When news of Hailee Steinfeld’s record deal broke in May, it was met with some admittedly legit skepticism. This is a girl who earned an Oscar nomination at age 13 for “True Grit,” by proving she has the, well, grit to stand toe-to-toe with Jeff Bridges. So why would she need to do anything outside of her already-celebrated acting career? Surely her Hollywood cred wouldn’t dissipate without a foray into the pop music world, right?
The fundamental mistake of looking at someone’s career choices based on what they need, though, is that you forget to take into account what they want. And especially in an industry filled with creative minds, the pull that an artist feels to experiment and to evolve simply can’t, and shouldn’t, be ignored.
“For me, as an actor, I’m used to telling other people’s stories and with this music I get to tell my own,” Hailee recently explained to MTV News.
And so, Hailee The Singer came roaring out the gate with the self-empowerment anthem “Love Myself,” setting her apart from the pack of pop stars who came before her. If you look at the genre’s biggest female artists and revisit their debut singles, you’ll notice an immediate but unsurprising trend: they sing a lot about dudes. Britney Spears craved a guy’s attention on “…Baby One More Time,” as did Mandy Moore on “Candy.” Christina Aguilera was sexually flustered on “Genie in a Bottle” — ditto with Selena Gomez on “Come & Get It.” Jessica Simpson served up innocent, windswept romanticism with “I Wanna Love You Forever,” and Taylor Swift followed suit years later with “Tim McGraw.”
But for Hailee’s debut single, she decided to go balls to the wall, introducing herself to the world as a fearless artist who doesn’t need a dude to make her feel celebrated or validated. It’s a strong statement for a 19-year-old to make, and in a way, it’s one that only someone as young and optimistic as her could make. The song’s thinly veiled references to masturbation are well-documented by this point (and Hailee gamely fed into the frenzy by wearing a “Self Service tee” in the music video). But once the immediate shock of the lyrics set in, listeners were left feeling a breath of fresh air — because this is just some ridiculously fun music.
“There is that sense of fearlessness, which I think kind of came from that word exactly: just being fearless and being able to kind of put myself out there,” Hailee explained to us.
“Love Myself” built up a ton of anticipation for Haiz, Hailee’s debut EP, which dropped Nov. 13, aka the busiest album release date in the world. But her aforementioned fortitude meant going up against One Direction’s Made In The A.M., Justin Bieber’s Purpose and Alessia Cara’s Know-It-All was a welcome challenge.
Thankfully, the brazen ‘tude we heard on “Love Myself” is laced throughout the other three songs on Haiz, as is Hailee’s apparent penchant for tongue-in-cheek lyrics. On the attitude-filled “You’re Such A,” which Hailee told us is her next single, she skirts around using the word “d—k” in a charmingly playful way. It’s not a revolutionary move in the pop world — Little Mix did the same thing on “Hair,” and the Jonas Brothers did it on “Poison Ivy” way back when. But the clever lyrics, coupled with the foot-stomping beat, infectious “dadada” chorus and sick burns she delivers (“See you smoking those electric cigarettes, are you joking?”) make the tune an absolute blast to listen to.
“It’s not particularly easy, but I owe a lot to the people I’m surrounded by, who make me feel like I can do anything,” Hailee said about honing in on her self-assurance in the studio. “Being confident and telling people how you feel, and knowing that you’re not the only one. It’s OK to express yourself — I think that’s something I’ve realized.”
And even when Hailee slows things down and opts for chilly detachment on the EP closer “Hell Nos and Headphones,” she’s still decidedly self-assured. Taking a page from Alessia Cara’s introvert-championing single “Here,” Hailee delivers a mellow but fiery kiss-off to her partying peers, packing it with conviction as she decides she’s cool with being alone.
As much as her EP touts self-confidence, though, Hailee admitted to us that she’s still trying to find her footing as a singer, especially when it comes to performing live. Describing the transition from the screen to the stage as “so uncomfortable,” Hailee said she looks to performers like Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez and Rihanna for stage presence inspiration.
“I don’t know that it’s something I’ll ever really get used to,” she said. “It’s such a thrill and such an adrenaline rush that I don’t feel I get with acting as much as I do when I’m onstage. There’s something about that instant reaction, that live feel. It’s really surreal.”
Equally as surreal is the possibility that an actress-turned-singer could emerge as a bonafide luminary in the pop world. Sure, we’ve seen it work before, but for every Demi and Selena there are 50 hopefuls who came, tried and went. She already has some work to do, but already, Hailee’s proven she has the talent and the attitude to go far — which means she’s definitely a force to look out for in 2016.