Fletcher may not create chaos, but when it finds her she’s sure as hell not going to put it to waste, with a debut album that fizzes with alt-pop energy.
Words: Martyn Young.
“I can’t put out anything if it’s not a chaotic rollercoaster”. That’s what Fletcher told us when we last spoke to her back at the end of last year when we talked to her for our annual rundown of the hottest new acts for the year ahead, the Hype List. Fast forward to late summer 2022, and that rollercoaster has now reached the summit, poised to take off on a breathlessly exhilarating ride as she prepares to release her much-anticipated debut album ‘Girl Of My Dreams’. Embracing the chaos and delivering on all her potential, Fletcher is a pop icon for our mixed-up times.
Fletcher is a pop star who encompasses a whole whirlwind of emotions and feelings. There’s no element of mystery. No boundaries and no filters. “My artistry is so closely tied with my personal life and my humanity,” she tells us from a hotel room in Australia. In case you hadn’t realised, Fletcher is global now. “It’s such a crazy moment, and I’m about to go on my fourth headline tour of this year,” she adds. See? Major. “My art becomes my personal lived experiences in such an in-depth, open your diary and read a page from it kind of way. The beautiful thing about my trajectory so far is that I’ve grown up with my fans. We have grown up together. Any feedback I get from them is like, oh, you’ve narrated my heartbreak or my first time falling in love or going through a really serious breakup.”
Those fans have followed Fletcher as she has detailed her ups and downs, culminating in a wide-ranging and emotionally fulfilling debut album. “My artistry has evolved,” she explains. “Lyrically or sonically, it has evolved as I have evolved and I have new experiences. Rolling out this album, I’m picking up where I left off two years ago. I’ve told things in a pretty chronological order of where I am in my life. It lands us at the girl of my dreams.”
The album is very much a continuation of the story that Fletcher has been telling right back to her debut single ‘War Paint’ in 2015. “I’m just bringing songs back around and changing the narrative and the story to how it fits in my current moment,” she says about some of the intriguing little easter eggs dotted around the record for fans to discover. Don’t worry, we won’t spoil the surprise. “Getting to share that with people who have become so keen on the personal details of my life and are privy to that information feels like a fun journey we get to go on together. You guys know all the tea, you know all the gossip, and it feels good to share it,” she exclaims.
In many ways, Cari Elise Fletcher was born to be a pop star, but she knew that she had to be a different kind of pop star. “I started with classical vocal training when I was five,” she explains. “Music was always a part of my life. I grew up singing in church, which was a journey I had growing up in a small conservative town, knowing that I was queer from a young age. I was a Disney Princess impersonator for kids’ parties, as well as Taylor Swift and Hannah Montana. That was my job in high school. I went on to attend the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU’s School of Performing Arts, and it was there that I was taking classes in recording and marketing and business and all these different routes within the music industry.”
“You guys know all the tea, you know all the gossip, and it feels good to share it”Fletcher
Naturally chafing against this very regimented old-school approach, Fletcher began to imagine a different way forward. “I realised that all the examples of people in pop music that I grew up with were this very picture-perfect, polished version of what it looks like to be an artist,” she reflects. “I thought I’m never going to be an artist if this is what it is. I love this, and I love pop music, but I don’t relate. I really wanted to see someone expressing the depths of their soul and their humanity. Their mess ups and confusion, pain and suffering, joy and liberation – the whole range of emotions in an unfiltered way. From such a young age, I was like I need to be the artist that I needed when I was little. I want to be that for somebody else. Everything that I do is with that little version of me in mind. If I needed that, then odds are somebody needs that too.”
After resolving to do things differently, Fletcher began to crystallise what her pop career would look like and the values she would represent in her music. “The vision for Fletcher from day one has always been to never shy away from any bit of the human experience,” she says confidently. “I’ve always been so interested in the difficult, let’s hide the feelings in the closet, conversations. I’ve always been the one to say let’s shed light on this, and let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about the things that make people uncomfortable. People are like, are you sure you want to say that? I’m like, I think it might get me in trouble, but why not? Life’s too short. I want to uncover those things.”
