Dia Frampton: The Voice runner-up's essay details sexist career struggles
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As she nears age 30, Dia Frampton, former frontwoman of indie rock band Meg and Dia, has written an emotional essay in which she admits that, after nearly two decades of performing, rampant sexism and ageism in the music industry around her has taken a devastating toll on her once uninhibited ambitions.
“A year shy of thirty, I feel like I might as well be fifty when it comes to women in the music industry,” her Cuepoint essay, titled I’d Get to the Top of the Mountain if It Would Just Stop F—g Growing, reads. “If we’re not in our teens or early twenties, we’re pushed aside and put on the shelf.”
Frampton, who found minor success in the early 2000s with songs like “Roses” and “Monster,” reveals she was sleeping in a van, washing her hair in public restrooms, and crashing on the floors of strangers as she toured with her band, until a fateful audition landed her a spot on the first season of NBC’s reality competition series, The Voice, in 2011.
“I was almost 22 years old, living in a dump in New York City with nothing but a mattress on the floor and a fold out lawn chair… Meg and Dia had just recorded a record, Cocoon, which cost us all our savings from tour and didn’t do very well on iTunes,” she writes of her life before appearing on the show. She eventually finished as the season’s runner-up, behind the series’ first winner, Javier Colon. “During the interviews [on the show] I would speak in great lengths about my band and our record out on iTunes, but when the editing folks got a hold of it, I was suddenly the ‘children’s book author from Utah,’ and that was that. That was my story apparently. So, whatever, I just wanted to sing. But I was terrified. I had performed my whole life, but I had always performed with my sister. Now I was alone. On stage, in front of millions. Alone.”
Frampton adds: “I always tell people that if it had been season two, and I had seen the show, I never would have gone on. Not because it’s a terrible show — on the contrary, it was a lovely show and I made some amazing friends — but, reality TV was just never my way. Competition in music was weird to me. Being judged by every move I made was new to me. My manager told me to audition for this ‘show.’ ‘I’m not sure what it is,’ he said, ‘but you might as well. What do you have to lose?'”
The 29-year-old goes on to cite her time on The Voice as the breaking point for Meg and Dia, which disbanded after Universal Records agreed to sign only Frampton to its roster of artists. Still, she recorded her debut “solo” album, Red, with top producers (Toby Gad, Greg Kurstin, busbee), featured artists (Blake Shelton, Kid Cudi), and members of Meg and Dia. The album performed moderately well in Asia, though it peaked at No. 106 on the Billboard 200. She was later dropped by Universal, and her relationship with her sister (and longtime collaborator), Meg, suffered.
“My heart and soul went into that record, but it just so happens that my heart was half full and my soul was drained and missing something even though I didn’t know what it was,” Frampton writes. “A weird fog came over me. I stopped caring. A year passed. Another year. Another year. ‘In the studio,’ I’d Tweet. ‘Writing session today in Venice,’ I’d Tweet. But who cares really? Did I? I was a washed up, bitter ex-musician who used to have a future.”
Frampton admits that, between recording a new album with producer Daniel Heath, Bruises, due out in early 2017, she now works as a server at the Grand Central Market in Los Angeles.
“Here, behind the counter filling up the ketchup bottles, I just [feel] like a total failure,” she writes, noting the pressure of working a day job to support herself weighed heavily on her career as a musician. “I’d go to the studio for writing sessions and feel like a second hand coat. I had a big producer straight up say, ‘Oh, s—t. You’re 29? I didn’t know you were THAT old…you look younger. You’re trying to put out a new album? That’s tough. Good luck.’ The thing is…he didn’t say that with malice. He said it in a matter-of-fact way, because in a lot of ways, with how the industry is, he’s right. I went in recently for a studio session with a producer and new artist. She was only 16, just signed, and ready to go out and live her dream! The producer introduced me to her since he’d been already working with her for a long while. ‘This is Dia. She’s here to help you write lyrics. She used to be an artist too so she knows what it’s like.’ The ‘used to be’ made me cringe. It still does.”
Still, Frampton’s essay doesn’t inspire a pity party as much as it celebrates the spirit of an artist determined to explore her craft no matter the cost.
“In the end, I’m just a small town girl from Utah who loved to sing. And that girl is somewhere inside me still. I can feel her trying to get out and it breaks my heart… The damn mountain I’ve been trying to climb keeps f—g moving. I can’t keep up anymore. I’m tired. I just want to tell stories. I just want to be someone’s soundtrack. Put me on when you’re alone. I know how it feels. Put me on when you’re in love. I know that feeling too. And put me on when some one breaks your heart, because I’ve been there. When you’re happy, I’ll feel it, too,” she writes. “Come on Dia! You can do this, silly girl! You love this s—t! You love life! You’re working at it…you’ll climb that mountain.”