of work. It’s a concept EP, which is kind of a lost idea. When we were writing these songs, they made sense together. It's my true experiences, my literal quest for stardom.

You released the first-half of Picture This earlier this year with tracks like "Lullaby," which sounds like a love song, but you mention "being blinded by the limelight." Clearly, there's a wink to the fact that love is not really where your mind's at. Then "Popstar," which sounds like a love song, but is actually a song to a fan. You say, "I’ll be your pop star/ I’ll keep you rock hard [...] I'm your favorite/ That's why you replay it." And then "Bad Girls," which is a really great party song. Now you’ve released the second half. When you put it all together, it really sounds like the story of you going into pop mode. Before you recorded, did you have this story in mind?

It totally came together naturally. It is about this star package, but I'm also making a lot of realizations throughout writing this. I’d like to think of myself as self-aware, like confessing to being “blinded by the limelight” or pitching myself to a lover as "your" pop star, like that's real for me. I feel that in many ways my career and what I do is the best part about me or what I'm most proud of, and I want everyone to recognize that and respect that and love that. And I think you find a lot of shit out on the way.

Skirt: Julian Rebeiro, Ring: Bond

Skirt: Julian Rebeiro, Ring: Bond

On “Picture,” which is the first song on the second-half of the EP, it feels like go time. Star mode is on. Why did you place it in the center of Picture This?

“Picture,” we had called an interlude. It was supposed to be called "Picturelude," but we decided against it. After listening to the song for a while, I didn’t think it read as an interlude. I think it's as strong as all the other songs.

I want to talk about the track "Wax Dolls." You sing, "Tomorrow’s party costume is yesterday’s disguise." On this track and the entire EP there’s a lot of focus on self-commodification. Do you feel alienated or empowered by that? How do you feel about commodifying yourself in order to get your music heard?

I think it's both alienating and empowering. Sure, it can be alienating: Miss Madeline vs. Maddy, like Miss Madeline is who we all want to be. It can be alienating in that it magnifies some of my insecurities, but it's empowering in that I can step into this character to be the most confident version of myself or the person I want to be.

What inspired "Wax Dolls"?

“Wax Dolls" was inspired by [The Velvet Underground's] "All Tomorrow’s Parties." Shoutout Chicken, my producer.

Really? That's amazing. Nico is someone who was sort of put into the position of being made to be a pop star in the construction of The Velvet Underground, but also she's such an incredible musician. Do you feel a parallel between you and that experience?

In a way. I heard that that was Andy [Warhol's] favorite song and that song was about the people who would hang out at The Factory. These lost souls trying to hide behind personas who were just trying to make it.

Picture This is your search for "15 minutes." If someone wanted to come in and “Warhol” you, turn you into a superstar and take over your image, would you be down for that? Would you ever hand over total control for a huge deal?

Well, no. But I don’t think anyone would approach me to do that without admiring what I’ve done thus far and what I’ve done thus far is all me. Miss Madeline is my vision, so long as Miss Madeline exists I will have a lot of word in that.

When you wrote "Wax Dolls," who were you singing to?

Definitely to the masses. "Wax Dolls" is encouraging everyone to be self-aware, or "Superstar,” for example, I am singing to someone who did me dirty, like an ex.

On "Superstar," you sing, "You're gonna have to hear my name one day." It's a very triumphant song.

When I'm alone, I jot down lyrics or phrases a lot. My writing process starts with lyrics a lot of the time, which maybe it doesn't for other people, but a lot of what I'm writing about is fueled by anger to exes or ex besties. Like, "I hope you peep this."

Slippers: Fraser Kenneth, Ring: Bond

Slippers: Fraser Kenneth

I love "Superstar" because it's one of those slow pop songs, which really reminds me of Britney. It holds your attention the way a dance song can, but it's gotta be extra hard to be successful as a slow pop song. What was the recording process like?

I started with the lyric, "Do I really have to move all the way to LA just to get over you?'' I think “Superstar” really solidifies that idea of New York vs. LA. I wrote about LA in "Lullaby” early on and “Superstar” is the final track, so I needed to make this juxtaposition obvious. And it's very real, it's kind of emo. I’m most excited about "Superstar" because it's the most different for me. It's definitely the most vulnerable I’ve ever been on a song. The whole story is, even if we’re no longer together or no longer in love, the least you could do is respect my career. And so many people don’t, so I’m just going to have to blow the fuck up so you see it. That’s dangerous, but you get motivation where you get motivation.

You’re a New York artist, which is interesting as I usually associate pop girls with LA. New York vs. LA is an endlessly entertaining battle. Do you feel pressure to move to LA?

