Kenzie Ziegler’s Number One Fan Is Her Sister Maddie
After a decade in the spotlight, the 18-year-old Kenzie Ziegler (of Dance Moms fame) is ready to show her 35 million followers who she really is: a promising, and prolific, singer-songwriter. Her 2018 album Phases, featuring “Wonderful” written by Sia and Jesse Shatkin, established Ziegler as one of her generation’s burgeoning stars. Now, she’s back with “100 Degrees,” an upbeat heartbreak track inspired by her friend’s ill-timed breakup. The new single was written and produced by an all-female team, and as she tells her sister Maddie—who knows a thing or two about teen stardom—this time around she’s calling the shots. To mark the release of “100 Degrees,” we asked Maddie to interview her sister Kenzie. Below, they predict who’ll go gray hair first, manifest a Steve Lacy collaboration, and discuss what they’ve learned from each other thus far. – ERNESTO MACIAS
MADDIE ZIEGLER: This is fun. Have I ever interviewed you before?
KENZIE ZIEGLER: No, I don’t think so.
MADDIE: Well, hi. What did you have for breakfast today?
KENZIE: You actually made breakfast.
MADDIE: Yeah, I did.
KENZIE: I came over here and had some sourdough bread. Well, toast with avocado and balsamic glaze on top. So good.
MADDIE: And some yogurt with granola and berries. I feel like it’s so much fun when you come to my house because—
KENZIE: I just take over. I wear your clothes, I eat your food, I do my makeup with your makeup, and it’s a great time for me.
MADDIE: I love it. Obviously, you’ve transitioned from dancing. Growing up we were dancers and you found singing at a really young age, but do you feel like you always wanted to be a singer?
KENZIE: I definitely think I always wanted to do something on my own.
KENZIE: And something different than you were doing. Because it’s hard when you have a sister that’s basically doing the same thing as you. I’m glad that I found music because I’ve found such a passion for it. When I was younger I was just kind of good at it. That’s why I got into it.
MADDIE: It’s nice to see how you’re stepping into your full potential, which is really cool. And you’re doing it on your own time—finding your style and what makes you fulfilled as a singer.
KENZIE: Totally. Thank you.
MADDIE: When did you know you wanted to pursue it as a career on your own, without obviously being pressured into it when you were young?
KENZIE: I think around 13 or 14 was when I started going to writing sessions and actually working on music and writing the songs that I was making. I think that’s when I really wanted to get into it and find my sound. I’m so glad I’m doing it because I wouldn’t see my life going any other way.
MADDIE: Totally. It feels like everything’s falling into place for you.
KENZIE:: For sure.
MADDIE: You have been very particular about it and you didn’t just rush into it. Because you were rushed in the past, so I feel like now is your time and you found it and it’s really cool, and you’re just going to keep evolving.
KENZIE: Thank you.
MADDIE: You toured with Pretty Much in 2019. Did you like being on the road, did you like that life?
KENZIE: Oh my gosh. I had so much fun. I had dancers at the time and they were all my best friends, so it was so fun being on tour with your best friends.
KENZIE: It was just the best thing ever. Also, the boys were so nice. It just felt like a really big family. It was definitely scary because, obviously, the people that came to the show were fans of them, so I kind of had to win them over and sometimes I didn’t get the best reactions, but that’s just how it’s supposed to be.
MADDIE: I remember that when you were doing that, and I feel like it started off a bit rocky. You felt a bit nervous. You’re like, “Wow, the crowd is not necessarily for me, it’s not my tour.” But as the shows progressed and as the tour went on, you gained a bigger fan base from it and people were looking forward to seeing you. Which was so cool.
KENZIE: Well, when there’s a boy band involved, I feel like they probably thought that I was wanting to be with one of them, but I also was 15. So I think they understood that in the end. But in the beginning, they were like, “Who is this girl?” But it was fun.
MADDIE: So, you got to do some fun collaborations. You got to work with Sia, obviously, and Jesse Shatkin, an amazing producer. I love him dearly. He’s so great.
Kenzie Zeigler: He’s so great.
Maddie Zeigler: How was it collaborating with songwriters like Sia?
Kenzie Zeigler: Obviously, collaborating with Sia is literally insane. She’s one of the most talented stars of all time and I was definitely nervous. I don’t know how it really came about. I think she just said, “Oh, I want to do a song with you.” That was the scariest moment of my life. I thought I was going to die, but it got such a great reaction and I think it was nice for me to do something with Sia. She was giving me advice and it helped me out a lot.
