Picture cruising down a beautiful country road, the wind in your hair and the whirl of twitterpation filling the air as you and your crush arrive at a drive-in movie for your first date. A simple concept, but definitely one of the most romantic and cinematic ideas for a date. For rising pop singer-songwriter, Sonny Mackenzi, she uses this as the basis for her debut music video, “New Crush.”
“I love how happy ‘New Crush’ is,” she shares about her favorite thing regarding the single. With the sweetness of a girl-next-door love song the song also carries a subtle edge, it’s a fun one to listen to. “To me, it feels like summer. It’s just fun and sweet and to me, that’s what a lot of us need right now. And I love that no matter what mood you’re in when you play ‘New Crush’ you get to live in that 3 minutes of happy.”
Produced by Craig King, “New Crush,” was written by Hot Chelle Rae’s Nash Overstreet and Kiana Brown from MTV’s SCREAM. “I basically have kind of an unofficial checklist I go through, which is like ‘Can I relate to this story?’, ‘Is this the kind of message I want to put out there?’, ‘Does this feel like something I would say?’, ‘If I heard this on the radio, would I turn it up or change the station?’ And then I go from there,” Sonny says of how as a songwriter she chooses songs written by her fellow songwriters.
“I used to have a stigma about only wanting to do songs that I wrote or co-wrote, but that’s become kind of silly to me now,” she continues. “Because how often do we turn on the radio and hear a song that totally speaks to us and it’s like that artist has lived in our shoes? That happens to me all the time, so ultimately, if I feel a song is a great representation of who I am and what I want to say, then it doesn’t matter to me if I wrote it or not.”
When it comes to crafting her style and persona, Sonny admits that her driven motivation is to be honest with and to herself. “I really try to stay true to myself in all aspects of my life and my career. My personality is super free-spirited, playful, and fun-loving, with some sass and edge, sprinkled in here and there, and I think those things just naturally bleed out into my music and my style. My look is pretty bohemian/edgy, with some throwback pieces to the 80’s and 90’s, and my music is kind of doing the same thing right now,” she shares. “My single ‘New Crush’ for example, has a total throwback 90’s feel, and a lot of my other music is really worldly, with an edgy vibe and lots of dance elements. So I hope the way others see me is the way I’m putting myself out there because my music and style is pretty genuine to who I actually am.”
Dreaming of wanting to be a singer and performer since the age of three, Sonny tells me that she’s not sure how she knew that was what she wanted to do but that it may have sparked in her earlier. “I think even before I was three I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and three was just the age I was really able to articulate that dream to my family.” However, a memory does stand out to her, “I do know that I was in diapers when I found a microphone in my big sister’s closet, and I became completely obsessed with it even though I had no idea what it was. So I don’t know if that was the moment the spark hit me, all I know is that I just always knew singing and performing is what I was born to do.”
As a little girl, Sonny grew up listening to country artists like Willy Nelson and Garth Brooks and reveals that it was a certain UK girl group that completely took her by storm. ”When I was around six I discovered The Spice Girls, and my world was totally rocked. The Spice Girls are what first turned me on to pop music, but they also promoted girl power and self-love, which, as a young girl growing up, was very impacting and inspiring.”
As an artist, a big part of Sonny’s message is similar to The Spice Girls wanting to make a strong effort in empowering her girl fans and encouraging them to be the best they can be. “Lately I’ve been totally motivated and inspired by Beyoncé and Janet Jackson,” Sonny cited the two icons as empowering her as both an artist and a young woman. “These are two women who are POWERHOUSES in the industry, with massive careers that have lasted decades. Watching them maintain longevity and respect has been so empowering as a young female artist following in their shoes.”
Besides their undeniable talent, Beyonce and Janet Jackson’s longevity also comes from their ability to control their artistry. “I have heard a lot of horror stories about the industry trying to change an artist, but I’ve been very lucky for two reasons: one, I’m naturally stubborn when it comes to my core values and beliefs, and two, I’m surrounded by people who are on the same page as me regarding those things,” Sonny shares about her goal to continue down the path of being herself and not what others would want her to be. “My team and I are pretty much in agreement about the types of messages I want to put out and the kind of image I want to portray as an artist, and what kinds of things I will and will not do.”
“I was also very blessed to find a manager early on who was willing to listen to me, and who helped me articulate my core beliefs and morals to others that signed on, so there have been very little issues regarding that so far,” Sonny reflects. “It has really just come down to being very clear about who I am and then standing by that without wavering. It doesn’t matter who I am talking to or dealing with, or how high up on the “food chain” they are—if it goes against me and my team’s core beliefs and morals, then we don’t partake.”
In her next single, “Rewind” Sonny touches on this with a lyric she describes as autobiographical. The lyric reads: “I was so young with a Hollywood dream, wide-eyed, a little too naive. I’ve found it easier to be myself, rather than trying to be somebody else.” Explaining the song overall as, “very autobiographical,” she says, “it’s very fun and dancey, and it’s got a really positive message regarding self-love, moving forward, and being true to who you are.”
