Salem Ilese is a 22-year-old American singer-songwriter who took TikTok by storm, including Vietnam, after posting a video of herself singing “Mad at Disney” – a song that tells the story of Salem’s own experience of having high expectations of love as shown through Disney movies, especially ones revolving around princesses. And that life does not always work perfectly, so she blames Disney for instilling unrealistic expectations.
Salem started singing when she was only four years old. She became the youngest member of a prestigious songwriting camp in San Francisco, USA, eight years later. She was two years into her degree when she dropped out of Berklee College of Music to pursue her dreams of becoming an artist. She is working closely with her Norwegian boyfriend-slash-cowriter-slash-producer Bendik Møller, whom she wrote Mad at Disney with.
The young artist rose to fame at the height of the global pandemic. Her growing fanbase, the majority of which comes from Vietnam and the region, has been clamoring to see her sing live on the Asian stage.
“It’s just so crazy to watch online and see the flood of support and love from everyone, Vietnam and worldwide,” Salem told Vietcetera in a quick online interview for her promotional tour made possible by Universal Music Vietnam.
Here are eight facts about the talented singer-songwriter who already has a solid following in Vietnam even before she has set foot in the country.
@salemilese can’t believe we played The Forum 😭💖 #dayinmylife #tour ♬ ben and jerry - salem
1. Salem is “too scared” to visit Disneyland
Although Disney has never reached out to Salem since she released the “Mad at Disney” song, and even after earning massive social media attention, she’s hesitant to visit any Disneyland parks. “I’m too scared, and I feel like there’s gonna be a picture of my face saying ‘do not let her in’ somewhere. “So I’m avoiding it.”
However, when asked if she ever gets in, would she do the TikTok “Mad at Disney” dance inside the park, she said, “Definitely! If I go in, I feel like I’d be kicked out cause I’ll just be singing Mad at Disney the whole day and taking videos of it.”
@salemilese dis is my song “mad at disney” :) thank you to everyone giving it love!💞 #madatdisney #fyp ♬ Mad at Disney - salem ilese
2. She was at Trader Joe’s when TikTok changed her life
Salem posted her first-ever “Mad at Disney” video months after it was released while she was on her way to grab food supplies at Trader Joe’s, an American grocery store chain. “I really didn’t think anyone was going to see it, but I was like, ‘Oh, some people are using the sound on TikTok, I might as well put it up,’ so I posted the video and went food shopping, and there’s no cell service inside Trader Joe’s,” she said.
She only had ten views when she walked into the shop, mostly from friends. But when she got to her car, she was already getting thousands of views. And suddenly, it reached 10,000, then 20,000, and every time she hit the refresh button, the numbers doubled, even tripled. As of this writing, Salem's first "Mad at Disney" video has over 33 million views with 6.8 million likes.
@bellapoarch People they remind me of Vanellope from Wreck it Ralph😂💕 #disney #princess ♬ Mad at Disney - salem ilese
3. Bella Poarch used “Mad at Disney” in one of her videos
Bella Poarch is a Filipino American social media personality with 89 million followers on TikTok, and Salem is a huge fan of hers. “Bella Poarch used Mad at Disney in a video, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever, and the biggest thing ever happened to me online,” Salem shared. “Like that’s so cool cause I’m such a fan of her.”
@salemilese #duet with @enhypen 👏💖 #meortheps5 ♬ PS5 OR ME - TOMORROW X TOGETHER
4. Salem’s clever song titles
Besides the fantastic quality of the songs Salem has so far released, her song titles are also incredible and, for the lack of a better word, trendy. It’s interesting to know which comes first whenever she’s working on something — is it the title of the song or the theme and then find something trendy for the title. “It depends,” she admitted.
“Sometimes I go into a session and feeling something so deeply, and I really wanna write about what I’m feeling in the current moment, so then I usually try and start with a theme and try and find a cool specific thing within that theme to write about and encompass what I’m feeling in a clever way,” she revealed. “But other times, I would be inspired by a brand or a funny quote that my friend said or some aspect of pop culture, and I’ll be like okay, ‘I wanna write a song about someone from Jake from State Farm’ and how can I make that into a cool, relatable content,” Salem said it really just depends on the day.
@salemilese my EP is out now so i got a “cake from state farm” to celebrate 🥳💖 #jakefromstatefarm #ps5 #realorcake ♬ Jake from State Farm - salem ilese
5. Salem does her own vocal production and everything
Salem is not only a singer and a songwriter. She also does the concepts, melodies, production, and basically, everything that concerns a song she’s developing. “I’m definitely as hands-on as possible,” she shared.
Salem prefers to produce her own vocals and the combo because she loves music and because she’s got formal training since she was only 12. “I’m very picky when it comes to my voice, so I honestly learned how to do computer production because I would get so many notes to producers if they record me and edit my voice,” she said. She added she’s like, “Ahh it’s just easier if you send it to me, and I’ll do it myself because otherwise I’m just gonna send the most annoying notes possible like ‘this one word is a half step flat,’ so I kinda do my own vocal production and everything.”
While she can be a perfectionist (who’s not when it comes to one’s passion?), Salem always makes sure everyone involved is happy with the final result.
@salemilese how i came up with coke & mentos 🤓 #cokeandmentos #fyp #greenscreen ♬ Coke & Mentos - salem ilese
6. Salem and her boyfriend are both passionate about music
Salem and Bendik are partners as a couple and in writing and producing songs. Salem laughed and said no, they don’t always share the same creative inputs when asked if they always agree on everything. “It’s funny because the only fights we ever get into are in sessions,” she said. “We have pretty similar views on life, and also in music in general, we have the same taste. But sometimes there’ll be an argument about a lyric line, and I’ll be like ‘no, this needs to be it, and he says, no, this needs to be it.’ It’s like the only times we can recall that we have actual fights.”
However, all their creative differences always end up with “Okay, none of us win!” They’ll write a new thing or develop a totally different approach to something. “I feel like at the end of the day, everyone in the room if you’re working on a song, everyone that’s worked with the song should really like the song.”
@salemilese @charlieputh ♬ original sound - salem
7. Salem met Demi Lovato and was starstruck
When Salem was just new in the mainstream media, she got a message from Meghan Trainor and Charlie Puth that made her gush and starstruck at the same time.
So when we asked when was the last time she felt the same way about a celebrity, she immediately said, “I got to meet Demi Lovato recently, and that was very cool!” Salem’s said she’d been a fan of Demi since she was little, and actually meeting them and hearing them sing in a studio was a dream come true. “It’s one of those artists that you don’t believe that they’re real until you see them in person, and Demi was just the absolute sweetest person.”
@salemilese the inspiration behind the strings 🌟 #duet with @bendikmoeller #madatdisney #fyp ♬ original sound - Bendik Møller
8. Salem is releasing an album soon
Since she became a phenomenal social media personality, Salem released two EPs (extended play): (L)only Child (2021) and Unsponsored Content (2022). Before her TikTok fame, she had two other EPs: 757 and Impatient in 2019.
Her most popular one is the Unsponsored Content which includes the songs Mad at Disney, PS5, Ben & Jerry, Jake from State Farm, Hey Siri, and Coke & Mentos. Salem has also collaborated with artists Alan Walker and Tomorrow X Together for the song PS5.
Salem has teased a few things to look forward to this year for her fans. “There’s definitely some more PS5 content coming soon and a bit more to add to my last EP on Sponsored Content,” she said. “And after that, I’ll be working on an album!”