"I think I was meant to be famous because I have so much to say."
Madison Beer likes to Juul, so that is what she's doing. No makeup, hair knotted with a few strands escaping in the right places, she walks into the photo shoot in a cavernous black hoodie, worn-in Air Force Ones, and a cloud of vapor. Within an hour, she'll trade in this Madison Beer — a feminine version of Justin Bieber's YouTube urchin chic — for one with the lustrous hair extensions and arched-back poses of the Kardashians, Jenners, and Hadids who have gone before her. Beer is all too aware of what's expected of young, female celebrities in the age of Instagram. She also knows that the kind of fame she's after isn't built on selfies alone.
In many ways, Beer reads as a female Bieber: her career, like The Biebs', arose from a viral video when she was technically a tween, and she is similarly assured that she was destined to be a figure in pop culture. But early on, Beer hit the kind of roadblocks that typically end a music career. She waited it out and leaned on the unspoken mantra of our generation: anything is possible with a phone.
I dealt with a lot of f*cking torment from everyone, like, all the time. And then I got to walk into school one day and be like, 'Haha, Justin Bieber signed me, so f*ck you guys.'
Madison Elle Beer came out of nowhere, but actually Jericho, New York, the Long Island enclave whose orderly grid of 3,000-square-foot houses once gave rise to the demure perfection of Natalie Portman.
It was 2012 when, unlike a young Natalie Portman, then 12-year-old Beer started posting videos of herself singing on YouTube. This didn't go over well at middle school — "I dealt with a lot of f*cking torment from everyone, like, all the time," she says.
As the story goes, she had posted just three videos to YouTube of herself singing when she put up a fourth, an Etta James cover. Justin Bieber, who she never had any communication with before, homed in on this video and tweeted it. "I got to walk into school one day and be like, 'Haha, Justin Bieber signed me, so f*ck you guys,'" she recalls. In the middle of seventh grade, Beer, her mom, and her younger brother, Ryder, picked up and moved to Los Angeles.
One year into her contract with Island Def Jam Records, Beer had Scooter Braun (now famous for his write-up in Taylor Swift's Burn Book) managing her every move and a fresh Bieber cameo in the video for her first single, a bubble gum ditty called “Melodies." At 15, she dropped another single, “Unbreakable,” an electronic dance number about embracing your flaws that aimed to make Beer feel relatable, perhaps because being discovered by Justin Bieber is not.
She quickly realized that the Island Records version of Madison Beer wasn't getting her where she wanted to go. Both singles failed to chart in any country. “No one was on the same page as me. They wanted me to be 'Melodies' and teeny bop, and I was like, 'No!' I wanted to punch everyone and break out of the shell, but I was restricted by my age.”
What do I owe society? To have to force myself to be okay? I wasn't. I needed to take this time.
In 2016, Beer and Island Records announced they had gone their separate ways. "It was very difficult," she says. "When you do something like that ... the whole industry writes you off. No one believed in me anymore. It was just like, 'Cool. She had her shot, now she's gone.'"
Instead of shopping for a new label, she took a break. "I wasn't well. I was off my sh*t. I didn't feel like lying ... like what do I owe society? To have to force myself to be okay? I wasn't. I needed to take this time."
Beer focused on building up her image and "being on Instagram." She thinks that might have been a mistake, considering her disdain for social media now. She does not, however, regret leaving Island or the path she was on there. "I'm grateful I didn't put out all the sh*tty music I made. I only have two sh*tty songs that I've made that are out."
You should like the real you more than the Instagram you.
With Beer's career at a lull, her family moved back to New York while she stayed on in L.A. Beer was 18. "My mom always raised me to be super independent and not need my parents out [here]" she says. "When I was younger I was like, 'Woo! I'm free in the city by myself with a car. Great!' Now that I've gotten older, it bothers me more that I'm alone."
On Instagram, Beer is rarely alone. Her feed features photos with Hailey Baldwin, Winnie Harlow, Khalid, Kaia Gerber, Adriana Lima, and Offset. Her videos of herself singing sultry ballads and event pics like the one of her at Kylie Jenner's Kylie Skin launch party have hundreds of comments. (She can't say enough about the youngest Jenner. "I'm the one to defend her to the grave.")
No one is better positioned than Beer to understand the power of her platform — and how easily that power can shift and be turned against you. "It's incredible that we live in such a dope age where, literally, with the click of a button, I can reach 13 million people," she reflects. "I also try to stress to people how much it can really harm you." In her own life, that harm has manifested in ways you've heard before — self-scrutiny and the pressure to act out a maturity no teen can. "I have these people who are looking up to me, so I've felt this sense of responsibility to be perfect and rush my growing up process," she says.
Her first single of 2019, "Dear Society," tells the story of her complicated relationship with social media — she truly feels addicted to the hell. "I just try to emphasize to my fans, you don't need to put all your self-value in how many likes you're getting. You should like the real you more than the Instagram you."
My mom was driving me to school ... and I literally said to her, 'I think I'm going to be friends with Justin Bieber one day. I think I'm going to know him.'
For someone who grew up in "the hell," Beer does seem to have genuine, IRL friendships. I ask her how those friends would describe the real her. "Honest, emotional, and crazy. I don't know. I could f*cking ask one of them right now."
She picks up her phone and texts her best friend Isabella Jones, who goes by Banana Blue as a nickname and as her Instagram handle. The two are inseparable. (Beer has a tiny banana tattoo on the sole of her left foot in honor of Jones.) "I love her so much. I laugh so f*cking hard at this girl, you have no idea."
Beer's French-tipped nails tap out: "I'm in an interview, they want to know how you would describe me" and hit send.
