By Dan McKenna
Turning 18 can mark the beginning of adulthood, whether that means heading to college, starting a job, or moving out on your own. It’s typically a watershed moment in life, but as with most things considered typical, Chloe Lilac doesn’t fit the mold. At 18, the Brooklyn bedroom-pop artist has already lived the journey of a lifetime. “I literally hadn’t heard a pop song until I was about seven or eight,” she told MTV News. “The first pop song I ever heard was Christina Aguilera’s ‘Ain’t No Other Man.’”
Instead, she’d joined a Joan Jett cover band in third grade. She’d made beats during class in high school and challenged herself to write three songs a day. By the time she hit 17, she’d kicked a drug addiction and signed to a major label. Now, following her 2019 EP Manic Pixie Dream, Lilac is fed up with clichés and ready to be nothing but unapologetically honest.
Her new single “Obvious,” out today (March 20th), focuses on lack of reciprocity in relationships, capturing that ache in your stomach watching a crush post a new Instagram story while not returning your text. She describes the song as “being with someone that clearly doesn’t like you as much as you like them, being in denial about it, and then realizing you’re better than that bullshit.” “Obvious” stays true to her idyllic lo-fi pop roots but takes it one step further, inviting us to forget the bullshit, accept things for what they are, and just mosh.
Drawing inspiration from artists as diverse as Aguilera, Jett, and even Frank Zappa, it’s no surprise her ability to be a music reference sponge makes her such a compelling pop chameleon. For a person that has always been labeled as “too much,” Lilac consistently proves she is more than enough. Read Lilac diving into her past and theorizing on her future with MTV News below.
MTV News: You’re only 18, and it seems you’ve already lived nine lives. Take me to the beginning, and tell me about when you realized you had a talent for music.
Chloe Lilac: When I was growing up, I was always surrounded by music. It was always something I was passionate about. When I was in third grade, I was in this band called The Electric French Fries. I wrote all the songs. Songwriting has always been a passion of mine. I really don’t know how it started. I hit about 10, and it was time for me to do my own thing and spread my wings. I was constantly writing poetry and songs in class and my friends would critique them.
MTV News: That’s dope.
Lilac: I was a huge theater kid and I remember being in musicals rehearsal at like 13, and one of the older cast mates being like, “You should upload your beats into SoundCloud.” I was like, “What the fuck is SoundCloud?” And then I started putting my shit on SoundCloud and I started selling beats on there and putting my music out on there. That summer after eighth grade, before high school, I started going to [New York City’s] Union Square. I went to this private school my whole life, so I was really sheltered, and I started hanging out at Union Square and I realized that there was like this whole world out there that I hadn’t seen. I started street performing and exploring Lower Manhattan, and fell in love with it. I started sneaking out in the middle of the night out of my fire escape at my house.
MTV News: It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Lilac: I would get to school after two hours of sleep, maybe, a night. I was barely functioning. I’d be producing in class and I made this challenge for myself that I would write three songs a day, whether they were good or bad, three pop songs a day. Then the Dean called me into her office. She was like, “Fuck you, get out,” in a nice way.
I completely fell into crazy drug addiction at 14. I had gone to this other school for two weeks. They kicked me out, so I was homeschooled for like two years. Still putting stuff out on SoundCloud. Nobody really gave a shit. I had like 100 followers, maybe 1,000 plays on my biggest song, which was a lot.
MTV News: When you’re just starting, you’re like, “Yeah, 1,000!”
Lilac: I was freaking out and I’d show people my music, and they’d say it’s good, but I was making this before bedroom-pop was cool. Nobody fucked with it, and I wasn’t cool. I was super nerdy, but a drug addict. It was very confusing. My parents just thought I was smoking too much weed. They didn’t think that I was doing other drugs. I saw really bad stuff at 14, and I didn’t want that to be my life.
MTV News: At what point did you become sober?
Lilac: I got a call from my dad and I thought, “He’s sending me to rehab,” but I ended up getting discovered. I started to learn how to be a recording artist. I was signed to this tiny label called Trumbo Labs, and wrote “Summer,” which is my biggest song. Then I got signed by RCA when I was turning 17. I kind of grew up in the industry, and was playing empty rooms where no one gave a shit. When I started performing at DIY all-ages venues in Brooklyn, that taught me that rock and roll is still relevant and there’s a demand for it. It’s not accessible to mainstream media, but I feel there’s this desire for rock music in youth right now, and no one’s filling that role and I want it.
MTV News: After hearing about your background and listening to your music, it seems like you’re completely fed up with clichés and people not being honest with you. Would you say that contributes to the sound of this new project?
Lilac: Yes! I feel like we’re in a really cool time where women are finally being allowed to express angst and sexuality and really be honest and be viewed as people in the media versus just some sex thing. In mainstream media, people want that. People want raw, honest women, and that’s not why I’m doing it. I’m doing it because that’s who I am. I was in this situation-ship with this guy, and we were dating, and he told me we were exclusive, but then it turns out he was cheating on me the whole time. When I would go in with my writers, they did a great job of empowering me. I’d go in, tell them the story, and they’d say, “Why aren’t you angry?”
I finally broke up with him and realized I’m fed up with men. Why should I be silent about that? Why should I be silent about feeling used and being angry? Why do I have to write sad songs about being used? I want to empower younger people to not take that. My new EP is about friendship breakups and feeling angry about that. It’s a lot of anger.
MTV News: I think we could all use a little of that right now.
Lilac: Right? We live in such a dark political and social climate right now. With my music, I want to take that away for a second, and say, “Fuck it.” I feel like there’s no fun music anymore that’s good, not to gas myself up. But it’s all shitty radio pop or some serious ballads. Fuck that, dude. Let’s get it in the mosh pit.
MTV News: You’ve been signed for a minute now, and you’ve already released a few projects and singles. Today, how do you define success for yourself?
Lilac: I want to sell out Madison Square Garden, so that will be success for me. That’s my biggest dream, is and always has been — selling out a world tour — but I don’t even care if I’m only big in New York. As much as I’m preaching self-love and having fun, I’m a very anxious person. I don’t think I’ll ever truly feel fulfilled in anything I do, if I’m being honest. Having my friends around me and keeping my close relationships is really important to me. I think making the best songs, the fun songs that I can’t stop listening to is important — that’s the best. Everyone has those days where they wake up and they’re like, “I fucking hate myself today.” And that’s OK to be honest with yourself about those moments. You’ve got to laugh at it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.