When Alyson Stoner decided it was time for her to come out publicly, she didn’t quite know what to say. She knew that she wanted to live her life openly and truthfully to who she was, but she felt the pressure trying to share her message love and truth with an audience.
“I had all the puzzle pieces ready to go, and it was just a matter assembling them in a way that I thought would best communicate my struggle,” Stoner tells Billboard. “It's essentially like you're writing a paper for debate class -- you have to be prepared to speak to every side, and know their point view better than they know it, and read through things more than they ever have. It's empowering.”
But the actress, dancer and singer ultimately found a way to convey that message through a powerful essay written for Teen Vogue. Stoner painted a crystal-clear picture what it felt like for her to fall in love with a woman for the first time, while also detailing the conflicting reality that came with being simultaneously queer and spiritual.
Along with her moving revelation, Stoner released an original song titled “When It’s Right” about the girl she fell in love with, saying in her essay that the song was “the first painting a vivid new world I now call home.” Now, Stoner is venturing deeper into this radiant landscape with her new single “Who Do You Love,” a thumping hip-hop-infused anthem self love and freedom.
Stoner has been in the entertainment business since she was six years old. Starring in films like Cheaper By the Dozen and Step Up, along with a bevy Disney Channel television shows and a number mainstream music videos, the triple threat learned throughout her career that she was craving the approval those around her, who she says had her playing “second fiddle” in their projects.
But after a number wake-up calls, including one that landed her in the hospital for exhaustion (“You're on bed rest for 40 days, like not even walking,” she recalls), Stoner realized that she needed a change. “I made the decision that if I was going to stay in this industry, I was going to re-approach it and reposition myself. ” she says. “I don't rely on it, but I do see it as something that I can wield because I know it better than most. You have to turn it into your superpower.”
Part that repositioning meant opening herself to the world with her coming out essay. But that wasn’t something that necessarily came naturally -- Stoner says that she knew publishing the story her first female love meant that she would be facing criticism from multiple communities, including the Christian one that she grew up in. But Stoner says that to this day, she is still deeply in touch with her own spirituality.
“I just wasn't willing to throw it all away, especially if the foundation what I was trying to learn with my faith was love,” she says. “I really had to figure out how to reconcile love...so I took more the cerebral route, and that helped me because that's how I am. I analyze everything.”
Stoner says she’s happier now that she feels she can share her true self with others. But the singer points out that she was able to go public with her story because she was ready to do so, and says that if any her fans are not ready and still in the closet, then that’s okay, too. “Wherever someone is at is where they are, and trying to put something new in front them is not always helpful,” she says.
After years repositioning herself, Stoner declares that “Who Do You Love” is a reclamation her own identity. “It's such a strange feeling, because it's the tightrope you walk , ‘Is this my ego? Is this my pride in a negative way?’” she asks. “No, it's actually you recognizing your value and your worth, and saying ‘What would it mean if I stepped into that on a daily basis?’”
The track has deep hip hop roots, which is something Stoner herself is relatively familiar with (one her projects as a young dancer was in Missy Elliott’s “Work It” video). But the singer says while her rap influences are 90’s icons like Nas, The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur, she had to challenge herself for this track to study more modern hip-hop in order to give the song a fresh feel. “I kind dared myself to go outside my comfort zone and say, ‘Look, if what you've been doing before wasn't getting you where you wanted to go, then maybe it's time,’” she says. “So ‘Who Do You Love’ was actually the first song that we wrote in this new vein music.”
The singer says that she has enough written music for five albums at this point, but she wants to ride this moment and let her fans revel in her uplifting messages joy and self-affirmation. Plus, she adds, “I'm still commercially aware, at heart, that if no one connects with the story, then now it's just me venting. I want my music to be venting for the masses.”