MADDIE: Totally. It’s very full circle. It’s like we kept in the family, obviously, I’ve grown up collaborating with Sia, and now to see her do it with you, it was so cool and such a fun moment, too.
KENZIE: Yes, I agree. And she’s just insanely talented.
MADDIE: Yes, I feel like, that song gave you confidence in a way to then move into your music. Is there anyone that you’re dying to collaborate with? An artist or songwriter or producer?
KENZIE: I will always say Julia Michaels for writing purposes. I think she’s so talented. Artist-wise, I would really love to collab with Steve Lacy.
MADDIE: Oh, that would be sick. Yes, you really love him. He’s so cool. I really like his new music, it’s doing really well.
KENZIE: Just very chill and the vibe that I want to go for. So I feel like it’d be nice, but he’s too big for that. That’s insane. That’s a dream collab.
MADDIE: Totally. And it’s fun to even just be in the room. What I’ve noticed from Sia or you or Eddie [Benjamin], it’s cool to just have sessions. Even if they don’t necessarily come out. It’s cool to just create those partnerships and learn from someone. I feel like, I don’t know, you’re very much in the phase where you’re soaking up a lot of information right now and you’re working with different people and you’re finding your group —you’re really coming into it and really finding your thing, which has been so fun to watch. Why was it important to work with an all-woman team on “100 Degrees”?
KENZIE: Well, I’m all about female empowerment, and especially in the music industry, I think women producers and writers get frowned upon by men. Not every guy, I’m not shading the music industry.
MADDIE: I mean it’s now changing a lot, but it has been dominated by men in so many ways.
KENZIE: And especially, male producers looked down on female producers. So it’s so cool getting to work with a female producer that is really talented and can do everything that they can do. It’s just a terrible standard that you have to be a man to do it. It was so fun writing this song specifically with all girls because it was a fun breakup song. We would just jump around for hours and dance to it.
MADDIE: I remember in the past you were coming in, not every time, but you’d come in and out of certain sessions and be like, “Oh, I don’t know. Sometimes it’s weird to open up to a guy that I’m writing with about my breakup or about whatever it is.” Having that girl energy and feeling like you can be open and honest and relatable and they understand because maybe they have gone through a breakup as well. Who did you make the record with?
KENZIE: I made it with Lenii. She’s an artist as well. Also, I call her Liz, but her name is Elizabeth Murphy and then Mariana [Stratan], and me.
MADDIE: That’s so fun. The song talks about the change of seasons but what was your inspo with writing that and how it plays into a breakup as well?
KENZIE: The song is not my specific situation. It’s one of my friend’s situations and she got broken up with on Christmas Eve. So I was like, that’s such a great concept. She actually told me how she hated winter so much because he ruined it for her. So I think it was a really cool thing to write about—whenever you go through a breakup or even a friendship breakup or anything, things get ruined. The places you went to, the songs you listen to, and even the seasons. So we wanted to shed light on that in this song because no one talks about it.
MADDIE: It’s such a good play on a breakup because the weather is super unpredictable, things happen, things change and it moves seasonally. What was your experience being a writer on this record?
KENZIE: Oh, I mean it was so fun with Liz and Lenii. They’re sisters and it’s the best thing working with them because I feel like I’m watching me and you because they argue when they write and it’s the funniest thing ever. I just feel so homey. It feels really cool because after, I think I was the proudest of the song and I played it for weeks just on repeat for weeks and I played it for everyone and I got such a good reaction. This is the first song I feel really, really, really proud of.
MADDIE: That’s so good. I’m so proud of you. What are you most excited about in this new era? Because I feel like this is the start of a new era in your career.
KENZIE: I’m just overall excited for all of it because it’s still so surreal to me. Just being with a really great label and having great people behind you and having an amazing support system is all I want. It doesn’t matter what happens with my career. I’m just lucky, thankful, and grateful to be doing what I’m doing.
KENZIE: Hopefully a tour.
MADDIE: Oh my God, that would be so fun.
KENZIE: That would be cool.
MADDIE: I would be a groupie on tour.
KENZIE: You should be my makeup artist.
MADDIE: Literally. Oh my God, can I please?
MADDIE: That would be so much fun. I just drop everything in my life and I become your makeup artist for the rest of the time.
KENZIE: [Laughs] Yes, “Sorry guys. Can’t make this movie.”