Beer is a Pisces, and she feels it. "I'm very intuitive. I can tell within the first five minutes of meeting someone if I'm down with them or not," she says. She may even be psychic. For example, she knew she would meet Bieber. At 11 years old, she was in the car with her mom on Long Island when she heard his music for the first time. "'One Time' came on, and I remember being like, 'Who is this? What is this?' I had never heard of him before. My mom was driving me to school, and I literally said to her, 'I think I'm going to be friends with Justin Bieber one day.' I swear on my life I said that to her. And a year later is when everything happened."
People had this idea of me, and I wanted to change that and let them know who I really was.
Despite Beer's label drama, she and Bieber have remained close. Bieber had his own rough stretch, although his entailed egging a neighbor's house, a DUI arrest, an almost retirement, a canceled tour, and therapy for anxiety. "He's gone through a lot," says Beer. "He has a great f*cking girl that is such a good support system to him. I think he's in a good place now, and that's why he's putting music out again. Because he's happy."
Beer knew Hailey Baldwin, Bieber's now wife, before they became a couple. "She's everything he's needed," Beer says. "They were always going to end up together."
There are always signs that another Bieber/Beer collaboration is on the horizon — the pair has been seen in the studio together a few times over the years — but nothing has been released. "We've actually made a lot of songs together, they just haven't come out," Beer confirms. "Hopefully soon." She says there's no point in texting Bieber to describe her. "He's never on his phone, is the issue. Like, literally never. He would answer, but in, like, two days."
Beer is consciously devoting "zero focus" to finding a relationship of her own. She broke up with Zack Bia in March and says dating conditions now make her reluctant to even engage. "You can't date anyone in 2019. You can see every ex, you can see everything they like ... you're doomed. Doomed." Her new music includes only one love song. "Everything else is still kind of 'f*ck you, ex-boyfriend.'"
Beer's phone lights up. It's a FaceTime from Blake Griffin. You know, the NBA superstar who was spotted with Beer in early June, the same Blake Griffin who was rumored to be dating Kendall Jenner in late 2017. Beer calls across the room to Maeve Reilly, her stylist and friend, "Blake is calling me." She smiles for the first time during our entire sit-down, then covers the smile with her hand. She turns back to me: "OK, sorry. What were we saying?"
You would think someone who carries around $300,000 in cash at all times isn't humble, but he is.
Two years after leaving Island Records, Beer found her voice again. She dropped an EP in February 2018, As She Pleases, without the backing of a major record label (though she is managed by First Access Entertainment, which also steers the careers of Bebe Rexha, Rita Ora, and Ashlee Simpson). It was the beginning of a new Beer.
"[The EP] was my way of just letting the world know who I was, because I feel like I was so misunderstood. Because I have this big social media platform, and I would post this or do that, people had this idea of me, and I wanted to change that and let them know who I really was," she says. Four weeks later, the North American As She Pleases tour dates were sold out. Her single "Home With You" peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40 chart. The song has over 150 million plays on Spotify.
Later in 2018, she released "Hurts Like Hell" ft. Offset, a certified banger. Beer has met a lot of rappers, being in the industry for this long, and says Offset was "refreshing" to work with. "You would think someone who carries around $300,000 in cash at all times isn't humble, but he is."
You'll never see headlines like, 'Madison Beer Is A Drug Addict' or 'She's Out Of Control.' I will never be that person. Ever.
It feels like years since we texted Jones, but she finally responds. "Banana said, 'Creative, selfless, giving, emotional, down to earth, hilarious.'" I ask Beer what keeps her so "down to earth" and what that means, given her millions of followers and the Versace belt she's chosen to wear during her shoot. "I'm very aware of myself, so I don't let myself go off the rails. You'll never see headlines like, 'Madison Beer Is A Drug Addict' or 'She's Out Of Control.' I will never be that person. Ever," she says.
I could either be raging my tits off or I could be in bed, asleep, by 9 p.m. My friends never know what they're going to get.
Reilly, the stylist, who has worked with Beer for the past three years, says Beer has been this careful since they met. "She’s so mature. She knows what she likes and has a very strong opinion" about her look, Reilly says, but that clarity about her choices extends beyond her wardrobe. "What she puts out is really, really important to her. Her fans know that, but I don’t know if the whole world knows that."
Beer credits a lot of who she is to her parents. Her dad likes to go out and be social, and mom is "introverted, at home, in bed, chilling, doesn't really like people." Beer titrates the two influences based on her mood and what she needs to get done. "On a Friday night, I could either be raging my tits off or I could be in bed, asleep, by 9 p.m. My friends never know what they're going to get."
When she's not sitting in bed watching Tame Impala performances or running around town with YouTuber David Dobrik ("he's so dope, he's become one of my good friends"), Beer is in the studio working on her first full-length album. After seven years, it's time. "I feel like there's been so much build up for this album," Beer says. You only get one chance at a comeback, and she feels that pressure. "I'm fighting from being buried."
Beer struggles to describe the music she's producing now, but rest assured it isn't one-note. There are sweet ballads, there's synth, a pop riff here, an R&B vibrato there. "It could all sound like it's from a different album, but it's all so me. That's what I think is beautiful about it, is it's all just, like, a collection of who I am," she says.
This isn't the Madison Beer who made "Melodies." "I was so young, and all I cared about was being like, 'I want people to listen to this and understand me,'" she says. "Now I'm like, 'I don't really care if you understand me or not.'"
Top image credit: Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh top, pants; Jennifer Fisher earrings; Beer's own earring, ring.
Photographer: Eric Ray Davidson
Stylist: Maeve Reilly for The Only Agency
Hair: Aaron Light at The Wall Group using T3 Micro
Makeup: Cherish Brooke Hill