Aviva Mongillo, a.k.a. CARYS, had been acting in projects like CBC’s Workin’ Moms, Long Shot with Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen, and Family Channel’s popular TV series Backstage, and working on her solo music career for several years when, in 2019, she planned on overhauling her image as a musician and creating a new stage identity.
That plan was thwarted when the Markham, Ont. native’s 2017 song “Princesses Don’t Cry” suddenly went viral on TikTok, two years after its initial release. (It has since racked up a mind-blowing 71 million-plus spins, and counting, and peaked at #2 on Spotify’s Global Viral Chart.) This unexpected exposure forced CARYS to embrace who she was instead of trying to create a character for herself.
In the JUNO Awards latest installment in its Rising Presented by TD series, a series of mini-documentaries profiling up-and-coming Canadian talent, the 22-year-old To Anyone Like Me musician talks about relinquishing control, embracing her identity and learning to no longer seek external validation. Here, CARYS dives deeper into her personal journey to self-acceptance — and the joys of TikTok.
In the Rising Presented by TD video, you talk about choosing between breakthrough and setback. How have you learned to get out of your own way?
Very slowly, haha. I think it’s a process. I don’t think I’m 100% out of my own way yet. With each new experience or opportunity I challenge myself to do the most loving thing I can do and be as loving as I can. Sometimes my fear of possible outcomes stops me from just going for it in the moment but I try to cheer myself on for every time I do choose to push through.
How did you react when the sudden TikTok success around “Princesses Don’t Cry” threw a wrench in your plan to recreate your identity? How did you deal with that lack of control?
When anything doesn’t go to plan for me I kind of freak out, even if it’s something as small as not doing my laundry at the time I said I was going to do my laundry. So on this much larger scale, I was scared to let go of my plan. It’s been super vulnerable for me because I wasn’t aware that I was trying to play a character until I didn’t want the character to go away, but this experience has taught me a lot about letting go and trusting the process. I was trying to write music for a character and now I’m continuously discovering parts of who I truly am through writing music and I find that much more fulfilling.
You talk about how feeling like sharing your work is like opening up your diary to the world. What advice do you have for people putting themselves out there in similar ways?
I always ask myself, “When I’m old and grey and I’m looking back at this time, what do I want the story to be? That I let my fear stop me from going after what I wanted or that I took that leap of faith?” And the answer for me is always obvious, but it’s never easy!
How do you feel today when you hear “Princesses Don’t Cry” on TikTok — does the excitement ever wear off?
I feel like I get more and more excited as time goes on. In a generation where it only takes 15 seconds to move on to the next trend, I feel overwhelmingly grateful that so many people are still supporting and loving that song! I’ll never get sick of it.
What’s your favourite thing about TikTok?
TikTok makes me feel less alone and makes me laugh so much. I love seeing people share their stories; it has made me feel more confident to do the same. I find myself going “Other people feel this too?! Thank GOODNESS” a lot. And I love stealing recipes from TikTok. I learned how to make fettuccine Alfredo in quarantine and it was restaurant quality.
What was the experience of being in a big Hollywood movie production like Long Shot compared to a TV production like Workin’ Moms?
I have always been a big Seth Rogen fan so the idea of being on set with him intimidated and excited me. Once I was there, it was super calm and fun and I just remember running my lines 600 times trying to be as prepared as possible, obviously wanting to make a good impression. I channeled my nerves into the work all day and as soon as I wrapped I had a “holy crap” moment where I just fan-girled to myself.
Is not seeking external validation something you still have to work through at times? If so, how do you deal with that urge?
Yes, of course. I think it’s human nature to want validation from other humans. I deal with it by giving it to myself! I realized that I can be someone who needs validation and someone who can validate me at the same time.
Finally, what’s your all-time favourite karaoke song?
I don’t have an all-time favourite but I almost always choose a One Direction song.