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This is not a tale about a pop star who wants you to think her life is perfect. This is the story of Nessa Barrett, the New Jersey native who rose to TikTok fame at 17-years-old and moved to California to pursue a singing career. This is about a girl who, even with 26 million followers on social media, an EP with over 425 million streams and a tour under her belt, still deals with many of the same things young people today face. Like a lot of young people, Nessa struggles with her mental health and body image, and worries about what other people think about her. It's her willingness to get real about it with her millions of fans which makes her so admirable and someone they want to look up to.

“I’m trying to break the whole standard of how life is perfect, when it’s not,” explains Nessa. In a world of curated feeds filled with posed photos, the 19-year-old’s corner of social media is honest and emotional, with posts about anxiety and her struggles with borderline personality disorder (BPD). “I wish that I had a person that was releasing music or openly advocating for mental health, to [help me] realize that there's a lot of people that go through it. If I saw an artist that was successful and they still dealt with mental health, then I would have known it was okay for me as well” she says.


For Nessa, it’s music that enables her to be so open and real with her fans. “Songwriting is the one thing that makes it easy for me to open up and to express myself,” she explains. Now, with the upcoming release of Nessa’s newest single, “Dying On The Inside,” Nessa talks to Seventeen about what self-love really means, her relationship with boyfriend Jaden Hossler, and how there’s no such thing as perfect.

Seventeen: Last year you released your debut EP, “Pretty Poison.” Why did you decide it was time for you to get your music out into the world?

Nessa Barrett: I was dealing with life experiences that I felt like I needed to address and just let out. It was very important for me to tell my story, so we created a song for basically everything that I went through. I write such personal music, not only for myself, but for other people.

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Tyler Joe

17: Your song lyrics are so personal. What do you hope people take away from your music?

NB: I honestly hope that anyone that needs help will listen to my music as a way to cope and know they’re not alone. I know everyone struggles, and [my music is] talking about real life things that really affect people and their mental health. I want to break the whole idea of perfect standards and how life is perfect for some people, when it's really not.

I guess that's my biggest hope, for people to know that it's normal and that they're not alone and that it always gets better.

17: You’re very open about going to therapy and that's so important. How has therapy helped you?

NB: When I decided that I was going to be vocal about all of my experiences and advocate for others that don't really have a voice, I realized I had to be honest. I was like, ‘hey, I really need to work on myself,’ because if I want to help other people, I need to be able to help myself first.

17: Your upcoming single, “dying on the inside,” is so powerful. When did you write that song and what was that process like for you?

NB: I've talked about my [borderline personality disorder], my anxiety and depression, and relationship issues. I've been so vocal about them. But the one thing that I have been struggling the most with recently that I've never really opened up about, because I've been very ashamed since I was in middle school dealing with it, has been my eating disorder. I was like, I need to write about it and so we did. The first time I heard [“Dying on the Inside”] after it was done and I played it in my car, I burst into tears. I couldn't stop crying. It was one of the most honest songs that I've ever made.

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I feel like in this time too, everyone is dealing with quarantine, COVID and being stuck in the house and only being able to be on their phones. What comes with that is a lot of teens struggling with comparing themselves to all of these abnormal beauty standards that are portrayed online. It causes a lot of damage. I wanted to share my experience with [the eating disorder] that I've had, while also being able to make a song that people can relate to. Even if they don't have an eating disorder, they might still struggle with comparing themselves to other people online.

17: Can you tell me a bit more about this lyric: "Did you change your hair? Did you lose a little weight? You should keep it off, because it really looks great. I hate that I always look my best when I'm dying on the inside."

I'm the type of person who changes my hair all the time. I change everything about myself because I am constantly trying to be someone that doesn't deal with the things that I do. It's how my brain works. If I am dealing with something, I make an appearance change because for a little bit I will feel like I'm not that person that's hurting anymore. I'll feel like a new person.

A lot of people like to make remarks about your appearance, not knowing how it can affect you. It's almost like a backhanded compliment. It's like, ‘your hair looks so good. I love it way more than your last look.’ What if I missed my last hair color and I want to go back? Or it's like, ‘you're losing a lot of weight, you should really keep it up.’ That is the most damaging thing in the world to say. [With these lyrics] I wanted to show that. Because I feel like when I get the most compliments, it is when I'm struggling the most, because I'm trying so hard to be accepted by others.

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Tyler Joe

17: The song really explains how society puts appearances first.

Exactly, and I hate that. I hate that so much. I hate that I feel like I have to put on makeup everywhere I go, or anytime I'm seen by anyone. I hate that I feel like I have to dress presentable for other people rather than myself. I care so much about what other people think, and it's sad. Even when I meet my supporters in real life, in the back of my head, I'm like, ‘Oh my god, do they think that I'm uglier in person, are they disappointed?’ And that shouldn't be a thing. Insecurity is in everyone.

17: Obviously the pressure of social media is a lot for young people, and internet bullying is another thing many deal with. How do you deal with it?

I don't really know if there's a certain way to handle it. Everyone is different. I feel like I'm still experimenting with what to do. I've been working with my therapist on this, and we do this thing called “fact checking.” I'll read a comment that's very negative, that my emotional mind would get a hold of and be like, "oh my god, this is true." But I take a second to be like, is this really true? If one person comments this, does this determine my self-worth, does this determine my self-love, my confidence? Is this supposed to be my identity from now on, based on this comment? No. It's all about fact checking and you have to give yourself that 10 minutes to be like, this is not true. Even if it was true, it does not matter. Because it's just one comment, and you have your entire life, full of so many things, and that one single comment does not mean anything.