MADDIE: That’s hilarious. Literally Kenzie, I’ve done your makeup for music videos.
KENZIE: So many times.
MADDIE: I’ve done your makeup for Halloween, for events, for birthday parties. So many things. I’m like your backup makeup artist.
KENZIE: Yes, that one Halloween party I said I couldn’t go to. I was like, “I just look so ugly and Maddie’s busy so if she can’t do my makeup then I’m not going”.
MADDIE: You are never ugly. Now switching gears a bit, how do you relax? How do you calm your mind?
KENZIE: I love video games but not scary video games. I like the calm home renovator games and I sit in my bed, light some candles, and play video games for hours.
MADDIE: We will play Sims for hours on end until we can’t see the screen anymore.
KENZIE: We still do.
MADDIE: We literally play until we start talking gibberish.
KENZIE: And then we’re like, “We actually can’t do this anymore.”
KENZIE: That’s such a weird answer. I love baths, too, and you know that. So if I’m anxious or something, I just take a bath even though my bath is so small and I might need to come take one at yours now.
MADDIE: That’s totally fine. What I really, really want you to do is start reading.
KENZIE: Which I am. I have started a book club.
MADDIE: With who?
KENZIE: With my roommates in Austin.
MADDIE: Oh my gosh. Okay. I literally have now four books I want you to read.
KENZIE: Just give them all to me.
MADDIE: They’re all by Taylor Jenkins Reid and I really think that they would calm your mind. I love it.
KENZIE: Well, I bought Malibu Rising.
MADDIE: Oh, you need to read that. Okay, something that I’ve learned from you is—why are you giving me those eyes?
KENZIE: What did you learn from me?
MADDIE: Something that I’ve learned from you is not to put too much pressure on things. I feel like it’s really inspiring to see how you just trust the timing and you don’t overanalyze things. You’re like, “It’s going to work out the way it’s going to work out.” I think that’s really cool.
KENZIE: Thank you.
MADDIE: What’s one thing that you’ve learned from me?
KENZIE: One thing? I mean, I’ve literally learned everything from you.
MADDIE: Oh my gosh.
KENZIE: I’ve literally learned how to do my makeup because of you. I’ve learned how to do my hair. Still not very good at it. But I’m getting there. There’s so much I’ve learned from you. It’s hard to think of one.
MADDIE: You’re like, “I learned how to walk. I learned how to talk.”
KENZIE: Basically, I feel like I did. I just copy you constantly and I’m doing all the things that you do because you were such a big sister figure to me that growing up, I feel like I followed you around like a little duck. It’s true.
ZIEGLER: Aww. But it’s so interesting, because even though you did that, you also had your own group of people. You had your own thing. Even though now we have more similar styles, when we were younger we were so different.
KENZIE: So different.
MADDIE: I just want to say I’m so proud of you because—
KENZIE: Oh, thank you.
MADDIE: It’s just really exciting to see you find your voice. I feel like we all go through waves of feeling confident and then feeling insecure. You’re coming into a phase right now where you just radiate amazing energy and positivity.
KENZIE: Thank you.
MADDIE: Your music is so amazing and you’re growing up in such a beautiful way, you’re so mature, and you look the best you’ve ever looked like. You’re thriving and it’s so amazing to see. I can’t wait for people to hear your music in this new era because it’s so special. It really is.
KENZIE: That’s very sweet.
MADDIE: My last question for you.
KENZIE: Oh no.
MADDIE: What are you doing tomorrow?
KENZIE: I have no idea.
MADDIE: What do you mean?
KENZIE: I’m really bad. Okay. I think it’s a really good thing for me to not stress about things. Before I go to sleep, I look at my calendar, what I’m doing the next day and then I’m like, “Okay, I have to wake up this early”—
MADDIE: Or you call me and you’re like, “Wait, what’s going on?”
KENZIE: But I am glad that I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow because then I don’t have to stress about certain things—unless I have to prepare for something. That’s really bad. But I’ll check later and I’ll prepare.
MADDIE: I think that’s good. To just take it one day at a time, not over-analyze. Don’t stress too much. I think because we’re so young, we have to take it one day at a time. Otherwise, we are going to be bald.
KENZIE: We would be.
MADDIE: I wonder who’s going to get their first gray hair?
MADDIE: I’m manifesting it’s you.
KENZIE: I hope it’s me because I can’t wait till I have long gray hair.