Not many artists are able to garner the same clout Nessa Barrett did before their first EP release. After drumming up a multi-million follower audience on social media, Barrett felt as though she was putting on a facade, and decided to show a more authentic side of herself. Her first single “Pain,” released in 2020, was how she did that. A haunting ballad that has racked up over 12 million views, Barrett followed up with a string of successful singles and videos over the last two years, like “la di die,” “counting crimes,” and the biting “i hope ur miserable until ur dead. Barrett’s debut EP Pretty Poison released in September 2021, and her most recent single “dying on the inside,” serves as the lead to her anticipated 2022 album.
Barrett rolled back the curtain of what went into the record, and how she has found her authentic voice. Read the full interview from The Untitled Magazine‘s latest print edition, The “INNOVATE” Issue, out now.
How do you feel your childhood experiences have influenced your music?
My dad was a producer and always had a studio at our house, so I was always around music. It was just something I’ve always wanted to do. I actually started writing songs as soon as I could walk & talk. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was a way for me to express myself and find comfort. All of my experiences growing up have impacted my songwriting and music, and still do today. My songwriting is very personal and autobiographical.
Last year you left New Jersey to follow your music dreams in Los Angeles. Tell us about the decision to leave and your journey so far. Did you have a bit of culture shock moving to Los Angeles or did you feel like you finally felt at home?
I always knew I wanted to end up in California, I even named my dog back home Cali, so when it finally happened it was so surreal. It was a weird time in my life because I was going through a lot of change all at once — but being able to record in a studio for the first time really helped me through it all. Music has saved my life in so many ways, and I’m very grateful for all of this.
You have spoken about being bullied when you were younger. Can you share those experiences and how music helped? How do you hope your music helps other victims of bullying?
Music has helped me deal with all the ups and downs in life. Kids and teenagers can be mean. It’s unfortunate, but people deal with things in life in different ways. Bullying comes from other people feeling insecure or having their own issues. I hope my music is just honest, and if it helps people to get through what they’re going through and feel not alone and that things can get better, than awesome, that makes me really happy.
How would you sum up your sound and music style in five words?
Honestly I can sum it up in just one: “Nessa.” I feel like I’m developing and creating my own sound that has influences from all over.
With a run of successful singles out over the last year like “counting crimes” and “la di die,” what can you share about your debut EP Pretty Poison? What are the themes of the EP and the main story you want to tell with it?
The last year has been crazy. It’s been such a wild ride personally and professionally releasing music. The success of “la di die” has been insane. Being on the radio and charts and getting to perform on TV and share my music with people is like a dream and makes me so happy. Though behind the scenes, I’ve been going through some crazy shit — which is what I wrote my EP, Pretty Poison, about. Pretty Poison tells the story of my life over the past year since moving to LA, experiencing fame, and dealing with social media, toxic friendships/relationships, my mental health & personal struggles, and falling in love with someone who really understands me.
What’s the story behind the EP’s title, Pretty Poison?
It is actually a tattoo that I had on my arm months before we needed a title for my EP. But it represents both the beautiful and dark sides of my life.
At Lollapalooza 2021 you got buzz for not only your amazing performance but also for your outfit! How would you describe your personal style?
I feel like my style is like my music, very Nessa. I love to dress up girly but I also love wearing sweats and street clothes with sick sneakers. Emo, dark, edgy, but with pinks and jewelry.
You first hit the scene with the very vocal-heavy “Pain,” with more musically complex songs coming afterwards. Why did you decide to introduce yourself to the world with such a stripped down song?
“Pain” was the first song I wrote when I moved to LA and first went to the studio. I just sat down at the piano and it poured out. It was just so honest with how I was feeling at that moment. It just felt right, and I knew I wanted to share it as soon as I could. I wanted to put out something authentic and true that was 100% me. I also was still figuring out my direction with my sound, so “Pain” gave me the foundation to go in any direction.
Your recent single “i hope ur miserable until ur dead” is a pretty intense revenge song. Tell us about how you went about writing the lyrics for that one and what inspired it. Was it a difficult song to write?
“i hope ur miserable until ur dead” is really an empowerment song. I wrote it about the anger you feel when someone betrays you. It’s okay to be mad and say “fuck you” and hope that people get what they deserve. Writing the song helped me move and own my own identity so it’s really being a badass woman.
