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Fletcher almost lost it all

Illness brought her rock-star lifestyle to a halt. Now, she’s healing in more ways than one

By Waiss Aramesh

Fletcher (Picture: Jessica Lehrman)

Cari Fletcher knew something was wrong. After finishing a series of shows in the spring of 2023, she felt deeply run down — and it wasn’t just the usual aches and pains of life on the road. The singer, who performs as Fletcher, went to the doctor and learned she had Lyme disease, a bacterial infection that can cause debilitating fatigue and neurological complications. It can also result in inflammation and damage to the nerves in the voice box — meaning Fletcher was faced with the terrifying prospect of being left permanently unable to sing. “There were many, many, many moments over the last year where I was not sure if I was going to return to music,” Fletcher, who has just turned 30, says.

By the time she was diagnosed, Fletcher had established herself as one of pop’s most versatile stars. She can pen a heartbreak ballad or craft a raucous dance hit. She doesn’t shy away from the controversial or the confessional — this is an artist who made music videos for an EP titled The S(ex) Tapes, with the ex-girlfriend the EP was about. She can talk spicy (“I justhadsexwithmyex/InaNew York apartment / Ooh, I thought it’d be harmless)” and be the topic of conversation up and down your For You Page. Suddenly, she worried it might all be over.

Fletcher shared her diagnosis on social media and postponed some overseas dates. Marquee letters came down. Comments sections went quiet. Fletcher became a recluse. “I noticed all the other things that got really loud in the time that I got really quiet, and it was the darkness that was in my own mind,” she says. “I had to sit with ‘Who am I without the applause? Who am I without the analytics and the numbers?’ It brought a lot to the surface about self-worth and my beliefs and my gifts and my talents.”

Fletcher, who was born in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and raised on Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen, moved back home for treatment, posting up in her childhood bedroom. A typical day for her this past summer started with a hot-girl walk by the soccer fields on which she grew up playing; maybe a bike ride by the inlet; some meditation, some journalling, and a lot of checking in on how her body was feeling.

As she slowly got better, she packed her complicated feelings into an album that comes from Cari, the person, as much as Fletcher, the pop star. In Search of the Antidote is an ode to all of the forms of healing Fletcher has gone through in the past 12 months. “My mum would cook us spaghetti and meatballs,” she says of being back in Jersey. “We’d go home, have some pasta, and shoot back over to the studio to keep creating.”

The artist known for singing about her rock-star lifestyle and heartbreak-numbing libations now has a different focus and aura. The day after the Grammys, Fletcher sits at a booth in a café behind the Hollywood Hills sipping a peppermint tea, manifesting a nomination for herself in the future, and reflecting on some of the most vulnerable times in her life. In Search of the Antidote is full of raw emotion, teetering between extreme confidence and despair. On the album’s scalding, sarcastic opener, Fletcher wonders if she’s ruining her life by lashing out at everything she loves; on the warm, breezy closer, she finds a sense of peace. Crisp ballads and alt-pop-punk “bops” (her words) come in between.

Fletcher (Picture: Jessica Lehrman)

The focus is healing, but it’s not all love and light. There’s still a healthy dose of mess. On ‘Doing Better’, Fletcher sings about an ex’s new girlfriend, who was also the focus of her 2022 hit ‘Becky’s So Hot’. The singer kicks off the second verse of the new song with, “Your girlfriend never thanked me /For making her go viral / Fuck it, I’m her idol.”

She wrote the album’s lead single, ‘Eras of Us’, after running into that same ex (whom she calls “one of my greatest loves”) during a stop on Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour at MetLife Stadium. It was tough to see someone with whom she had so much history, but she knew a song would almost certainly come from the experience. (Swift, by the way, is a fan, having told Fletcher how much she loved the lyrics of her 2019 hit ‘Undrunk’.)

Fletcher, a champion of sexual fluidity who identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community, winces at the idea of labelling her sexuality. “I love women, and women are beautiful, and they’ve been my muses,” she says. “But I have found a lot more freedom in the expansion of releasing the idea that I have to be something all the time.

“If somebody had to put a label on me of queerness… but even that, it’s just… I don’t know. I just am. I just am…” She trails off. Her tone is mildly exasperated as she looks for the words to describe the energy she feels around those who inspire her songs. So, what makes a Fletcher muse? That, the singer is eager to talk about. “I have a lot more muses than people think I do. People think that songs are just about one specific person,” she says, with a hint of pride.

Fletcher is still getting treatment for her Lyme disease and leaning on a support system that comprises family and friends — including Miley Cyrus, who Fletcher linked up with when the two performed sultry renditions of ‘Becky’s So Hot’ and ‘Midnight Sky’ on Cyrus’s New Year’s Eve television special. “Her heart is so big, and she just gives so much presence and attention, and listens to you,” Fletcher says of Cyrus. “I feel really lucky to have her energy and her presence in my life, and also the ways that she lifted me up.”

After our conversation at the café, Fletcher pays up front, hugs me goodbye, and walks out the door. Once she’s out of earshot, a couple of waiters look her up on Spotify and one plays ‘Becky’s So Hot’. In the viral hit, Fletcher sings, “She’s the one I should hate / But I wanna know how she tastes.” It’s a messy girl anthem — the kind of mess Fletcher continues to heal from but hasn’t completely shunned just yet.

These days are quieter for Fletcher. She wants to stick around as an artist, to play the long game — one that’d be impossible were she living the life she was in 2022. “My life used to be signing boobs and tequila shots,” Fletcher had said as she finished her tea. Still, the chaos isn’t gone. Sure, she drinks less and listens to her body more, but …

“I’m still signing tits. That’s not changing.”