Yes and I have been going out to LA a lot this year. I’ve honestly had a really great experience. I feel really welcome when I’m out there. I’ve made a lot of amazing stuff, played sick shows, met a lot of amazing people. So yes, I would like to try living out there for a month or a couple months at the same time. But I'm nervous to drop everything and leave. I love New York. New York will always be home. New York shaped me. My friends are here, so I can see how LA could get lonely and exhausting.

Do you think there’s a New York sound vs. LA sound?

There isn’t a lot of pop going on in New York, right now. People I’m collaborating with, the kind of beats we are working with, are unique. There’s a lot more influences going on, and I’m really down for that and to jump on any beat and make it pop.

"Miss Madeline is my vision, so long as Miss Madeline exists I will have a lot of word in that."

What producers did you work with on the EP?

It's all produced by Chicken. “Lullaby “ is co-produced with xjermsx, he did the acoustic guitar loop. But [the Picture This EP] is totally Chicken. I really love and admire Chicken. He’s totally inspired me and has changed the way I approach a lot of things now. I’m really thankful for him.

Do you think Picture This sounds different than LA pop musicians?

Definitely. I think Chicken is very quintessential New York, isn't it? And you can hear that in the EP. I don’t think it sounds like anything else.

Well, he’s referencing The Velvet Underground, so...

Right, who else is doing that? I don't see any other pop bitch doing that.

How important is it for you, as someone that presents as a star package, to be taken seriously? Do you mind if people think poorly of the image you’ve cultivated and work so hard on, as long as it promotes your work? Or is it important to be seen clearly?

This is something I think about every day. Of course, I want to be respected for what I do and I want to be taken seriously. I think it's especially hard in pop music, here in New York. A lot of people have their opinions on pop music and it's a bunch of pretentious bullshit. And I fucking hate it when people just say, "I don't like pop music." That’s fucking dumb. I went to music school, so I was around this "rockist" mentality or whatever you want to call it. And I’m a funny chick, I’m saying crazy shit on the track, I dress like I dress, I act like I act. A lot of music industry bros who take themselves real seriously don’t fuck with that and made that very clear to me. I do feel the need to prove myself because of this. I'm always fighting with these self-deprecating thoughts of, "I'm too extra or ridiculous or too sexy," but I just try to remind myself that my favorite artists were all of those things. A hit is a hit, so go ahead and think I'm a bimbo.

Dress: Faith Connection, Ring: Bond

Dress: Faith Connection, Ring: Bond

In the New York music scene, do you find there’s a lot of cliquey people?

The music scene here in New York can be very cliquey and there isn't a lot of room for pop, but I'm shoving it down their throats. I think people are starting to hear my name.

Everyone knows the quest for fame in LA is shameless. Are you shameless? And is your quest received well in New York?

Yes, I think I’m shameless. I think I need to be in order to make this happen. But again, in New York people are much more judgmental and harsh. But I respect it. It's real, I really can't deal with the fake shit. Watch me rise.

You’d rather have harsh critics than deal with a bunch of phonies?

Definitely.

New York has a very beloved, sometimes hated, and often intense DIY scene. As a biased New Yorker, to me it feels like DIY in LA is in the quest for mainstream fame and in New York it's more about the community. If you could leave the DIY scene behind, would you?

I would like a check, but I wouldn’t sacrifice the art, of course. But I think I always want to bring people up with me. People that deserve it.

It's likely that people think that as an up-and-coming pop star in New York, you lead a really glamorous life on the day-to-day. Making music, doing photoshoots. What is a normal day for you? Is it a glam lifestyle?

Yeah, I make all my friends take pictures of me all day long. My best friend, Lauren Davis, takes most of my pictures. We've been doing this since high school. I do pilates, I smoke a lot of weed, I talk a lot of shit. I’m constantly writing and being inspired. I need to be. And I’m constantly following up with people, "Hey, any update on this?" So if that's glamorous, sure.

Keeping track of a lot of loose ends seems tough. You say you’re always writing. Do you have to turn it on?

I feel inspired when I feel inspired. Walking on the street, on the train, sitting home alone. Those are the moments I feel most inspired and I’ll try and remember them all to bring to the session.

What do you think a listener hears from this whole EP ? What message or feeling do they walk away with?

I think a lot of people resonate with the confidence that Miss Madeline brings. And that's crazy to me. People DM me like, "Oh my god I’m in this shitty situation, but I listened to your song and I feel so much better." Or, "This song made me realize it's time to break up with my boyfriend." I'm like, "Oh shit, this is real. This is what it's all about." I want for people to feel like the life of the party, feel confident, feel sexy, but also to feel vulnerable. I feel like this EP is vulnerable under it all.

It's your first big release, which must be a really vulnerable thing to do.

Yeah, and I’m recognizing the ugly side of glamour even though I’m a pop star, and doing this glamorous thing.

Photography: Lauren Davis
Styling: Meg Yates
Styling assistant: Madison Michèle Minton
Bodysuit: Melitta Baumeister

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