Alyson Stoner made her way into the spotlight in 2002 as a tiny dancer in Missy Elliot’s “Work It” music video. Following that success, she dove headfirst into the entertainment industry. Twenty years later, she’s realized the industry may not have always been the most nurturing environment for her. Though she still remains an active part of Hollywood, starring in multiple animated series over the last couple of years, Stoner has gone through a transformational journey, discovering her sexuality, creating and sharing her solo music, and learning to love her everyday life. We got the chance to delve into Stoner’s world and hear her take on the path she’s traveling in our Spring 2019 issue.
I would only regret getting into the industry if I didn’t turn the pain into something proactive.
You came out a little over a year ago — what was that experience like for you?
The experience overall really emboldened me. I mean, in just one year I’m astounded by the sturdiness. I have this ease that I can now maintain in really uncomfortable situations, and I also have this volcanic eruption of empathy for other people on this journey. Looking back, I think it’s hard to believe how paralyzed by doubt and fear and confusion I was. It’s just like chronically self-effacing to the point of belittling and hiding my true power. I think this process has kind of been just the beginning of a great reveal.
I realized my silence and secrecy were harming my loved ones as well as the LGBTQIA+ community. It required lengthy preparation. I reconfigured my team, I lost the support of a lot of people, but you know, I eventually wrote a song about my girlfriend and I didn’t wanna lie about pronouns and backstory. I felt I played enough characters and I wanted my music to be my voice, not a role, so I wrote the essay.
Since then, it seems like you’ve been definitely focusing a lot more on your music and your songwriting. Do you want to walk me through a little bit of your process?
My writing process changes every time. I’d say three of my last four singles were penned at a writing camp in 2017 where a dozen writers and producers bounce around sharing stories, lyrics, and melodies. They’ll suggest chord progressions and ideas of their own. This allows me to streamline the development of multiple songs at once by constantly having fresh ears on the track. Production-wise, sometimes it takes ten sessions to get the instrumentation right and another 15 revisions to get the mix levels. Other songs are one and done and have an entirely different production.
I’m independent and handle everything with a very small team that makes every stream feel priceless. I don’t think people understand how meaningful it is to have your song heard and appreciated because you’re in this kind of saturated market. You’re working overtime just to break through the mud and try and get your song to the surface for someone to see it.
What made you decide to do everything independently?
If the labels came knocking ten years ago and said, “We’re looking for the next Jennifer Lopez or Janet Jackson,” I would have stepped up to the plate. I don’t know what comes first—the chicken or the egg in the scenario—whether deep down I had an inner knowing and resistance to the machine and therefore certain opportunities didn’t manifest, or if I didn’t have the same bout of luck as some friends. So I began attacking from side angles and backdoors and loopholes because I was so determined. I’m still trying to figure that out, but I will say I’m ultimately very grateful that the songs I sing are the songs I want to sing.
It seems like you’ve generated a great relationship with your fans. I’ve seen so many great interactions.
It switched overnight. I was finally receiving the messages I had longed to read, ones that weren’t just o-m-g, i-l-y, etc. They’re opening up about their own stories and how they relate to characters or songs. My favorite interactions are those that are recurring. There are certain people who check in with me and let me know how the process is, then reaching the goal we created for them years ago and how they’ve evolved. That’s the kind of relationship I want with my community. We spend just as much time listening as we do talking.
A lot of the time when people think about the fame and the celebrity people are after the “Oh my god, ily” reactions. For you, it’s not like that at all.
Sure it’s nice to have those reactions, but at the end of the day substantial, meaningful interactions are always gonna have more weight to them.
How do you decide kind of what you post and what you share and then what you keep for yourself?
Well, it’s crucial to remember that privacy versus vulnerability isn’t just a matter of preference, it’s also for safety. Whatever we offer online can be used against us, it could upset others who then want to find us, hurt us, anything. Generally, you learn a lot about emotional dexterity and self-regulation after 20 years of being in the public eye. As a rule of thumb, I let things breathe before I share them. Imagine a swimming pool: if you’re always in the deep end, you’ll eventually get tired. If you stay in shallow waters, you’re missing out on a lot. So you visit every part. I alternate my content and conversations regularly with my audience and come up for air whenever I need, which means putting down my phone and focusing on the life right in front of me. I think it’s just about visiting all the parts of the swimming pool but not getting too attached to any of them because I think I’ll feel incomplete that way.
Behind your social media and the things that you share publicly, what does your daily life look like?
Still zero predictability, so I’m establishing some small, regular practices like reading, writing, making tea before bed, to give me a sense of routine. I’m putting 80 percent of my typical workload on hold to self-educate and search for my new path. I’m taking master classes and also recovering from burnout. I worked 16 to 18 hours a day for most of my life so my perception of work-life balance is hardly reliable. I feel mostly like a 20-something millennial who’s lost and figuring it out.
I do have the opportunity to cling to a very familiar path I’ve already walked that did amount to worldly success, but it would become a treadmill for me and I’d much rather find new territory. I’m choosing to get off the treadmill and explore, and I hope it’s worth it. It feels worth it so far.
Do you have plans to release an album anytime soon?
I have enough music to release an album, but I don’t know. It really takes so much work, and I’m pretty burned out. Here’s where I wish I had the label who could just provide the services and market and distribute it, because the thing I don’t want to happen is I put everything into these songs and no one finds them, so it just has to be released at the right time and I need some energy if and when I do that.
Is there anything else that you want to share, any advice, any upcoming projects?
Yeah, my favorite project that I’m developing right now is my podcast called “Simplexity.” It’s going to, hopefully, bring forward all of my favorite components of education, curiosity, sharing advice, and being an expert across sectors to help everyone become better versions of themselves but also be more aware of what’s happening in the world. Putting together the format single-handedly at the moment is time-consuming but worthwhile. I’m honestly just so excited about real life.
Do you regret getting into the industry as young as you did?
I would only regret getting into the industry if I didn’t turn the pain into something proactive. I’m writing a book that will hopefully illuminate a more visceral and comprehensive perspective of how things look from the inside. I’m writing it because I think people deserve to see what’s happening on the inside and not just in a way that’s designed for shock value or pity. I want to include that there needs to be a big change in the dynamic between performer and audience. If I can pierce that dynamic and reconfigure even the smallest part of it, I will know that I used all the years of experience on the inside productively, and I look forward to people experiencing the same disenchantment that I have so that they can be totally enthralled by real life and not the illusion.
STORY GINA DECICCO
PHOTOS ALLEGRA MESSINA
HAIR & MAKEUP APRIL BAUTISTA
STYLIST DESIREE MORALES
CREATIVE DIRECTION ANNA ZHANG