JASMINE THOMPSON: QUEEN OF THE TEENAGE ANTHEM
Jasmine Thompson is a goddamn force of nature. She’s just released her sophomore EP, Wonderland, and at only sixteen years old, she’s already a polished musician with a voice like honey and piano skills to match. She’s also picking up guitar and bass, because, as she puts it, “the more instruments I can learn, the better, because I really want to educate myself in my career and my passion as much as possible, and I want to understand music so I can be as creative as I want with it.”
She’s based in London, so I chat with her over the phone, and I’m surprised that it doesn’t at all feel like I’m speaking to a teenager. She’s articulate, strong, and most important of all, truly and honestly passionate about her music; it seeps through her voice, uncontained. You might expect a young pop artist with over 600,000 Instagram followers and millions of YouTube subscribers to be more focused on fame than art, but she’s an exception. When I ask about her social media following, she tells me, “I hate when Instagram becomes just promotion…I want to make it as colorful and real as possible,” and I get the feeling that when she says she wants to connect with her fans, she means it.
Wonderland is an ode to growing up. It’s an album of teenage anthems that venture deeper than your typical radio pop song—these songs aren’t about going out, getting drunk, or being rich and famous. The lyrics hang heavy with meaning from the perspective of someone deeply aware and receptive to her surroundings. Don’t mistake this for an album that takes itself too seriously, though. Backed by an impressive group of cowriters including Meghan Trainor, Thompson has created a brimming handful of hard-hitting songs that are fun as hell to listen to. (Good luck getting them out of your head.)
“Old Friends” copes with the transition from carefree childhood friendships, where trust and understanding come easily, to adult relationships, which sometimes ring hollow and bend toward the world of networking. She sings, “Somebody told me to light up every room / Make them remember you / But nobody here knows what I’m going through.” It’s about the end of an era of innocence, and about realizing that you’re no longer expected merely to be yourself, but to present yourself as others wish to see you. Tracks like “Someone’s Somebody” and “Words” tackle young love and navigating relationships and heartbreak. Sure, Thompson is a teenager, but this album isn’t only for her peers. These lyrics are so true and telling of both the struggles and the sense of wonder we all experienced growing up. It’s nostalgic. It’s heartrending and uplifting all at once. It’s comforting and familiar, no matter what your age, because, as Thompson says, “no one stops growing up.”
If you have yet to download Wonderland, make it the next thing you do (after, of course, you read our conversation below for a heartfelt story about learning from parents’ mistakes, being a “pretty normal teenager,” and how she’s created meaningful bonds with her fans through social media).
I want to talk about how you have this huge online presence and you’ve already built up quite a following on social media. How does it feel being “internet famous,” and how does that affect your day-to-day life? Do you think it gives you more advantages or greater struggles than the average sixteen-year-old?
I wouldn’t say that I have more advantages than other 16-year-olds. I just think that it’s just a nice way of experiencing life, because I get to travel so much, and I get to see a lot of different cities and cultures and places, and it kind of fuels your creativity, I guess. I mean, I’ve been doing music for almost six years now, and honestly, I couldn’t have asked anything more. This is exactly what I want to be doing with my life. So the fact that it’s happening for me at such a young age, I’m super grateful for. And this kind of feels like normal life. This is what every day is for me. I wake up, I go to the studio, I do a show. It’s just normal life. It has the same disadvantages and advantages of anyone.
As a young pop artist, you have a lot of people looking up to you. How does it feel to be a role model to young girls? Does it feel like a responsibility that you have to act a certain way?
I mean, I’m super grateful that young people look up to me. I guess there’s a bit of pressure to always remember how to influence people in a positive way and to try and make sure that I get my points across and influence them in the right way. It’s a good role to have, though, because it makes me realize that whatever I say to my followers, I try to put that in my life as well. I go on Twitter a lot and talk to my followers. I always want to see how their day is going, and if they’re just like, “Oh, I’m having a really bad day,” and they’re talking about these kids at school and all this stuff, if I say to them, “You shouldn’t worry about it,” and I give them this advice, I have to try and remember that I should do that, too. I should actually do what I tell them sometimes.
You’re kind of inspired by them, as well, it sounds like.
Yeah, totally. I always listen to them, and they’re always there for me when I need them. I feel really close to my followers.
Do you ever feel that you have to censor yourself in this public image, or do you think you’re able to just be yourself, and it works out?
I’m pretty honest with my followers. I’m a pretty normal teenager. I don’t really do anything outrageous, and I like to be honest with my followers so they can see the real me and feel like they’re connecting with a real person. But I always do think it’s important to keep a bit of your private life private. You always need that one thing that isn’t out there in the world.
Yes, definitely a good idea. You have a good head on your shoulders.
(Top + Shirt by Carleen, Shoes by Laurence Dacade, Socks Stylist’s Own)
Of course. So, how old were you when you first got into music? And how did you get interested in it? Did you start with singing or writing or playing instruments?