17: It sounds like you’re focused a lot on growth right now. What are three words that come to mind when you think about yourself in the new year?

NB: One is happiness, one-hundred percent. Last year I really was happy for once. I've never really felt that before, and I want that to continue. And then one is probably confidence. I really need to work on self-love and my confidence. This helps you and the people around you too. Once you love yourself and you're confident with yourself, everyone around you feels that energy as well and how much it radiates. It's insane. It really does change your whole day and how you go about things. And probably the last one would be love, because I really plan on sharing a lot of love through my music and my new album that I plan on coming out with. Love is just so important. I feel like a lot of people misunderstand the meaning of it, but really, it's all about caring about each other.

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17: Speaking of love. Is Jaden part of your music process?

NB: One-hundred percent, yes. We actually just officially moved in together. The energy in the house is already insane. We finished setting up our studio and we sing nonstop, it's incredible. We have so many instruments that we play. Even when we're bored, we'll find beats on YouTube and play and freestyle, and it's the funniest thing ever. It’s so crazy because every now and then, we'll go up to each other and we'll be like, ‘Babe, I have this idea.’ And then we'll sing each other the lyrics and see if the other thinks it's cool. It's like we're each other's tests.

17: How has it been since you moved in together?

NB: It’s so cool to have someone that you're so close with that helps you get all of your creative juices going. It's very important for us. We started this thing where we wake up in the morning and for 30 minutes, we won't go on our phone or on any social media or any technology. We'll just wake up and enjoy being present for the first 30 minutes of life, go outside and do anything without using the TV or our phones or anything. It starts the day in a creative mindset and it's really cool.

Before this, as soon as my alarm went off, I would turn over in bed and scroll on Instagram or anything for an hour or two before I got out of bed. And that's just not good. It puts you in that false reality as soon as you wake up. And I don't want that. Now we get fresh air, make breakfast, drink coffee and just have real human interaction. Communication in the morning, rather than just going on our phones I think has been so helpful. I encourage everyone to do that.

17: What’s something your relationship with Jaden has taught you?

NB: I thought that I wasn't capable of fully loving someone the way that I've seen people love others, because I've never been this in love. I feel like I've been manipulated into thinking that I've loved others, and have done everything I could to please someone without being fully in love with them. But with Jaden, it's like everything just came so easy. I really feel like we're twin flames or something, because we are just so alike.

He's the one person that really understands me. We both deal with our fair share of mental health issues, and he's very comforting. It really means a lot. This is my first relationship where we haven't broken up already. I've never been with anyone for [nine] months strong, ever. When you know, you know.

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I get this weird feeling with Jaden that I've never had with any human being, not even my mom, where it's like I love him with my whole heart. I would do anything to make it work. He has shown me so much. Honestly, I owe it to him, because I would be in a really dark place now without him. I wouldn't have come out with my EP, I wouldn't have been on this whole journey with myself to get better, because it's like now I want to, I want to do better for the both of us, because I have to love myself in order to love him properly.

17: We’ve spoken a lot about self-love, and how that’s something you want to focus on. What exactly does self-love mean to you?

NB: I value my love for others the same way I value self-love. You have to care about yourself. Make small efforts to help yourself and have some alone time for you, and to do things to help yourself out. For the longest time, I never helped myself. I didn't care about my safety. I didn't care about what I was doing. I didn't want to have time by myself. I didn't bother getting help for my mental health.


You are your own person and you're living your own life, and you're the only person that's guaranteed to stay in your own life. And it gets scary, but you have to work on that. If you're having a hard time, ask for help, don't do things that will hurt you just by bottling it in. Talk to someone or ask for help. It’s a lot of work, especially when you're in a relationship trying to work on self-love. It's hard. Because it's like you don't want to, you'd rather give all the love that you have to that other person, rather than sparing any for yourself. But, that is not a good idea.

17: What’s one thing you want your fans to always remember?

NB: Life can suck for everyone. It's life. You have to go through problems but you become stronger, and that's how you form your character and you become a person. You're not alone and it's okay to deal with things. It's okay to be human. I feel like we've lost that recently with society, everyone wants to be some perfect robot or something, but no. It’s okay to be human.

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Tyler Joe

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, including eating disorders, and are experiencing a crisis situation, text NEDA to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at the Crisis Text Line.

Photographed by: Tyler Joe, Stylist: Cassie Anderson, Assistant Stylist: Danielle Flum, Hair: Lovette Limones, Makeup: Markphong Tram / ABTP Artist, Nails: Elizabeth Garcia using OPI, Semastress: Clara Rubio, Produced by: Brenda Armendariz, Chief Visual Content Director: Alix Campbell, Executive Video Producer: Abbey Adkison, DP: Joe Storch, Audio: Dave Scaringe, AC: Deanna Govea, Video Editor: Kelsey Fink, Senior Entertainment Manager: Emily Hausman, Editor-in-Chief: Kristin Koch, Deputy Editor: Danielle Tullo

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Danielle Tullo
Deputy Editor

I like pink, iced coffee, and long walks through the candle section. When I'm not lighting up my favorite scents (probably while testing out new skincare), you can find me writing and editing all of the lifestyle things at Seventeen