Music Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Meredith O’Connor of Metamorphosis Records Is Helping To Change Our World

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Impacting young fans absolutely has a ripple effect on society, but impacting the entire system as a whole, an industry that pumps out new artists almost every week, to see some of the major players behind artists begin to support anti-bullying advocacy on tours, in songs, in campaigns, etc. was really rewarding.

As a part of our series about music stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Meredith O’Connor, an international pop sensation, recognized as iconic for her anti-bullying activism. Her advocacy has impacted the lives of millions and has positively shaped the music industry. After going viral in 2013 with her first breakout single, she soon after became a trailblazer for utilizing her newfound fame to speak against bullying. Since then, she has packed out theaters on two world tours, and most recently spearheaded a partnership with The National Alliance on Mental Illness uniting some of the most prominent name’s K-pop, Afropop, and other recording artists from all different parts of the world. Through the release of the star-studded single, “You Are Not Alone” Meredith O’Connor has begun to share experiences in her life and music career that led her to create this campaign.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

Of course, I’m happy to be a part of this. I grew up in New York, as a hyperactive, creative and theater-loving kid. Lots of factors growing up set me apart. Many do not know that I was diagnosed with ADHD and OCD. That involved a lot of experiences where I thought my challenges in the early education system meant I was not smart, but later learned that is not the case.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Many know I am an activist for anti-bullying. However, some may not know that a lot of the experiences involving me getting bullied in elementary and middle school were exacerbated by challenges I faced in academics because of my learning style as well as mental health obstacles tied to OCD. ADHD and OCD were not generally understood by the public, so I was doing not really understand it either growing up and was at risk for low self-esteem. However, the fact that I was creative and was able to excel in theater and music during my childhood launched the beginning of my passion in entertainment. I was so used to seeing my peers be “better” at many things than me, but the first time I was onstage, I was (I think) 8 years old and auditioned for a variety show in a community theater. I was given a solo spot and sang Defying Gravity from Wicked during the show. Hearing that I had a talent, and stood out, in a good way was life-changing. I became immersed in local theater productions, school shows, etc., and having that skillset got me through some very dark times. Through this, in high school, I was discovered by a modeling agency. Once I began modeling, I was discovered and signed to a music label.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?

Hm. Okay so here are two. My best friend Ari and I grew up sort of obsessed with the movie Napoleon Dynamite. There was this Lionsgate film that Garret (Clayton) and I did English dubs for. We both were in the break room and Jon Heder, the star of Napoleon Dynamite was right there. No one in the room knew of my history growing up constantly quoting his lines and I still cringe over the fact that I tried to not to fangirl and let what could have been an awesome conversation on the appreciation of Napoleon Dynamite slip away.

One of the funniest (looking back) was one of my first cameos in a film which was shot shortly after my music began to take off, and I decided to swim to my hotel after shooting. The film was shot in the Bahamas, and I had the wonderful opportunity to work with a production company locally based in the Bahamas that worked with representatives of their ministry of tourism. The beaches and locations were jaw-droppingly beautiful, but I finished filming six hours before my costar. This was right before Uber became a thing and our car wasn’t going to be there for a while, so I explored the beach and asked one of the vacations Jetskii tours if they could literally drop me off in the part of the ocean closest to my hotel and they did. I swam off the excursion and then swam to the hotel. Once I told the film crew and my costar, they all found it really funny but were surprised and apparently looking for me. I will always remember that experience so fondly not only because of the people I got to meet and how new much of the industry was to me at that time.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

I would encourage anyone who is looking to emulate this path or line of work to keep in mind that creating new paths requires digging. Exploring unchartered territory involves being brave at times. However, no matter how hard it may feel to find your way when creating a new path, you will have paved a new way for others to follow. Many adversities and obstacles that we have to overcome end up becoming what sets us apart, or what the world needs. I would say the most important advice is to not feel ashamed of your differences, but embrace them, because in that you will find your strengths. And in your strengths, you will find the ability to persevere through more than you know.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid” -Albert Einstein. Growing up as a creative and insightful person with ADHD who was almost exclusively evaluated on my ability to concentrate in class (where I struggled), academic challenges combined with bullying and mental health disorders were internalized into myself concept. I did not know what I was capable of. At times, I thought I was stupid. I was so fortunate that I became aware of my talents in the arts. That really did keep me going and motivated to conquer mental illness as well. I am so passionate about fans, kids and students all over the world who were or are primarily evaluated on their weaknesses also. I think it is imperative to society, and children who have different unique qualities, to build self-efficacy in areas they are strong in.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Absolutely. My parents truly have been there for me in ways that changed my life multiple times growing up. Several other people in my family have played roles in guiding me towards recognizing my potential, but my mom truly is an angel. She is someone I look to as a moral compass (both of my parents are) and my mom has literally been at my side through the darkest of times, never giving up by encouraging therapy, reminding me that I can get better, and is continues to encourage me to stay on top of my mental health.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

