COVER

Nessa Barrett

Is Not Who You Think

By Gabby Sgherri

I

I feel like if anyone lived my life they would see that it’s not really what it’s out to be,” Nessa Barrett softly says to me through my Macbook screen.

Before hopping on a Zoom call with the artist, I dug deep into her online presence watching her interviews, socials, videos, and listening to podcasts. Much like Barrett’s millions of fans I already had an idea of what she would be like but throughout our conversation, I realized the glimpses I saw online created a persona that doesn’t capture the complexities of her whole self. 

Barrett grew up all over South Jersey, moving around a lot which made it harder for her to make friends, she experienced bullying and a distaste for school. The beacon of light throughout this was always music—her musically-inclined parents passed on their love and passion for the art form. “My childhood was pretty rough and I always dreamt about the day that I could escape New Jersey [to] live on my own and do my own thing,” says Barrett speaking directly to the teen angst I also experienced growing up.

Her dreams of escaping included pursuing a career as a musician, a seed that was planted as early as four years old when she recorded her first song with her dad in their home studio. Fast forward a little over a decade, Barrett has got everything she dreamed of and more moving to L.A. in 2020 and releasing her first song that same year. Not everyone gets to live out their childhood dreams so I had to ask if the reality is what she expected. “The biggest thing for me when I always dreamt about being a musician was that I was able to do something that I loved for the rest of my life.” But just like any job, there are challenges that she didn’t foresee like the vulnerability required to share her life and music with millions. As Barett’s public notoriety grew, so did the division between her and her online persona.

I feel like if anyone lived my life they would see that it’s not really what it’s out to be,” Nessa Barrett softly says to me through my Macbook screen.

Before hopping on a Zoom call with the artist, I dug deep into her online presence watching her interviews, socials, videos, and listening to podcasts. Much like Barrett’s millions of fans I already had an idea of what she would be like but throughout our conversation, I realized the glimpses I saw online created a persona that doesn’t capture the complexities of her whole self. 

Barrett grew up all over South Jersey, moving around a lot which made it harder for her to make friends, she experienced bullying and a distaste for school. The beacon of light throughout this was always music—her musically-inclined parents passed on their love and passion for the art form. “My childhood was pretty rough and I always dreamt about the day that I could escape New Jersey [to] live on my own and do my own thing,” says Barrett speaking directly to the teen angst I also experienced growing up.

Her dreams of escaping included pursuing a career as a musician, a seed that was planted as early as four years old when she recorded her first song with her dad in their home studio. Fast forward a little over a decade, Barrett has got everything she dreamed of and more moving to L.A. in 2020 and releasing her first song that same year. Not everyone gets to live out their childhood dreams so I had to ask if the reality is what she expected. “The biggest thing for me when I always dreamt about being a musician was that I was able to do something that I loved for the rest of my life.” But just like any job, there are challenges that she didn’t foresee like the vulnerability required to share her life and music with millions. As Barett’s public notoriety grew, so did the division between her and her online persona.

My childhood was pretty rough and I always dreamt about the day that I could escape New Jersey [to] live on my own and do my own thing."

My childhood was pretty rough and I always dreamt about the day that I could escape New Jersey [to] live on my own and do my own thing."


The meteoric rise that led to where she sits today, doing press for her upcoming EP Pretty Poison with over 4 million monthly Spotify listeners was untraditional. She wasn’t thrust into the spotlight via Disney Channel, X-Factor, or discovered by another artist on YouTube. In social media fairytale fashion, she unintentionally went viral on TikTok and amassed millions of fans. The newfound fame shined a spotlight on Barett’s personal life and whether she liked it or not, she had trolls in her comments and gossip accounts dissecting her life. On the other hand, it gave Barrett a huge platform to share her music that otherwise could have taken years to build going the traditional marketing trajectory.

