Inspiration And Empowerment Through Music: MTV Star Lenay

From MTV host to music superstar, Lenay now envisions a future that includes singing on tour and co-headlining with one of her favorite artists. Her new single “Freaking Best” sets her up to be the next big pop star. For Lenay, it’s a dream that started when she was just a child.

“I found my parents’ video camera when I was little, and filmed everything with it,” Lenay tells INLOVE. “Everything from making up music videos and skits with my friends, to a flower growing that I had planted outside until my dad mowed over it [laughs]. I loved singing, acting and just creating really. My heart has always been pulled in that direction.”

Sari: From Africa to Minnesota to Santiago, Chile, to Los Angeles, how do you think spending time in such diverse environments influenced who you are?
Lenay: Definitely. I’ve loved Spanish since I was little and we took a family trip to Mexico. My mom saw how excited I was to try and speak it, so when we got back, she found an after-school Spanish club for me to join and start learning. I used to listen to Spanish albums and artists growing up, and I think that definitely influenced my music style. I love Latin beats, and you can definitely hear that influence in a few of my songs coming out soon. That, and my dad listening to The Beatles all the time, or even showing me his own songs that he wrote on guitar, I think really has an impact on my musical tastes.

Sari: Now, you’re well-known as the host of the hit MTV show “10 on Top.” You’ve been on both sides. Which do you like better? Doing the interview or being interviewed?
Lenay: Definitely being interviewed [laughs]. Whenever I was the one doing interviews, I focused a lot on trying to stick to the subject and to ask the preset questions. But when you are the one being interviewed, I feel freer; like there are fewer rules. Like, my answer to a question could be me rolling on the floor, and that’s okay somehow. I like that [laughs].

Sari: Who was your favorite cohost? Anyone you’ve stayed friends with?
Lenay: Ken Jeong, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, Ashley Benson, Jonas Brothers – I don’t know if I can pick. It was really cool being able to cross paths with such cool, successful people in the industry and being able to hang with them for a bit on set. I’ll run into some of them every once in a while at events or around L.A. I think I stay in touch most with Sammi from “Jersey Shore.”

Sari: What do you love most about being able to express yourself through music?
Lenay: Exactly that. It’s such an outlet. When I first started writing songs, I didn’t think I was writing anything personal. I just thought I was kind of filling in whatever words fit or sounded good a lot of the time because I was so focused on the melody. Now, looking back at some of my songs, I’m like WOW it was so deep, and I didn’t even know it. The lyrics depicted exactly what I was going through at the time, and somehow, I had no idea that I was letting it out subconsciously in a song. So yeah, I love that. Now I’m more aware and do it more on purpose [laughs]. Sometimes I’m still surprised at the lyrics I start playing around with to fit. Your subconscious is a powerful thing.

Sari: Your song “Freaking Best,” I have to know, did that come from real-life inspiration?
Lenay: Actually, no! This is the first song I’ve released that I didn’t write. I’ve written or co-written all of my upcoming songs, too. But the second I heard “Freaking Best” I was like “I need it” [laughs]. It’s such a fun twist on such an otherwise melancholy topic: a breakup. It’s like yeah, okay, I’m kind of sad and thinking it over, but you know what? I’m still the FREAKING BEST! I just thought this song being out in the world could give people a little power back after feeling a bit drained after a breakup. I’m honored to have given it a voice.

Sari: It’s beautifully vulnerable and empowering at the same time. What advice can you offer young women who may have gone through a tough time and are searching to reclaim their voice? Where do they find that power from?
Lenay: I honestly think that power comes from loving yourself. It sounds so cheesy, but it’s so true. All of your flaws included. I heard a friend [once say], “The things that happen in life that quiet one’s voice…” and I wrote it down because I thought it was such a cool way to word that. So yeah, I think you’ll have some things that feel really heavy in life. Decisions and breakups can feel heavy even if they are for the best, and it definitely takes strength to stand back up and gather back up your confidence and voice. I think that strength needs always to be found in yourself eventually, but surrounding yourself with good family and friends who really care to help you stand back up, in my experience, makes it so much easier. It’s priceless.

Sari: Between your YouTube channel and “10 on Top,” I feel like you are just always in the mix everything social media related. What are the upsides and downsides of social media, and how do you suggest that we use that power for good?
Lenay: Awesome side: I love Instagram. I also love filming and editing videos to music; music videos, YouTube, etcetera. It’s such a creative outlet. I really just think it’s the most fun. I love connecting with people, not just friends but fans. Reading comments and interacting with people on the other side of the world through your art and posts is a pretty insane and a magical concept if you stop to think about it.
Not so awesome side: I think it’s easy to show the “best” of everything on social media and not the hours of binge-watching Netflix in frizzy hair and glasses. It’s easy to feel everyone’s life is 100 percent perfect and always exciting and picturesque, also because we can take 80 selfies and pick the best one, and then Facetune off a zit. It’s not always a realistic depiction of life, and even if you know that, it can be hard not to compare yourself to that.

Sari: What else do you have coming up on the music front? Any collaborations that you can discuss?
Lenay: So many songs coming up next that I can’t wait! Collabs? I have a wishlist on my phone.

Be sure to follow Lenay Olsen on Instagram @lenaychantelle!
Photo credit: Andrew Noel, Tegan Butler

Sari Cohen