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Jayden Bartels reveals a side nobody sees

"I'm bubbly and crazy. I have so much energy," Jayden Bartels says with an ear-to-ear smile. Then suddenly she drops the sunny expression. "But everything I do, I take very seriously. Like way too seriously." 

Judging by her sparkly social media presence and comedic TV roles, you might think 15-year-old Jayden is just a happy-go-lucky girl living under extraordinary circumstances. But the Los Angeles native swears that behind her carefree image, there's a fiercely ambitious side her fans never see.

Take one look at the way she's sprinted to fame in the past few years and you'll get a sense of just how hard Jayden works. After bursting onto the scene with a viral musical.ly video in 2016 (she currently has more than 7.5 million followers on TikTok, which musical.ly merged with), Jayden has amassed some 3 million Instagram followers and 700,000 subscribers on YouTube, where she posts videos featuring everything from pranks to song performances. Not only that, she's scored roles on Disney XD's Walk The Prank, Nickelodeon's Nicky, Ricky, Dicky, and Dawn and currently Disney Channel's Coop & Cami Ask the World

But even with all of her social media followers, Jayden hopes to be known as more than an influencer. "I want to be a well-rounded performer," she shares.

And she's well on her way there: Jayden—who idolizes Zendaya and would love to star in a movie like The Greatest Showman—has been taking musical theater, dance, songwriting and acting classes from the time she was 8. And even though she was born and raised in L.A., Jayden's parents never imagined she'd pursue performing full-time. Jayden's mom is a yoga teacher, her dad fixes computers and she has two older brothers, neither of whom are in entertainment.

"My mom said if we were living in a different state and I wanted to do this for a living, she'd just say no," Jayden says (her mom, Yvonne, seated right beside her, nods in confirmation).

Jayden actually had to beg her parents to let her take dance class and post videos on social media. But once her musical.ly took off, her parents couldn't help but get involved.

"Even if something is a joke, we're going to give it 100%," Jayden says of her family. "So, when I did musical.ly, it was just for fun, but the videos we did were so produced." 

Jayden put her dad to work on lighting and her mom on filming, costumes and choreography. "I was making 12 videos a day," Jayden says.

A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Jayden's work ethic is seriously intense. This year, she started home schooling to keep up with dance, vocal lessons, writing and performing music, posting on social media and squeezing in time with her friends and boyfriend, 16-year-old actor Armani Jackson.

And that doesn't even count long days on set filming Coop & Cami (her character, Peyton, brings the LOLs with her quippy sense of humor) and countless auditions. ("I'm going out for roles with darker characters now," she shares. "I'm crossing my fingers!")

Acting aside, Jayden also is an accomplished songwriter who already has released her first EP, What Really Matters?—a collection of deeply personal, somber ballads she wrote herself. "I've been writing my whole life...poems, stories...I just love it," she says.

While Jayden comes by her perky persona honestly, she says she has a #sadgirl alter-ego that comes out in her songwriting. "I can't write a happy song for the life of me," she jokes.

Inspired by songwriters like Clairo and Grace VanderWaal, Jayden bases all her lyrics on her real-life relationships and heartaches. ("Though sometimes I exaggerate a little bit," she admits. "It's like the movie version of what really happened.")

Like Taylor Swift, Jayden's breakup songs keep fans guessing. When she sings "you can just run to her, that's fine/I'll just take my trophy for second in line," in "Second," you can't help but wonder if she's referring to her ex-boyfriend and fellow musician Connor Finnerty.

In her song "The Group," Jayden sings about a real-life "toxic friend group" she was a part of (and exposed in a recent YouTube video titled "why I hated myself").

In the song, Jayden references a clique of so-called "friends" who shamed her about her social media image. "Basically in this friend group, it's not cool to do YouTube and social media," Jayden explains. (To them, it's cool to be on a TV show or achieve fame in some other "mainstream" way.) Those judgy opinions finally got under Jayden's skin this year and made her not want to post online anymore. 

"I hated myself," she shares. When she'd go back and watch herself on YouTube, those bad vibes made her see herself in a new negative light. "I didn't like how I came across. I thought I was cringey, and I still struggle with that," she says.

It wasn't until this fall that Jayden consciously decided not to let those toxic opinions sway her—and embraced that she truly loves posting on social media.

Writing song lyrics about the experience is part of what helped her see the light. "A lot of people expect my music to be pop, mainstream, happy," Jayden says. "But it's so different than that. It's a way for me to step away and pour out my feelings." 

Perhaps she'll be writing some more upbeat songs next, considering she and Armani just celebrated their first anniversary as a duo. The couple often spend their limited free time making adorable videos together (gotta love a bae who happily participates in "my boyfriend does my makeup, blindfolded" and "who knows who better?" vlog challenges.)

What's ahead for Jayden? She promises more music is coming. But not until it's up to her sky-high standards. Jayden admits to struggling with insecurity when it comes to singing. "A lot of people don't know this," she confesses, "but the reason I didn't put out music for a whole year and instead just took vocal lessons is because I hated my voice." 

Jayden still gets "incredibly nervous" to release music. But she tries to remind herself she's not alone. "Every artist is hard on themselves," she continues. "Clairo said in an interview, 'I hate the way I sound, but I like the lyrics.' I've never related to something more." 

Meanwhile, Jayden is looking forward to taking a break and chilling during the holidays. She'll spend time with Armani and will road trip with her family to the mountains. (Jayden says she prefers playing cards and roasting marshmallows over skiing black diamonds...#relatable.) Her family, which celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas, plays the gift exchange game White Elephant—and, just like Jayden's social media videos, they take that a bit too seriously too, always clamoring to end up with the best gag gift. "Our family is so competitive," she shares with a laugh.

As soon as the new year comes, however, it's back to business for Jayden, who's genuinely at her happiest while working and performing. "I feel like right now my life is a really good balance," she says through an optimistic grin. "The hustle is real." 

This story originally appeared in the December/January 2020 issue of Girls' Life magazine.

Images: MANICPROJECT.

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by Amanda Montell | 1/16/2020
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