Nessa Barrett, in the weeks following the release of her debut EP Pretty Poison, is gearing up for the ultimate “pinch me” career moment — two back-to-back, sold-out headlining shows at the Moroccan Lounge in Los Angeles. The attendees who were fortunate enough to land tickets will see the tracks on the EP performed for the first time, but the upcoming dates don’t quite feel fathomable yet to the budding star hitting the stage.
“I had no idea what to expect. I don’t know how anyone would want to see me singing, but it’s honestly amazing,” Barrett tells EUPHORIA. “I just know that because it sold out so fast that the energy at those shows is going to be unreal, and I can’t wait to perform for them to give them the show that they wanted. It’s going to be the first one ever that anyone’s ever seen me, so I think that’s crazy.”
While it might come as a surprise to Barrett, it doesn’t feel so shocking to anyone who has watched her rise. Her lead single from the EP, “i hope ur miserable until ur dead,” accumulated more than 31 million streams after hitting a viral note on TikTok, with two other EP tracks (“keep me afraid” and “grave”) also joining the millions club, with 2.8 and 1.7 million streams, respectively.
Though her already massive listener base feels likened to that of an established star, Barrett is still finding her footing in the music industry, particularly in the explosive dark pop/pop-punk space, which naturally comes with some nerves. Barrett, however, is grounded in security when it comes to her debut. “I used to get so nervous about performing, but now I’m at a point where I’m looking forward to it,” Barrett explains. “And that feels really good.”
And Barrett is coming out of the gate ready to bare it all. Pretty Poison is a heart-wrenching and, ultimately, a tell-all body of work about the toxic relationship that led to what she now considers her “happy ending.” She is emotionally beyond the events that the body of work chronicles, and performing the tracks in the shoes of her “past self” might take some of the pressure off of wearing her heart on her sleeve while performing live.
She also recognizes the magnitude of support in the audience of these shows. These crowds are likely to be filled with authentic, connected fans of Barrett’s, creating a safe space for her to explore her bounds as a live musician, a writer, and an artist, more broadly. “I could be scared because of how vulnerable I was with the EP but at the same time, if I was going to be vulnerable with anyone, it’s going to be with the people that have made me who I am today,” Barrett says.
Prior even to the announcement of these live dates, though, Barrett had already been thinking about what Pretty Poison meant for her as a human being, ready to move on, and an artist, ready to begin an era. Where she landed after the EP was somewhere in the middle of that; while she has definitely closed a door on the moment of her life that Pretty Poison chronicles, releasing the EP ultimately propelled her into her next body of work.
As an era, Pretty Poison serves exclusively as a debut, but there wasn’t a need to second-guess whether it was the right first move.
“As a new artist, I think something like releasing an album is so exciting, and I was always excited to have a big body of work to release to the world,” Barrett explains. “But when it came to if I was going to do an EP first rather than an album, it was almost obvious which one it should be … I knew what my album was going to be about and the story that I was going to tell with it, but I wasn’t at the place to tell it yet. There was this story that I did tell with my EP that I was ready to move on from and to share my truth with.”
Though Barrett might not relate to the songs anymore — some carry raw lyricism that feels microtuned to a cathartic moment in time while she was writing — it still felt therapeutic to release them into the world after getting some time with them on her own. A piece of what makes Pretty Poison a truly impressive debut is Barrett’s ability to both feel the pain of the experiences intensely while also introspectively understanding that they are just that: experiences.
But as mature as her ability to work through her trauma with music is, it couldn’t negate the fear that came with putting the product of that into the world — at least, at first.
“It was kind of hard because it came from a place of being very vulnerable, and all the songs are just so personal to me,” Barrett says. “Being able to sacrifice that and having it out for the world to hear was kind of hard, initially. But I was able to have it made up in my mind that, more than anything, this is art, and I’m going to share with the world and that’s kind of what helped me.”
Healing beyond that narrative was always intended to be the scope of the project. “Now when I think about it, all I see are these amazing songs,” Barrett explains. But it was the EP’s title, which was tattooed on Barrett prior to the work’s conception, that came just after the story. From there, it was essentially a domino effect, propelling Barrett into lyric ideas, song title brainstorms, strategies for ordering the track list.
Then came the music.
“I just kind of wanted my emotions to be heard before anything else and I wanted people to pick up on that more than anything,” Barrett explains. “And whenever I hear a sound or something and we choose to put certain things into the production, it all has to do with what type of mood that I’m in.”
It’s precisely that process that led to the “moody” final product, as Barrett describes it, and it already varies from the music that put her on the map, to begin with. “Pain,” her debut single, was a soft ballad that provided a glimpse into Barrett’s croony vocals, but when compared to “sincerely,” the last track on her EP with a similar sound, Barrett sounds like a different artist entirely. She no longer needs to prove that she can do it; now, she is showing everything she can do as a vocalist but, even more prominently, as a lyricist.
