If Natasha Bedingfield had an affiliated word bubble, you’d probably find such terms as perky, sunshine and empowerment. It wouldn’t be wrong. Those vibes are precisely what made hits out of “The Hills” anthem “Unwritten” or the unshakable earworm “Pocketful of Sunshine.” They’re the type of songs most of the world expected of her. She accepted that long ago.
Yet it’s darker material which comes more naturally to the 37-year-old pop star. Nine years since her last album, she releases her deepest project yet, “Roll With Me” today (Aug. 30).
“It definitely touches on some deeper and more social issues,” Bedingfield tells Variety. “As a pop singer, often you’re just entertaining people or singing things that are uplifting, and discouraged from being political. But having done this for so long with a microphone right in my face, I feel like I’ve earned the right to talk about stuff that really matters to the world — or to me. And, how can anyone with a heart write something that’s true without touching on some of those issues right now?”
Social and political climates weren’t the only changes informing Bedingfield’s music since 2010’s “Strip Me.” She and her husband of 10 years, Matt Robinson, welcomed a son, Solomon, nearly two years ago, and she says motherhood has further ignited an urge to be more vocal and help inspire positive change.
Although Bedingfield has been in the studio for much of the last decade — working with the likes of Bebe Rexha, Nick Carter and Lifehouse — she felt something was missing from her own music and it wasn’t until Linda Perry called that she truly started to conceive a full-length collection of new songs.
“I was on a major label my whole career and feeling creatively stifled, because when you’re with one team for a long time, sometimes they have a certain idea about who you are,” she says, explaining how Perry noticed her struggling to deal with “a lot of businessmen” while fully nurturing her creativity. Perry invited Bedingfield to We Are Hear, an empowerment-focused label, management and production house which the former 4 Non Blondes frontwoman co-founded with Kerry Brown.
Perry says bringing Bedingfield onboard was a “no-brainer,” as was the singer’s creative desires. “Natasha is a deep feeler,” Perry says. “She wants to have purpose — she needs to have purpose. Singing about rainbows and unicorns is not where she wants to shine. Her intentions are to heal not pacify.”
Bedingfield’s need to get more serious is evident in tracks like “Hey Papa” which kicks off with the line, “Kids and guns, starting out so young.”
“It’s basically saying, ‘Where are these metaphorical male figures we’re looking for, like dads or gods, to fix stuff?’” she explains. “Obviously the hero is me and you, but we’re looking to all these people outside ourselves during this weird time, when you turn on your phone and it’s like, ‘What bad thing happened while I was asleep?’”
The U.K. born, New Zealand-raised star also explores female empowerment in “No Man I See,” declaring never to let a man “play me down like they’re better than me,” or “make me feel like they’re stronger than me.” Says Bedingfield: “As a woman, we often have people telling us who we should be — trying to ‘protect’ us from disappointment by telling us our limitations and it’s just bulls–.”
It’s something she has experienced in her own career and seen others go through, like her former co-writer, Rexha, who recently posted on Instagram about having a male executive declare she’s getting too old to dress provocatively at 29. Bedingfield was quick to comment, calling out such “bullsh–.”
“I’ve had someone say the exact same thing to me and I never knew 30 was supposed to be old!” she says. “That’s not even half your life. When I turned 30, people would say stuff to my face, but I was like, ‘I feel great!’ I enjoy being experienced and I feel young because I’m always trying new things and feel like a beginner.”
Trying new things is something Perry helped nurture when it came to “Roll With Me.” In the studio, that meant reminding Bedingfield not to overthink things, writing in the daytime instead of at night so they could be home to put their kids to bed and penning every track with a simple piano or guitar melody, adding production later to ensure every song was good enough to be performed acoustically.
Says Bedingfield of Perry: “She’s known for taking people out of their comfort zones and bringing out a new side to them, so she really took me to a different place and I felt a new kind of freedom having one producer do the whole album. She gets a vision for something and she’s pretty determined! Every musician who works with her ups their game.”
Sonically, it’s not all somber, though. Some of Bedingfield’s songs remain energetic and upbeat, spanning catchy pop numbers like “It Could Be Love, sweet reggae number “King of the World,” and gospel-influenced “Wishful Thinking.”
Things get more melancholy as she questions the future in “Where We Going Now,” but beyond such messaging, the main goal of the album was to make for a fantastic live show.
“I’m not the kind of artist who likes people sitting down – it makes me think something’s wrong!” she says. “I was thinking of people like Marvin Gaye, who would talk about stuff in a way where it wasn’t a downer. It still made you feel good and like there’s hope. The key for me is whether I feel good making/singing singing it and it definitely feels good to express some stuff and have the full spectrum of emotions on an album.”
Bedingfield ultimately hopes that her new tracks will gets fans on their feet as much as favorites like “Unwritten,” which has found new life thanks to MTV’s recent revival of “The Hills.” Originally released in 2004 from Bedingfield’s album of the same name, the track became the theme song for the popular MTV show in 2006, earning the singer her first top 10 hit in the U.S.
For the series’ reboot, “The Hills: New Beginnings,” she re-recorded her vocals and gave the song an dance beat-enhanced makeover — again, with the help of Perry.
Says Bedingfield: “‘The Hills’ has a whole generation of people who were just glued to that show,” she says. “It really has a lot of meaning to people and I love to be able to celebrate and honor that. And I feel like a song is like a person – it has a life of its own, especially one like ‘Unwritten.’ Once it becomes a hit, it’s not yours anymore. It takes on different forms and meanings to people. It’s so fun when I see P. Diddy at his daughter’s graduation and they’re singing ‘Unwritten’ to him. I love that!”