TikTok Star Mariel Darling Talks Her “Hannah Montana” Lifestyle & Meeting Taylor Swift
We all grew up hearing stories of stars being “discovered” at the mall by men in suits, A&R reps with promises of stardom plucking teens from obscurity and dropping them into the world of the rich and famous. That dream looks slightly different today, with social media creating a direct connection between content creators and their fans, allowing grassroots followings to create bonafide superstars. These recipes for success can’t be replicated as the online landscape rapidly changes from generation to generation, but no social media fad passes without creating a new teen icon. In 2008, a tween named Justin Bieber was found by starmaker Scooter Braun. We don’t need to tell you how that story ended. By 2013, the fans that had built up Justin moved from YouTube to Vine, where a young Shawn Mendes was making six-second covers of Top 40 songs. Two Grammy nominations later, Vine may not exist anymore, but Shawn is here to stay. There hasn’t been one singular breakout star to come from the latest social media frenzy, TikTok, but if we had to bet, our money would be on seventeen-year-old influencer Mariel Darling.
With 230K TikTok followers and a growing Instagram presence, Mariel embodies Gen-Z’s strange combination of sleek, artfully aesthetic exteriors, and genuine vulnerability. Having mastered the art of the social media highlight reel, the common thread between Gen Z-ers is a relateable attempt to balance authenticity with the demand for false perfection thrust upon them as individuals are increasingly treated as public figures. Mariel’s new music video, “Unknown,” has over 275k views and counting, and she seems poised for a 2019 breakthrough. We spoke to Mariel just two days before her seventeenth birthday about her music, TikTok stardom, and what it’s like to meet your heroes.
Mariel has been pursuing music since she was nine-years-old, back when social media was non-existent and the most high-tech gadget on the market was a Blackberry Curve. At age fourteen, a group of TikTok stars came to stay with Mariel for a week, where she learned how to broadcast on the app back in the days when it was still music.ly. Mariel fell in love with the platform and created a deep one-to-one connection with her followers that persists to this day. She knows her social media fans boosted her career, so Mariel tries to make sure her fans feel seen by ‘liking’ Instagram comments, posting daily on her various platforms, and responding to as many messages as she can.
“I work hard to build my social media following because when you walk into a label, they want to know how many followers you have, and you want to wow them with a big number because that really puts your name in the spotlight,” Mariel explained. “[Social media] has totally changed the game, 110%. It’s made it a lot easier, but a lot harder, too. It’s not just based on your talent anymore. It’s based on your numbers, which is a little sad, but it also gives so many more people great opportunities that do have those numbers and those social media followings.”
Although Mariel appreciates social media as more than a means to an end, admitting that she’s hooked on the TikTok platform, music is and always has been her main focus. She describes music as her “calling,” with echoes in her ear telling her that music is what makes her the happiest. 2018 was a year of writing for Mariel and her producer Cass Dillon, and now Mariel is ready to unleash her vision onto the world with a slate of music videos and singles ready for release through 2019 and 2020. While she prepares to keep up with the fast-paced momentum needed to fully launch her career off of TikTok and into the greater world, Mariel is focusing on building up her social media, her Spotify streams, and her fanbase, showing the same business acumen and market understanding that her idol, Taylor Swift, has exemplified since she was Mariel’s age. Already looking ahead to her next project, an indie pop music video for her next single “Running Away” filmed last month in Los Angeles, Mariel revisited her writing process with her New York City producers.
“My producers know so much about me because I just spill my guts and talk about whatever is important in my life,” Mariel explained. “It’s almost like a therapy session.”
Mariel said she always wants her songs to be relatable on a larger scale, with multiple meanings to different people. She wants her audience to perceive her songs in whatever way is most relatable to them, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t have a specific message in mind when writing “Unknown.”
“I don’t know where the future is headed, but I want to go there. I want to go to the unknown, so we just built off of that,” Mariel said. “‘Unknown’ is kind of a transition song for me as a musician. It’s a little bit vibier, a little bit darker makeup and edgier clothing than my last single, ‘No Mirrors.’ It’s me changing and evolving as an artist into someone I haven’t shared with the world yet.”
Mariel may be on the cusp of teen stardom, but she keeps the best of both worlds by balancing the demands of her career with a normal school life. Having a regular social environment impacts how Mariel sees herself as an artist and allows her to connect with all of her peers, not just the ones with massive social media followings.
“It’s kind of like a Hannah Montana lifestyle for me, minus the limo out front,” Mariel joked. Her Mariel Darling persona might be an electric shock of glitter and fur, but in reality, Mariel spends most of her days following the dress code at her small private school before getting to come home to her “cooler, vibier” Mariel darling persona.
“I definitely prefer to be my music Mariel,” she said. “If I could be ‘on’ all the time I would, but there’s, of course, times where I have to dial it down and be the teen Mariel for as long as I can.”
When getting to play around with her Mariel Darling look, Mariel works with stylist Caitlin Monahan A.K.A. Darling Cait, who Mariel refers to as her “Mama Darling.” The team works with the same New York-based designers on most of their projects, which Mariel said allows her to create connections with designers and brands while also crafting a cohesive personal brand for her media persona. Mariel describes fashion as it’s own type of art, and it’s one of her favorite parts of being a musical artist.
Another perk of the job? Events like the iHeartMusic Awards that Mariel got to attend while filming “Running Away” in Los Angeles. Mariel watched her inspiration Taylor Swift win Tour of the Year for the Reputation Stadium Tour and had the opportunity to bond with the “sweet and genuine” singer over music and their shared love of blue eyeliner.
“I got teary-eyed as she walked away because I couldn’t believe that had just happened,” Mariel recalled. “I don’t really get star struck, but I did with her because I grew up idolizing her.”
Mariel wants to be a role model for the younger members of her fanbase, citing how Taylor handled the Kim Kardashian snake debacle in 2016 “with such grace and class,” describing the incident as a rare “rough patch” for the generally scandal-free singer. Mariel saw the award-winning Reputation tour twice, flying from her home in Massachusetts to Indiana to see it for a second time.
“I wanted to study all of her moves, like how she commands the audience and performs for over two hours straight,” Mariel said. “I hope I follow in those footsteps.”
As Mariel preps for her seventeenth birthday and her breakout year, she remembers writing her first song at two years old on a plastic, yellow Little Tykes toy piano and playing concerts for her teddy bears.
“I would beg my mom to have company over so I could just sing my little songs over and over to them. It’s so cool to look back at that little two-year-old, and where I am now,” Mariel concluded. “I’m just so grateful to have this music inside of me.”