Nessa Barrett Reflects on Writing 'young forever' and the 'Hardest Year' of Her Life

young forever, Barrett's debut album is out now

Nessa Barrett
Nessa Barrett. Photo: P Mastro

For Nessa Barrett, the making of her debut album young forever was an exploration of her struggles and an opportunity for her fans to feel less alone.

Barrett — who is also a content creator and widely known for sharing her feelings with her audience online — took that rawness to the next level with the release of her debut album Friday.

During the writing process, the "dying on the inside" singer was at her worst. In August, she revealed on TikTok that she had been released from a psych ward three weeks prior.

"It's not anything that should be glamorized. It was terrible, traumatizing and hell for me," she said at the time.

In young forever, Barrett wrote as she fantasized about a life that was opposite of hers: "[It was] hell, so I was dreaming about heaven."

PEOPLE caught up with the singer-songwriter to talk young forever, how she's coping since the death of her good friend Cooper Noriega and how she finds light after darkness.

Nessa Barrett
Nessa Barrett. P Mastro

Nessa, take us back to your writing process for young forever. What did it look like?

The album actually took about 14 to 16 months to write. That was the hardest year of my life, and I was battling a lot with my mental health, probably more than ever. I've dealt with it since I was a kid. I was surrounded by a lot of people, but I felt really alone, and I just felt like I was living in my own hell. So I wrote this album as therapy, and that's why there's a lot of heaven aspects within it, because I was fantasizing about the opposite version of my life. I was dreaming about heaven.

What do you hope that your fans take away from this?

I make music to show people that they're not alone. I feel like everyone that supports me, we're a community of people that are struggling constantly. I think that's the beauty of it all, is that we collectively feel alone. But the biggest thing that I want people to take from my album is the fact that I'm such a big mental health advocate, and a huge influence on a lot of people, but I don't have all the answers. I really don't have any answers. That's why I'm being so vulnerable in my music, to show that. I'm just like everyone else, and I go through everything like them. I'm still learning and growing.

You've always been open about your mental health on social media and now even more so through your music. What motivates you to share?

Nessa Barrett
Nessa Barrett. P Mastro

I've been doing music since I was a baby. When I was doing social media in the beginning, I hadn't shown people that I did music but everything that I would write came from me — and that was therapy for me. When it came time to actually release music and it became my official career, I didn't want to change that. I didn't want to take that away from who I am. When I'm writing songs, it's mostly for me. It's like a diary, in a way. And I'm just trying to let everything out, and figure out all of my emotions.

Before young forever's release, we got to see a little bit of that through "die first," "dear god," "tired of california" and "mad house." How have you felt about the fan reception?

Sometimes they make me want to cry, because I'm just so blessed that people are able to appreciate my darkest moments and all of my dark thoughts. I'm very open, and I'm very honest. And even though it's kind of scary for me, because I do share a lot of things that I wouldn't tell a stranger, the fact that they accept me, and then I also know that they related, just means the world. It makes me feel less alone as well. So they honestly help me just as much as they think that I'm helping them.

Earlier this week, you shared a TikTok dedicated to your late friend Cooper Noriega, sharing that his favorite song was "die first." How have you been coping since his death?

For three months I was struggling really bad, and I went away. I basically felt like I wasn't alive, and I was very unmotivated. But I feel like this month, I've really tried to just get my head straight, and just focus on music, and the album, and really make sure that I'm busy. That way I don't really think too much. But therapy helps too.

Has this made the album release emotional?

I was telling my manager, 'Even though I'm so excited for my album to drop, I think I might be single-handedly the saddest person that drops their album.' I will be so sad the moment that my album drops. And I don't think anyone on earth would be as sad as that, but it's genuinely just because he was supposed to be here for it. And I know he would've been so excited. But it gets really hard, and I don't think that there's ever going to be a day where I can ever be comfortable with it, or fine at all. I just have to keep reminding myself to live for him. He was right by my side during the entire album process. He was driving me to the studio, picking me up. He heard the very first rough cuts of every song, to the final mixes. So he basically heard everything, other than the outro.

Why did you decide to go with "lucky star" in the end?

It feels like a light but it's also kind of an acceptance of the darkness at the same time. It's realizing that everyone will always find their way and that there's always something to grab onto to still have hope. But we really can't control the outcome of certain things. I could pray every night, and it still wouldn't change reality, even if I wanted to. I think that wraps up the whole album, because, during the process of writing it, it was me finding myself and trying to find faith. [I was] trying to do whatever I could to stay alive, because I genuinely got to a point where I was so terrified of what I could do or what would happen to me. There was a moment when I didn't even think I would be here or would be able to finish the album.

What is something that brings light into your life at the moment?

I feel like I have such an amazing group around me. My best friends are amazing. And my manager, Bree, who's not only my manager, but she's kind of like my mom, at this point. They're so amazing, and I feel like they've really been such a huge support system for me. I f—ing love my therapist. She's been great. And honestly, just music itself. I've been playing the piano a lot, painting and trying to be creative in a lot of different ways. It has brought me so much joy when I need it.

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