If you go through her social media today, it very much screams pop-punk artist and not influencer. There are lots of music video clips and teasers for Pretty Poison with dark and moody imagery giving you an idea of her visual identity. Her EP’s name (inspired by a tattoo she has) sounds fitting for an album with the songs “i hope ur miserable until ur dead’ and “keep me afraid”. “Since I’m writing about my life, I feel like a lot of good things in my life seem very toxic to other people and a lot of toxic things seem very good at the surface level,” says Barrett, giving me a cryptic idea of what the title refers to. She soon clarifies by saying “if I’m being honest fame itself is kind of like pretty poison. It seems so glamorous, it’s glorified and it seems amazing but there’s a lot of things that come with it. It’s hard and when you’re in it it’s very lonely.” Seeing Barrett earnestly talk about the realities of fame makes me feel like this is Nessa Barrett the person who dreamt of being a musician since childhood, not Nessa Barrett the online persona that comes up when you do a quick Google search. 

 

if I’m being honest fame itself is kind of like pretty poison."

When chatting about Pretty Poison, Barrett lights up with enthusiasm that I didn’t expect—she had a demure persona in the podcasts and videos I have watched. But, those interviews were heavily focused on her personal life, proving that her passion has always been about music. Her debut project is close to her heart because it’s written from real-life experiences. “I decided to write this story about the last year of my life when it comes to me moving out to L.A., my journey with music, social media, the public, relationships, friendships, life in general, my mental health.” Hence why Pretty Poison was such a fitting title for a story about her meteoric rise to fame. 

Similar to Barrett’s childhood, what keeps her grounded amongst all the La La land mayhem is music. “A lot of the stuff that I write about, it’s very personal and sometimes a bit painful to write about because I do use music to cope—it’s therapeutic for me.” Barrett is quick to say it’s not all about songwriting, she’s a visual person and likes to take creative control over everything from the production to her music videos and graphics. The topic of videos prompts her to excitedly tell me that she’s about to shoot five videos for Pretty Poison in the coming days and she’s co-directing them all. “When I’m writing a song or listening back to my songs, I kind of see them in colors and I’m very visual when it comes to the concepts, what the song means to me, and how to portray that with the video.” Her energy while discussing her creativity surrounding songwriting and directing is so infectious I can’t help but smile. Even over Zoom, you can sense the genuineness in her words and I’m once again reminded of the disconnect public figures experience between their true selves and online identities.

Besides the music, if there’s one person Barrett can look to for support and connection it’s her boyfriend Jaden Hossler. Professionally known as Jxdn, he’s a fellow musician signed to Travis Barker’s DTA Records and he experienced a similar trajectory to fame as Barrett. I ask about the perks of dating someone in the same industry and she happily says “we’re very collaborative and creative together but I think the best thing in the world is coming home from work at the end of the day and being able to show each other what we made and having such an amazing support system that is able to understand what you’re going through and what the process is like as well.” Other perks include going to each other’s studio sessions, singing at home, and having a catalog of unreleased songs that Barrett says will probably never come out but they enjoy listening to for themselves. The one collaborative song that they did release is “la di die” which was so successful it led to a performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live with Travis Barker assisting on the drums. 

The praise for Hossler is endless, he recently performed at Lollapalooza and brought Barett out to sing “la di die.” Not the usual date night activity but perhaps the perfect gesture for Barrett “being able to share that moment with someone that I love [was] so awesome, that was one of the best days of my life. There’s nothing but [gratitude] to have someone like [Jaden] in my life and also be my boyfriend as well.”

As our call comes to a close, what stands out to me is the interconnectedness that music and connection have in Barrett’s life. Her songwriting is the best way for her to communicate her truth and her relationship with Hossler is strengthened by their shared passion for music. Barrett’s life experiences have made her mature quickly and also given her an assured sense of identity. “You have to have some sort of fight in you to stay humble and grounded and never lose sight of who you are no matter what,” she says referring to how she juggles the expectations her label and fans have of her every day. Barett may have taken a ride on the TikTok express but that isn’t the only part of her, she continues to show the world more, on her own terms as an artist first.



Photographer: Hunter Moreno


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