I couldn’t even afford to pay the rent

Before she began her meteoric rise to superstardom, a life of luxury was unimaginable for the singer Anastacia. A conversation about being thrifty, her fight against breast cancer, ups and downs in the music business and the transformation of America.

Anastacia, let’s talk about money. You were over 30 years old when you got your big break. Other artists become famous at 20. Were the years before that tough?

Anastacia: Sure. When I got my record contract, I was living off unemployment benefits. I didn’t think I would ever make it. I saw myself as the artist who would never experience success. In my early 20s, I was working as a dancer when someone from the music business heard my voice, but told me that my sound just didn’t quite fit into any category. He said: “You sound like Chaka Khan, but you can tell that you didn’t grow up in the ghetto.” And why would I? I’m white. For a black audience, my voice was too white, and for a white audience it was too black.

Both your parents were singers.

Yes, but I didn’t like what they were doing. My father was a crooner, like Frank Sinatra. And my mother was on Broadway. But I liked Janet Jackson and Madonna. I just didn’t think that I could match up to their voices.

How did you earn a living during that time?

I was an aerobics teacher, receptionist, a hostess in a restaurant. As long as I could talk, I was happy. But I couldn’t even pay the rent. When I was 25, I moved away from New York and back in with my mom in California. And then I was discovered in a talent contest on MTV.

You were 30 then …

Yes, and that was the problem. They were only planning on letting artists under 29 take part. When they asked me, I said: “I’m 30.” They said: “No, you’re not.” I said: “Oh yes I am.” They said: “No, you’re not.” And then I got it. From then on, I pretended I was 29, even though I looked like I was 23.

So your career started with a lie?

Thanks for reminding me of that! It was actually other people who were responsible for the lies. That’s why I wrote the song “Why’d You Lie to Me”.

What was it like when your first album became a huge hit in 2000?

It all happened so quickly. Before that, I’d never had my hair or make-up done professionally. On my first TV appearance at the MTV Music Awards, I was standing on stage and said: “Tonight I’m wearing Dolce and Gabbanas.” I’d honestly never even heard of the label Dolce & Gabbana before!

It’s interesting that you first achieved success in Europe, and not in the USA where you’re from.

There was a problem with the record company. They messed things up with the US radio stations. I still don’t know the details to this day but the radio stations are boycotting me because they want to get revenge on the record company. Things really took off in Europe though, and then in Asia.

And that was the end of the tough times?

It didn’t feel like that when I returned to the US because I’d hardly sold any records there. So I thought that it was all a big fake in Europe and that they were paying people to big me up.

But your bank account was full.

Not at all. It took so long for me to be paid the money from the overseas sales in Europe and Asia. The fees had to be settled between different companies, and this and that (groaning)

You should have studied business before going into the music industry!

I only saw the money when my third album came out. It was surreal. They dressed me in expensive clothes, flew me around in a private jet, but my bank account was empty.

What did you buy once the money started flooding in?

I bought myself a house. That was when I’d just been diagnosed with breast cancer. I thought to myself: I have nothing. What’s going to happen to me? I was in total shock. I thought I was going to die. And then I began to fight.

After all those years you had finally achieved success – only to then experience such a setback…

I was the ultimate pessimist as far as my career was concerned. I thought nobody wanted to hear my voice. And then when I appeared on TV, I thought nobody would buy my record. When the record was selling, I thought it would be all over soon. But with cancer it was different. Right from the beginning I was more optimistic. Maybe that’s just how it is when your life is at stake. The word ‘can’ is part of the word cancer. I can.

You fought cancer for more than a year and allowed journalist Barbara Walters to make a documentary that also shows you at a real low point.

I’m usually full of energy. They told me that the radiotherapy would make me tired and I noticed it when writing my new album. And I wasn’t always physically able to sing either. It was in this frame of mind that I wrote “Left Outside Alone”. I really wanted to release the album in 2003, but I only managed it in 2004. That frustrated me. That’s my German side coming through, I wanted to be on schedule!

That album sold well but the ones that followed didn’t do so well. Has the music business changed a lot since your career began?

It took me a long time to understand the effect of computers on the music business. People were buying fewer CDs and downloading music illegally. In 2007 my manager left Sony and moved to Mercury. And I wanted to go with him. The man made me big, after all, and I’m loyal. It was a dramatic break-up. Mercury had to pay a huge sum of money for me. In retrospect, it was a good decision to leave from a business perspective. I was starting over again at Mercury. They wanted me to go in more of an R&B direction, but that’s not my thing. And they wanted me to work with rappers, which works for a lot of artists, but not for me. So many people try to persuade you to do things. I tried to make compromises, but in 2014 I started doing my own music again with the album “Resurrection”. That’s who I am. I’m not going to put auto-tune over my voice, just because everyone else is doing it.

What were the sales of “Resurrection” like?

It sold well, I don’t know the exact figures. My contracts are different these days. The record is one contract and my concerts another. After all, the record company doesn’t have to profit from the fact that I’m filling concert halls with all my old songs from previous years.

Are your concerts meanwhile bringing in more money than your albums, as is the case with other artists?

Meanwhile, yes.

Did you experience any financial difficulties when your album sales decreased?