Expanding more on how it came about, she explains, “I wrote this song about my journey as a developing pop artist, and that one line really hits me every time, because I wasn’t always so sure of myself and who I was. It kind of goes along with the question you just asked, about the industry changing you, and I really fought against that for a while. It was hard being myself, but it was way harder trying to be something different, so in the end, my true self won, and this song is kind of a polite middle finger to the jokers who thought my true self wasn’t good enough.”
Now working on her upcoming EP, Sonny shares with me what listeners can expect when I ask her what has been the most surprising theme or emotion so far when writing her music. ”Probably the most surprising thing that’s happened while working on my EP has been the direction the music took thematically,” she begins.
“When we first started, I was like ‘I just want to do really fun, crazy, silly pop that’s almost gimmicky’ and I wasn’t thinking so hard about really making it autobiographical. Then, as the project progressed, it started taking this turn where the music became real to me, and it grew it’s own legs and walked off to this place I wasn’t even expecting or trying to go.”
And when that lightbulb went off for her, there was no going back, “The records became more challenging vocally, the music was a lot more unique and emotionally charged, and the lyrics became so much more honest, and the more I did it, the more I wanted to do it. That’s what’s so special about it, I think. The project really became what it wanted to become organically, and now I look at it and I’m so proud of it because it really captures the essence of the human experience. It tells my story, and people are relating to that, which I think is freaking awesome because it just goes to show how connected we all are.”
To follow her dreams in music, Sonny made the decision to put aside her career as a fashion model. Starting as a teen, Sonny became a model with the help of her two older sisters who were signed models at Donna Baldwin Talent in her hometown of Denver, Colorado. Looking up to her sisters, she aspired to be just like them. “By the time I was 14 I was as tall as I am now, which is 5’9 and super skinny, and so my sister Lindsey offered to take me to an open call at DBT,” she reminisces. “I remember sitting in the waiting room at the agency with my mom and my sister the summer before high school, and I was looking around at all these tall, lanky girls my age waiting to be seen, and I was just like ‘MY PEOPLE!’,” she laughed. “Anyway, I ended up getting signed and I modeled consistently ever since.”"Aside from the obvious, like learning how to audition, how to have stage presence on the runway, and how to represent myself in a professional light, modeling also helped define me as an artist,” she shares about her modeling experience. “It was my very first introduction into the professional entertainment world. The thing about modeling is that it can either build or destroy your confidence because there is so much rejection involved. The best thing I gained was a thick skin, which has helped me in all aspects of my life artistically and personally. I learned how to handle people not liking me, or not wanting to book me, or telling me I was too big or too small, or too short or too tall. At the end of the day, modeling is more about the client and what kind of look they are going for, so I had to learn not to take rejection personally and to be honest, I’ve found that if I apply that kind of thinking to other things in life, I’m much, much happier.”
“Aside from the obvious, like learning how to audition, how to have stage presence on the runway, and how to represent myself in a professional light, modeling also helped define me as an artist,” she shares about her modeling experience. “It was my very first introduction into the professional entertainment world. The thing about modeling is that it can either build or destroy your confidence because there is so much rejection involved. The best thing I gained was a thick skin, which has helped me in all aspects of my life artistically and personally. I learned how to handle people not liking me, or not wanting to book me, or telling me I was too big or too small, or too short or too tall. At the end of the day, modeling is more about the client and what kind of look they are going for, so I had to learn not to take rejection personally and to be honest, I’ve found that if I apply that kind of thinking to other things in life, I’m much, much happier.”
And even while modeling, Sonny always knew that what she wanted most was a career in music.
“I never really made an ultimate decision to begin my music career.” she began when I asked. “It really just kind of happened on its own, and it had been a storm that was brewing since toddlerhood. I guess I just feel like my career chose me. There was this one defining moment I had though when I realized that music was absolutely what I had to do forever. I had just gotten off stage after my first live performance, and I just remember being like ‘This has to be it. This is what I was born to do.’ So I’ve never had a plan B lined up, and I’ve never pursued anything else.”
Talking a little more about her EP, Sonny shared more about the aesthetic and sound. “[Listeners] can expect a sound that is really unique and cool, yet still true to mainstream pop. Every song on the EP tells a story, and I think it’s something everyone is going to be able to relate to. The music is high-energy so I foresee a lot of people singing along as they get ready to go out, or blasting it in their cars with the windows down. The EP is edgy and it’s energetic, and it’s very, very honest.”
Following Sonny’s motto she mentioned earlier about wanting to stay true to herself by surrounding herself with people that support her, Sonny assures that she has a strong and helpful team working with her on this EP. “I was surprised by how open the producers and writers were to my style, and how much they agreed and believed in the things I wanted to say. No one tried to push me in any crazy direction for the sake of their egos. The motto was always ‘best idea wins’ and that was beautiful because it kept everyone honest,” she explained. “Every person on the team went above and beyond with the project, and it felt very personal I think to all of us. Everyone really came together to make this EP great and unique and special, which is super exciting. In the end, I think we have a product that we can all be really, really proud of.”
Closing out our interview, I asked her what she learned about herself in the past year, “I have really grown up a lot over the past year. I ended up moving away from home and coming to Atlanta with my manager to record the EP and that really changed me in a lot of ways. I definitely learned how strong I am, and more than anything I learned how much I really want to do this because leaving my family and my friends behind was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”
Watch Sonny’s Teenplicity Snapchat Takeover: