One night, Minghella was collapsed on the couch in his L.A. home when “Don’t Kill My Vibe” by the Norwegian singer-songwriter Sigrid came on the radio. It was a eureka moment. “It’s not a pretty ballad; it’s a very aggressive and almost angry anthem,” he says. “And I thought that would actually resonate the most in this climate.” The response from his team was unanimous: Sigrid’s electro-pop kiss-off was a perfect fit for Violet, and unexpected enough that Fanning could put her stamp on it.
Prior to that moment, Fanning had interacted with the pop landscape primarily as a fan. Through her older sister Dakota, she had met Perry a few times; she once presented Selena Gomez, a friend, with a Billboard Music Award; and, she says, she occasionally slides into Lorde’s Instagram DMs, though they’ve never met in person. “I was very nervous,” she recalls. “I knew I had to kill it.”
The shoot for the scene lasted 12 hours, with Fanning performing “Don’t Kill My Vibe” at least 30 times. The result feels more cathartic than choreographed: Dressed in a modest red tracksuit, a smear of turquoise eye shadow across her lids, she grabs the mic and swaggers across the stage with limber confidence. “That’s how I dance in my room,” says Fanning. “The best performers get lost in themselves. You feel like there’s no barrier between you and them. They know people are watching, but they’re just in it.”
The crew was stunned, even de Vries, who had watched countless rehearsals. “No one expected her to do what she did,” he says. “Something just possessed her.” Fanning grins proudly, recalling the moment. “There’s a lot of me in Violet, which people wouldn’t expect,” she says. “When we were practicing, I would never do it full out until I needed to.”
Now Minghella just needed to find the original song that would represent Violet’s first hit, to play over the film’s end credits. He unsuccessfully had waded through approximately 500 demos by various songwriters before Antonoff saw a rough cut of Teen Spirit and came to the rescue. “I wanted it to be the kind of song you hear once and download immediately,” says Minghella. Antonoff offered him “Wildflowers,” an unreleased song he had written with Carly Rae Jepsen. “He played it to me over his phone, but instantly I could sing the chorus,” recalls Minghella.
“The song is about breaking free from a bad relationship,” says Jepsen. “I had looked to place it on my last album [Emotion], but it never quite fit. I love Elle singing this -- she gave new meaning to it.”
In the end, says Minghella, “Violet is a distinct artist, which is what I wanted.” Whether the rest of the world will perceive her as such remains to be seen (before its wider release, Teen Spirit will screen at South by Southwest on March 12). Fanning, for her part, still seems a little in disbelief. “Like, ‘Wildflowers’ is going to be a single that’s coming out,” she says, shaking her head. “That’s a rush.” But she’s ready for the world to hear Violet’s voice -- and her own. “Doing Teen Spirit feels like it opened doors to this whole other land for me,” she says with a smile. “I feel like if I wanted to do an album now, maybe I could.”