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 Lauren Sanderson: The Former Motivational Speaker That Became a Self-Made Star

Lauren Sanderson: The Former Motivational Speaker That Became a Self-Made Star

Sound and Vision: Lauren Sanderson

Lauren Sanderson is featured in our 'Sound and Vision' series in the June/July issue, where we're showcasing 12 trailblazing queer musicians shaking up our summer. 

Photography by Daniel Seung Lee.Hair: Iggy Rosales at Opus Beauty. Makeup: Mikayla Gottlieb at Opus Beauty.

Until very recently,Lauren Sanderson was the definition of a scrappy upstart. When she first began pursuing a music career, the R&B singer would email venues under a fake name, pretending to be her manager. She'd also handle her own merchandise, sending out hundreds of packages a day, and mail handwritten responses to fan letters, many of them from queer youth across the country. This often took her away from studio time and the creative process -- but she doesn't regret a minute of it.

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"All that stuff -- messaging venues, taking Greyhound buses, planning my tours -- helped me to better understand how much work goes into this," Sanderson says. "I know what's possible, because I've done a lot of it myself."

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These days, the 22-year-old artist not only has a real manager but a deal with Epic Records, which signed her after her second independently released EP, Spaces, caught the attention of an A&R manager there. However, music wasn't always the plan. Growing up in Indiana, Sanderson dreamed of being a psychiatrist. After delivering a 2015 TEDx Talk titled "For God's Sake, Just Love Them" -- about her coming out and how parents can foster a relationship of mutual respect with their children -- she started giving motivational speeches at local schools and quickly cultivated an online following for her inspiring YouTube videos. But the need to be relentlessly positive eventually weighed on her. "That's when I started sitting in my car for hours by myself, writing raps and poems," she says.

On her forthcoming, as-yet-untitled album, Sanderson is less interested in championing positivity than she is in empowering people. The distinction she makes is slight, but crucial: It's the difference between forcing optimism and allowing yourself to feel all your feelings. "For a long time, I think I was obsessed with helping people stay happy, and I still believe in that," she says. "But it's also OK not to be positive sometimes. It's OK to be human."

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