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Hailee Steinfeld on Her New Haiz EP, Taylor Swift’s Squad and Pitch Perfect 3

13 minute read

Few stars have made the transition from acting to music as seamlessly as Hailee Seinfeld has. The 18-year-old actor, who earned an Oscar nomination for her role in the 2010 film True Grit, turned heads when she dropped her undeniably catchy debut single, “Love Myself,” just a few months after starring in Pitch Perfect 2 and Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” video. (The track’s more-than-suggestive lyrics, which include lines like “Pictures in my mind on replay/ I’m gonna touch the pain away,” may also have contributed to all that head-turning.) Now, she’s braving some fierce competition—try the likes of One Direction and Justin Bieber—and releasing a four-song EP, Haiz, on one of the busiest release dates of the year, Nov. 13.

Below, Steinfeld talks with TIME about her burgeoning pop career, the next Pitch Perfect movie and whether she has an eye on an EGOT.

TIME: Tell me about finding your sound for this EP—it seems like you figured out your style very quickly.

Hailee Steinfeld: You’re right about it happening very quickly! Toward the beginning of this whole process I knew what I wanted my sound to be, but I had such a hard time trying to articulate it. It wasn’t until I met [producers] Mattman & Robin and [songwriters] Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter and started working with them that the music spoke for itself. This is exactly what I wanted it to sound like, and I owe it so much to the four of them for being so incredibly patient with me. It’s all happened so organically—stories and feelings and experiences have come out in conversation that we’ve been inspired by. I’ve had the most fun working with them.

Did you experiment much—trying out more dance-y stuff or more acoustic material—before zeroing in on the material you recorded?

To be honest, we tapped into this right away. It’s interesting, though, because what I’m used to with acting is that within one project, things can change so much and so drastically. But one thing I’ve found to be so interesting about music is that almost every song that we’ve worked on together is either on the EP or the album. It’s all under the same sort of roof, and it’s a place that I’m comfortable living in for a minute. But I’m still interested in trying different things. Since then, I’ve expressed interest to Mattman & Robin about doing a track that’s completely different from what we’ve been doing.

How has being a part of the Pitch Perfect universe and seeing how big pop songs get rearranged and rebuilt a capella influenced your approach to making music?

Learning a capella has really changed my outlook on pop music because you see how much goes into it. I was able to appreciate what a well-produced song is after having to do everything as one person—using your one voice for different instruments to make a sound complete. Going into the studio and watching Mattman & Robin just break down a song the way that these music supervisors would in Pitch Perfect was really interesting. It’s amazing to see how they do it and how you do it in a world of a capella. It really opened my eyes to what goes into making a song from the ground up.

(Read next: 17 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the Music in Pitch Perfect 2)

Your character in Pitch Perfect 2 was trying to sneak her originals into the group’s repertoire. Will you be trying to get your own songs into the next movie?

I mean…you know! [Laughs] It’s out there. I would love to do that. I remember seeing the first Pitch Perfect and thinking, “This movie is amazing, I’ve got to do something like this.” Then, having been a part of the second movie, where my character writes her own original music, [that] opened the door to the idea that I could possibly bring an original song to the third movie, which is something I would like to do.

It’d be funny if another character in the group pitched your song and your character was like, “Ugh, I hate this!”

Right! Of course! That’s probably how it’d go down, too, right?

One of the standout tracks on the EP is “Hell No’s and Headphones,” which describe feeling out of place around a lot of hard partying. Have you experienced a lot of pressure to drink and use drugs in your life and line of work?

Yeah, sure. Generally speaking, there are times in my life when I’m walking around in the world trying to figure out where I belong and what makes me happy and comfortable. We’re put in situations where we feel pressured to conform to behavior that’s going on, and with this song it really is about not feeling like you have to do or say anything to be anything other than what you’re into. This is about an experience that I had and went into the studio and spoke to Justin and Julia about. It’s about allowing yourself and giving yourself permission to know that’s it okay to not conform.

I think the references to substances— people “skiing in the powder room” and having another round—caught my eye because you got your start at a young age, and there’s this stereotype of the troubled child star. I wondered if this song was your way of saying you didn’t want any part of that.

I’ve been doing this for a while and started when I was really young. I still am young, but I’ve been exposed to a lot. I’m constantly reminded that the reason I do what I do is because I love those days where you go into the studio and it’s daytime, and you come out and it’s the middle of the night and you had no idea. Or you’re filming a movie and working with the most incredible actors you’d never thought you’d stand in front of. That’s what it’s about for me. You’ll find yourself in situations like, “Wow, this really does happen, but this isn’t why I’m doing this. This isn’t for me. This isn’t where I want to be.” [“Hell No’s and Headphones”] was a situation where I was with my friends, and again, there’s the idea that I’m rarely in the same place as my friends at the same time. So it’s a matter of finding where you fit in and not feeling like you have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable.

Its message reminded me of Alessia Cara’s “Here” in a way. Why are these anti-party songs having a moment?