You are quite open online about your battles with mental health. How do your daily struggles with that impact the way you create music? What gives you the confidence to open up to millions of people?
I think it’s important to share the real me, and mental health is something I’ve dealt with and continue to deal with. Music honestly helps me as therapy and sharing. The fact that some people hear my music and story and I can help them is really what gives me confidence. We’re all in this together. No one should have to feel alone.
Tell us about your plans to advocate for mental health for others?
One of my songs on the EP, “scare myself,” is about my mental health and BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). I plan to continue sharing my story, which I hope will help people, and I would like to get involved with an organization that helps young girls. I just want to be the person I always needed when I was going through things, and to remind everyone “you’re not alone.”
Did having a huge following on social media give you more confidence releasing your music, or did you feel any pressure releasing your debut songs when you already had that following? Why or why not?
Having a following on social media and a platform helped in many ways, but honestly I would have felt the same about releasing music even if I didn’t have that. Sharing my music and being vulnerable can be scary but it’s also liberating and exciting, and I’m so thankful that I get to do it as my job. It’s what I’ve always dreamed of. Music helps me with everything in life and I would still want to make music and write songs even if I wasn’t able to release them.
How has your social media following helped you through the pandemic? Have you had any challenges or anxieties with social media this last year?
Social media can be good and bad. I’m so thankful that I have some of the best fans that follow me and care about me and that we can connect through social media. It can also be negative and toxic but I’ve learned that it’s important and okay to take breaks when needed and just focus on real day to day life.
What challenges did you face releasing your first songs during the pandemic? Are they challenges you still face now making music?
I’ve honestly really enjoyed creating and being in the studio over the last year. I’m always writing and thinking of new songs. I get excited and want to share them right away and can get impatient waiting but it’s been a really good experience so far. Not being able to play live has been sad, but live music is coming back and I just sold out my first shows. I can’t wait to play live and share these songs with people in real life.
You recently made your late-night television debut performance with “la di die” on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, with jxdn and Travis Barker – tell us about that experience.
The fact that we got to perform our song on Jimmy Kimmel and Ellen was just surreal. Because of the pandemic we had to film them and send them in. I’m looking forward to getting to perform in a real TV studio in front of an audience.
Tell us about Prom in Hell, your four-part horror-musical-comedy series?
Prom In Hell was really fun because I got to act and play a character and also collaborate with jxdn on another song for the series. It was fun because it was all friends that were in it. It also did really well which is cool.
Do you have any songwriting philosophies you stick to?
For me, I just always want to be authentic and write songs that are true to me and my life. It’s cool if they’re successful and people like them but I don’t want to ever make that my main motivation. I want my songwriting to always be meaningful and to tell a story.
What about words of wisdom for everyday life?
Hmmm, that’s a good question. I think it’s important to remember that we’re all human, that we all go through good and bad times, and that the bad times will pass. It’s important to find ways to deal with the bullshit we go through which can be therapy, friends, family, music, art, whatever. And try to find people in life that have your best interests at heart and vice versa. It’s easy to surround yourself with people that aren’t the best for you, but life is so much better when you make it a point to surround yourself with people you deserve and to share real, genuine love with. It’s not always easy and it’s important to remember that and that it’s ok.
This is our “INNOVATE” issue, what does that word mean to you? How have you had to be innovative in your career?
To me, “Innovate” means to grow and to change and evolve, and to be bold and do things differently. I think to be successful in any career you need to be innovative, and I definitely feel like the last year has been about innovation for me, in music and in life.
Are there any touring or performance plans coming soon? What else can we look forward to from you in the future?
Yes, definitely! Being on stage at Lollapalooza was the most crazy feeling. It was so sick! The crowd and the energy was insane. It really got me excited about touring and playing my songs live and singing along with the crowd. I actually put up my first shows in Los Angeles and New York for sale right after Lolla and they sold out in minutes. We added two more shows and I seriously can’t wait. There will be lots of shows and new music in the future for sure, and a full album which I’m already working on.
Nessa Barrett @nessabarret
Photography by Indira Cesarine @indiracesarine for @theuntitledmagazine
Stylist Untitled Team / Parker Blaine
Styling Assistant Daniela Correia @daniela__correia
Hair & Make-up by Natasha Greissing @natasharg using Tarte Cosmetics @tartecosmetics / KMS Haircare @kmshairus
Photographed at Sofitel Los Angeles @sofitellosangeles