'Pitch Perfect' Star Hailee Steinfeld on Having Her Own Pop-Star Moment and Why 'Bad Blood' Was the 'Coolest': Exclusive
At just 18, Hailee Steinfeld has a No. 1 movie (Pitch Perfect 2), an Oscar nomination (for 2010's True Grit), a cameo in Taylor Swift's all-star "Bad Blood" mega-video and a freshly inked label deal with Republic Records under her belt.
But first, she has to finish high school. Speaking with Billboard in late May, hours before attending the premiere of her latest film Barely Lethal, Steinfeld was happy to report she had only 11 days left of home school left to fulfill. “I feel like I've been working two full-time jobs these last six years,” exclaims the L.A. native, on the cusp of swapping out “student” for “singer-songwriter” on her action-packed resume.
Due later this year, Steinfeld’s debut album will be preceded by lead single “Love Myself” this summer, which was written by Julia Michaels (Selena Gomez’s “Slow Down,” Fifth Harmony’s “Miss Movin’ On”) and produced by Swedish duo Mattman & Robin (Taylor Swift’s “All You Had To Do Was Stay”), with additional production from Captain Cuts (Walk The Moon’s “Shut Up And Dance,” Grouplove’s “Tongue Tied”), Harvey Mason, Jr. (Chris Brown, Jennifer Hudson) and The Futuristics (Natalie La Rose’s “Somebody,” Flo Rida’s “I Cry”).
Steinfeld caught up with Billboard to fill us in about her musical endeavors, other upcoming movie roles and why filming the “Bad Blood” video was one of the “top three” moments in her friendship with Taylor Swift.
Congratulations on your new record deal! How long have you had musical ambitions?
I started recording a couple years ago with a close friend of mine. It’s always been a passion of mine that really only recently I had the opportunity to do something with 110 percent . But it is something that I started a couple years ago with the hopes of it ending up near to where it is right now, which is why I’m really excited to sign with Republic. It’s just an insane process, it’s all very exciting.
How did the Republic deal come about -- was it a direct correlation to your role in Pitch Perfect 2?
As an actor, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking for something that would help segue into my musical ambitions. But the way this all came about was so organic. I went to an event in New York with my mom and she ended up sitting next to Charlie Walk from Republic, and my mom was talking to Charlie and she looked over at me halfway through dinner like, “You got to talk to this guy -- he’s amazing.” I started to talking to Charlie, and it’s crazy. He and I talk all the time about how insane it was that we happened to be sitting next to each other one night. I was showing him stuff I had recorded before, and I expressed how much I wanted to make my own music. We kept in touch for weeks, and eventually it all just came together.
Was that event before or after you filmed the movie?
I had shot Pitch Perfect but it wasn’t out yet, but there was definitely a connection of him having worked on the first movie. I just had music of my own that I’d made previously -- it all stemmed from that. It was about a month or so after. It all happened fairly quickly. My mom and I took a couple meetings with Charlie, then I met Wendy Goldstein and Monte Lipman. That’s when I started to become more serious, when I met the whole team at Republic. I officially signed (with them) and I’ve been recording for three months now.
How would you describe your sound thus far, and who are some people you’ve been working with?
I’m still shaping and developing it, but I would say it’s unique pop. I cut one of my first demos with Captain Cuts over a year ago, and I’ve been recording more with them now more, which is awesome. And The Futuristics are so great -- we’ve made some really unique and different records. It’s been interesting over the last couple of months, finding my sound. We’ve kind of covered a couple different sounds across the board as we narrow it down. I’ve also worked with Harvey Mason, Jr., who I’ve learned so much from. He’s been vocal producing almost every record that I’ve cut. He is just unbelievably patient and just so knowledgeable and continues to educate me without even knowing that he’s doing it.
Are you writing as well as singing for this album?
I’m co-writing a lot, which is really exciting. Even to be in the room when a song comes together, and give them the idea of what I had in mind on something I’m going through or living with and they’re able to put it into words for me, that process is really exciting to be a part of. I find that I’m doing it more and more.
You recently released an acoustic version of “Flashlight” from Pitch Perfect 2, which was written by Sia and Sam Smith for the film and performed in several key scenes. Why was it important to put your stamp on it?
There’s just something about that song -- the original version of that song I heard was a ballad, and Sia’s vocals were actually on the demo. She wrote it with Sam Smith, and I remember hearing the song and absolutely loving how emotional it was and how big and cinematic it felt. And in the movie Anna Kendrick’s character, who’s sort of bashing that song, takes it and makes a remix to the song which is a more radio techno-y kind of feel. And Jessie J cut and released her version, which is kind of its own pop flavor. And I thought the one that really hadn’t been done was a really stripped-down, acoustic version of the song. Going back to its roots and emotion and the connection between the song and my character in the movie played a whole part in the idea of doing a stripped-down, acoustic version. It’s not quite my sound, which is more edgy and pop, it was just a special song to sing.
Have you gotten a chance to meet Sia or Sam Smith as part of the process?
I have, but not as part of the process, which is kind of how things happen now. I met Sia at the Vanity Fair Oscar party, and I’m such a huge fan of her everything. She was so kind. And I met Sam at another event, just randomly.
You recently turned 18, and were born and raised in LA, where you’re still based with your parents. Where does school factor in to your many plans?
I have 11 days left of school -- I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m home-schooled -- I have been since the sixth grade.
Do your parents give you any leeway when you have a big movie premiere like the one you have tonight for your film Barely Lethal?
None. Which is fine, because I shouldn’t -- it’s kind of interesting, like I’ve been working two full-time jobs for the last four years, five years, but I love it.
You have four other films due out this year -- including two these past two weeks, When Marnie Was There and Barely Lethal, as well as Ten Thousand Saints and The Keeping Room in the fall. What can you tell us about your other roles?
I went about two years straight and just basically filmed these movies back to back. I think one of the most rewarding parts of having done these films is, you do the film and do the best you can and spend however many months of your life on a project, but then you get to revisit it and show it off, which I find to be the complete opposite of music. When Marnie Was There was the first animated film I’ve ever done. I have another film called Term Life with Vince Vaughn coming soon, and another, The Keeping Room, coming out, which opened in Toronto, which was my first time there so that was really nice.
Are any of these new roles particularly close to your heart?
Not one over the other, but I think again the beauty of spending three, four however many months of your life with one movie is you devote so much of your time and yourself emotionally and physically to each one of them. You do them in the first place because you love them and because you are passionate about it.
How soon might we hear your new music?
I just finished recording my first single last night. It’s an edgy pop record that will be coming this summer for sure. It’s called “Love Myself,” and it was produced with Mattman & Robin. You’ll hear it soon enough and be able to tell me what you feel it’s about. It’s crazy again how fast it’s all happening and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it.
I can’t let you go without asking about another recent character of yours – Trinity, in the “Bad Blood” video.
It was so much fun, but it’s so crazy. I didn’t know this until today that people are asking if there’s going to be a full-length. I was like, “The song?” And they said, “No, the video!” It is basically a mini-movie. I don’t see how there’s any reason there can’t be a larger one. I admire Taylor so much as an artist and as a person -- I think she’s absolutely incredible. That was definitely in the top three coolest things we’ve done as friends, is make that video.
What else is in that top three?
[laughs] Nooo I won’t say.
But if there ever were to be a feature-length “Bad Blood” film, would you be down?
Yes. Without a question!
A version of this story originally appeared in the June 13 issue of Billboard.