‘Breaking Away’: A conversation with Lennon Stella
Pop star talks Liam Payne collaboration, debut album and ‘homecoming’ show
Lennon Stella was destined for greatness.
She grew up surrounded by music, was named after a Beatle and was never afraid to share her voice on YouTube at a young age.
The pop star, now several years after she and her sister first celebrated their internet success, has grown into her own flourishing solo act. Ten million monthly Spotify listeners stand behind Stella, while her single “Polaroid” with Liam Payne and Jonas Blue shines with over 70 million Spotify streams.
And this came just six years after she wished Payne’s One Direction bandmate a happy birthday with a YouTube video.
We caught up with Stella on the phone before her sold-out Toronto shows at the Danforth Music Hall on March 19 and 20; and her October tour date at the KeyBank Center.
“Bad” is something we’ve never seen before. The premise of wishing your ex would’ve shown signs is a universally common situation, but I’ve never heard it in a song like that. Did you feel like this subject was missing in popular music?
Stella: Just because of what was happening, I genuinely felt that way. I really wish that there was more of a reason to hate him throughout it. He treated me so amazing. … It was something that so many people were saying. They've never heard it said like this, or that it was a totally different perspective to look on it. I didn’t think it was not common to think of it like that.
We saw the similar premise of “Bad” happen to your character in the show “Nashville.” Was this intentional and what is the meaning you hope others take away when they listen to the song?
Stella: “Bad” is just like, I don’t know. I feel like it kind of speaks for itself. It's just this breakup, like that feeling that you get when you really wish that they would’ve treated you bad and they actually were just so good to you. It makes it that much harder. But, also stand up for yourself and try to get them out of your life because they didn’t treat you well. It's like a little bit of an empowering thing but I mean it is kind of a little bit sad in a way and kind of a fun song. So it doesn’t feel as sad, but definitely I think a lot of people can relate to it. I hope that’s what kids take away from it so they [don’t] feel alone.
We’ve seen you grow into your musical career with your sister, Maisy reaching millions of YouTube viewers almost eight years ago when you were 9 years old. What was your transition like working with your sister to your solo work? Do you hope to include your sister in some of your solo work moving forward?
Stella: Yeah, totally. Maisy is the most involved in everything I do and will be forever and ever. I definitely want to have her as involved as you can make it comfortable for both of us. So if I can have her singing on stuff on the album with me and coming out with me, like absolutely. Like she'll be so involved. The transition just kind of happened naturally. We’ve stayed the same, if not closer. It was very smooth.
How did growing up around a musical family influence your appreciation for music? Do you remember your first memory of music?
Stella: My parents are musicians and they were a duo my whole childhood, like literally for as long as I can remember. It was always so musical. There was never really like this discovery period. It just was. There was never really a moment. But I remember when I was five, I wanted to get my first guitar and I told my mom that I wanted a guitar and they got me one for Christmas. I very vividly remember that. … But I started finding myself and writing and using it as a tool to kind of explore. It was really all I ever knew and it was super involved in the family all the time.
Has being named after John Lennon inspired you in your musical career?
Stella: Oh yeah. I mean, I feel he’s the best person ever to be named after in my opinion. I love John Lennon so much and everything he says and does inspires me. I feel like there couldn’t have been someone [else] for me that I look to so much as him. It’s just interesting that, of all people, that’s who I’m named after.
Your covers on YouTube range from artists like Bob Dylan to John Mayer to Drake. What is it about a song that catches your attention and what inspires you to put your own spin on a pre-existing track?
Stella: For me, its lyrics. When I hear a song and I want to cover it, it's usually because of the lyrics. At the end of the day, when you strip it back and I’m just playing on piano and guitar, all you’re hearing is the lyrics. You’re not hearing production or any of that. All you’re hearing is literally just the words and how they cut through. For me, that’s what I listen to if its a song I’m considering covering.
In just six years, you’ve gone from posting a happy birthday video for Harry Styles to working with fellow One Direction member Liam Payne on “Polaroid,” which has been a massive hit for you guys. Did you ever anticipate working closely with those who you looked up to when you were younger?
Stella: Absolutely not this soon. I feel like it just happened so fast. Its something I could’ve seen happening as life went on for sure. I think just because, specifically with Harry Styles, like he made it so tangible. Like it was never like a thing that he was way up in the clouds and he was never reachable. He was very friendly, so I think because it definitely felt tangible. But I did not think it was going to be happening this soon. I definitely would have never thought that one of the first songs I ever released was one with Liam Payne. It was so soon in my career.
Your debut EP “Love, Me” has shown your transition from country and folk to pop with songs like “Like Everybody Else” that was placed #1 on U.S. and Canada Spotify viral charts. What are your hopes for with your music and what do you hope your future in music will look like?
Stella: I’m just trying to take it day by day and make it. Everything changes so constantly in my life and there's so many things I want to do and so many things I want to accomplish and feel and make. I feel like, right now, I really want to make an album and I just want to have a full body of work that I feel so proud of and I’m so excited about the world hearing. And that’s where my mind is at right now. And touring for this EP. I’m so excited about it. And yeah, just focusing on making an album and making more music that I’m really excited about. That’s kind of where my mind is at right now.
You perform at the Danforth in Toronto for two nights in March. Does this feel like a homecoming?
Stella: Big time. I’m so excited. It's all my family there and I feel like that would kind of be the best way to start the tour. I can only imagine how I’m going to feel like so welcomed by the crowd. … It's literally all my family. My mom is one of eight brothers and sisters. I have so many cousins, so many aunts and uncles. I’m pumped about it for sure.
Twitter: @HannahJStein @BrentBlanchSpec