I first encountered Beth Million at a concert in Brooklyn. I had never heard of her before but she commanded the stage like no other artist that night and I had to go up after and find out who is she? I learned she was a new artist with her first single, “Dirty Little Secret” on the way. That single, and the music video, are both out now. I sat down with her to talk about the inspiration behind that song and the process of becoming an artist.
So, let’s talk about the song “Dirty Little Secret.” What’s the story behind that song?
The single is about a specific person and it happened to me Sophomore year and I was just so messed up over it. How do I deal with these emotions? I wrote this song and thought, “this is actually kind of fire”. I showed it to my friend Darren and he said, “This is good.” He played all these jazzy chords and turned my simple like C, G whatever chords and added to it and I was like, “OK let me try it like this, more positive.” Then my friend Gabe said, “Let me put a guitar on this.”
It took us a year to do it since life gets in the way and I was abroad. I kept wanting to make it, but the timing was so hard. Especially, when you’re starting out in the music industry, it’s so hard not to be your own worst critic and feel like everyone is just doing you a favor. So when it came to getting things done on time I’d get in my head thinking, “I don’t want to pester them.”
They’ve been so great at encouraging me and, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself, if you want to do it, just tell me to do it, and have some authority”. I thought, “You’re right, nobody is going to give me that authority.” So when I got back from study abroad I thought, “I really want to get this done, like you said we were gonna get it done, let’s get it done.”
He said, “Alright” and he knew these guys he played with in a jazz band before, and we all came together. When they did it for the recording we had so much fun, even just hanging out in the studio. So I asked them if they wanted to play at my upcoming concert, they of course said, “Hell yeah, you’re cool, let’s do it.” The more we hung out, it was just so fun—I definitely want to work with them again. They’re awesome.
Yeah, the show I saw where you were all performing the song was fantastic! There were so many piano solos, it was clear you were all having a great time performing together.
Yeah when it came to that performance, I felt like there weren’t a lot of boundaries. That was very much a snippet of what our rehearsals were like. We’d be playing, Darren would be in it, the song would end and he’d still be so into it. He’d keep going and instead of, “Stop it Darren the song has to be 4 minutes,” it was, “Go off! This is so fun! Let me riff on it.”
I know your background is in musical theatre. How would you say performing for musical theatre is different than performing concerts?
In musical theatre there’s this person that already exists and I think that’s the thing I struggle with in musical theatre: how much am I becoming the character and how much is the character becoming a version of me? And that’s something I always struggled with, but in musical theatre that’s essentially what you’re doing: like you’re saying somebody else’s story.
I think similarly in doing covers and stuff like that, you’re thinking about how would I feel if this happened to me? When you’re singing the song, if I’m not just explaining the story, there must be this sort of emotion extra, like extra storytelling in it. So, I think musical theatre is so helpful, it’s fun with music since it’s like, “Wow I don’t have to play someone else now, I get to just play myself!”
“I’m so wild so it’s like put me in front the stage and give me a mic it’s like, sorry, you know, haha. It’s so much permission to be the truest as well as the ideal version of yourself.”
Do you ever get stage fright? Or is that something you overcame acting?
It depends. It depends who is in the audience and it depends how prepared I am. That is the main thing—if I’m not prepared, I’m going think, “Oh no, I’m so nervous blah blah blah” and I know damn well it’s my own fault. It’s kind of like going into a test not having studied and thinking, let me just see what I can do; and even if you know the subject well, “This is so annoying, I know I could have done better!”
But yeah, I absolutely do get nervous, especially in the moments before I go on, but the only time I mess up is when I don’t take that moment to think, “I am literally doing the dream of what I’ve wanted to do forever. This is supposed to be fun—people came to have fun, I should have fun.”
Yeah, they’re not here to be vicariously anxious with you, haha.
Yeah, they’re not here to watch me mess up, not trying to pay money to watch me mess up, haha.
So, what made you want to study acting instead of music?
I felt like it wasn’t really that accessible to me, like I loved music but I thought, “Damn they’re so talented, they can just come up with these songs.” Especially since I didn’t really know music theory—I taught myself guitar when I was like 14. I thought, I want to do YouTube covers. Oh I did some of the most embarrassing YouTube covers; like I did “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift. I taught myself guitar and the guitar was slightly out of tune.
Are the covers still up?
I think they might be; I might have to go take them down right after this, haha. But also, it made me force myself to learn guitar. I like to say I play conversational guitar. Please don’t make me do it, but at home I’ll go off. I just thought since I didn’t know music, and if the main part of music is the instrumentation, and I can’t express that physically, then how am I supposed to come up with melodies?
But I do things where I’ll randomly since melodies. If I’m really uncomfortable, I’ll sing, “I’m really uncomfortable right now” or something like that. Or I’ll have a phrase and riff off that in the shower and think, “Wait, isn’t that how a song works?”
So now, if I come up with something, I’ll just voice note it and when I go home, I’ll have random lyrics. And when I’m petty, I’ll write them down and then I’ll combine those two. I definitely want to learn to play guitar better and piano since I think it’s like language translation.
What artists inspire you?
I’m going to just go off. I think Rihanna is one of the best artists and performers of our generation. The way she holds an audience and holds herself and the variation in her music, the simplicity of her music. “This is what I’m singing about, this is how I’m gonna sing it, and it’s gonna sound damn good.” SZA, Janelle Monáe—I think Dirty Computer is one of my favorite albums ever.
The Prince influences on that are incredible too.