There are experiences that people go through where they feel like they’re the only one that’s going through them, and there are few people who are able to express that situation. But you realize how many other people around the world have gone through that situation or something similar. When I heard “Here,” it made me think about multiple experiences that I’ve had. These songs are getting that attention because they do resonate with people in multiple situations, not just necessarily a party. It carries over wherever you live or wherever you’re from or whatever you do. It’s just the idea that you’re in a place where you’re like, “I’d rather be doing what I love.” And for me, that’s saying “Hell no!” I put on headphones on and immerse myself in a world that I love and do what I do, which is make music.

A lot of people have asked you about the meaning of “Love Myself” and whether its about masturbation. What was your first reaction when you heard the song and the lyrics?

I remember hearing this song and thinking, there was just no question as to whether it should be anything other than the first single. I fell in love with the sound and the message, and the beauty in the song is knowing that there is a double meaning, or triple meaning, or however many ways people interpret it. For me, it’s ultimately about taking care of and indulging yourself. It’s a message that’s very easy to forget and nice to be reminded of.

Was it your idea to wear an outfit that says “Self Service” on it in the music video?

Yeah! You’ve got to embrace it. I have nothing to be ashamed of. I love the song, I’m very passionate about it. It was my first music video ever, and I thought, “You know what? I’m going to have a good time with this!” The whole video, that’s all I’m doing, having a good time. I got to wear these amazing outfits I would never wear down the street—actually I probably would, they’re that cool. It was a great day. But yeah, that “Self Service” body suit was a conscious decision.

You’re obviously comfortable in front of the camera, but how have you found the jump to performing live on stage?

I’ve heard musicians talk about how there’s absolutely nothing like performing live, and you can only imagine, right? Going to concerts and seeing my favorite artists perform is probably my favorite thing to do ever. Having the opportunity to do it myself, I completely understand what they’ve all meant. You just get such an adrenaline rush. With acting, rarely do you feel that because you don’t get that live freaction. There aren’t people in front of you going crazy. I haven’t done it much—I’m going on the Jingle Ball tour next month, which I’m so looking forward. It’s something I feel you prepare for, and the minute I get off stage I’ll be like, “I want to go back into rehearsals and make this better! I know that I can continue working on this!”

In the same way that you’ve figured out your musical style, have you figured out your performance style? A lot of choreography? More behind-the-mic stuff?

Yeah, I mean, I haven’t done it often. I guess I really haven’t had a full-on opportunity to decide on anything. Right now I’m in the midst of trying things and experimenting. I have so many artists that I admire visually, their stage show, and I’m working on what I want to incorporate from artists I look up to to. I love to dance, and that’s one idea, but I also love performing with a live band, and that’s something I never thought I’d be able to do. I’m still figuring it out.

You can dance and have a live band, Hailee!

This is true! This is true.

You mentioned Mattman & Robin, who have also produced songs for Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez, and Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels, who also wrote a lot of Selena’s Revival. Is that a coincidence, or as members of the “squad” do you guys talk about and recommend collaborators?

Well, I don’t know about recommending. We definitely talk about other artists and how much we’re inspired by people at the moment. It’s more about talking about who inspires us. This world is so much smaller than people think—or I thought, anyway. It’s amazing to be in the same room with people who have worked with artists that I [admire]. I’ll go in and say, “What you did with them was amazing, can we keep that in mind?” It’s amazing to be able to work with those people, and it’s great to have friends run in the same circle and work with the same people.

(Read next: Selena Gomez on Her New Album and Media Scrutiny: ‘I Just Don’t Care About the Noise Anymore’)

What’s one thing about the squad we would never guess from seeing you all hang out on Instagram?

Oooh. Well, you see the photo—I guess the moments before and after the photos are taken. When I had the honor of going out at MetLife stadium with Taylor during “Bad Blood” with some of the girls who were in the video with us, there was a moment before when all the girls and I were looking at each other. Taylor’s out there doing her thing, no big deal, just another Friday night, and we’re like, “Okay, guys, we’ve got to take this all in! This is insane! MetLife stadium! Completely sold out! Taylor Swift! And we’re in the video! This is all happening!” Of course we go out there, and we come back, and you see that photo that may or may not be my screensaver on my phone.

As it should be! I wouldn’t blame you.

Thank you! And then you get off stage and you’re like, “What the heck just happened? I feel like I blacked out!” Those are the moments where it’s a constant love-fest and freak out between all of us. It’s so surreal, this life we live and that we’re able to share these moments with each other. It’s really freakin’ awesome.

One last question: You have an Oscar nomination, you’re getting into music—are you gunning for an EGOT one day?

What’s that?

The EGOT club is people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony award.

Oh my God, how many people are in there?

Probably a dozen—there’s a whole Wikipedia page about it.


Yeah, and there’s a 30 Rock episode about it. It’s a real thing!

Oh my God, no way. Wow. Well, to answer your question: yes!

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Write to Nolan Feeney at nolan.feeney@time.com