Sat near Portobello Road on a rainy London summer afternoon, METTE is brimming with energy as she tunes in for a catch-up with HUNGER. She has had a day of “connecting with folks” on a press tour, but is still taking time for self-care after a much-needed lie-in. It’s no wonder METTE has tired herself out, and even reading the collection of work she has under her belt could make the most energetic of talents question their portfolios.
The talent is a triple threat through and through; having trained in professional dance, featured in a number of Hollywood films, and she is now living out her popstar stardom dreams. In her hometown of Alexandria, Minnesota, METTE grew up dancing but always wrote poetry and snippets of lyrics, finding escapism in this alternative medium. There was an internal struggle that she battled along the way, though — self doubt. “It’s not only just seeing through the dreams that I had when I was younger,” she says. “I’ve been so well exposed to the industry and had mentors who tell me [that my dreams are] possible when I’m rooted in self-love and when I’m in conversation with my community.”
Moving to LA at the beginning of her career, her travels through the industry have landed her jobs across the board. She began as a backup dancer for Pharrell Williams, she provided vocals on the N.E.R.D track ‘ESP’, and then starred alongside Jennifer Lopez in the 2019 film Hustlers. Even now, she continues to embrace her multifaceted artistry, having featured as Video Girl Barbie alongside Kate McKinnon in one of the year’s most hyped films, Barbie.
“This diamond-status way of being is a long and arduous journey. The pursuit of perfection will have us denying our humanity and the beauty in our imperfections,” she tells HUNGER. Her debut single ‘Petrified’ was released in 2021, detailing the apprehensions she had about letting go and giving her musical talent a chance to speak for itself. She may have only been METTE the singer/songwriter for two years, but each track lays down evolutions of her sound. Her new single ‘VAN GOGH’ is a prime example, laden with signature dance beats but framed by careful lyricism. “‘VAN GOGH’ is about the wanderlust of me finding love and someone who inspires my every move. But then also knowing that a person exists within me and I need to find that within myself. I’m devoted to self-love to find my journey,” she says. Read our conversation with METTE below…
How did you get into music and what was it that drew you in?
METTE: Music was my castaway when I was a child. I grew up in a small town and music was the thing that could transport me anywhere emotionally. I could close my eyes and listen and be anywhere I wanted to be. Some of my fondest memories of being with my family are just having the radio on and dancing in the living room, or going to a concert with my grandmother who introduced me to classical music quite young. We would listen to it on the way to Baltimore School for the Arts to see my uncle’s concerts. It’s been a compass for me.
Why did you trade in dance for singing? What made you take that leap of faith?
METTE: I’ve always done both. I had to garner the confidence through my dance career to claim myself as a musician and songwriter in my own right. I didn’t need professional training in order to delve into that desire. I could just trust my intuition and take it on and study in the ways that I deemed appropriate. Music has been a part of my expression for a really long time. My physical instrument is dance, but I’ve always written poetry and loved writing. I was in school for dance and I did write a lot about performance studies which is a more scholarly point of view. Being a dancer, I got to meet Pharrell Williams who then allowed me to shadow him in the studio several times. I came to understand that making music is a beautiful endeavour. I wanted to claim that for myself and finally take the leap of faith. It’s a coming-of-age story really. I am showing the world who I truly am. Not just one dimension of me, but all of me.
What was it like touring with Pharrell Williams?
METTE: One of the first times I was ever in a recording booth properly was on the N.E.R.D record. There’s a song called ‘ESP’ and you can hear me on it. I’m saying it out loud and realising how much of that was a part of my journey. It was a real gift.
You moved to LA when you were beginning to become a backup dancer. How did this shape your dreams into pop stardom and what was the change like moving away from a small town?