Yeah, when she came out with that album nobody was expecting it. Someone who is definitely an inspiration is H.E.R. I think she’s just one of the best vocalists I’ve ever heard. I love the lower register of my voice, and one of the things is thinking you need to show off when you’re performing. That’s why people scream and do the Mariah, but you really don’t need to.
There’s a reason she chooses to do those low notes for parts of the song, and it’s so soothing. I could listen to her album over and over and over again and still not get every part of the song. I think that’s so amazing.
Yeah, it’s great that you have so many female artists as inspirations since I’ve had people tell me, I don’t like any female artists and I’m like “how?”
A lot of the male artists for me it’s actually the other way, like I think they’re cool and I like their music, but I don’t know if I’m inspired by them. Actually, Anderson .Paak—the arrangement of his songs are just so complex. His lyrics are so simple, but so smart and I love that: genre-babies that was created recently with like neo-soul, R&B, jazz and all of those mixed together – you can’t really put a genre on it. I love that. Janelle Monáe does that a lot, Anderson .Paak does that a lot, No Name—I love No Name so much.
Oh yeah, Anderson .Paak’s arrangements are incredible, I’ll relisten and be like “how did you come up with all this?”
And there’s Smino; I think the rhythms in his melodies are genius and that’s something I want to work on in my own music but that genre mix where you can’t really pinpoint what genre it is is definitely something I was trying to go for with my new single and I think I was able to do that—maybe I need to establish one first and then try and go from it but also like, f*** it, haha.
What was the process of making the music video?
Again, my friends are so talented and I’m so lucky, they’re so supportive and believe in me so much. And my friend was in a class and he got a budget for it and, first of all, a bunch of my friends are in film and make these beautiful, incredible pieces of art. They always go on set together and work together and I was like, “OMG that’d be so fun to have a music video” and he was like “I’ll do your music video” and I was like “Hell yeah!”
So I had all my friends on set and they were all so professional. We had fun between sets, but it’s so nice to know you can have fun but when it comes down to it, they know I’m going to show up and do my job and they’re going to do theirs. They respect me as an artist but also as a friend and I can’t wait for the future to be able to collaborate with all my friends in the music industry. I just love working with my friends.
Do you ever struggle with comparing yourself to other artists?
Half of this shit, if I told myself even as an 11th grader, that I have my own single and a music video, I would literally faint on the spot. I’ve never fainted but I’d probably faint and be like “OMG I’m such a badass.” So who am I to sit here and be like, “Other people are on The Voice.” like good, and?
Yeah, trying to not compare yourself to everyone around you is always hard. Especially in music since you can make a lot of progress and still be like “But H.E.R just won a Grammy!”
Especially when you start Googling ages on Wikipedia, that’s me with all Disney channel stars. Me with Billie Eilish, haha. I was like, I was over here messing with my busted edges when I was 16 and Billie Eillish is literally playing Coachella.
There’s a lot that’s hard. Whether it’s comparing yourself to other people or finding time in your schedule to balance everything…
Honestly the hardest thing for me has been having something really good happen to me, and my head making it feel consequential that I was able to do that. Like it was just luck—no, I worked really hard for this! Yesterday I filmed my music video, I thought “That was so much fun, I want to do this the rest of my life” and then thinking “What if I don’t get to do this the rest of my life?
I just got this snippet and I’ll never be able to do that again” like “Shut up! That’s not what’s important here! You found something that makes you so happy that you were able to do— work towards that. It’s a process, enjoy the process instead of just thinking about the goal of where you want to be.
That’s why the idea of goals, even in weight loss, even in anything, the idea of having benchmarks don’t seem conducive to me. If I don’t hit them I think “I messed up” rather than “My goal is weight loss.” If I’m having some sort of process that means it’s working!
“That’s why the idea of goals, the idea of having benchmarks don’t seem conducive to me since if I don’t hit them I feel like ‘I messed up’ rather than ‘My goal is weight loss’. If I’m having some sort of process that means it’s working!”
That’s relatable, I was going to do a juice cleanse and then someone texted me and was like “Chipotle” and I was like yes. Or free food, that’s my biggest weakness.
Put free in front of anything and I’ll take it.
The biggest threat to diets is free food, haha. So, this is a bit off-topic, but I ask this to everyone: What does feminism mean to you?
What does feminism mean to me… Feminism just means having and exuding the confidence that men have when they walk in the street every single day basically, haha.
And for me, not constantly second guessing myself and constantly readjusting, just in general, in every aspect of my life—in conversations, in music; I’m so tired of constantly having to protect other people’s egos!
I don’t mind doing it cuz I’m used to doing it. Like damn, nobody out here protecting my ego! Just the ease of walking around as a male, especially a white male, is something I’ll never know but will strive for every day of my life. And I think someone who exudes that is Rihanna. Cuz she walks around with the confidence of a white man absolutely and I want to know how she does it.
But, yeah, feminism is so crucial, and it shows up in every aspect of a woman’s life. It can be detrimental, especially when people are constantly questioning the intention or the quality—what are my intentions? My intentions are to be equal to you. There was a time when that wasn’t possible for black people and it’s far from fixed, especially in this country, but, I’ll be damned if I don’t try every single day to change that and if that means missing out on certain opportunities, those aren’t opportunities I want, and I’ll get them the right way, even if I’m 60 years old.
“If I peak Rihanna fame at 60 years old, so be it.”
“Dirty Little Secret” is out now! Check it out and follow Beth Million on Instagram at @bethlehemmillion