SITTING IN HER TRAILER last November, Dove Cameron was getting her nails done ahead of an elaborate, cabaret-style performance of "Boyfriend" at the American Music Awards. She should have been a bundle of nervous excitement. Instead, she felt overcome with horror.

The night before, a gunman had killed five people and injured dozens more inside an LGBTQ+ club in Colorado Springs. Hours later, here she was, a queer artist surrounded by a mostly queer glam team, preparing to perform a song about sapphic desire to a room full of superstars. 

"The discrepancy between what I was doing at that moment and what was happening to these families and these people and the queer community at large watching this unfold, it just felt so unnerving," she says. "For us to be celebrating ourselves and being like, 'Yeah, I kicked ass this year!' while people are literally losing their lives."

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When Cameron's name was announced as the AMA's New Artist of the Year that night, she felt "the only thing to do" onstage inside LA's Microsoft Theater was to dedicate her win to the queer community, address the Club Q tragedy and direct viewers to resources like GLAAD and The Trevor Project

"If you have a platform, and you're not using it, it's a waste of a platform," she says. "I could never have the career that I have and not be vocal. That's just not something that I'm interested in. I would be bored."

The emotional moment capped off a year of enormous change and success for the 26-year-old artist. She ditched her signature blond hair, deleted her entire solo music catalog and underwent a sonic renaissance with a slate of alt-pop singles, including the queer anthem “Boyfriend,” which peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100; “Breakfast,” whose accompanying music video decried institutional misogyny and the dismantling of Roe v. Wade; and "Bad Idea," a steamy ode to recklessness.

"It looks like in the public eye I made this six-month transition where I dyed my hair brown, 'became' gay, wrote a smash hit and then was like, ‘Fuck everybody from before. I am a villain, and you're going to love it,’" she says. "That's really what it looks like. And it's just simply not true at all."


[Photo by Jordan Knight]

CAMERON'S VILLAIN ERA looks a little more tame at the moment. In late December, she's enjoying some much-needed downtime after a string of Jingle Ball performances where she delighted in seeing impassioned audiences sing her lyrics back to her, many of them "young girls so fired up that they were quite literally screaming with brows furrowed, looking like they wanted to throw something." 

She’s chatting from her home in Los Angeles, though after more than a decade there, the city still doesn't really feel like home. Cameron relocated to LA from the Seattle area with her mom when she was 13 to pursue performing. She longed to move to New York, but LA was the more affordable option, so that's where they went. 

Within three years, she'd landed a starring role as the titular twins in 80 episodes of Disney Channel's Liv and Maddie, which led to lead parts in Disney Channel Original Movies, including the wildly popular Descendants franchise, and a burgeoning music career, thanks to their accompanying soundtracks on Walt Disney Records. She was on a runaway train of success and nonstop work. And while she might have seemed like a bright-eyed kid living a dream life, the reality was much more difficult to navigate.

Her childhood friend Hayley had been murdered when Cameron was 8. And Cameron's father died by suicide when she was 15. (She legally changed her name from her birth name, Chloe Celeste Hosterman, to "Dove" to honor the nickname her dad gave her.) 

As her career took off, she didn't have time to fully process that enormous trauma or tend to her mental health. Her demanding schedule left little time for therapy or introspection, and while she says she liked working for Disney and has "no complaints," the grind served as both a distraction and a catalyst for more pain.


[Photo by Jordan Knight]

"When I was younger, I just felt incredibly pried open in an uncomfortable way, like I was being dissected on a table. And it was really, really difficult. I was really, really depressed for a very long time," she says. "Because dealing with loss while you are also becoming somebody who's on the TV in everybody's household isn't normal and healthy for a human brain." 

As the years went by, she felt increasingly suffocated trying to maintain the squeaky clean, bubblegum blond image her fans had grown up with. But while many assumed that pressure came from her Mouse House upbringing, "realistically, it probably came from me trying to be my father's perfect daughter," Cameron reasons. 

"It's not always about my career, you know? I was trying to be the innocuous, easy to speak to, never getting in trouble, always doing what everybody wants me to be doing, people-pleasing daughter who was heterosexual, heteronormative,” she says. That was the person she was projecting in middle and high school, so when she started being on camera, "that's just who I was when I showed up. I didn't want to change it — because people are very critical whenever you make a change." 

She's spent the past couple of years doing what she terms "intense trauma work" and undergoing a vulnerable — at times painful — journey to finding her authentic voice, both artistically and personally.

"I stopped dating men. I came out. I dyed my hair. I had many, many, many mental breakdowns where I realized I couldn't keep living the way I was," she says. "I reached a point where I realized I literally wasn't going to survive if I was going on like that."


