Dove Cameron may be following in the footsteps of fellow former Disney stars like Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, and Demi Lovato who’ve successfully made the transition from teen sitcom star to pop star, but there’s no question that she’s blazing her own trail to the top of the charts and bringing her own unique sound to the music industry.
After winning an Emmy for her role in Disney Channel’s teen sitcom “Liv and Maddie,” starring in the popular Disney Channel Original Movies trilogy “The Descendants,” and taking center stage in the off-Broadway production of “Clueless,” she’s making a major move and stepping into the spotlight solo. Last year, she released four standout singles—”Out of Touch,” “So Good,” “Bloodshoot,” and “Waste”—that showed off the range of her signature honeyed tone—and we can’t wait to see what she has in store for 2020.
Ahead, she reflects on her rise to fame, including her fondest memories, struggles with bouts of insecurity and anxiety, and her #1 piece of advice for aspiring musicians.
CREATE & CULTIVATE: Your career started at 16 on the Disney Channel after a scout spotted you singing in a choir. Can you take us back to that time? What are some of your fondest memories of those early years? What did you learn about yourself and the industry? How did it prepare you for your career now? Why?
DOVE CAMERON: Wow, it feels like ages ago, honestly. My earliest years in the industry were some of the best years of my life, while also being some of my worst and an unbelievable uphill battle. I definitely had a lot of fun, experimenting with who I was, what my abilities were, falling in love for the first time, and navigating this entirely new world that I was now, all of a sudden, involved in.
While this was happening, I was also dealing with the death of my father, severe anorexia and bulimia, anxiety relating to newfound fame and global attention, and what would eventually become an incredibly unhealthy relationship. I think everything in those years, and every year leading up to present day, career or personal or both, has prepared me for my career and life now, as I am without a doubt, the strongest, most concentrated, and most unabashed that I have ever been in my life.
It wasn’t all magic, but it does feel like it was all exactly how it needed to be to get me to be where I am now and the human that I have become.
You became very famous very quickly—how have you handled that? What advice do you have for others who are in the middle of that now? What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned as a result?
I think I’ve handled it as best I can, while also never quite finding a rhythm or being comfortable with fame. I always thought I would be the type of person to be entirely comfortable with fame, I imagined it would feel like you had friends everywhere you went. But pretty quickly, I learned that I am more prone to being triggered by a lot of what comes with fame, and I panic in a lot of situations, even to this day. I get overwhelmed easily, and I get very emotional when I feel like I’ve lost a sort of anonymity.
Being able to go anywhere and be no one and observe the world as it is and not through a distorted lens was one of my favorite parts about being alive. And now I kind of feel like I’ve lost that. I am so grateful for my career, my fans, my support, and to be able to do one of the only things I feel truly passionate about for a living, but just like everything else in life, it has its downsides. And I think it would be silly to pretend it didn’t.
If I had to give any advice, I would say, be easy on yourself. No one handles global attention in the exact same way and however, you respond to it is okay. Don’t shame yourself and punish yourself if it’s something that scares you instead of entices you, and take it day by day. Focus on your passion, and keep good people around you. A strong relationship with yourself is key, as well. Lastly, if I’ve learned anything, it’s to prioritize your mental health and well being, above other people’s opinions of you, or judgments that they place on you. It doesn’t matter how perceivably successful you have are, how booked and busy you are, or how your life seems from the outside, if you’re not okay, that’s your whole life.
You won an Emmy playing the dual lead roles in teen sitcom “Liv and Maddie.” How does it feel to be recognized for your work? How has the win changed your career since? Why?
I was truly deeply touched when I won the Emmy, touched and very shocked. I didn’t expect to would win, I didn’t even expect to be nominated. I still don’t know who put me up for the nomination, ‘cause it wasn’t me and I had no idea about it! It really meant so much to me, and I was very emotional.
I have always loved this industry. I have always loved film, television, music, and musical theater more than anything in the entire world, and so, to be recognized by people that I respect so deeply, to feel like they saw me as “one of them” was a life-changing moment for me. I’ve never really thought about or put too much value on winning awards, so when I did, the surprise was that much sweeter.
I think it gave me a permission that I hadn’t given myself to actually pursue this career like I deserved to be here, rather than like I was someone who just wanted to be here but maybe wasn’t quite good enough.
You’re now a famous pop singer with a natural coloratura soprano range and have made your London debut in “The Light in the Piazza” at the Royal Festival Hall. As a modern multi-hyphenate with so many careers intersecting at the same time, what advice do you have for people who don’t have their eyes on one career path and feel split into different areas? How do they go about it?
