Under the sea, there's Ariel and Sebastian and shellfish singing Disney classics with catchy lyrics. But dive in deeper and you'll find Atlantis, the beautiful forgotten city that doesn't want to be found. For 23-year-old singer-songwriter, actress, and Disney Channel alumna Bridgit Mendler, “that's what it feels like to me to lose a first love.” She takes you there on her Nemesis EP, out November 18.
When MTV News sat down with Mendler last week, she confessed her concerns about releasing “Atlantis,” the album’s lead single featuring up-and-coming rapper Kaiydo. It carries a “tinge of darkness” her early music doesn't have, resulting in her most challenging song yet. “I was worried that people wouldn't sympathize with the subject material,” she said. ”I was worried that they would maybe feel like I was being cold, but I felt like that was something that I just had to share, because it was real.”
She's right. “Atlantis” is a stark yet welcome change from Mendler's hit debut “Ready or Not,” off 2012's Hello My Name Is..... Back then, she ruled the small screen on Disney Channel series Good Luck Charlie and Wizards of Waverly Place, as well as original movie Lemonade Mouth. During those days, her vocals blended bubblegum-pop with sassy sing-talking — “I like your face / Do you like my song?” — and wrapped the listener in a warm, sunny hug. “Atlantis,” meanwhile, makes you think and question and reflect: easy listening with complex roots.
“I feel like I've poured the most of myself of anything I've done into this project. That's been a very therapeutic process,” Mendler said. Her fans grew up watching her grow up on TV, so she hopes Nemesis will show them a “more well-rounded perspective” of who she is now, four years later. “You add layers to who you are, add different textures and colors. Maybe some are more dark and unfamiliar, but then that winds up being a new way we can know each other.”
Between those layers, there's a lot of vulnerability. “I don't feel like this is a right turn where I'm trying to run away from [my fans],” she added, revealing that after her finishing her tour in 2013, she needed time to figure out who she was at this different stage of her life. “I've always been a shy person, and so saying what I really feel without holding something back — it's hard because I don't want to disappoint [or] rock the boat.”
She compared it to having a regret tattoo. Nemesis, a collection of “regret songs” that capture emotional moments in time, is about “confronting those fears.”
Samantha Boscarino — Mendler's roommate, longtime bestie, and Good Luck Charlie co-star — accidentally inspired the EP's title when she mentioned the word “nemesis” one day. Just like their friendship, the name stuck. In fact, Mendler's whole Disney Channel family has stayed close over the years, and she was even in her Lemonade Mouth bandmate Naomi Scott's wedding in 2014. Good Luck Charlie’s Duncan family reunited earlier this year, too.
Though Mendler didn't pen the show's upbeat theme, “Hang in There Baby,” she sang it for the opening credits. Hello My Name Is... was her first official crack at songwriting, and she's been practicing ever since. “I used to pile on a ton of melodies,” she admits. “I couldn't tell on my own how to pick and choose in a way that would allow one melody to showcase itself and connect with the listener.”
The producers behind Nemesis, Spencer Bastian (of electronica band Citizun) and Mischa “Book” Chillak (of Toronto's hip-hop scene), helped Mendler discover the sound she has now. They compose the melodies: she drafts the lyrics. She credits the electronic voice effect in “Atlantis” and the EP's jazzy R&B vibe to their collaboration. She also shouted out influences as diverse as Nelly Furtado and The Animals.
“Do You Miss Me At All,” the next single off Nemesis, is due out in October. Now as her team preps for a tour — the “number-one thing” she wants to do — hoping to launch before January, Mendler is looking to the future: “Whatever we make next, I want it to feel like a new frontier. I don't know what that'll be.”
“Atlantis” clearly isn't a fairytale, and she's no Princess Ariel. Yet it's this uncertainty that makes Mendler's latest music so raw and so honest.