Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Fletcher on Illness, Healing and New Album ‘In Search of the Antidote’

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A
t the end
of her spring 2023 touring run, Cari Fletcher knew something was wrong. She felt deeply run down — and it wasn’t just the usual aches and pains of life on the road. The singer, who performs as Fletcher, went to the doctor and learned she had Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that can cause debilitating fatigue and neurological complications. It can also result in inflammation and damage to the nerves in the voice box — meaning Fletcher was faced with the terrifying prospect of being left permanently unable to sing. “There were many, many, many moments over the last year where I was not sure if I was going to return to music,” says Fletcher, who turns 30 on March 19.

By the time she was diagnosed, Fletcher had established herself as one of pop’s most versatile stars. She can pen a heartbreak ballad or craft a raucous dance hit and have tens of thousands sing the words back at her. She doesn’t shy away from the controversial or the confessional — this is an artist who made music videos for an EP titled The S(ex) Tapes, with the ex-girlfriend the EP was about. She can talk spicy (“I just had sex with my ex/In a New York apartment/Ooh, I thought it’d be harmless)” and be the topic of conversation up and down your For You Page. Suddenly, she worried it might all be over.

Fletcher shared her diagnosis on social media and postponed a run of shows overseas. Marquee letters came down. Stage lights shut off. Comments sections went quiet. Fletcher became a recluse. “I noticed all the other things that got really loud in the time that I got really quiet, and it was the darkness that was in my own mind,” she says. “I had to sit with ‘Who am I without the applause? Who am I without the analytics and the numbers?’ It brought a lot to the surface about self-worth and my beliefs and my gifts and my talents.”

“Sometimes,” she adds, “I feel like we have to be confronted with this idea of losing everything to be able to really step into what it is that we actually want.”

Fletcher moved home to New Jersey for treatment, posting up in her childhood bedroom. A typical day for her this past summer started with a hot-girl walk by the soccer fields on which she grew up playing; maybe a bike ride by the inlet; some meditation, some journaling, and a lot of checking in on how her body was feeling.

But as she slowly healed, her songwriting picked up. She packed all the complicated feelings into an album that comes from Cari, the person, as much as Fletcher, the pop star. In Search of the Antidote, out March 22, is an ode to all of the forms of healing Fletcher has gone through in the past 12 months. “My mom would cook us spaghetti and meatballs,” she says of being back in Jersey. “We’d go home, have some pasta, and shoot back over to the studio to keep creating.”

The artist known for singing about her rock-star lifestyle and heartbreak-numbing libations now has a different focus and aura. The day after the Grammys, Fletcher sits at a booth in a cafe behind the Hollywood Hills sipping a peppermint tea, manifesting a nomination for herself in the future, and reflecting on some of the most vulnerable times in her life.

Born in Asbury Park, New Jersey, raised on Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen (“He’s molded so much of the way in which I write”), and knowing she wanted to sing from a young age, Fletcher found her voice after she ditched piano lessons and dove into Broadway show tunes instead. “My piano teacher at the time was just like, ‘Cari’s not really getting “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”’ I think we should try singing it for this recital,’” Fletcher says laughing. “I would put on shows in the basement, and I would shove my brother in tutus and dresses and he would be my backup dancer.”

Fletcher attended the Clive Davis Institute at New York University and released her first EP, Finding Fletcher, in 2016. In 2018, she signed to Capitol Records, and a few months later released “Undrunk,” which has racked up more than 170 million Spotify streams. Her debut studio album, Girl of My Dreams, followed in 2022.

In Search of the Antidote is full of raw emotion, teetering from extreme confidence (“You’ll never fuck somebody hotter,” on “Ego Talking”) to despair (“If you’re moving on, I’ll still lie to myself,” also on “Ego Talking”) and touching on everything in between. On the album’s scalding, sarcastic opener, she wonders if she’s ruining her own life by lashing out at everything she loves; on the warm closer, she finds a sense of peace. Sprinkled in are crisp ballads and Avril Lavigne-esque alt-pop-punk self-described “bops”. The focus is healing, but it’s not all love and light from here on out. There’s still a healthy dose of mess.

“It’s the most chaotic I’ve ever been, and it’s the most healed I’ve ever been,” Fletcher says of the album. She keeps her word when it comes to chaos. On “Doing Better,” she sings about an ex’s new girlfriend, who was also the focus of her 2022 hit “Becky’s So Hot.” The singer kicks off the second verse of the new song with “Your girlfriend never thanked me/For making her go viral/Fuck it, I’m her idol.”

