Dove Cameron Talks ‘Sand,’ Debut Album Alchemical Volume 1 , and Surviving Heartbreak

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Sarah Krick

Dove Cameron is nervous to hear what you think about her new album, Alchemical: Volume 1 via Disruptor Records/Columbia Records, out December 1. She knows that her new single “Sand,” released Nov. 10, is a bit of a departure from the mega-hits “Boyfriend” and “Breakfast” she (near-accidentally) released last year, and that those might have felt like a pivot from her teens and early twenties of musical theater, Disney stardom, TV and film and tabloids. But she hopes you can understand that she has a lot to say.

“I'm excited to feel like my music is actually allowing me to be the person I've always been,” Cameron tells Teen Vogue, “rather than the projected archetype of the person that I thought people needed me to be, wherever I was in my life at the time.”

Her debut album became a space, instead, to allow for multiple versions of herself to coexist, as she settles into adulthood. “It felt like putting my hands into the dirt of everything that I had been neglecting ever since I started in the industry,” Cameron says. “The heartbreaks that you collect along the way, with death and breakups.” As a result, the end result is a creative expression of that, referring to it as “Side A and Side B of processing grief.” It also created room for fun and exploration. While recording the album, she asked, “What would the 10-year-old me do if she had a full recording studio, and as much time as she needed and collaborators willing to experiment with her?”

Dove Cameron talked to Teen Vogue about her new single, the album, and what she wants fans to hear from her going forward.

Teen Vogue: How are you feeling about the album?

Dove Cameron: I'm feeling really good. I definitely think this album is going to be a departure from the sound that I was introducing last year. When I wrote “Boyfriend,” I had no idea what it was going to do. I had no idea that it would even be played by anyone. Having it be on the radio, so high on Billboard, or winning awards for a queer song – that was just not anything I had planned for or expected. In fact, I really expected the opposite. I didn't even know I was gonna put it out. I think there are going to be a lot of people who think that the album is going to sound a lot like “Boyfriend”; it's going to be very rooted in jazz, horns, in this “villain soundscape” that I had introduced with “Boyfriend” and “Breakfast,” quickly followed by “Bad Idea.”

<cite class="credit">Courtesy of Disruptor Records/Columbia Records</cite>
Courtesy of Disruptor Records/Columbia Records

But I had a really tumultuous year last year, hitting a wall with the trauma and the heartbreak that I had been running from ever since I can remember, and a lot of this album that I sat down to write was in this headspace of processing. This first half of the album is really focused on the loss of a very important romantic relationship in my life, and the fallout of losing a person that you think is at the very least in your life forever, if not the person you're going to spend your life with; this rebuilding of personhood that happens when you face so many intense losses back to back to back, for so many years.

There were definitely panic moments where I was writing this first half where I thought, wow, this is not going to be very radio. This is not going to be very TikTok. This is not going to be very commercial, even. But I had to remind myself every step of the way that I'm still a developing artist, and whether or not you have this huge runaway year and huge runaway hit, you have to honor where you are while you're writing a body of work, so that you can write honestly, and not just be writing for the labels telling you that you need to end up on some radio station, or anything like that.

TV: It sounds like you’re trying to compromise these multiple facets of yourself.

DC: I went from being this one dimensional projection of femininity, and softness, and girlhood and all of these things – that I actually am those things. Before I got emotionally fed up with myself and decided to do the metaphorical head shave at the end of 2021, when I was like, I just can't do this anymore, I felt like I'd been on a hamster wheel for so long. I was putting out this image that I felt was very safe. When you're rewarded and beloved for being one thing that really wasn't the image that you ever were, or that you had much lucidity while creating, and then anytime you step outside of it, you're – I don't want to say punished but, what's the opposite of rewarded? It was very clear what the parameters of what people expected from someone like me were.

I finally was like, I literally can't live in this tiny, hetero, binary, clearly defined, girl next door box anymore. I felt like I was becoming invisible. I was just like, I'm wasting away. I'm slowly losing myself to this. I need to honor the page-turn of allowing myself to develop as a human being, and learn what that is, and fail and create. I then stepped into another what felt like a very accidentally hardcore left turn – dark hair, dark makeup, I eat boys for breakfast and also I want to f*ck your girlfriend. It immediately was such a hard left. I definitely have a flair for intensity. I’m a Capricorn so when I do something, I do it really loud. But I didn't mean to do that. It was just like, here's another facet of who I am. Then I was in a position with a bunch of music people who were like, okay, now this is your new image and I was like, oh f*ck, Jesus Christ.