The album carries on these explicit raw themes, but there’s one crucial difference. “’Girl Of My Dreams’ has been an ode to my process of coming into myself,” explains Fletcher as she explores the themes behind her debut. “How it differs from my past projects is that my last two bodies of work have been about very specific relationships and people, and while this does still have moments of that, it really lands in a place that’s way more of an exploration of the relationship with myself versus the one with other people. It leads you on the whole journey of how the pain evolves. Where we start lyrically and conceptually with ‘Becky’s So Hot’ to the last song on the album being called ‘For Cari’.”
Oh yes, ‘Becky’s So Hot’. This song is the big one. Already notorious among serious fans and pop culture obsessives, it represents everything brilliant and uncompromising about Fletcher, the pop star. A massive turbo banger, it’s also throwing an emotional hand grenade into the mix and enjoying the chaos as it explodes. “It’s not so much that I revel in the chaos more that I revel in the complexity,” clarifies Fletcher laughing. “There’s this idea that two things can be true at the same time. The idea of ‘Becky’s So Hot’ is a very specific complex emotion of realising that the person my ex is dating is hot and beautiful, and that stings a little bit, but also that I understand that relationships end and people move on. There are reasons why they move on and things don’t work out. It’s this weird thing where I know this is better for you and I’m happy for you, but this part of me still hurts. I’m so fascinated by multiple truths existing at the same time. I revel in the grey zone. The not binary and not super-defined. It can come across as chaos,” she laughs.
“Let’s talk about the things that make people uncomfortable”Fletcher
The practical story of making ‘Becky’s So Hot’ is an example of pop magic coming from social chaos. “Well, it literally all happened in real-time in the studio,” she explains. “I was in the studio writing a different song at the time, and I was creeping on my ex’s Instagram, as you do. She had posted a picture wearing an old vintage t-shirt of my ex’s, and it was one that I had worn before as well, and I accidentally liked the picture. I was like fuck, I’ve just liked that picture, but I was like, you know what? I’m going to own it. I’m going to lean into it, and I can’t even be mad because she looks hotter than I ever did in the t-shirt. At that moment, I was like we have to write this song.”
The desire to put everything out there into the world is where the passion and feeling that drives Fletcher’s music comes from. “I’ve never been one to shy away from the visceral rollercoaster of it all,” she says. “I want to take people on that journey. I want to mirror that back to them, go on that deep dive of yourself. Romanticise your life. Make it dramatic. If you’re the screenwriter of your own fucking movie, then be the main character! It’s art. Let’s play. Life’s too short. Who gives a fuck.”
There’s no doubt that it can be exhausting and debilitating for an artist who lives so much of their life in the social pop cultural gaze. That’s certainly true for Fletcher, but equally, it provided inspiration for one of the album’s defining moments. “There was a point when I hit a wall, and I just wanted to quit,” she admits. “I didn’t want to do music anymore. I wanted to give up being an artist. I remember going to the studio one day and was like, if I had to have one more conversation about anything that felt forced or inauthentic, I would lose my mind. I was about to cancel the session, and I was like, no, what would happen if I didn’t write a song that was for my label, or my management, or the fans, or anyone? What would happen if I just wrote a song that was for Cari, and that was the song that came out of that day.”
The song itself is a celebratory anthem to close the album, something that Fletcher wasn’t quite sure would land but had to put out. “I remember always thinking, who’s going to listen if I don’t have a heartbreak to sing about? Does anyone really want to hear from me if I’m not heartbroken? What do I even have to say? What’s my perspective? I had to go through this deep spiritual awakening and self-journey to even be able to land in a place where I was like, how can I talk about myself if I don’t even know myself? There was this shift in the album on the writing, and that’s where I got ‘Holiday’, ‘I Love You Bitch’, and ‘For Cari’. These are moments where it’s like, let’s flip the lens. Why don’t your relationships work out? What is it about you? I just wanted to know myself and empower myself on a level I’ve never been able to before. The whole process was just so much learning.”
‘For Cari’ feels like a potent cathartic release and a special song in the context of the album. “It’s symbolic that I’m not doing this for anyone but myself,” she says. “Second to that are the people that have supported me for so long, and sharing with them gives me so much purpose, but it’s really for me. This album is for me. It’s so important to celebrate yourself. As we get older, we forget about the importance of play and about what it means to experience joy. There are all these societal expectations that you need to get this sort of job, make this amount of money, and be in this kind of relationship by all these certain ages. It’s a bunch of bullshit. Remember to celebrate yourself and liberate yourself. To radically love yourself is truly the most revolutionary thing you can do in a world that capitalises on our self-hatred.”
