Story / JoAnn Zhang
Photos / Sarah Pardini
During the pandemic, Tessa Violet’s bedroom pop kept our ears company inside their headphones, like gnarled patients inside happy, padded little isolation rooms. Her music reminded us of how being young, teenage, felt before the long years indoors. We stayed there with her music. We had crushes, not loves; we had bad ideas rather than mistakes. Four years later, she is now back with a new album, MY GOD!. She certainly appears four years older than the girl in the “Crush” music video, who rode a cart down a grocery freezer aisle, her brown roots exposed above her bee-yellow dyed hair, accessorized only with her mini Fjallraven Kanken backpack in the matching yellow shade. Tessa, who is now engaged (an interesting progression from crush), has bobbed her hair in the slick, Parisian fashion with a heavy bang. It is still bright yellow, revealing only a tiny cap of brown. In the “BAD BITCH” music video, released along with the album, she wears a vinyl pink gown with two silk trains that attach to her hands, and is attended by a troupe of backup dancers. Tessa is commanding, a “bad bitch,” and an artist who has come into her full bloom. The simpler beats of Bad Ideas have matured into the more complex production and flexible melodies we hear in “BAD BITCH,” and her lyrics, which once journaled her feelings of lostness, insecurity, and fleeting emotions, are now aspirational and confident (“I’m a bad bitch baby, I don’t care”). According to the song, Tessa “used to be a little bitch.” Now, as the cover of MY GOD! shows, she is poised with her hands in prayer, tears of jewels frozen on her cheeks, looking upwards, as golden rays beam from her. Tessa seems ready to be deified, and the album, the recording of her journey, seems to suggest that this is her apotheosis, her culmination, her true coming-of-age.
How did “BAD BITCH” come about? What inspired the song?
I had been on a stretch of writing sad breakup songs, and I was like, okay, enough sad songs. I’m tired of writing about being sad and heartbroken. I want to write about how amazing I am. And at that point, a part of me was like, maybe this could be true, but I was like, what if this is manifesting it. And it was another year and a half until that song came out. Once it was out, I was like, yes, she’s a bad bitch. I wrote “BAD BITCH”, because I’m like, fuck yeah. It was a lot about the experience of self within the music industry. When I was first starting out, before “Crush” came out, people in the industry did not get or believe in me. They just didn’t see my potential. And that was fine. I didn’t even take that personally. One time, I had a meeting with a potential manager, and they’re like, what size venues do you want to play? And I was like, arenas. And they’re like, okay, but like realistically. And I was like, okay, I can take that personally, or I can just say you just don’t have the vision to see my potential and that’s fine. Like, why would you? I’m playing to twenty people every day. After releasing “YES MOM” and that being my biggest release, I’m like, I want to write a song all about how great I am. (singing) They said I couldn’t do it, I did it anyway. And now they’re trying to sign me, labels wine and dine me. keep your money safe, and get behind me.
What are some ups and downs you have faced, especially considering how independent of an artist you have been?
Tik Tok is a roller coaster. It’s an emotional rollercoaster. And some days I’m a lot better at riding it. When I’m at my best, mental-health-wise, with social media, I know that you can’t control how viral something is going to be. And I know that social media is just a game you play and some days you win, and that’s fun. Some days you don’t, and games aren’t fun if you win all the time. So when I’m at my best, that’s what I tell myself. When I’m at my worst, some days I’m crying. I’m so tired of trying to convince people to like me on social media.
Does exposing people to such short snippets of songs on TikTok change the way you create music?
It doesn’t change how I write songs. I mean, I’m sure someone can write something with the idea of like, I’m gonna write a TikTok hit, like those 15 seconds. And that’s great for them. For me, if I start thinking about how people will receive this, it clouds the clarity of, what is my true self? What do I want to reveal from the heart? What is true? What lights me up? What makes me feel good? Because in the end, I’m the one who’s going to be singing all the time, promoting it. And if it doesn’t make me feel good to say it and sing it, then it doesn’t feel good to do. Once everything’s done, you can look at all the songs and be like, okay, which ones feel like they might be TikTok moments? You just know that not every song will be that, and that’s okay.
You mentioned earlier it took a day to write “Crush.” Has the process of writing all your songs been like that?
I’ll be honest with you, that is a fucking boldfaced lie. It did not take me one day to write “Crush.” It was refining, refining for months. It took me months to write “Crush,” but that was too many syllables. “100 million streams, wrote it in about five months, over several days.” That doesn’t work. It sounds more badass to say I wrote it in a day. But yeah, I never wrote a song in a day. Some people can, they get it like a shock. But for me, it always comes in little pieces, like putting it in the stone polisher.
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