I definitely think that I have too many passions to commit to only one expression of myself, so I feel very lucky to be able to work in so many fields, and to be in an industry that is a seemingly never-ending well of opportunity for people like myself. It can be incredibly difficult to juggle, especially if you are a professional with a team or multiple teams responsible for so many people’s livelihoods, which can be an added pressure.
But if you love something, or in this case, many things, go for them all, with equal passion. Just because not many people are doing it all at once, or maybe only a few are, or maybe you can’t look to anyone who has the career that you want, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Just also be sure to prioritize downtime when you can, and check in on yourself to see how you’re holding it!
You have over 33 million Instagram followers, many of them are young fans, and you’ve been very open with them about your bouts of insecurity and anxiety. How do you view your influence on social media? Why do you feel compelled to be so honest and vulnerable with your fans? What message do you hope to bring to your community?
My relationship with social media is a funny one because I have no idea why or how I have the following that I do. I run everything myself, no one “plans” or organizes it for me, and I don’t even consider myself to be someone who people would find interesting enough to follow. While I used to be afraid of social media and the pressure that came with it, especially this year, I have begun to view it as an incredibly powerful tool for communicating things with deep human value. As well as, simply a creative outlet, and maybe sometimes just a distraction.
It’s definitely not all good or all bad, but I am feeling so much better about it now that I have begun to speak about social issues, mental health, and making a space for people to talk about things they might usually feel uncomfortable talking about. I also plan to use it as a tool to speak about my work with the NRDC this upcoming year, including anything from sharing statistics and micro and macro ways that my followers and I can make an immediate difference to sharing challenges and contests focused on environmental change.
What advice can you share for other musicians reading this who are struggling with societies and the industry’s expectations or limitations on them? How can they develop the confidence to be themselves and grow their own voice?
This is definitely something that I’m learning about right now in myself, and attempting to free myself from. Especially now with the rise of social media, which is a very new element to being a well-known artist (with no handbook on how to navigate that), it can be easy to feel like you’re trapped and consigned to be more of a politician, walking the thin line of what is acceptable and what is safe, in the views of the many, rather than an artist, whose very job is to create and express from a purely individualistic viewpoint. Like, that’s the whole point of being an artist. Those two things don’t hold hands easily, and I think if you want to create anything meaningful and something that feels like a true expression of your one and only unique life and experience, you have to divorce yourself from the opinions of others and trying not to upset people, which can be difficult in this climate. But if you always listen to everyone else, you’ll become them, not you. And our only job in this life is to become ourselves, to the fullest extent that we can. That’s everyone’s job. And how amazing is that?
When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you #FindNewRoads + switch gears to find success?
I think when your personal life is healthy and flowing, your career is healthy and flowing. So, if I ever hit a perceived “hurdle” in my career, I actually look at what is going on inside of me, personally, handle whatever that is, then come back and assess my career. My personal life will win out over my career, every time. You can have a life without a career, and be happy, but that is not true for the opposite.
Who are the women in the industry that have been mentors and supporters for you? Why? How has this person shaped you and your career?
I have had so many female mentors, in every medium of my life and career, but the main ones that spring to mind are Kristin Chenoweth, Ariana Grande, and Renee Fleming. Mentors, more so Renee and Kristin, and Ariana are more like people who I am incredibly inspired by, as a woman and as an artist closer to my age. I take a lot of cues from her, and take her advice like flecks of gold, as she is someone I relate to, personally. She’s been through so much, just like me, and she handles her career with so much grace and ease, which is not easy with her platform and following and global pressure. But Renee and Kristin have been around a lot longer than me, been through every career occurrence and phase under the sun, and, of course, they are both vocal legends, and they feel very much like mothers to me. I count myself incredibly lucky to have the women in my life that I do.
You have had incredible success already but what does success mean to you? How do you measure success? Why? What characteristics make you successful in the music industry?
I think the more you don’t aim for success, the more you focus on your actual craft, how you can improve, how you can bleed yourself into it to the fullest extent, and the more you feel comfortable with the idea of potentially never being successful, the more likely it will be for you to find success in some form or another. It may take a little longer, may move a little slower, but this is a long career. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Don’t go for the quick burn. Aiming for success alone will never hold up in the long run. It’s like investing loads of money in a storefront, but never stocking the shelves with the products you advertise.