A spontaneous badass with a seductive smile, Alaina Beaton is an industrial pop songwriter who goes by the name Porcelain Black. Citing her biggest musical influences as Marilyn Manson and Britney Spears, Black makes music that’s both sneeringly edgy and frivolously infectious. Her hair—half ebony, half ivory—symbolizes both the volatile and fun-loving sides of her personality. But many of the tattoos, which cover her hands and arms, are more like emotional scars from years spent on the streets of Detroit.
“A lot of people in Detroit are miserable,” she explains. “When you live there and you’re a cute girl with your own thing going on, all these people want to do is fuck with you. They’d pick fights with me all the time and I was like, ‘What you don’t understand is I’m 10 times crazier than I look and I will fuck your ass up.’”
One of Black’s most meaningful tattoos, the logo for her father’s hair salon, Beaton Colors, covers the back of her left hand. He was the greatest early inspiration of her youth, and his death from cancer when Black was just 16 set her into a tailspin of rage. “This was the man who taught me to value individuality, and suddenly he was just gone,” she says. “That fueled my teen angst to the max.”
After getting kicked out of two schools for fighting, Black ran away from home. At first she was aimless, spending days begging, drinking, drugging, and busting heads; at night she’d crash at friends’ houses. At 16, she moved to Ann Arbor, MI, where, attracted by her volatile charm, some tattooed University of Michigan students let her crash at their dorm for six months. Then she went on the road with Armor for Sleep, whose drummer, Nash Breen, is a childhood friend. When she returned to Detroit, she quit doing drugs and talked another friend into road-tripping with her to New York.
“My dad wanted to take me there for my 16th birthday and never got to do it, so I wanted to go for him,” she says. “We checked into the W Hotel in Times Square and this lady came up to me and said, ‘Are you in a band?’ And I said, ‘Yeah,’ even though I hadn’t done anything yet.”
The woman introduced Black to her manager, who was struck by her appearance and told her to move to Los Angeles and look him up when she turned 18. Eighteen months later, Beaton packed a suitcase and bought a ticket to Los Angeles. True to his word, the manager took her on, and two weeks later she was signed by Virgin Records under the name Porcelain and the Tramps. At first she was stoked, but her elation turned to frustration when she realized the label wanted her to perform punk-pop light songs.
“I wanted to do crazy industrial pop, and they knew that when they signed me,” she says. “I went to London and recorded all this music for them and they hated it. I put it up on MySpace and over a year and a half it got 10 million plays. I was like, ‘How can you tell me this isn’t marketable?’”
Black wrestled with Virgin for three years before Grammy-winning producer RedOne (Lady Gaga, Usher, U2) helped set her career on track. “Someone told him about me and he was intrigued, so he invited me to his office. When he met me he said, ‘I have to work with you,’” Black says, relief flooding her voice. “He got me out of my contract and literally saved my life.”
The first two days they worked together, Black and RedOne wrote two songs, including her first single, “This Is What Rock ’N Roll Looks Like,” a euphoric digital feast of raspy melodic vocals, four-to-the-floor beats, and keyboards that buzz like electric guitars. The track features a guest rap by Lil Wayne, who hit it off with Black and invited her to tour with him. Black and RedOne tracked the rest of her yet-untitled debut album over two incredibly productive months in Stockholm, Madrid, and Miami. The record will likely feature a guest appearance by Eminem, whose brother grew up with Black in Detroit.
Not only has RedOne helped hone her musical strengths, he has hooked her up with new management and gotten her a spot in the upcoming movie Rock of Ages. He’s also been a therapist to her. “RedOne is the most positive person I’ve ever met,” Black says. “He’ll get on my case and reality-check me or fuckin’ crack the whip if I start getting negative. He’s like, ‘Bitch, cheer up and smile.’ And he’s right. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.”