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When Dove Cameron sat down to write “Boyfriend,” the 26-year-old singer-actor thought no one would ever hear it. “It was my first foray into trying to write for myself,” Cameron tells Variety. “I was like, ‘I just want to write a song that I know no one’s gonna hear, just for me as an experiment.’”

Then Cameron teased the demo on TikTok, and it went viral. Released on Feb. 11, “Boyfriend” quickly became a queer anthem, with its bold chorus proclaiming: “I could be a better boyfriend than him/ I could do the shit that he never did.” The track came to dominate mainstream formats as well, reaching No. 2 on Top 40 radio and No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. And with an MTV VMAs new artist win under her belt, Cameron — who won a Daytime Emmy Award in 2018 for her dual role as the eponymous characters in the Disney Channel series “Liv and Maddie” — is now generating Grammy buzz for that same category.

Below, Cameron discusses the success of “Boyfriend,” using her platform to speak on politics and her blossoming acting career.

You’ve had a crazy year with all the success of “Boyfriend.” What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

It’s been really wild and kind of hard for me to wrap my brain around. We wrote that song in an hour and a half, recorded it once. That final vocal that you hear is the vocal we had from four months before. And it sat in my drafts on my phone as a demo. And the label was like, “Yeah it’s fine, like keep writing.” Then it blew up on the internet and it’s still doing whatever it’s doing — it’s just a huge lesson of like, when you get out of your own way, when you get out of your own head and when you write for yourself, you’re really writing for everyone.

Looking back, when did it click for you that you wanted to pursue a career in music?

I always knew I wanted to have a music career. Music was always equally important to me as film. I think that growing up feeling so alien and so other and so unlike the people around me and a total freak — like, I always felt like I was a total outcast and I wanted so badly to connect with people. But the places I felt the most seen and the most heard and the most felt were when I was watching movies or listening to the radio. And I moved to L.A. with my mother when I was pretty young because I was just convinced that I was going to find my community. So when I ended up on Disney Channel, it was completely accidental. I didn’t even have cable growing up, so it wasn’t something I aimed at. And I remember when I was signing with them, I was like, “Oh this is probably a really good fit for me because they’re one of the only companies that does music and television and film.” I was like, “Wow! That’s so lucky that I would be able to have this opportunity.” And then of course, when you work with Disney you’re mostly making their music, and so I didn’t really get to have a chance to have my own independent project until I was leaving the company and it takes a while to find your voice. But I always was writing music that whole time, you just never heard it.

Why did you feel like a total outcast growing up?

I was basically just the opposite of cool, right? I feel like all the popular kids are always the ones who are super like-minded and they don’t really care about that much, they’re organized around a sport or a certain activity. And I was just like crying all the time, drawing Sharpie tattoos on me, wanting to be a vampire or a boy. I would come to school as a hundred different characters because I was just so expressive.

What are some of your major musical inspirations?

My dad was a really talented jazz pianist, so we listened to a lot of classical music. In my house, there was only ever jazz music when my dad was cooking, so the sound of something sizzling on top of jazz is like all my childhood memories. You can actually hear it a lot in “Boyfriend” and “Breakfast,” all of my music elements are made up of super classical sounds and kind of like a 1960s movement with a pop topline over the top of it. But my taste skews really big band, jazz, classical, natural sounds with sort of a dubstep blueprint.

I also grew up in Seattle, which is why I have a disproportionate love of house music and these bigger, more Soundcloud-based sounds that aren’t really that mainstream. I think there’s an assumption about me that because I was on this mainstream network that I was always a mainstream gal, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. I had to really bend into a totally unnatural shape to be on the Disney Channel. Not because they asked me to, they were always a wonderful corporation, but because I just knew that that’s what people expected from someone on that channel. I never had to kind of rediscover the world after Disney, I always was a little raver girl. I got my first tattoo when I was 14, I was in Seattle living it up in the little ArtWalk clubs every first Thursday of the month. I was always listening to Lana Del Rey and Skrillex.

How did the idea for “Boyfriend” come about?

