DuJour Navigation
Dove Cameron

Dove Cameron Takes Flight

With her breakout role in Descendants long behind her, Dove Cameron tries to conquer the music business

View the gallery

Dove Cameron likes to divide the career she’s had so far into two parts.

There’s the old version of Dove Cameron. That Dove burst onto the scene a decade ago in the Disney Channel hit Liv and Maddie. She played both Liv, a teen actress who returns home from Hollywood to Wisconsin after her TV series ends, and Maddie, the tomboyish twin sister she left behind.

That Dove also starred, in 2015, as Mal, the daughter of Maleficent (Kristin Chenoweth) in the hit television movie musical Descendants. It’s one of those canonical Disney films that has influenced an entire generation of kids through two sequels, Halloween costumes and trillions of soundtracks and replays. It also turned Cameron into a household name with, yes, 48 million Instagram followers.

That was Dove Cameron 1.0. Or, as she describes it, “Back when I was still blonde, dating boys, wearing pink and smiling more.”

The new Dove Cameron—call her Dove Cameron 2.0, or maybe the real Dove Cameron—performs in operatic musical theater in London, lives on the Lower East Side, is openly queer, readily discusses her struggles with mental health and might just be the next great American pop star.

“The entire Disney thing,” as Cameron calls it, “is an old-fashioned studio network. You join when you’re a child. You keep that hair for four years. You have to freeze yourself in time. You share a brand with your characters on television. Nobody tells you that, but that’s what you do. I thought people knew that it was a brand more about the Disney Channel than it was about me.”

That Cameron was known for her music, with hits like “If Only,” but “none of those songs were written by me.”

Defining her “me” is of particular importance to the 27-year-old multihyphenate. “I experienced such backlash after Disney that I didn’t know who I was. What if I don’t want to rock the boat? I’d never been able to be myself in the public eye. Could I come out as queer and still feel safe in the world? Was I going to feel so picked apart again? It’s one of those things you can’t take back.”

But Cameron knew what choice she had to make, and she chose herself. “You can be the person everyone wants you to be and feel safer and be trapped by that,” she says, “or you can step into yourself as an energy and risk that it doesn’t work. But at least you get to sleep at night knowing you’re not cosplaying as someone else.”

In conversation, Cameron seems like a wise soul. Hollywood parties, she says, make her uncomfortable, “but there’s no secret door that leads you to nirvana and the dimension where everyone is like-minded.” Maybe it’s years of therapy. Maybe it’s learning from her mother, a poet. Maybe it’s the books about grief she likes to read. Maybe it’s the idea that she’s finally getting to be herself. Maybe it’s the years’ worth of sci-fi movies and television shows she watches on a regular basis.

Dove Cameron

“When I couldn’t find myself in the community around me, I could always find myself in music and movies,” says Cameron, who grew up near Seattle and started acting in community theater at the age of 8 before moving to Los Angeles a few years later.

Music and film have “always made me feel like I wasn’t from a different planet,” Cameron says. “I was always afraid that I could never find my people growing up. I was always on the periphery. But a sci-fi movie makes me remember how the brain works. It makes me feel the walls aren’t caving in. In fact, I have one of the Avengers movies playing right now.”

Cameron cites movies that “feel strange,” or “disturbing films that are pleasant and romantic,” as her favorites, films like Ex Machina, David Lynch’s Elephant Man, Pan’s Labyrinth and Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Those exotic worlds resonate with her. “I think there’s something really inherently human in dystopia,” she says. “I think movies about robots reveal things about humanity. There’s this dichotomy of striving for perfection but knowing that perfection marks the end of humanity.”

“I’m not pro-AI or pro-robot,” Cameron qualifies, somewhat humorously. “I’m actually a huge, huge fan of human beings. I’m very social, actually. I’m a huge cuddler.”

That’s why she moved from the West Coast to New York two years ago. “I’m a walking city girl,” Cameron says. “I like to be in the middle of everything. I have so much noise and chaos going on in my brain and my nervous system; New York City matches my energy. I can process myself here more. I don’t hate Los Angeles; I just don’t feel like my best self there. I feel like the scary person in the corner that everyone’s wondering, ‘What’s going on with her?’”

Dove Cameron

In New York, Cameron says, she rarely feels lonely. “I talk to people and make friends and I sit outside of shops and strike up conversations with strangers,” she explains. “It makes me think [about] how wonderful it is to be alive. How many humans there are still to meet. I’m such a person that feeds off connecting with humans. I love having mini romances for an hour every once in a while.”

Even though she went to high school in Los Angeles, most of her friends, at least the ones “that are on that same equilibrium wave” as she is, live in New York. Of course, when she started writing her new album, Cameron discovered that most of the music industry is based in Hollywood, which she’d just left.

“The music industry is the Wild, Wild West. What a crazy feat it is to get an album finished. It’s been such a shocking, overwhelming process,” Cameron says. “I was really naive going into it.”

That’s in part because Cameron says she did the music thing “backward.” The very first song she wrote for herself—at least the first as Dove Cameron 2.0—was “Boyfriend.” It’s sung to a female crush. Cameron alluringly sings why she’d make a better lover: “ I could be a better boyfriend than him/ I could do the shit that he never did/ Up all night, I won’t quit/ Thinking I’m gonna steal you from him/ I could be such a gentleman/ Plus all my clothes would fit.”

In truth, Cameron says of the song, “I thought it was trash. I was going to delete it off my phone.”

But her team suggested she put it on her TikTok, and it exploded. “It just took me by my hair and pulled me around the world,” she says. “My entire 2022 was chasing this runaway car that was this song.”

Cameron says that the experience was inspiring. “To see people embrace this song, to have them feel it expressed in their bodies was really emotional for me,” she says. “I thought, maybe this secret dark fantasy of being a musician is something I can do. Plus, it would be weird if I walked away after a song this big.”

After that monster hit, she had to work backward and try to develop her sound. “‘Boyfriend,’” she explains, “was a one-time experience. I had to do a lot of deep diving to find what sounds make me feel connected to myself. Everything I do comes from my personal life and my experience first.”

Dove Cameron

Even though Cameron says she “floats toward things that are melancholic,” baring her soul in writing sessions “freaked me out. I’ve always been prone to depression and contended with my trauma, but I’d mask up and wall up and go to work. Now I was telling stories about things that were very private and painful.”

The result comes in two parts; Alchemical Volume 1 was recently released. There’s a Billie Eilish quality to the music. Some of the songs are “high production bangers,” she says, “but I think it’s genreless. It’s getting back to what I would make if I could make whatever I wanted. It’s about deciding that the only person’s opinion that matters was mine.”

Though Cameron loves to support her friends and has been listening to “Olivia [Rodrigo’s] album, Taylor [Swift’s] album, Sabrina [Carpenter], Renée Rapp, Conan [Gray’s] new stuff,” she wants to keep her sound as pure as possible.

“I love what’s successful on radio, but I don’t want to start thinking about metrics or trends or what people are loving. I don’t want to get insecure about my own process. I’ve done the whole this is what people want from me [thing],” Cameron says, referring, no doubt, to the first Dove Cameron skin she shed and has left, it seems, long behind her. “I want to focus on what I want to say. What lights me up. But I’m still trying to find my voice.”

Hair: Jacob Rozenberg at The Wall Group
Makeup: Maki Ryoke
Manicure: Pattie Yankee
Producer: Mariana Suplicy
Fashion Stylist Assistant: Amber Rana
Shot at Studios by SK in Greenpoint, Brooklyn