No, I don’t usually spend a lot of money. I’m not one to part with my money quickly. When I bought my house, which I really spent a lot of money on, I was looking for a long time. I noticed that I could get a lot more for my money in California than in New York, like a pool for example, so I bought in Los Angeles. In Beverly Hills, in the ghetto.

There’s a ghetto in Beverly Hills?

It’s not really a ghetto!

But expensive, no doubt. A bungalow?

No. All I’m saying is that I have seven bathrooms. It’s like a villa in Tuscany. It’s lovely and reminds me of Europe.

When it comes to money, are you just as German as you are in terms of punctuality? Do you save a lot?

I think I do. But if you ask my sister, she would say no. When I released my third album, I decided to treat myself. I went to Bergdorf Goodman in New York and bought three pairs of shoes without looking at the price. I only looked at the receipt when I was in Australia on tour. One of the pairs cost 3,500 dollars. Straight away I called my sister and told her to take the shoes back. But the expensive pair was the one I was wearing in Australia. Oh well, I still wear the shoes to this day so I’ve definitely got my money’s worth out of them! I often take my sister shopping with me but she’s always a real buzzkill. Whenever I find something I love, she says: “Have you seen the price?”

The cancer came back in 2013 and you had to cancel an entire tour.

Yes, I’d already had a few troubles behind me, like my divorce. I had just recorded an album featuring covers of other songs and was about to embark on a sold-out worldwide tour. But that’s just the way it is.

Was the relapse more difficult for you to deal with than the first time you were diagnosed?

No. If you have cancer in one breast, there’s also a high chance of you getting it in the other one. So I had ten years to work out what I would do if the cancer came back. I immediately told the doctors: “Do a double mastectomy to rule out any more relapses.” The doctors were shocked that I was so decisive. They said: “Let’s just wait and see.” And I said no!

You went public with it again, despite once saying that you didn’t actually want to speak about your cancer diagnosis the first time around.

When it happened the first time, it was leaked by the tabloid newspaper News of the World, for whatever reason or another, so I decided to talk about it myself. This time I had to cancel the tour so I had no choice but to say something. But I was still scared, especially making the announcement that I’d had my breasts removed. One week before I had to go public with it, Angelina Jolie announced that she’d had a double mastectomy as a precautionary measure. That meant I was no longer alone.

What changes have you made to your lifestyle since having cancer?

Doctors don’t really know where cancer comes from. But 70% of cases can most likely be attributed to environmental influences and stress. I try to let in less stress these days. Even if that’s not so easy, there’s also positive stress that spurs you on. And I’m also trying to eat better.

How?

We now know how harmful pesticides are. There’s so much stuff in processed foods. The basic rule is: if you can’t pronounce the ingredients, don’t touch the product!

That must be difficult when you’re on tour.

Yes. I eat fish and almost no meat. But a lot of salad and vegetables.

What do you still want to achieve as an artist?

I’d like people to say: “Oh, she’s that singer whose songs they’re playing on the radio again!” Because that’s how it used to be in the past. I also want to write my autobiography. There are so many things people don’t know about me.

For example?

You’ll have to wait for the book!

You were a supporter of Hillary Clinton. Where is America headed after the election of Donald Trump?

Down, down, down.

People are saying it was those who were frustrated with the economy who voted for Trump because they were being ignored by the democrats.

When Barack Obama came into office, there were a lot more unemployed people than there are today. Obama did a lot for the country. Especially for the middle classes. Trump wants to reduce the tax rate for businesses. Who will benefit from that, I wonder? Trump’s voters are right-wing. In reality, his slogan isn’t actually “Make America great again”, but “Make America white again”.

Are you thinking about leaving the country?

If they reduce state benefits for disabled people, then yes I would. My brother is disabled. If the rights of gay people are restricted I would, because a lot of my friends are gay. If America becomes a totalitarian, Hitleresque place, I wouldn’t have a problem with leaving.

This article was published (in German) in the Süddeutsche Zeitung from 10.03.2017. © All rights reserved – Süddeutsche Zeitung GmbH.

Anastacia

Singer

Her parents couldn’t have given her a more fitting name: Anastacia means “resurrection” in Greek. And rising again is something that Anastacia Lynn Newkirk has done several times in her life. After stints as a dancer, she made her international breakthrough in 2000 when she was 32 years old with her debut album “Not That Kind”. Her second album, “Freak of Nature”, was even more successful and shot the New Yorker to stardom. In 2002 she was asked to sing the official song of the football World Cup and in 2003 she was nominated for an Oscar for her song in the film “Chicago”. But in the same year, Anastacia was diagnosed with breast cancer. She founded the “Anastacia Fund” to give courage to other women and contribute to the early detection of cancer. She says: “Sometimes I wonder if my purpose on this earth is to be a role model. To look at my challenges as a gift, and my voice as a tool.” With new songs she fought her way back into the music business, embarked on an international tour and embraced her creativity as a fashion designer: from 2006, several collections were released under her name for the label s.Oliver. The cancer came back in 2013 – but Anastacia beat the disease once again. The story of this extraordinary career is also told by the singer’s many awards, ranging from the World Music Award in 2000, to the Echo in 2001, 2004 and 2005 and the honorary prize of the German Sustainability Award in 2013.

As the music act at the Best Brands 2017 gala, Anastacia rocked the ballroom of the Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich with her unmistakeable vocals.

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