Name: Mallory Merk
Hometown: Born in Shreveport, La., she grew up in Harlem (where her mother lived) and Trenton, N.J. (where her father lived).
Now lives: A two-bedroom apartment in Venice Beach, Calif., with her best friend.
Claim to fame: Ms. Merk is a fashion model and singer-songwriter whose guitar-soaked melodies and candid lyrics about drugs, mental illness and trauma describe the darker side of young adulthood. Her modeling career took off at 14, when she and her cinnamon-colored shag landed modeling campaigns with Pat McGrath Labs, Gucci and Fenty. Rihanna “was obsessed with my bangs,” Ms. Merk said, referring to a shoot with Fenty. “Every time I would brush my hair out of my face she would be like ‘Oh my god, no! The bang has to be perfect.’”
Big break: When she was a high school freshman in Manhattan, Ms. Merk was recruited by a classmate and future influencer, Luka Sabbat, for a modeling gig that he couldn’t reveal. “I didn’t even know what it was until I got an email from Kanye’s people asking, ‘Can you fly out tonight?’” she said. She ended up in Arizona to model in Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 2 zine. “I didn’t see myself as model material at the time,” she said.
Between school and photo shoots, Ms. Merk began recording acoustic R&B covers using her mother’s iPhone, releasing them on SoundCloud and YouTube. She released a couple of EPs before landing a deal in 2019 with Field Trip, a fledgling record label started by Zack Bia, a club promoter and influencer from Los Angeles.
Latest project: In August, Ms. Merk released the single “Fresh Out,” written a month before she checked into rehab for drug addiction in March. When she checked out three weeks later, New York was under lockdown. Lyrics like “No plans for the weekend” and “It’s only six feet between you and me” were written about sobriety but took on new meaning in the pandemic. “It’s really just about finding yourself after a bad time,” she said.
Next thing: A few weeks ago, Ms. Merk released a six-song EP, “Strangers,” an anthemic project in the growing-pains style of SZA and Soccer Mommy. Working with Dan Farber, who co-produced Lizzo’s “Tempo,” each song is based on a different character. “For me, I was struggling with my mental illness and substance abuse and finding who I am without outside influences — or literally being under the influence,” she said.
Youth Activism: Ms. Merk is using her voice and platform to amplify the Black Lives Matter movement and other social justice causes. “I protested in Beverly Hills, and that to me was the most productive protest,” she said. “So many people were driving by and honking and yelling things like, ‘Get out of Beverly Hills! We don’t want you here!’ And I was like, this is exactly where this needs to happen every day.”