Lauren Sanderson knows how to express herself. The medium may change, but the core identity never wavers. Building up a fan base on YouTube, Lauren recorded covers and inspired thousands through motivational speaking. She hosted her own Ted Talk and spoke professionally before transitioning into music full-time. Soon after, she released the EP Spaces independently which reached number one on the charts. Now signed with Epic Records, Lauren looks to channel her unapologetic persona on a wider scale.
“My Dad asked me to be honest with him,” says Lauren. “He told me that he would love me no matter what.” Lauren Sanderson, a 22-year-old hip-hop singer-songwriter, came out to her father on a road trip from her hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana to Pennsylvania. Lauren had been dating a girl long distance for six months under the guise of friendship. “I told my parents that we were just friends,” she says.
The summer following Lauren’s junior year of high school, she and her father drove ten hours to meet the girl she had been dating. “We had never met in person, and neither of our parents knew how we felt about each other,” she says. Pulling up at the house in Pennsylvania, Lauren saw her girlfriend for the first time. “I was so nervous, we didn’t speak for three hours,” she says. “My Dad knew something was up.”
In that moment, Lauren opened up to her father then slowly came out to the rest of her family. “My mom said she already knew,” she laughs. Lauren had not always embraced her sexuality so transparently. She waited until she felt comfortable and then told others. “I was blessed with an accepting family,” she says. “I’ve never had to feel like shit about myself.”
Soon after, Lauren came out to her fans on social media. She had amassed thousands of followers by singing covers on YouTube. In 2011, she posted her first cover of ‘Someone Like You’ by Adele. Lauren continued to craft her own renditions as the views piled up.
Two years after her first cover, Lauren hosted a meet and greet at a Taco Bell in Michigan. “Only four girls showed up, but I still felt scared,” she says. “I walked through the door and they were holding quesadilla wrappers and black sharpies asking me to sign.”
Just Love Them
As she tightened the connection with her fan base, Lauren started speaking motivationally on her YouTube channel. “I didn’t expect anything to come of it,’” she says. “I just wanted people to know that they weren’t alone.” She sat in front of the camera and exposed the most intimate details of her life to millions of viewers. Opening up on family, sexuality, and vulnerability, Lauren received messages from followers saying things like “you helped me come out” or “you saved my life.” Her words empowered her peers. “I always recognized myself as a storyteller,” she says. “I never told people what to do... just explained what I was going through.”
Graduating high school, Lauren planned to attend Indiana University to pursue a degree in psychology. Realizing the effect she had on her fans, Lauren opted out of college to reach audiences as a motivational speaker. TEDx Talks invited her to speak on the generational unity between parents and their children. On stage, she read letters that teens who felt disconnected from their mothers and fathers had mailed her. These teens wrote Lauren messages on intimate topics like depression, anxiety, and anorexia. Raised by parents who instilled a positive voice, Lauren enlightened adults in the audience on the power of inspiring confidence in their children.
Approached by parents and teachers after the talk, she started to speak at schools and local events. After one month, Lauren ended her career as a motivational speaker. “I couldn’t curse,” she says. “I couldn’t tell the whole story.”
Face To Face
Lauren instead laid words over a beat and transformed her message through music. She released her debut EP, Center of Expression, in the summer of 2016. The project gained significant traction and she embarked on a 20 city tour. Lauren hopped in a rental car with her manager and best friend to perform across the US. Venue capacities ranged from a few dozen to a few hundred. She played one of her earliest shows at a wrestling arena in Dayton, Ohio. “It was so real, so human,” says Lauren. “Over two hundred people showed up...I gave them every ounce of energy I had.” The audience screamed for three minutes after she sang her last lyric.
At all twenty stops, Lauren held meet and greets. She listened to stories from fans and hugged them as tears streamed down their cheeks. “The face to face meet-ups reminded me to keep my original message in the music,” she says. “I remember the feeling when I saw people singing my words for the first time...this is it, this is what I want.” Lauren listens to J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and other hip-hop storytellers to inspire confidence. “Fans were plugging in headphones, listening to words that I wrote, the same way that I listen to J.Cole...that’s when I knew I needed to stay connected.”
