"I sound like I'm 40 right now," Grace VanderWaal jokes while on the phone with Teen Vogue. In reality, the America's Got Talent winner turned rising pop singer is a cool 15 — but you might not know it from the way she talks about Stargirl, heroine of the Jerry Spinelli novel of the same name, and who she's playing in the upcoming Disney+ film.
She's wrapped filming on the project, which is set to come out in 2020, but the plucky, ukelele-wielding, norm-defying Stargirl has stuck with her even though Grace's work is done. "She is so unapologetically herself and it's ridiculous because she's so young," Grace says, before dropping the 40-year-old remark. "Stargirl is not afraid of anyone, of doing her own thing. She understands the concept that no one cares — or at least people don't care as much as you think they do."
But what Grace admires about Stargirl is also part of what fans admire about Grace herself: her willingness to forge her own path, her self-possession. As she's grown up and away from her AGT days, she's continued to make music on her own terms, album cycles be damned.
Her latest work is the single "Waste My Time," which she wrote, and its accompanying music video, which she came up with the concept for. The song is a synthy dance-pop smash that feels like the next iteration of Grace's musical persona, and it only makes us more excited for what she's working on next (and her upcoming Ur So Beautiful tour, which starts this month).
Teen Vogue chatted with Grace about her Stargirl acting role, her past selves, and her new song "Waste My Time," which came out Aug. 9.
TV: What were you thinking about while writing "Waste My Time"?
Grace VanderWaal: What I like about it is that it has a really nice contrast of kind of messed up lyrics, but it's fun at the same time. That's a feeling I really wanted to portray. Like when things are messed up, people say you shouldn't waste your time, you only have one shot. You're only young once. This is a song [that says], whatever, I don't care, I'll waste it.
TV: You released the song "Ur So Beautiful" in June. How are these songs teasing your next Grace era?
GV: I feel like they're really showing who I am, these past few pieces of music. With "Ur So Beautiful" and "Waste My Time" and especially the video of "Waste My Time" and this whole new campaign, I really just want to open my world to everyone. Because I feel like people don't really know who I am yet, and what I'm about and what my vibe is.
TV: How would you describe what you're about right now?
GV: That's a really heavy question. I'm about being me, I guess. I don't really know how to explain it. I mean, of course, there are other things I care about, but I feel like I'm just about being me and letting other people share my experiences, and grow with my fans and hopefully keep the energy that I've always had.
TV: Has the way you're approaching songwriting changed over the last couple of years?
GV: Oh my God, yes. So much. The whole point of writing music for me is to express myself and express feelings that you can't really just do with words. Even if it's just melodies and singing, music can express a feeling that's hard to explain. A couple of years ago I would know the exact feeling I'm trying to get across and I knew how I felt. I knew every single dimension of this feeling, but I never knew how to execute it right for other people to experience that feeling. Now it's so, so satisfying to look back on how frustrated I used to get and seeing now how I can express my feelings dramatically better than how I used to.
TV: Do you feel like that growth is the result of being more comfortable in the music industry?
GV: I definitely think it's because I've been writing so much and not only that, but I've worked with so many producers and writers and been exposed to so many writing styles and people. I've realized how much freedom I really have, which I don't think I really realized before. That was a big, big part of why I grew so fast.
TV: How have your visual instincts evolved over the years? The music you make, your personal fashion, the aesthetic you're into...
GV: I do whatever I like. I love the '70s, I love groove, I love funk, I love all those visuals. And even if I'm not making funk music, I still love to bring those colors into my music. There are certain sounds that I just feel like "colorful" explains them so well. Physically my aesthetic, my style, my fashion, my vibe, my everything, really stands hand-in-hand with my music. And I think that's just because with my music, I do whatever I like as well.
TV: You've finished filming your first big movie role, for the title role in Stargirl. What was that experience like? Does it make you want to do more acting?
GV: It was so, so fun. I don't know, honestly. I feel like it's not something where I'm going to, you know, audition for many things and stuff like that. I definitely will, I think, always consider myself a musician. Stargirl was so special though because I never even really auditioned for it. I sent in a video and all of a sudden I got it. If something like that happened again, I just think things would need to line up right. With Stargirl, everything lined up so perfectly for that to happen. It was very much meant to be.
TV: What things do you love about that character, Stargirl?
GV: I have actually changed so much since Stargirl, just because honestly Stargirl inspires me so much. I don't even go to public school and I still struggle with [being myself], and if you go to public school, it's basically impossible to 100 percent be yourself, let alone like 80 or 90 percent. I admire that so much, and I've really tried to bring that into my own life since filming.
TV: In the past you've talked about like figuring out what you want to do with your life, and struggling with those really big questions. I'm curious how you feel now. How do you feel about what you're doing right now?
GV: Yeah, I was freaking out for a second, and I was being so overdramatic, and I was psyching myself out so much. Looking back to the time that you're talking about, [I think I felt like] if I don't choose this, then the opportunities won't come back. And if I choose this then the time won't come back. I was battling between those two things. But now, current Grace, present Grace, I'm just like, "Past Grace, chill. It doesn't even matter that much. You're just psyching yourself out." Now I'm just literally going day by day, whatever happens, happens.
Honestly, as long as I'm doing what I love, I'm happy. And right now I'm doing what I love and that's all that matters. And if in a couple of months I don't want to do this, whatever. I'll go back to school. And if I do want to do it, well let's [see what] we can build. If not, it'll be hard, but you know, I'll figure it out. I always figure something out.
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Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: Grace VanderWaal on Growing Pains and Figuring Out What She Wants in Her Life
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue