It's a new era for Dove Cameron.
Speaking to TODAY, the 26-year-old pop star, who recently won best new artist at MTV's Video Music Awards, said this is the first time in her decades-long career that she’s singing about what she wants to — and things are getting personal.
“I want to find balance,” Cameron told TODAY. “I want to heal. I want to find community. I want to feel like there’s a life that I don’t have to escape from.”
Cameron is putting these goals into her new music. “Boyfriend,” a song that went viral on TikTok 2022, marks the next stage of her career, post child-stardom: Edgy, raw and above all, honest. Cameron announced she started writing an EP in October 2022, and “Boyfriend” was an early single.
“I’m in the album cycle right now, and I’m watching (the songs) take shape,” she said of her writing process. “And I’m like, ‘Wooo, this is very focused on one or two different subjects, which just tells you a lot about where you’re at as a person.”
Cameron said that introspective journey has given her the confidence and freedom to write music aligned with the person she is today. After “Boyfriend” went viral earlier this year, Cameron removed her older music from streaming platforms, including the 2021 single “LazyBaby” and her debut EP "Bloodshot."
Cameron said she reset her public music catalog because she wasn’t “writing about (her) life” in those songs: "I was writing about what I thought people wanted to hear from me.”
“I think a lot of fans are disappointed that that music went away. But I think it’s important that they embrace this new music as my real music — because that music before was wonderful, and I stand by it, but it’s not actually me,” she said.
"I think it’s important that they embrace this new music as my real music — because that music before was wonderful, and I stand by it, but it’s not actually me."
In contrast, Cameron said the two singles released this year, “Boyfriend” and “Breakfast,” are a marker for what is “actually (her).”
The singer came out as bisexual during an Instagram Live in 2020 and said “Boyfriend” is “super specific” to an incident in own life. In the song, Cameron is trying to court a girl away from her current (and in her opinion, underwhelming) boyfriend. It's since been hailed as a queer anthem.
“I never expected anyone to hear it,” Cameron said. In fact, she never actually planned on releasing the song at all. But in January, she put a short, unfinished version on TikTok to preview her upcoming EP and boom: the audio went viral on the platform. The ensuing music video has also logged almost 40 million YouTube views.
"Anything that is super specific to your own life experience is always going to resonate the widest because universality isn't a specific. People always think that they need to cast a wide net to hit people. But that's not true. You have to say something that's super vulnerable and honest to you. And then everybody's like, 'You wrote this just for me.' That's just how humans work," he said.
"Breakfast," released on June 24, is another vulnerable track infused with "rage." It's a song about women's power over men: "I eat boys like you for breakfast / One by one hung on my necklace."
Cameron said "Breakfast" emerged from vulnerable conversations in the studio. After sharing her experiences about "a power imbalance dynamic in a relationship with a straight man," others offered up their own stories.
“Whenever you’re in the studio, it’s always like one seedling and then it’s like many things. Then everybody’s starting to share their own experiences with power imbalances and feeling disempowered in whatever is disempowering you," she said.
The song, she said, captures the "internalized rage" of "being marginalized or feeling like your voice is watered down or silenced, manipulated or twisted."
Once translated into a song, Cameron said that energy turned into, "F--- you. I eat you boys for breakfast. Who do you think you are? You want to go up against me? Please, I dare you."
Cameron said she's leaning into radical honesty to keep conversations going that were previously silenced, such as highlighting the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups.
"There's this whole commentary about there being 'more queer people than ever,' like they're being more made or something — press too many buttons and then we got all these gay people here," she said, sarcastically.
"And it's just not true. Historically, queer people have always been around. It's really culture that shapes our comfortability with being who we are. (Now), people are like,' Oh my God, suddenly everybody's gay.' No, no, suddenly everybody can talk about being gay," she said.
Cameron said being part of this cultural shift helps keep her genuine. And she's learned through life experience that life is too short to be anything else.
She experienced a "disproportionate amount of loss" at a young age, including the death of her father when she was 15, and these experiences impacted her approach to life.
"I've always been keenly aware that life is really, really fast, and that that I may not get more than a certain amount of years. I don't feel like wasting those years being petrified and afraid and embalmed in my own image or brand or ego or story. Everybody's gonna die, I'm gonna die. And if I'm gonna be here, I better say something with the platform that I've somehow stumbled upon," she said.
I don’t feel like wasting those years being petrified and afraid and embalmed in my own image or brand or ego or story.Dove cameron
Cameron started acting when she was 8, but says she's still adjusting to fame, especially after the success of "Boyfriend."
"I am someone who is supremely sensitive. I'm constantly asking all of my peers, 'How are you managing this?' And it seems to me that not everybody's affected in the same way. I have gathered that I am more at risk of being incapacitated, affected. It's not that I'm disproportionately affected by negative opinion. I just get really overwhelmed and taken out of my present moment when I remember that people are perceiving me," she said.
She said having all these eyes on her — literally millions — can sometimes make her feel boxed in and surveilled.
"You feel like drones are watching you at all times. I think that we are not even supposed to really know what we look like, let alone have our selves reflected back at us 24/7 and have people be like, ‘Her pores are ...'" she said, trailing off.
"I start to feel like not a human. I put this pressure on myself to be something that works for everyone. And I forget my autonomy, and I forget my humanity. And I forget that I'm here just to have a really f---ing great life," she said.
Part of this "great life," going forward, is leading with authenticity in her music and in her life. She said she can no longer "shape shift" into what people want her to be.
"I have to allow myself room to be human. Otherwise I’m doing a disservice to myself, to my future kids. And I’m doing a disservice to people watching me," she said.