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Betting On Herself - Jess Meilman ‘20

Betting On Herself - Jess Meilman ‘20

Jess Meilman '20

By Andrew Faught

The words are a wrenching goodbye to a love that once was.

"So much unspoken, but nothing to say/
You left me broken, but I’ll take some blame."

For Los Angeles-based indie musician Jess Meilman ’20, the lyrics to her 2023 single, “Nothing,” are born of deep personal experience. Messy romantic breakups can be a time for reflection and healing, she says. It's why Meilman sings, especially in a world flooded by social media.

“I want to inspire people to turn inwards and really be self-aware,” she says. “We fill our lives with so many distractions that sometimes people don’t even know what they’re feeling.”

Meilman graduated from The University of Maryland with an undergraduate degree in landscape architecture, a career that she figured would engage her artistic side. But the work left her uninspired, and the siren song of music – a passion since childhood – beckoned.

She moved to California in 2021, and she’s since released a dozen songs that can be found on Spotify and other platforms.

“I shifted my viewpoint on things, because tomorrow is not promised,” Meilman says of her career change. “I didn’t want to wonder what could have been. I’m betting on myself, essentially.”

Jess Meilman '20

She’s gained notice. In 2022, American Songwriter magazine feted Meilman’s song “Plenty” as a semifinalist in the publication’s annual song contest. Her father, New York City real estate developer Richard Meilman ’87, is helping to promote her career.

Meilman describes her music as an urban in nature, with a “quick vibrato” and R&B inflections. She’s been compared to such artists as Tori Kelly and Corinne Bailey Rae. Meilman is influenced by Britney Spears (“her energy on stage was just unmatched”), whose videos she still studies. Meilman’s first concert was a Spears’ performance.

Music runs in the family. Meilman’s grandfather was a drummer in a jazz band, and her mother plays piano. Her own musical sensibilities were impacted in no small part by middle school angst.

“I was getting bullied at school, and the first thing I did was write a song about it,” she says of the piece she titled “Life is a Rollercoaster.” “It was such an iconic, silly little song, but it’s what I turned to do make me feel at home.”

Breaking out remains a challenge for any independent artist. The “TikTok scene” is saturated with musicians trying to get a record deal, and artists are expected to release a new song every six to eight weeks to remain relevant, Meilman says. Instagram also monitors an artist’s “engagement” levels.

“Social media does feel exhausting, but it’s important for my career to constantly be posting because there is such an opportunity for something to blow up and change your life in a second,” she adds. “It also gives me the chance to connect to people I may not have been able to otherwise.”

Meilman, who youngest sister, Daniella, is a Maryland sophomore studying graphic design, say she will keep writing music that gets to the heart of the human experience.

“I can write and sing a song better sometimes than I can communicate in a conversation,” she says. “I have a song called ‘Ketamine Kids,’ and it’s not about ketamine at all. It’s about how we sometimes numb ourselves from dealing with pain, but sometimes you have to deal with the pain in order to heal it and live a happy life.”


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