After the tour, Lauren began working on her next project, Spaces. She recorded the entire EP in her bedroom closet. An independent release, Spaces shot to number one on iTunes. Epic Records, a subsidiary label of Sony, called Lauren the next day. Epic manages a prestigious lineup including Meghan Trainor, DJ Khaled, and Camila Cabello. The label flew Lauren out to LA and asked her to sing an acoustic showcase. Rocking a black tee, shades, and a black bandana, she belted her original version of ‘Written In The Stars.’
Signing soon after, Lauren embarked on a partnership rooted in creative control with Epic Records. “The biggest challenge was making sure I could still be 100% myself,” she says. “I’m a control freak when it comes to my art.” Epic would allow her to freely create and stay true to her already deep fan base.
You Don't Have To Feel Alone
Before Epic, Lauren had much less time in the studio. She wrote and responded to every email, even creating a fake manager account to secure venues. Designing clothes and taping up boxes, she shipped every piece of merchandise with the help of family and friends. “Once I signed, all the business stuff went away,” she says. “The label [Epic] told me I had to let go and just be the artist. They needed me to create and trust my team, which took awhile...they were patient with me.”
This past March, Lauren released her label debut ‘Written In The Stars’ featuring PnB Rock, a hip-hop/R&B artist from Philly. PnB Rock’s verse adds another shade to the song Lauren originally released on Spaces. Earl Saga, a London-based producer, made the original beat. “At first, I wasn’t going to put ‘Written In The Stars’ on Spaces,” she says. “A friend told me to add the song, and I did.” Epic wanted to re-release 'Written In The Stars' as Lauren’s label debut. She worked with the producer FKi 1st to harness a new vibe for the while still honoring the sound of the original. They opened up a slot for a feature, and PnB Rock called a few days later. “PnB was so sweet and cool,” says Lauren. “He laid down crazy lyrics that fit perfectly within the melody...I was like fuck yeah that was easy.” Lauren released a music video for ‘Written In The Stars’ alongside the single. Sam Lecca, who has worked with Avril Lavigne and P!nk, directed the video. “Sam sent in a treatment that I loved,” says Lauren, “It emphasized lighting, reflections, and different angles.”
Initially, Lauren envisioned a detailed storyline, but the final product channeled more of a vibe than a story. “It didn’t have a beginning, middle, and end, which is okay,” she says. “Some videos are meant to tell a story, others are meant to tell a feeling.”
Never shying away from her own feelings, Lauren has carved a unique style in LA. Back home in Indiana, others have flashed dirty looks at Lauren for tattoos, dating women, and listening to trap music. On the West Coast, those same traits blend into the norm. She never holds back her style and connects with others who create unapologetically. Recently, Lauren connected with a fan named Brennan (@forgetbrennan) over Instagram. “I looked at his page and saw that he makes music, produces, and shoots photos,” says Lauren. “He was a true creative...I respected his look.” The next day, she picked up Brennan and drove to the beach. They skated, made folk music, and held a photo shoot. “We found out we had a lot of mutual friends,” she says. “We’re homies now.”
This past April, Lauren struck poses in a different type of photo shoot for the international fashion magazine Cosmopolitan. This also happened to be her first on-camera interview. “Clothes really define who I am as an artist...I wear a lot of men’s clothes,” she says. “I thought they [Cosmo] were going to make me wear dresses and makeup.” Lauren pulled up to the shoot and saw racks of men’s, baggy clothes. “Cosmo let me wear my own shit,” she says. “I wanted other girls to see me feel that it’s okay to dress masculine.” For Lauren, clothes reflect her mood. She doesn’t overthink style. “I like colors that pop...same color sweatsuits, sweatshirts with accessories,” she says. “I fuck with the one color outfits.”
Lauren has always matched her mood to the wardrobe since the days she started rapping over instrumentals. In high school, she queued up beats and spit verses from the backseat. Not long after, she uploaded her first track to SoundCloud. Lauren channels that high-energy, freestyle mentality in her upcoming project. “I used to limit my volume and talk more quietly to match other people’s shit,” she says. “Now, I embrace that energy.”