When she’s not captivating the ever-fickle pop world with catchy, cathartic songs—”Love Myself,” “Starving,” and her two current tracks, “At My Best,” with Machine Gun Kelly, and “Most Girls”—that both empower and enamor listeners, Hailee Steinfeld gives the kinds of on-screen performances that remind you why and how she became an Academy Award-nominated actress at just 13 years old for her supporting role in 2010’s True Grit. The question, then, becomes not, how does she do it?!—because, hi, she’s Hailee Steinfeld—but instead, why does she do it?
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
We caught up with Steinfeld before her performance at the ELLE and Billboard Music Award’s Women in Music celebration—held at the YouTube Space LA on Tuesday night and honoring both ELLE’s annual Women in Music issue and the impending 2017 Billboard Music Awards, airing Sunday night on ABC— to ask her just that, along with a few other burning questions about becoming one of the few masters of two very grueling, dueling forms of artistic expression. And given this is Women in Music, we also just had to know: Britney or Christina? She handled it all, of course, like a pro.
We know you’ve always had aspirations to be a musician. Now that you can firmly call yourself a woman in music, how does it feel?
I mean, I’ve always just wanted to perform and to entertain and to be on stage. It was never about, “I want to be in a stadium.” It could be a coffee shop. But to now be able to do that on so many different levels—in that coffee shop and in a stadium—in the last year and a half has been absolutely insane. And I feel so honored, not only to be able to call myself a woman in music, but to be surrounded by so many incredible women in music.
I think for some who try to tackle music and acting, it can be hard to grapple both of those artistically. What’s your process? Do you consciously say, “Today I’m going to focus on music. Tomorrow it will be acting.” Or is it about the inspiration?
It’s really a little bit of both. If I’m away making a movie, I’m of course focused on making that movie. But the music cycle never really stops. Whether it’s me being in this place where I’ve got very little service but I’ve got this idea so I text it to a friend, “Please do something with this!” and we’ll go from there. Or if, again, I’m on a movie and I have friends fly out to wherever I am and we book studio sessions. We just have to keep it going. But I ultimately I do devote my attention to whatever it is that I’m working on in that moment.
Do you feel like they ever inform each other in a way, acting and singing?
I have definitely learned in the last two years or so how much they can either benefit each other or how they come full circle, I guess you could say. Even so, they are two very different worlds that have a separation between them that I don’t necessarily make, which is kind of nice at times.
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
I want to ask about “At My Best.” It’s an anthem for sure, but it’s an interesting anthem because it’s one about struggle and owning struggle and what it does for you as a person. Why did that track speak to you on a personal level?
The fact that Machine Gun Kelly asked me to be on the track is an honor. I heard it for the first time and knew I needed a song like this as an artist. I wanted to be able to somehow put into words exactly what struggle can be about. It’s about the fact that this is who I am, this is what I’ve done, this is what I’ve been through. Whether it’s the first day of school where people don’t think you’re cool enough, and then you sort of get on the trends and you’re dressing a little bit cooler, and all of a sudden people are talking to you. Or if it’s a success thing, where you’re not where you want to be, and then all of a sudden you’re in sold out stadiums, and your phone’s ringing off the hook. A lot of people have been there, the extreme down and then the up. And if someone can’t handle you at both ends, is it really worth it? Are they worth it? That’s the question.
What about “Most Girls?” It feels like it’s in a similar vein…
Ya know, I feel like we hear a lot of songs—and one of them is my own—that highlight the idea of, “Love yourself the way that you are because you’re great and you’re beautiful and you’re you and there’s no one else like you!” And that is great! We do need those kinds of songs. But there aren’t enough songs that say, “It’s okay if you don’t love yourself. Because not all of us do, and not all of us know how to. And maybe there’s some things we love and maybe there are more things that we don’t. And this song really highlights that. It says it’s okay if you want to change something about yourself. If that makes you happy, you do whatever that is.
Ok, let’s lighten things up. I wanna do a lightning round.
Oh god! I’m so bad at these.
No they’re fun! It’s be super easy. Ok first question: Your favorite song right now.
Ugh! [Laughs] See what I mean? How do you do that! “Malibu,” by Miley Cyrus.
The last album you bought?
The last album I bought. Oh my goodness. This is embarrassing.
Because who buys albums anymore?
Right? The last album… I mean, I have not stopped listening to Ed Sheeran’s album [Divide]. So that was probably it.
The last TV show you binged?
Yeah…I need to catch up on my TV. I don’t have a lot of time for that right now!
OK, what about guilty pleasure TV shows? Got any of those?
Hoarders. Is my mom in here? We love that show.
Britney or Christina?
Oh God! How?! Why?!
It’s such a rude question, right?
So rude. I pass.
Well the next one is harder: Adele or Beyoncé.
This is not cool! Not cool! Um, all of them! I love them all.
What was the first concert you ever went to?
[Laughs] Uh, Kenny Loggins, actually.
Wow. Really? I’m impressed. What’s the last concert you went to?
J.Lo in Vegas.
What do you eat when you’re starving?
Haha! Good one. Anything I can find.
What’s the last thing that made you want to “stick with Hell nos And headphones?”
Oh my goodness. Honestly, I feel like—
I just had to do it.
No I love it! I love it. Ya know, I’ve had a really great last couple of days. So I’m pretty good. Nothing bad comes to mind, which I’m not gonna complain about.