And then you had this huge success with “Call Me Maybe.” I think about this stuff all the time because when I’m on your side of interviews they’re always like, “Are you afraid you’re gonna, like, die young or go crazy?” I think young success is something you have to recover from in a way. You’ve said you were really glad that this didn’t happen till you were 26 and had an established core. You’re still young. How do you remain, I hate to use clichés, like, “grounded,” “down to earth”! But how do you maintain perspective through something like “Call Me Maybe,” or something like Emotion, which is a different kind of success but still incredibly positive.
You have to find a balance of it that works for you. There are many different levels of celebrity and success and all those weird things, and you don’t have to say yes to all of it. You say yes to what works and what can work for you. What keeps the most important thing, which is you: balanced and healthy and happy, like you have your feet on the ground. Then, what you can take on top of that becomes a bonus. It’s a gift, but you do have control over it. You can say no. You can say yes. I’m learning more and more.
And I can relate to what you’re saying. I can remember being little orphan Annie in a community school production, and at the end of the run of seven days, I was bawling. I remember my parents being like, “What’s wrong?” It was Mission, British Columbia, which does not have a lot of people, and I was like, “What if I’m just a child star?” And I’m like, Nobody knows who you are, but that’s cute. But I remember that feeling, what if that’s the best thing that happens to me? That’s a very real and scary pressure. You wonder how people get through that, but the truth of it is that you gotta have that inner little candle flicker that’s telling you, there’s more that you have to offer. And when you know that, other people start to realize it, too.
I’m just having a serendipitous moment that you said candle flicker because my friend and I talk about this all the time. We just keep saying, “Preserve your flame.” She’s a writer, and she’ll be like, “I don’t really wanna go to this book party, I feel like it’ll kill my soul.” Then I’m just like, “Preserve your flame.”
I love that, I love that! That’s actually really good. I started realizing a lot of the LA parties weren’t my scene pretty early on. I moved to Woodland Hills, two hours away in suburbia, and that’s how I handled the success of “Call Me Maybe.” I went to get sushi with my boyfriend and watched reruns of Seinfeld. It’s what I needed to do.
How did moving to New York and doing Cinderella offer a different perspective?
It was just, leaving one world, that felt like my whole wide world, and embracing another world that became my whole wide world. It was such a challenge and a thrilling one. It was funny to sign up for something and decide to have confidence in myself when I really actually didn’t know if I could do it or not. But I knew I wanted to and that was enough. People who were part of the production could see how willing I was to work my ass off until the show was not suffering—hopefully. I remember the musical theatre director, Andy Einhorn, who first auditioned me, saying “It’ll be the hardest and most gratifying thing you’ll ever do,” and it was exactly that. I loved it, and I’m glad I did it.
It was a nice break from my world, too, even for my album, to check out for a second. I was still writing and working on it but with a healthier perspective. Like, this isn’t the only thing I could do, this isn’t the whole [world], life will go on regardless, and If I want to, great, [but] I don’t have to. That was crucial for being able to write songs that were for me and not for sales, or other people, or the label, you know?
It’s like seeing celebrities you don’t know at all on other countries’ news websites and being like, “Oh, yeah, my world is so small!”
Yeah! I’ll be [talking] about some Broadway production and my parents are like, “Oh, who’s that?” And I’m like, “Who is that?! What do you mean ‘who’s that’? Oh yeah, what’s happened to me?” [It’s the] same thing with travelling, too. Some of these bands are huge [but] they’re not internationally known yet and it’s kind of crazy. It’s good for perspective because sometimes it’s easy to believe that your world is the whole world; it’s nice to remember that it isn’t.
Very much so. I love the song “Boy Problems,” a lot. I took it as a good, healthy breakup song, then after a bazillion listens realized, “Oh, it’s about friendship, too!” That seems like one where you had multiple good ideas and totally pulled it off. How did you get both of those [ideas] into one song?
Not every song is exactly about a personal experience, but I was finding that I was talking nonstop about all of the chaoses of my relationship to anybody who would listen ’cause I needed to process it. My girlfriends were getting the bad end of that, and I could hear, I felt, how annoying I was. I couldn’t shut up about it because I needed almost a therapist. I needed to talk it out. I wrote that song from the perspective of realizing that I was probably at my limit for what I could do—with still having friends at the end of this [experience]. This song was a little bit of a punch in my own face, taking it from her perspective. Not that anybody ever freaked out at me, but I was imagining, “Just leave or stay.”
I actually was so stoked that I convinced Sia to do the talking part, almost in a ’90s way, like, “Just leave or stay but I’m done listening to it!” I was realizing that it was a healthy decision to end [the relationship], so that’s the anthemic part. It is a very tongue-in-cheek song, it’s knowingly a little bit more youthful but in a funky bass line kind of way, which still fit what we were doing with the rest of the album.
How do you feel when people talk about your music as a guilty pleasure?
It doesn’t bother me but I don’t understand it because anything that brings me pleasure doesn’t make me feel guilty. Well, unless we’re talking about, like, heavy drugs! But I mean, When it comes to music, which is a pretty safe thing, if I love it I’m shameless [about] it. I understand that there are sometimes negative connotations around pop music as being a little more trite and a little more radio-friendly, which can be thought of as simplified. But that’s the exact thing that I love about pop music. It’s like a 1940s jazz song—condensing all these emotions into really potent words. You don’t have a ton of them to use and you gotta make that melody do the other half of the work and it’s gotta be a one-time-listen love, that’s part of the trick. I find it to be more challenging for me to make pop music than any other—folk music comes way easier. Pop music is a challenge, but I love it for its challenges. I’m so satisfied when I feel like me and the team got it right. I’m a shameless lover of pop music!