Lala Hayden

Lala Hayden: 'My intention now is to find ways to add value'

Ahead of the release of her debut solo EP Girl Becomes, Lala Hayden speaks to Al Greenwood about mental health in the music industry, and redefining her purpose.

  • By Al Greenwood
  • 18 Apr 2023
  • min read

When it comes to mental health in the music industry, the statistics paint a terrifying picture. Research last year found that 73% of independent musicians struggle with mental illness. And though on the surface we have seen a growth in initiatives to support musicians, and a cultural shift societally towards greater openness, I believe there is a massive distance yet to go. In my own life, despite being acutely aware of the importance of openness and visibility in this space, it’s not something that I have ever spoken publicly about. 

This culture of silence that I’ve actively partaken in operates to further isolate those really struggling at the edges. It was Lala’s Instagram account that forced me to confront my own behaviour, through her brutal honesty about the journey she travelled and challenges she faced. You might assume Lala the pinnacle of success – careers in modelling, television and then a record deal with her own band, but she evidences that everything isn’t always quite as it might appear. 

Though it’s been a few years since we shared a festival bill I was chuffed when Lala agreed to speak to me. It turned out to be one hell of a catch up, and quite the cathartic one! Aside from the exciting prospect of new music, every woman in their twenties needs a proper chat with Lala Hayden.

When discussing mental health and the industry, one issue that arose immediately was financial instability. ‘You're expected to be making art and records 24/7, but at the end of the day we all have rent to pay.’

'Everyone's too scared to be honest... no-one can let the barrier down and acknowledge what they're going through.’


In addition to this there’s a complete disconnect between ‘success’ and financial remuneration, and pervasive need to hide your reality – ‘I know people who have a billboard on Times Square and yet they're working bar jobs to get by... But the perception is so different’. She continued, ‘then for women, I feel like there is this extra layer – you've got to wear different clothes, look the part. Everyone's too scared to be honest – we’re all pretending and sort of trying to climb up to someone more successful – no-one can let the barrier down and acknowledge what they're going through.’

And yet against all of this, Lala is speaking out. She is open and honest to an almost radical extent. One of the most perfect expressions of this was in her assessment of the industry at large: ‘When you look at the industry, it's mostly white men settings centred around alcohol’ – I found this painfully accurate, and laughable. Yet the humour quickly evaporates when these same drunk men hold complete influence over your career. Added to this is another fundamental issue; music is powerful because of its ability to connect with people – predominantly through shared experiences. Yet Lala expressed the inherent challenge when you’re exploiting artists' vulnerability and placing them in an ‘industry based on drinking’ – where gigs can be paid in alcohol, and the basic assumption is that everyone involved will be boozing – including those supposedly managing the situation. The negative impact of this culture of drink is unsurprising given that alcohol is a known depressant.

'It’s not difficult to identify the fundamental tensions that underwrite this dual demand for human vulnerability and Tik-Tok soundtrack. These issues become further accentuated when you’re a woman.'


Lala also spelt out how as artists we are told to ‘create from the heart’ – the art is contingent on your emotional sensitivity, and sometimes trauma. But that is then commercialised and packaged as a product for marketing and consumption. It’s not difficult to identify the fundamental tensions that underwrite this dual demand for human vulnerability and Tik-Tok soundtrack. These issues become further accentuated when you’re a woman. Lala noted that the industry needs greater representation ‘right at the very top’, and recalled strikingly bleak early experiences of the industry.’The amount of meetings I went on that turned out to be dates [and] the number of inappropriate messages from A&Rs and producers,’ she said. It's easy to draw parallels between the objectification Lala suffered and broader pressures facing women. ‘I think it's like 75% of women are struggling with either body issues or food issues – so the normal thing is to have some kind of issue,’ she said. Lala explained how feeling a lack of stability in her life and career led to her seeking this in other areas of her life, and her own complex relationship with food. Heartbreakingly she recalled, ‘I couldn't control what else was going on. So I just wouldn't eat because that was for certain something that would go my way.’

It was against this backdrop that Lala was striving towards her childhood dream with Anteros – she ‘sacrificed everything in pursuit of putting an album out. And… somehow believed this was going to resolve all my issues – “I'll be happy when I put an album out”’. Lala was featuring in a Netflix film with the band at the time, and reflected on the period; ‘I was on set every day living this surreal dream, having my makeup done next to Rachel McAdams, but the reality is there was nothing else in the diary…  I was barely eating, my relationship was crumbling like everything around me.’ At this point that she started volunteering at Crisis in Finsbury Park – she described leaving the set in the morning and going straight to volunteering, and how ‘that really gave [her] a lot’. She recalled fondly, ‘it was the start of something because I felt so alone’

When Anteros’ album finally did come out Lala experienced her ‘Saturn return’. She finally realised that she was reaching a breaking point and had to take time away from the band, Lala described being ‘in a toxic relationship with myself first and therefore everyone around me’. She went on a silent retreat, did 300 hours of yoga training and didn’t write a song for two years. Instead, she focused on reconnecting with herself and her body. Through her journey Lala began coaching other women online. Eventually, having taken so much time away from music, her new project emerged. ‘I just started writing and writing and it all started pouring out,’ she said.

 ‘Suddenly something unlocked  and was just able to come out.’

In contrast to old management who advised that she would need to start lying about her age, Lala triumphantly described how the new project gave her complete freedom to be a ‘crazy bitch’ and approach her work in her own way – integrating her new sense of self into her music and approach as an artist. 

I wondered how viable it was for Lala to maintain this new mindful way of living as she re-engages the world of music and album cycles and whole label teams focused on social media, and if it’s possible to establish healthy boundaries in an industry where you as an individual is the product. She shared heartening routines of yoga mornings before days in the studio, and employing breathwork and mindfulness when recording the final song of the EP, Woman, which enabled her to ‘be the vehicle.' Gesturing to her chest, she relayed how ‘suddenly something unlocked here and was just able to come out.’

Lala reflected how content is an inevitability but there are authentic ways of engaging with these platforms. ‘I just can’t see me doing face to camera TikToks about my day-to-day, but actually I love podcasting,’ she said. She spoke about incorporating the coaching work she’s done with girls and women. And in terms of boundaries, she stated ‘I don't show my relationship online. I did it with my ex and I regretted it.’

My natural tendency is towards cynicism. I find it hard to have a straight-faced conversation celebrating the replacement of light lager with breath work in the studio, yet as I approach my late twenties, and begin my own experimentation with sobriety, I am increasingly excited by this move toward transparency. Lala shared finally her own sense of privilege to have had the time and freedom to experience the journey she did. She reflected, ‘my intention now is to find ways to add value’. She spoke about creating spaces, recording meditations, podcasts, cultivating community.  As our conversation came to a close, I felt bolstered by the potential for a new approach to a career in music. I was certain there was so much more to learn from Lala’s journey and experience, and luckily much of this might be found in her EP Girl Becomes