Bella Thorne says she’s working on ‘super poetic’ music that gets back to ‘the heart and soul of hip-hop’

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Bella Thorne in ‘Shake It,’ at an event in 2019, and on Zoom with Insider on Thursday. Bella Thorne/YouTube / Kurt Krieger/Corbis/Getty Images / Callie Ahlgrim/Insider
  • Bella Thorne recently spoke to Insider about her burgeoning music career and new single “Shake It.”
  • She explained why she loves rapping in songs, even though people expect her to make pop music.
  • She also discussed sexist double standards in the industry and growing up on Disney Channel.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

“Poetry works its way into everything that I do,” Bella Thorne explains, pulling out her phone.

“I was also super sick when I recorded this, so you can hear it in my nose,” she adds, laughing. “This is literally the demo of the song, so you cannot judge me.”

Thorne’s voice surges from the tiny speaker, slow and purposeful, as if she’s making a speech. The words are backed by sparkly synths and a fluttery trap beat.

In real life, Thorne recites the words alongside the recording: “I wanna live. I wanna use my voice to love, love others, and most importantly, me. I wanna love myself to the fullest extent. I need to live. I need to breathe in my soul.”

The demo is called “Proud,” one of several ideas that Thorne is currently working on. She tells Insider that she’s planning to release two new songs in March, including “Phantom,” a collaboration with singer-songwriter and iconic guitarist Malina Moye.

These will follow her newest single, a rowdy ode to “all kinds of b—-es” titled “Shake It.”

“You have two minutes and 46 seconds of relaxation for once in your day when you listen to it. You get to let go and just be there, and that’s a nice relief,” she says. “But most of my music is super poetic.”

“I love making fun music. ‘Shake It’ is a fun song. I love being a bad b—-. I love singing about a bad b—-. I love Meg The Stallion, I love Cardi B,” she explains. “But for my music, as well, I really want to get back to the heart and soul of hip-hop.”

When it comes to her music, Thorne calls the shots. She says it’s the one area in her career where she feels “complete freedom,” and as she hones her creative style, she’s determined to defy notions of what’s “technically” correct or “popular.”

Thorne isn’t a fan of “boxes,” either. She knows that people don’t expect her to rap, as she does in “Shake It” – or, perhaps, that people don’t want her to. She just doesn’t care.

“I’ve loved rap since I was a little girl. I used to listen to DMX when I was 6. I did my ‘Who I Admire’ essay on Lil Wayne in school, when I was on ‘Shake It Up,'” Thorne says about her Disney Channel series that went off the air in 2013.

“Categorizing people is just dumbing down the music industry,” she continues. “By creating these boxes and giving everyone their certain lane – of course, that’s why people look at me and they go, ‘Oh, she can sing and she’s white, so she should be a singer. She should do pop, she should be Taylor Swift. She should be this, she should be that.'”

The music video for ‘Shake It’ was removed from YouTube, though Thorne never learned exactly why

Shortly after “Shake It” premiered on YouTube, Thorne lamented its sudden disappearance on social media, calling it “censorship against women.”

-BITCHIMBELLATHORNE (@bellathorne) February 23, 2021

Before she got an explanation, the video was reinstated – though it was initially slapped with an age restriction.

“It was a really ‘what the f—‘ moment. There’s nothing in this video that’s so explicit that it should be taken off YouTube,” Thorne tells Insider.

Thorne directed “Shake It” herself, starring alongside adult-film star Abella Danger in a speak-now-or-forever-hold-your-peace wedding switch-up.

After Thorne interrupts her lover’s nuptials – declaring, “That’s my b—-!” – the two women twerk, kiss, roll around on a bed strewn with rose petals, and feed each other strawberries.

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Bella Thorne in her self-directed music video for ‘Shake It.’ Bella Thorne/YouTube

“What rapper doesn’t have even more, so much more than that? There’s also doing drugs in videos, and drinking while driving, and showing kids to do that, and gun violence, and all these other things,” she says. “But you’re going to take it down for me shaking my a– with Abella.”

“What is up with that? Why do the men always get away with it? And the women – it’s that same story that I feel like people are tired of hearing, but they need to keep hearing it, because things need to change.”