OUTFIT BY PARIS GEORGIA. BOOTS BY ACNE STUDIOS. BRA: AGENT PROVOCATEUR.

Fletcher says she wrote In Search of the Antidote “from my ego, from a place of jealousy, from a place of hope, from a place of joy, from a place of making fun of myself” — themes that manifest themselves on “Maybe I Am,” the first song she wrote for the album. “You say that I’m a crazy bitch/I’m sick, I’m permanently numb/You say that I’m a narcissist/As if I haven’t heard that one,” Fletcher sings.

“It’s a song about all the things I’ve read about myself on the internet or all the things that I’ve been called, whether that be by strangers who don’t know me or the way that things are perceived,” Fletcher says.

She wrote the album’s lead single, “Eras of Us,” after running into that same ex (whom she calls “one of my greatest loves”) during a stop on Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour at MetLife Stadium. It was tough to see someone with whom she had so much history, but she knew a song would almost certainly come from the experience.

Speaking of Swift: Fletcher says she’s one of the greatest songwriters of all time (favorite albums: 1989 and Folklore), and the love is mutual: The two connected after Jingle Ball in 2019, when Swift said she was a fan of “Undrunk.” “She had mentioned to me how much she loved the lyrics,” Fletcher recalls. “And I nearly fainted and passed away at that moment.”

Fletcher, a champion of sexual fluidity who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community, winces at the idea of labeling her sexuality. “Identifying with a certain label feels constricting to me,” Fletcher says. “I love women, and women are beautiful, and they’ve been my muses. But I have found a lot more freedom in the expansion of releasing the idea that I have to be something all the time.”

“If somebody had to put a label on me of queerness … but even that, it’s just … I don’t know. I just am. I just am.…” She trails off. Her tone is mildly exasperated as she looks for the words to describe the energy she feels around those who inspire her songs. So what makes a Fletcher muse? That, the singer is eager to talk about. “I have a lot more muses than people think I do. People think that songs are just about one specific person,” she says with a hint of pride. “Someone who makes me feel something on a cellular level or someone that just shifts me in a way that I can’t not write about … somebody who’s broken my heart, somebody whose heart I’ve broken, somebody who I had some sort of exchange with or somebody I kissed.…”

All of the muses have come and gone, however: Fletcher says she is single, a state she finds confusing, beautiful, lonely, uncomfortable, stressful, and freeing. It’s also given her time to reflect, adjust, and most of all, heal. “I want to be a better person and a better partner in all the things for all relationships: friendships, romantic, platonic, whatever they are.”

Fletcher is still getting treatment for her Lyme disease, noting that it’s a long process and involves constant check-ins and a ton of listening to her body. She’s leaning on a support system that comprises family and friends — including Miley Cyrus, who Fletcher linked up with when the two performed sultry renditions of “Becky’s So Hot” and “Midnight Sky” on Cyrus’ New Year’s Eve television special. “Her heart is so big, and she just gives so much presence and attention, and listens to you,” Fletcher says of Cyrus. “I feel really lucky to have her energy and her presence in my life, and also the ways that she lifted me up.”

These days are a lot quieter for Fletcher. She vows to play the long game — one that’d be impossible living the life she was living in 2022. “I think there was an era of me that was just so uninhibited and wild and crazy and just tequila shots after shows and just embodying this rock & roll lifestyle being on the road,” she says. “And I just had this moment where I’m like, ‘I want to do this for a long time.’”

After our conversation at the cafe, Fletcher pays up front, hugs me goodbye, and walks out the door. Once she’s out of earshot, a couple of waiters look her up on Spotify and one plays “Becky’s So Hot” from his iPhone. In the viral hit, Fletcher sings, “She’s the one I should hate/But I wanna know how she tastes.” It’s a messy girl anthem — the kind of mess Fletcher continues to heal from but hasn’t completely shunned just yet.

“My life used to be signing boobs and tequila shots,” Fletcher had said as she finished her tea. Still, the chaos isn’t gone. Sure, she drinks less and listens to her body more, but…

“I’m still signing tits. That’s not changing.”

Production Credits

Hair by CLAYTON HAWKINS at A-FRAME AGENCY using DOVE. Makeup by LILLY KEYS at A-FRAME
AGENCY using BEAUTY PIE. Styling by MARC ERAM at A-FRAME AGENCY. Photographic assistance by DOM ELLIS. Production Manager: MIABELLA CHAVEZ. Photographed at DAY GLO STUDIOS



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