Ray Rahman
November 08, 2013 AT 05:00 AM EST

Your mom was Michael Jackson’s hairdresser, and you used to hang out at his Neverland Ranch as a kid. Is MJ-era music kind of your standard for how pop should sound?
Yes! I didn’t mean for my album to sound like an ’80s record; it just kind of happened. I love Michael Jackson, and Madonna has had a huge influence on me. Debbie Harry and even, like, Kim Wilde, Aimee Mann — I think all those women were really cool back then, and I’d like to see something that’s more like that. It just seems so daring compared to now.

It took five years for your debut, Night Time, My Time, to come out. Did that extra time and tension help?
I don’t regret any of it. I wouldn’t necessarily say a lot of it was handled well, but I learned a lot, and I wouldn’t have been able to make this record without it.

Some people are upset about your album cover. [You’ll have to Google it, reader; we can’t show it here.]
It’s not sexual — at least I don’t think so. I wasn’t being like, “Oh, I need this to be controversial to bring attention to my record.” I know the songs are very poppy and sound sweet, but a lot of the lyrics are very sad, and I feel like it’s really important to show what I feel when I’m writing the music…. So I just didn’t compromise. And also, I paid for that shoot!

Stars like Miley Cyrus have been tweeting in support of Night Time.
We’re online buddies; Miley’s really cool. She’s obviously a lot bigger and poppier, but it’s great to see someone my age being supportive of another girl. Even though we’re not doing the same thing, we’re still put against each other…. It’s like high school didn’t ever end.

How do you feel you fit into the landscape of current pop singers?
Well, I feel like Lorde has kind of opened doors for someone like me to get on the radio this year. And she’s so young! She’s just so much smarter than I was at that age. I was pretty outspoken too, but it came out a lot brattier when I was doing it. [Laughs]

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