Thorne says she ‘always’ felt aware of sexist double standards, especially growing up in the public eye

The “Girl” actress was cast on “Shake It Up,” opposite Zendaya, at just 13 years old.

In the years since the show’s cancellation, Thorne has been targeted by hackers, who threatened to release her nude photos, and plagued by a “wild child” reputation. Thorne says she believes this was perpetuated by her cystic acne, leading tabloids to speculate about late nights and drug usage.

She says she feels a certain kinship with fellow Disney alums like Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears.

The latter’s struggle with misogyny and toxic celebrity culture was recently documented in the New York Times film “Framing Britney Spears,” which Thorne describes as “super relatable.”

“When you’re on the [Disney] Channel, it’s like you have to be this shell, this mask of a person,” she says. “You have to teach kids good things. And I understand setting something good for young kids to follow. But then I think that good thing gets slowly turned into something dark.”

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Bella Thorne and Miley Cyrus at New York Fashion Week in 2014. Brian Killian/WireImage

Indeed, as Spears came into her own as a young adult, singer, and style icon, she was magnified by a media obsessed with objectification and simultaneously villainized by a culture intolerant of sexual women.

“She was growing up and getting sexier and starting to wear shorter skirts and tighter things,” Thorne explains. “Then suddenly she’s a ‘whore,’ and ‘Oh, she was such a good girl.'”

For Thorne, this dichotomy feels all too familiar.

“I think a lot of people say, ‘Oh Bella, you’re trying to really break out of your Disney image. You went really sexy. You try to make everyone see how sexy you are and be sexual,'” she continues. “And I’m just like, no, it’s called growing up. It’s called, when you saw me, I was 12 and now I’m 23.”

“Imagine if you had a spotlight on your kids at home? You think that would be any different? I assure you, it would not be any different.”

Thorne believes that every adage or assumption about sex, especially female sexuality, needs to change. She speaks passionately about the injustices of revenge porn, slut-shaming, and rape culture.

As an actress, Thorne recalls numerous times that she’s been made to feel uncomfortable on set while filming “sexual scenes.”

“I feel like a lot of people think, ‘Yeah, so what? Just take your top off. It doesn’t matter. What’s the big deal?’ This type of narrative that people have skewed over time,” she says.

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Abella Danger and Bella Thorne in ‘Shake It.’ Bella Thorne/YouTube

As a director, however, Thorne goes out of her way to alleviate that pressure. She says constant dialogue and feedback are especially essential.

“With Abella, we have a very natural chemistry. In this situation, we were both very comfortable,” she says of directing “Shake It.” “But that’s not going to happen every time, of course.”

“It’s just really important to keep in mind that no matter what someone’s doing, there’s probably a big chance that they feel a little uncomfortable, and it’s good to address that,” she continues. “Intimacy coordinators and sex choreographers, these types of things are really important. People should not be afraid to ask for these things. You’re allowed to ask.”

In many ways, Thorne explains, Hollywood has been slow to learn because generations of patriarchy have painted women a certain way – as seductresses, or somehow complicit in their own sexual oppression.

“That’s just the way people perceive women. ‘Oh, well, that skirt’s pretty short. I bet she wants to get f—ed tonight,'” she says. “‘Well she’s drinking, she wants to party, she wants to get f—ed.’ It’s constant.”

“That s— makes me so mad,” she continues. “The s— that we teach our daughters, then our daughters teach their daughters, about sex and about body and everything else. All that s— as you get older, man, does it catch up to you.”

“I can go on about this for hours,” she adds. Then, she sighs.

For many women, that would signal exhaustion; an invitation to switch topics.

But Thorne’s steady eye contact betrays her fuel as far from depleted. Her gaze is determined, fiery. Even right now – through a computer screen, during a pandemic, after a decade’s worth of complaints for Hollywood’s nonexistent HR department – Thorne doesn’t seem resigned or daunted by the work ahead. On the contrary, she seems energized by the prospect.

She takes a moment to collect her thoughts, resting her head on her hand, where a silver chain hangs from her clawlike fingertips. Then, she launches back in.

This interview has been condensed for clarity.