Beyoncé Protege Sophie Beem Talks 'Hannah Montana' Inspiration, Fetty Wap Collaboration & Lessons From 'X Factor'
At just 16 years old, New York songstress Sophie Beem already has an icon in her corner. Signed to Beyonce's Parkwood Entertainment, the former X Factor contestant -- she auditioned in 2012 and performed on the singing competition when she was 13 -- is exploring her options.
Her upbeat ditties a la "Skyline" and the Fetty Wap-assisted "I Got It" highlight her diverse influences from pop to R&B. During a recent visit to Billboard HQ, Beem recalled finding inspiration in a Disney Channel favorite, teaming with Fetty Wap and receiving Beyonce's blessing.
Describe the moment you wanted to pursue music as a career.
I was really inspired by the show Hannah Montana on Disney channel. Whenever I watched that show, I imagined being her like going to school during the day and being a rock star at night.
What was growing up on the Upper East Side like?
Growing up on the East Side was really amazing because I got to grow up fast. Sometimes, that might not be a good thing in some people’s minds but I really figured out what I wanted to do early. I could go downtown at local gigs and just perform on my guitar, do open mics, really use the city at my fingertips. I would take my guitar to Bryant Park and sing for a bunch of people. They would pass little tips to me and I was like, “No, I don’t really care about that. I just want to do it for experience and exposure.”
What songs would you sing?
They were mostly cover songs but I had a couple of original songs that I had written. I started writing when I was 10, 11, 12, 13. I went on X Factor when I was 13. They really forced you to only sing cover songs so after X Factor, I really wanted to just write my own music.
What did you learn from being on X Factor?
It definitely scared me a little but I also saw that TV is TV and being an artist is completely different. They would give you 10 hours to complete a task and you wouldn’t have any time to prepare or practice, which is everything you need to succeed. You need to prepare, you need to practice, you need to have that time to actually focus in on craft. They didn’t do that at all. It’s a TV show. Whenever somebody cried, the camera went right to them. It was just very staged. It was an amazing experience for me because I got to perform for a thousand people and [show judges] Simon Cowell, Demi Lovato, Britney Spears and L.A. Reid. It was amazing and I loved performing on stage. I got to find out being on a stage was a home to me. I saw how set up everything is and how I didn’t want to be a part of that.
Who were some of the vocalists you looked up to in terms of range and songwriting style?
The Beatles were definitely one. I loved how they wrote songs and they really made me want to write songs on my own on the guitar. Today, people who inspire me are Sia. “Breathe Me” was a song I used to sing when I was younger. “Love The Way You Lie” by Rihanna and Skylar Grey, who wrote it. I remember I would always just do that song.
What was the concept for your EP?
Some songs are personal experiences like “Sleepless / City Kid.” It’s about me growing up in the city, how you act like you’re 21 at a younger age because you literally have the city there. You can go outside and you have to learn how to take the subway downtown if you wanna go there. You’re just independent at a younger age. “Skyline” is another one about the city. I just really liked having my hometown a part of my music because it’s a part of me. New York is literally how I am, how I act, how I grew up.
Recall your first performance.
It was sleepaway camp in French Woods, upstate New York. They would form us into bands and sing cover songs or you could write your own song but I wasn’t really at that stage yet. I think I was like 9 or 10 but I remember going up on the stage, being really nervous. I think one song we performed was the “Lazy Song” by Bruno Mars and “Bad” remix by Rihanna. As I got older, I liked to do different things.
How did you land on Beyonce's radar?
I performed at the office -- Parkwood Entertainment -- and they really enjoyed it. Then a friend set me up with the [former] general manager Lee Anne [Callahan-Longo] and invited her and her husband down to my show at Bitter End and she really loved it. She asked me to put together a package for Beyonce with a personal letter to her, telling her why I wanted to be an artist, what music I wanted to make, what I create and what I envision. sent that out to her while she was on tour. Within a week, I got a call from Lee Anne saying Beyonce wanted to sign me as one of the first artists to her label. I remember I was in my bed, crying and couldn’t believe what had just happened.
Would you say that Beyonce is more of a hands-on or hands-off kind of mentor?
Hands on. In a meeting, she’ll say, “What do you want to do?” She’ll always ask that first but then give her opinion but she’ll always go back to what is true to me, which is amazing.
How did you get to work with Fetty Wap on “I Got It”?
So actually I was in a meeting with Beyonce. She and I were trying to figure out who would sound good on “I Got It.” We both came up with the idea of having Fetty on it. I got him to feature on it before he blew up so I didn’t actually meet him. He just sent [his verse] over. It was cool. I loved having him on the track. It sounds amazing.
Are there plans for a full-length album?
Yes, definitely. I don’t know when it will be. We’re writing [for it] right now. We have a couple songs that I know and think will end up being on the album but we’re still figuring it out.
What is a key lesson you've learned from Beyonce?
Probably how hard she works. Before she did the Super Bowl, I went to one of her rehearsals and watched her practicing with her dancers. I’m at a level 3 and she’s like a level 8, you know what I mean? Every day, I wake up and say "I want to work that hard."