Much like “Pain,” other Barrett singles like “counting crimes” and “if u love me” didn’t make the cut for Pretty Poison’s track list. The move was not only intentional but necessary for Barrett as she wanted to ensure that the EP focused solely on finding closure for the story she was trying to tell — she even assembled a writing camp to create specifically for what would become Pretty Poison.
The first glimpse into the product of that vision was “i hope ur miserable until ur dead,” which led the charge to bring Pretty Poison into the world. An instant hit, the song chronicles the feelings that come after betrayal. Barrett sings, “I hope you never fall in love again / I hope you be yourself and lose your friends / I hope they call you out for shit you said / I hope you’re miserable until you’re dead,” not quite ready to close the door on the pain the other individual caused but hoping to condemn them to the same harm they caused her.
If its reception is any indicator, it was the clear pick for the EP’s first single.
“I just thought it was an amazing song. The second that I heard it, it was one of those ones where everyone in the room was like, ‘This is a hit,’” Barrett explains. “I was able to put that one first and it wasn’t going to spill the story that the EP was telling. That song, in general, was just about the feeling of being angry and being betrayed, and that happens to the best of us and it sucks and I know a lot of people would relate to it.”
“I hope ur miserable until ur dead” may have been the first impression of the EP, but it is far from the biggest takeaway. Barrett says the title track, “pretty poison,” is most representative of the entire project, while tracks like the second single “keep me afraid” (I’m in the corner of your cage / Mascara running down my face / The door is open but I stay / You think you can keep me in, keep me afraid) and “grave” (You’re my deep end / Keep me breathing / I held on with glue / The only thing keeping me out of the grave is you) tell some of the most heartbreaking anecdotes from before and after the breakup that would ultimately alter Barrett’s course.
The project’s concluding song, however, includes a special note from home — though, at the time, the individual providing it didn’t know how crucial it would be to the personal nature of the EP. Barrett explains that the voice note that concludes Pretty Poison on the track “sincerely” is none other than her mom. At the time, Barrett was recording a phone call in real-time; her mom had no idea that she was being recorded, and Barrett didn’t know how, or if, the note would be used.
But she knew how important her mom was to the process, and that was enough for her to make the final cut.
“I love her so much, and I thought that that would be the perfect closing for me because she really was the one person that helped me get through all the terrible stuff that I’ve been through,” Barrett explains. “What better way to show that in my song than to have her on it?”
Whether Barrett was singing in her bedroom or getting distracted in class because she was writing songs in a notepad when she ought to be taking notes on a lecture, Barrett explains that her mom was always proud — really, no matter the circumstances. That piece of home makes Barrett’s growth feel even more personal, making the imminent journey feel like growing up with a friend. Pretty Poison, really, is just the beginning.
Oftentimes, it’s crucial to establish “who you are” as an artist from the get-go, preparing audiences for consistency, a sound they will come to expect. But Barrett isn’t ready to solidify who she is sonically just yet, and the divergence of her musicality has already begun as she works on her first full-length album.
“This EP, artistically, is where I want to go. But the thing is that I’m always growing and I’m always changing,” Barrett says. “I feel like I found my voice, but I’m always trying to find a bigger voice for me … I can already tell the significant differences between the EP and the music that I’m working on now for my album. It’s really different and crazy, but you can tell that it’s all me.”
And while it’s exciting to show who she is right now (and even more thrilling to consider what the future of her music looks like), Barrett is constantly thinking about the path that takes her onward and upward — particularly when it comes to her young adult years.
“I am excited that I get to grow a little bit before releasing my debut album, which was kind of the plan,” Barrett remarks.
Barrett seems to have a rather clear understanding of the growing pains in her past (and those still to come). While the last year has certainly been life-changing, she knows that it isn’t life-defining, and she brings to the table the kind of self-awareness required to shape her early adult years largely within the music industry.
To Barrett, the answers don’t need to be front and center — but while she searches for them in the midst of a bustling music career, she wants to ensure she’s using her platform for good.
“I honestly struggle with who I am myself. I’m still kind of questioning,” Barrett says. “I feel like I’m just chasing this sort of persona to finally figure out who Nessa is. But I realized that I can’t find it.”
Barrett continues, “I just want to be a voice for the voiceless. That’s really it. All I am [doing] is using my voice when it comes to my music and like these songs, and I just want to be able to speak up for those that you know, can’t themselves. And that’s really it. That’s who I want people to see me as, rather than just a face or a popular figure. I just want to be the person that’s amplifying their words and [letting] everyone know that we’re all in this together.”