Noah Cyrus defied preconceptions with her debut single. A dark and emotional electro-ballad featuring artist/producer Labrinth, “Make Me (Cry)” couldn’t be further removed from typical teen-pop fare. But then, she isn’t your average 17-year-old. Noah started writing songs at 14 and lists UK folk/rock God Ben Howard as her musical hero. For her, it’s all about the music and that passion paid off with a surprise smash. She makes it two oddball gems in a row today (April 14) with “Stay Together,” a rowdy and relatable teen anthem that is already being hailed as a Song Of The Summer contender.
I spoke with Noah about the single yesterday (April 13) as she navigated her way through LA traffic on the 405. The chatty teenager talked enthusiastically about the eclectic sound of NC-17, her wittily-titled debut LP, and performance anxiety. (She nearly blacked out before her appearance on The Tonight Show). The rising star also addressed those comparisons with famous family members, opened up about her hectic TV viewing schedule and gave some advice to fans experiencing bullying. Get to know the atypical pop star a little better in our Q&A below.
“Stay Together” is fiery and rebellious. What inspired the song?
When I listen to it, it brings me back to the very first time I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to sneak out and I’m going to stay all night and not worry about anything.” And that’s where it really gets all of its attitude, I think. It’s from that young angst of wanting to go out and have the best time with your friends and people who you love.
It’s the perfect song for prom season.
It will be perfect for prom season! Even though I’ve never been to prom. My mom was like, “Noah, someone asked you to go, you should go.” And I was like, “Mom, it’s just really not my thing.” But for people who want to go to prom and have fun and party all night, I think it’s perfect.
“Stay Together” has a rockier vibe than “Make Me (Cry).” Is that reflective of the album?
The album… honestly, no. Every song is very different on the album, yet it’s very cohesive. I don’t think there really is a specific sound throughout the album. “Stay Together” is definitely one of the more raw sounding vibes off of the album. I have an acoustic song called “Almost Famous,” and it’s literally just stripped down and acoustic. “Stay Together” is kind of similar to that because it has a live band sound. It’s like you’re listening to a band play live in a bar or in a club. It gives you that visual.
How long have you been working on NC-17?
I started writing when I was 14. Then when I was 15 and 16, I started writing specifically for an album. So maybe three years.
Did things start to get serious when you recorded “Make Me (Cry)”?
When I heard “Make Me (Cry) for the first time in the studio, I was like “Yo, this is really incredible. I’ve never felt this way about a song before.” My manager Adam Leiber, he was in the session. When he heard the song, he started crying. Everybody had this emotional reaction to it. When I heard it for the very first time as a full song, we recorded it in pieces in the studio, I was like, “This has to be the first song I put out.”
It’s about to go platinum. Did you suspect it was going to be that big?
I knew people were gonna connect to it. And I knew people were gonna feel the same way I feel whenever I listen to it. They can relate to it. I never thought, “This is gonna go platinum.” I didn’t really know what to expect out of my first record.
It’s quite a dark song. Do you think listeners were surprised?
I think if you know me from Twitter and social media, I’ve always had this darker vibe to me. I’ve always loved things like American Horror Story. I’ve always quoted these darker things. I think this is a very typical Noah Cyrus song. I think it is very me.
Is it your favorite song on NC-17?
I don’t think I have a favorite. But I think “Make Me (Cry)” will always have a special place in my heart just because it is the very first song I ever put out. It will always be probably the most special one. I have a teardrop tattoo. Because “Make Me” is what got me into music and what started my whole career, so I will forever be grateful for “Make Me.” That will always be a very special song to me.
Will there be another single before the album is released?
I think it’s still up in the air. I’m not really sure because I’m not even done with the album yet. I don’t really have an answer for that.
Who is your biggest inspiration musically?
My idol is Ben Howard. I’ve looked up to him since I was 14. And I always say I’m a super-fan. I’m literally his biggest fan and I will always love Ben Howard. But of course Lady Gaga too. I don’t know who inspired NC-17 the most. Ben Howard is what made me want to do music.
Who came up with the title? NC-17 is so clever.
We were at sushi and someone was like, “What about something with NC?” It was weird, everybody around me at the time started calling me NC. I’ve never been called that before, and everybody just started calling me that. Even my friends, it was kinda weird. And then I was like, “Okay, the music isn’t going to come out until next year. So maybe we can doing something that’s a date.” Then someone said “NC-17!” And we were like, “Oh my gosh! That has to be it.”