“Fletcher allows me to become a character. She’s a bad bitch who doesn’t give a fuck what anybody thinks about her”Fletcher
As she has grown up and explored ever deeper and more painful emotions in her music, it comes accompanied by more scrutiny and a wealth of people combing her songs and lyrics for different references and insights into her life. It’s something that Fletcher recognises can sometimes have its own challenges but is ultimately all part of the thrill. “It’s an interesting dance,” she offers. “Sometimes you piss people off. I want to honour my feelings and experiences – the things that I went through and my thoughts – but when it’s so closely tied to my personal life, there are obviously real humans involved. There’s a certain level of freedom that I experience, but there’s a fine line I walk where it becomes public.”
Despite the notoriety of some of her songs, there’s nothing confected or artificial about Fletcher’s music. “I never go into the studio and think what shit can I start up today,” she says. “Even when I write songs, I’m never thinking I’m going to put this out, and it’s going to do xyz. I’m just showing up in the studio and saying this is what’s going on in my brain right now. So much of it is liberating because it’s art. Fletcher allows me to become a character. She’s a bad bitch who doesn’t give a fuck what anybody thinks about her. She goes there, versus Cari, on the other hand, who’s a bit more second guessing, a bit more insecure. Fletcher is my superhero, and I aspire to be her.” Big Fletcher energy promises to be the superhero blockbuster of the pop summer.
Despite the album containing plenty of the heartbreak anthems that have made Fletcher so beloved, it’s also a record with a lot of positivity and celebration. There’s a joy to go alongside the sadness. “There’s hope in it,” she says.” There are sad, reflective moments, but it’s through that reflection that you find some clarity and salvation. That is the silver lining of the most emotional songs like ‘Better Version’ or ‘Birthday Girl’. Those songs really pulled on my heartstrings to write, but it was all worth it because it then led me to write something like the title track ‘Girl Of My Dreams’. Even if it’s not explicitly said, all of these pieces are essential. It’s all for the character development.”
As her storytelling developed, so did the actual music itself. ‘Girl Of My Dreams’ sounds huge on multiple levels. Again working with her long-time producer Malay, Fletcher has created a dynamic pop album full of nuance and subtlety when needed but with a super thrilling turbo-charged energy when it cuts loose. “There’s a lot more intensity. There are more peaks and valleys emotionally. I really wanted the sound to match that,” she says. “There are some really dreamy ambient pop synth sounds that are more light feeling paired with really gritty feeling guitar and bass. There’s a lot more rage. It’s a lot more guitar driven. I’m always trying to match the instrumentation with what the song energetically feels like.”
The album arrives in a moment characterised by a number of singular artists who do things on their own terms, unencumbered by prevailing expectations or the principles of what you should do as a pop star. It’s a lineage where Fletcher fits right in. “I do think we’re in a time now that conceptually people are less afraid to take risks in terms of the things that they’re talking about,” she explains. “I’m super inspired by Miley Cyrus, Harry Styles, Halsey and Billie Eilish. They are all artists that are so unapologetically themselves. They don’t really give a fuck about what other people are making, and that’s something that I admire so much.”
Ultimately, Fletcher’s journey over the past seven years has been one of progression but also reflection. It’s taken a lot of time and a lot of healing, but she knows exactly who she is and is ready to be the pop icon she always wanted to be on her own terms. “The title track sums up everything,” she concludes. “I’ve had all these lovers, and I’ve thought they were all going to be the one, but I’ve had my heart broken a million times, and why does tequila not hit anymore? Why does none of these things feel like they used to? What is it I’m missing, and It’s like, oh duh, it’s you. “Now I lay me down to sleep because I’m the only bitch I need, I’m all hers, and she’s all mine, and I’ll love her until the day I die”. If I’ve got that at the core, I can do anything.” ■
Taken from the October 2022 edition of Dork. Fletcher’s album ‘Girl Of My Dreams’ is out 16th September.