For four years, Sophia Melon, BC '14, lived every tween girl's fantasy. Although Melon is now living the college life and finishing her first semester at Barnard, until April 2010 she played bass and contributed background vocals for the now-defunct all-girl band KSM. Signed to Walt Disney Records at the time, the power pop group toured as an opening act for the Jonas Brothers, Demi Lovato, and other Disney-affiliated recording artists. "It was a lot of fun," Melon said. "I mean their fans were great, especially the Jonas Brothers fans. They screamed so loud, it's invigorating—it was amazing." KSM had its own rabid following. "We had this group of men who would come to every single one of our concerts in the California area, and they called themselves the KS Men," Melon said, laughing. "They would have shirts that said KS Men,' they would crowd-surf—they were so into it, and we loved them so much." Yet, groupies and airplay didn't come effortlessly for Melon. She lived through her modest share of garage bands before learning through word-of-mouth that Disney was holding auditions for an all-girl group. The band was formed through a partnership between Disney and an iconic '80s girl band, the Go-Go's, to develop an ensemble called the Po-Go's, which would exclusively cover Go-Go's songs under the veteran band's mentorship. Melon was just 15 when she became part of the group. "They [the Go-Go's] showed us how to get comfortable in the studio," Melon said. "They showed us how to perform because we were all very new, and I guess how to be women in the music industry. There aren't many all-girl rock bands that are mainstream, and there's a reason for that." The cover band concept splintered in early 2008, and the group's name was changed to KSM—created by combining the initials of the members' first names—as a reflection of the shift in its musical direction to largely recording original songs. KSM's full-length debut, "Read Between the Lines," was released in September 2009 and laden with saccharine pop hooks, but tempered with a muted punk energy. "The album was manufactured to younger kids," Melon said. "Although we were involved in writing it, we weren't allowed necessarily to be as raw or genuine as we would have liked to have been because we were under Disney, and we were under a hired hand." She admitted the difficulty of not being able to say exactly what she wanted to say in a song—a struggle that became more apparent as she and her bandmates grew older and were more likely to develop creative content on their own. Particularly in an industry where musical and acting ability are often considered co-requisites to entering the so-called Disney bubble, Melon has stayed true to her roots. When asked about the possibility of her band appearing in a movie or TV series, her reply was simple: "We're not actresses, we're musicians." She learned not to take anything personally, despite the seemingly ceaseless ebb and flow of commercial music's fans and critics. "I'm blessed to have parents who really support me and are always there for me—they kept me grounded," Melon said. "I think I witnessed a lot of people in this experience who were not as fortunate and have lost their sense of reality. The pressure of the industry can crack you if you lose your sense of reality." The disbanding of KSM hasn't stopped Melon's passion for music. She lit up with a smile while spilling details about her new musical endeavor—a two-piece collaboration that she formed with fellow student Caroline Pires, BC '14, about two months ago. With plenty of creative freedom to explore her newfound indie pop sound, Melon has used songwriting to foster a more organic and internal conversation on everyday insights. "When I write by myself, it's almost simultaneous," Melon said. "Chords, lyrics, and melody—it just all happens at once." As for returning to KSM someday and catering to the prepubescent set, Melon doesn't think that will be a possibility. "It was an experience in my life that I'm so grateful for," she said. "I've learned from it, and it's going to catapult me into whatever I do next."
Sydney Small for Spectator