“I Just Grew Up.” Lennon Stella On Her New Music, New Look & Newfound Maturity

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The stereotypical teenage girl is moody, unreasonable, easily irritated, and overly dramatic. On television, adolescent girlhood is usually all these clichés, on steroids. On the six-season country musical drama Nashville, Lennon Stella’s character, Maddie, had all of the above teenage traits — okay, sometimes slightly more positive. In the soap-opera version we saw on Nashville, Maddie became a pop star. In real-life, Stella is on her way to that storied career happy ending, but the good news is she’s not that formulaic version of a teenager. In person, she’s excitable yet grounded; bubbly yet pensive. For a social-media sensation who grew up on television, she seems pretty normal. You know, except for the getting famous as a preteen thing.
Stella’s first viral moment happened when she was 13. She and her sister, Maisy, then 8, uploaded their folksy, a capella with margarine-containers-for-percussion rendition of Robyn’s "Call Your Girlfriend" to YouTube, which caught the eye of Nashville producers. The rest is internet history. Now, Stella is 19, and her latest viral smash is a collaboration with Liam Payne (of One Direction fame) that has over 70 million Spotify streams. “Polaroid” is just a teaser of Stella’s grown-up solo sound. Her debut EP, Love, me, is full of agonizing love songs, empowering breakup anthems, and breezy pop numbers. It’s got all the layers teen girls on TV should have.
Stella was raised just outside Oshawa, Ont., by musician parents but says Toronto “feels like home.” Ahead of her two sold-out homecoming Danforth Music Hall shows later this month, Refinery29 caught up with Stella while she was on break from shooting a campaign as the new face of Hershey’s Gold in Canada. She opened up about the hurtful comments she gets about her new look, her evolving relationship with her sister, and, most importantly, how to get revenge on an ex.
You grew up in rural Ontario. You had no wi-fi, no cable. How did that impact the person you are today and the artist you became?
In every single way it shaped me as a person and also shaped me creatively. Music was just my safe haven. We had a TV to watch movies on, but there was just no cable and no internet or anything. We would be outside jumping on the trampoline or making music.
And your mom had a rule about music in your house that was a bit unorthodox…
We could never tell each other to stop singing or tell anyone in the family to stop singing. My sister [Maisy] would be singing at the top of her lungs so loud. I would be sitting there like, "Please, just stop. Please stop." But we could never just tell each other to stop singing because when [my mom] was growing up, that was a thing that really damaged her confidence. It's embedded inside me that [music is] something creative, it's something good, it's something positive. There are people that do it because their parents force them. It was never that.
You were named to Refinery29’s Z List, a list of Gen Zers changing the world. What do you think is the biggest misconception about your generation?
Social media is a weird thing. I haven't fully decided how I feel about it. I go back and forth on whether I hate it or love it. It's really cool that we're able to be so personal and we feel like we can relate to people and connect, but there's obviously a lot of it that's really negative and also there's a weird pressure. Everyone feels like you owe them something. If someone DMs me, they always feel like you have to respond.
You’ve said that you respond to almost every DM you get. How do you keep your sanity through that?
Honestly, I really genuinely view [fans] as friends. I feel like there's no in-between. Either you have it like that, or you have this thing where you want to be on this pedestal and not be relatable. The biggest compliment to me is when someone's like, "I feel like I know you. I feel like I'm your friend."
Do you get caught up in comparing yourself to other people on social media?
I think that’s something everyone struggles with, especially being 19 and growing up in [this industry] since I was so little. I try not to, but I feel like it's just a thing [I deal with]. On Instagram you can filter out specific words. Words that people were saying a lot, I just wrote them in there so that as they write their comment it doesn't let them post it, so I don't see a lot of the negativity.
That sounds healthy. What kinds of things do you mute on Instagram?
Yeah, it is. I don't want to see it. I think honestly now, I'm just bothered by everyone being like, "Oh my God, you changed so much."
You have grown up in front of the world and changed along the way. You do look different from when you were on Nashville
Yeah, I hope so. I'm like, "I just grew up. You just watched it." You know what I mean? People just can't stand the fact that I don't look 12 anymore. That's frustrating for me now. I struggle with that.
Tell me more about the pressure that comes with that.
I don't really care what people think but I do feel the judgement. I'm going to look how I look, which is why I do look the way I look and not really care. It's just what they say about me growing up, "You changed so much." I'm just like, "I really didn't. I just grew up; that's what happens to a face."
Aside from social media, your life has been documented since you were a preteen. People say "life imitates art," but your art was literally imitating your life. So many of Maddie's storylines on Nashville were actually your life, right?
100%. There were a lot of different times when the parallel was a little too close. It was so the exact same, it was unreal.
Give me an example of when it came a little too close.
[When Maddie was cheated on by her boyfriend.] It was the exact same storyline. The cheating stuff came at the exact same time it was happening in real life. That was just weird and creepy.
And with Maisy, when we started singing together and then one goes [solo]. It's also on a TV show, so it's super dramatized. It just definitely aligned perfectly with my life.
Let's talk about Maisy, because on Nashville there’s tension about your solo career. Is that how it’s been in real life?
Not at all. She's the best. She's literally the number one person that I always go to with every new song. She's the most supportive and the most genuinely happy for me of everyone in my life. That's why it was weird to act that out because it wasn't like that in real life.
I think for a lot of people, the idea of working with your sister and being with her all the time sounds like either a dream or a nightmare. Has your relationship changed at all since you stopped working together musically?
Yeah, totally. That exact time we finished filming together I was starting my own music stuff. I moved out. We were doing school together as well because when we weren't filming, we would literally be in school on set in a trailer. It was a lot of time spent together. There were totally times when I wanted to rip her hair out and then they would be like, "And action." When the show finished, we had a moment to breathe and grow on our own individually. I think because of that, we are so tight now. Now, I feel like we're literally best friends.
You draw from personal experiences for this EP. “Breakaway” is about your parents’ divorce, and you gave them a heads up before it was released. Do you give an ex the same courtesy?
No. Absolutely not. No, I did not reach out to him. He doesn't get that satisfaction.
We’re talking about the dude from your song “Bad,” about a cheating ex, right? Is it true that you became friends with the girlfriend he was cheating on with you?
Yeah, totally. She and I sat on the phone for four hours figuring out what was happening. We just kept unravelling. "So that time you were on the hike with him, that was actually you?" I was like, "Yeah that was me. So that time that...” There were so many random little things that we were just piecing together. Honestly, the way that she just handled it in general was freakishly strong. I was so clueless. They had been dating for six years and I had been dating him for like six months of their relationship. It's a crazy story.
We got over him together. She was very inclusive. Every other girl that I know would be like, "Screw you. You suck." She was constantly checking in on me and seeing how I was doing and acknowledging the fact that I was going through a break-up and heartbreak, but her [experience] was very different than mine. I just think the way that she did that said a lot about her as a person. We just became super tight.
Did you ever think of plotting revenge together?
Oh, we had all the plans. We were like, "Okay, so we know his friend." We had some ... what is it called? Nair. We had Nair to put in his shampoo. His hair is his prize possession. [Laughs.]
Did you do it?
No, we didn't. We chickened out, but we had all these plans. Seriously, we were so ready to go to town. We were going to egg his car. There were so many things.
So, you took the high road?
We went the high road. We just hung out. It was good. I learnt a lot from it. Honestly, he made me lose all faith in humanity, and then she regained it all back for me.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Lennon Stella plays the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto on March 19 and 20.

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