These songs get personal. Do you mind when people try to piece together whom they’re about?
I think it’s great. I choose to be more tight-lipped in interviews, but I can be more free to speak in music and even have some fun with it. I’m a fan of Drake’s new record. I’m sitting there listening, trying to figure out what song is about what person!
You’ve moved past your Disney Channel image, but did that experience help you?
It’s easy for a lot of people to try to put the words in my mouth that it was a horrible experience and that there was exploitation of young people. There can be that. But I think that what I took away, along with trying to break that mold, is the work ethic.
You’ve consistently made an effort to appeal to gay male fans, and you are not gay. Is there a line for you between being inclusive and pandering?
You have to just understand that there is ignorance everywhere and people are trying to be negative. My heart is very pure, and I work with people who are creative, and if photo shoots are sexual in some way or have a sexy edge, it’s just fun to get in a room and create. It’s no more complicated than that.
This appears in the June 27, 2016 issue of TIME.