Of course- I recently partnered with The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to launch the international campaign “You Are Not Alone”. The notion that other pop stars connected to my message from all over the world inspired me to create a song that could hopefully amplify this message that things get better to fans in parts of the world like India, Argentina, to Nigeria and Ghana. Some of the biggest artists from different regions of the world coming together offered representation to fans from different backgrounds, who face different stigmas against mental illness. The pandemic also added another layer of feeling isolated and disconnected, but at the same time, it opened up the opportunity and idea to work with artists from all over the globe. I think it kind of symbolizes the message altogether, how when you think you are alone, no matter how scary it feels, you are not and there is hope.

Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?

I would have to say me feeling isolated in middle school. Getting bullied while having OCD (sometimes getting bullied FOR having it because few people then understood what it was) made something that was challenging even harder and terrifying as well because I did not know what was going on inside my mind. That inspired the first line of the You Are Not Alone song and accompanying that our label launched around it as well.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

So after going viral with my first song, many industry executives advised against being an advocate for anti-bullying, because it had not yet been done really, and no one at the time could have anticipated the response it would get. However, I am grateful to few people in the industry that supported this new path. Anytime a new path is created, you need to dig, but it allows others to follow, and in this case, many did. I felt like it was so healing for myself as well to learn that all these years of believing that I was this outcast, I really was just battling something that many others did as well, and that there was treatment for. I did not want anyone to ever need to feel that way, because some kids are not as fortunate as I was, i.e. Some kids may not know of therapy or have access to the care needed to get better. With that being said, I think education on a macro scale about not being alone and possibilities for hope is so important to reach children who may otherwise feel at risk of low self-esteem.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Other than the fans who have changed my life with hundreds of thousands of letters, countless words and gestures demonstrating how they related to experiences that I once believed I faced alone, I would have to say other artists who have reached out to me inspired by the message of my work. Impacting young fans absolutely has a ripple effect on society, but impacting the entire system as a whole, an industry that pumps out new artists almost every week, to see some of the major players behind artists begin to support anti-bullying advocacy on tours, in songs, in campaigns, etc. was really rewarding. Knowing that we took a risk on a new industry model before things like anti-bullying advocacy was as widely circulated as we see today, influenced the structure of labels and how executives see success for up-and-coming artists allowing for this work to continue to be supported behind the scenes, and in turn, to the fans, who need to hear the message.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

I believe that partnerships with different facets of the education system around the world are crucial to my mission in supporting kids who feel left out, different, and bullied. I find that on tour, those types of partnerships whether governmental or private are so impactful because kids learn about their self-worth in school. Are you good at math? English? Science? If yes, you are “smart” if not, you may be told otherwise. Schools and administrators open to the ideas of neurodiversity and appreciation of different ways kids develop, learn and function is the beginning of how society can truly model bullying prevention.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I am thrilled to announce that I have already begun the conversation of a program development nationally to address the education of poorly understood mental illnesses at key points in a child’s life.

Although this is slightly unrelated to my work thus far, I hope to one day launch a movement promoting animal welfare. Many know my story, but the role that the positive relationship with pets and animals had in overcoming many of my challenges is great.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

Yes, I love the conversations held on this platform and would love the opportunity to connect or chat with many of the other entrepreneurs including Matiss Ansviesulis, Gemma Toner, Marc Cuban and more. I love reading about the work of other people who found success for creating a new idea, because many children who are original and unique face criticism for it growing up, so having role models of others who succeeded by being creative and innovative is so important.

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!

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Edward Sylvan CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group
Authority Magazine

Edward Sylvan is the Founder and CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group Inc. He is committed to telling stories that speak to equity, diversity, and inclusion.