Culture Picks | Bridgit Mendler is the one who got away

Bridgit Mendler did what few Disney Channel stars could. She made it out relatively unscathed.


Tara Davenport | @tara_davenport, Staff Reporter

Disney Channel was at its peak in the early 2010s. 

With “Good Luck Charlie” as the successor to major hits like “Hannah Montana,” “Wizards of Waverly Place” and “Sonny with a Chance,” Bridgit Mendler quickly joined the ranks of stars like Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato. 

Then Mendler’s portrayal of lead singer Olivia in “Lemonade Mouth” solidified her standing as a marketable actress and singer for Disney Channel. She signed with Hollywood Records, a label owned by Disney, in 2011 and began work on her debut album, “Hello My Name Is…” 

Mendler co-wrote every song on “Hello My Name Is…,” released in 2012, but the album still feels like it was created using the same cookie-cutter formula Disney used with all of its teenage starlets. 

“Hello My Name Is…” ultimately peaked at No. 30 on the Billboard 200, not quite achieving the same level of success as Mendler’s peers’ albums. By comparison, Selena Gomez’s first album with Hollywood Records debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200. Miley Cyrus’ debuted at No. 1. 

Also in 2012, Mendler took the first step in planning for a life after Disney Channel and enrolled at the University of Southern California as an anthropology major. 

She continued acting on Disney Channel until “Good Luck Charlie” wrapped in 2014, and a year later she left Hollywood Records, breaking all ties with Disney. 

It was a transition Mendler told Vice she feared at the time, but now looks back on with pride.

Over the next two years, she joined the cast of NBC’s adult comedy series “Undateable,” went back to the studio to create another album and graduated from college.   

Free from Disney’s commercial expectations, Mendler’s EP “Nemesis” feels nothing like her first album. It’s moody, vulnerable, soulful and much more experimental.  

“Making something that other people would like was never the consideration,” Mendler told Vice in 2016. “And that was just such a foreign concept for me that I kept having to shake off of myself. I had come from a past where you make something that people will like, and you know that people will like it, and that’s great. The whole idea of just making something that you like is something that takes a lot more work. It was scary and it was hard but I think that it’s been the most gratifying thing in my life.”

Mendler also told Vice that her music has grown with her, especially in its complexity. 

But Mendler’s transition to life and work after Disney Channel was much smoother than some of her peers. 

Countless former Disney Channel stars have opened up about the overwhelming stress, unrealistic beauty standards and harsh criticism they faced while working for the network, and how that had lasting effects on them.

While “Sonny with a Chance” was still airing, Demi Lovato entered a treatment facility because of her struggles with self-harm and eating disorder. She recalled in her 2017 documentary, “Simply Complicated,” that she also first used cocaine while working for Disney Channel, and has been honest in recent years about her history with alcoholism and drug addiction. 

Miley Cyrus has also shared how playing the fictional roles of Miley Stewart and Hannah Montana made her feel like she couldn’t grow up, and how doing that while also making music as herself was overwhelming for her mentally. 

“I think it got harder when I started touring as both — I toured as Hannah Montana and as myself,” Cyrus told CBS News in 2017. “I think that’s probably what’s a little bit wrong with me now! I mark that up to doing some extreme damage in my psyche as an adult person.”

But Mendler didn’t seem to walk away with the same level of trauma. 

Since graduating from USC, Mendler has joined another prestigious institution as a PhD student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

She is currently a director’s fellow and research assistant for the MIT Media Lab, with a focus on “technologies that support inclusive and collaborative governance and citizen engagement,” according to the program’s website.   

“Interaction online with her fanbase inspired her interest in social platforms as a means for bringing more voices, experiences, and expertise to government decision-making,” Mendler’s page said

As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Mendler announced in 2019 that she was taking classes at Harvard Law School as well. She has also continued to take occasional acting roles over the years, with her most recent project, “Merry Happy Whatever,” released in 2019. 

When all is said and done, Mendler has come far from being the people-pleasing Disney Channel star in a creative box.  

After leaving a network where she had established a successful career and a devoted audience, she chose to refocus on her education and how to be authentic as an artist. For that, though she doesn’t seek love or approval, she deserves respect.