METTE: I wanted to be a concert dancer, but I had a teacher who said, “I don’t think it’s going to work for you.” I had to reassemble. That is the beauty of life because I trusted this teacher, so it was actually coming from a place of them being honest with me about it. I had to reshape my post-school journey, so instead of going to New York, I went to LA because I remembered growing up watching those dancers. I wanted to be an artist, but I didn’t have the confidence to claim it. I was trying to be as close as possible and wanted to be in that world. I prepared myself to go to LA and I had some friends take headshots for me because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to afford them when I got there. I cut my own reel on iMovie and called my dad up and said, “Hey! I need to move to LA, can you drive me?” He agreed so I moved there for six and a half years. It was amazing! I got to tour the world with Pharrell and N.E.R.D and work with other artists like Gwen Stefani. I got to meet incredible people that I’m super inspired by like Sheila E. when we were on the road. I was around artists so I got all these opportunities. Being a backup dancer is so instrumental to my journey. I use those skills even now. I just shot my music video for my single with my choreographer, Calvit Hodge. He and I did my first job together as a dancer in LA – a full-circle moment! It’s good getting back into the rigour of training with a choreographer who is so specific.
What have you learned from some of the big artists that you work with?
METTE: When I’ve been around people who are doing really big things, and when I say big things, I mean actually shifting the way that the world sees a musician. They are doing things in new ways by changing the landscape with a buzz of true possibility. The live performance can be a platform of transformation for the audience to connect with you. I’ve learned that communication is super important. I’ve been around people who have had big collaborative teams, and I’ve got to witness how important every single person in the mantle piece of creativity is. That’s from the crew to your agents to your publicist to assistants. When everyone’s orbiting around a similar goal, they’re unstoppable.
Who are some of your biggest inspirations in the industry?
METTE: I’m super inspired by Tina Turner and Christine and the Queens. I’m inspired by Prince and Eartha Kitt and Josephine Baker – folks with true tenacity who exist outside of the archetypal role. I want to be able to be myself and feel fully self-expressed. Those are some of the people that I look to when I need a bit of encouragement in order to do that.
A lot of people that you named are well-rounded creatives in their own right. Do you think it’s important for an artist to have more than just the music?
METTE: The music’s fundamentally incredibly important because it is the oral message. In the music that I make, I am also intentional with my visuals and with the people that I work with on my creative outlet. I think human beings in general are well-rounded. We shouldn’t stifle ourselves or hold ourselves to a particular lane or sound. It’s a hybridity… all of it is possible.
You went on to star in Hustlers with Jennifer Lopez. How was this experience?
METTE: I was on another job and I got a call asking if I could come for an audition in New York. I went for 48 hours and read for the director, Lorene Scafaria. I got the role, went back, and shot the film. I am a huge fan of JLo because she came from the dance world and she’s never left it behind. It’s been in her toolbox and there’s no harsh line for her where dance didn’t exist in her life anymore… the music, the acting, the entrepreneurial spirit. Being around someone I admire with the way that they’re delineating and unboxing possibilities is really inspiring to me. I was walking on set and thinking, ‘Wow, we’re all here because someone had an idea.’ It’s remarkably profound. That’s how I felt too when I was on my music video set for ‘VAN GOGH’. I got really present in my journey. I’ve got a label that truly believes in the music and in me as a performer and songwriter. I’m walking into this shoot day where we’re going to create a visual that’s going to live on forever. I had an idea for this song and I’m present to how creativity percolates, becomes bigger, how ideas bubble with grandeur. . . it’s an endless beauty.
You’ve had all these skills in your toolbox for quite a while. Why now did you think it was right to begin your musical journey?
METTE: I had a lot of self-doubt. I didn’t let myself claim what my intuition and spirit always knew. I knew I wanted to be an artist and I have people now reach out to me and say ‘Wow, you’re doing it. You said you’re going to do this in sixth grade.’ I’ve been focused on building my world, I left home and have lived many artistic lives already. I’ve been up against the brute force of the industry several times. The rubix cube of it all sometimes made me question myself. It’s been a long journey, but in this lifetime I have an opportunity to live as big as possible. Eventually, at one point I just stopped saying I wasn’t ready. I started letting myself delve deep into my creative spirit and just go for it.
Can you tell us a story behind the single ‘Mama’s Eyes’?
