Dixie D’Amelio, the 20-year-old TikTok powerhouse turned pop singer, manages to experiment with ease on her debut album, “A Letter to Me,” released June 10.
On the 15-track album, the Norwalk, Conn. native who bills herself as simply as Dixie is more self-aware than ever. She skips across genres and moods, showing off her vocal range and delving into tough subjects on ballads including “Model,” where she asks: “Tell me, is it worth it being perfect? When we’re all just gonna die?”
“With everything that I was putting out before, I definitely did not have the confidence to back myself up – I didn’t believe in myself at all,” says Dixie, who sat down with Variety over Zoom a day before her album release party performance. Although she still deals with pre-show jitters, it’s apparent she’s grown past — and now playfully disavows — some of her older tunes and performances. Nonetheless, she’s quick to acknowledge and shower those moments with love.
She recounts her first live performance at the Troubador in Los Angeles in November 2021 and the moments in rehearsals where it “took a while to learn to take my hands out of my pockets.” It took time to remember other popstar necessities, like keeping the mic to her lips while simultaneously delivering a clean dance number. “I have so much love for all of the songs I’m singing now, and that just obviously makes everything so much more fun,” says Dixie.
“[In the past], I’ve had to perform with the thought in my head that ‘nobody likes the song I’m singing,’ and it doesn’t make for the best performance but now when I go through the entirety of my set – it’s fun the entire time.”
Hailing from TikTok’s “First Family,” as many have grown to call them (younger sister Charli and parents, Heidi and Marc D’Amelio), Dixie currently boasts 25 million followers on Instagram and an additional 57.3 million on TikTok. In 2020, she landed a record deal with L.A. Reid’s HitCo Entertainment and joined Saint JHN and Outkast’s Big Boi on the label’s roster. Reid makes an appearance on her family’s reality show on Hulu, “The D’Amelio Show,” (which just wrapped its second season of filming), as one plotline is dedicated to Dixie finding her singing confidence and receiving musical guidance from the label head, her family and other mentors.
“I’ve loved having the opportunity to work with so many different writers and producers, but it definitely got a little bit foggy at some point,” she says. “I would walk into one room where I felt so comfortable and share this whole story and then we wouldn’t get a song out of it. And then I would go into another room and be really shy because I wasn’t as comfortable. Nothing was coming out the way I wanted.”
If there’s one thing the singer is striving for, it’s an authentic representation of her current musical direction, which seems to have evolved rapidly in a short amount of time. Dixie completed and scrapped an EP in a process that started in 2020. Eventually she morphed the project into an album which she once again threw out because it felt disingenuous to her.
In the end, Dixie realized she wanted to feel more connected to her artistic process. After her 2021 winter run with iHeartRadio and KIIS-FM’s Jingle Ball tour came to a close, Dixie returned to late-night studio sessions. By May, she had completed the majority of the album. All of the songs except for “maybe two or three” were recorded this year.
“I am always the first one to judge myself or overthink everything where I’m like, this is going to be a problem for this reason. I am always the one to catch an issue,” she says in explanation of the album’s prolonged reinvention. “It’s hard to truly share my feelings because I get people telling me, ‘Oh, this is about this person. She hates this person!’ or whatever,’” adds Dixie, attempting to demonstrate the barrage of online badgering that you see her battling in many of the Hulu episodes.
“I never even went in the direction of like a love song or anything like that because I felt like it would just take away from what I’m really trying to do. I’m trying to really get into the space of an artist.”
Asserting control over her career, she dabbles in the evergreen disco-pop genre, as is instantly clear in “Not Enough.” The pop-funk track is what Dixie calls “one of the strongest songs” on her debut album. Capitalizing on a love of ’80s and contemporary pop, “A Letter to Me,” was created with the support of two industry all-stars: Jenna Andrews and Stephen Kirk.
The pair were among the creators of BTS’ “Butter,” which is certainly evident in the marching snare drums of Dixie’s feisty “On Your Toes.” The upbeat diss anthem has the singer at her most confident for a song that’s likely to be a fan favorite on TikTok – despite the fact that the app is not so much on her radar these days.
As conversations about TikTok’s place in music marketing continue, it seems the key to Dixie’s success has been knowing and catering to her audience. She knows that a lot of the people watching her on the app “don’t know her as a musician,” so she says she “can definitely tell the difference between, which content does well and I know my audience can tell the difference whether or not I’m being authentic. If I’m just running around my house or doing something stupid, it definitely gets more love than me doing something like ‘This is my song. I hope you love it!’ So I just try to balance it to stay as authentic as possible.”
Despite her status as TikTok royalty, Dixie says she hasn’t felt comfortable using the app to market her music and instead chooses to use other platforms. “Everyone’s trying to transition towards [TikTok] and I’m trying to transition in the other way! It’s funny because now everyone’s telling me to ‘Use TikTok! You need to use TikTok to blow up your music!’ but when I first started, I felt like I was looked down upon. I have a lot of nerves about that now because I want to be respected, but at the same time, this is what everyone’s doing.”
With a finished album and a scheduled 23-date tour supporting the Nickelodeon-bred boyband Big Time Rush, Dixie takes her next leap into pop stardom — regardless of the fact that she is “still somewhat uncomfortable in rehearsals…but during the rehearsals, I’m just focused on doing the best I can and not looking super awkward,” she says, ending with a giddy laugh.
“I like learning the behind-the-scenes stuff. Especially with music. I feel like I came into it a little late with little knowledge so I just try to do everything I can to do 110% of learning and staying late and taking the extra step.”
The album’s title track, Dixie says, “is the most perfect story of me right now. That’s the most current song, like how I’m feeling right this second. I have no clue what I’m doing but I’m figuring it out and we’re gonna do it.”
When I ask what her next venture might look like, whether it be entrepreneurial or musical, she won’t part with any details. But she does hint at a “secret” that she has to keep just a little longer. Instead, she excitedly announces, “I’ve got lots of new surprises coming for the tour.”