Coming from such a famous family, were you worried about establishing your own identity?
I don’t know. For me, it’s only about music. If that’s not the case for other people, it’s not my problem. Like if somebody hears my music and it makes them think of a family member or my whole family, I feel like it really doesn’t have anything to do with me. It shouldn’t bother me. You know? Does that make sense? It’s not a big deal, I’ve never thought it’s a bad thing to be involved with a known family. But, of course, everybody wants to be known as their own person. No matter what. But I’m not having a hard time getting away from that. You know, I’m not in a hurry to get away from my family. I love the family I am from, and I wouldn’t change a thing if I could.
How do the comparisons make you feel?
I think it hard for anybody, that is just being completely honest. But, the way I look at it is, every family deals with it in different ways. Like if you play basketball and so does your big brother, you’re gonna get compared to your big brother. I don’t know, that’s just how I think about it. Every family goes through that with siblings. That’s fine. If somebody want to compare me and Miley, I think that’s on them.
You’re also going in very different directions, musically.
Yeah, absolutely. Because we’re related I totally get that we sound alike. Like I read a comment on my “Stay Together” teaser today. Someone wrote, “I hear Miley on it.” And I’m like, “No, no I don’t think you do.” I think it’s just because people think we sound alike. But that just comes from being related. Like if I had a deeper voice, I’d probably sound like my dad. You know what I mean? We’re a family. You can’t help it.
It’s simple genetics.
Yeah. And honestly, if I’m talking and you can’t see who’s talking, you’ll probably get confused and wonder if it’s me, my mom, Brandi or Miley. We all kind of talk alike. There’s nothing I can do to change that. So, if people want to compare us, I guess you have to look past it. It doesn’t bother me.
You’re performing at the Radio Disney Awards. Do live performances still make you nervous?
I think the first time, when I did Fallon, that was honestly the scariest thing I’ve ever done. It was literally the closest I think I’ve been to actually blacking out from nerves. I was shaking. But at the iHeart Awards, it was easier. My nerves weren’t as high at the iHeart Awards as it was at Fallon or Ellen or Conan. Like at those, I was like shaking before I went on. My confidence went up for iHeart Awards.
Was it easier having Labrinth there with you?
Oh absolutely! Also, I can’t even picture “Make Me (Cry)” solo. Like I really can’t. I don’t think it would be as special without Labrinth.
Have you had a chance to watch 13 Reasons Why yet?
It’s the show all the kids are watching. I have not started yet because, I’ll tell you why. Prison Break is now back on TV, so I’ve been a little busy catching up on that. It’s my favorite show of all time. Now it’s back on TV and they have a new season. I’m also very into Shameless. I’ve been watching a lot of Shameless on Netflix and I’m only on season 4, so I need to catch up. But no, I haven’t been able to start 13 Reasons Why yet. I want to though. I follow a ton of American Horror Story fan-pages on Instagram and they posted something about 13 Reasons Why and it looked really good. I want to start it.
The show explores themes like bullying. Do you have any advice for fans going through that?
If you’re going through bullying, I can honestly say I know how that feels. Like I completely know what it’s like to go through that, whether its cyber-bullying or in school. Whatever type of bullying you’ve gone through, I’ve probably gone through it, yeah know? Whether you’re a young girl, or a young boy, or you’re in your 20s, however old you are, it’s awful and it hurts so bad. You’ve got to learn to be at peace with yourself and learn how to love yourself, that’s the most important thing. If nobody else is gonna treat you like you should be treated, you gotta treat yourself the way you should be treated.
My mom is like, “It’s just jealousy.” It’s really hard to just be like, “Yeah, you’re right.” I’m always like, “It’s not jealousy!” It’s really hard. I go through it every single day. I just want my fans to know that they are not alone. Whatever they’re going through, people all around the world are going through it. You should always go to people you love and hang out with people who are nice. Surround yourself with the best people instead of these awful people that make you feel so bad about yourself. Because every single person is beautiful. What’s inside is way more important than what’s outside. We’re all beautiful no matter what.
One last question. How are you going to celebrate the release of NC-17?
We’re gonna be going to sushi, I can tell you that! I have a feeling we’re gonna go for sushi tomorrow night for “Stay Together” too, but when NC-17 comes out, we’ll definitely be going to sushi.
Good luck. I love “Stay Together.”
Thank you very much. I’m so excited for everything. Nice talking to you.