Hailee Steinfeld is a pop culture anomaly. After scoring an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in the Coen brothers’ True Grit at age 13, Hailee embarked on a dual career as a serious actress and musician who sings empowerment anthems for teenagers. In the last year, she’s danced in a faux-fur coat on the Disney Channel and earned rave reviews for playing the lead in the indie flick Edge of Seventeen.
Thirty years have passed since we’ve seen a celebrity masterfully balance prestige cinema and bubble pop, when Cher won an Oscar for her performance in Moonstruck. (Broadway veterans and cabaret crooners, like Bette Midler and Frank Sinatra, don’t count.) Now, Hailee is attempting to do the same, but at only 20 years old, it’s unclear if she can pull it off. She’s soared in art house films, but her mainstream box office appeal won’t be tested till she headlines next year’s Transformers spin-off Bumblebee.
This summer she’s focusing on timely, socially conscious music. Her new single “Most Girls” sounds designed for maximum reblogs. Lyrics include “you look greatest when you feel like a damn queen” and the video features girls in shirts emblazoned with strong, feisty, and other nasty-adjacent words. Over 37 million people have viewed the video on YouTube. Like Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” and Katy Perry’s “Chained to the Rhythm” before it, “Most Girls” has received some social media criticism for commodifying feminism. Considering she’s yet to twerk at the MTV VMAs and spark debates about cultural appropriation, “Most Girls” is far from a lethal career offense.
Hailee spoke to Broadly about the reaction to “Most Girls,” her strategy for balancing music and acting, and why she treats blockbusters as seriously as Oscar bait. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Who would you say are your musical influences?
I literally just went to a record store and saw all these [albums by] groups and artists that I grew up listening to. It’s such a wide variety from Boyz II Men to Mariah Carey to The Eagles to Michael Jackson. All of them, I [think about] when I’m making music.
How did you come up with “Most Girls”?
I worked on the song with Asia Whiteacre, [one of the writers] who wrote “Starving.” It’s so funny. This song came from the experience of having a guy compliment a girl by saying, “You’re not like most girls,” and realizing that that’s not really much of a compliment. Most girls are smart and amazing and have authority. That’s what we were acknowledging with this song.
What was the genesis for the music video concept?
It started as a bunch of different things. I knew I wanted to play the roles of the females that I talk about in the songs—a version of them that is me, of course. So I went through and started with 12 different looks and then was reminded, over and over again, that we had one day to shoot this thing, and we’d be lucky if we got three looks. I narrowed it down. There was so much that went into what looks went into the video, and even the words that went across the girl’s shirts in the video. I had such a clear vision for it.