Music Updates

Pick Your ‘Poison’: Nessa Barrett on Owning Her Darkness & Finding a Brighter Day With Debut EP ‘Pretty Poison’

“I’ve always been pretty quiet about everything that I’ve been thrown into when it comes to drama and how people perceive me,” Barrett says. “Pretty Poison really is a moment for me to be like, ‘No, you’re wrong. This is me, and this is what I’ve been through.’”

Barrett has shared glimpses of her journey before now, and each single gradually built her up in a way that eventually made her confident enough to really go there across Pretty Poison’s seven tracks. Weeks after landing in L.A. from her hometown of Galloway in southern New Jersey, determined to shed her TikTok shadow and fully pursue music, Barrett went to the studio and sat down at the piano. “Pain,” her debut single with Warner, poured out of her. 

“I decided to make it a basic piano ballad for a common reason that I literally can go any direction with my music after that, because it’s so basic,” she said last summer ahead of the single’s July 31, 2020, release. “Any artist can do a piano ballad. After ‘Pain,’ I realized that I wanted to be completely authentic and do the style I’ve always wanted to, which is a little bit darker and more edgy.”

Warner Records CEO and co-chairman Aaron Bay-Shuck and executive vice president of A&R Jeff Sosnow were intrigued by Barrett after seeing clips of her singing on TikTok, and they decided to sign her when they heard “Pain.” Barrett was immediately surrounded by a supportive infrastructure and dedicated team consisting of Bay-Schuck, Sosnow, Tom Corson as well as manager Bree Shepherd. They believed in her before she truly believed in herself.

“It was clear she was an artist whose voice would reach far beyond social media ecosystems,” says Sosnow. “In speaking with her in those initial meetings, it was clear she was very serious and focused and wildly determined to chase her dream and tell her story but also touch universal themes and speak for the voiceless.”

Last October’s haunting revenge breakup anthem “if u love me” foreshadowed that direction, but Barrett found her footing with February’s “la di die” featuring TikToker-turned-punk rocker jxdn, with drums and production by blink-182 icon Travis Barker. (jxdn, born Jaden Hossler, was Barker’s first DTA Records signing in May 2020.) The stark contrast between acoustics, Barker’s signature bashing and 808-infused beats in the hypnotic alt-pop smash symbolized the transition Barrett was enduring. Within months, Barrett had gone from stifling her truth on TikTok to exorcising her demons — “Hope someday I’ll find nirvana/ I’ll be looking down below/ I’ll be dead at twenty-seven/ Only nine more years to go/ I got a bully in my head” — on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live. 

Pretty Poison lead single “i hope ur miserable until ur dead” found her pivoting yet again — this time using grungier soundscapes to declare independence from a toxic situation. It was even stickier than “la di die,” which had racked up 150 million streams and hit No. 27 at Top 40 radio. “Hope ur miserable” garnered 15 million first-week streams and earned Barrett her first-ever entry into Billboard’s Hot 100 chart at No. 88. The singles’ success confirmed that she wasn’t merely a TikTok star dallying in music on the side. Music was where she belonged.

“There was a moment right around the release of ‘la di die’ where I realized how crazy this moment was that we have an artist who had never had the opportunity to walk into our label — any label!” Sosnow remembers, incredulous at Barrett’s natural capability of capturing audiences and kicking down industry doors. “And she was a teenager! And it’s COVID!’”

Barrett has expressed frustration over the “difficult transition” in getting people to see her predominantly as a legitimate, mature recording artist post-TikTok, but that is a non-issue in the eyes of Larry Rudolph, the CEO of Barrett’s management firm ReignDeer Entertainment/Maverick. (Shepherd managing Barrett’s music career pre-dated Warner, but in 2020, she partnered ReignDeer and co-manages Barrett alongside Rudolph and ReignDeer President Jesse Peters.) He downplays any notion that she needs to “shed the influencer label” and emphasizes her surefire potential to trade URL fame for sold-out global arena tours IRL sooner than later.

“Nessa has that rare magic, plus she’s already done so much in such a short space of time,” Rudolph continues. “She’s already light years ahead of most artists who are only 18 months into their career. Nessa also has an undeniably unique perspective on her music and cares so much about her fan base. She’s got that superstar quality that I’ve always looked for throughout my career. It’s rare, but Nessa has got it.”

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