METTE: In Covid, there was a whole trench of sorrow in not seeing my family and not knowing if the world was going to make it. Now we’re in a post-Covid world and I get to walk down the street again. But it was a scary time. I hadn’t seen my family in 18 months and I just was looking in the mirror thinking about the people I haven’t seen in so long. Looking at myself, I thought I’m looking more like my Mom than ever before. I realised I actually have her eyes, so I guess I’m never really far from her because I’m a product of the people that raised me. I don’t need to give a biology lesson here, but I wanted to build a story about the woman who gave me life in the most metaphorical and beautiful way possible. I biked 11 miles to the studio where there was this killer beat. I started to speak about my mother who is a very strong, hardworking figure in my life. She taught me I can have courage and I can step out with faith – all because of who she is. At a time when I needed a bit of encouragement, I wrote that record.
With your debut single ‘Petrified’, how did you feel this journey reflected coming into your artistry?
METTE: ‘Petrified’ was a way to place myself in the conversation. When I write music and perform with my visuals I think about humour, fun, satire, and different elements I can bring to it. I used to be so concerned about being perceived as good-looking, which I know sounds a bit crass and superficial. Due to my experiences over the last several years, I think there’s beauty in depth, humor, and authenticity. I didn’t particularly view it from the same vantage point at that time. To me, the song is a time capsule of where my thoughts were. I directed the video for ‘Petrified’, which I’ll always be really proud of. There’s literal footage of me as a kid in ‘Mama’s Eyes’, directed by my friend Camille-Summers-Valli. Where I’m rooted now as an artist with ‘Mama’s Eyes’ set the perfect tone for me. There’s a beautiful through line I’m investigating with my own humanity. That’s why my socials are called @METANARRATIVE because when I was in college I heard the term. It is this overarching theme that connects journeys through literature with these common threads. I’m really tuned into who I am now, and I love connecting to something greater. I also recognise that my own individuality is important as well.
Speaking about your overarching journey, how do you think learning from your other singles helped you move and evolve with ‘VAN GOGH’?
METTE: There’s a multiplicity of ways to go about writing a song, especially with themes that can exist in a song. This one is about the wanderlust of me finding love and someone who inspires my every move. But then also knowing that a person exists within me and I need to find that within myself. I need to be devoted to a sense of self-love to find my journey. I’m interested in the dichotomy between finding love externally and then finding love inside of oneself. But the song is just so fun. Mike Sabath came in and added some amazing production on the song I started with Jonny Lattimer. It is amazing how the songs come to life and breathe life into themselves. ‘Petrified’ is like a melancholy dance bop, then ‘Mama’s Eyes’ is giving a folkloric epic and we’re now into feel-good fantasy with ‘VAN GOGH’. There’s that energy to it.
Is there anything you can tell us about the visuals that will go alongside?
METTE: This is really about performance. You’re going to see different sides of me. This song feels really relatable, so I wanted the visuals to feel relatable as well. I hope people learn the dance and people will feel inspired to move and find little moments that they love from it. I’m really grateful to Calvit Hodge who understands when we need to make something complex and when we really need to highlight the song and my performance ability.
A lot of your fans will relate to overcoming this self-doubt and the journey to rejecting this idea of perfection. What advice would you give to others wanting to start in music?
METTE: You have nothing to prove, only to share. This is what one of my teachers, Marciano Silva de Santos, would say before we went on stage at school. It stuck with me. I think what you just touched on too is this idea of perfection, this diamond-status way of being is a long and arduous journey. The pursuit of perfection will have us denying our humanity and the beauty in our imperfections. Nothing in nature is perfectly symmetrical. But I too, love perfection. I’m a dancer who used to spend hours in front of the mirror trying to make a line look perfect, but humanity can sometimes get lost in that. Humanity exists in allowing people to experience the effort. Once I let go of being perfect, I just realised that bringing who I am to my art is a beautiful success in itself. I’m waking up feeling all kinds of different ways every other day. I’m dealing with my own sensibilities all the time. Knowing that art exists within us and our journey is liberation for me.
Who would be a dream collaborator of yours?
METTE: I love Robyn. I adore Lizzo, her live shows are pure perfection. I love Outkast – André 3000 is incredible. These are the artists that really inspire me.
What does the future look like for METTE?
METTE: I want to do world tours and meet fans around the world. I also want to do a visual album. Eventually, I would love to work as a performance studies professor or as the head of a theatre, arts, and dance department. I want to go back into my collegiate world because that was the best time of my life.