This is always gonna happen, as you establish a new mode of operation and people want you to caricaturize yourself. It was fun for a while because it was authentic. This is something that I've been keeping to myself for a very long time – more sensual, sexual, darker, more empowered, more, I don't know, mischievous. There was a certain, like, here's the other half. At the beginning of this year, I felt very trapped in that, as well. I don't know how people establish an artist brand and then stick to it forever. I feel like I constantly want to be shedding old versions of myself.

I'm sure that people are trying to figure out who the f*ck I am between these two very intense sides of a coin. But again, it's very binary to assume that someone is one thing or the other. People who are trying to figure out, what's the aesthetic? What's the brand? I think it's going to fall somewhere in between – which is a risk creatively, because I know what works is sticking to a mode of expression that people can recognize as a very brandable sound and visual style, and I just didn't want to do that to myself as someone who's still a fledgling artist.

I do think that the second half of the album is going to be more stepping into the emboldened version of myself that encapsulates all of these things, but I almost had to do this as a precursor or a doubling back to be like, Okay, wait, reset. Let me give you some context. We'll go from there for the second half, so that you can understand the fullness of who I am as a human being, more so than just this two dimensional girl next door or two dimensional mysterious shadowy figure in the back of the room.

TV: Talk to me about “Sand.”

DC: “Sand” is about a boy who I loved very much, who I really thought I was going to spend my life with, and the crazy experience of having that seemingly perfect relationship, how quickly it became ugly, the feeling of shock and disintegration as a human being… This reality that was yours, this future that was yours, this human being that you were to them, feeling like it was suddenly, completely atomized, and realizing that your initial instincts in the first five minutes of meeting someone can be absolutely prophetic and correct, even after years.

That line “I saw the end when we began/you couldn't love the way I can/and I tried to bargain with the stars for more than half your heart” came from this poem that I wrote. I had this very specific moment when I met this person, where it was so immediate, I loved him in the first five minutes of meeting him. It was wild.

And I also knew within the first five minutes, this is going to end. I think everybody hopes that if you fall in love there's a little vulnerable hope like, what if it lasts forever? What if this is so magical and everything falls into place? At the time I blamed it on like, Oh, I've been traumatized. I can't trust my instincts. But I remember looking at him, and we barely knew each other and he was crying about something very important to him, and I had this premature heartbreak, and I thought in my head – it sounds like I'm making it up, but I had the conscious thought, This is going to last for years, and it's going to devastate me and it's going to completely tear down everything I thought I knew about myself and I don't know if I'm going to survive it but I have a choice in this moment. I either dive in and I let this take me by the wrist and drag you behind this huge bus for four years, or I walk away right now. I remember thinking, I don't think that's much of a choice, and I knew I had to dive in.

For four years I just felt like I was losing sand between my fingers. I knew time was running out, I knew he couldn't love me as deeply as I loved him, and I jumped in anyway, and it ended exactly how I thought it was going to end. The lesson is in that relationship, that was a beautiful relationship that just happened to end pretty brutally and world-shatteringly, was that no matter how much you love someone, if they can't possibly love you as deeply, not because they don't want to, but because they're not capable, the relationship is bound to fall off the tracks, and sometimes in really ugly ways.

Even after we had broken up and he was moved on, and he was still trying to ask me to hold out for him, I had this moment right before I wrote “Sand” where I said, I'm dealing with someone who has never seen all of me and who has no idea how painful that request is. No matter how much I gave myself to him, I still had so little of him, and I was willing to hold on to that and he was willing to let go of me. I realized that that wasn't love, and I had to finally put it to bed and let go of this fantasy of what our life together could have been.

“Sand” was really important to me to acknowledge that it was always going to be diminishing returns, it was always going to be something that took more than it gave, and I had to, for my own mental health, acknowledge that I was right from the beginning, and let myself heal from that and step back into my power. If I could give anybody any advice, I would say to the sweet, soft-hearted romantics of the world, trust your instincts when you meet someone, and hold out for the one where the more you give, the more they give, and don't be afraid to lose the ones who can't possibly see you – not because you aren't incredible, but because their vision just isn't as sharp as yours.

Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue

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