Carlie Hanson Proves She’s a ‘Tough Boy’ on Her Debut Album — Kind Of
Carlie Hanson left her small-town Wisconsin life for L.A. when she was just 17. Almost instantly, she found herself on tour with Troye Sivan and had praise from Taylor Swift for two of her singles, “Only One” and “Back in My Arms.”
“I feel like I really got thrown into everything so quickly,” Hanson recalls. “I was just watching these old tour vlogs that I have on my YouTube. I'm still obviously young but I feel so much younger in those videos, I was way more naive. I'm just growing up while making music, and it shows in my music.”
Cut to 2022 and Hanson has chopped off her locks, dived into a new relationship and turned her deepest thoughts into her debut album.
Tough Boy fits right into the early 2000s emo revival — even though she was inspired by “butt rock” bands like Nickelback — by infusing punk influences into her brand of sharp electro-pop and brutally honest songwriting. Hanson addresses her family’s thoughts about her sexuality on “F--k Your Labels,” mourns a broken friendship on “Love You Anyway” and gets stabbed in the back with a “Gucci Knife” (something the fashion house should make a reality).
Hanson’s debut paints a fitting portrait of a young woman discovering herself and making it sound effortless, but like most writers evolving before our eyes, she’s already looking ahead. Her next album is nearly finished and completely inspired by her girlfriend’s move to L.A.: “I live my everyday life with her, and she's my only f--king friend, basically.”
Below, Carlie Hanson opens up to PopCrush about her family’s reactions to her music, having a fan in Swift and why Euphoria makes her feel so unwell — in a good way.
What inspired you to call the album Tough Boy?
It initially started as the song "Tough Boy.” I wanted to write a song about toxic masculinity. I know a lot of straight white cis men, specifically, who feel like they can't be themselves and hide their emotions because it's seen as weak. It was something I wanted to talk about, then it turned into something bigger, me talking about my masculine side and when I feel like I have to be tough and hide myself because I'm afraid of how I'm gonna be seen.
Were you ever a tomboy growing up?
One billion percent. I was very bullied from kindergarten to fifth grade for never dressing like a proper girl, wearing baggy clothes, having my hair be shorter, playing sports that girls weren't playing and always hanging out with guys. This is something that my younger self has always wanted to do, say, and feel.
Tell me about "F--k Your Labels." How did you get to a place where you were wanting to write about your sexuality, or your lack of labels?
It was natural. To this day, I don't know what I want to be called and I think that's fine. There's a whole different perspective [where] other people feel the exact opposite, where they know this is their sexuality, and I totally respect that side of things too. I don't really know what my label is because I feel a million different ways. To just box in how I feel into one word just feels wrong to me.
You hint that some family members try to put you in that box. How do they feel about the song?
With my grandma and my dad, I don't know how they feel, but I can imagine what they're probably thinking. When my grandma watched the "Snot" music video, which is where I'm shaving my head, she was just in shock and didn't know how to handle it. But honestly, that's the kind of reaction I want because I just want to prove to them that no matter what they try to tell me to be, I'm just gonna do what makes me happy, because f--k it.
Has your relationship with them been affected because of that?
It's definitely different, especially with my grandma because she comes from a completely different time. You can try all you want to make them understand where you're coming from, but you can't please everybody and you can't make somebody understand you. I just take it for what it is, and I try to educate as much as I can and prove to them that I'm just as normal as they are.
What was the hardest song to write for the album?
The first one that comes to mind is "Love You Anyway." I lived with my best friend who I also worked with during quarantine, and we had a very big falling out, and still to this day, it's very hard for me to talk about. It just really hurt. That song is just about no matter what you go through with somebody or how much they put you through, you still would do anything for them, and it's just f--ked up.
How did Taylor Swift's recognition feel, and how does she inspire you?
Oh my God, when that happened, I was screaming. She's iconic, she's f--king Taylor Swift, I could throw up thinking about it. The fact that an artist so amazing, that's so good at writing songs and just an overall amazing fucking human, recognized two of my songs, is f--ked up. There's no words. Like, when are we gonna meet? It will happen one day.
I've been listening to her since I came out of the womb, it feels like. She's been around my whole life, so I feel like I take on the way she writes lyrics and melodies. My girlfriend and I were just listening to her self-titled vinyl from way back, and she was like, "You know, your songwriting is kind of similar to hers." When she said that, I was like, “Damn.”
How did Demi Lovato show you love?
Years ago, they posted my song "Numb" on their Instagram Story, and I remember DMing them. Then a few months ago, Adam Lambert had this get-together for queer artists and songwriters, and Demi was there and we spoke. I remember crying in my car because that was just one of those moments, like, “This is Demi Lovato who I grew up watching on Camp Rock, and we fully just had a conversation about my music." It was very surreal.
On that note, who are your dream collaborators?
I would love to do a song with Justin Bieber because he is one of the biggest reasons why I started singing. This is really random, but I've always loved Tracy Chapman, and I don't know what she's doing, but just to be in a room and write a song with her would be really cool. I love Dominic Fike, I think we can make something cool. And Taylor, f--k.
Speaking of Dominic, you recently tweeted about Euphoria. What about it makes you unwell?
It makes me unwell because I'm shaking in my boots every time I'm watching it. I'm just so happy that our generation has this show, because it's beautifully done, it's so artistic, and we needed something that had more substance and reality to it. I went to a high school where kids were like this and doing Xanax like crazy, and I was one of them. I love how it's so eye-opening in the way that it wasn't really that pretty. It's so important for our generation because I feel like we can really glamorize a lot of things, like sadness and drug abuse and depression and anxiety, but really it's f--king dark and ruins a lot of people's lives. And to have Hunter Schafer be a main character is so f--king sick. I haven't seen a show this big that has shown a trans character like that.
How has the next, next album progressed sonically?
Oh my God, it's like a whole different world, and I feel like I always say that, but no, this is really… whew. If folklore, Smashing Pumpkins and hyper-pop had a baby, that's what this is. It's so cool.