Stela Cole is in Boss Mode

With nearly 5 million likes on her TikTok videos, Stela Cole has taken the internet by storm, but while likes, and accolades are nice, she says, “My goal as an artist is to make people feel empowered, and to celebrate what makes you unique, no matter what that looks like.”

The Georgia bred, but now L.A.-based artist has been doing this with her music for the past half decade (she was originally featured here back in 2018), and now, having amassed a huge following on TikTok, and with two EPs, and an appearance on NBC’s American Song Contest under her belt, her message is reaching more people than ever.

Cole recently signed with Ultra Records as one of the legendary dance/EDM label’s first pop artists, and her opening salvo with them is “Rhapsody in Pink,” a girl power anthem that flips the George Gershwin piece “Rhapsody in Blue.”

I caught up with Cole to find out more about her goal of making people feel empowered, as well as her numerous TikTok triumphs, and how she ended up drawing the ire of classical music fans. She also revealed how Snoop Dogg forever endeared himself to her father.

From Georgia, to Tennessee, to California – how do you think each of the places you’ve lived have helped shape you as an artist? 

I feel like Georgia was more growing up listening to music, and getting to listen to Outkast, and artists like that, but when I lived in Georgia I wasn’t fully in music yet. I just got into it my senior year of high school, then I left and went to college in Nashville. I went to Belmont for a year, and then dropped out, but I would definitely say Georgia was more of being influenced by the music that I grew up listening to, which was super super important because it was quite a melting pot of sounds that I think you can hear in my music today, because I borrow from so many genres, and eras of music.

Nashville influenced my sound when it comes to the songwriting aspect. (Nashville) is very lyrical, and songwriting based, and storytelling, especially because country music is centered around that, so I really learned how to articulate my story as an artist when I lived there.

L.A., as soon as I got to L.A., it’s the heart of pop music, so I immediately met the right producers and songwriters for my stuff, and everything came together. That was the first time I felt … I guess the freedom to be 100% authentic to who I was, and who I am.

Growing up in the south, especially the southern outskirts of Atlanta, I grew up in a really small town where everyone knows everyone, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but there were definitely times where I felt I couldn’t 100% be true to who I am. I would always be a little self-conscious, or afraid that I would get judged, which looking back is so dumb. I wish that I could go back and change that, but I think when I moved to L.A. that was the first time I was able to fully embrace who I am in every way. It helped me grow a lot as an artist. I would not be who I am today had I not moved to L.A.

Something I find incredible is that you have nearly 5 million likes on TikTok. How much time, and effort goes into one of your TikTok videos? 

When COVID hit I had originally planned to do some live shows around my EP that I was putting out, and the singles that I was dropping, but when the shutdown happened all of that just fell to the side. I was like – fuck, how do I continue building as an artist if live shows, and all of that kind of stuff is out the window? I turned to TikTok, like a lot of artists did during that time, and I just started building my platform on there, and started really cultivating deep relationships with my fans online. I would spend hours … just welcoming pretty much every new person that discovered my music, and building a really cool family, almost.

It became almost part of my routine to post on TikTok. It didn’t even feel like I was working necessarily, just because it felt more like I was posting something, and getting to chat with my new fans, and feel uplifted all the time. It didn’t feel draining for me at all. It felt just like part of my routine.

There was recently a bit of conversation when some very well known artists said their labels were telling them to make TikToks, and they didn’t want to. Do you ever feel any pressure, or even put pressure on yourself, to continue to create new clips? 

When it comes to releasing music – and I think that’s something that’s actually changing now, because the TikTok algorithm is changing. I think it’s focusing more on artist development than just viral moments – for a while there I was like, “If I can’t get this song I’m really excited about to pop off on TikTok I might not get to put it out.”

That was a real concern, because obviously the best way to build momentum is to put things out that have a lot of hype around them, so it’s natural that if a song went viral you were probably gonna put that one out over a song that wasn’t going viral, and it sucks because the algorithm doesn’t necessarily always pick the best song.

I think all the songs I’ve believed in the most have come out, but there have definitely been a couple that I was bummed didn’t take off, and might have gotten to see the light of day had they done better on TikTok. That’s always a little scary.

I have a couple friends who had individual clips go viral, and for them it turned out to be a tiring experience, so what are the pros and cons of going viral? 

As an artist, my manager told me this, as an artist you’re painting a target on your back, and you’re going to get hate no matter what you do, that’s just inevitable.

I did have this one video – I actually knew ahead of time that it was gonna be polarizing, and that’s exactly why I posted it – it’s for a song I wrote called “Touché.” Maybe it will come out down the line, I’m not sure yet. I flipped this really old classical piece for the bridge, and I leaked that song because I had written a lyric over it that goes, “You don’t give a what? You don’t give a what? I don’t give a fukkity-fukkity-fuck,” and it was over a classical piano piece, so people were enraged in the comments being like, “I can’t believe you would disrespect a classical piece like this!” “You should never go into a studio again!” “You suck!”