I had just come back from [last year’s] New York Fashion Week with the exact story: I basically was joking about this situation like, “Dude, this guy was so not measuring up to what this girl deserved. Jesus, I could be a better boyfriend than this guy!” And it was just the obvious topline. At the time, Evan [Blair, producer and writer] and I were doing this movie-night thing where I would be like, “OK, tonight we’re watching Joaquin Phoenix’s ‘The Joker,’” and then we would put these different villains on this repeat visual in the studio, he would make these sonic tracks, I would bring in my topline and we would marry them. We found great success with me bringing in my book of poems and layering in this more intimate, heartbreaking concept over these huge, villainous, disturbing-sounding, masculine tracks. That seems to be our magic sauce that we’re really enjoying right now, just pairing things together that don’t typically go and finding the alchemy in the new sound that creates.

What does it mean to you, as a queer woman, to see “Boyfriend” achieve mainstream success?

Growing up, always knowing that I was queer, there were instances of queer songs being on the radio, but I don’t remember them being so indistinguishable from a song about a straight couple. I always saw queer relationships being fetishized or objectified or held in this kind of laissez-faire, male-gaze attitude, especially when it came to two queer women. And then to see people embrace it without even discussing the novelty of having a queer song — where there’s no pretense, there’s nothing about the song that makes it any different than if a man was singing about a woman [or vice versa] — I think it’s incredibly special.

The music video for “Breakfast” really calls out the hypocrisy in the overturn of Roe v. Wade. How did the idea come to be?

We had already shot an entire music video, and I was shooting Season 2 of “Schmigadoon!” in Canada when they were sending me cuts. I was in the middle of digesting the fallout of Roe v. Wade and I was really, really not good. Like I think most people were, I was really struggling to wrap my head around the fact that our rights could be taken away so quickly and we were looking down the barrel of a 50-year crawl back to getting them back, if we do. I understand the wanting to just pick up and go on when we’re in the face of such trauma, but I was having a really hard time doing that. I was talking to my label everyday, just being like, “I don’t know how to promote a pop song and a pop music video when the world’s crumbling.” I was really lucky, Ron Perry, the head of Columbia, was like, “Would you make a music video about Roe v. Wade?” And I said, “Absolutely, can I do that?” And they said, “Absolutely!”

I didn’t want to be inflammatory, and I didn’t want to be hyper-negative and I didn’t want to isolate anyone, I just wanted to hopefully evoke some empathy and understanding and just illustrate in a neutral way how ludicrous these situations really are when we take them out of the context we’re used to seeing them in. And bring people’s attention to the fact that they are used to seeing these situations, they’re just used to seeing them reversed, and how unfair it is that it falls entirely on one gender.

After winning best new artist at the VMAs, what would being nominated for a Grammy mean to you?

I can’t even believe that’s a sentence that is being directed my way. The idea of being nominated for a Grammy ever in my life is something that makes me feel so — this sounds hyperbolic, but I’m being honest — honored to be alive. Nothing means more to me than feeling like expressing authentically, as the person that I am, could merit a conversation that would end up in a Grammy nomination. That would just be mind-blowing.

When can we expect an album?

I’m working on my album right now. I’ve been going into the studio every day. I think an album is an ever-evolving thing. One day you’re like, “Here are my favorite 12 songs I’ve ever even heard in the world,” and then three weeks go by and you’re like, “I actually don’t even like half of them.” So it’s less of a due date kind of situation and it’s more of, when I know I’ll know. But I have about eight or nine new songs that that I’m feeling super confident and happy with.

You also have a busy acting career, including roles in “Schmigadoon!” and “Vengeance.” How do you balance that with music?

I barely balance it, would be my answer. But I’m enjoying it, I wouldn’t trade it. If I can be in a position where I can create things that help people feel more connected to themselves and their truth, whether that’s about their sexuality, rights, connection to the divine, anger, feelings, trauma, I have definitely done my job.

Any dream roles?

I’m a huge dystopian, action-obsessed person, which I think finds its way into a lot of my music as well. I would really, really love to be in a “Tron” movie. “Tron” is one of my favorite franchises of all time. I also love Marvel, I love anything that is incredibly underworld-y, “Matrix”-y, that’s my favorite thing in terms of what I love to consume. But I also would really love a role where I have to train and push myself to do something with my body that I’ve never done before, like dancing or something extremely disciplined. I really want to make the most out of my one human life, and I’m ready to put my body and my trauma and everything to work.

This interview has been edited and condensed.