When she’s not captivating the ever-fickle pop world with catchy, cathartic songs—”Love Myself,” “Starving,” and her two current tracks, “At My Best,” with Machine Gun Kelly, and “Most Girls”—that both empower and enamor listeners, Hailee Steinfeld gives the kinds of on-screen performances that remind you why and how she became an Academy Award-nominated actress at just 13 years old for her supporting role in 2010’s True Grit. The question, then, becomes not, how does she do it?!—because, hi, she’s Hailee Steinfeld—but instead, why does she do it?
We caught up with Steinfeld before her performance at the ELLE and Billboard Music Award’s Women in Music celebration—held at the YouTube Space LA on Tuesday night and honoring both ELLE’s annual Women in Music issue and the impending 2017 Billboard Music Awards, airing Sunday night on ABC— to ask her just that, along with a few other burning questions about becoming one of the few masters of two very grueling, dueling forms of artistic expression. And given this is Women in Music, we also just had to know: Britney or Christina? She handled it all, of course, like a pro.
We know you’ve always had aspirations to be a musician. Now that you can firmly call yourself a woman in music, how does it feel?
I mean, I’ve always just wanted to perform and to entertain and to be on stage. It was never about, “I want to be in a stadium.” It could be a coffee shop. But to now be able to do that on so many different levels—in that coffee shop and in a stadium—in the last year and a half has been absolutely insane. And I feel so honored, not only to be able to call myself a woman in music, but to be surrounded by so many incredible women in music.
I think for some who try to tackle music and acting, it can be hard to grapple both of those artistically. What’s your process? Do you consciously say, “Today I’m going to focus on music. Tomorrow it will be acting.” Or is it about the inspiration?
It’s really a little bit of both. If I’m away making a movie, I’m of course focused on making that movie. But the music cycle never really stops. Whether it’s me being in this place where I’ve got very little service but I’ve got this idea so I text it to a friend, “Please do something with this!” and we’ll go from there. Or if, again, I’m on a movie and I have friends fly out to wherever I am and we book studio sessions. We just have to keep it going. But I ultimately I do devote my attention to whatever it is that I’m working on in that moment.
Do you feel like they ever inform each other in a way, acting and singing?
I have definitely learned in the last two years or so how much they can either benefit each other or how they come full circle, I guess you could say. Even so, they are two very different worlds that have a separation between them that I don’t necessarily make, which is kind of nice at times.
I want to ask about “At My Best.” It’s an anthem for sure, but it’s an interesting anthem because it’s one about struggle and owning struggle and what it does for you as a person. Why did that track speak to you on a personal level?
The fact that Machine Gun Kelly asked me to be on the track is an honor. I heard it for the first time and knew I needed a song like this as an artist. I wanted to be able to somehow put into words exactly what struggle can be about. It’s about the fact that this is who I am, this is what I’ve done, this is what I’ve been through. Whether it’s the first day of school where people don’t think you’re cool enough, and then you sort of get on the trends and you’re dressing a little bit cooler, and all of a sudden people are talking to you. Or if it’s a success thing, where you’re not where you want to be, and then all of a sudden you’re in sold out stadiums, and your phone’s ringing off the hook. A lot of people have been there, the extreme down and then the up. And if someone can’t handle you at both ends, is it really worth it? Are they worth it? That’s the question.