In his music videos, several of which have lately become tastemaker manna, Prentiss looks more like a kid brother than a rock-star rebel. Many show him out in nature wearing hippie-ish hand-me-downs and singing sweetly heartbroken lyrics that sometimes come from poems he writes on his phone. “I try not to overthink it,” he said on a recent video call from his Jackson, Miss., home just after his daily workout, his hair a bounteous bushel of curls. “My purest emotion comes from my first thought.”
It has been just two years since Prentiss started posting songs and videos online, but already the 15-year-old pop singer has over 50,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, half a million views on YouTube and a record deal. He has gotten a shout-out from Justin Bieber and made music with the Kid Laroi, the Australian singer-rapper, who gave him advice about navigating the music business as a teenager. He also made it onto the lineup of Lollapalooza, his first festival.
And now Prentiss — his full name is Prentiss Furr — is recording his first album, “Crescent,” which is full of thoughtful, personal songs. Prentiss said that when he first started making music at age 11, “I didn’t know what my feelings were. I’m getting more grasp on what I’m feeling now.” On “Where It Hurts,” a song about self-doubt from “Crescent,” he sings with sadness, “I’m trying to be a different version of me/because every version of you wants to see me leave.”
He grew up listening to a wide range of music — Kesha, Justin Bieber, Pearl Jam, Taylor Swift, Zac Brown Band — and one of his biggest inspirations is Yung Lean, the rapper from Sweden. On “Crescent,” which will be released later this year, he’s trying out several different sounds in songs that have flashes of club music, pop-punk and hyperpop.
“Where I’m from, there’s not a certain culture or a certain genre,” he said of his Jackson hometown. He figures he’d end up looking like a “weirdo” no matter what musical path he followed. “If I was worried about pushing a certain sound or image or hanging out with a certain type of musician,” he said, “I wouldn’t have built my own career.”
One thing he isn’t afraid of embracing is imperfection. “Certain notes being off-key, a little offbeat, not making exact sense but you can make the picture in your head — the best artists are the ones who intentionally throw that curveball,” he said of trying to develop his own idiosyncrasies. “However long it takes — two, three, four, five years — the twist will be my own,” he added, “and I want it to be hard to replicate.”
While finishing the album, Prentiss is taking high school classes online, teaching himself music theory, working with a vocal coach and experimenting with new sounds. He even has his eyes on a role model for his adulthood: the super-producer and guru Rick Rubin, known for his bucolic, blissful lifestyle.
“At some point I’m just going to quit this all,” Prentiss said, “and have some random crib with like four different hammocks, seven different pigs, all in the middle of nowhere.”
A version of this story originally ran in The New York Times for Kids, a special print section that appears in the paper on the last Sunday of every month. The next issue is on newsstands Aug. 28.