I kinda knew that was gonna happen, and that’s why I posted it, because I needed to find a way to build momentum, and I was like if any song is gonna do it, and get a reaction, it’s this one.

I’ve had videos go viral where 100% of the comments are positive, and amazing, and obviously those are my favorite, but I’ve also had the other end of the spectrum. That’s just part of the job, and it happens.

I love that the classical music fan base got so high and mighty. Didn’t half those artists die of venereal disease? (Note: Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini, Schubert, Schumann, and Smetana all reportedly had syphilis … although probably not from each other) 

I don’t know, but what I do know is – and this is all I’m gonna say, because I think classical music is dope – I think there were people in the comments that probably didn’t know that song, and my new single, “Rhapsody in Pink,” I’ve had a couple people hating on that, too, because I flipped a George Gershwin piece from the 1920s. Some people probably didn’t know who George Gershwin was, and because I flipped it, and talk about it openly, those people probably know his stuff now.

I don’t know how he would react if he heard it just because he came from such a different time, he might be shocked that I’m rapping, and cussing a little bit over a beautiful classical melody, but it was highlighting a song that came out a long time ago that was a really influential piece at the time.

Did you ever in your life expect to be rapping over Gershwin? 

{laughs} It’s actually crazy, I’ve been scheming this song for over five years. It’s such an intricate melody that you can’t have another melodic element over it, so I was like the only way that I can really do this melody justice is if my lyrics are more of a monotone thing, and the best way to do that is to rap over it, because I don’t want to write another melody on top of it, and have it take away from the dramatic beauty that the melody has.

I love hip-hop music, I grew up listening to it, and I’ve always wanted to try that side of my voice out, so it was the perfect time to do it.

It’s definitely the craziest song I’ve put out to date. It has so many different parts to it, it’s like the most chaotic song ever, but that’s what makes me love it so much. It feels very authentic to me.

The song is about recognizing your self-worth, and I know that’s a really important topic for you because at one point – and you went over this on Twitter, so I’m not going to ask you to go over it again – you were in a very toxic relationship. What ultimately led you to recognize your self-worth, and free yourself from that relationship? 

I think, honestly, for me it’s been writing music.

As humans we’re gonna have days where we feel like a badass, and then we’re gonna have days where we don’t. We’re gonna have days where we wake up feeling like shit, and we feel self-conscious. I have days where I wake up feeling like trash. When I write my music, sometimes I’m writing it when I’m actively feeling empowered, but sometimes I’m writing it almost as something for me to look up to when I’m having a bad day.

So it’s like my music has become not only a creative outlet, but it’s also become really therapeutic for me, because on my worst days I’ll go to the studio, and force out this confidence anthem, and by the end of the day I feel like a bad bitch because it’s constantly reminding me – hey, you got this. You just wrote this really dope song, everything’s gonna be fine.

So you wrote your way into kicking ass, and getting out of everything. 

A little bit. Yeah. I think so.

When you go through an abusive relationship you lose a lot of confidence, and you feel like you can’t do anything on your own, and you feel very alone, and I think that for me regaining my power came from doing the thing that I do best, and remembering – oh wow, I can sing, I can write these songs, and I can tell my story.

Getting to tell my story, and watching it resonate, and hearing other people say they went through the same thing, and that my music has helped them, is the ultimate payoff for me.

“Rhapsody in Pink” has a similar vibe to one of your previous singles, “Walking on the Moon,” but is very different from “I Shot Cupid.” The next single is “Star.” What can listeners expect, musically, from this one? 

“Rhapsody in Pink” and “Star” are the only two songs I have right now where I’m rapping in some of the verses.

“Star” was heavily influenced by Kanye’s album Graduation, and Fergie’s album The Dutchess. I listened to those two records nonstop as I was writing this song, so it’s kind of got an early 2000s, like 2010 energy to it. I loved that era of music so much, and I’ve always wanted to make something that sounds reminiscent to that.

It’s also a topic that I haven’t really covered before in my writing. It’s my first come up song.

Most of my songs are about relationships, but I specifically wrote this one about the industry, and people who don’t believe in what you’re doing.

I’ve had so many people tell me no over and over again, and say that my music’s not good, that they don’t believe in what I’m doing. This song is basically for any creative, or any dreamer, or any person that has a big goal set for themselves. It’s a reminder to keep going, and be your #1 fan, and believe in yourself.

If you believe hard enough, and if you work really hard, and create your own luck, anything’s possible.

Finally, I noticed you have a couple photos hugging Snoop Dogg. Are you two homies now? 

I wish. I’ll pretend that we’re homies. Getting to meet him was the highlight of being on the TV show (American Song Contest) for me.

He had the best, most positive energy around him. He came up and hugged me after my song. He was awesome, and he fist bumped my dad. My dad still will, every now and then, bring it up because he was so hyped about it.

For more Stela Cole check out, and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok.


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