Grace VanderWaal Bears All In "Lion's Den"
The 18-year-old is forging her own path forward, and it all starts with her new track.
The 18-year-old is forging her own path forward, and it all starts with her new track.
Text: Kala Herh
At the beginning of the year, Grace VanderWaal was in New York City, trying to condense what was a whirlwind couple of years into one all-embracing track. Letting all those formative experiences flow over her, she started penning, what is now known as, “Lion’s Den”–an emotional ballad that’s both relatable and poignant. And while it was released today, it’s already a resounding cry for her generation. Not only does it touch on the struggle to find yourself in a digital age, but it also delves into Grace’s own experience growing up in the spotlight. It's a powerful, unfiltered story of someone coming into their own, told with unflinching honesty and candidness.
“I was getting really trapped in a vicious cycle that I think a lot of people have experienced before,” she shares on a Zoom call, a week before the song dropped. “I was just chasing happiness instead of finding it within myself.”
This time around, we catch up with Grace from her bedroom in Georgia as she recounts her experience trying to rediscover and reinvent herself since ascending to fame. Bedrooms loom large in the creative life of the 18-year-old singer and songwriter. Grace began making music in hers when she was just three years old, infatuated by the way it made her feel. Fast forward a few years, and Grace expanded her audience from just friends and family to all of America–auditioning for America’s Got Talent when she was just 12 years old. The young musician who originally hails from Suffern, New York was catapulted to the mainstream when she performed an original song, “I Don’t Know My Name,” on the hit television show. Currently, Grace's performance, with nothing more than her beloved ukulele, has earned more than six million views. The songstress later went on to win the 11th season, and a year later, at just 13 years old, she wrote her debut studio album, Just the Beginning.
Today, after many years spent in the public eye, Grace is priming up to release some of her most personal and vulnerable music to date. And while the burgeoning artist has never been a stranger to big, infectious bangers, the release of “Lion’s Den” ushers in something new–a young woman coming to terms with adulthood. Expect going out until 3 AM, lots of inner work, and pursuing happiness from within. Nowadays, Grace has swapped her ukulele in favor of other musical instruments that probe at different genres. This song specifically features electrifying guitar riffs and propulsive drumming on tracks. Fueled by an addictive baseline and Grace’s raw, growling vocals, this new single, “Lion’s Den,” continues her exploration into a more experimental sound and features her newfound love for alternative pop.
At the beginning of the three minute-track, Grace sings–in her signature exuberant voice–a line that could easily be the mission statement for not only the track but also the stage of life she’s in right now: “I’m human and I’m falling.” And with that single line, she embodies a sentiment that many in her generation can relate to. Despite all the singer has and the gratitude she has for it, she candidly tells V that there are times when she struggles, too.
“I'm young and I'm able to do art for a living, but I'm also struggling a lot of the time like a lot of people around me," she shares. "So with [Lion’s Den], I just hope that people don't feel alone. I feel more unfiltered and vulnerable than ever been before. I feel like I’m at a point where I really want to invite my fans into my world of stories that I’ve never talked about before.”
For more on our conversation with Grace, read below:
V MAGAZINE: Congrats on your release, “Lions Den.” Where did you begin with this song?
GRACE VANDERWAAL: I was just getting really trapped in a very vicious cycle that I think a lot of people have experienced before. It was just like, chasing happiness instead of finding it within yourself. And the thing I always do to make myself feel better and understand those things is to write a song about it. So I wrote "Lion's Den."
V: On your Instagram, you teased the release saying “It's easier to worsen the wound than it is to heal it.” Can you elaborate on that sentiment?
GV: Yeah, I just think that it's really interesting how inner work is so much work, and it feels like homework. It's something that you need to do, but God it sucks. It seems like there are so many easier things, but there aren't.
V: What was your songwriting process for this track? Was it similar to your previous releases?
GV: I began writing "Lion's Den" by myself in New York City before a producing session. I came in with this ballad and then we had this idea to make it this abstract, kind of anti-chorus thing that I've never really done before. So it was very collaborative. But it was definitely also scribbling it out. I was just in my room letting out all those anxiety things.
V: I also saw on your Instagram that you went to Pinterest to pull visuals, have you always been a fan of Pinterest?
GV: Yes, I'm Pinterest's biggest fan. Especially for like projects and being able to share with other collaborators your mind and your visions. I just love Pinterest. I really do.
V: What type of images did you want to pull for "Lion’s Den"?
GV: I wanted it to be a hectic, chaotic party, but not in a good way. So like that was kind of a challenge [laughs]. So I wanted it to have this eerie, dark undertone to it–of sadness and unfulfillment. That's what we've really tried to do in the music video too.
V: Yeah, for sure. And for the music video, what was the process of creating that?
GV: This was a unique situation. I feel like when I finished one of my songs or I hear it, I immediately envisioned a music video. I'm just a very visual person in that way and I didn't feel that way for Lion's Den. I just wasn't sure what I wanted to do and so we talked through and brainstormed the idea. So on a call with Blythe Thomas, the director of the music video, we came up with the idea.
V: And as the song goes into new themes of your life and where you are today–What do you think is the biggest thing that’s changed since your debut EP, Perfectly Imperfect?
GV: Naturally since then, I've grown. I've explored more mature topics that are closer to me and feel more authentic to me. Also, I've learned so much about writing and music and expressing yourself in the way that you want to throughout all the years. So now I feel like I can share with people in a much clearer way what I hear in my head.
V: Yeah, and you’ve also moved to Savannah. What’s that transition been like?
GV: It's been hard, honestly. It's always hard going to a new place. I really miss New York. I don't know. It's all confusing and crazy, but I like it here. It's very beautiful and the trees are really pretty.
V: I read in an interview that you said you wanted to do an album of every single genre before you die. Are you still looking to do that?
GV: Yes! I literally love every single genre of music, and I feel like I would genuinely enjoy making a whole phase of each genre and like I would feel fully authentic with that.
V: So where does Lion’s Den fit in terms of genres?
GV: Man, I would say experimental pop, alternative pop.
V: What do you hope your music does for people?
GV: I really hope that I'm just an outlet that people can feel like they relate to somebody out there. Especially in Lion's Den when I say, "I'm human, but I'm falling." I feel like that was saying like, "I'm doing these things, I'm young and I'm able to do art for living, but I'm also struggling a lot of the time like a lot of people around me." So with [Lion’s Den], I just hope that people don't feel alone. I feel more unfiltered and vulnerable than ever been before. I feel like I’m at a point where I really want to invite my fans into my world of stories that I’ve never talked about before.
V: What do you love most about what you do?
GV: I love that I can do what I love the most. I absolutely love singing and I absolutely love sharing music and writing. It is truly my deepest passion. I'm so grateful that I'm able to do it.
V: Finally, what’s next for you? Anything you’re looking to do in the future?
GV: I really want to tour. I really want to see everybody and meet a bunch of new people. I love being on the road so I just really want to start getting out there, you know?
V: Do you have any goals for yourself, in the next five, ten years?
GV: In 10 years, I hope that I'm the person that I want to be. If I'm still wishing that I were the best version of myself in five to 10 years, I feel like I'm really going to make some big changes. I hope that I have a great work ethic and I get a lot of art out there. I want to do everything I'm supposed to do–study hard, read a lot of books, eat healthily and be a good person.