I’ve always really been into music. I love listening to songs. And I’m quite an emotional person, so listening to music is my way of putting myself in another world. When I was eight, I started to learn piano because my parents thought it would be a good idea for me to learn something that’s creative. I loved it. I kept learning piano, and then gradually I started having singing lessons, and eventually when I was around ten, after a couple years of growing a passion for music, I started releasing some covers, and I was like, “Oh, I really love doing music.”
Nice. So, do you play any other instruments? You said piano, but did I also see you playing guitar in one of your cover videos?
Yeah. I mean, I play piano. That’s my main instrument, because I’ve been playing that for the longest. About three years ago, I picked up guitar for the first time. I’m still pretty basic at it, but I want to learn guitar, and I’m also learning bass at the moment. I just think the more instruments I can learn, the better, because I really want to educate myself in my career and my passion as much as possible, and I want to understand music so I can be as creative as I want with it. The more I learn, the better it will be.
Yeah, for sure. And how old were you when you started using social media for your career—for music?
I guess YouTube I was ten, and then I was eleven when I got Instagram for the first time, but I wasn’t using it as something to do for my music career. I just got Instagram because all my friends had Instagram. And my YouTube channel kicked off at twelve, so I was kind of just posting the weirdest stuff on Instagram, and then gradually I was like, “Oh, I can use this as a way to promote my music,” and it became a more serious thing.
I find it so interesting because it’s still a relatively new thing, using social media for promotion in the music industry. That’s great that it’s given you a big step up.
The thing is, I think social media should always still feel more normal, like I hate when Instagram becomes just promotion. It needs to be, like, your face, your friends, your family, and things you do. I want to make it as colorful and real as possible, so I try not to do too much promotion.
(Sweatshirt by Jarret, Pants by Mr. Larkin, Shoes by Avec Moderation)
Right, right. Okay, so, on your new EP, I love the song “Fix Me.” And I was really struck by the lyric, “Is this how swallows learn to fly, falling out of their nest?” I thought that was really beautiful. Can you tell me more about the meaning behind this song?
Well, the meaning behind that lyric is—my dad used to live on a boat, and it was kind of in the countryside outside London, and I’d always go and stay on his boat, and in the mornings, especially during the spring, I’d wake up and look outside the window, and there would always be swallows. And I was thinking about how you learn things from trying and failing, and to me, it’s about failing, and getting out of it just by going through life and realizing that you can learn from your mistakes. “Fix Me” is about my family history. When I was about six, my dad and my mom got divorced because my dad was an alcoholic. It was a really intense experience. And I’ve really relied on my dad over the past couple years, because he’s gotten sober, and he’s been sober for the past seven years now. And he has become a really important part of my life, because he’s shown me that even though such a terrible thing has happened to him, he got out of it, he turned his life around, and it really inspired me. That’s what “Fix Me” is about, because I’m always gonna see him as that person, and I’m always gonna be here for him to give him that support of family.
That’s really beautiful. So, a lot of musicians use their music to help themselves or help others feel better in rough times. Have you ever used music or art to get through anything like depression or dark moments?
I listen to music every second of the day that I’m not doing anything. The moment I wake up, I turn on music. Whether I’m happy or sad, you can always find those songs that you can relate to, and I think that’s why I get so passionate about music, because it’s helped me in the past, so I’m trying to make music to help other people, because whenever I see comments on my YouTube or Facebook or anything about kids with mental issues and they’re suffering from things, and they tell me that my music helps them, that means the world to me, because I don’t want to do this unless I know that it’s benefitting other people. Benefitting other people makes me feel more positive about me giving an influence to this world.
Do you have a favorite song on your new EP?
I’d probably say my favorite one is “Wonderland.”
Can you tell me more about it and why you love that song?
“Wonderland” is like my little baby. It’s kind of this insight to my world, because I want to see life like it’s a little game, like it’s this place full of wonder where you never know what’s actually gonna happen in the end, and you never know what is around the corner, and that’s beautiful. And it’s a song about me and my friends. And the music video actually has me and my real-life friends in it, and we’re running around all of these places in London, which is where we all grew up, and it’s the actual places that we go to, and it’s got a lot of—it’s very sentimental for me. It’s about being a teenager and growing up.
And when your fans listen to this new EP, what do you hope they take away from it?
I hope that they can take the lyrics to the songs, and I would love if they could connect to the stories I’m telling, if anyone’s got those people in their lives that the songs are about. I mean, if they liked it, I’d be happy. I just think that it’s an EP that can kind of apply to everyone, because the main meaning is about all of those emotions that you get when you grow up, and I’ve been having a whole year of all these new things. I feel like this year me and my friends got a whole lot more mature, and it’s just interesting. I guess no one stops growing up. You’re always gonna continue having these new waves of emotion. I just hope people can connect to it.
(Earrings by M. Spring Studio, Jacket by Jarret)
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