[Photo by Jordan Knight]

AFTER DROPPING "BOYFRIEND" last February, Cameron and her label, Columbia's Disruptor Records, decided to remove all of the music she had previously released as a solo artist with them — including the single "LazyBaby" and her 2019 EP Bloodshot / Waste — from iTunes, streaming platforms and YouTube. 

She didn't dislike those songs, she says, but creating them felt like "pursuing a degree that I didn't want because I thought my parents would love me." Unlike her new music, her older songs, even those she co-wrote, weren't drawn from her personal experiences. "I didn't know myself or love myself enough to write about anything real because I didn't have access to those parts of me," Cameron says. "And I hated myself, so even if I tried to, I'd be rejecting it."

Scrapping her past work was a drastic move that she doesn't regret, though it won't happen again. "That was a one-time thing. It was a huge come to Jesus situation," she says. "And I really hope my fans can respect that."

Now, she only writes music about her personal experiences, and her impending debut album is shaping up to be "way less pop" than even the new tracks she's released recently like "Boyfriend" and "Breakfast," with "much more of a '60s, throwback feel" in line with the inspiration for her latest single, "Girl Like Me," a POV-flipped reimagining of Edwyn Collins' swinging 1994 anthem "A Girl Like You." The original Collins track found a new generation of fans, including Cameron, when it was featured in a scene in the 2003 film Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle that reveals Demi Moore's character is actually a mastermind villain pulling all the strings.

"As a 7- or 8-year-old, my mind was on fire trying to process it," Cameron says. "That scene was very tantalizing, realizing that women could be the ones in power and the scary ones that all men are afraid of." 


[Photo by Jordan Knight]

Cameron has always felt a special kinship with villains, even before she played the daughter of Maleficent in Descendants. She describes herself as having been "a very dark, intense child" who saw herself in thorny, often queer-coded characters like Edward Scissorhands, Jekyll and Hyde and Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar. Obviously, not in the sense of longing to harm someone or commit a violent crime, she stresses, but more in "the concept of these villains having once been the protagonist, and then something happened, and now they're forever chemically altered. They're powerful and dark, and they have nothing to lose."

Outside of her mainstream music career, musical theater has been a near constant in her life. She previously appeared in an LA Opera production of The Light in the Piazza with Renée Fleming, played Amber von Tussle in NBC's Hairspray Live! and co-stars in the Apple TV+ musical anthology series Schmigadoon!, in which she'll play an entirely new character in the upcoming season 2 that's set in the "Schmicago" world of '70s and '80s musicals. While she's technically still a coloratura soprano, she's decided not to maintain the "monastic" lifestyle that type of voice requires to preserve, and the thought of doing a Broadway show eight times a week anytime soon makes her "want to curl up on the floor and die." 

Kristin Chenoweth, who originated the role of Glinda in Wicked on Broadway and played Cameron's mom in both Descendants and Hairspray Live!, has acted as a mentor over the years. And in 2019, she named Cameron as her dream successor to play Glinda in the long-awaited Wicked film adaptation. It seemed a natural fit, one that Cameron previously called "the role of a lifetime." But it didn’t happen. In November 2021, Ariana Grande announced she'd won the part instead. 


[Photo by Jordan Knight]

When asked if she went through the Wicked movie audition process, Cameron laughs and says, “Did I sign an NDA?” before confirming that, yes, she did audition, and no, she can’t talk about it.

"Yes. There was a very long process for, I think, more than just me last year or two years ago, maybe," she says. "It happened, yeah."

And no, for those speculating, dyeing her hair brunette a few days after the casting news was not a response to losing the part.

"I just was done," she says. "When I was blond, I was being that person for everybody else. When I dyed my hair, I felt like I was reclaiming myself as the person that I always have been. I think a lot of people want to equate that to roles or ex-boyfriends or girlfriends or some kind of branding ploy. No, babes. When you dye your hair, it changes how you feel about yourself. I'm just like everybody else in that way, and I just had to make a call."

She could still wear a blond wig to play Bubbles in The CW's live-action Powerpuff Girls series — a project that has been marred by a scrapped pilot, cast exits and the network’s shifting priorities — but asking if she's still attached to that show elicited a similarly cagey response: "I don't think I have permission to talk about that."


[Photo by Jordan Knight]

Her focus for 2023, she says, is on putting out her album and working on various movie projects that have been delayed by her hectic music schedule. She's also always dreamed of going to school to study fashion and creating her own line, a passion fostered by growing up with jewelry designer parents and spending countless hours in showrooms and on cutting room floors. She'd love to get other academic degrees in political science and the history of religion. And she's finally in the process of making that long-awaited move to New York. 

Basically, she's still a work in progress. "I think that your journey to finding yourself goes until literally the day you die," she says. "I'll be doing it forever."