By Grace Wong
Every middle schooler experiences some level of self-doubt, and many unfortunately also face some form of bullying– but singer, songwriter Casey McQuillen is working to retake that narrative. Casey travels around the country, bringing the You Matter Tour, an anti-bullying and songwriting program for adolescents, to middle schools across the nation.
Using original songs and her experience on American Idol as metaphors, she speaks on the issues of bullying, self-confidence, and the benefit of taking risks.Casey never set out to write an anti-bullying program; rather she channeled her passion for songwriting and giving back to her community, and in doing so, the You Matter Tour was born. In the program she performs three of songs she wrote in middle school, Beautiful, Enough and Little Girl, and accredits the vulnerability and honesty of her songs as the reason middle schoolers respond so well.
I recently got the opportunity to ask Casey a few questions about her hopes for her music career, her songs, and her brand built around self-love.
Grace Wong: I listened to some of your songs from the tour, can you tell me about your song Beautiful, and the inspiration behind it?
Casey McQuillen: Yeah, so when I was 17, every time I left the house I put makeup on. I even went to the gym I put on makeup, and one day as I was putting my face on to go to the gym, I stopped and saw what I was doing, and asked myself, when did this start? When did I start feeling like I couldn’t put my natural face in the world?
It took me back to 7th grade dance, and a boy told me I was so gross he would never dance with me. I ran out crying, and in the car on the way home I begged my mother to teach me how to put on makeup. All I wanted was to blend in, fit in, and not stick out.
The song follows my journey of blaming my appearance as the reason I didn’t fit in; tracing my journey from that 7th grade dance, to being that 17-year-old girl and feeling like boys didn’t like me because I didn’t look like I should, and then project to my mother and wondering what it must have been like sitting in that car, watching her confident, capable daughter cry hysterically about her appearance and know what there was nothing she could do to help me.
Grace Wong: Wow, that’s so powerful. How do you feel about makeup nowadays, a little more than ten-years since your middle school days?
Casey McQuillen: The problem wasn’t the makeup, the problem was that I was using the makeup to feel less gross rather than using the makeup to feel more fabulous, which is the same makeup, but very different.
Nowadays, I wear clothes and makeup as a means of self-expression, but it takes a lot of conscious effort as a woman in our society to love yourself. I am living in that space where I can define my own value, and that’s being a musician not the most beautiful woman in the world.
Grace Wong: Can you tell me about the song Enough on the tour? When I was listening to it, it felt deeply personal, what are the reactions like after you play it?
Casey M: A good family friend of mine was very ill as a child, and it affected his appearance, and he was badly bullied because of that. I wrote Enough in response to the anger I had because of that and how we all need to be a lot more empathetic towards people.
I played the tour once, and afterwards I got an email from a girl who had had brain cancer, and who was being bullied for the scars her operation had left. But that once I sang my song about my friend who was bullied about his appearance, it all stopped immediately. When he was in the 7th grade, I couldn’t go to his school and ask his peers to be kinder to him, but now I can go to middle schools are the country and ask peoples peers to be kinder, and I love that.
Grace Wong: What’s next for you?
Casey M: The You Matter Tour is just one of the pillars of my career– I am a full-time musical artist with an EP, and I write songs about things that aren’t anti-bullying. I hope to be an internationally acclaimed pop-star but I also want to do that through spreading my message of self-love.
Grace Wong: Lastly, we couldn’t end a Girl Up interview without asking who your #GirlHero is?
Casey M: Hillary Clinton! She has been shattering the glass ceiling for thirty-plus years, and I hope that my daughters will be able to live in a world where presidents aren’t just old, white dudes. OR Beyonce and her embracing her sexuality. I saw her in concert and I cried. I have never been more proud to be a woman.